In a discussion on the technical writing mailing list earlier this week, someone proposed trying to organize technical writers in some form of union or guild. Kevin McLauchlan tackled the idea of a guild head-on:
Doctors and lawyers don't often work in groups of hundreds or thousands, but their guilds regulate them (a little) and keep their clubs exclusive (sorta), and collude with government, thereby keeping membership numbers controlled and prices up. For example, [in Ontario] the medical association just graciously "permitted" a new medical school to come into existence.
The other side of that is that they've been not permitting some/many to come into existence. This, in a province and a country that is becoming desperately short of doctors. Here in the land of socialized medicine, a large (and rapidly increasing) percentage of the population does not have a family doctor, simply because there are not enough licensed doctors to go around. Instead, people use the hospital Emergency room for every medical need, or they go to walk-in clinics (where they rarely see the same doctor twice . . . but at least some records are kept . . . but they don't always go to the same clinics because. . .)
Clinics are closing, or are going on reduced operating hours because they can't find doctors to work the time-slots. Lots and lots of our doctors (including my own GP) are foreign-born and foreign-trained, but many foreign-born, foreign-trained doctors are working as taxi drivers or other occupations because they are not permitted to practice medicine in this place that is so desperately lacking doctors.
Between government (that gives them the clout to enforce) and the medical association that does the enforcing, the number of doctors is kept artificially low. The newly arrived doctors from India, Malaysia, Arab counties, Eastern Europe, etc. are not permitted to become Canadian doctors. Part of the excuse that's given is that their skills need to be harmonized with the Canadian medical standards of practice . . . but there are not enough resources to process most of the applicants. But the lack of resources lies directly at the doorstep of the /g/u/i/l/d/ Medical Association that sets the numbers of med-school seats, the number of med schools that can be accredited, the number of programs and personnel that can mentor and supervise immigrant doctors until they get up to speed.
That kind of power and impunity can exist only when you've got government in your corner, supplying the legal clout to make your /g/u/i/l/d/ association pronouncements carry the force of law. The results are kinda harsh, when the turnaround time for a change of priorities is a matter of years or decades.
So, STC (or some other techwriter guild) would need to get government on-side in order to set quotas and price guidelines that could be enforced on the hundreds of thousands of companies that employ us in onesies, twosies, and small groups. They'd also need to enforce requirements for our services. Unlike engineers, we provide services that can be dispensed with, or that can be offloaded to non-professional, non-accredited techwriters . . . unless the law says that any product that is sold must be accompanied by documentation that carries the <STC?> seal of approval . . . having been created by <STC?> accredited writers. Of course, that kind of requirement would drive even more production offshore. Unlike the provision of medical services, product development and production can be done very far away from the people who eventually purchase the product.
Jacob Sullum asks some pointed questions about the state's interest in removing several hundred children from their mothers:
I'm not quite as old-fashioned as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), which hews to the early-marriage customs of the 19th century and the polygamous practices of biblical times. But I'm old-fashioned enough to believe the government needs a good reason to pull a crying, clinging child away from her mother and hand her over to the care of strangers.
The possibility that the child might marry an older man 10 or 12 or 14 years from now does not cut it. Citing that long-term, speculative danger to justify the certain, immediate damage it has done by forcibly separating hundreds of children from their parents, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has violated its duty to take such extreme measures only when there's no other way to prevent imminent harm.
The department took custody of 463 minors who were living at the FLDS church's Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch in Eldorado after an April 3 raid that was based on an abuse report police believe was a hoax. On Monday state officials said the children, who are now living in group homes or shelters, include 53 girls between the ages of 14 and 17, of whom 31 are pregnant or have children.
It's all very well to act on the basis of credible intelligence, which this case does not seem to have had, but it certainly appears as if the state is treating the FLDS children differently than they would if it had been a non-religious group (or [ahem] if it was another religion which also has a penchant for polygamy). Laws are created in order to apply equally . . . and that does not appear to be happening here.
A couple of days back, I made fun of my home town for their sudden attempt to create a crime of "taking photos of storefronts". Apparently, Montreal is feeling left out, so they're creating a new crime of illegal sitting in a park:
Most people who walk by Émilie Gamelin Park downtown see its many granite surfaces as an invitation to sit and relax.
Dozens were doing just that in the sun yesterday and ever since the park opened in 1992.
But as a Concordia University student found out Saturday, Montreal police, if they so choose, can hit you with a $628 ticket for nothing more menacing than sitting on a ledge.
The connection is, of course, attempting to suppress photography by "civilians".
As reported by the BBC, around 70 people in Britain have been, in effect, economically arrested without charge:
Mr Justice Collins said Orders in Council were not subject to the same Parliamentary scrutiny as normal legislation, each being laid before Parliament the day after it was made and coming into force the day after.
He said this was not the proper way to approach asset-freezing and that Parliament should step in.
He gave the Treasury leave to go to the Court of Appeal, delaying quashing the orders until then.
Jonathan Crow QC, for HM Treasury, had told him the UK government would be left in violation of a UN Security Council order were the orders to be quashed immediately.
The Treasury said the asset-freezing regime and individual asset freezes would remain in place pending the appeal.
A spokesman said the asset-freezing regime made an "important contribution" to national security by helping prevent funds being used for terrorism and was "central to our obligations under successive UN Security Council resolutions".
So it is possible to prevent someone from spending a penny of their own money, without charging them with a crime, and they have no recourse to law? Is this Britain or Soviet Russia during the purges? If the concern is that some of the money is going to be given to terrorists, then surely it would be enough to track the individuals' financial affairs without depriving them of their property? If they've committed no crime, the state should keep its grubby paws off!
Is this yet another move in the direction of enshrining precrime as the law of the land?
H/T to Guy Herbert writes:
The distinction between the legal order in Western democracies and the tyrannies of Stalinist Russia or modern China or the Arab gulf states, is often thought to be stark. In Britain in particular, we are complacent that 800 years of the common law will protect us against the overreaching power of state functionaries.
Today comes a case that shows this conceit to be ill-founded. It was already widely known that the Home Secretary would like the power to lock anyone up for seven weeks on her say-so. But it is not in effect yet, and is likely to be opposed in parliament. Who knew that the British state is already punishing 70 people with effective suspension of all their economic rights on mere accusation, by freezing their assets by Treasury order without any legal warrant or process?
A few links on the recent FDLS situation:
For those coming in late . . . there's plenty of paranoia flowing, even this long after the notorious raid on the Branch Davidiansin Waco turned into a prolonged siege, eventually costing the lives of 82 people.
When a rash of gun murders takes place, it makes sense for the police to do one of two things: renew tactics that have been effective in the past at curbing homicides, or embrace ideas that have not been tried before.
But those options don't appeal to Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis. What he proposes is a crackdown on assault weapons.
I'm tempted to say this is the moral equivalent of a placebo—a sugar pill that is irrelevant to the malady at hand. But that would be unfair. Placebos, after all, sometimes have a positive effect. Assault weapons bans, not so much.
If there are too many guns in Chicago, it's not because of any statutory oversight. The city has long outlawed the sale and possession of handguns. It also forbids assault weapons. If prohibition were the answer, no one would be asking the question.
In the late 1990s era of no-logo vogue, cultural commentators fretted that the once-democratic medium of the T-shirt had been co-opted by corporations, and that T-shirt buyers were concerned only with raising the planet's Hilfiger consciousness and saving the FUBUs. "The slogans on contemporary T-shirts are increasingly meaningless," the novelist and columnist Russell Smith observed in The Globe and Mail in 2000. "Most of them are simply the brand name of the T-shirt itself."
Now that our T-shirts are so blithely outspoken — and deliberately offensive — on every issue from Medicare to Britney Spears, it sometimes seems as if we’d like to ban our way back to a more sartorially decorous era. Ultimately, however, the T-shirt skirmishes that continuously erupt are oddly reassuring. Can the public schools be as out of control as they're often alleged to be if all it takes to get suspended from one is an "I ♥ My Wiener" shirt? Has our public sphere grown as hopelessly coarse as our loudest cultural scrub maids insist if a shirt featuring a faux fishing theme and the phrase "Master Baiter" is enough to make Southwest Airlines ground you?
Shouldn't we take comfort in the fact that so many high school students are ready to fight for their right to champion the unborn, maternal hotties, and whatever else they can think of to test the limits of Tinker v. Des Moines? T-shirts may intrude upon our lives in the public sphere, but they're also our most vivid reminder that free speech is woven into the fabric of our culture.
On the opening page of High Society, which aims to explain "how substance abuse ravages America," Joseph Califano declares that "chemistry is chasing Christianity as the nation's largest religion." Although it is not always easy to decipher Califano's meaning in this overwrought, carelessly written, weakly documented, self-contradictory, and deeply misleading anti-drug screed, here he seems to be saying that opiates are the religion of the masses. Americans, he implies, are seeking from psychoactive substances the solace they used to obtain from faith in God, and better living through chemistry is nearly as popular as better living through Christ.
That claim, like many Califano makes, is unverifiable, and it does not seem very plausible. Americans may be less religious than they used to be, but large majorities still say they believe in God and identify with specific faiths, making the U.S. much more religious than other Western countries, which tend to have substantially lower drug use rates. Although Americans have a bewildering array of psychiatric medications to choose from nowadays (with permission from a doctor), they smoke a lot less than they did in the 1960s and drink less than they did a century ago, when they also could freely purchase patent medicines containing opium, cocaine, and cannabis. If the devout are less inclined than the doubters to use mood-altering drugs, how is it that mostly Mormon Utah leads the country in antidepressant prescriptions? And if chemistry and Christianity are locked in competition, what are we to make of Jesus' water-into-wine miracle, or of the Native American Church, Uniao do Vegetal, and other groups that combine Christianity with psychedelic sacraments?
Already I have put more thought into the alleged connection between faithlessness and drug use than Califano did. And so it is with the rest of the book. A proper debunking would require more than the 186 pages of text that Califano, a domestic policy adviser to Lyndon Johnson and secretary of health, education, and welfare in the Carter administration, squeezes out of conversations with politicians and old reports from the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), the prohibitionist propaganda mill he founded and heads.
