Quotulatiousness

May 1, 2017

Math is hard … and in Oregon it can lead to hard time

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Did you know that you have to be certified by an Oregon regulatory agency to do certain kinds of math? Mats Järlström has discovered just how draconian the state can be about unauthorized mathematizing:

After exploring the math behind traffic light timing, Järlström concluded that the formula, created in 1959, accounted for only two yellow light scenarios: driving straight through the intersection, or stopping.

So Järlström decided to try to improve the math managing the transition time from yellow to red, in order to allow a driver traveling through an intersection with a yellow light to slow down and turn without being flagged for a red light violation. And in early 2015 he shared his proposal with the media, policymakers, and those interested in the traffic technology.

“It’s not rocket science,” Järlström said in a phone interview with The Register. “It took me about 40 minutes to figure it out.”

For communicating his findings in five emails, the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying in March, 2015 opened an investigation. In August 2016, the rules body found [PDF] that Järlström had engaged in unlicensed engineering and assessed a $500 fine.

Even better, if he persists, he may even face jail time for his unlicensed mathematical crime spree.

Järlström paid the fine but fears his ongoing interest in traffic light timing will lead to further penalties. Violating the Act could subject him to $1,000 in civil penalties, $6,250 in criminal fines, and as much as a year in jail.

April 20, 2015

Everything is “interstate commerce”

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Last month, Elizabeth Nolan Brown reported on another case where the “interstate commerce” excuse is used to justify federal charges for a purely intra-state activity:

Until 2010, Oregon entrepreneur Lawrence George Owen, 73, owned one restaurant, eight strip clubs, and two adult-video stores in the Portland area. At these businesses, Owen installed ATM machines in case customers needed to take out cash. With that cash, customers could do an assortment of things — tip dancers, buy food and drinks, leave the establishment and go grocery shopping. And sometimes, customers used the cash to privately pay some strippers for sex.

Now Owen faces federal charges for “conspiring to use interstate commerce” in promotion of prostitution.

The charges are the results of a nine year joint-effort by Portland’s vice squad and the FBI. Between 2006 and 2009, undercover Portland police officers arranged for 18 acts of prostitution with dancers at three of the clubs. After that federal agents took over, searching Owen’s businesses and the homes of his alleged co-conspirators and seizing $843,000 in cash.

Owen, it should be noted, was living in Mexico most of this time. He is currently on a U.S. Marshall’s hold in a Portland jail, after being detained by federal agents in late February.

You might be wondering how Owen faces federal charges if all of the alleged prostitution-promoting took place in Portland. Promoting prostitution is only a federal crime under certain circumstances, such as when the perpetrator transports or coerces an individual across state lines for prostitution purposes. Using mail, telephone calls, or other “facilities of interstate commerce” in service of prostitution will also do the trick. But the FBI has no evidence that Owen enticed or transported strip-club employees from outside Oregon, nor that he used mail or telephone calls to help facilitate their prostitution efforts.

When the FBI wants to make a case against someone, however, they’ll find a way. In this case, the FBI decided that ATM machines count as “facilities of interstate commerce.”

November 5, 2014

Alaska, Oregon, and Washington DC vote to legalize marijuana

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:24

Jacob Sullum on the success of two more state legalization campaigns (oh, and the imperial capital, too):

Yesterday Alaska became the fourth state to legalize marijuana for recreational use. With 74 percent of precincts reporting, 52 percent of voters favored legalization. Alaska joins Oregon and Washington, D.C., which legalized marijuana on the same day, and Colorado and Washington state, where voters approved legalization in 2012.

Alaska has taken a unique approach to marijuana since 1975, when the Alaska Supreme Court decided that the state constitution’s privacy clause allows people to possess small amounts of cannabis at home for personal use without fear of arrest or punishment. But that ruling raised an obvious question: Where are people supposed to get the pot they are allowed to use?

Measure 2 answers that question with a system similar to Colorado’s. It allows adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time, grow up to six plants at home, and transfer up to an ounce at a time to other adults “without remuneration.” It authorizes state-licensed growers, cannabis product manufacturers, and retailers, to be regulated by Alaska’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board or a separate agency created by the state legislature.

September 29, 2013

Portland’s tainted $2 bills

Filed under: Business, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:32

Last year there were a large number of red-stained $2 bills circulating in Portland, Oregon. Mary Emily O’Hara investigated the situation:

The manager at the McDonald’s on Northwest Yeon Avenue glanced at the money in the customer’s hand, a $2 bill that looked as if its edges had been dipped in blood. He grew tense, shook his head and turned away.

“Oh, no,” he says. “We’re not allowed to accept those.”

McDonald’s employees had seen the mystery money before — crimson-stained, smeared, always $2 bills — as have food carts, bars, retail stores and other businesses across the Portland area.

The bills have amused some people and alarmed others, who aren’t sure if the stains come from real blood, if the cash is counterfeit, or if the bills were marked by an exploding dye pack during a bank robbery gone wrong.

Thousands of these tainted bills are in circulation around the city, but their source is no longer a mystery: They’re a marketing gimmick for Casa Diablo, a Northwest Portland strip club that is taking U.S. currency and smearing it with blood-red ink.

You’d think defacing the currency would be a problem for the government … and it is:

But the feds have taken a dim view of Zukle’s actions: It’s against federal law to deface U.S. currency with the intent to make it unusable.

WW has learned Zukle and Casa Diablo are now under investigation by the Secret Service. Jon Dalton, resident agent in charge of the Secret Service’s Portland office, tells WW the fact the bills are being rejected show Casa Diablo’s inking of the money violates federal law.

