Inveraray Castle, Scotland
photo via marta
Fingal’s Cave, located on the uninhabited island of Staffa, Scotland, is formed from basalt columns within a paleocene lava flow, similar to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Due to the large size and arched roof, the cave gives off an extremely creepy sound caused by the echoes of the waves.
The Post’s Tom Jackman has an interesting story about a criminal case pending in Los Angeles before U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney:
At a giant Best Buy repair shop in Brooks, Ky., Geek Squad technicians work on computers owned by people across the country, delving into them to retrieve lost data. Over several years, a handful of those workers have notified the FBI when they see signs of child pornography, earning payments from the agency.
The existence of the small cadre of informants within one of the country’s most popular computer repair services was revealed in the case of a California doctor who is facing federal charges after his hard drive was flagged by a technician. The doctor’s lawyers found that the FBI had cultivated eight “confidential human sources” in the Geek Squad over a four-year period, according to a judge’s order in the case, with all of them receiving some payment.
The case raises issues about privacy and the government use of informants. If a customer turns over their computer for repair, do they forfeit their expectation of privacy, and their Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable searches? And if an informant is paid, does it compromise their credibility or effectively convert them into an agent of the government?
Best Buy searching a computer is legal — the customer authorized it, and the law does not prohibit private searches. But if Best Buy serves as an arm of the government, then a warrant or specific consent is needed.
This isn’t a new issue. There have been cases on computer repairmen turning over computers with child pornography going back at least as far as the 1990s. See, e.g., United States v. Hall, 142 F.3d 988, 993 (7th Cir. 1998). Among those early cases is United States v. Barth, 26 F. Supp.2d 929 (W.D. Tex. 1998), in which the computer repair technician was also a confidential informant for the FBI.
Here’s the basics of how the law applies. First, if the computer repairman is not deemed a government agent, then the repairman is permitted to turn over the computer to the government. The government can then reconstruct the search of the private-party repairman and use that to get a warrant. There’s currently a 2-2 circuit split on what it means to “reconstruct” the search without a warrant, as I explained in detail here. Two circuits (the 5th and 7th) say that the government can search the entire computer without a warrant based on the repairman’s private search. On the other hand, two circuits (the 6th and 11th) say that the government can look only at the files that the private party observed. The new case is in the 9th Circuit, which hasn’t yet taken a side on the split.
I know of one opinion arguing that a private computer repairman also has independent authority to consent to a government search of a computer, which would mean that the repairman can authorize any government search he likes. See United States v. Anderson, 2007 WL 1121319 (N.D.Ind. 2007). The reasoning of that opinion strikes me as quite weak, though, for reasons I won’t bore you with here.
There is less precedent on how the law applies if the computer repairman is considered a government agent, either at the outset or over the course of handing over that particular computer to the government. I think the issue becomes the scope of the computer owner’s consent under Florida v. Jimeno, 500 U.S. 248 (1991). Under Jimeno, the question is: How would a typical reasonable person familiar with the exchange between the agent and the computer owner understand the scope of consent? Jimeno ordinarily applies when the suspect knows he is consenting to a government search, but at least off the top of my head I would think it also applies to a search when the agent is effectively undercover.
According to the Post story, the government is arguing that the computer owner waived his Fourth Amendment rights because he signed a written form stating that “I am on notice that any product containing child pornography will be turned over to the authorities.” I’m skeptical about that argument. I don’t know the full context, but that language in isolation strikes me as most naturally read as notice that any discovered images would be turned over, not as an understanding that the computer repair technicians would search everywhere on the hard drive to discover such images. Scope of consent issues are always fact-bound, however, so it’s hard to say much more on that.
Finally, you might be wondering, what’s the line between a private-party search and a government agent search? There are no bright lines. And each circuit has its own formulation. In the 9th Circuit, where this case is being litigated, the case I know of best is United States v. Miller, 688 F.2d 652, 657 (9th Cir. 1982), Miller focused the agency inquiry on “(1) whether the government knew of and acquiesced in the intrusive conduct, and (2) whether the party performing the search intended to assist law enforcement efforts or to further his own ends.”
