Dec 212017

It is (or at least was) a common trope in Westerns for someone to be accused of being a horse thief, and to face a hangin’ as a result. These days, lots of people react in horror to the concept of a death sentence for theft… “property isn’t worth a human life” and similar tired bromides are often trotted out. But horse thieving was seen as worth a hanging for the simple fact that the horse – a piece of property – WAS very often the owners lifeline. Without a horse, the owner could be stranded, not only putting his life at risk, but those who depended on him. Take a mans horse and chances are you’ve just killed someone.

These days the closest analogy to a horse is a car. And if you take someones car… well, they get on the phone, call a taxi or get an Uber, get where they need to then contact the insurance company and get the car replaced. It’s a hassle and a financial hit and a pain, but it’s not the clear threat that a stolen horse was in earlier times. So does that mean that theft is not longer the heinous villainy it once was? Hmmm…

Porch pirate steals Utah boy’s life-saving medication

Someone thought they had the right to steal a random package and as a result they’ve put a small child’s life at risk. Go on, tell me why that should not be at least considered assault. Or child abuse or attempted manslaughter or depraved indifference or some such.

There have been a number or proposed and implemented “solutions” to the problem of “porch pirates” stealing stuff in broad daylight. Such as this one:

Porch pirates beware, this package shoots back

It’s a “bait box” that when picked up fires off a blank shotgun shell. It makes a loud noise, and that’s about it; the idea is that it scares off the thief, causing them to run away and rethink their thieving ways. There are those who question the legality of it, since they erroneously believe that:

1: It’s an explosive device (it’s not… gunpowder isn’t an explosive)

2: It’s a firearm (it’s not, as there is no barrel and no projectiles)

It just makes a loud bang. The chances of it actually injuring the thief are minimal.

An actual boobytrap would be illegal. Even something that simply traps the thief would be illegal… gates that slam down, a trapdoor that dumps the thief into a holding cell, a box covered in cartoony instant glue, or a taser, all would be illegal under the current set of laws. But… should they be?

The reasons for banning boobytraps are not without merit. While I would not go up to a neighbors door and mess with a package in front of it, another package delivery guy might; a Girl Scout hawking Thin Mints might; or any of a number of other random, innocent people or even critters might nudge a box or even pick it up intending to be helpful.

But: if someone winds up getting injured or dead while in the process of stealing other peoples stuff, should we *really* feel too bad about it? At the same time, should we perhaps consider people who do stuff like this, willingly putting random peoples lives potentially at risk in order to steal a box of stuff they don’t even know what it is, to be unworthy of remaining in society? Executing porch pirates might be a tad excessive… but deportations to penal colonies (I understand a lot of space has recently opened up in Syria) seems like it might be worth considering. Granted, deportations are an unlikely and joking suggestion, but how about:

1: *Hard* labor

2: A *permanent* additional tax on all their future income and a lifetime ban on all public assistance

3: A return to corporal punishment: public floggings, perhaps

4: Drafted into some sort of military or public service (similar to #1)

These are not poor desperate people stealing a sammich cuz they’re starving. They are not even idjits who have poor impulse control. They are scumbags who go out of their way to harm regular folks, and are indifferent not only to the cost, but to the *risk* they impose on others.

Some suggestions for alternates to the “bang box:”

1: A bait box with a GPS tracker in it. Soon as it’s 10 meters away the cops are called and they chase it down.

2: Same as 1, but with an additional fun feature: at 100 meters range it releases a spray of, say, ten grams of cadaverene. Should make that car ride fun.

3: Same as 2, but replaces the cadaverene with a kilo of fast-setting high expansion urethane foam. Not enough to fill up a car, but enough to make one heck of a mess.

4: Same as 2, but it releases a spray of an inert, safe white powder… fine sugar, say, or flour. But it *also* pops out a note that says something along the lines of “Congratulations! You’ve just been infected with anthrax!” Then keep an eye on the local hospitals. If the car is stopped and the thieves arrested by the cops after being sprayed, the cops don’t need to tell them that they’ve not been infected. Let ’em stew for a day or two in a quarantine cell. Hell, *never* tell them that they weren’t actually infected; just tell them that *so* *far* they hven’t tested positive. “But this stuff can sit in your system for years and pop up randomly in the future…”

5: Similar to 4, but instead of powder, a glow-in-the dark goo. “Surprise! Say hello to radiation poisoning!” The rest of the box can be filled with printed out photos showing gory images of people dying of radiation sickness (so far as they know, anyway).

6: And if you *really* want to mess with them, work with you local cops. Specifically, your local *shady* cops. Fill the box with a couple kilos of coke, meth, heroin, with the GPS tracker. Or a firearm or knife from the evidence locker, something used in an as-yet unsolved murder. SHAZAM! Instant bump in the conviction rates.

 Posted by at 10:15 pm
  • Paul451

    6: And if you *really* want to mess with them, work with you local cops. Specifically, your local *shady* cops. Fill the box with a couple kilos of coke, meth, heroin, with the GPS tracker. Or a firearm or knife from the evidence locker, something used in an as-yet unsolved murder. SHAZAM! Instant bump in the conviction rates.

    Remember those stories about the VC coming in at night and digging up minefields around US bases, then relaying them on routes used by the US troops?

    If you did this, you’d just be handing out free drugs and/or guns.

    Also, for all of these, by definition, they know where you live.

    • Scottlowther

      > they know where you live.

