Thursday, May 26, 2011

Goodbye to IN Touch

Beginning in late 2008, I wrote an occasional entry for The Indianapolis Star’s IN Touch blog. A number of my entries were also published in the print edition of the newspaper. While I liked writing for IN Touch, I often found it difficult to find topics for which IN Touch was an appropriate venue and on which I could articulate my thoughts in a fairly short number of words (as readers of this blog know, brevity is not exactly my strong suit). Thus, my output was never as high as I would have liked and I hadn’t written anything at all for IN Touch since last August (wow, I didn’t realize it had been that long!).

Anyway, I discovered a week or two ago, that the IN Touch blog has apparently been completely removed from The Indianapolis Star’s website. If you go to the IN Touch page, you are greeted by the message:

This user has elected to delete their account and the content is no longer available.

I emailed my contact at the paper to see why and when the IN Touch page was deleted and why the posts were not (apparently) archived. To date, I haven’t received any response. I guess that I can understand the decision to eliminate this feature (it seems that the number of posts had declined dramatically in recent months), but I don’t understand the decision not to maintain an archive of those posts, especially as many of them were included in the print edition of the paper. Oh, well.

So, I guess that my days of writing for IN Touch are now officially over. It was fun while it lasted.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Indiana Adopts a Ban on “Texting While Driving”. Sorta.

There has been some press about the recent passage in Indiana of a ban on “texting while driving”. It must have been the lawyer in me, but I became curious about how this ban was worded. What precisely, I wondered, has been banned? So I looked up the enrolled act.

First, we need to look at a few terms that are defined, either by this newly enacted statute, or elsewhere in the Indiana Code:

(a) “Telecommunications device” … means an electronic or digital telecommunications device. The term includes a:
        (1) wireless telephone;
        (2) personal digital assistant;
        (3) pager; or
        (4) text messaging device.

(b) The term does not include:
        (1) amateur radio equipment that is being operated by a person licensed as an amateur radio operator by the Federal Communications Commission … ; or
        (2) a communications system installed in a commercial motor vehicle weighing more than ten thousand (10,000) pounds.

Indiana Code § 9-13-2-177.3.

Is it just me, or is that definition a bit circular? “Telecommunications device” is an “electronic or digital telecommunications device”. Um. OK. And take note of two things that are not specifically included within the definition: telephones (other than wireless telephones) and computers (this omission will be relevant when we look at the definition of “text message” below). Also, why are ham radios and “big rig” communications systems excluded? (And in (b)(2), does the 10,000 pounds refer to the commercial motor vehicle or the communications system?)

“Text message” means a communication in the form of electronic text sent from a telecommunications device. Indiana Code § 9-21-8-0.5.

Note that “electronic text” is apparently undefined (a quick search of the Indiana Code found no uses of this phrase other than in this statute). Anyway, think about the definition of “text message” with reference to the definition of “telecommunications device”. Ask yourself this: Is a message sent from a laptop computer to a cell phone a “text message”? When I receive a text message from AT&T telling me that my wireless bill is now available, is that a “text message” as defined by the statute (I’m willing to bet that AT&T uses a computer to send those messages rather than a “telecommunications device”).

So, with those definitions in mind, let’s look first at the existing ban that applies to probationary driver’s licenses (i.e., licenses for drivers under 18): A person driving under a probationary license:

[M]ay not operate a motor vehicle while using a telecommunications device until the individual becomes eighteen (18) years of age unless the telecommunications device is being used to make a 911 emergency call.” Indiana Code § 9-24-11-3.3(b)(4).

Now, compare that prohibition to the newly enacted (and effective as of July 1, 2011) ban on “texting while driving” (Indiana Code § 9-21-8-59):

(a) A person may not use a telecommunications device to:
        (1) type a text message or an electronic mail message;
        (2) transmit a text message or an electronic mail message; or
        (3) read a text message or an electronic mail message;
while operating a moving motor vehicle unless the device is used in conjunction with hands free or voice operated technology, or unless the device is used to call 911 to report a bona fide emergency.

(b) A police officer may not confiscate a telecommunications device for the purpose of determining compliance with this section or confiscate a telecommunications device and retain it as evidence pending trial for a violation of this section.

Notice anything odd or any problems?

For one thing, what is the definition of “electronic mail message”? (I did another quick search in the Indiana Code and while I found a definition of “commercial electronic mail message” in Indiana Code § 24-5-22-2, the definition itself uses the term “electronic mail message” and the definition is limited to that chapter of the Indiana Code.) Nevertheless, I suspect that we can find substantial agreement on what is (and maybe more importantly, is not) an “electronic mail message”. But query whether a message posted within Facebook is an electronic mail message?

OK. So I can’t read or send a “text message” or “electronic mail message”. But can I read a webpage? Can I type a grocery list on my iPhone? Can I type an address into my dash-mounted GPS (and query whether a dash-mounted GPS is a telecommunications device) or my iPhone’s mapping utility? Can I use a location app like Around Me to find the nearest Domino’s and order a pizza? Can I read what others have posted on my Facebook wall or on Twitter? Does it matter if they posted from their cell phones (which are telecommunications devices) or their computers (which aren’t)? Can I play a game on my iPad. And what if the message that I want to send (or review) has no text at all, but is, instead, just a photo? Recall that the definition of “text message” is a “communication in the form of electronic text” (emphasis added). In fact, given that the definition of “text message” requires that the communication be “sent from” a telecommunications device, query whether (under a hyper-technical reading of the language) typing a “text message” is actually banned because that text didn’t become a “text message” until actually sent.

Note, too, that the law is limited to times when the person is “operating a moving motor vehicle”. In other words, it appears that if you’re sitting at a stop light or stuck in non-moving traffic, you can send and read text messages to your heart’s content.