The fact-intensive nature of the Miller test may help explain why the judge is planning a factual hearing on the details of the relationship between the government and the repair technicians. In computer cases in particular, the line between a private-party search and a government agent search can be really hard to draw and can depend on pretty fine factual distinctions. See, e.g., United States v. Jarrett, 338 F.3d 339 (4th Cir. 2003) (exploring the specifics of the relationship between an unidentified hacker and the government in deciding whether the hacker had become a government agent). As always, stay tuned.
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a summary opinion in the White v. Pauly case. A police officer was sued for killing a man during an armed standoff during which the officers allegedly never identified themselves as police. The Supreme Court, however, concluded that the officer had “qualified immunity.” That is, he was immune from a suit for damages, because his conduct — while possibly unconstitutional — was not obviously unconstitutional.
As the court put it (with citation and quotations omitted):
Qualified immunity attaches when an official’s conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. While this Court’s case law does not require a case directly on point for a right to be clearly established, existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate. …
This is not a case where it is obvious that there was a violation of clearly established law under Garner and Graham. Of note, the [lower court] majority did not conclude that [Officer] White’s conduct—such as his failure to shout a warning—constituted a run-of-the-mill Fourth Amendment violation. Indeed, it recognized that “this case presents a unique set of facts and circumstances” in light of White’s late arrival on the scene. This alone should have been an important indication to the majority that White’s conduct did not violate a clearly established right. . . .
(There is a little more in the short opinion, including the possibility that the other two officers, who were on the scene earlier, might still be liable. An interesting debate about the case takes place in this PrawfsBlawg thread.)
The court’s decision is a completely unsurprising turn in a long line of qualified immunity cases like this one. But I thought it was time to post a paper I have been working on for a long time on the legitimacy of this immunity doctrine. The title: “Is Qualified Immunity Unlawful?”
Here’s the abstract:
The doctrine of qualified immunity operates as an unwritten defense to civil rights lawsuits brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. It prevents plaintiffs from recovering damages for violations of their constitutional rights unless the government official violated “clearly established law,” usually requiring a specific precedent on point. This article argues that the doctrine is unlawful and inconsistent with conventional principles of statutory interpretation.
Members of the Supreme Court have offered three different justifications for imposing such an unwritten defense on the text of Section 1983. One is that it derives from a common law “good faith” defense; another is that it compensates for an earlier putative mistake in broadening the statute; the third is that it provides “fair warning” to government officials, akin to the rule of lenity.
But on closer examination, each of these justifications falls apart, for a mix of historical, conceptual, and doctrinal reasons. There was no such defense; there was no such mistake; lenity ought not apply. And even if these things were otherwise, the doctrine of qualified immunity would not be the best response.
The unlawfulness of qualified immunity is of particular importance now. Despite the shoddy foundations, the Supreme Court has been reinforcing the doctrine of immunity in both formal and informal ways. In particular, the Court has given qualified immunity a privileged place on its agenda reserved for few other legal doctrines besides habeas deference. Rather than doubling down, the Court ought to be beating a retreat.
You can read the whole thing here.
Over 1200 of my fellow law professors recently signed a petition urging the Senate to reject President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Jeff Sessions to become attorney general. Critics correctly point out that the vast majority of the signatories are liberal Democrats, and (less correctly) therefore dismiss the statement as mere partisan politics. I am not a liberal Democrat, I did not sign the statement, and I don’t agree with all of its points. But the signers are right about the bottom line: the Senate should indeed reject this nomination. It should borrow a slogan from Sessions’ beloved War on Drugs and “just say no.”
Liberals are not the only ones with good reason to oppose Sessions. His record should also trouble libertarians, conservatives, and others who care about protecting liberty, constitutional federalism, and property rights.
I. The Threat to Property Rights.
Sessions is one of the leading advocates of asset forfeiture, the law enforcement practice of seizing the property of suspects who have often not even been charged with any crime, much less convicted. In recent years, there has been growing recognition across the political spectrum that asset forfeiture poses a serious threat to the property rights of innocent people, particularly the poor and minorities. All too often, it results in a kind of legalized plunder, as law enforcement agencies get to keep the property they seize. The property is also often seized with little or no due process protections, in violation of the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Yet Sessions opposes bipartisan efforts to rein in such abuses, and is “very unhappy” that asset forfeiture has been called into question. He opposes efforts to end the “equitable sharing” program under which the federal government incentivizes asset forfeitures by state and local law enforcement – even in states that otherwise forbid police from profiting from this practice. The program was suspended in 2015, but later reinstated.