Jacob Sullum, "No Bad Drugs: The arbitrary distinctions at the root of prohibition", Reason, 2008-03-20
Over the last quarter century, we've seen an astonishing rise in paramilitary police tactics by police departments across America. Peter Kraksa, professor of criminology at the University of Eastern Kentucky, ran a 20-year survey of SWAT team deployments and determined that they have increased 1,500 percent since the early 1980s — mostly to serve nonviolent drug warrants.
This is dangerous, senseless overkill. The margin of error is too thin, and the potential for tragedy too high to use these tactics unless they are in response to an already violent situation (think bank robberies, school shootings or hostage-takings). Breaking down doors to bust drug offenders creates violent situations; it doesn't defuse them.
Radley Balko, "Senseless Overkill", Fox News, 2008-03-12
Radley Balko has some thoughts on the current state of play in the war on (some) drugs:
As for Dunphy's strange appeal to a junkie's authority, there are several problems with the "if you legalize drugs, everyone will become an addict" argument. Among them:
1) It assumes that prohibition is actually preventing access to illegal drugs in any meaningful way today. It isn't. I could have a bag of marijuana in my hands in about five minutes. As fast or faster than I could get a sandwich. It would probably take me 20 minutes to a half hour hunt down a small bag of heroin, but it wouldn't be difficult. And I could get either without any real fear of arrest. And I'm not a drug user. If I had actual connections, it'd be even easier. Some survey data shows high school kids can get marijuana as easily or easier than they can get alcohol.
2) It wrongly assumes that the all of the problems we associate with drugs — the bloody turf wars, the presence of particularly potent drugs like meth, the lengths to which dealers will go to get their premium, etc. — are the product of the drugs themselves, and not the product of them being prohibited. This chart helps slay that argument.
3) It assumes that the laws against using and distributing drugs are the only thing preventing a huge portion of the population from trying them, and becoming addicted to them. Legalization may indeed increase the use of currently banned drugs. But I have my doubts about a massive increase in addicts. The social stigma would still be there, as it is with alcoholism. Perhaps more people would experiment. But it isn't clear that that's a bad thing. Use is not abuse, no matter what ONDCP says in its press releases. And the vast majority of drug users — even "hard" drug users — don't turn into addicts.
I've often argued for easing the restrictions on various drugs, not because I particularly want to use them myself, but because the costs of keeping them illegal far outweigh the benefits. It's not something Canada could do in isolation from the United States, as we are too vulnerable to trade sanctions which the current government would rush to put in place if we were seen to "weaken" in the war on drugs.
Drug prohibition is working just about as well as alcohol prohibition did in the 20th century. Believe it or not, that's seen as a positive comment in drug warrior circles.
I've been against red light cameras on the basis that they don't do anything to improve the safety of drivers or pedestrians. I didn't think they were a good idea, but I clearly had the wrong end of the argument: they're very good at doing one thing . . . revenue generation:
[. . .] in a study published this month in the Florida Public Health Review, University of South Florida researchers did find that red light cameras are little more than revenue generators, and actually make intersections less safe than doing nothing at all.
"The rigorous studies clearly show red-light cameras don’t work," said lead author Barbara Langland-Orban, professor and chair of health policy and management at the USF College of Public Health.
"Instead, they increase crashes and injuries as drivers attempt to abruptly stop at camera intersections. If used in Florida, cameras could potentially create even worse outcomes due to the state’s high percent of elderly who are more likely to be injured or killed when a crash occurs."
Okay, so they're bad for drivers . . . where does the revenue angle come in? Here:
Some studies that conclude cameras reduced crashes or injuries contained major “research design flaws,” such as incomplete data or inadequate analyses, and were conducted by researchers with links to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS, funded by automobile insurance companies, is the leading advocate for red-light cameras. Insurers can profit from red-light cameras, since their revenues will increase when higher premiums are charged due to the crash and citation increase, the researchers say.
That'd be bad enough on its own, except that in many jurisdictions where they've introduced red light cameras, they've also shortened the amber light . . . because that pretty much guarantees an increase in revenue.
Okay, so it also absolutely guarantees an increase in accidents, but you know what they say about omelettes and eggs, right?
As amusing as it has been to watch a high-flying hypocrite brought down to earth for indulging his hypocrisy, there are actually some useful ideas being aired:
I understand why Spitzer's alleged hiring of a call girl was stupid, selfish, reckless, immoral and a betrayal of his family. What I don't understand is why it was illegal.
It's not as though sex is otherwise divorced from money. If it were, hot young women would be found on the arms of poor older men as often as they are seen with rich ones. Had the New York governor wanted to buy a $4,300 bauble to seduce someone of Kristen's age and pulchritude, only his wife and his financial adviser would have objected.
It was Spitzer's effort to hide this pastime that attracted law enforcement attention. Prosecutors investigated him not because he had lipstick on his collar, but because he took steps to conceal his patronage of Emperor's Club VIP. By transferring cash to accounts controlled by fake companies, he roused suspicions of political corruption. By now, he probably wishes he had only taken a gratuity to grease a contract.
It's hard to feel excessive sympathy when a colossal hypocrite is exposed. Recently, Spitzer signed a measure increasing penalties for men caught paying for sex, who can now go to jail for as long as a year. But schadenfreude is a weak justification for laws that intrude into the bedroom.
Update, 14 March: A bit more on this same topic at Samizdata:
Recent large stories in Britain and the US keep the issue of whether prostitution should be legalised in the public eye. I think it should. The resignation this week of Eliot Spitzer, a US politician and former state prosecutor who quit after allegations about his use of prostitutes' services — despite his prosecuting them in his day job — and the recent conviction of the British murderer of five Ipswich prostitutes, convince me we should legalise it. The benefits are many:
People like Eliot Spitzer and other vicious, corrupt state officials would have fewer ways of annoying the rest of us, which is unquestionably a public good. Pimps who control prostitutes, or who attempt to do so, would have fewer opportunities to prey on such women. The spread of sexually transmitted disease would be reduced, if not eliminated because a client could shop around to find brothels that enforce hygiene checks and advertised themselves accordingly. If he caught a STD, the client could sue the brothel, just like a client can now sue a pizza joint if he or she gets food poisoning. And finally, because if an adult woman or man wants to sell sexual favours, that is their business, and no-one else's, period.
Samizdata Illuminatus takes a good deep breath:
If I was a believer, I would be pouring a thankful libation right about now. Eliot Spitzer, one of the most nasty power crazed politicos in US politics today, perhaps second only to Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson in authoritarian thuggishness, has just shown that he who lives by the judicial sword, can oh so easily die by the judicial sword. To see a man who thought nothing of using the power of the state to intimidate those who dared cross him get caught in a Federal wiretap is . . . well . . . sweet. I love the smell of schadenfreude in the morning.
If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will — to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun's manifesto against the death penalty — no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens.
Jury nullification is American dissent, as old and as heralded as the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger [link not in original article], who was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, and absent a government capable of repairing injustices, it is legitimate protest. If some few episodes of a television entertainment have caused others to reflect on the war zones we have created in our cities and the human beings stranded there, we ask that those people might also consider their conscience. And when the lawyers or the judge or your fellow jurors seek explanation, think for a moment on Bubbles or Bodie or Wallace. And remember that the lives being held in the balance aren't fictional.
Ed Burns, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Richard Price, and David Simon (writing team for The Wire), "The Wire's War on the Drug War", Time, 2008-03-05
Although I've been finding his occasional (and becoming-less-occasional) 9/11 conspiracy asides to be disturbing, L. Neil Smith's summary of the state of civil and economic liberty in the United States to be pretty on-target:
In the wake of whatever happened on September 11, 2001 (whether anybody likes it or not, the facts of that event, including who was responsible, are far from settled), a fat, lazy, corrupt, rubberstamp Congress passed the so-called "U.S.A. Patriot Act" apparently without even reading it (some politicians claim there were no copies available to read — which should have caused them to reject it on the spot) destroying financial, communications, and medical privacy in this country, and with them, the tattered remains of the fundamental human right to trade with anybody for anything. Among many other new lows, for the first time, the law restricted constitutional and other rights during the period of an undeclared (and therefore totally illegal) war.
In addition to creating a new category of crime called "domestic terrorism", the act allowed the indefinite detention of a steadily widening variety of individuals, secret, warrantless searches of people's homes and businesses, and other violations of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. (Freedom to travel without harrassment or intrusion had already been obliterated more than a generation earlier.) In short, with one stroke of a President's pen, America completed what had been, until then, a slow, steady, gradual descent into police statism.
The act (and supporting legislation that came later, such as the deceptively-named "Military Commissions Act" and H.R.1955/S.B.1959) mandated "studies" of biometric identification systems — I recently wrote an article about the way "studies" rapidly become law — the early origins of the notorious "No-Fly list" at airports, and fat "security" contracts for fascistic corporations like Halliburton and Blackwater, the latter of which has since become a worldwide military power with a greater armed presence in Iraq than the United States government.
Meanwhile, a brand new and overwhelmingly powerful secret police establishment with the Joseph Geobbelsian monicker "Department of Homeland Security", arose to prominence and has come to dominate all other American law enforcement organizations, Constitutional or otherwise.
But that was only the beginning. The Patriot Act, scheduled to sunset in 2005, was renewed with disgusting haste and followed by Patriot II, giving the government even more power at the expense of what had been unalienable individual, civil, Constitutional, and human rights.
All in all, it has been a time of bitter disillusionment. The nation's courts, for example, particularly the United States Supreme Court, have revealed themselves to be fully as corrupt and unreliable in their stewardship of the Constitution, especially of the Bill of Rights, as Congress, or even the mass media Thomas Jefferson believed — falsely, as it turned out — would preserve them. If somebody set out from the beginning, with the deliberate intention of destroying American civilization, he would be following exactly the same policies — running the Abraham Lincoln playbook — that George W. Bush is following.
Regardless of who ends up occupying the White House after the November election, you'd have to be wilfully blind not to be disturbed at how far the government has managed to extend its tendrils into so many more aspects of daily life than it had before 9/11. The restrictions on civil and economic liberties are not accompanied by jackboots and stylish uniforms, nor are they heralded by demagogues and mobs, but they're real — and growing — nonetheless.
