In spite of the absurdity, it's now apparently against the law to take photographs if you're too tall:
According to his blog, our over-tall photographer Alex Turner was taking snaps in Chatham High St last Thursday, when he was approached by two unidentified men. They did not identify themselves, but demanded that he show them some ID and warned that if he failed to comply, they would summon police officers to deal with him.
This they did, and a PCSO and WPC quickly joined the fray. Turner took a photo of the pair, and was promptly arrested. It is unclear from his own account precisely what he was being arrested for. However, he does record that the WPC stated she had felt threatened by him when he took her picture, referring to his size — 5' 11" and about 12 stone — and implying that she found it intimidating.
Turner claims he was handcuffed, held in a police van for around 20 minutes, and forced to provide ID before they would release him. He was then searched in public by plain clothes officers who failed to provide any ID before they did so.
Rick Newcombe provides an insight into why Los Angeles is suffering from a killer combination of rising unemployment and tax rates that no longer meet expenses:
[. . .] 15 years ago we had a dispute with the city over our business tax classification. The city argued that we should be in an "occupations and professions" classification that has an extremely high tax rate, while we fought for a "wholesale and retail" classification with a much lower rate. The city forced us to invest a small fortune in legal fees over two years, but we felt it was worth it in order to establish the correct classification once and for all.
After enduring a series of bureaucratic hearings, we anxiously awaited a ruling to find out what our tax rate would be. Everything was at stake. We had already decided that if we lost, we would move.
You can imagine how relieved we were on July 1, 1994, when the ruling was issued. We won, and firmly planted our roots in the City of Angels and proceeded to build our business.
Everything was fine until the city started running out of money in 2007. Suddenly, the city announced that it was going to ignore its own ruling and reclassify us in the higher tax category. Even more incredible is the fact that the new classification was to be imposed retroactively to 2004 with interest and penalties. No explanation was given for the new classification, or for the city's decision to ignore its 1994 ruling.
Their official position is that the city is not bound by past rulings — only taxpayers are. This is why we have been forced to file a lawsuit. We will let the courts decide whether it is legal for adverse rulings to apply only to taxpayers and not to the city.
The rule of law requires that both parties are equally subject to the outcome of a trial, win or lose. The city clearly feels that it's above that.
Victor sent me this link with the comment "Thought you might find this interesting... Worrisome, even." He was right, I do find it quite disturbing:
As part of a revision to defamation legislation, the Dail (Irish Parliament) passed legislation creating a new crime of blasphemy. Update: The bill went to the Seanad on Friday, July 10, passing by a single vote. This attack on free speech, debated for several months in Europe, has gone largely unnoticed in the American press.
[. . .] How does this impact free speech? Just don’t be rude.
- Atheists can be prosecuted for saying that God is imaginary. That causes outrage.
- Pagans can be prosecuted for saying they left Christianity because God is violent and bloodthirsty, promotes genocide, and permits slavery.
- Christians can be prosecuted for saying that Allah is a moon god, or for drawing a picture of Mohammed, or for saying that Islam is a violent religion which breeds terrorists.
- Jews can be prosecuted for saying Jesus isn’t the Messiah.
At risk of being too flippant, it's really just a codification of the kind of thought pattern exemplified by Canada's various "Human Rights" commissions, focusing on religion, rather than other forms of free thought and free expression.
The actual text of the new legislation goes a long way to convert the police into uniformed Revolutionary Guards:
36. Publication or utterance of blasphemous matter.
(1) A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000. [Amended to €25,000]
2) For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if (a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and (b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.
(3) It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.
37. Seizure of copies of blasphemous statements.
(1) Where a person is convicted of an offence under section 36, the court may issue a warrant (a) authorising any member of the Garda Siochana to enter (if necessary by the use of reasonable force) at all reasonable times any premises (including a dwelling) at which he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that copies of the statement to which the offence related are to be found, and to search those premises and seize and remove all copies of the statement found therein, (b) directing the seizure and removal by any member of the Garda Siochana of all copies of the statement to which the offence related that are in the possession of any person, © specifying the manner in which copies so seized and removed shall be detained and stored by the Garda Siochana.
(2) A member of the Garda Siochana may (a) enter and search any premises, (b) seize, remove and detain any copy of a statement to which an offence under section 36 relates found therein or in the possession of any person, in accordance with a warrant under subsection (1).
(3) Upon final judgment being given in proceedings for an offence under section 36, anything seized and removed under subsection (2) shall be disposed of in accordance with such directions as the court may give upon an application by a member of the Garda Siochana in that behalf.
What's the Gaelic for "Death to the infidel"? Expect to hear a lot of it in the future.
Clive sent me this update from The Register:
The Metropolitan Police has issued guidance to its officers to remind them that using a camera in public is not in itself a terrorist offence.
There has been increasing concern in recent months that police have been over-using terrorism laws and public order legislation to harass professional and amateur photographers. The issue was raised in Parliament and the Home Office agreed to look at the rules.
The guidance reminds officers that the public do not need a licence to take photographs in the street and the police have no power to stop people taking pictures of anything they like, including police officers.
The over-used Terrorism Act of 2000 does not ban photography either, although it does allow police to look at images on phones or cameras during a search to see if they could be useful to a terrorist.
This is a belated follow-up to incidents like this one (oh, and this one, too). It's refreshing to see that at least one government recognizes that recent police enforcement of a non-existant law must be curtailed. It's also sad that this sort of thing is still so rare as to be noteworthy.
Oh, and Canadians shouldn't try to be smug about this . . . we have over-enthusiastic police enforcement of mythical laws as well.
In a bid to win this year's police officer of the year award, a New Mexico police chief tases a 14-year-old girl for running away from her mother:
It all started when the 14 year old got in a fight with her mother. Her mom drove her to the police station looking for help.
When they got there the girl took off running and the police chief later found her in a nearby park.
When he approached the girl the chief says she took off running again. He says he told her to stop, but when she didn't, he hit her with the Taser.
H/T to Radley Balko, who wrote:
The kid hadn’t committed any crime. The chief told a local news station, “he does not regret his actions. He adds he warned her several times and had no other choice when she did not listen to him.” So you shoot electrically-charged barbs into her head? God help this guy’s kids.
I'm with Jeff Jarvis: Good God. The scary thing here is not necessarily that we will see some new federal law requiring that the L.A. Times give expressed written consent every time I link to one of its pieces, but rather that some damn fool freedom-reducing scheme like this is likely to be introduced at the federal level in the not-too-distant future, given the economic and political clout of these very large, very troubled, and very connected organizations. And the fact that a respected judge is so breezy about jigging the nation's laws to prop up a single struggling industry reminds us afresh how ingrained is the bias toward seeing the government as a cost-and consquence-free solution to anything perceived as a problem.
Matt Welch, "Richard Posner: Expand Copyright Protections to Save Newspapers!", Hit and Run, 2009-06-26
Guy Herbert reposts some fascinating tips on dealing with the police, on the off chance that you may have to do so:
But deleting from public knowledge what has once been on the web is difficult. Here is a celebrated sample, NightJack's advice to the arrested, which Samizdata readers may find both useful and enlightening (there is a situational irony in the sideswipe at those who have learned how to use the forces of law and order to score points and extract revenge):
[. . .]
Never explain to the Police
If the Police arrive to lock you up, say nothing. You are a decent person and you may think that reasoning with the Police will help. “If I can only explain, they will realise it is all a horrible mistake and go away”. Wrong. We do want to talk to you on tape in an interview room but that comes later. All you are doing by trying to explain is digging yourself further in. We call that stuff a significant statement and we love it. Decent folk can’t help themselves, they think that they can talk their way out. Wrong.
To do anything more than lock you up for a few hours we need to prove a case. The easiest route to that is your admission. Without it, our case may be a lot weaker, maybe not enough to charge you with. In any case, it is always worth finding out exactly how damning the evidence is before you fall on your sword. So don’t do the decent and honourable thing and admit what you have done. Don’t even deny it or try to give your side of the story. Just say nothing. No confession and CPS are on the back foot already. They forsee a trial. They fear a trial. They are looking for any excuse to send you home free.
Keep your mouth shut
Say as little as possible to us. At the custody office desk a Sergeant will ask you some questions. It is safe to answer these. For the rest of the time, say nothing.
Mark Steyn looks at the recent speech by the embattled head of Canada's official inquisition:
I'm making a serious point there about the "human rights" enforcers' perversion of Canada's basic legal principles, and I stand by it. So just to up the ante: "Is Jennifer Lynch, QC a drunken pedophile serial killer? Maybe not. But no one has decided that."
About the rest of her plaint, one thing I've learned since 9/11 is that those who receive credible death threats do not brag about them in public. As for the unflattering descriptions of her commission, I was responsible for three of them: "human rights racket"; "a fetish club for servants of the Crown"; and "welcome to the wacky world of Canadian 'human rights'". I deeply resent Commissar Lynch lifting all my best lines without credit to perk up her turgid speech. I stand by all of them, and I see I've reprised the last up at the top. Must try to work the "fetish club" line in again.
So four of the six quotations Commissar Lynch is upset about are from what Pearl Eliadis would call the "hatemongerer" — or what proper legal systems would call "the accused". In other words, the Chief Commissar of Canada's "human rights" regime is complaining that the person she is investigating has had the impertinence to respond. Which gives you an interesting glimpse into Queen Jennifer's concept of justice.
It's distressing enough that Canada has a vast inquisitorial system both at the federal and provincial level, but it's even more upsetting to find that nothing from the Levant and Steyn "cases" has made any difference to the minions of those systems. They still clearly feel that they are above criticism — in fact, they feel that any such attempt to criticize should be punishable.
This is an incredible story of judicial miscarriage:
Judges and juries apparently bought this crap for years. It finally came to an end when Judge Gilbert Goshorn ordered the dog to perform a basic tracking test after Preston claimed the dog had alerted to a suspect's scent at a crime scene six months after the murder. The dog failed.
So far, three people have been cleared after collectively spending more than 50 years in prison, all of whom were convicted primarily due to the dog's alerts, despite other evidence exculpating them. Florida criminal justice activists say there may be as 60 more people wrongly convicted thanks to Preston and his dog.
Yet Florida officials don't seem to care, and have no plans to proactively look for other people who may have been wrongly imprisoned.
On first blush, this appears to be a setback to the kind of devious and wide-open-to-abuse way that many western governments have been treating terror suspects:
The law lords have dealt a major blow to the government's controversial use of control orders on terror suspects, saying that reliance on secret evidence denies them a fair trial.
The nine-judge panel led by Lord Philips of Worth Matravers, the senior law lord, upheld a challenge on behalf of three men on control orders who cannot be named.
The orders have not been quashed but the law lords have ordered that the cases be heard again.