In 2015, libertarian-leaning Republican Senator Rand Paul voted against President Obama’s nomination of Loretta Lynch for attorney general, in part because of her support for asset forfeiture. He was right about Lynch. Paul and other supporters of property rights should oppose Sessions for the same reason.
II. The Threat to Liberty and Federalism.
Sessions’ longtime role as an extreme drug warrior is also troubling. There is now increasing bipartisan recognition that the War on Drugs is a terrible failure that has undermined civil liberties and inflicted great harm on society. Unfortunately, Sessions is an uncompromising advocate of the most aggressive forms of federal drug prohibition. Although a large majority of Americans favor marijuana legalization (including even a narrow plurality of Republicans). Many more Republicans (some 70 percent) favor leaving the issue up to the states. But Sessions opposes even the Obama administration’s relatively modest steps to reduce federal enforcement in those states that have chosen to legalize.
In his view, “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and federal enforcement must be ramped up. If you are among the nearly 50 percent of Americans who have tried marijuana, you may want to take note of what the likely next attorney general thinks of you. Sessions’ support for ending the crack-cocaine sentencing disparity is a rare exception to his otherwise consistent record as a “drug war dinosaur.”
Sessions’ drug war agenda is not just dubious policy and a threat to civil liberties, it also undermines constitutional federalism. If, as Sessions’ preferred policies require, the federal government has the power to enforce marijuana prohibition anywhere in the United States regardless of the laws of the states, it also has the power to ban the possession or distribution of pretty much anything else. That makes a mockery of the constitutional limits on federal power that many conservatives claim to prize.
Admittedly, the Supreme Court ruled that such sweeping congressional power was permissible in its badly flawed decision in Gonzales v. Raich, which held that Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce allowed it to ban the possession of medical marijuana that had never been sold in any market or crossed state lines. But serious constitutional federalists should be opposing Raich, in line with the powerful dissenting opinions by Justice Clarence Thomas and Sandra Day O’Connor, not exploiting it to impose federal prohibition on unwilling states.
In a diverse nation beset with deep partisan conflict, both liberals and conservatives have an interest in restoring constitutional federalism. Sessions’ drug war agenda would undermine it.
In addition to being one of the Senate’s most extreme drug warriors, Sessions is also perhaps its leading supporter of mass deportations and immigration restrictionism, going well beyond many other Republicans. Such measures pose a serious threat to the liberty of native-born Americans as well as immigrants.
Like his marijuana policies, Sessions’ proposals for coercing “sanctuary cities” are also likely to undermine constitutional federalism, unless invalidated by courts. Conservatives who might welcome federal coercion in this area should remember that the same power could be used by liberal presidents to coerce more conservative states in the future.
On immigration, as on marijuana legalization, Sessions is out of step with public opinion. Exit polls show that some 70% of Americans oppose deporting undocumented immigrants working in the United States.
The attorney general does not have as much power over immigration enforcement as over the War on Drugs and asset forfeitures. But Sessions could still do great harm in this field.
III. How We Can Get a Better Nominee by Overcoming Partisan Bias.
I don’t expect any president – Democrat or Republican – to appoint an attorney general as libertarian as I would ideally prefer. Far from it. But libertarians and others who care about federalism and limiting government power can reasonably expect someone with a less terrible record than Sessions. His divergence from mainstream views on so many issues does not by by itself prove that he is wrong. But it does make him potentially vulnerable.
I am not the only right of center commentator with grave concerns about Sessions. George Will, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Rep. Justin Amash, and Michael Tanner (writing in the National Review) have done so as well, among others. As Tanner puts it, Sessions “has a record that ought to worry believers in small government and individual liberty.”