What little actual use there is in the current Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is being steadily undermined by the courts. This is just the latest move to make the concept of "rights" a mockery in Canadian jurisprudence:
The Ontario Court of Appeal yesterday approved the use of evidence obtained through flagrant police misconduct, saying any black eye caused to the justice system is outweighed by public interest in prosecuting a serious crime.
In a decision that even one of their fellow judges finds intolerable, a majority of the court upheld a trial judge's decision to admit evidence of 35 kilos of cocaine found in Bradley Harrison's rented SUV – despite the judge's finding an OPP officer had no legal grounds to stop the vehicle, seriously infringed the Toronto man's Charter rights and misled a court while trying to justify his actions.
The 2-1 ruling is the latest in a line of recent decisions in which the court has been accused of weakening Charter protections by refusing to exclude evidence obtained unlawfully. In a case last fall involving a gun found in a backpack at Westview Centennial Secondary School, the court said throwing out reliable evidence because of Charter violations must be balanced against public concerns about escalating gun violence.
So the message is two-fold: first, that the courts will back the police in any blatant abuse so long as the perp can be convicted, and second, that there really isn't any protection of rights in the Canadian justice system anyway.
Sweet. If you're a cop looking to harass people, that is.
H/T to Jon, my virtual landlord, for the link.
Rowan Williams knows when to set off an explosion . . . which he did yesterday by announcing that he thought that the introduction of Sharia Law to Britain was unavoidable:
The Archbishop of Canterbury drew criticism from across the political spectrum last night after he backed the introduction of sharia law in Britain and argued that adopting some aspects of it seemed "unavoidable". Rowan Williams, the most senior figure in the Church of England, said that giving Islamic law official status in the UK would help to achieve social cohesion because some Muslims did not relate to the British legal system.
[. . .]
Williams was . . . criticised by the Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi, shadow minister for community cohesion and social action. "The comments may add to the confusion that already exists in our communities," she said "We must ensure people of all backgrounds and religions are treated equally before the law. Freedom under the law allows respect for some religious practices. But let's be clear: all British citizens must be subject to British laws developed through parliament and the courts."
Sharia law sets out a broad code of conduct for all aspects of life, from diet, wearing of the hijab to marriage and divorce.
British courts do not recognise Islamic marriages performed in this country unless they are registered separately with the civil authorities. The result is that some Muslims think they are protected by family law when they are not, and others can think they are properly divorced, when they are still married. However, Britain recognises Islamic marriages and divorces conducted in Muslim countries such as Pakistan or Bangladesh.
Under Islamic law polygamy is condoned, allowing a man up to four wives and giving him the primary right to call for divorce. This means he can leave his first wife, refuse her a divorce and remarry, yet still consider himself living in accordance with his faith.
Radley Balko updates us on the most recent "no-knock raid goes horribly wrong" case:
Ryan Frederick was arraigned today. He was charged with first-degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and . . . simple possession of marijuana.
That's right. Though police still haven't told us how much marijuana they found, it wasn't enough to charge Frederick with anything more than a misdemeanor. For a misdemeanor, they broke down his door, a cop is dead, and a 28-year-old guy's life is ruined. Looks like the informant mistook Frederick's gardening hobby for an elaborate marijuana growing operation, and those Japanese maple trees for marijuana plants.
The parallels to Cory Maye are pretty striking. You've got a young guy minding his own business, with no criminal record, whose worst transgression is that he smokes a little pot from time to time. A bad informant and bad police procedures then converge, resulting in police breaking down his door while he's sleeping. He fires a gun to defend himself, unwittingly kills a cop, and now faces murder charges.
It's the inevitable result of the militarization of the civilian police forces: give them military gear, (some) military assault training, and they're going to look for ways to justify all the expense. "SWAT teams" have gone from being held in reserve for serious situations where their extra firepower might actually be needed, through being moved to standby for almost any situation, to (now) conducting commando raids on family dwellings (with children inside) for minor — and sometimes non-existent — offenses.
Does this make anyone safer? I think quite the opposite: it makes everyone less safe, including the police themselves.
In something that could only have been ripped from the pages of The Onion, yet was not, Radley Balko reports on the criminalization of sniffing hand sanitizer:
A 14-year-old boy in Lewisville, Texas was arrested, booked, and fingerprinted last October for sniffing his teacher's hand sanitizer.
Mr. Ortiz said the family's ordeal began Oct. 19, when his son picked up a bottle of hand sanitizer from the desk of his fifth-period reading teacher at Killian Middle School in Lewisville. He rubbed the gel on his hands and smelled it.
In the view of school officials, the boy "inhaled heavily," according to Mr. Ortiz, who said his son sniffed the cleanser "because it smelled good."
The youth was sent to the principal's office, and the Lewisville police officer assigned to the school began investigating.
[. . .]
Mr. Ortiz said he believed the matter was over until Tuesday when he was served with a petition charging his son with delinquency for inhaling the hand sanitizer to "induce a condition of intoxication, hallucination and elation."
He said he couldn't believe that his son would have to go to court for smelling hand sanitizer. "I think it's ludicrous," said Mr. Ortiz, who blames overzealous police and prosecutors for initially pursuing the case.
Joni Eddy, assistant police chief in Lewisville, said Friday that hand sanitizer has become a popular inhalant. "That is the latest thing to huff," she said.
Let's re-read that. The kid was charged for smelling the scent of a commercially available hand sanitizer. In what world is it possible to consider this a crime? What the hell are these folks smoking?
Jon (my virtual landlord) sent along this link to the progress report on the interrogation of noted hatemonger Ezra Levant:
CLERK OBSERVATIONS (use extra sheets if necessary)
Defendant acknowledges awareness of charges against him. He is represented by counsel but insists on opening statement and filming the hearing. Despite warnings and brochure on self incrimination he proceeds.
Defendant states he is attending under protest and would do crime again. States belief that AHRCC has no authority to prosecute. Under eye contact, defendent's counsel shrugs. Defendant says hearing in violation of "separation Mosque and State" (note: potential violation of Section 118-c(a) AHRCC Innuendo Act?). Claims "original intent" of Commission not to enforce Islamic law. Defendant apparently unfamiliar with AHRCC interoffice memo HVM-d11, "Koranic Compliance Guidelines for Non-Muslim Associates."
Calls Commission "dump for junk," cites previous cases. Calls AHRCC "joke," "pseudo court," "Judge Judy." Cites critical statements of Commission founder, even though he doesn't work here any more. Says authority unlawful, unconstitutional. Counsel seems oblivious to client's contempt, is seen reading "Highlights for Children" magazine from waiting room.
Starts yapping about British common law, Magna Carta, Canadian law, UN Declaration of Human Rights, other documents of white male privilege, etc. Subject seems agitated. Stuff about conscience, religion, expression blah blah blah. Seems to be stonewalling because none of this has any reference in my copy of Publication AHRCC-0503(k), "Hearing Guidelines for Human Rights Clerks." Long diatribe about Sharia Law, radical Islam.
An article in this week's Economist has some recent findings about the sex trade in Chicago and in Ecuador:
These studies contribute to our understanding of the suppliers of paid sex, but tell us little about their customers. The session's organiser, Taggert Brooks of the University of Wisconsin, attempted to fill this gap in knowledge. He shed light on the sex industry's demand side in his analysis† of men who attend strip clubs. He argued that habitués of strip clubs featuring nude or semi-nude dancers are in search of "near-sex" — an experience of intimacy rather than sexual release. They are aware that paid sex is on offer elsewhere, should they desire it.
Strip-club patrons are more likely to be college-educated (cue some uneasy seat shifting from conference delegates), to have had an STI, and to have altered their sexual behaviour because of AIDS, than non-patrons are. They are typically unmarried, relatively young (against the stereotype of old married men) and are characterised as "high-sensation seekers".
One of the more surprising findings was that condom use is significantly higher among prostitutes in Ecuador than in Chicago:
As in Chicago, the paid-sex market in Ecuador is tiered, with licensed brothel workers earning more per hour than unlicensed street prostitutes. These gradations might reflect different tastes: brothel workers tend to be younger, more attractive and better educated. They are also slightly less likely to have an STI. Condom use is the norm: 61% of street prostitutes surveyed used a condom in the previous three transactions. In Chicago, condoms were used in only a quarter of tricks.
. . . police in San Mateo County turn to stamping out the scourge of small stakes poker games:
Police in San Mateo County, California apparently first spent months investigating the small-stakes poker game. From this firsthand account, it looks like a couple of the officers were playing regularly for several weeks before sending in the SWAT team, guns drawn, last week. If California is like most states (and I believe it is), a poker game is only illegal if the house is taking a rake off the top. In this case, it looks like that "rake" was the $5 the extra the hosts asked from each buy-in to pay for pizza and beer.
Police also took a 13-year-old girl out of the home, away from her parents, and turned her over to child protective services. In addition to the charge of running an illegal gambling operation, the hosts are also charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Good thing the poor girl was saved before slouching toward an inevitable life of crime.
Update, 16 January: Radley Balko provides some corrections and additions to the original report:
A reason reader shared with me a correspondence he had with Sam Mateo, California Sheriff Greg Munks. Munks says the raid on the San Mateo poker game was not done by the SWAT team. I assumed it had been due to firsthand accounts that described police in "full riot gear" with their "guns drawn." Also via email I learned that the child seized in the raid was a boy, not a girl.
I apologize for the errors. The other points about the appropriateness of the raid, seizing the kid from his parents, etc. still stand. One more thing: Several regular players at this game have emailed to assure me that the hosts were not cheating or defrauding participants, which police seemed to hint was the real reason behind the raid. If the players are right, the only real justification for the raid would then be the $5 charge on top of the buy-in for refreshments.
Radley Balko posted this little tidbit over at Hit and Run:
Sheriff: SWAT Team Necessary Because Man Is a "Self-Proclaimed Constitutionalist"
World Net Daily reports:
Nearly a dozen members of a police SWAT team in western Colorado punched a hole in the front door and invaded a family's home with guns drawn, demanding that an 11-year-old boy who had had an accidental fall accompany them to the hospital, on the order of Garfield County Magistrate Lain Leoniak.
