Fire in the Hole!

The good folks at Cadbury have come up with a fun little activity with which you can chuck a Cadbury Creme Egg anywhere you want in the world using their “Cadapult” and, via the magic of satellite images, the result is a giant Cadbury egg splat on your target.

My first target was my own house – I’ll admit that was pretty nifty and we will definitely have to do it again when the kids are home – I know they’ll love that.  We’ll probably lob one at their grandparents’ house too, for a giggle.

My second gooey sugar-laden  airstrike was this:

Republican National Committee 310 First Street, SE Washington, DC 20003

 

Just maybe.

Obama Pres. of USA, Trump Mayor of Crazytown

Donald Trump, Republican presidential hopeful, went on a loopy-sounding tirade on Fox “News” this week accusing President Obama of being born outside the United States, an issue which has long since been resolved to all but the most paranoid or racist:

In response, I would offer Trump this detailed analysis of the birth certificate situati0n by Factcheck.com.  While Trump claims his suspicion stems from the fact that no one knew Obama as a child, Gov. Neil Abercrombie himself stated in January 2011:

It’s a matter of principle with me”….”I knew his mom and dad.  I was here when he was born. Anybody who wants to ask a question honestly could have had their answer already.”

On Tuesday, he again promised he would do “what I can do” to publicly verify that records show Obama was born in Hawaii and is a citizen of the United States, making him eligible to be President.

“You’re not going to convince those people because they have a political agenda, or they have minds that go in that kind of direction,” he told CNN. “Conspiratorial theorists are never going to be satisfied. This has gone into another area of political attack.”

The fact that we have the current equivalent of tinfoil hatters running seriously for president is wrong on several levels.  What is most wrong is the fact that many, if not most, reasonable conservatives and their elected officials know the birther movement is utterly ridiculous, but they say nothing for fear of losing those votes.  Principles, people – grow a pair.

Bomb found….eventually

From Reuters:

A package found by a security guard at a U.S. federal office building in Detroit sat three for weeks before someone thought to screen it and found it was a bomb, an official who represents unionized guards said on Wednesday.

A private contract guard, since suspended, apparently found the package outside in late February…The guard brought the package into the building and put it in “lost and found” without having it screened, Wright said. It sat until March 18, when someone decided to X-ray the package and found that it might contain a bomb, he said.

The guards then notified the Federal Protective Service and Detroit police and the package was moved outside the building, where the police bomb squad recovered it, he said.

Detroit police said they recovered a package Friday from the federal building and detonated it.

Ooh – embarrassing.  According to a detailed follow-up article:

A man accused of placing an explosive outside a federal building in Detroit that sat unexamined inside for nearly three weeks will undergo a mental exam after declaring in court Friday that he was a former president and the governor of California.U.S.

Magistrate Judge Timothy Greeley said he was influenced by [Defendant] Gary Mikulich’s behavior in federal court in Marquette. Mikulich said he was a one-term president, a co-governor of California, a Secret Service officer and a U.S. marshal, WXYZ-TV reported.

____

His family released a statement saying he has suffered from paranoid schizophrenia for years and often fails to take medication.

The family “is truly thankful that no one was injured and is hopeful that Gary may now be forced to get the treatment that the family attempted to get him,” they said.

The Fiscally Irresponsible Death Penalty

Growing up here in the Lone Star State, I never gave capital punishment a second thought.  If you kill someone and you should expect consequences – it made sense, especially for those especially heinous news-making crimes for which we all want retribution.  A little history:

Capital punishment has been used in the U.S. state of Texas and its predecessor entities since 1819. As of February 22, 2011, 1,217 individuals (all but six of whom have been male) have been executed. As of 2010 the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) houses death row prisoners after they are transported from their counties of conviction, and the TDCJ administers the death penalty on a condemned person’s court-scheduled date of execution.

Texas has used a variety of execution methods – hanging (until 1924), shooting by firing squad (used only four times during the Civil War period), electrocution (1924–1964) and lethal injection (1982 to present). Most executions were for murder, but other crimes such as piracy, cattle rustling, treason, desertion and rape have been subject to death sentences.