The flaws in Sessions’ record are serious regardless of whether we credit claims that Sessions is a racist, that cost him a nomination to a federal judgeship back in the 1980s. Even if Sessions is completely free of racial prejudice, his agenda is still a threat to liberty, property rights, and constitutional federalism.
Sessions’ record cannot be sidestepped on the grounds that the attorney general’s job is just to “enforce the law.” Given the vast scope of federal law, a large majority of Americans have violated it at one time or another, and the AG has enormous discretion in choosing which putative lawbreakers to pursue. Being attorney general is not just a matter of technical competence. It is also about values and priorities. And many of Sessions’ priorities are deeply inimical to liberty and the Constitution. Republican senators recognized that the job is about more than professional qualifications when 43 of them voted against Loretta Lynch’s confirmation because of objections to her positions on policy and legal issues. Sessions should not be immune from such opposition either.
If, as seems likely, GOP senators rally around Sessions out of partisan loyalty, he will be confirmed. He may even be a “lock” for confirmation. Partisanship is a powerful drug that leads many people on both left and right to abandon their supposed principles. As Republican Rep. Justin Amash recently put it, “[p]artisanship remains a stronger force than ideology. Things won’t get better in politics until people care more about principles than teams.”
In this case, liberals, libertarians, and conservative advocates of property rights and federalism should join together in opposing Sessions. Despite their many other differences, these groups have a common interest in stopping his nomination. All three be better off if Trump is forced to choose a more conventional Republican, even if they still end up opposing some of that person’s decisions. Given the close 52-48 balance in the Senate, only a handful of GOP senators need to turn against Sessions in order to defeat his nomination. Now would be a good time to set aside some of the partisan bias that is helping to poison our political system.
La Conciergerie is a former royal palace and prison located by the seine on the west of the Île de la Cité. It is part of the larger complex known as the Palais de Justice, which is still used for judicial purposes.
I think this could apply to me too
This is cool!
Klaus Pinter - “Rebonds”, Panthéon Paris, pneumatic structure 20 x 26 x 15 m
Ahh the satisfied smile of watching bad people get caught hard.
This is the latest post in the Prenda Law saga.
More than three and a half years ago I started covering a copyright-troll firm called Prenda Law, which came to my attention because it was filing defamation suits against critics accusing it of wrongdoing. Rarely does the Streisand Effect so utterly annihilate a group of censorious miscreants.
Over the last three years, Prenda Law and its principals John Steele and Paul Hansmeier have met with ruin at the hands of federal courts across the country. Their scheme — to upload porn, track people downloading it from torrent sites, then engage in fraudulent and extortionate litigation against the downloaders — has been exposed. The story has involved spectacles like lawyers taking the Fifth rather than answer a judge's questions about their lawsuits, devastating sanctions orders quoting Star Trek and referring lawyers for federal criminal investigation, withering fire from federal appellate courts, and generally every bad thing that can happen to a lawyer happening to the bad men behind this case.
When people have asked me why these lawyers aren't in jail, I've answered that the wheels turn slowly.
But they turn.
Today federal agents arrested John Steele and Paul Hansmeier, the two lawyers most responsible for this nationwide debacle. They were arrested on a federal indictment brought by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota. An indictment is an accusation, not proof: it only signifies that the U.S. Attorney has persuaded a grand jury that there is probable cause, which is not one of the more difficult challenges anyone ever faced. But a federal indictment is a very grave development for any defendant. The feds' competitive advantage is their ability to pick and choose cases, to develop evidence and witnesses painstakingly over time, and to bring their case only after they've amassed what they see as overwhelming odds in their favor.
The indictment charges Hansmeier and Steele with a raft of federal crimes: conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to suborn perjury in federal court. As usual, if you count up the statutory maximum sentence for all of these crimes, you get a ridiculous number that bears no relation to the probable sentences they face if convicted. However, given the amounts discussed in the indictment, they are facing years in federal prison.
Having covered this story for almost four years, what's remarkable to me is how comprehensive the federal indictment is. It covers almost every sort of misconduct any judge or commentator has accused Steele and Hansmeier of committing in substantial detail. It therefore serves to demonstrate how broad and flexible federal criminal law is — how it can be brought to bear against a wide variety of conduct.