The boy's parents and siblings were thrown to the floor at gunpoint and the parents were handcuffed in the weekend assault, and the boy's father told WND it was all because a paramedic was upset the family preferred to care for their son themselves.
The boy had apparently fallen and bumped his head. His father, who says he was a medic in Vietnam, says he examined the boy, determined he was fine, and saw no need to take him to the hospital. A paramedic called by neighbors forced his way into the home, then called police when the father refused to let the son go to thie hospital.
The police then sent social workers, who according to the Associated Press reported "a huge hematoma and a sluggish pupil." That night, they sent in the SWAT team.
As it turns out, the kid was fine. After the raid, a doctor examined him, and told him to drink some fluids and take a Tylenol.
No drugs involved in this little contretemps, however:
The sheriff said the decision to use SWAT team force was justified because the father was a "self-proclaimed constitutionalist" and had made threats and "comments" over the years.
However, the sheriff declined to provide a single instance of the father's illegal behavior. "I can't tell you specifically," he said.
"He was refusing to provide medical care," the sheriff said.
In a surprising result, the latest match between home invaders and home owners resulted in a decisive win for the home owners:
A home invasion in this bustling hamlet east of Calgary early Thursday morning ended with one of the invaders dead and the second in critical condition in hospital.
Two men forcibly entered a home and burst into a bedroom where a 35-year-old man and his 24-year-old girlfriend were asleep.
When it ended, the 32-year-old attacker was dead and his accomplice, 27, was eventually taken to hospital with stab wounds where he was listed in serious condition.
"It is an unusual case. It doesn't happen very often to have a home invasion where you have an attacker who ends up deceased," said RCMP Cpl. Patricia Neely. "It is pretty rare."
Of course, this is Canada, where the rights of the criminal often seem to trump those of their intended victim:
The police investigation will now try to determine what precipitated the attack. There is no indication whether the death of the home invader could be described as a murder, said Neely.
"I think if people enter your home at 3:30 in the morning it's not for a cup of tea and there was probably some nefarious component to the entry," she said.
"The Criminal Code authorizes people to use as much force as necessary to protect themselves and their property."
"However, that force must be the minimum amount necessary. Obviously this person had a right to protect himself but the investigation will focus on whether or not he used the minimum amount of force necessary to ensure his safety and that of the other person in the home," she added.
Unless there is clear evidence of premeditation on the part of the home owner, the Crown should not be automatically assuming that cases like this mean that the person defending their life and property is culpable. (And no, "premeditation" in this context would not include "owning a weapon".)
Rogier van Bakel decodes a recent decision by the Singapore bureaucracy:
It's official, because Singapore says so: There's no such thing as an over-45 MILF. When a woman reaches the age of 45, no right-minded Muslim with a dick would say, "Yeah, I'd tap that."
Muslim women under the age of 45 will be barred from making the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca unless accompanied by a close male relative starting next year, news reports said on Monday in Singapore. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore said it would no longer appeal to Saudi Arabian authorities on behalf of women who wish to make the month-long pilgrimage unaccompanied. "We should respect the laws they have laid down," The Straits Times quoted Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim as saying.
Radley Balko highlights how the Chicago police department continues to set standards for police everywhere:
Want to Get Away With Murder in Chicago?
Join the Chicago Police Department.
An eight-month Chicago Tribune investigation of 200+ police shootings going back 10 years found that within hours of a police shooting, the police department convenes hastily-assembled, wagon-circling "roundtables" of law enforcement officials where police and witnesses are questioned but not sworn or recorded, where the officers involved are allowed to confer to get their stories straight before being questioned, and where the inevitable conclusion is always that the shooting was justified. From there, broader, show-investigations begin. Key witnesses go uninterviewed. Forensic evidence is ignored. And the shooting officer is inevitably exonerated.
No American would accept the proposition that one of our citizens, having been cleared of wrongdoing by American courts, could be abducted by a foreign power and imprisoned for years, only to have his fate determined by a kangaroo court that flouted the most elementary procedural rights. The Supreme Court should not accept it from our government either. If a legitimate hearing finds that Boumediene and his fellow detainees are guilty of aiding America's enemies, so be it. But we should not be satisfied to leave them to languish until the military decides whether the witches will float.
Julian Sanchez, "Restoring Habeas: Why old 'enemy combatmant' rules can't apply to a global battlefield.", Reason Online, 2007-12-12
That tells me that you are younger than I. Consider the time/culture that Elena was raised in. "Exploring the possibilties of boyfriends" was not an option. Any more than it was when I was 18.
I went from being the property of my father to being the property of my husband. Literally.
If I had been injured and compensation was awarded in a Personal Injury case, the Plaintiff would have been my father/husband. And the judgement (money) would have been payable to him, not me. And, if he had chosen to spend the money not "for my benefit", I would have had no recourse.
I had absolutely no legal rights separate from my father/husband.
"Moving out" and living on your own was no remedy. A woman was legally incapable of signing a contract. Want to lease an apartment? Buy a car? Open a bank account? Your "responsible male", i.e., father or husband, needed to sign for you.
Fortunately, times and laws changed.
Sharon Kutzschbach, posting to the Bujold Mailing List, 2007-12-12
Not having the financial resources to fight* a defamation case, I'm being extremely careful not to comment on this situation in a way that could come to the attention of the Canadian Human Rights Commission**.
So I won't make any comment about the serious erosion of the right to freedom of speech that this situation represents. But you might freely infer that I'm not happy with the direction things are headed. I didn't say that, and you are — at least for the time being — still free to draw your own conclusions about the facts as presented in that article.
* Based on the most recent decisions, it'd be a hopeless fight: calling someone a censor is now legally punishable as defamation under Canadian law.
** In fact, you'll notice, I'm also being careful not to quote from that article. There are statements made in the article which would be actionable if they were published in a Canadian blog, although not in an American one.
H/T to Jon (my virtual landlord) for the link.
Update: Jon also sent along a link to Eugene Volokh's post on this topic, which I also don't feel safe in quoting here.
It may just be happenstance, but I've talked to several people on various mailing lists and discussion groups in the past week who have found unexplained credit card charges for online purchases. In almost every case, it was a small charge from a company the person either had never dealt with, or had not dealt with online before. Apparently, at least according to the folks reporting the issue, this is a common ploy for credit card scammers: put through a small charge to verify that the card is active (but not big enough to draw much notice unless the owner is paying close attention), then ram through a big-ticket item or six until the card is either over limit or closed down by the issuer.
Just a word to the wise . . . and yes, I will be checking my own statements a bit more carefully in future.
By a weird co-incidence, I happened on exactly the same link as frequent commenter "Da Wife" . . . and we both agree that it's well worth your time to view: Wellington Grey's DMCA takedown.
Half a hat-tip to "Da Wife", who also found it on WWdN: In Exile.
Radley Balko visits "Old Town Alexandria", which is struggling to maintain its historical look:
People who decry the Wal-Mart-ification and Gap-ificaiton of America need to realize that regulation often does more harm to local businesses than predatory pricing, loss-leader business models, or some other imagined corporate evil.
I've lived in or near Old Town for most of the last 10 years. It's not [un]common to see an independently-owned antique shop or art gallery get boarded over, only to be replaced in ensuing months by a franchise. It's not difficult to see why. Franchise operators can tap the resources of the parent company, particularly when it comes to accessing legal help with experience navigating through and working with local zoning laws and business regulations.
Local officials who simultaneously decry big box stores and national chains while doling out burdensome regulatory structures and complicated permit processes should understand that regulatory burdens hit the smaller, independent places hardest, because they're the places that have the smallest amount of discretionary cash to hire legal aid (or, if you're really cynical, to make the appropriate campaign contributions). They're on a tighter budget and, therefore, have a smaller margin of error when it comes to hassles like delaying an opening because some bureaucrat determined their signage is a couple of inches out of compliance.
There's a larger lesson in all of this, too. Those who push for federal regulations to rein in "big business" often don't realize that the biggest of big businesses don't mind heavy federal regulation at all. They have the resources to comply with them, not to mention the clout in Washington to get the regulations written in a way that most hurts upstarts and competitors.
Big businesses know that a heavy regulatory burden is the best way to make sure small- and medium-sized businesses never rise up to challenge them.
Hey, who knew? Canada is apparently getting all muscular over religious extremism, and the Canadian Human Rights Commission is the point of the spear:
Jessica Beaumont does not own a website. She was merely posting comments on existing sites (mostly in the United States). But the fact that she could go to prison for posting Scripture verses on a server in another country means that our religious freedom is in direct jeopardy.
Evelyn Beatrice Hall once wrote, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." It has also been said that the real test of a person's commitment to free speech is their willingness to defend the speech of those with whom they disagree.
I think, despite the fact that many of the targets in CHRC Internet tribunals have been people with political opinions that we find downright offensive, we need to put those differences aside and look at the big picture.
When a government agency has the power to make a ruling that could put a 21-year old waitress in jail for posting thoughts that do not violate the law, we should be worried. When they set themselves up to determine what Scripture quotations should send her to prison, we should be confronting our Parliament.
And high time, too. Those fanatics going around quoting obscure religious books are clearly a threat to the public peace and should be locked up where they can't harm anyone again.
What? What harm did she do? Well, she quoted biblical sayings and not only that, but she did it on the INTERNET!
God only knows, er, I mean who knows what other harm she might cause? Society must be protected.
Or, you know, we could mind our own flipping business and let her quote the Bible, the Q'uran, Torah, or the testicles of the Flying Spaghetti Monster without raiding her home and threatening her with five years in prison. Radical concept, I know, but I think it just might work.
Bob Tarantino has the best coverage of the hideous clusterfuck at Vancouver airport:
Having watched the long version of the Robert Dziekanski video (that's a six-minute version - there's also an approximately nine-minute version here), I'm not sure how anyone can come to a conclusion other than that the police conduct on there is utterly . . . appalling. That's the most docile "violent" person I think I've ever seen — how it is that what he was doing warranted two Taser shots is beyond me. What you see on that video is homicide — and now it'll be up to the courts to decide what type of homicide, and the punishment (if any) to be handed down for it.