Under current state law, the crimes of capital murder and capital sabotage (see Texas Government Code §557.012) or a second conviction for the aggravated sexual assault of someone under 14 is eligible for the death penalty (though the recent Supreme Court case Kennedy v. Louisiana removed the death penalty option for rapists).

Since the death penalty was re-instituted in the United States in the 1976 Gregg v. Georgia decision, beginning in 1982 with the execution of Charles Brooks Jr., Texas has executed (all via lethal injection) more inmates than any other state, notwithstanding that two states (California and Florida) have a larger death row population than Texas. Male death row inmates are held at the Allan B. Polunsky Unit and female death row inmates are held at the Mountain View Unit, while all executions occur at Huntsville Unit.

In order for a murder to be a “capital murder,” it must meet one of the special circumstances set forth by statute:

Murder of an on-duty public safety officer or firefighter (the defendant must have known that the victim was such)

Intentional murder in the course of committing or attempting to commit a felony offense (such as burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or retaliation, or terroristic threat)

Murder for remuneration or for promise of remuneration (both the person who does the actual murder and the person who hired them can be charged with capital murder)

Murder while escaping or attempting to escape a penal institution

Murder while incarcerated with one of the following three qualifiers:

a) While incarcerated for capital murder, the victim is an employee of the institution or the murder must be done “with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a combination or in the profits of a combination”,

b) While incarcerated for either capital murder or murder, or

c) While serving either a life sentence or a 99-year sentence under specified Penal Code sections not involving capital murder or murder.

Multiple murders (defined as two or more murders during the same “criminal act”, which can involve a series of events not taking place at the same time)

Murder of an individual under six years of age

Murder of a person in retaliation for, or on account of, the service or status of the other person as a judge or justice of any court

And although more rare, Texas law also provides that a participant in a crime who didn’t actually do the killing can be convicted of “felony murder” which may be a capital offense.  For example, the get away car driver waiting outside a bank whose accomplices kill multiple bank patrons would be eligible for the death penalty by virtue of his or her involvement in the criminal scheme.

The bottom line is that capital punishment is aimed at the nastiest crimes out there committed by some of the nastiest people out there – and there are some truly vile folks who have earned this punishment by virtue of their heinous criminal acts.  And until well after law school I never questioned the practice, even with my strong left-leaning political views, because there’s rarely any cause to question the viciousness with which the crimes were perpetrated.

In the 1760s, English jurist William Blackstone stated in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”  And while no one wants those theoretical nine murderers running amuck, I think we can all envision the potential horror of being that one falsely accused and subsequently “brought to justice” by virtue of lethal injection – the type of justice that cannot be reversed.  According to the Texas Moratorium Network,

138 innocent people have walked off Death Row in the modern era after spending up to 33 years condemned to death. Twelve Death Row inmates in Texas have been fully exonerated of the crimes that sent them to death row. Anthony Graves was exonerated and released in Texas on October 27, 2010 after spending 18 years incarcerated for a crime he did not commit, including fourteen years on Texas death row. An innocent man named Ernest Willis walked off death row and into freedom in Texas on October 6, 2004. There are several people currently on Death Row in Texas with credible claims of innocence. There have also been reports in major media that three people executed in Texas were possibly innocent, Ruben Cantu, Todd Willingham and Carlos DeLuna.

If the thought of spending up to 33 years incarcerated and expecting death at the hands of the state while completely innocent doesn’t turn your stomach, well, then I’ve got nothing.   The irony, of course, is that the state wanted to kill these innocent men – which is exactly what the innocent men were accused of in the first place:  killing innocents.  Even though these men were exonerated, eventually, how can any logical person reconcile this?

And what about those who were actually put to death wrongfully?  It’s a troubling thought, but by the sheer numbers, common sense dictates that there were some innocent men killed by the state.  And even if they weren’t the most upstanding members of society, I don’t see that anyone would advocate that being a good thing.