The three had argued that the refusal to disclose even the "gist" of the evidence against them denied them a fair trial under the Human Rights Act.
Given the presumption of innocence (and if we lose that, we've pretty much given up on two thousand years of jurisprudence), it's incredibly difficult to present a defence when you are not allowed to know what evidence is being used against you. It makes a mockery of the very notion of a fair trial, and it is especially important in cases like these, where governments have been pantingly eager to avoid treating the suspects normally.
Cory Doctorow has the latest hard-to-believe twist in the Conference Board of Canada's ludicrous "report" on copyrights:
The Conference Board of Canada's sellout on copyright just keeps on getting worse. To recap: the Conference Board is a supposedly neutral research outfit that was asked by the Canadian copyright industries to write a report on file-sharing and piracy in Canada. They hit up the Ontario government for $15,000 to fund an event where the findings of the report would be presented.
Then they hired an independent researcher who concluded that there wasn't anything particularly wrong with Canadian file-sharing. They threw away his research.
Then they plagiarized dodgy press-materials produced by the leading US copyright lobby group, quoting lengthy passages that were factually wrong.
Then they denied any wrongdoing.
Then they admitted they'd plagiarized, but insisted that the public money hadn't been spent "on the report" — it had been spent on the conference about the report, which is a Different Thing Altogether.
After all that, it still manages to get worse . . .
A very long panel discussion, but well worth watching (or, given the relative lack of visual action, listening to). Charlie gives an excellent potted history of privacy in the first few minutes: this is an artifact of the modern age. That is, until the modern era, there was no privacy as we now understand it. The poor lived cheek-by-jowl in 20-to-a-hovel misery, while the rich lived with 24/7 presence of servants, hangers-on, and other humans. In the same sense that the "nuclear family" is a very recent sociological phenomenon, personal privacy is something we think of as "normal", but it's only become possible in the last hundred years or so.
IME, British businesses often lie "the law requires X" or "the law prohibits X" — absurd!
UK banks are the worst for inventing imaginary laws to excuse their BS. Eg, "law requires you tell us reason for funds withdrawal"
"The law requires it" is used interchangeably with "Our lawyers require it" by UK businesses — these are nowhere near the same thing.
Cory Doctorow, posting to Twitter, 2009-06-02
All around the world, cops and rent-a-cops are vigorously enforcing nonexistent anti-terrorist bans on photography in public places. If you're worried about being busted under an imaginary law, why not download these templates and print yourself an imaginary "Photography license" from the DHS? Who knows if it's legal to carry one of these — probably about as legal as taking away your camera and erasing your memory card for snapping a pic on the subway.
H/T to Dave Owens for the link.
Brendan O'Neill dishes the sordid details:
At the end of April, Caroline Cartwright, a 48-year-old housewife from Wearside in the north east of England, was remanded in custody for having "excessively noisy sex." The cops took her in after neighbors complained of hearing her "shouting and groaning" and her "bed banging against the wall of her home." Cartwright has, quite reasonably, defended her inalienable right to be a howler: "I can't stop making noise during sex. It's unnatural to not make any noises and I don't think that I am particularly loud."
[. . .] Cartwright had previously been served with an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) — a civil order that is used to control the minutiae of British people's behaviour — that forbade her from making "excessive noise during sex" anywhere in England.
That's right, going even further than Orwell's imagined authoritarian hellhole, where at least there was a wood or two where people could indulge their sexual impulses, the local authorities in Wearside made all of England a no-go zone for Cartwright's noisy shenanigans. If she wanted to howl with abandon, she would have to nip over the border to Scotland or maybe catch a ferry to France. It was because she breached the conditions of her Anti-Social Behaviour Order, the civil ruling about how much noise she can make while making love in England, that Cartwright was arrested.
Apparently, ASBOs can be issued without normal due process, "to stop anyone else from doing something that they find irritating, 'alarming,' or 'threatening'." The potential for abuse is glaring . . . and seems to be less potential and more actual.
Richard Epstein makes some excellent points against letting the government's vastly distorting "deal" for Chrysler's bankruptcy go through:
The proposed bankruptcy reorganization of the now defunct Chrysler Corp. is the culmination of serious policy missteps by the Bush and Obama administrations. To be sure, the long overdue Chrysler bankruptcy is a welcomed turn of events. But the heavy-handed meddling of the Obama administration that forced secured creditors to the brink is not.
A sound bankruptcy proceeding should do two things: productively redeploy the assets of the bankrupt firm and correctly prioritize various claims against the bankrupt entity. The Chrysler bankruptcy fails on both counts.
As I've said in several other posts, business risks are priced into the business model. Government sticking its nose into existing contractual arrangements distorts the risks in ways that none of the contracting parties could have foreseen. Had they been able to foresee the intervention, they would almost certainly not have entered into the contract or would have negotiated radically different terms to compensate for the greater risks.
The US government, by throwing aside the normal hierarchy of creditors, has damaged all future bankruptcies, by introducing greater uncertainty into what had been (by most accounts) a very successful and risk-contained process.
On claim priority, unsecured creditors come at the bottom of the bankruptcy totem pole. The basic rule of credit transactions distributes the net assets first to secured creditors in the order of their priority. First mortgages are normally paid in full before second, and lower mortgagees receive anything, in order, on their loans. Unsecured creditors of all types have an equal claim regardless of the time they perfected their claims. But they receive their first dime only after secured creditors have been paid in full.
It is absolutely critical to follow these priority rules inside bankruptcy in order to allow creditors to price risk outside of bankruptcy. Upsetting this fixed hierarchy among creditors is just an illegal taking of property from one group of creditors for the benefit of another, which should be struck down on both statutory and constitutional grounds.
In trying to pander to a politically favoured group, the US government has made every other potential bankruptcy that much more risky . . . and containing risk is critical to a properly functioning economy. Nice work, guys. Bomb-throwing anarchists nod in respect for the damage you've inflicted.
Richard Best is hoping that common sense will prevail as Ontario's government considers a bill that would (slightly) liberalize Ontario's fruit wineries:
Parliament is now considering a bill (C-132 2008) that would allow farm wineries to sell their fruit wines at farmers markets in Ontario. The main reason given for a "no" vote to this bill is the fear of farm markets becoming drunken orgies. OK, that's overstating the issue, but this is a recurring theme that's brought up whenever there is a suggestion to expand the retail availability of locally-made alcohol products.
Let me say, emphatically, that this seriously outdated yet pervasive attitude shows a profound lack of respect for the citizens of Ontario. When I think of when and where alcohol is a problem, invariably the LCBO is involved, not wineries. Teens get their booze from the LCBO. Bars — often with large parking lots to accommodate their drink-and-drive customers — get their product mainly from the LCBO. Special Event permits do nothing to regulate consumption; they merely glean a few more "tax" dollars from consumers and recruit more sales for the LCBO. This list could go on.
When I think of farmers markets, I think of health-conscious people who are environmentally and socially responsible. To suggest that someone who, on a sunny Saturday morning, might buy a $15 bottle of strawberry wine at a farmers market and then be overcome by the need to consume it in the parking lot or on the way home is an insult to these people, to farmers and to society. It is society who is the watchdog on alcohol consumption, not the AGCO and certainly not the LCBO. The LCBO does little to educate people on the problems associated with misuse. Instead they put "Please drink responsibly" in small print on the expensive, glossy brochures they send out en masse at least monthly, where they boast about the pleasures of this bottle or that.
Ontario's wineries and micro-breweries are also watchdogs for responsibility. Staff are restricted in how much they can pour for any one person, and they are trained to recognize when someone's had too much. Probably more significantly, most winery shops close their doors at 5:00 or 5:30, as do micro-breweries. And farmers markets typically close at 2:00. It's also been shown that, of all beverage alcohol products, wine is the least likely to be abused.
So, to our decision makers, please show some respect and enlightenment when it comes to our wine industry and its customers, and let them show you that wine sold at farmers markets will not trigger the downfall of civilization, just as it hasn't in the many provinces and states that allow it.
Ontario's alcohol control laws are still broadly similar to the immediate post-Prohibition era, and Ontario politicians clearly still think of Ontarians and other Canadians as being too weak to resist the call to over-indulge. This bill's tiny liberalization is a good example of how little the government trusts the common sense and responsible nature of the average citizen.
I'm afraid I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this bill defeated with little or no debate . . .
Bruce Schneier explains why it's already far to late to lament your loss of online privacy:
If your data is online, it is not private. Oh, maybe it seems private. Certainly, only you have access to your e-mail. Well, you and your ISP. And the sender's ISP. And any backbone provider who happens to route that mail from the sender to you. And, if you read your personal mail from work, your company. And, if they have taps at the correct points, the NSA and any other sufficiently well-funded government intelligence organization — domestic and international.
You could encrypt your mail, of course, but few of us do that. Most of us now use webmail. The general problem is that, for the most part, your online data is not under your control. Cloud computing and software as a service exacerbate this problem even more.
Your webmail is less under your control than it would be if you downloaded your mail to your computer. If you use Salesforce.com, you're relying on that company to keep your data private. If you use Google Docs, you're relying on Google. This is why the Electronic Privacy Information Center recently filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission: many of us are relying on Google's security, but we don't know what it is.
This is new. Twenty years ago, if someone wanted to look through your correspondence, he had to break into your house. Now, he can just break into your ISP. Ten years ago, your voicemail was on an answering machine in your office; now it's on a computer owned by a telephone company. Your financial accounts are on remote websites protected only by passwords; your credit history is collected, stored, and sold by companies you don't even know exist.
I used to be quite freaked out by this knowledge . . . I'm still not 100% comfortable with it, but I've (mostly) come to terms with it. There's still the illusion of privacy, but you need to understand that it is just an illusion. Your data is very easy to collect, even without needing to enlist 1337 |-|4><0r3r$ to assist, people can accumulate significant profiles on you legally and openly.
According to this article in Pravda, Russian beer is being regulated:
The content of toxic substances — lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, radioactive nuclides, caesium, pesticides and ergot — must be restricted in the Russian beer. Parasites of bread reserves — insects and ticks — must not appear in the production process. Beer must be made without the use of ethyl alcohol. Labels on the end product must provide full and true information for customers. These are a few of the new technical regulations on beer; the document was submitted to the Russian parliament, the State Duma, on Tuesday, The Vremya Novostei newspaper wrote.
A couple of thoughts on this, first "Yikes! I'm not drinking any Russian beer after reading that!", but second "Wait a second . . . has this gone through a typical media thought filter?"
It's a rare media outlet that ever has second thoughts about regulation — any regulation — being a good thing. As reported, this appears to be a good thing. After all, who wants to drink beer with contaminants like "lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury" in measurable quantities?