The story, as the indictment tells it, is this: Steele and Hansmeier used various entities, including Prenda Law, to commit fraud. The indictment mentions many entities familiar to followers of this story — AF Holdings, Ingenuity 13, Guava LLC, and so forth. These entities would appear in copyright cases as the nominal plaintiffs, but the indictment alleges they were actually owned and controlled entirely by Steele and Hansmeier to conduct their fraudulent scheme. According to the feds, Steele and Hansmeier uploaded their "clients'" pornographic movies to file-sharing websites intending to lure people into downloading them, then sued the people who downloaded for copyright infringement, concealing their role in uploading the movies. They used what the feds describe as "extortionate tactics" to coerce quick settlements, and dismissed cases when defendants fought back rather than risk discovery. When federal courts began limiting the number of people they could sue at once for porn copyright infringement, they changed tactics and began to file suits falsely asserting that their clients had been "hacked" and then using those allegations as a basis to subpoena ISPs for subscriber information. Eventually Steele and Hansmeier filmed their own porn to upload to support this scheme. When courts began suspicious, the indictment alleges that Steele and Hansmeier sent underlings to lie to courts, or even lied to courts themselves, to conceal the scheme. The indictment specifies 14 separate instances of perjury or lying to courts. This scheme, the feds claim, netted more than $6,000,000 in copyright settlements, of which $3,000,000 went to Steele and Hansmeier and only $1,000,000 went to sham "clients," with the rest consumed for expenses.
The feds apply these facts to the law deftly. They describe the entire thing as a conspiracy to defraud, which forms the first (and most flexible) count in the indictment. The indictment offers five counts of mail fraud tied to five settlement demand letters sent by the schemers. It offers 11 counts of wire fraud tied to uploadings of porn to file sharing site and processing of checks. That's the way mail and wire fraud works — every mailing or wire communication resulting from the scheme can be a separate count. The feds frame their conspiracy to commit money laundering charge on the theory that Steele and Hansmeier engaged in transactions (probably with the sham companies) designed to conceal that the money came from mail fraud and wire fraud. The conspiracy to commit perjury count is based on the theory that they agreed to send people across the country to lie to courts to protect their scheme. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of ill-gotten gains.
This is a devastating indictment. Its scope will make it extremely expensive and difficult to defend. The detail level suggests that the feds have amassed a vast amount of documentary evidence. Its reference to Prenda Law employees with initials like "M.L." and "P.H." strongly suggests that the feds have flipped some former employees, who are now testifying for the government.
Prenda fell years ago. But now doom has come for Steele and Hansmeier. Based on my observations throughout this case, it couldn't happen to more deserving criminals.
Steele and Hansmeier might have continued this scheme for much longer — and might have even gotten away with it — had they not gotten arrogant and vengeful. When criticized, rather than settling and dismissing some suits and moving on (the way practiced con men do), they were incensed, and decided to abuse the legal system even more by blitzing critics with multiple lawsuits. John Steele gleefully threatened opponents and Paul Hansmeier famously sneered at the defamation defendants "welcome to the big leagues." It was those actions that drew much more attention to their cases. Character is destiny. Not only are Steele and Hansmeier wanton crooks, they're spiteful, entitled, arrogant douches. That led to their downfall.
December 19 bail update: Paul Hansmeier made his first appearance in Minnesota District Court and was released on a $100,000 signature bond — that is, he was released on a promise to pay $100,000 if he fails to appear for trial or breaks terms of release.
That sounds fairly lenient, but bear in mind that under the Bail Reform Act bond is supposed to be set at the minimum necessary to make sure that the defendant doesn't flee and doesn't pose a danger to the community. White collar dudes — and particularly white white collar dudes — typically get pretty low bail in federal court.
John Steele was arrested in Florida. Here's the way it's supposed to work: if you get arrested on a federal warrant in a different district, you have a right to a hearing at which the feds have to show you're the same dude charged in the other district and that there's probable cause (which can be satisfied by an indictment, like they have here.) Steele — who said he would be representing himself — waived further proceedings, thus agreeing to go to Minnesota to appear, and was released immediately on a $100,000 signature bond and a promise to post an actual $100,000 bond (meaning he'll have to put up $10,0000). Again, that is not atypical.