But even if we could guarantee that these convicts were, in fact guilty, there are still other factors which make me uncomfortable with it:

69.7 percent of all people on Texas’s Death Row are non-white. Out of all the executions in Texas since 1982, no white person has ever been executed solely for the murder of an African-American. On Sept 10, 2003 Texas executed a white man for the murder of his white wife and a black female convenience store clerk. Of course, African-Americans are often sentenced to die in Texas for killing white people. For example, Napoleon Beazley, an African-American juvenile, was sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man. The last seven juvenile offenders executed in Texas were all African-Americans who committed their offenses at the age of 17.

That information makes me squirm in my seat – I don’t know how it could make anyone not, unless of course, that person was fine with the disproportional death penalty convictions of Blacks because of a bias due to racism.  And I don’t doubt many people are perfectly at peace with that.  But I’m not.

There are other reasons to discontinue executions in the United States, but these few are enough to convince me.  Not that most heinous killers don’t deserve an eye for their eye, but because we cannot guarantee that each and every single one is guilty and we cannot guarantee that each and every prosecutor, judge, and jury is completely colorblind.

And still, proponents of the death penalty will poo-poo these arguments, but here’s one that might appeal to even pro-death penalty conservatives, especially with the current state budget crises around the nation:  killing killers is expensive.   How expensive you may ask?  According to ThinkProgress:

Indeed, the Northern California chapter of the ACLU estimates that California spends $137 million each year on death penalty cases, mostly on legal fees, including the mandatory appeals process. In contrast, “the alternative of permanent imprisonment would cost just $11 million.”

Cutting out capital punishment to save taxpayer dollars has even gotten the support of Former California Superior Court Judge Donald McCartin, “a self-described “right-wing Republican” who earned the nickname “the hanging judge” for the numerous death penalty sentences he handed out” who is calling on California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to abolish the death penalty.

Because experts agree that capital punishment does not serve as a deterrent to committing capital crimes,  one could argue that the only value in it is societal revenge:  retribution for the innocent lives taken violently before their time.  And I can’t say that I don’t see some intrinsic value in that.  But those lives are already long gone and killing the killers won’t bring them back.

Think, instead, of what could be constructively accomplished with the hundreds of millions of dollars used on the death penalty – hiring more police officers, teachers, fire fighters, providing much needed supplies for our schools, feeding the hungry, providing job skills training for those who want to better themselves, college scholarships.  Hundreds of millions of dollars could really make a difference of measurable positive value.   And of a far greater value to our society than any benefit we could possibly get from capital punishment.  Think about it.

Snake Farts

Hey – guess what I found in my garage?

Eastern Garter Snake

Yep – one of these guys.   Apparently what I saw was an Eastern Garter Snake:

These snakes are usually found near water or moist places, including marshes, streams, damp woods, wet meadows, parks, gardens, weed patches, farms, and forest edges.

Garter snakes are very active, and can be found day or night, though they’re most active during the day. They are usually seen among vegetation (plants).

Females do not lay eggs, like most snakes, but instead give birth to live young. Each baby snake is five to nine inches long. Over 50 young can be born together. Most of them will not survive as young snakes have many predators.

In Winter, garter snakes hibernate, usually with other garter snakes, and sometimes with other species. Winter dens may be under large rocks or inside mammal burrows.

Eastern Garter Snakes are the first snakes to become active in Spring. They have even been seen crawling over snow.

Garter snakes are good swimmers, but are not as good at climbing as some other snakes. They spend most of their time on the ground or in low shrubs and other plants.

If attacked, a garter snake will release a bad-smelling odor. They also bite.

Garter snakes can live up to 10 years.

It could also possibly have been a Western Ribbon Snake (they are closely related) with bluish undertones.  Regardless, it was the first snake I’ve seen in four or five years around the house, but by no means the first snake that I’ve seen here.

We have Texas Brown Snakes here too (being Texas and all) which people mistake for “baby copperheads” all the time, even though Texas Brown Snakes are completely harmless – and tiny.  We had one of these get in the house 5-6 years ago; harmless or otherwise, it’s not what you want to find under the kitchen table when the kids are eating breakfast.  And I’ve got no idea how it got in in the first place, I mean – we have doors here at Chez Lawyer.