But just because it's going to be restricted in future doesn't mean it's already in the product. For instance, you could pass a regulation saying that Australian beer must contain no more than 1 microgram of U-238 per serving or that South African beer was limited to a maximum of 16 millilitres of liquid yak vomit. The media in those jurisdictions could be depended on to jump on the story as "OZ beer no longer radioactive!" or "SAB not allowed to put Yak Vomit in Beer!"
Doesn't mean it ever contained those things, just that it's now legally not allowed to contain 'em. After all, brewing is a pretty simple process involving a relatively small number of ingredients to produce the basic beer — water, hops, and (usually) malted grain. It's possible (even likely) that some Russian beers have included contaminants from improperly treated water, badly maintained brewing equipment, or (especially if rye is the source of the malt) traces of ergot.
Hmmm. On third thought, maybe I'll skip Russian beer, just in case . . .
Ira Einhorn was arrested for murder March 28, 1979, the day the Three Mile Island nuclear plant accident occurred. Ira Einhorn, environmentalist, was charged with murder during the same period as one of the greatest environmental accidents in United States history.
But the real irony is that more people died in the apartment of Ira Einhorn, co-founder of Earth Day than at Three Mile Island. The environmentalist killed more people than the so-called environmental disaster.
Happy Earth Day.
Michael P. Tremoglie, "Earth Day Philly Style", The Bulletin, 2009-04-22
It's been ten years since the Columbine massacre, and (for those who remember any details) much of what passes for common knowledge about the attack is wrong, as Greg Toppo explains:
They weren't goths or loners.
The two teenagers who killed 13 people and themselves at suburban Denver's Columbine High School 10 years ago next week weren't in the "Trenchcoat Mafia," disaffected videogamers who wore cowboy dusters. The killings ignited a national debate over bullying, but the record now shows Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold hadn't been bullied — in fact, they had bragged in diaries about picking on freshmen and "fags."
Their rampage put schools on alert for "enemies lists" made by troubled students, but the enemies on their list had graduated from Columbine a year earlier. Contrary to early reports, Harris and Klebold weren't on antidepressant medication and didn't target jocks, blacks or Christians, police now say, citing the killers' journals and witness accounts. That story about a student being shot in the head after she said she believed in God? Never happened, the FBI says now.
A decade after Harris and Klebold made Columbine a synonym for rage, new information — including several books that analyze the tragedy through diaries, e-mails, appointment books, videotape, police affidavits and interviews with witnesses, friends and survivors — indicate that much of what the public has been told about the shootings is wrong.
The way the media covered the horrific event, and the emphasis placed on certain "facts" had wide ranging effects elsewhere:
At the time, Columbine became a kind of giant national Rorschach test. Observers saw its genesis in just about everything: lax parenting, lax gun laws, progressive schooling, repressive school culture, violent video games, antidepressant drugs and rock 'n' roll, for starters.
Many of the Columbine myths emerged before the shooting stopped, as rumors, misunderstandings and wishful thinking swirled in an echo chamber among witnesses, survivors, officials and the news media.
Police contributed to the mess by talking to reporters before they knew facts — a hastily called news conference by the Jefferson County sheriff that afternoon produced the first headline: "Twenty-five dead in Colorado."
A few inaccuracies took hours to clear up, but others took weeks or months — sometimes years — as authorities reluctantly set the record straight.
The delay in clearing the record meant that school authorities in other areas were often stampeded into ridiculous disciplinary measures that did nothing to improve student safety, but often increased alienation and mistrust between the students and their teachers and school administrators.
If the original suppositions had been true, the actions of many school principals and board administrators would have made copycat attacks more likely, not less: by increasing suspicion of "loners" and students who were further from the norm in fashion, reading tastes, and all the myraid other ways teenagers try to express themselves.
H/T to Jesse Walker, who also noted:
The persistance of such myths may be as interesting as the myths itself. Many of the tales that Toppo attacks were actually debunked in the immediate aftermath of the killings. In an editorial I filed less than a month after the massacre, I wrote this:
In the weeks since the Littleton slaughter, we've learned that most of what the media initially told us about the Columbine killers wasn't true. They weren't Nazis. They weren't especially racist. They weren't necessarily Goths. They might not even have been members of the clique of outcasts called the Trench Coat Mafia, which, by the way, wasn't originally called the Trench Coat Mafia.
As we all know, in today's unfriendly skies, the passenger who makes too much fuss risks being arrested on landing and having their name added to the No-Fly list. Apparently, though, if you don't make enough fuss, you may lose the right to sue:
A federal district judge in Arkansas has dismissed a class-action lawsuit that sought damages from American Airlines for an incident in December 2006 where passengers were stranded on the tarmac in Austin for 9½ hours, unable to get off their plane. According to FlyersRights.org, an organisation formed in the aftermath of that episode, Robert Dawson, the judge, wrote that the court was "sympathetic to the plaintiff". But he ruled that the airline had no duty to provide passengers with "a stress-free environment". He found that the named plaintiff had never personally "told the pilots or the flight attendants that she wanted to deplane" so there was no "wilful detention".
American Airlines is probably just jealous of the enviable title won by Alitalia: the "World's Worst Airline".
Yet another indication that airport security is far less concerned with threats to travellers and aircraft and much more concerned with things outside their sphere of interest:
H/T to Radley Balko:
[. . .] a director of Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty is detained by TSA at the St. Louis airport because when asked to explain why he’s carrying $4,700 in cash (it was proceeds from book and ticket sales at the conference), he asks the agents to tell him what law requires him to do so. He managed to surreptitiously record his conversations with TSA officers on a cell phone. The audio is infuriating.
Update, 7 April: Radley Balko has some additional information on the TSA response:
The response raises a number of questions. How does carrying a large amount of cash impair the safety of air travel? Weapons I could see. But cash?
Also, merely carrying even large sums of cash is not enough in itself for someone to be legally detained. There needs to be some other sign of illegal activity. What else about Bierfeldt made the TSA agents suspect him of criminal activity? What is the minimum amount of cash you can carry in an airport without being expected to explain to TSA agents why you’re carrying it?
Will the public be told what disciplinary action is taken against the agents who acted inappropriately? Will Bierfeldt?
If the pen is mightier than the sword, then criminalizing words is a way of disarming potential opposition, of inculcating a reflexive self-censorship in the citizenry. And, after all, self-suppression is the most cost-effective of tyranny. Political correctness isn't merely the blasphemy law of our time. It makes communication impossible. It renders a people literally illiterate: The conventions of language used by functioning societies throughout human history — irony, indirect quotation, period evocation, and, yes, even comic stereotype — are all suddenly suspect. What a strange fate to embrace.
Mark Steyn, "No Laughing Matter", Macleans, 2009-04-01
Radley Balko is an American journalist whose work I link to and quote from fairly frequently. Since he joined the staff at Reason magazine, he's pretty much been the go-to guy for law enforcement coverage, especially non-knock raids-gone-wrong. This, therefore, is a very strange event indeed:
Not an April Fool’s Joke
So at about 8:30am this morning, while I was in the shower, there was a loud banging at my door. I decided it couldn’t be important enough for me to cut the shower short, so I decided not to answer. The banging continued, louder and more persistent. I got out, peeked out the window, and see a bunch of Alexandria Sheriff's Deputies outside my door. Honest to God, my first reaction was, "Wow, this is one ridiculous April Fool's joke."
So I got dressed. The pounding continued, and my dog was going crazy. I was a little freaked out now, given that I'm sorta' the main critic of police raids, and there are a bunch of cops banging on my door. I answered, and the cop flashed his badge. I could tell pretty quickly by the look on his face that I wasn't the guy he was looking for. He showed me a picture of a scary-looking fellow, and asked if the man in the photo lived at my house. I said no, and that I'd lived at the house for three years. Apparently the guy either lived in the house before me, or was using my address as a decoy.
The comments are running about 50/50 between "good thing nothing happened" and "they've punked you, hoping you'd write it up as intimidation". The timing is another head-scratcher . . . were they (the police) trying to wind Radley up, in hopes he'd try to exaggerate the event or were they trying to demonstrate that not all police activity starts with a broken-in door and ends with occupants of the house handcuffed and their dogs shot dead?
The ACLU of Michigan issued an incredible press release yesterday, documenting the legal plight of Edwina Nowlin, who has been jailed for the crime of being unable to pay the court $104 per month to pay for her son's incarceration in a juvenile detention facility:
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan asked for an emergency hearing today on behalf of an Escanaba woman sentenced to 30 days in jail because she is too poor to reimburse the court for her son’s stay in a juvenile detention facility.
“Like many people in these desperate economic times, Ms. Nowlin was laid off from work, lost her home and is destitute,” said Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director. “Jailing her because of her poverty is not only unconstitutional, it’s unconscionable and a shameful waste of resources. It is not a crime to be poor in this country and the government must stop resurrecting debtor’s prisons from the dustbin of history.”
In December 2008, Ms. Nowlin’s 16-year-old son was sentenced to the Bay Pines Center and Ms. Nowlin was ordered to pay $104 per month for his lodging. At the time of this order, Ms. Nowlin was homeless and working part-time with a friend after being laid off from her job. She told the court that she was unable to pay the ordered amount, however the judge found her in contempt for failing to pay. In addition, Ms. Nowlin’s requests for a court appointed attorney were denied.
Frankly, if this was dated tomorrow, I'd dismiss it as an obvious over-the-top April Fool prank. I'm sure there's some toxic combination of restrictions and penalties that could be worse than this, but it'd take some deep legal scholarship to uncover it. The law really is an ass.
The recent forced resignation of GM's CEO may be good politically — although that's questionable — but it's terrible economically. The economic picture is unsettled, which sharply reduces the dependability of long-term and even short-term forecasting. Businesses depend on forecasting to make investments, create jobs, increase or decrease production, and pretty much every other part of their operations. Uncertainty is normal, but high levels of uncertainty act to depress all economic activity . . . and the US government playing kingmaker with the heads of major corporations is a hell of way to create more uncertainty.
The specific merits of the Richard Wagoner dismissal are unimportant compared to the extra measure of uncertainty injected into the economy as a whole. If President Obama and his team can dismiss Wagoner, why not the heads of any bank accepting government funding? Why not other corporate officers (corporate directors have already been ousted at government whim)? At what level does the government's self-created new power stop?
The direction the US federal government has set will do nothing to settle economic worries, and much to increase them. The clear belief on the part of the administration is that they are better able to pick the winners and losers of economic activity of which most of them have no practical experience. That is a modern definition of hubris.