Dalton says his office has told Casa Diablo three times to stop handing out the tainted bills. He also says his office has prepared a cease and desist order and is consulting with federal prosecutors about criminal charges. (WW has also learned the FBI paid the bar a visit in February.)

H/T to Marginal Revolution for the link.

July 22, 2013

When is an “arrest” not really an arrest?

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Answer: when you try to sue them for false arrest:

The Portland police and City Attorney are making an argument in federal court this month that gives another glimpse into the increasing claims of authority of police in our society. Scott Miller was stopped for jaywalking by Officer Dean Halley in 2010 and admitted that he committed the common violation of pedestrians. The officer however proceeded to handcuff him, tell him “you’re under arrest,” throw him into the back of a cruiser and then drove him a block away. He was in custody for about 30 minutes, but Deputy City Attorney William Manlove is arguing that citizens cannot sue because such acts do not constitute an actual arrest. They are something between a chat and custody, but not an arrest for purposes of legal action.

So, according to Portland, this constitutes just being detained and is effectively beyond any challenge of a citizen. In other words, police can routinely handcuff citizens, lock them in court and even tell them that they are under arrest without being subject to accountability for wrongful arrests.

Deputy City Attorney William Manlove insists that when Miller briefly jaywalked one morning while trying to catch a bus, he could be detained and handcuffed but not treated as an arrested person despite the express statement of the officer. It is an argument that would allow officers virtually unchecked authority in handcuffing citizens and holding them. It is the perfect authoritarian loophole and the city Portland wants to help establish it for future cases.

When Officer Friendly roughs you up, searches your car, and detains you for an indeterminate period of time, in no way does that imply that your rights have been infringed, citizen. Move along … nothing to see here.

May 2, 2013

Cherrypicking the result you prefer from a recent Medicaid study

Filed under: Health, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:43

Megan McArdle explains why a recent study’s results may be much more important than you might gather from the way it’s been reported so far:

Bombshell news out of Oregon today: a large-scale randomized controlled trial (RCT) of what happens to people when they gain Medicaid eligibility shows no impact on objective measures of health. Utilization went up, out-of-pocket expenditure went down, and the freqency of depression diagnoses was lower. But on the three important health measures they checked that we can measure objectively — glycated hemoglobin, a measure of blood sugar levels; blood pressure; and cholesterol levels — there was no significant improvement.

I know: sounds boring. Glycated hemoglobin! I might as well be one of the adults on Charlie Brown going wawawawawawa . . . and you fell asleep, didn’t you?

But this is huge news if you care about health care policy — and given the huge national experiment we’re about to embark on, you’d better. Bear with me.

Some of the news reports I’ve seen so far are somewhat underselling just how major these results are.

“Study: Medicaid reduces financial hardship, doesn’t quickly improve physical health” says the Washington Post.

The Associated Press headline reads “Study: Depression rates for uninsured dropped with Medicaid coverage”

At the New York Times, it’s “Study Finds Expanded Medicaid Increases Health Care Use”

I think Slate is closer to the mark, though a bit, well, Slate-ish: “Bad News for Obamacare: A new study suggests universal health care makes people happier but not healthier.”

This study is a big, big deal. Let me explain why.

August 10, 2012

Drink some rainwater, go to jail

Filed under: Environment, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:09

A 1925 law still applies in Oregon:

You just can’t make this stuff up. A man in Oregon is currently in jail serving a thirty day term – along with a $1500 fine – for collecting rainwater and snow melt on his own property for drinking and household use. You think I’m kidding? I’m not.

    Gary Harrington, the Oregon man convicted of collecting rainwater and snow runoff on his rural property surrendered Wednesday morning to begin serving his 30-day, jail sentence in Medford, Ore.

    “I’m sacrificing my liberty so we can stand up as a country and stand for our liberty,” Harrington told a small crowd of people gathered outside of the Jackson County (Ore.) Jail.

H/T to Jon, my former virtual landlord, who said “This is just a little weird […] But does the fact that I can see the point of the law — preventing people from messing with a watershed area, I guess — mean that I’ve consumed the nanny state kool-aid?”.

March 18, 2011

West coast earthquake zones

Filed under: Cancon, Environment, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:44

According to an article in The Economist, the well-known San Andreas fault in California is not the most likely to cause an earthquake of the magnitude of last week’s quake in Japan. The most likely source is the Cascadia subduction zone:

wikimedia.org - Cascadia subduction zone The most likely megaquake on the West Coast would be much further north — in fact, 50 miles off the coast between Cape Mendocino in northern California and Vancouver Island in southern British Columbia. This 680-mile strip of seabed is home to the Cascadia subduction zone, where oceanic crust known as the Juan de Fuca plate is forced under the ancient North American plate that forms the continent. For much of its length, the two sides of this huge subduction zone are locked together, accumulating stresses that are capable of triggering megaquakes in excess of magnitude 9.0 when they eventually slip. As such, Cascadia is more than a match for anything off the coast of Japan.

What makes Cascadia such a monster is not just its length, but also the shallowness of the angle with which the encroaching tectonic plate dives under the continental mass. The descending plate has to travel 40 miles down the incline before it softens enough from the Earth’s internal heat to slide without accumulating further frictional stresses. Could the fault unzip from end to end and trigger a megaquake — along with the mother of all tsunamis? You bet. By one account, it has done so at least seven times over the past 3,500 years. Another study suggests there have been around 20 such events over the past 10,000 years. Whatever, the “return time” would seem to be within 200 to 600 years.

And the last time Cascadia let go? Just 311 years ago.

Cascadia subduction zone image from wikimedia.org.

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