Texas Brown Snakes are completely harmless if encountered, but will readily feign aggressiveness to defend themselves. This usually involves coiling up, raising the head, striking out repeatedly at anything that gets too close and vibrating the tail. This is just an act to get larger animals to leave them alone, however, since they generally strike with their mouths closed, and their mouths aren’t large enough to grab human skin even if they tried! LINK

When we first moved in, there were woods behind the house and it held all sorts of wildlife.  We moved in in August and sometime later that month – I ran around the side of the house to water our precious new sod and keep it from frying in the Texas sun and very nearly stepped on a huge – and I mean HUGE black water moccasin (AKA Cottonmouth) that was sunning its big fat self on the side of the house.  Luckily it didn’t strike  – because they are known to be rather testy and prone to fight rather than flight.  Nonetheless, I felt bad because we had invaded it’s territory after all – I mean it didn’t ask for a house plopped onto its home space any more than the Wicked Witch of the East did.  I can’t say I wasn’t glad that it never came back, though.

And we also once had something very very large and very very agile on the back porch – due to size alone, I suspect it was some sort of King Snake, but I couldn’t swear to it.

But back to our garter snake.  I saw it in the evening and my first reaction was to gasp…because it sure wasn’t what I was expecting to see in my recycling pile!  My second reaction was to grab it and show the kids because I knew it wasn’t venomous (12 years of Girl Scouting was useful after all!).  So I did – I wasn’t sure if it would bite me, so I went for right behind the head first.  My third reaction, was, “OMG – I’m holding a snake…and it’s bigger than I thought it would be!”  It was hardly a giant, but it was almost 2 feet long, which equals several coils around my arm, as it turns out.

And as it turns out, garter snakes don’t like to be mauled, however gently, by humans.  And as it turns out (and I had heard this before, but forgotten) one of their defense mechanisms is to emit a foul, foul, stink.  My oldest came out first and was thrilled by my find – he yelled for his brother – “Come see this snake mommy caught – IT SMELLS LIKE TOOTS!!!”  And it did.  More like toots mixed with a medicinal musty odor – like if your Flintstones Vitamin molded.  But yeah – peeeeyew!

All three came out and we had a lesson in NEVER EVER EVER EVER TOUCHING SNAKES unless mommy says it’s ok (and yes mommy and not Daddy because I can guarantee Daddy wouldn’t be within 20 paces of a snake by choice) and if you see a snake RUN RUN RUN AND TELL MOMMY AND NEVER EVER TOUCH IT.  And then I let them pet it.

And then we all washed our hands and arms and changed our shirts, because, MAN, is snake fart pervasive!

 

How I Almost Got Ripped Off

Here’s a little background.  I live in a two story house in a city with really hot and humid weather.  If you live in a two story house with really hot and humid weather, the builder is very likely to install two central air conditioning units – one for each floor with separate thermostats.  I say this because I know for a fact that my friends north of here have been really confused by the double-a/c thing.  It’s nothing special – it’s standard in this area.

If you ask a/c guys, they will say you need to get your units checked annually to keep them in good working order.  In the spring, we usually get loads of fliers for a/c companies willing to come out and check your units out for $59.99 apiece or something similar.  Whether this is really necessary, well I don’t really know.  We have it done every other year or so, just to be safe.

I have a long to-do list which, having kids, operates in triage fashion – blood and vomit comes first while a/c checks are somewhere near the bottom.   In late January, when we began running the a/c regularly (I told you it was hot and humid here!) Mr. Lawyer started harassing me about getting that check up done.  And I put it off for a few weeks – the a/c was working fine, after all.  In Late February, he brought it up again, in a….shall we say….grumpier fashion? So I figured I’d better get on the ball.

Fortuitously, the next morning a company called Houston Admiral happened to call while I was still in bed – and very groggy.  They said they would come out that week for $75 and do the check.  We are on the no call list and while we occasionally do receive calls from companies who are violating the no-call provisions, usually companies that call are ones that we have done business with in the past.