On the specifics of GM's (and Chrysler's) plight, I've been saying that they should have gone into formal bankruptcy last year. It would have been bad, for many people (suppliers, employees, and shareholders most directly), but it would have had the merit of being the best way to legally1 and quickly2 sort out the businesses, determining whether they are still viable or whether they are best broken up and sold off to the highest bidder. This life-in-death state under close government supervision is becoming the worst of all possible worlds. Nothing can be settled, everything is subject to radical change at the drop of a political hat, and nobody can see an end to the turmoil.
1 Legally, in the sense that the laws are already on the books, tested, and workable. Not requiring additional legislation passed in the wee small hours of the morning by sleepy congressmen and senators who haven't read any of the bill being passed.
2 Quickly, of course, is a relative term. Even a best-case fast resolution of a bankruptcy this size would be years, not months in length.
In case you didn't catch in during broadcast, you can see Ezra Levant's appearance on the Michael Coren show here.
Here's part one
This headline at the BBC News website is incomplete:
Top AIG bosses 'to repay bonuses'
A disturbing case in Boston implies that you may not be able to claim that what you published was the truth to ward off a libel case:
Journalists who believe truth is the ultimate defense against libel suits fear that a federal appeals court has created a dangerous exception that could chill news reporting.
The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston ruled recently that a former salesman at Staples can sue the company for libel after a vice president sent an e-mail to about 1,500 employees saying the salesman had been fired for violations of company procedures regarding expenses reimbursements.
Although the decision did not involve a news outlet, it has alarmed journalists, bloggers, and media law specialists, who worry that it could discourage news organizations from pursuing true stories that might cast subjects in a bad light.
Whole thing here.
A report in the LA Times has some disturbing revelations:
The engineer suspected of causing the Sept. 12 Metrolink catastrophe in Chatsworth not only allowed rail enthusiasts into the cab of moving trains but also let them sit at the controls, according to text messages released today at a hearing by federal investigators.
Two days before the crash, Metrolink engineer Robert M. Sanchez sent a cellphone text message arranging another ride-along and said, "this time I'm taking a picture of you @ da throttle!!!"
Planning for the evening ride-along on the day of the crash, Sanchez texted one of the rail enthusiasts: "yea . . . but I'm REALLY looking forward to getting you in the cab and showing you how to run a locomotive."
The recipient, identified as "Person A," responded: "Omg [oh, my God] dude me too. Running a locomotive. Having all of that in the palms of my hands. Its a great feeling. And ill do it so good from all my practice on the simulator."
Sanchez answered: "I'm gonna do all the radio talkin' . . . ur gonna run the locomotive & I'm gonna tell u how to do it."
Expect even more regulations banning non-authorized personnel from even being near locomotives in future . . . we all know railfans who shouldn't be allowed out without a keeper. That'll be how the legal system will view all railfans if this continues.
The headline writer carefully chose the most inflammatory notion for the headline "Another blow to fatherhood: IVF mothers can name ANYONE as 'father' on birth certificate":
Family values were under attack again last night with the news that single women having IVF will be able to name anyone they like as their baby's father on the birth certificate.
New regulations mean that a mother could nominate another woman to be her child's 'father'.
The 'father' does not need to be genetically related to the baby, nor be in any sort of romantic relationship with the mother.
The Daily Mail clearly is trying to find the most alarming aspects to highlight in this issue . . . and the key information is hidden a few paragraphs below:
The second parent, who will have to consent to being named, will take on the legal and moral responsibilities of parenthood.
In other words, no matter what the mother claims on the birth certificate, the nominated father (or "second parent") has to agree that they are taking on the legal responsibility of parenthood for that child or children. That's actually a more sensible arrangement than in many jurisdictions where the named father may not even be aware that they're now legally required to support a child until the child welfare authorities descend with court-ordered support demands.
Of course, another part of the agenda might be to pump up anti-homosexual agendas:
Critics said a woman could list her best friend on the birth certificate. The word 'father' may even be replaced with the phrase 'second parent'.
[. . .]
This raises the spectre of a legal minefield in which female 'fathers' will fight for visitation rights and be chased for child support payments if their fragile relationship with the mother breaks down.
Because, of course, everyone knows that gays and lesbians don't have strong relationships with their partners, right? Unlike heterosexual relationships which, as we all know, never break down and leave children with only one parent in their daily lives, right?
I don't watch a lot of rugby, but it's always entertaining watching a game involving the New Zealand rugby team, especially when they open the match with their version of the Ke Mate haka:
That being said, I think this is a bad idea:
. . . don't even think about performing it publicly any time soon, lest you receive a friendly visit from the Maori Ngati Toa iwi or an all-expenses paid trip to the New Zealand courts. In the first ruling of it's kind, the New Zealand Government gave the iwi, or tribe, intellectual property rights to the haka as part of a multi-million dollar land claim settlement on February 11. The Ngati Toa ruling declares the Ka Mate the brainchild of Maori chief Te Rauparaha, after his narrow escape from enemies in the 1820s.
It's probably for the best that the Ngati Toa are preventing the world from repeating the haka's story. The first section of the haka — curiously omitted at family events — describes Re Rauparaha hiding under a woman's skirt and sitting mesmerized at her "pulsating cavern."
Maoris said they were tired of companies profiting from the Ka Mate, and the deal was meant to "protect the haka from inappropriate use" said Ngati Toa chief negotiator, Matiu Rei. Prime Minister John Keys said the agreement was about "cultural redress . . . not about a financial issue or an attempt to restrict New Zealanders."
Intellectual property rulings are at the bleeding edge of modern jurisprudence, largely because there isn't universal understanding or agreement about just what the full range of "properties" might be that fall into this category.
Having recently had to pay a large sum of money to the Canadian government because the software we used to file our 2007 tax returns didn't correctly account for RRSP withdrawals (and/or my employer didn't withhold as much as I requested them to), I'm actually somewhat sympathetic here:
If you're an executive at Intuit, which makes a substantial chunk of change filing people's tax returns, you probably don't want to anger the future head of the Treasury — which, of course, contains the Internal Revenue Service, the ultimate consumer of your output. On the other hand, you don't want to imply that your product is capable of screwing up peoples' tax returns.
Witness the verbal gymnastics of Dan Maurer, Intuit SVP, as he tries to absolve both Tim Geithner and his firm from the mistakes on Geithner's return . . .
I still can't understand how AIG, beneficiary of $152 billion in federal subsidies and loan guarantees, could get away with giving management $400 million in year-end bonuses for a year in which management did one of the worst jobs in financial history. That money was forcibly removed from your pocket and placed into the pockets of incompetent scoundrels — yet Congress does nothing! Now it turns out federally subsidized Merrill Lynch, the Bank of America subsidiary given $20 billion of your money two weeks ago, lost $15.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008, and yet handed its senior managers $4 billion in bonuses. Four billion, not million, forcibly removed from your pocket — or borrowed, with the bill handed to your children — and put into the pockets of scoundrels who did a terrible, horrible, awful job. Merrill Lynch managers must be laughing out loud: They screwed up in a major way, and for screwing up were lavishly rewarded, while blameless federal taxpayers were punished. Why isn't our Democratic-led, supposedly populist Congress incensed about such abuses?
Unfortunately, I do understand — because Congress is to blame for the abuses. Congress enacted October's $700 billion bailout of banks and Wall Street without including fraud provisions. At the moment of maximum leverage with banks and Wall Street, Congress simply handed over vast sums of your money without getting any accountability concessions in return. If a Pentagon contractor abuses federal money, if the vendor who supplies staplers and paper clips to the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center abuses federal money, federal prosecutors move in, because contracts issued by federal agencies have fraud clauses. The October deal by which Congress handed over hundreds of billions of dollars to banks and Wall Street doesn't contain fraud clauses!
The AIG and Merrill Lynch top dogs may be despicable, but it's legal for them to stuff your money into their pockets as bonuses. As Michael Kinsley once said, "The real scandal is what's legal." That billions of the $700 billion bailout fund are being looted directly in front of our eyes is legal, owing to the carelessness of Congress.
Gregg Easterbrook, "Super Bowl Pick and Unwanted All-Pros", ESPN Page 2: TMQ, 2009-01-27
There's an interesting — and lengthy — post at Ministry of Truth about the complete failure of British drug policy. Well worth a read:
[. . .] this is hardly an innovative story, as the reference to last year's row over the classification of cannabis indicates. Most of what passes for official policy on drugs, not just in the UK but globally, bears little or no relationship to the actual health risks associated with particular drugs, which is why supplying adults with the two drugs which play some part in the largest number of deaths on a year-in, year-out basis, tobacco (an estimated 500,000+ deaths annually) and alcohol (200,000+ deaths), is perfectly legal, while supplying ecstasy, which is implicated in less than 50 deaths a year carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. When you put in those terms and compare the annual number of deaths associated with particular drug (legal and non-legal) its impossible not to think that there's something altogether a bit perverse about a system which generates billions of pounds in sales (and tax) revenues from the use of drugs which actively contribute to hundreds of thousands of deaths every year while, at the same time, outlawing other drugs which, at most, account for 30-50 deaths a year. It just doesn't seem rational — and it isn't.
[. . .]
By the early years of this century, a mere twenty years after joining the 'War on Drugs', the UK's original black market of a few hundred London-based registered addicts had turned into a market of 300,000 'chaotic' heroin users with a battery of associated health problems, including HIV, hepatitis, septicaemia, etc., some of whom had become heavily involved in crime and prostitution to finance their habit to the extent that an internal Downing Street report, leaked in 2005, estimated that black market drug users were responsible for 85% of shoplifting, 70-80% of burglaries and 54% of robberies.
There's a pretty obvious lesson here. Prohibition not only doesn't work but under the right (wrong?) conditions it can actually turn a relatively minor social issue into a major problem of near epidemic proportions, and this really shouldn't come as any real surprise to anyone. In fact, pretty much everything you need to know about prohibition and its impact on society was neatly encapsulated in a single paragraph, written by the wealthy industrialist (and support[er] of prohibition) John D Rockefeller in a letter reflecting on the failure of alcohol prohibition in the US.
When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.
H/T to Francis Turner.
John Ivison reports on his surreal experience as a witness before the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario:
In the D'Arcy's case, the prosecuting lawyer cited the Post article, in which I had described members of our band as being "moist and garrulous" , if not quite "tired and emotional", as an admission that we were all intoxicated — which is an offence under the Liquor License Act. I conceded that we were in high spirits but rejected the notion of intoxication, which according to the Ministry of Government Services' own server training program means the customer is speaking too loudly, slurring, sweating and losing balance.
"You had to repeat yourself several times, did you not?" the lawyer asked.
"Yes but that happens all the time. You might have noticed I have the hint of an accent," I replied, in my strongest west Scotland brogue.
By this time things had proceeded from farce, as the lawyer flailed away in her attempts to make me admit we were all full of loudmouth soup, or something more sinister.