If Steele represents himself in Minnesota, it will be spectacular.Copyright 2016 by the named Popehat author.
Today's selection -- from Drinking in America by Susan Cheever. Money, alcohol, and votes were regular companions at polling places in colonial and early America:
"George Washington, a wealthy Virginia aristocrat who loved parties and fox hunting, found out about the connection between drinking and voting for the American electorate the hard way. A rigorous military commander who drove his soldiers hard and expected much of them, he began to aspire to a government position after he did not get a command in the British military. While seeking a seat in the Virginia Assembly in 1755, he was roundly defeated.
his French &
Indian War days.
"Two years later he ran again, but this time he delivered 144 gallons of rum, punch, cider, and wine to the polling places distributed by election volunteers who urged the voters to drink up. At 307 votes, he got a return on his investment of almost two votes per gallon. Most elections featured vats and barrels of free liquor as well as the candidate in hand to drink along with his constituency. Candidates showed off their generosity as well as their drinking capacity. Although voting while intoxicated was normal for the colonists, French traveler Ferdinand Bayard was horrified to notice, 'Candidates offer drunkenness openly to anyone who is willing to give them his vote.'
"A few years later the writer George Prentice described a Kentucky election that lasted three days. 'During that period whiskey and apple toddy flow through our cities and villages like the Euphrates through ancient Babylon.' Later, after the Revolution, some of the Founding Fathers objected to the American way of voting. James Madison, who drank a pint of whiskey daily to aid his digestion, was also running for the Virginia Assembly in 1777. Madison decided that bribing the voters with alcohol was beneath his dignity and the dignity of the new nation. The influence of liquor at the polls was 'inconsistent with the purity of moral and republican virtues,' he announced. He lost.
Old courthouse in Philadelphia during the October 1, 1764 election
"Later, when he became Thomas Jefferson's secretary of state, Madison's ideas about democracy began to sharpen. A Virginia aristocrat who had grown up on a plantation, he did not believe in 'excessive democracy'; democracy was too precious to waste on the common man. This belief, which may have begun with his horror at the way polling places were conducted, led him to favor a strong federal government, and he eventually helped Alexander Hamilton -- another man who was disturbed by drunkenness -- draft The Federalist Papers."
George William Russell (1867-1935) - Spirit of the Pool
Levels of disease in the environment may be linked to gains in women's political power. That's the finding of two psychologists who pored over six decades of data, looking at connections between ecological stressors and gender equality. Arizona State - Tempe's Michael E. W. Varnum and University of Waterloo, Canada's Igor Grossmann found that declining infectious disease rates in the US were strongly correlated with a rise in gender equality. The big question is why. Writing in Nature Human Behavior, the researchers say the trend can be partly explained by looking at how pathogens "cue people to adopt faster life strategies."
Varnum and Grossman's study was inspired by the field of behavioral ecology, where scientists explore how the physical environment affects animal behavior. Obviously, social equality among humans is affected by political events such as the passage of Title IX and anti-discrimination laws. But the researchers were curious about whether environmental factors might also have an impact on whether we build societies that are more egalitarian or more authoritarian. To get an answer, Varnum and Grossmann narrowed their focus to looking strictly at gender equality between the years 1951 and 2013 in the US and the UK. They explain that they created "an index of gender equality using data on indicators of political representation (the number of women in Congress), wage inequality (male:female wage ratio based on data from the US Women’s Bureau and the National Committee on Equal Pay), linguistic representation in cultural products (use of male versus female pronouns in published books) and sexist work attitudes (percentage of respondents in Gallup polls preferring a male boss)."
They stacked this data up against changes in four environmental problems that affect humanity: infectious disease, resource scarcity, warfare, and climatic stress. Of the four, only infectious disease could predict levels of gender equality. But the effect was striking. As levels of infectious disease dropped, Varnum and Grossmann could see a similar drop in gender inequality. Making the relationship more believable was the fact that it operated at a temporal remove. Fifteen years after a decline in nine infectious diseases, we see the most noticeable uptick gender equality. Essentially, it takes almost a generation for the environmental conditions to affect social ones. The researchers got these results by looking at CDC data on the prevalence of tuberculosis, syphilis, gonorrhea, malaria, typhoid, diphtheria, pertussis, measles, and polio in the US. As a point of comparison, they looked at deaths from measles and tuberculosis in the UK. In both countries, the pattern was the same. As diseases dropped, gender equality rose.