      A valid concern. In that case:

      1: A bait *house.* Use a baitbox with an amateurish but annoying response… sprays out tear gas or paint, say. Then wait for them to come back, and when they do something dump the local SWAT team on them. A better use for SWAT than swarming into the house of someone suspected of having an ounce of weed.
      2: Use a bait box that is *seemingly* real and inert. Has a TV or a laptop or something in it. *And* nice quiet GPS transmitter. Track them, see where they go, then arrest them at home where they’ll presumably have a number of ill-gotten gains.
      3: A bait box with a nice quiet GPS transmitter and a neutron generator. Track them in real time, wait for them to get to an empty spot, then deliver unto them a dose of happy little neutrons powerful enough to make them glow.

      • Herp McDerp

        Back in an earlier era, libertarians engaged in philosophical discussions of questions like this one. A scenario that I recall: Someone is stealing firewood from your woodpile — lots of firewood. Would you be justified if you hollowed out some of the logs and put explosives inside them?

        [Consensus: No, because (A) the punishment would be disproportionate to the offense (which wouldn’t be true in the case of stolen life-sustaining meds), and (B) the firewood might be sold to an innocent third party (a concern that probably would apply here).]

    • Brianna Aubin

      Putting a cheap GPS transponder into packages automatically is an interesting idea for stopping theft, except if the thieves know it’s there, then they can just ditch it somewhere and keep the loot.

      • Scottlowther

        Unless the GPS transmitter is *in* the loot. These things now take up a small fraction of the space inside a phone, so they can’t be that big or expensive. I haven;t checked, but I bet you can get a GPS transmitter the size of a flash drive; and something like that could be easily inserted into some other product.The thieves might ditch the box, but they’ll keep the laptop or the camera or the XBox or whatever was in it.

        And if GPS transmitters get *really* cheap and inexpensive, say less than a dollar a pop, they could presumably be incorporated into packaging as a standard feature. You could track your package in real time. You could see it actually land on your porch.and once there you could presumably hit a button on the tracking app that puts it into another mode… if the box then goes into the house, you can hit a button that shuts the tracker down and the process is over, or if it suddenly goes on the move again it sends you an alert. If you watch the security camera footage of porch thieves, they don’t take the time to ditch the packaging itself; they just grab the whole box and run. If they knew that all boxes had a good chance to be have a homing beacon, they’d have to either take the time to disenboxulate the items right there on the porch, or very soon after getting in the getaway car. The added level of effort and time might itself be a disincentive.

  • se jones

    I fuc*ing hate this term “porch pirate”, oh so cute ‘n trendy. They are THIEVES, it’s more effective to call a spade a spade instead of some idiotic euphemism.

  • Michael the Somewhat Civilized

    Maybe I’m a bit too sensitive, but it seems to me that stealing “life-saving medication” is quite near to “attempted manslaughter” (assuming there can be such a crime).

    I like your ideas about dealing with that kind of person, Scott. Some are a bit complicated (like #6) but deportation to work colonies in Syria is an idea with a certain special charm. It might even keep the UN quiet about the USA not doing enough for that kind of country.

  • Peter Hanely

    A minor variation, spray the thief and the inside of their car with a distinctive dye. Maybe some kind of fogger delivery. Thief stops to dump the smoking package, but not before they’re well marked, and the car is undrivable until they clean the inside of the windshield.

    • Scottlowther

      A possible practical solution is for the dye to be sent out as a fine fog/mist… a dye that seems to be just water and leaves no visible sign, but lights up like Ted Kennedys bedroom under UV light.

      • publiusr

        Banks already have dye bombs–so here is another market for them

  • Unsubscribe

    Err, Gun Powder is an explosive…

    • Scottlowther

      No, it’s not. Pour a loose pile of it onto a table. Set it alight. It’ll burn with enthusiasm, but it doesn’t explode. Now try the same stunt with dynamite. Or lead styphanate:

      Gunpowder generates a large volume of gas, but it does so subsonically. Left unconstrained, you get no shock waves, no explosion. The only way to make it “explode” is to constrain it in a pressure vessel, such as a pipe bomb (or a cardboard tube to make a fire cracker). But then, the explosion is no different than if you simply filled the pipe bomb with water and heated it until it was gas. Steam, though, is no more an explosive than gunpowder is.

      • Unsubscribe

        You confine the gunpowder and it will explode. All explosives burn when unconfined, some faster than others, Gunpower, on average, burns at about 1800 feet per second. If confined, that is fast enough to generate an explosion. It is a low explosive.

        Tell you what, you put some gunpowder in a small, brass container and put a lead stopper in the end of it and throw it into the fire. Lets see if it explodes, shall we?

        • Scottlowther

          It’ll pop, certainly. Mythbusters did that as memory serves; the bullet didn’t really do much, but the brass flew pretty well. Now, replace the non-explosive gunpowder with an actual explosive like nitroglycerine or HMX, and make sure that the primer goes off to actually detonate the explosive. Does is go “pop,” like a gunpowder cartridge, or does it actually explode and turn the brass into a shower of tiny, supersonic fragments?

          Bullets can explode with lethal force if they are stored inside a hot oven.


          The MythBusters placed a .22 caliber, .44 caliber, and .50
          caliber bullet inside an oven. All of the bullets exploded once the oven
          was hot enough, but none of them were able to penetrate the oven.
          Without a gun barrel to contain and direct the propellant gases, the
          bullets did not develop enough speed to pierce the glass or steel
          portions of the oven. The shell casings actually caused more damage than
          the bullets.