"As regards the subject of your conversation, is it possible the conversation was of a sexual nature?" the lawyer asked.
"Excuse me," I replied, taken aback.
"Is it possible the conversation was of a sexual nature?"
"I have no idea."
"Is it possible?"
"I have no idea. Is this relevant?" I asked.
"Your job here is to answer the questions. I will do the asking," she said, curtly.
So there you have it. It seems that not only was a public servant sitting in the shadows studying us, he was also eavesdropping on our conversation, so that he could include its contents in a report that could become a public document once the board members pronounce on whether D'Arcy's was in breach of its licence.
[. . .]
Bad enough that a public employee, who is apparently unaccountable to the people, can temporarily close down a wealth-creating private business like D'Arcy's, which employs 75 people, on the extremely subjective basis that a couple of 40-something suits "appeared to be intoxicated". Much worse that government is encroaching on the rights of the individual to the extent that a supposedly private conversation becomes a matter of public record. The Ministry of Truth would have approved.
The British Government plans to make it illegal to have sex with a prostitute if said tart has been trafficked, or is being controlled. Nor will this crime will be limited to offences committed in the UK — it will apply to what British men get up to wherever in the world they may be.
Now I'm a classically liberal type, and I'm naturally against the criminalisation of something that no society has ever managed to extinguish. But leaving that aside, I think this is a great example of how law is now made. Stir up a fuss, lie repeatedly, change the definitions and then do what you wanted to in the first place anyway. Just as they did with passive smoking and pubs.
Tim Worstall, "Spinning the war on the UK's sex trade: Step one, inflate the size of the problem", The Register 2009-01-04
Slashdot has a thread on the recent lawsuit filed by Worlds.com against NCSoft (producers of, among other multiplayer online games, Guild Wars).
The patent, granted early in 2008, was applied for in 2000.
Very high pay to Wall Street managers is justified on the grounds that they are financial geniuses with astonishing expertise. Instead it turns out many financial industry managers made basic blunder after basic blunder. The 2008 financial markets crash belies the entire premise of Wall Street — that the people there deserve huge paychecks for incredible skill in finance. Any fool can make money in a rising market by borrowing! But if the rise stops and you're leveraged, you hit the wall. This is the short version of how many Wall Street and hedge fund managers appeared to be "financial geniuses" from 2003 to 2006, then ended up destroying their investors. The financial manager with true expertise knows to avoid bubbles, especially bubbles based on borrowing. Many Wall Street and big-bank managers during the housing bubble were taking wild risks or performing no due diligence —and when the risks blew up, they got to keep their bonuses while investors and stockholders got hosed. At this point, it's totally obvious the system is rigged — lie about returns (or take crazy risks), claim a spectacular year, award yourself a vast bonus. When the scandal hits, so what? You keep the bonuses. TMQ's basic question: Why isn't this considered embezzlement, punishable by law? Financial managers have a fiduciary responsibility to act in their investors' interest. When financial managers instead act against their investors' interest in order to line their own pockets, that isn't just cynical — that sounds like a crime.
Gregg Easterbrook, "Armageddon", Tuesday Morning Quarterback, 2008-12-23
Or, that's what they claim they were doing when they went to the wrong block, grabbed a schoolgirl off her front porch, beat her up, and then arrested her for prostitution. Oh, and then, later went to her school, re-arrested her on charges of assaulting police officers during the first arrest. She's 12 years old:
[A] blue van drove up and three men jumped out rushing toward her. One of them grabbed her saying, "You're a prostitute. You're coming with me."
Dymond grabbed onto a tree and started screaming, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy." One of the men covered her mouth. Two of the men beat her about the face and throat.
As it turned out, the three men were plain-clothed Galveston police officers who had been called to the area regarding three white prostitutes soliciting a white man and a black drug dealer.
All this is according to a lawsuit filed in Galveston federal court by Milburn against the officers. The lawsuit alleges that the officers thought Dymond, an African-American, was a hooker due to the "tight shorts" she was wearing, despite not fitting the racial description of any of the female suspects. The police went to the wrong house, two blocks away from the area of the reported illegal activity, Milburn's attorney, Anthony Griffin, tells Hair Balls.
After the incident, Dymond was hospitalized and suffered black eyes as well as throat and ear drum injuries.
As they often say on Fark.com, "That's some fine police work there, Lou."
Even Americans whose knowledge of the legislative process is limited to the "I'm Just a Bill" episode of Schoolhouse Rock know about the veto: If Congress approves legislation the president doesn't like, he can refuse to sign it, in which case the law can be enacted only by a two-thirds vote of each chamber. President Bush's plan to aid the auto industry relies on a more obscure maneuver: If Congress rejects a bill the president likes, he can act as if the vote went the other way.
This maneuver, unlike the veto, is illegal by definition, not to mention unconstitutional, violating the separation of powers and the rule of law. But it is business as usual for Bush, who has shown no compunction about ignoring the law when it prohibits him from doing what he considers necessary in response to what he considers an emergency.
Jacob Sullum, Illegal Lending Practices: Bush's plan to help carmakers is not authorized by law", Reason Online, 2008-12-17
Even fetish club owners have legal rights:
The Quest club is a place where consenting adults go to satisfy their appetite for such fetishes as foot worship, bondage and puppy training.
But it's not all about pleasure at the club these days, thanks to a nasty legal fight with the Phoenix club, a competing fetish group.
The owner of Quest claims the Phoenix unlawfully stole business from him.
The story begins in March 2007, when James Jordan and Perry Edge purchased "The Master's Quest" club from Edward Joseph Mitskevich.
Jordan and Edge had a falling out and Edge went on to start the Phoenix club. Mitskevich, who signed a non-compete clause, also became involved as a member in the Phoenix club.
A contract is still a contract, even when the business involved skirts around mainstream sexuality. Expect this case, minor though it is, to attract far more press coverage than it otherwise deserves . . . especially in a slow news month.
Update: Sadly, the "infamous" Betty Page has died:
A cult figure, Page was most famous for the estimated 20,000 4-by-5-inch black-and-white glossy photographs taken by amateur shutterbugs from 1949 to 1957. The photos showed her in high heels and bikinis or negligees, bondage apparel — or nothing at all.
Decades later, those images inspired biographies, comic books, fan clubs, websites, commercial products -- Bettie Page playing cards, dress-up magnet sets, action figures, Zippo lighters, shot glasses -- and, in 2005, a film about her life and times, "The Notorious Bettie Page."
Then there are the idealized portraits of her naughty personas — Nurse Bettie, Jungle Bettie, Voodoo Bettie, Banned in Boston Bettie, Maid Bettie, Crackers in Bed Bettie — memorialized by such artists as Olivia de Berardinis.
"I'll always paint Bettie Page," De Berardinis said Thursday night . "But truth be told, it took me years to understand what I was looking at in the old photographs of her. Now I get it. There was a passion play unfolding in her mind. What some see as a bad-girl image was in fact a certain sensual freedom and play-acting - it was part of the fun of being a woman."
Even fetish club owners have legal rights:
The Quest club is a place where consenting adults go to satisfy their appetite for such fetishes as foot worship, bondage and puppy training.
But it's not all about pleasure at the club these days, thanks to a nasty legal fight with the Phoenix club, a competing fetish group.
The owner of Quest claims the Phoenix unlawfully stole business from him.
The story begins in March 2007, when James Jordan and Perry Edge purchased "The Master's Quest" club from Edward Joseph Mitskevich.
Jordan and Edge had a falling out and Edge went on to start the Phoenix club. Mitskevich, who signed a non-compete clause, also became involved as a member in the Phoenix club.
A contract is still a contract, even when the business involved skirts around mainstream sexuality. Expect this case, minor though it is, to attract far more press coverage than it otherwise deserves . . . especially in a slow news month.
Update: Sadly, the "infamous" Betty Page has died:
A cult figure, Page was most famous for the estimated 20,000 4-by-5-inch black-and-white glossy photographs taken by amateur shutterbugs from 1949 to 1957. The photos showed her in high heels and bikinis or negligees, bondage apparel — or nothing at all.
Decades later, those images inspired biographies, comic books, fan clubs, websites, commercial products -- Bettie Page playing cards, dress-up magnet sets, action figures, Zippo lighters, shot glasses -- and, in 2005, a film about her life and times, "The Notorious Bettie Page."
Then there are the idealized portraits of her naughty personas — Nurse Bettie, Jungle Bettie, Voodoo Bettie, Banned in Boston Bettie, Maid Bettie, Crackers in Bed Bettie — memorialized by such artists as Olivia de Berardinis.
"I'll always paint Bettie Page," De Berardinis said Thursday night . "But truth be told, it took me years to understand what I was looking at in the old photographs of her. Now I get it. There was a passion play unfolding in her mind. What some see as a bad-girl image was in fact a certain sensual freedom and play-acting - it was part of the fun of being a woman."
Katherine Mangu-Ward reports on how officials have responded to possible economic crime in Ohio:
A crack SWAT team of sherrif's deputies, health inspectors, and Ohio Department of Agriculture officials busted into the Manna Storehouse food co-op in LaGrange, Ohio, in a raid last week. The co-op is also the home of the Stowers family, so Katie Stowers, her children, and her in-laws were held at gunpoint while the agents took tens of thousands of dollars worth of meat, plus computers and cell phone. Chad Stowers, Katie's husband, wasn't home because he is a U.S. Navy Seabee currently in Iraq.
Their crime? The warrant listed the reason for the raid as "beef."
Manna may, perhaps, have needed a license to run a retail food establishment. Mostly a coop, they did sell some leftover products in a small store on the property. The exact nature of the business is in dispute, which is why the Stowers' wrote letters to various agencies asking for advice on how to proceed. Obviously, the best way to reply to that request was with a SWAT team.
That'll teach 'em!
Further militarization of the civil police, anyone?
Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) that resolved state lawsuits against the leading tobacco manufacturers. The occasion prompted attempts by the agreement's supporters to portray it as a great "public health" victory, as opposed to a government-backed conspiracy in restraint of trade that enriched trial lawyers, protected Big Tobacco from competition, and brought state treasuries more than $200 billion in found money, all at the expense of smokers, usually portrayed as victims of the companies that benefited from the deal. A good example of MSA boosterism was provided by syndicated columnist Marie Cocco, who opined that the public-spirited lawyers behind the deal have helped "save millions of lives and billions in health costs." Let's ignore the fact that discouraging people from smoking does not prevent deaths so much as delay them, and that increasing the ranks of longer-lived nonsmokers actually raises total spending on health care instead of reducing it. Is Cocco right to argue that the MSA "may well be the most significant advance in the campaign to curtail tobacco use since the 1964 surgeon general's report"?