David Charles Hahn, who gained some notoriety in 1994 for attempting to build a homemade breeder nuclear reactor for a Boy Scout project in his mom's Michigan backyard shed, has died at the age of 39. He passed away on September 27, but his death did not draw much media attention until Monday.
Breeder reactors are a type of nuclear reactor that generate more fissile material than they consume. They have been researched extensively for decades, and a number have been built, but the approach has largely been abandoned.
For more than four decades, people looking for a bit of fun escapism have been able to turn to Dungeons & Dragons, the tabletop role-playing game first published in 1974. The game, currently in its fifth edition, has had a big influence on countless other tabletop games and video games, and this year The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, has recognized its contributions by inducting it into its Toy Hall of Fame.
“More than any other game, Dungeons & Dragons paved the way for older children and adults to experience imaginative play,” said museum curator Nic Ricketts. “It was groundbreaking. And it opened the door for other kinds of table games that borrow many of its unique mechanics. But most importantly, Dungeons & Dragons’ mechanics lent themselves to computer applications, and it had a direct impact on hugely successful electronic games like World of Warcraft.”
D&D was inducted alongside Fisher-Price's Little People toddler toys and the swing (yes, as in swing set). The three new inductees were chosen from a list of 12 finalists and beat out Nerf, the coloring book, Transformers, the card game Uno, and Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, to name just a few.
Over at Make, Gareth Branwyn wrote about how to check the balance of your d20 dice:
Gamer Daniel Fisher used an old golf ball balancing trick to test the integrity of his D20 gaming dice. To set up the test, he mixed 6+ tablespoons of salt with 1/3 cup room temperature water in a small glass jar. By floating and spinning a die in the jar, he was able to see if it consistently rolled high, low, or was balanced.
Among other things, Fisher discovered that translucent dice tend to be more balanced, perhaps because you can easily see imperfections inside them (and wouldn’t buy or use them). Finding out that a number of his D20s regularly rolled low or high in the water, he cut into one to see what might be causing the imbalance. Inside, he found obvious manufacturing imperfections, chalky areas where the die may not have cured properly. Later in the video, he puts the cut die under a microscope to get a closer look inside.
wow that is georgious
The Morgan Library & Museum, New York City
I need to see some of these!
Here at Ars, we're always making lists (just like Liam Neeson). Lists of science fiction movies are a common item for discussion on the Ars staff Slack channel—particularly short lists of the best science fiction movies ever made. But "best" is an impossible word to quantify in any broadly applicable way—one person's "best ever" might be another person's worst, especially in a genre of movies as rich and varied as science fiction.
While the Ars staff has some bitter disagreements on which movies are better than others, it's undeniable that some science fiction movies are mandatory viewing for the modern geek. To that end, rather than try to pull together another tired "top ten sci-fi movies" listicle, we've instead polled the Ars staff to try to come up with a definitive "science fiction bucket list"—that is, a list of sci-fi movies that you should absolutely see at least once before you die. They aren't necessarily the "best" movies by any specific set of criteria, but every film on this list is outstanding in some particular way. Some were groundbreaking in their stories or subject matter, some were controversial, and some contained a character or plot twist that went on to become an archetype, referenced in and reused by countless other films. Some films on the list, like Fritz Lang's Metropolis, are pure cinematic poetry; others, like Pacific Rim, are pure popcorn fun. And, as a bonus, we even included a bonus list of a few absolutely terrible stinkers at the very bottom.
Strap in, dear reader, and pick through the Ars Technica sci-fi bucket list. Each staffer contributed a movie or two to the list, so we've captured a pretty broad range of must-see films. We're sure many folks are going to disagree over our choices—this is the Internet, after all, and arguments on the Internet about science fiction have been going on since the 1970s!—so you're welcome to tell us all of the movies we should have included but didn't down in the comments.