Those four officers aren't solely to blame, of course. That the staff at an international airport in Canada were apparently befuddled by a traveller who didn't speak English shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone who has travelled extensively, but it is no less absurd for that. That the security personnel evidently weren't quite up to handling a non-violent, frustrated man who was acting erratically is unlikely to qualify as breaking news either. Finally, that the bureaucrats have conducted their own review of their own conduct and found . . . wait for it . . . nothing culpable about it whatsoever, is also about par for the course (my favourite quote is that "airport staff are not responsible for that area" — meaning, as near as I can tell, that there is a no-man's land inside the airport where the writ of the airport does not run — or something).
Go, as they say, and read the whole thing.
Jon, my virtual landlord, passed along this story about the continuing erosion of the right to property:
Despite owning the land, despite living only 200 yards from the property, despite hiking past it every week with their three dogs, despite spraying for weeds and fixing fences, despite paying homeowner association dues and property taxes each year, someone else had taken a shine to it. Someone powerful.
Former Boulder District Judge, Boulder Mayor, RTD board member — among other elected positions — Richard McLean and his wife, attorney Edith Stevens, used an arcane common law called "adverse possession" to claim the land for their own.
All McLean needed was to develop an "attachment" to it.
Undoubtedly, his city connections couldn't have hurt, either.
In the court papers, McLean and his family admit to regularly trespassing on the Kirlins' property.
They created paths. They said they put on a political fundraiser and parties on it (though not a single photograph of these events surfaced in court documents).
This habit of trespassing developed into an affection.
If we take McLean at his word, he should have been treated appropriately: like a common criminal. Instead, the former judge demanded a chunk of the land for himself — and implausibly he got it.
Bob Tarantino outlines another case where the judge handed down an incredibly lenient sentence for an outrageous crime:
The maximum punishment which can be meted out for a conviction of aggravated sexual assault is a term of life imprisonment (see section 273 of the Criminal Code of Canada).
Cody Paul Lemay received a sentence from the trial judge of five years in prison.
Now what's fascinating about that punishment is how it was arrived at. It's an example of what I will dub the Moldaver Paradox (for reasons which will become apparent momentarily). As the British Columbia Court of Appeal noted, when the trial judge was reviewing other court cases for guidance on what constituted an appropriate sentence,
"he had difficulty understanding why some of them had not attracted longer sentences"
With the story so far? Confronted with a case of hideous violence (against a baby), the judge looks at what other judges are handing out as punishment — and he's bewildered to discover that the judgments he reads are lenient to the point of absurdity.
So what does he do?
He hands out an even shorter sentence.
Bob's summary is something that should be carved in the doorways of every courthouse in the land: "Our judiciary has the tools. They consciously, deliberately, inexplicably and consistently refuse to use them."
A Muslim is somebody who believes that a man called Muhammad [. . .] passed on certain revelations and instructions directly from God Himself. By logic, a non-Muslim is somebody who does not accept that Muhammad was any such prophet, and thereby rejects his teachings as not having come from God [. . .] If, contrary to Muhammad's claims (assuming he has been represented correctly), we do not believe that he was any such prophet from God, what do we truly think of the man?
The answer must be one of three possibilities: either Muhammad was a liar, or he was deluded (that is to say, he was deeply mistaken), or he was mad. These are the only possible conclusions of the intellectually honest non-Muslim. Let us ponder one of the three possibilities—that Mohammad was a liar. Would it be unreasonable then to posit that a man willing to deceive many thousands of people, perhaps out of hunger for power or self-aggrandisement, could be labelled as 'evil'? If so, on what basis do we object to an extremely negative portrayal (either graphic or prose) of such an 'evildoer'? Whether or not such a portrayal may appear 'gratuitous' or provoke widespread anger, it would nonetheless be a justifiable expression of dissent. Therefore, to place legal sanctions on any such piece of literature is to necessarily outlaw opposition to, and disagreement with, Islam to a logical denouement; this suggests we are implicitly calling for the abolition of the right to proclaim oneself a non-Muslim in clear and in certain terms. That is, one may still be a nominal 'non-Muslim' free of harassment, but one cannot explain and defend one's position in any significant detail without committing the now-proscribed act of blasphemy. In short, we have apparently repealed centuries of intellectual progress in the hopeless pursuit of 'social harmony'.
Because Americans can't be held responsible for the consequences of using products in ways they were neither designed not intended to be, game publishers should instead, apparently. According to Macworld, game publisher TakeTwo Interactive Thursday announced a preliminary settlement with all consumer class action lawsuits in the U.S. related to the infamous "Hot Coffee" software mod which unlocked simulated (not actual — participants are fully clothed) sex scenes in video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
The question, as I see it, isn't one of scruples, but whether "existence" should blindly trump "intentionality" in the eyes of the law, especially with software governed by an End User License Agreement that explicitly forbids tampering and unauthorized modification of the game code. Does the presence of what amounts to particular sequences of 1s and 0s on a game disk make a game's publisher culpable if a user violates the EULA and manages to access them anyway?
Matt Peckham, "Take Two Takes Hit, Settles Hot Coffee Sex Lawsuit", PCW: Game On, 2007-11-15
Brian Micklethwait talks about the advantages to criminals in the modern surveillance panopticon that is modern-day Britain:
The ubiquity of surveillance cameras in Britain does not appear to be having any very detectable effect upon the level of crime.
Well, actually, that is not quite right. Total surveillance does dissuade the law-abiding from straying across the line. Surveillance cameras do slow up speeding motorists, for instance. But with one exception. They do far less to slow up motorists who are already criminals. These persons have little further to fear from the criminal-processing system than the complications they already have to live with as a result of already being criminals. In the unlikely event that they are traced, driving a car that isn't theirs or that they have not reported to the various authorities that the rest of us must keep informed about everything, they are processed slowly and clumsily by the criminal-processing system. It is noted yet again that they are criminals, which everyone already knows, and that, pretty much, mostly, is it. Any punishments they suffer are as likely to be badges of honour as they are to be truly feared.
[. . .]
The most spectacular and often newsworthy instances of this contrast between the law-abiding and the criminals occur when the law-abiding fight back against criminals when they are attacked by them. When this happens, and in those cases when both parties are scooped up by the police, perhaps because the law-abider summoned the police and the police actually turned up, the criminals often come off better, because they then know how to handle things. The criminal lies about having aggressed, and in due course walks away. The law-abider tells the truth about how he defended himself, and can land in a world of trouble.
The effect of total surveillance, then, when combined with the rest of the criminal-processing system, is not to abolish criminality, but rather to ensure that we all have to decide, as one big decision for each of us: Am I going to be a criminal, or not? If I am, that's one set of rules, criminal rules, which I must obey. If I am going to be law-abiding, then I must obey the law, whatever that exactly is. (And at all times, now that all infractions can be photographed and recorded for ever, everywhere. If that is not the case now, it soon will be.) But, because the law is so very intrusive and annoying and so full of complexities and arbitrarinesses and injustices, that creates a constant pressure on people to say: To hell with it, I'm going to be a criminal. Meaning: someone who doesn't care who else knows he's a criminal, and who can accordingly relax about being totally surveilled.
Authorities said the incident took place at a school bus stop on the Westside.
According to the police report, Briggs brought a gun with her when she met her son at the bus stop.
The report states Briggs pointed the gun at other students getting off the bus and said, "Does anyone have something to say?" and "You can all get some of this."
Briggs' son was repeatedly being bullied on the school bus and that she wanted to put a stop to the bullying, according to police.
"The thought of going after children with a gun would not cross my mind; she should not have done what she did," said the father of another child who rides the school bus.
Okay, that sounds kinda crazy. But you know what really sounds crazier? The fact that the woman has been charged with a frickin' misdemeanor: "improper exhibition of a firearm or danger[ous] weapon". We may all be timid, panty-waisted GFW's up here in Soviet Canuckistan, but at least we'd have that woman up on at least careless use of a firearm or pointing a firearm charges (good for between 2 and 5 years).
I'm glad my former co-workers, for the most part, live in the safer, saner part of Florida . . . the region around Tallahassee (a.k.a., the "gunbarrel of Florida").
New technology always seems to have impact outside the area its' inventors or popularizers envisage. This one, for example, is being introduced as a tool for quickly and remotely telling "whether someone is dead or alive on the battlefield." It also has other potentialities:
Figuring out whether detected heart rates give a reasonable cop excuse for coming in shooting is one of those legal and strategic conundrums we'll be sweating over in the magically transparent world of tomorrow.
Oh yeah, this is gonna go just great . . .
Now, I can think of some reasons why a prosecutor would want to destroy a piece of physical evidence that could prove that the state executed an innocent man. But none of them are compatible with . . . um . . . being a human being.
Perhaps, for example, the prosecutor was one of the prosecutors who worked on the case, and doesn't want the stain on his career that might come with a wrongful execution. Perhaps he wants to avoid the inevitable stain on Texas' already execution-happy reputation that would come with proof that the state executed an innocent man. Perhaps he knows that proof of a wrongful execution will make it much more difficult for him to win death penalty cases in the future.
But here's the thing: While I can perhaps see a prosecutor harboring such sentiment deep down inside, I can't possibly conceive of anyone actually making these sorts of arguments publicly. Or with a straight face.
Because, you see, if Texas did execute an innocent man, all of those things should happen. Because . . . well . . . because Texas . . . would have executed an innocent man.
And if Texas did execute an innocent man, that Texans might find out about it — and subsequently raise understandable questions about the morality and efficacy of the death penalty — isn't something to be avoided, it's something that damned-well ought to happen. Because — at risk of repeating myself — Texas would have executed an innocent man.
Radley Balko, "Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? Who Cares!", Hit and Run, 2007-09-14
Radley Balko has a disturbing story of deliberate entrapment:
The Chicago Sun-Times tells the story of Erasmo Palacios, who, after dropping off his six-year-old daughter at school, was with his wife Rocio and their 22-year-old daughter, all on their way to breakfast when they saw a woman waving her arms. Thinking she was in distress, they approached her in the car, at which point...
...the woman approached their car, parked outside Manolo's restaurant, leaned in to the passenger side where Rocio was sitting and asked Erasmo if he wanted oral sex for $20 or sex for $25.
The couple laughed, realizing this wasn't a woman in distress after all.
But within seconds, Chicago police swarmed the family car, hauling Erasmo Palacios out in handcuffs. He was charged with solicitation of a prostitute.