Cocco notes that per capita cigarette consumption has fallen by about 28 percent since the MSA was signed in 1998. That compares to a decline of about 22 percent in the previous decade. Cocco attributes the acceleration of the downward trend to the MSA's restrictions on cigarette advertising and promotion, which included bans on billboards and on merchandise embossed with cigarette logos. I am skeptical that advertising has such a powerful effect on total consumption of cigarettes (as opposed to brand share), and Cocco offers no evidence to back up her thesis.
Tellingly, Cocco fails to mention that during this same period state and local cigarette taxes were raised over and over again. The one aspect of the MSA than can most plausibly be credited with discouraging consumption, a price increase of about 45 cents a pack that the tobacco companies used to cover their payments to the states, pales in comparison with the increase in the average state cigarette tax, which rose from about 35 cents in 1998 to $1.19 this year. Meanwhile, smoking bans have proliferated throughout the country and become increasingly strict. Cocco notes this development, which had nothing to do with the MSA, but still clings to the notion that getting rid of Marlboro billboards and Joe Camel T-shirts deserves the lion's share of the credit for reducing cigarette consumption.
Jacob Sullum, "When Paternalists Fall in Love With Greedy Lawyers", Hit and Run 2008-12-03
It's the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition in the United States. Join old H.L. Mencken in a celebratory quaff:
Remember the Julie Amero case? In brief, she was a victim of both her own computer illiteracy and the witch hunting mentality (see here and here for background). The good news is that common sense has, if not prevailed, at least greatly moderated the situation:
Julie Amero is free at last.
If this were the 1970s, Bob Dylan might have written a song about her. Today it's geeks who came to her rescue.
Amero's "crime": In October 2004, the substitute teacher from Norwich, Conn., was surfing the Net on a computer inside a middle school classroom when porn ads began popping up all over the screen. She didn't turn the computer off, because school officials expressly told her not to. Someone reported the incident, and Amero was charged with four counts of endangering minors. In January 2007, a jury convicted Amero of surfing XXX sites in the classroom.
Amero was looking at 40 years in the slammer when geeks around the country — most notably Sunbelt Software CEO Alex Eckelberry — read of her verdict and immediately recognized the telltale signs of a spyware infection. They went to work on Amero's behalf, urging the judge for a retrial (which was granted in June 2007).
As I predicted in the earlier posts, even though the worst hasn't happened (the prison time), Amero's life is still shattered:
Amero isn't totally exonerated. She agreed to plead guilty to "disorderly conduct" (a misdemeanor), pay US$100, and have her teaching credentials revoked. The state still refuses to acknowledge it was mistaken. Lord only knows if the school ever cleaned up its computers.
Somebody needs to revoke the credentials of Norwich school administrators and prosecutors — or at least make them stay after school and learn something about the machines they put inside their classrooms.
The larger, uglier verdict in this case is the terminal cluelessness of everyone involved — from administrators who allowed spyware-infested computers into schools, to the DA's office, to the "expert witness" who wasn't actually an expert, to the first judge who refused to let the defense present forensic evidence on Amero's behalf, to the jury, and finally to Amero herself. All of them get an F in 21st-century survival skills.
So, no jail time, but a trivial fine, a criminal record, and no possibility of her ever being allowed to teach again. But it was all for the children, so it must be okay, right?
The Nationalbibliothek (German National Library) is collecting the entire contents of the blogosphere . . . and if you don't co-operate, you're facing a €10,000 fine!
According to the Financial Times, the shock strategy to bend the web to the national library's will at first provoked delight as bloggers sniffed the faint scent of immortality, unaware of the repercussions of non-compliance. One Robert Basic enthused: "My parents are never going to believe I'm going to be catalogued by the German national library."
It didn't take long, though, for news of the financial big stick to spread across cyberspace. One concerned citizen named "night watchman" declared that "the hassle of submitting pages and the threat of fines would kill the German-speaking internet as a forum of free speech".
Another suggested on heise.de: "Every home page owner should shunt them a pdf [file] with a copy of their website in highest quality, preferably all on the same day. Then [the library's] server would burst."
Aha! So it really is Deutches Cyberlebensraum uber alles, eh? Cue the moral outrage! To the (cyber-) Barricades!
The library had indeed in 2006 been mandated by the government to "collect web publications" and fine the uncooperative.
However, this applies to "the 20,000 publishers and academic institutions registered with the library [who] are obliged to submit web material to the library's server".
Oh. Well. As you were, then.
Radley Balko's original post from last week (linked from here), turned into a video.
Update, 11 November: This embedded video seems to create issues for Firefox users (it's fine in IE and Opera). I've moved it below the fold to see if this addresses the format problem.
Radley Balko looks at the latest lame attempt to dissuade people from using drugs ("Hey, not trying to be your mom, but there aren't many jobs out there for potheads.").
In a five-minute perusal of the Google search results, he found the following individuals who could (but probably won't) argue against it:
Barack Obama, president-elect. Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the U.S. John Kerry, U.S. Senator and 2004 Democratic nominee for president. John Edwards, multi-millionaire, former U.S. Senator, and 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president. Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, 2008 Republican nominee for vice president. British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, and and Chancellor Alistair Darling. Josh Howard, NBA all-star. New York Governor David Paterson. Former Vice President, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Oscar winner Al Gore. Former Sen. Bill Bradley, who smoked while playing professional basketball. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and former New York Governor George Pataki. Billionaire and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Rather interesting, no? "The presence of so many high-ranking politicians so early in the search results puts the lie to the ONDCP’s ridiculous ad campaign, and shows that to the extent that marijuana is harmful, the harm lies mostly in what the government will do to you to you if it catches you. "
Aimee Green reports on another "oops, wrong place" drug raid:
When armed intruders burst into her Southeast Portland home and ordered her husband and her roommate to the floor at gunpoint, Emily Morden knew it had to be a terrible mistake.
One of the men yelled: "Where's Tim?" and barked orders. The intruders began to bind their hands with duct tape. They accused Morden's 23-year-old roommate of being a drug dealer. The roommate, an old friend, lay on the floor in pajamas and fuzzy duck slippers.
Morden started to protest.
"Tim is not a drug dealer! He works at Fred Meyer!" she said, kneeling before the gunman but refusing to lie down out of fear of what would happen next.
"Are you sure you have the right house?"
Turns out, they didn't.
The "Tim" they were looking for was the medical marijuana grower who lived next door.
Radley Balko points out the oddest fact:
[R]eader Brian Courts, who sent me the article, had another observation I hadn't considered: The people who got raided by these criminals were actually treated better than most of the people wrongly raided by the police.
1) No one was shot or killed. And no dead dogs.
2) The intruders actually apologized when they realized they had the wrong house.
3) Now that they’ve been caught, the intruders will actually be punished for terrorizing a home full of innocent people.
Most of us would probably have the common sense not to send nude photos to others. Especially if the receipients were teenagers. Unfortunately, an unnamed 15-year-old girl from Ohio didn't have the sense to avoid this:
A 15-year-old Ohio girl was arrested on felony child pornography charges for allegedly sending nude cell phone pictures of herself to classmates. Authorities are considering charging some of the students who received the photos as well.
The unnamed student from Licking Valley High School in Newark, Ohio was arrested Friday after school officials discovered the materials and notified police. She spent the weekend in juvenile detention and entered a plea of "deny" on Monday, according to The NewarkAdvocate.com.
Charges include illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material and possession of criminal tools. If convicted, the girl could be forced to register as a sexual offender for 20 years, but because of her age, the judge hearing the case has some flexibility in the matter, an official told the Advocate.
Well, if telling someone not to send nude photos of themselves doesn't work, 20 years in prison will sure get the message across clearly, won't it? She'd be facing less time in prison for just about any violent crime short of murder . . . and this kind of disproportional sentence makes sense?
Cory Doctorow reports that the IOC has trademarked a line from O Canada:
The International Olympic Committee has trademarked a line from the Canadian national anthem, "with glowing hearts," and is threatening to sue anyone who uses the line in Canada, as part of the Vancouver Games.
This is par for the course. The IOC is a corrupt, bullying, greedy, hypocritical organization that uses trademark laws to limit the free speech and commerce of people who have the misfortune to attend or live near the games — for example, in Athens, they forced people to take off or cover up t-shirts that had logos for companies that hadn't paid to sponsor the Olympics; and in Washington, they attacked decades-old businesses named after nearby Mount Olympia.
The Olympics cloak themselves in the rhetoric of international cooperation and development, but everything they touch turns to garbage: totalitarian surveillance camps where corporate greed rules all. The Canadian IOC ought to be disbanded over this — it's an affront to the entire nation.
If nothing else, it'll teach Canadians how to sing the words . . . which the CBC reports we can continue to sing without charge:
Despite the trademark placed on the lines, VANOC said it has no desire to own the phrases and VANOC's use of the mottoes in no way changes how the national anthem is used by Canadians.
VANOC would only challenge the commercial use of the mottoes if a business began using them to create a specific, unauthorized commercial association with the 2010 Winter Games, said the statement.
O Canada is over 100 years old and, according to the Department of Canadian Heritage, is in the public domain so may be used without permission from the government.
The committee is so serious about protecting the Olympic brand it managed to get a landmark piece of legislation passed in the House of Commons last year that made using certain phrases related to the Games a violation of law.
The list includes the number 2010 and the word "winter," phrases that normally couldn't be trademarked because they are so general.
So remember, fellow Canadians, we must now add trademark acknowledgements every time we use the word Winter™, the number 2010™, and the phrases With glowing hearts™ and Des plus brillants exploits™, or get our collective asses sued by VANOC.
It was a subject of discussion in the office yesterday, as we tried to come up with plausible reasons why banks and other lenders were so eager to lend money to borrowers who could not reasonably pay back to the loans. We came up with a very short list of "a) sheer idiocy" and "b) some form of government policy". Apparently option "b" is correct:
Consider the low lending standards that were a significant component of the mortgage crisis. Lenders made millions of loans to borrowers who, under normal market conditions, weren't able to pay them off. These decisions have cost lenders, especially leading financial institutions, tens of billions of dollars.
It is popular to take low lending standards as proof that the free market has failed, that the system that is supposed to reward productive behavior and punish unproductive behavior has failed to do so. Yet this claim ignores that for years irrational lending standards have been forced on lenders by the federal Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and rewarded (at taxpayers' expense) by multiple government bodies.
The CRA forces banks to make loans in poor communities, loans that banks may otherwise reject as financially unsound. Under the CRA, banks must convince a set of bureaucracies that they are not engaging in discrimination, a charge that the act encourages any CRA-recognized community group to bring forward. Otherwise, any merger or expansion the banks attempt will likely be denied. But what counts as discrimination?