So I asked, “Have we used you guys before?”  The response was vague, but implied that yes, we had likely used them before.  And having just woken up, I accepted that as reasonable, especially since we have used a number of different a/c companies in the past, both for preventative and repair work.

It turns out that this company uses several different names, but I didn’t know that at the time.

Houston Admiral
Accutron Heating & A/C
Admiral
Admiral A/C Experts
Admiral Air Conditioning & Heating
Admiral Services
Admiral/Accutron Air Conditioning
KJC Business Ventures, L.P.

The guy came out a day or two later – the name on the invoice is Shaun J.  He seemed nice enough – very polite.  He had a look at the outside units and the attic stuff and then came to me with a serious look – the verdict was grim.

He stated that essentially the upstairs unit was poised to meltdown at any minute.  It might last a week or a month, but it would definitely not make it through the summer.  Definitely not.  It was all but a goner and to avoid the hassle of being without a/c in 100 degree heat, we needed to replace it now.  Right now.

Horrified, I asked what the total would be.  $10k before tax.  $9898.50 to be precise.  Woah, Nelly!  Who has that kind of cash laying around?  He cheerfully handed me information from their financing company.  I told him I would give them a call after talking it over with Mr. Lawyer.

And then I did some research, because something seemed…off.  The guy was very nice.  Very polite.  Said hi to my kiddo.  But it still didn’t feel right.

And the initial research proved ugly.  The BBB rated the company F for failure to respond to 50 complaints filed against them.  Holeeee smokes!

BBB processed a total of 56 complaint(s) about this business in the last 36 months, our standard reporting period. Of the total 56 complaint(s) closed in the last 36 months, 10 were closed in the last 12 months.

These complaints concerned:

2 regarding Advertising Issues

6 regarding Billing or Collection Issues

3 regarding Contract Disputes

1 regarding Customer Services Issues

4 regarding Refund Or Exchange Issues

13 regarding Repair Issues

12 regarding Selling Practices

15 regarding Service Issues

I decided that a second opinion was in order – if the unit was going to need replacing, I wanted it replaced by a company I felt confident in and one that would honor their warranty, should warranty work be necessary.

We noticed the lights dimming the next evening – like a poltergeist effect.  Wow – that was odd.  Our own personal brownout.  I wonder what caused that, I said at the time.  Mr. Lawyer was concerned too and asked if anything was running.  It wasn’t – we were both watching TV, so it wasn’t like I was vacuuming while power washing or anything.  It happened again as I was going past the bedroom window – and then I heard it….the sad, sad, sound of an a/c unit working far too hard…clearly straining.  Just like the guy had said would happen.  Damn – he was right.

And then the thought came to mind that I felt guilty for even thinking – is it possible he had actually caused this rather than simply diagnosed it?  Surely not.   I mean, they are clearly terrible businessmen, but poor customer service doesn’t mean completely corrupt.

We turned off the upstairs unit immediately.

The Second Opinion was here today.  A nice guy that was referred by a friend who had known the brothers that run the company growing up.  The second he heard that we had used Houston Admiral, he knew something was up and told me tales of little old ladies getting ripped off and other blatant misconduct.  Yikes.

He had a look at the a/c and immediately saw what the problem was.  The wires on the outside unit had been swapped causing the unit to draw more power than it needed – and yes, had we kept the unit on, he said, it would have caused very serious damage.  Thankfully we had the sense to turn it off immediately.  He did another small repair that had nothing to do with the current malfunction and that was that.  In fact, it is humming along perfectly right now.  Total cost?  $250.

I’ve since found copious serious-sounding complaints like this and these and these on many sites including being in the Angieslist “penalty box.”  Some, but undoubtedly only a tiny fraction of the total complaints that exist, lead to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation addressing several dozen customer issues in one day:

Date: 11/5/2010

Conley, John
Company: Houston Admiral
Complaint #ACR2008001291C
License #TACLA00014868E
City: AUSTIN
County: Travis
Zip Code: 78701

Respondent is assessed an administrative penalty in the amount of $20,000 and Respondent’s license is suspended for one year.