Okay, so you might make a far-fetched case that Palacios really was trying to solicit the woman, but even if that was true, does it justify this kind of heavy-handed enforcement? As Radley puts it, "how many men have been wrongfully arrested for solicitation who didn't have their wives and daughters nearby to vouch for them"?
. . . well, he likes one particular tax:
Congress is debating whether it should tax cigarettes more in order to help children's health care. This child would love it. Tax 'em to the moon.
Right this minute I can buy cigarettes for 30 pesos a carton in Merida. A tad less than 30 US cents a pack at today's exchange rate.
There is a beach bar in Chelem where you can lie in a hammock, drink rum and coconut water and wait for a flat calm day. A moderately powered 18 footer on such a day can make the run to Cockroach Bay in less than 12 hours. An 18-foot fiberglass boat is practically invisible to radar. Only the motor makes a blip. The wake shows up on satellite but, generally, no one checks it in real time.
Right now, I know where you can get two 225 mercs for $1500. Solid (used) 18 ft center console hulls go for $2-3k all over Florida.
At present, few people go to prison for smuggling cigarettes. That will change. The bad guys will discover there is money to be made and it will be time for little guys to get out of the business. I figure about a 2-year window for those who love adventure and like to make a few bucks but would prefer to stay out of prison.
Snazzy but thrifty dressers no longer have to wait for knockoffs of the latest fashions, The New York Times reports. Now that photographs of Fashion Week models are available immediately for analysis by software that allows overseas factories to produce simulations of designer clothing within a couple of months, the knockoffs can get to stores before the originals do. You might think this development would lead designers to rethink the practice of unveiling their latest creations in early September and delivering them to stores in February, nearly half a year later. Or to consider reducing the huge price gap between their clothing and the stuff that looks just like it. Instead they are whining about the theft of their intellectual property and citing their competitors' efficiency as yet another reason to establish a copyright in clothing design.
Jacob Sullum, "The Knock Against Knockoffs", Hit and Run, 2007-09-06
Ronald Bailey quotes at length from a new article at Foreign Policy by Ethan Nadelman:
Global drug prohibition is clearly a costly disaster. The United Nations has estimated the value of the global market in illicit drugs at $400 billion, or 6 percent of global trade. The extraordinary profits available to those willing to assume the risks enrich criminals, terrorists, violent political insurgents, and corrupt politicians and governments. Many cities, states, and even countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia are reminiscent of Chicago under Al Capone — times 50. By bringing the market for drugs out into the open, legalization would radically change all that for the better.
More importantly, legalization would strip addiction down to what it really is: a health issue. Most people who use drugs are like the responsible alcohol consumer, causing no harm to themselves or anyone else. They would no longer be the state’s business. But legalization would also benefit those who struggle with drugs by reducing the risks of overdose and disease associated with unregulated products, eliminating the need to obtain drugs from dangerous criminal markets, and allowing addiction problems to be treated as medical rather than criminal problems.
No one knows how much governments spend collectively on failing drug war policies, but it’s probably at least $100 billion a year, with federal, state, and local governments in the United States accounting for almost half the total. Add to that the tens of billions of dollars to be gained annually in tax revenues from the sale of legalized drugs. Now imagine if just a third of that total were committed to reducing drug-related disease and addiction. Virtually everyone, except those who profit or gain politically from the current system, would benefit.
The amount of harm done in the pursuit of this nonsensical war is far in excess of the harm done (generally to themselves) by drug users. The restrictions on individual liberty required in this "war" are more far-reaching than anything governments inflicted on their people during actual shooting wars, and the benefits are hard to identify . . . but the costs are astronomical.
Update: Of course, the situation in some countries doesn't seem to change, even with western troops on the ground:
According to a recent report from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, 19,047 hectares of poppies were eradicated in Afghanistan this year, 24 percent more than in 2006. Meanwhile, the number of opium-free provinces more than doubled, from six to 13.
Those victories were somewhat overshadowed by the news that the total amount of land devoted to opium poppies in Afghanistan rose from 165,000 to 193,000 hectares, an increase of 17 percent. Due to "favorable weather conditions," estimated opium production rose even more, hitting an all-time high of 8,200 metric tons, 34 percent more than the previous record, set last year.
If even thousands of highly trained soldiers are unable to stem the tide in just one country, what chance do the other "drug warrior" forces have to restrict the supply of drugs to western markets?
My general philosophy on public restrooms was summed up by the late Derek Jackson, the Oxford professor and jockey, in his advice to a Frenchman about to visit Britain. "Never go to a public lavatory in London," warned Professor Jackson. "I always pee in the street. You may be fined a few pounds for committing a nuisance, but in a public lavatory you risk two years in prison because a policeman in plain clothes says you smiled at him."
Mark Steyn, "There were two creeps in the men's room", Orange County Register, 2007-09-01
For those who feel that society hasn't changed . . . consider how recently a headline like this would have been unimaginable:
Unions, especially industrial unions, have always been very socially conservative on issues like this. That one of the more, ah, troglodytic unions has made such a change in their rules is really significant.
Radley Balko has a linkulacious post up at Hit and Run, detailing just a few of the many ways that politicians not only think they're better than their constituents . . . they make it legal:
So I guess once you're elected to Congress, you're immune from drunk driving laws; you can stash the evidence that you've committed a crime in your office, because investigators aren't allowed to search it; if you kill someone because you've got a lead foot and blew a stop sign, the taxpayers will cover your financial liability; and, we learn today, you can commit whatever Internet-related crimes you please, because the police aren't allowed to search your computer.
Meanwhile, the same Congress that has immunized itself from much of the law is also responsible for the ever-expanding federal criminal code, which we can thank for our shamefully enormous and still-soaring prison population, which is by far and away the largest in the world.
Links galore in the quoted section . . . go follow 'em and get depressed. Or, better, get mad.
To begin with, you must understand clearly that all taxation is regressive. It's all about proportion. Just as, say, a nickel sales tax on hamburger bites deeper into the economic flesh of the poor than into the relative adipose of the rich, so smaller companies are always hit harder by taxes than big companies with a better-padded bottom line.
Moreover (and this is a very important key to understanding what happened and why) big companies can afford bigger, slicker legal and accounting departments to save the corporation tax money or get them out of tax trouble if necessary. If government decides to go after a big corporation, its officers are far likelier to get their backsides forcibly removed and handed to them in court. (Or said officers may just be offered lucrative salaries to leave government and join the corporation.) Simply from an institutional standpoint, then, it's easier and safer to go after Mom and Pop, who are likely to be stuck with their brother-in-law accountant and the lawyer who drew up their wills.
Possibly even more important, all regulation is regressive, too. It costs a small company a much greater fraction of its assets to comply with government's dictates — most of them unconstitutional — than it does a big corporation with its teeming hordes of office drones.
I saw a dramatic display once of a quarter's worth of paperwork that the government required of the 3M corporation. The cardboard boxes it filled formed a sort of meandering garden wall about hip high and fifty or sixty feet long. It was truly horrific, and fundamentally wrong.
But my point here is that 3M could afford the resources (about a third of their overhead, they estimated) to deal with this kind and degree of asininity, whereas similar requirements, loaded onto the already breaking backs of small or even middle-sized companies could easily crush or kill them. At about the same time (the late 1960s), it was noted that four out of five new businesses go belly-up within a year.
And who, we may now ask rhetorically, do we thank for that? The same "progressives" today who shake their little Marxoid fistlets at Wal-Mart and bemoan the passing of the neighborhood grocery store. The same wasters who polluted the economic environment with regulatory toxins until the smaller denizens of the market were unable to survive and the only organisms left were the dinosauroid giants they love to hate.
L. Neil Smith, "'Progressives' or 'Regressives'?", Libertarian Enterprise, 2007-08-19
There's been an amusing discussion on the tech writers' mailing list today about the plethora of badly worded signs. Melissa Nelson posted my top-rated comment so far:
My favorite misleading sign is one they put out in Michigan every summer during construction reminding people that it is against the law to kill construction workers with your car . . . It says "Kill a construction worker $7500 and 15 years in prison." Something about it has a marketing tone and I feel like it is saying "For a mere $7500 and 15 years in prison, you may kill a construction worker." I always get the urge to haggle and see if I can kill two for only $14,000 and 25 years or something. It is very badly written.
Then again . . . my ex was a construction worker . . . so I can never tell if I am just over-editing . . . or if I just need a really good shrink!
At least, it sure sounded as if everyone was subscribing to headlines from The Onion, based on this thread at Slashdot:
American Red Cross Sued For Using a Red Cross
Swampash sends us a story that even this community may find hard to believe. Johnson & Johnson, the health-products giant that uses a red cross as its trademark, is suing the American Red Cross, demanding the charity halt its use of the red cross symbol on products it sells to the public. It seems J&J began using the trademark in 1887, 6 years after the Red Cross was formed, but 13 years before the charitable organization was chartered by Congress. Lately the ARC has begun licensing the symbol to third parties to use on fund-raising products such as home emergency kits.
Sounds like a pretty clear case of a corporation going crazy to rip off an innocent non-profit, right? Well, not quite:
Pendersempai: If you'd RTFA, the ARC started enforcing its trademark against all kinds of other products, including nail clippers, humidifiers, sanitary hand lotion, and so on. They did this simply to extort money. Now, J&J is doing the same to the ARC. Turnabout is fair play, no? Or are non-profits permitted to engage in whatever obscene rent-seeking behavior they want just because they're non-profits?
Anonymous Coward: Huh. I was seeing it the other way around. The Red Cross is *clearly* in the wrong on this one. Their charter is very clear, and J&J has them dead to rights. So I'll probably only buy J&J products for medical gear from now on. They're willing to call out the Red Cross and stand up for what's right, so I'll back 'em for that.
[. . .] quite a lot about this system is repugnant. In Maclean's this week, I write about the Feds' seizure of the $10 million proceeds from the sale of the Blacks' Park Avenue apartment. The government, you'll recall, argued that his purchase of the flat from Hollinger International in 2000 was a fraudulent transaction. On Friday, the defendant was acquitted of that charge. But the US government is still holding the money. They seized the proceeds of the crime before they'd proved there was any crime, and they're not going to let any rinky-dink technicality like a "not guilty" verdict stand in the way of justice.