One more thing: Note paragraph (b) of the statute. If a police officer cannot confiscate the telecommunications device, how will the officer ever be able to determine if the driver was sending a “text message” or using the telecommunications device for a purpose not prohibited by the law (“No, officer, I wasn’t typing a text message; I was using my address book to look up a phone number”)? And even if the officer could make that determination, at trial, it will be the word of the officer against the word of the driver given that any evidence from the telecommunications device will be long gone.

I’m not advocating reckless driving. I’m not advocating that people play technical games with the statute. We all understand the legislature’s intent. Rather, my real purpose here is to make Hoosiers aware of just how poorly some of our statutes are drafted. I suspect that most of you, even those who aren’t lawyers and who’ve never served as an elected official, could craft a better statute, with fewer proverbial loopholes, in little or no time.

Statutes like this one are designed to keep our roads safe. We ask a lot of our legislators, but I don’t think that asking them to carefully think through statutes and to be sure that they are well-drafted is asking too much. After all, isn’t creating laws to keep us safe one of the principals roles of a legislator? And next time you hear about someone being acquitted “on a technicality” just remember that there are many, many more laws just like this one.


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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Test Post

Between Blogger’s recent crash and some of my efforts to (finally) update the format of this blog, I’ve been experiencing some odd behavior. So please ignore this test post.


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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I’m Losing Respect for Sen. Lugar (update)

Last fall, in my post “I’m Losing Respect for Sen. Lugar” I said this:

[T]hough I’m a Democrat, I’ve always thought very highly of, respected, and even supported Sen. Lugar. But my respect has begun to wane. In recent years, I’ve felt that Sen. Lugar lost his ability (or desire) to think independently and became just another Republican. From time to time, he’d recapture some of the spark that made him so distinguished, but those moments seem fleeting. And over the last two years, he’s been all too quiet as Congressional Republicans have become simply the party of “no” without any new ideas or direction.

Today, my respect for Sen. Lugar took another blow.

As readers of this blog (and, in particular, the post “Opposition to the DREAM Act Is a Racist “F-You” to the American Dream”) know, I’m a strong supporter of the DREAM Act. Sen. Lugar was a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act when it was originally introduced in the Senate, helped shepherd the bill through the Senate, and he was one of only three Republican Senators who voted to end the Republican filibuster in December 2010.

Following President Obama’s speech on immigration earlier this week, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) sought to re-introduce the DREAM Act in the Senate. However, this time, just five months after standing up for his principals and voting for the bill, Sen. Lugar has pulled his name as a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act.

Lugar’s spokesman said Lugar did not join Democrats in reintroducing the federal legislation to help children of illegal immigrants — known as the DREAM Act, or Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors — because Democrats have politicized the issue.

“President Obama's appearance in Texas yesterday framed immigration as a divisive election issue instead of attempting a legitimate debate on comprehensive reform,” said spokesman Mark Helmke. “Ridiculing Republicans was clearly a partisan push that effectively stops a productive discussion about comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act before the 2012 election.”

Right. Sen. Lugar decided not to co-sponsor an issue that was important enough for him to sponsor, advocate on behalf of for 4 years, and cross party lines to support just because Democrats “politicized” and framed immigration as a “divisive election issue”. First, aren’t controversial issues, by their very nature “politicized”? And aren’t issues upon which politicians disagree, election issues? More importantly, do you think that the Tea Party-backed primary challenge that Sen. Lugar now faces had anything to do with his change of heart? I think that we all know the real reason that Sen. Lugar withdrew his support: Richard Mourdock and the ascendant Teapublicans.

To me this is just another sign that Sen. Lugar has become just another politician who will do or say whatever is necessary to keep his seat, integrity, principles, and intellectual honesty be damned. If he has to tack to the far right to fend off the primary challenge, then that’s what he’ll do, even if it means that he’s no longer the man that many people have respected (and voted for) over the past decades.

Update (May 14, 2011): Corrected corruption to Labels following Blogger crash.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

We Don’t Want Donald Trump to Drive the Indy 500 Pace Car (update)

As I’m sure most have heard by now, Donald Trump will not be driving the pace car in this, the 100th anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500. I think that it is safe to say that the efforts of my We Don’t Want Donald Trump to Drive the Indy 500 Pace Car page on Facebook were instrumental in making this happen.

I hope to write more about this entire saga sometime, including my thoughts on what made the effort so successful. But that is a task for another day. I did want to take a quick moment, though, and update one item from the original post about the Bump Trump effort that I first wrote about here just after midnight on Saturday, April 30. That night I said:

Until earlier this week, the page had garnered very little attention. But then on Wednesday evening, it exploded. From 30 fans to 300 that evening and now, as I write this on Friday night, the page is up to over 1,300 fans!

If you told me then what would happened, I probably would have laughed at you. On both Saturday and Sunday, the Facebook page added about 1,000 more “likes”. By early Tuesday, it had reached about 5,000 likes and when I went to bed that night it had just reached 8,000. But as I write this post, on Thursday afternoon, the Facebook page has grown to 17,828 likes. Simply unbelievable. Since last Friday, I’ve done four TV interviews (including a telephone interview with a TV reporter who wanted to interview me at 1:00am!), a radio interview, and several newspaper interviews. My name has shown up on CNN and in Sports Illustrated. And Steve Inskeep even mentioned the effort on NPR.

And I’ve had the privilege of talking to a group of people the size of a small town, as we’ve shared our thoughts on why Trump was not the right choice, who we might like to see replace him, and how best to let sponsors and the Indianapolis Speedway hear what we thought.

The effort also gave me the platform to espouse my message of civility; a message that I believe was very well received.

Anyway, and pardon the pun, this has been a fabulous ride. My thanks to those who have supported the effort.

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