As electronics have become increasingly ubiquitous, the never-ending upgrade churn fills an ever-larger e-graveyard. If that’s where the story ends, we’re in real trouble. The several years of use a typical device sees effectively become a short conveyor belt between mines around the world and the local landfill. The only sensible and sustainable thing to do is to recycle the materials in our devices—ideally right into the next generation of tech.
Responsible recycling operations (that don’t simply dump e-waste in developing countries) have an interesting set of challenges to work on. Recycling is always trying to catch up to—and is limited by—what manufacturers are doing. But opportunities are there for those willing to make it a priority.
To learn a little about the kinds of things that can be done now and what stands in the way of doing more, Ars talked to Dell about its recycling efforts. Dell runs a take-back program for old devices in partnership with Goodwill, which sells anything worth selling and sends the rest on.
Routine hormone injections into the buttocks of 320 men dramatically shrunk their sperm counts and prevented pregnancies during a year-long, early-phase trial, researchers reported Thursday.
The findings suggest that a future hormonal male contraceptive may one day be possible. However, the data also revealed high rates of side effects, such as acne and mood swings, suggesting much more work is needed before such a birth control method is realized.
"A male hormonal contraceptive is possible," lead author Mario Festin, a medical officer with the department of reproductive health and research at the World Health Organization, told the Chicago Tribune. "We have to continue searching for or investigating the right drugs, and their combinations, with the highest efficacy and safety, and acceptability, with the least side effects."
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, Calif.—On Friday evening Tesla officially announced an integrated solar roof and Powerwall product for individual use. When or if the roof and the Powerwall become available to consumers is most likely contingent on Tesla and SolarCity investors voting to approve Tesla's offer to buy SolarCity in a $2.6 billion (£2.1 billion) all-stock deal on November 17.
Tesla set up an elaborate "neighborhood" display on the Universal Studios lot in Los Angeles. The company unveiled several model homes with Tesla Powerwalls mounted on the side and a variety of custom roofs with photovoltaic cells disguised as tiles.
"You really need to make solar panels as appealing as electric cars have become," Tesla CEO Elon Musk told a crowd of several hundred people as the sun set on the artificial neighborhood. "The goal is to have a roof that's less than the installed cost of a roof plus electricity."
Design website Core77 says, "Industrial designers: Do you find it stings when non-designers invent a successful product that you should have thought of?" The product is called the TubShroom, and it's a silicone ribber gadget that fits into drains to trap hair.
What's interesting is that [inventors Serge and Elena Karnegie] sought funding on both Kickstarter and IndieGogo — and smashed it on both. They gathered $59,267 on the former and about $120,000 on the latter.
That was last year. This year they've returned to Kickstarter with a smaller version called, unsurprisingly, the SinkShroom. The $12 device has already been 400% funded, and there's 18 days left to pledge if you want one.
On Thursday morning, federal authorities in Texas unsealed criminal charges against dozens of people who are accused of being part of a “transnational criminal organization” that allegedly victimized tens of thousands of people and yielded hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.
The indictment was filed against 61 people and includes charges of conspiracy to commit identity theft, impersonation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud, and money laundering. Of those people, 20 were arrested Thursday in the US.
The suspects are believed to have orchestrated an incredibly large series of phone-based scams that lasted for years. According to prosecutors, the suspects would call victims, impersonating Internal Revenue Service and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services officials, and would then demand payment through debit cards or wire transfers. If victims didn’t pay up, the callers threatened them with arrest, deportation, or heavier fines. There were also related scams involving fake payday loans and bogus US government grants, according to the criminal complaint.
Dude's Wife Gets Another Random Call from Some Thirsty Stranger Looking for an Escort, and He Steps in with Hilarious Response
Last June, the Economist ran this chart: "Lies, Damned Lies, and Directives," which documents decades of flat-out lies about EU regulations that were published in the tabloid press (many invented by the UK's post-Brexit foreign minister and Trumpian hairclown Boris Johnson, whose press colleagues considered him most reckless confabulist on European matters in their ranks). (more…)