Respondent failed to provide proper installation and service, and assure the mechanical integrity of all work and installations; Respondent misrepresented the need for services, services to be provided, or services that had been provided; Respondent made a fraudulent promise or false statement to influence, persuade, or induce an individual or a company to contract for services; Respondent failed to provide proper installation, service, or mechanical integrity by failing to install a P-trap on an emergency drain line while replacing an evaporator coil.

Of course you would never know that if you looked up the information listed on their website – the license number they have listed on their own website (License: TACLA041868E)  has transposed digits so if one did search, no complaints will come up.  Intentional?  Maybe – maybe not.  But by my own experience, it appears that they are up to their old tricks again.  More likely, they never stopped.

The folks that run the company seem to have plenty of legal problems.  A very quick search for owner and business names in  district court cases from this county alone pops up in a number of foreclosures, breach of contract cases, several delinquent property tax cases, and yes at least one for shoddy/fraudulent repairs.  Honestly, though, they work under so many different names that on this quick search, I’m sure I may well have missed others.  There are possibly even some criminal convictions – not necessarily related to this business, but since I don’t have the primary actors birthdates right now, I cannot positively confirm this information.

Further, the company name printed on the invoice I have says that Houston Admiral is a “DBA” or assumed name of Rosehill LLC.  According to the Texas Comptroller, Rosehill is not in good standing, meaning, they did not pay their franchise taxes, which is a basic for owning an incorporated business in Texas. Why is this important?

A corporation in Texas must be able to prove that it has paid all franchise taxes owed to the state in order to receive certain operating privileges from the state. A corporation seeking to be licensed by a state agency is required to have paid all franchise taxes owed to the state, and no contract can be awarded by a state agency if franchise taxes are owed.

It also demonstrates a fundamental lack of professional responsibility, which is definitely not something I want to see in someone I have working on my home.  I’d be interested in seeing if they have any liability insurance or they just hope for the best.

Entity Information: ROSEHILL ENTERPRISES, LLC
20222 STUEBNER AIRLINE RD
SPRING, TX 77379-5427
Status: NOT IN GOOD STANDING
Registered Agent: W. C. ROBERTS JR
4230 LBJ FREEWAY SUITE 606
DALLAS, TX 75244
Registered Agent Resignation Date:
State of Formation: TX
File Number: 0801013714
SOS Registration Date: August 6, 2008
Taxpayer Number: 32037681072

I’ve provided my experience and a little more information on this company, hopefully it will save someone’s bank account and sanity down the road.  If you have had experiences, good or otherwise, with this company, please feel free to comment below.

Date Night

We took all three kids plus the newborn out to eat tonight.  Burgers – nothing fancy.  It was the first time out of the house with all six of us, so that was different and took more planning than you might think.

On their way out of the restaurant, the elderly couple that had been seated next to us remarked on how cute and well behaved our kids were as we were waiting for our food.  That was nice; mommies like to hear that – more than we probably like to admit.  Of course we think they are cute too – although let’s face it, they could look like baby orangutans and we’d still think they were Gerber Babies .  And the kids were well-behaved tonight – they usually are when food is involved.

However, I am glad that sweet old couple had to leave before the noob started squawking for BOOBIEBOOBIEBOOBIE and I had to break out said boobies to appease her, the 2 year old started telling us animatedly all about how big her poopinthepotty was today, the 5 year old asked me, “Is what the hell” a bad word, and the 7 year old, who really likes ketchup, licked ketchup off his empty plate like a cat until we noticed.

10 years ago I would have thought an evening described like this was sub-par, bordering on nightmarish.  And while 10 years ago I could still fit my calves into those ridiculously hot boots at the back of the closet, I wouldn’t give up a date night like this with Mr. Lawyer and our cute and mostly well-behaved brood for the world.

Except the part where I flashed the baby’s food source at a table of teens sitting where the old folks had been.  I could probably have done without that.  But other than that?  Yep – perfect.

 

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