According to one enforcement agency, "discrimination exists when a lender's underwriting policies contain arbitrary or outdated criteria that effectively disqualify many urban or lower-income minority applicants." Note that these "arbitrary or outdated criteria" include most of the essentials of responsible lending: income level, income verification, credit history and savings history — the very factors lenders are now being criticized for ignoring.
New horizons of human rights activism have been opened to exploration by the newly defined Deschamps Doctrine:
On Friday, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (HRT) adjudicator [Pierre Deschamps] became the first jurist in recorded human history to convict someone of racial discrimination for praising visible minorities.
The "Deschamps Doctrine" was inspired by a certain Shiv Chopra, a disgruntled Health Canada microbiologist who spent the better part of his career haranguing colleagues with bitter accusations of ill-treatment. Friday's decision by Deschamps in the case of Chopra vs. Health Canada is only the latest in a mind-boggling stream of litigation that goes back almost two decades.
Activists, start your litigation!
It's nice to see that even though the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow, they sometimes come up with the correct answer. Diane Schroer has won her discrimination case against the Library of Congress:
A former Army Special Forces commander passed over for a job as a terrorism analyst at the Library of Congress because he was in the process of becoming a she won a discrimination lawsuit Friday.
U.S. District Judge James Robinson ruled that the Library of Congress discriminated against Diane Schroer of Alexandria, Va., by not giving her the job after the former David Schroer disclosed he would start becoming Diane before beginning the new job.
"The evidence establishes that the Library was enthusiastic about hiring David Schroer — until she disclosed her transsexuality," Robinson wrote in his decision. "The Library revoked the offer when it learned that a man named David intended to become, legally, culturally, and physically, a woman named Diane. This was discrimination 'because of . . . sex.'"
Last night, over dinner, Victor was asking me about a police [SWAT] raid in St. Paul, Minnesota, which apparently targeted a protestor or would-be protestor who hadn't actually done any protesting yet. I foolishly said something like "Oh, I'm sure the police couldn't get a warrant for that kind of assault unless they had very solid evidence of a major crime."
Victor, I'm sorry. I don't know why I'd have made such an assumption, especially given the number of times I've linked to Radley Balko articles on over-aggressive police activities.
Based on this post by Glenn Greenwald, the raid in question — and several others as well — were nothing more than deliberate intimidation attempts by the police in advance of the Republican convention:
Jane Hamsher and I were at two of those homes this morning — one which had just been raided and one which was in the process of being raided. Each of the raided houses is known by neighbors as a "hippie house," where 5-10 college-aged individuals live in a communal setting, and everyone we spoke with said that there had never been any problems of any kind in those houses, that they were filled with "peaceful kids" who are politically active but entirely unthreatening and friendly. Posted below is the video of the scene, including various interviews, which convey a very clear sense of what is actually going on here.
In the house that had just been raided, those inside described how a team of roughly 25 officers had barged into their homes with masks and black swat gear, holding large semi-automatic rifles, and ordered them to lie on the floor, where they were handcuffed and ordered not to move. The officers refused to state why they were there and, until the very end, refused to show whether they had a search warrant. They were forced to remain on the floor for 45 minutes while the officers took away the laptops, computers, individual journals, and political materials kept in the house. One of the individuals renting the house, an 18-year-old woman, was extremely shaken as she and others described how the officers were deliberately making intimidating statements such as "Do you have Terminator ready?" as they lay on the floor in handcuffs. The 10 or so individuals in the house all said that though they found the experience very jarring, they still intended to protest against the GOP Convention, and several said that being subjected to raids of that sort made them more emboldened than ever to do so.
At least one result of this should be the striking down of an unconstitutional-sounding crime called "conspiracy to commit riot", which is what several of the arrested people have been charged with:
Nestor, who has practiced law in Minnesota for many years, said that he had never before heard of that statute being used for anything, and that its parameters are so self-evidently vague, designed to allow pre-emeptive arrests of those who are peacefully protesting, that it is almost certainly unconstitutional, though because it had never been invoked (until now), its constitutionality had not been tested.
Steve Chapman looks at "what everybody knows" about the deleterious effects of no-fault divorce and finds that what everybody knows just ain't so:
There's a lot of evidence that marital breakup does more social harm than good. In their 2000 book, The Case for Marriage, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher document that adults who are married do better than singles in wealth, health, and personal satisfaction. Children living with a divorced or unwed single parent are more likely to fall into poverty, sickness, and crime than other kids.
Marriage is a good thing, most people agree, while divorce is, at best, a necessary evil. So the laws that accompanied the divorce revolution have come under fire for destroying families and weakening safeguards for spouses who keep their vows.
[. . .]
The first surprise is that looser divorce laws have actually had little effect on the number of marriages that fall apart. Economist Justin Wolfers of Stanford University, in a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), found that when California passed a no-fault divorce law in 1970, the divorce rate jumped, then fell back to its old level — and then fell some more.
[. . .]
In short, nothing bad happened. But in another NBER paper, Wolfers and fellow economist Betsey Stevenson of the University of Pennsylvania report that in states that relaxed their divorce laws, some very good things happened: Fewer women committed suicide, and fewer were murdered by husbands or other "intimate" partners. In addition, both men and women suffered less domestic violence, compared to states that didn't change their laws.
We're not talking about tiny improvements here. Wolfers and Stevenson say that in no-fault states, there was a 10 percent drop in a woman's chance of being killed by her spouse or boyfriend. The rate of female suicide in new no-fault states fell by about 20 percent. The effect was more dramatic still for domestic violence — which "declined by somewhere between a quarter and a half between 1976 and 1985 in those states that reformed their divorce laws," according to Stevenson and Wolfers.
That's not at all what I'd have expected to hear . . . which may explain why research sometimes goes down a path of "that's obvious" (the recent Canadian study on teenage drivers' feelings of immortality, for example), because there are sufficient examples where the actual data is in stark contrast to "what everybody knows".
Charles Lynch, proprietor of a legal-under-California-law marijuana dispensary, has been convicted under Federal laws of distributing drugs. Nick Gillespie has more:
Lynch is one of the countless casualties of an idiotic and tragically long-running war on drugs. His shop scrupulously followed Golden State laws and when he opened his shop in Morro Bay, local officials attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony. And that kid he provided medical marijuana to? A high school athlete who had lost a leg to cancer and had a prescription from a Stanford-trained doctor (and in any case, Lynch only dealt with the boy's parents). Yes, a common drug dealer.
There's only one good possibility to come out of this verdict: That its manifest injustice and stupidity and inhumanity (to Lynch and his customers) will help spark a long overdue reaction to the drug war and its punishing toll on individuals and basic Constitutional rights.
Steve Chapman looks at the massive invasion of privacy represented by so-called "consent searches":
The other day, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois issued a report on "consent searches" that sometimes accompany traffic stops. Relying on data provided by local and state law enforcement agencies, the report documented that black and Hispanic drivers are much more likely than whites to suffer such invasions — even though the cars of minorities are far less likely to yield contraband.
These treasure hunts are called "consent searches" because they require the motorist to give permission. They take place only when the police officer has no grounds for suspicion. If he has probable cause, he doesn't have to ask. Only when he's acting out of a vague hunch, racial prejudice, or simple malice does he need the driver's consent.
But the term is fantastical in these instances. Stopped on a lonesome stretch of highway, at the mercy of an armed man who has the power to arrest, very few citizens feel free to refuse. The Illinois State Police report that 94 percent of white motorists and 96 percent of minority ones "consent" to such searches.
Is that because they have nowhere else they'd rather be? Is it because they get a kick from watching a cop take apart their cars in an effort to put them behind bars? Or could it be because they suspect that refusing a cop is far too dangerous?
Fishing expeditions should not be part of a police officer's daily routine . . . they don't usually turn up anything, they're far too easy to abuse, and (minor point) the 4th Amendment to the Constitution kinda implies that they're . . . oh, what's the term . . . unreasonable searches. But the courts have not consulted that particular obscure document very often in this kind of case. A few states have acted to clarify the situation (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Texas, and Minnesota are mentioned in the article), but it shouldn't need special action on the part of state legislatures.
On the face of it, they're illegal, and the US Supreme Court should find a way to point that out. As Chapman says:
In a nation founded on respect for the rights of every person, these searches give all priority to the power and convenience of the government, while mocking the liberties we are supposed to have. Why would we consent to that?
Radley Balko expresses amazement that Minneapolis is honouring the police officers who conducted a SWAT raid on the wrong address last year:
Last December, I posted about a botched SWAT raid on an innocent Minnesota family. Acting on bad information from an informant, the police threw flash grenades though the family's windows, then exchanged gunfire with Vang Khang, who mistook the police for criminal intruders. Seven months later, no one in the police department has been held accountable for the mistakes leading up to the raid.
However, this week Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan and Mayor R.T. Rybak did give the raiding officers medals and commendations for their bravery in nearly killing Vang Khang, his wife, and their six children.
[. . .]
This is really beyond outrage. The city of Minneapolis is commending and rewarding its police officers for firing their weapons at innocent people. A family of eight was terrorized, assaulted, and nearly killed, and it's the "perfect example" of a situation that could have gone wrong?
John Scalzi links to a discussion of fan fiction under Canadian law:
For all you fanficcers out there, an interesting take on fan fiction from the Canadian legal perspective, i.e., whether fan fic would be legal in Canada if it ever went to court there. The author suspects not and notes that in Canada (and much of the rest of the world outside the US) there's an additional layer of complication in that the author is assumed to have a "moral right" to a work which includes some strictures on how the work (and the characters within) is to be used. There is no moral right issue in US law, of course, because we in the US don't have morals. Or something.
Ah, but just what is "fan fiction" I pretend to hear you ask? Here's a good answer (from the LRC article):
This is fan fiction, and it's all over the web, at sites such as http://www.fanfiction.net, and http://www.sugarquill.com. Though its roots are in the science fiction book world, the phenomenon really took off with the TV series Star Trek. By the series' second season in 1967, fans were writing their own episodes and sharing them with like-minded friends. Drawing on Star Trek characters and settings — referred to as the canon — they placed the characters in narratives not contemplated by the show's writers, very often with subversive results. Most famously, these early fan writers perceived a repressed sexual passion between Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk and began writing stories exploring this relationship. Thus was started a roaring sub-culture of fan writing, largely by women and for women, about homoerotic relations between ostensibly heterosexual male characters. Stories of such relationships — known as slash from the "/" used to connote a pairing (such as Harry Potter/Severus Snape) — continue to make up a major proportion of fan fiction.