From the pre-emptive seizure to the post-verdict "sentencing enhancement", the United States has upturned one of the bedrock principles of English law and now operates on a presumption of guilt. Repugnant indeed.
Mark Steyn, "Guilty until proven innocent", Maclean's Canada Blog, 2007-07-17
Frequent commenter "Da Wife" is trying to get some work done on her property. This is probably just the start of a process:
I have begun the painful process of obtaining a building permit so we can build a deck on our property. Property that we are paying for and therefore own. Our property that is private and therefore nobody's business but our own. Last time I checked, a deck is not the same as having a grow-op on the property but you would think with all the red tape, it might as well be. The drawings, the clearances, the zoning, etc.
We also have the privilege of paying an extra fee to do this although our property taxes have been paying for the town to do this job already. What was supposed to be a 10 day process, according to one employee has all of a sudden stretched from 4 to 6 weeks depending on whom you ask.
Also, there is the absolute joy of wasting two weeks (and therefore two weeks of prime summer building time) waiting for paperwork that the employee "will put in the mail tomorrow" two weeks ago, just to find out we do not need it. I explained this delay today at the Building Department and requested that it taken into account when our application is looked at and ask that it is possibly speeded-up. I received a glazed-eyed, open-mouthed look of total incomprehension that at the same time told me that no one there is actually responsible for anything they say or do.
Now it is also a two step process. You go in to apply once for Zoning and then you go in again to apply for the permit. So today I brought 5 kids with me 'cause no one will want to make any extra demands on a person with 5 kids in tow. Next time, when it is time for the permit, I may borrow some of my friend's kids just to make the town staff do a bit more to earn their salaries.
Why do I do this? Well simply because of all the kids in the house. If anything was to happen to them on the deck and it was not inspected, up to code, etc. the insurance company would probably laugh at me.
I will keep you updated further and will attempt to omit many four-letter words while describing the reasons why so many people do not bother getting permits.
Colby Cosh has some fun batting around the restrictions on freedom of speech:
On Wednesday, Marni Soupcoff, our much-missed editorial board colleague who is on maternity leave, popped in at the paper's Full Comment weblog to discuss the fine recently levied by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal against an Internet goofball who had created a dreck-filled homepage for an imaginary "Canadian Nazi Party." She was there to express the timely if unpopular view, which I share, that even scumbags have sacred free speech rights and that they should, in ordinary discourse, be resisted by argument and not by means of hate laws. An interlocutor in the comment thread disagreed on behalf of "smart people," offering a familiar reminder: that freedom of speech "does not give anyone the right to shout 'fire' in a theatre."
For 20 years I've been arguing with Canadians against our impoverished accepted doctrine of expressive freedom, and in favour of the strong First Amendment-style approach implied in the actual language of the Charter of Rights. Ordinarily I am told that in arguing for near-absolute free speech I am reciting a blind, unreasoning formula that is ill-adapted to contemporary times. It is never more than two minutes before the person arguing against stale old-fashioned ideas is trotting out the 88-year-old "fire in a theatre" cliche. You could set your watch by it.
Cosh does a good job of pointing out the nincompoopery (if that's a word) of the argument.
Happy Dominion Day! In la belle province, the concept of Canada may be regarded with indifference and contempt and dismissed as a weak sickly thing, but here in Chicago Canada is the baddest-@#! mutha ever to come swaggering in town.
For four months, the prosecution have regaled the jury with horror stories of the wild lawless swamplands to the north. You thought it was just one big wimp-o 24/7 Benetton ad celebrating diversity and UN peacekeeping and socialized healthcare and confiscatory taxation and all that other wimpy stuff? Hah! Get real. It's an offshore tax haven to which the world's executives stampede en masse because in Canada you don't have to pay any tax. It's a land beyond the rule of law where predatory thugs sporting sinister colours of terrifying gangs like the "barristers" and "Queen's Counsels" fall on helpless US trial-lawyers, eat 'em up and spit 'em out all over Larry King Live. Marauding hordes of corporate vice-presidents ride down across the 49th Parallel to lay waste to American boardrooms like Albanian Mafiosi pillaging Italy.
Innocent unworldly types such as secretaries of state, four-term governors, Pentagon advisors and chief nuclear-arms negotiators who think nothing of going mano a mano with the Soviet Politburo, the ChiComs and the PLO are forced to concede they're way out of their league with these ruthless Canadians. A maple-drenched godfather simply has to put the word out, and an apparently innocuous sentence such as "Toronto wants it" is enough to strike fear and terror into the hearts of big-time execs all over Illinois. And that's before they send in the enforcers from the badlands of "the Maritime Province".
Mark Steyn, "Canada Day in the Northern District of Illinois", Maclean's, 2007-07-01
Well, this isn't surprising, but it is rather depressing to read:
Kieran King, a Canadian 10th-grader, did some research and discovered that marijuana is not as bad as his government makes it out to be. When he shared this information with his friends at the Wawota Parkland School in Saskatchewan, King says, the school's principal, Susan Wilson, accused him of selling pot and threatened to call the cops. Outraged at the principal's intimidation, King organized a student walkout to protest what he saw as a violation of his right to free speech. Wilson responded by locking down the school and suspending the 15-year-old for three days, which will force him to miss his final exams. Not your average pothead, King says he's never seen marijuana, let alone smoked or sold it. "The main purpose [of the protest] wasn't cannabis," he told the Regina Leader-Post. "It was the defense of the freedom of speech. I believe we have a right to freedom of expression."
Call me pessimistic, but I don't see this ending well.
Jacob Sullum wraps up the news about the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit decision which strikes down the government's claim to have the power to detain suspects and hold them without charges indefinitely:
By the administration's account, the president already had the authority to detain not just aliens but citizens, not just for a week but for life, based on his own determination that they qualify as "enemy combatants." Rejecting this theory, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has struck a blow for due process and the rule of law, both of which are threatened by President Bush's assertion of the king-like power to lock people up at his discretion and throw away the key.
[. . .]
In deciding that al-Marri can likewise be tried in a criminal court but cannot legally be kept in military detention, the 4th Circuit distinguished his case from those of Hamdi and Padilla, noting that he has not been accused of taking up arms with the Taliban. "The President cannot eliminate constitutional protections with the stroke of a pen by proclaiming a civilian, even a criminal civilian, an enemy combatant subject to indefinite military detention," the court ruled, adding that such a power "would effectively undermine all of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution."
With the Bush administration winding down and the strong possibility of a Democrat in the White House come January 2009, perhaps Republicans will begin to see the wisdom of this warning.
The power to hold someone in custody for an indefinite period of time without ever charging them with a crime is too much power to grant to any government. As Blackstone wrote, "The King is at all times entitled to have an account, why the liberty of any of his subjects is restrained, wherever that restraint may be inflicted." (Quoted here.) The US Constitution is pretty clear on this, too: "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it." Neither of those two cases apply to the current situation.
There's still hope for common sense and justice to prevail in the strange case of Julie Amaro. (See here for earlier reports on this case). According to a link posted at Slashdot, the judge has granted the defence request for a new trial:
A New London Superior court judge this morning granted a defense request seeking a new trial for Julie Amero, the former Norwich middle school substitute teacher convicted of exposing her middle school students to Internet porn. Acting on a motion by Amero's attorney, William Dow III, Judge Hillary Strackbein placed the case back on a trial list. Amero had faced 40 years on the conviction of four counts of risk of injury to a minor. State prosecutor David Smith confirmed that further forensic examination at the state crime lab of Amero's classroom computer revealed "some erroneous information was presented during the trial. Amero and her defense team claimed she was the victim of pop-up ads — something that was out of her control. Judge Strackbein said because of the possibility of inaccurate facts, Amero was "entitles to a new trial in the interest of justice."
Real justice would entail giving Ms. Amaro her life back, but that's not likely to happen. Judicial over-reach and media feeding frenzy between them have destroyed any chance of her being able to resume her teaching career, even when (not if) she is completely exonerated. But at least she shouldn't have to be further abused by serving a term in prison.
I tell people that if it's in the news, don't worry about it. The very definition of "news" is "something that hardly ever happens." It's when something isn't in the news, when it's so common that it's no longer news — car crashes, domestic violence — that you should start worrying.
But that's not the way we think. Psychologist Scott Plous said it well in The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making: "In very general terms: (1) The more available an event is, the more frequent or probable it will seem; (2) the more vivid a piece of information is, the more easily recalled and convincing it will be; and (3) the more salient something is, the more likely it will be to appear causal."
So, when faced with a very available and highly vivid event like 9/11 or the Virginia Tech shootings, we overreact. And when faced with all the salient related events, we assume causality. We pass the Patriot Act. We think if we give guns out to students, or maybe make it harder for students to get guns, we'll have solved the problem. We don't let our children go to playgrounds unsupervised. We stay out of the ocean because we read about a shark attack somewhere.
It's our brains again. We need to "do something," even if that something doesn't make sense; even if it is ineffective. And we need to do something directly related to the details of the actual event. So instead of implementing effective, but more general, security measures to reduce the risk of terrorism, we ban box cutters on airplanes. And we look back on the Virginia Tech massacre with 20-20 hindsight and recriminate ourselves about the things we should have done. In fact, the incident has been used as evidence both for and against gun control.
Bruce Schneier, "Virginia Tech Lesson: Rare Risks Breed Irrational Responses", Wired, 2007-05-17
With regard to the holocaust, I have — broadly speaking — two options. I can believe that it did happen roughly as claimed. Or I can believe that it is a gigantic conspiracy of lies maintained since the 1940s in the face of all evidence. Since debate remains free in the English-speaking world, it should be obvious what I am to believe. I believe in the central fact of the holocaust. On the secondary issues mentioned above, where my authorities do not agree, I suspend judgment.
Take away the freedom to argue with or against these authorities, though, and my assurance that they are right must be weakened.
Sean Gabb, "Defending the Right to Deny the Holocaust" Free Life Commentary, 2007-04-24
. . . so even though I have no particularly special insight to offer, I'm being encouraged to say something. This CNN report was sent to me by regular reader "Da Wife", with a strong hint that this is something I should be writing about. So, if retreading old ideas bores you, you can probably skip this item . . .
First, nothing I say here should be interpreted to mean that this most recent atrocity is anything less than horrible: it was. The killer has done everything he could to ensure his own place in a very special hell. I hope, in his case, that there is some form of afterlife . . . because he escaped too easily into death.
From the CNN article:
When Cho Seung-Hui purchased two handguns this year, he apparently followed the letter of the law to get the weapons he eventually used in a shooting rampage on the Virginia Tech campus.
On so many levels, it is pointless arguing about whether a change in state or federal gun laws would have changed anything here. The fact that he bought his guns legally is not particularly relevant. The weapons he bought would be trivially easy to obtain from illegal sources, although at higher prices (and I'm not even certain about that). They were not particularly unusual or unusually powerful weapons (despite much uninformed commentary in the media about "high powered pistols").
The source is unimportant.
Some questions have been raised over Cho's mental health and whether that should have prevented him from being able to purchase the handguns.
A Virginia judge in December 2005 deemed Cho "an imminent danger to himself because of mental illness" and ordered outpatient treatment for him, according to court documents. [. . .]
Virginia and federal law prohibit the sale of guns to anyone who has been sent unwillingly to a mental institution.
So the man had been found to be dangerous enough that he barely avoided being committed to a mental institution. He had, as the current euphemism has it, "issues".
Much of the rest of the article delineates how he legally purchased his weapons "staying just within the limit of one gun purchase per month", as if that has some relevance. It is unlikely that any such limit would have prevented this tragedy. Laws and regulations only deter the law-abiding and make the illegal transactions that much more profitable. They don't prevent illegal sales of firearms. Countries that have much more stringent controls over legal sales still have illegal black markets in weapons.
Criminal defense attorney Daniel Gotlin told CNN he believes the easiest way to prevent similar incidents in the future "is to not make guns so easily available to individuals with problems."
"Virginia has one of the easiest gun qualification laws in the whole United States," he said.
And Democratic Virginia Rep. Jim Moran said on the House floor: "It is simply too easy to obtain a firearm."
Lovely soundbites, but not relevant . . . because nothing was going to prevent this tragedy, only delay it. Let me say it again: laws do not deter anyone but the law-abiding, and they are especially irrelevant in cases of severe mental illness.
Update: As usual, Lileks has a better way to say that last point:
There is nothing to learn from listening to the killer. From looking at him or reading his writings or poking through his background or sticking mikes in the face of anyone who saw him across a cafeteria. Maybe it's just me, but when I first heard of the case I thought: sociopath. A modern word for the man without a soul, the man who either had it stolen by deed or smothered in the womb. I think you can make a sociopath, if you hurt them early enough in a way they can never get their hands around. Others are simply bad seeds from the womb on up, I suspect. No matter what you do, you get a vacant Narcissus with an infinite supply of masks, a clever manniken who cannot apprehend the humanity of others. He could only feel empathy for the object in the mirror, and it's hardly surprising this example spent his last hours posing for the camera. It was the only thing that understood him, and accepted him for the glorious, tragic creature he knew he was.
Wired News has a report on a very troubling case:
As they carried out the killing of an Iraqi civilian, seven Marines and a Navy medic used their understanding of the military's airborne surveillance technology to spoof their own systems, military hearing testimony charges.
"These are people who every day deal with such things and understand how the images are gathered, as much as understand other tactical and weapons issues," says defense attorney David Brahms, who represents a Marine who's pleaded guilty to conspiracy and kidnapping in the case. "They are warriors and this is what warriors do."
Ahem. ". . . this is what warriors do". Well, no. This is what many anti-military types believe warriors do. These guys are not exemplars of "warriors". They're parties to conspiracy and murder. That is not what soldiers do. The distinction may be a bit subtle for those raised on anti-war protests and anti-military propaganda, however.
The case is remarkable for the fact that the killers nearly got away with their alleged crime right under the eye of the military's sophisticated surveillance systems. According to testimony, at least three times the warriors took deliberate, and apparently effective, measures to trick the unmanned aerial vehicles — UAVs in military parlance — that watch the ground with heat-sensitive imaging by night, and high-resolution video by day.
Technology can — and will — be abused for illegal purposes. The technology itself merely does the job . . . the morality of the action is determined by the human operators. Even the highest of high-tech devices is still subject to deliberate attempts to counteract or twist the evidence the tools can provide. This is merely the first time this has come to public attention . . . it's almost certainly not the first time it has happened.
Senator Chuck Schumer said today that Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez should get the boot; so did the New York Times. In most circumstances I would agree; it's not making an argument that Gonzales is a competent attorney general that's hard, it's making the argument without giggling that's the problem.
However, the fly in the Gonzalez resignation ointment is that the guy who appointed Gonzalez would be in charge of appointing his successor, and if six years has taught us anything about Dubya, it's that "appointing competent people" is only slightly above "speaking both grammatically and extemporaneously" on his "Things I'm Really Good At" list. Moreover, if the recent attorney firings scandal tells us anything, it is that when it comes to the Department of Justice, Bush appointments trend toward devolution; hell, that's even evident at the top, since Gonzalez is an even worse Attorney General than John Ashcroft was, and when you consider that what Ashcroft really needed was a two by four with the United States Constitution laser-etched onto its surface liberally applied to his skull at least twenty hours a day, that's no mean feat.
John Scalzi, "The Practical Argument Against Giving Alberto Gonzales the Boot", Whatever, 2007-03-11
New York is about to become the 20th state with a civil commitment program for sex offenders, thereby embracing an increasingly fashionable contradiction: When sex offenders are caught and convicted, the government says they're responsible for their actions, so it locks them up. But after they serve their time, it says they can't control themselves, so it locks them up some more.
After nearly two decades of forcibly "treating" sex offenders deemed especially likely to commit new crimes, it seems clear that psychiatrists are not psychics, treatment is an expensive failure, and commitment is a euphemism for imprisonment.
Jacob Sullum, "To Life, to Life! Or Fry 'Em?: Even sex offenders can be punished too severely", Reason, 2007-03-06
Jay Jardine reports on a recent botched police raid in Montreal:
When this story broke last week, I cringed at having to endure yet another round of politically charged nonsense surrounding drugs and guns. Today's developments put the case in a whole new light. Radley Balko (who has researched American SWAT raids extensively) has often noted that after a police shooting, usually the first thing the cops do is point out the amount of drugs that were seized in the raid. I haven't read anything yet pertaining to seizures. One Post story notes that of the six people arrested in the raids one had already been released without charges. The Globe notes that neither Parasiris nor his wife (who was presumably shot by officers returning fire?) have criminal records. At this point, all we have are the comments of his lawyer — take that as you will, and the rather exceptional details coming out of the raid (a fairly traditional family arrangement, with no criminal record and a legally registered firearm doesn't sound like a typical crackhouse to me), but rest assured I'll be paying close attention to this case as details emerge.
Proving yet again — as if it needed more proof — that the militarization of the drug war is an almost unmitigated bad idea. In this case, unlike too many others, the innocent victim survived the initial onslaught of battering-ram-equipped paramilitaries breaking down his door.
. . . is to imprison the people who attempt to film it.
The French Constitutional Council is moving to solve the problem of non-accredited journalists filming or broadcasting acts of violence — by making it illegal for anyone other than bona fide journalists to do so:
The council chose an unfortunate anniversary to publish its decision approving the law, which came exactly 16 years after Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King were filmed by amateur videographer George Holliday in the night of March 3, 1991. The officers' acquittal at the end on April 29, 1992 sparked riots in Los Angeles.
If Holliday were to film a similar scene of violence in France today, he could end up in prison as a result of the new law, said Pascal Cohet, a spokesman for French online civil liberties group Odebi. And anyone publishing such images could face up to five years in prison and a fine of €75,000 (US$98,537), potentially a harsher sentence than that for committing the violent act.
The state of Mississippi reacted rather badly to the announcement that State Farm Insurance was going to stop issuing new home and business policies in that state. Dan Melson tries to point out the economic issues at issue:
Mississippi to State Farm: You Can't Win, You Can't Break Even, and We're Not Going To Let You Leave The Game
So the Mississippi Attorney general wants to make it tougher and more expensive to buy auto insurance as well as homeowner's insurance? [. . .]
But when you make them pay for things which were explicitly not insured, don't you think they're entitled to second thoughts about whether to do business in that state? State Farm is not a charitable organization. They are entitled to charge enough to make a profit — otherwise there is no reason to be in business. If they decide they cannot do that within the environment in a given state, they are entitled to decide to leave. If they can't do it at all, the correct decision is to go out of business.
Add hefty punitive fines for not wanting to pay out claims for things which weren't insured, and it's a miracle that anyone is willing to issue homeowner's insurance in Mississippi.
Insurance is supposed to be a private safety net for individuals and businesses who encounter unforeseen and unpredictable loss. When the government steps in to try to force an insurer to provide coverage for a loss which can be predicted, it is undermining the whole basis of the insurance industry. In much of the southern United States, the government has been meddling in the insurance field for so long that it's difficult to figure out just what any rational company would do in that area (and it would take a very brave and/or foolhardy company to start doing new business in that region).
At the basic level, when you take out an insurance policy, you're making a bet. You're betting that you will need to be compensated for damage and the insurance company is betting that you won't. If the odds look bad to the insurance company, they'll demand a much higher premium (the odds) to offset the increased chance of having to pay out on their side of the bet. Government mandates on who must be given insurance and at what rates is exactly like a third-party muscling in on your private betting to say that the insurance company must give you better odds — in spite of the chances being against their best interests. After that, you may find that there are many fewer choices for you (and everyone else in your area) when you need to place another "bet".
Anime hit it big outside Japan, due, in large part, to becoming an underground phenomenon:
The global sales of Japan's animation industry reached an astonishing $80 billion in 2004, 10 times what they were a decade before. It has won this worldwide success in part because Japanese media companies paid little attention to the kinds of grassroots activities — call it piracy, unauthorized duplication and circulation, or simply file-sharing — that American media companies seem so determined to shut down. Much of the risk of entering Western markets and many of the costs of experimentation and promotion were borne by dedicated consumers.
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