Social scientist Camille Bacon-Smith, in her book Enterprising Women, identifies a number of sub-genres beyond slash which give a good sense of fan fiction's diversity. Sub-genres include mpreg (where a man gets pregnant), deathfic (where a major character dies), curtainfic (where the characters, typically a gay male pairing, go domestic and engage in such comfortably bourgeois exercises as shopping for curtains together), and AU (alternative universe, where the characters are displaced into an entirely new fantasy setting). Sexually explicit sub-genres — often tagged as 'kink' or 'with plumbing' — include PWP (porn without plot or 'Plot? What plot?') and BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism). And universally deplored as the worst cliché in the genre is the Mary Sue story, in which the fan writer writes her thinly-veiled self into the plot. 'Infinite diversity in infinite combinations' is fandom's abiding motto.
Should you feel the need to read some bad fan fiction — of which there is an incredibly large and possibly endless supply — you can cut right to the chase by visiting http://www.godawful.net/, who claim they've "scoured the 'net since 1998 to bring you the foulest fan fiction available and we like to think that we're responsible for many a dry heave and sleepless night, but the truth of the matter is, we just showcase these abominations. We'd like to take this opportunity to thank those deluded souls actually writing Godawful Fan Fiction, without whom this site would never have been possible. Or necessary."
A few months ago, I posted a Quote of the Day about the case in Arizona where a 13-year-old girl was strip searched by school officials because they suspected she had ibuprofen. Five years later, the court system has finally come to the right conclusion . . . but by the narrowest of margins:
The 6-5 ruling by a panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday overturned an earlier decision, setting out its reasoning in an extensive 75-page ruling with many details on the complications of eighth grade life.
"Directing a 13-year-old girl to remove her clothes, partially revealing her breasts and pelvic area, for allegedly possessing ibuprofen, an infraction that poses an imminent danger to no one, and which could be handled by keeping her in the principal's office until a parent arrived or simply sending her home, was excessively intrusive," Justice Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the majority.
The majority found flaws in the school's logic that a tip from another student justified the action.
"The self-serving statement of a cornered teenager facing significant punishment does not meet the heavy burden necessary to justify a search accurately described by the 7th Circuit as 'demeaning, dehumanizing, undignified, humiliating, terrifying, unpleasant [and] embarrassing'.
"And all this to find prescription-strength ibuprofen pills.
"No legal decision cited to us, or that we could find, permitted a strip search to discover substances regularly available over-the-counter at any convenience store throughout the United States."
I find it chilling that this decision was as close as 6-5. Any rational human being must believe that this kind of intrusive, abusive enforcement of spurious rules must be beyond the pale: what possible public good is served by humiliating and terrorizing a 13-year-old girl — on the word of another teen attempting to mitigate her own situation — for the "crime" of possibly possessing legal medication?
Steve Chapman points out that the "sky is falling" rhetoric about the Guantanamo inmates is seriously overdone:
"Islamic terrorists have constitutional rights," lamented one conservative blog when the Supreme Court said Guantanamo inmates can challenge their detention in court. "These are enemy combatants," railed John McCain. The court, charged former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy of National Review, sided with foreigners "whose only connection with our body politic is their bloody jihad against Americans."
The operating assumption here is that the prisoners are terrorists who were captured while fighting a vicious war against the United States. But can the critics be sure? All they really know about the Guantanamo detainees is that they are Guantanamo detainees. To conclude that they are all bloodthirsty jihadists requires believing that the U.S. government is infallible.
But how sensible is that approach? Judging from a little-noticed federal appeals court decision that came down after the Supreme Court ruling, not very.
It's mighty convenient to have a place where normal laws don't run and where you can dump prisoners, suspects, and those unfortunates who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mere convenience is no where near enough justification for ignoring the legal framework under which you're supposed to operate . . . and that's exactly what the US military has been doing right up until the recent Supreme Court decision.
Even if the highest public estimates are correct (that is, that 73% of the detainees represent a real threat) the rest — against whom the government may have no more than a verbal assurance from an Afghan warlord that they are enemies — should never have been detained and should be set free as soon as possible. Basic western standards of justice demand no less
I try to avoid this sort of "Oh my GOD! We're moving towards a fascist state!" rhetoric, but when you read about cases like this, where a deluded whackjob is able to ruin peoples' lives for several months, you have to start asking when people are going to tell self-proclaimed "authorities" to go f*ck themselves:
Busts began. Houses were ransacked. People, in handcuffs on their front lawns, named names. To some, like Mayor Otis Schulte, who considers the county around Gerald, population 1,171, "a meth capital of the United States," the drug scourge seemed to be fading at last.
Those whose homes were searched, though, grumbled about a peculiar change in what they understood, from television mainly, to be the law.
They said the agent, a man some had come to know as "Sergeant Bill," boasted that he did not need search warrants to enter their homes because he worked for the federal government.
But after a reporter for the local weekly newspaper made a few calls about that claim, Gerald's anti-drug campaign abruptly unraveled after less than five months. Sergeant Bill, it turned out, was no federal agent, but Bill A. Jakob, an unemployed former trucking company owner, a former security guard, a former wedding-performing minister, a former small-town cop from 23 miles down the road.
Mr. Jakob, 36, is now the subject of a criminal investigation by federal authorities, and is likely to face charges related to impersonating a law enforcement officer, his lawyer said.
Okay, read that part again. Slowly.
Someone shows up in town who "went to great lengths to make police officers think he was a federal agent", and was eagerly given effective proconsular powers to crush the evildoers in this methamphetamine capital of the United States . . . Gerald, MO. I'm not the greatest geography whiz about the US, but I had to zoom out five times on Google Maps before I found a town in the area I'd ever heard of before1. We're talking "BF Nowhere" here.
That a place like that can be subject to the kind of mass delusion that allows "Witchsmellers" to arise and be given power is very disheartening. How many others have played this part for credulous audiences? I'd bet there are many, most of whom won't ever be forced to admit that they were fooled by con-artists.
1 For the record, it was Fulton, Mo., and I'd only ever heard of it because that was where Churchill made his famous reference to the "Iron Curtain" in a speech there in 1946.
Ezra Levant has the details:
Today's decision by the Supreme Court of Canada about defamation law has shifted the balance from plaintiffs to defendants — in other words, towards greater free speech. The court calls it a modernization, which it is — phenomena like talk radio shows, partisan TV panels and the Internet were not around when defamation law was developing (it actually goes back 400 years). It also brings us more in synch with the U.S. approach to free speech, and breaks away from the European model of soft censorship.
In other words, it should terrify Canada's human rights commissions. I had no doubt before this decision that Canada's HRCs were conducting themselves in an unconstitutional manner — exceeding the narrow censorship powers granted to them in the 1990 Taylor decision. Now it's a certainty that section 13 would be batted down by this free speech-loving court.
[. . .]
The decision doesn't end defamation suits, of course. It merely moves the fulcrum a bit, by widening the scope of what constitutes "fair comment". Fair comment must still be rooted in true facts; but if those facts are clear, and the defamer's comments are clearly his own views, the court will give latitude to even "outrageous" and "ridiculous" opinions.
The rule of thumb for writers — and bloggers — remains: get your facts straight. But the good news for free speechniks is that, if your facts are accurate, you can be dramatic, critical and even wrong in your opinions. It's good news for bloggers — and bad news for censors everywhere.
This is excellent news. Free speech in Canada has been under threat for quite some time and it's wonderful to see the SCC stepping up to help protect it.
Reason magazine has a round-table of informed civil libertarians to discuss the decision and possible ramifications:
For the past three decades, Washington, D.C. has enforced one of America's most draconian gun control laws — a total ban on the possession of handguns, not to mention strict gun lock provisions for rifles and shotguns, that has left law-abiding citizens unable to legally defend themselves and their homes. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, in which seven D.C. residents challenged the constitutionality of the ban. At the center of the case is the question of whether the Second Amendment protects an individual or collective right to keep and bear arms.
Yesterday, the Court issued its long-awaited opinion, ruling 5-4 in favor of an individual right to own guns. reason assembled a panel of 7 leading civil libertarians to help make sense of what the Court said, what it means, and what's likely to come next.
If you guessed that they're happy with the decision, award yourself five points. Of course, nothing pleases everyone . . . Radley Balko has some reservations:
I hate to pee in the pool, here, but I'm having a hard time getting too excited about today’s decision.
Justice Antonin Scalia's opinion avoids any decision on incorporating the Second Amendment to the states, and his history suggests a strong reluctance to incorporate individual rights. Scalia's opinion does interpret the Second Amendment as an individual right, but only for self-protection, and only in the home. The concept of the Second Amendment as a bulwark against an overly oppressive government seems dead.
In the past, when Scalia's limited government principles have conflicted with his law-and-order instincts, law and order has won handily. He's been a happy federalist when it comes to allowing states to infringe on individual rights, but will bring down the hammer of the federal government on states that defy the feds by giving their citizens a bit more freedom.
Katherine Mangu-Ward reports on a cool way of discovering what a given "community" might really be willing to allow, instead of what they say they believe . . . technology to the rescue:
A lawyer in a current obscenity case in Florida has adopted an unusual approach to finding out what the community is really up to — checking out what they're googling. The findings:
Except for brief periods near Thanksgiving, searches for "orgy" consistently outrank attempts to find information about "apple pie" in Florida . The rest of the year, orgy searches are closer in frequency to what might be expected to be a common activity in Florida, "surfing."
We always suspected the much-ballyhooed "community" wasn't quite as wholesome as its reputation suggests. Looks like we were right — our neighbors have been googling orgies all along.
As H.L. Mencken once wrote, "Evil is that which one believes of others. It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake."
What do you know? Another topic I've posted about in the last few months.
John Ozimek looks at the ongoing plight of casual photographers in Britain:
When you hear the phrase "helping police with their inquiries", does an image of dedicated selfless citizenry instantly spring to mind? Or do you wonder whether the reality is not slightly more sinister?
How about "voluntarily handing over film to the police"?
[. . .]
According to Mr Carroll, the police subsequently amended their story to say they had stopped him because of concerns that he was photographing young people. They did not mention this at the time because they were worried he might be embarrassed.
They also told him that, contrary to what was said at the time, they had received no complaint from any member of the public. Nor had he been subject to a "stop and search" — merely a "stop and talk".
This is seriously alarming stuff. It is bad enough on its own — but coupled with a long catalogue of other incidents that have been reported recently, it begins to look like a pattern.
The various police departments involved all seem to be operating on the basis that the law is what they say it is, when they say it, and that John & Jane Public had better just obey without question. They're introducing their new policy directly to "middle England", rather than just oppressing the anonymous, the poor, and the downtrodden. Now the middle classes are getting a taste of what the "dregs of society" have always experienced.
Update: More from The Economist:
[. . .] civil liberties are much in the news these days. Mr Brown's speech came in the wake of the surprise resignation on June 12th of David Davis, the Conservative shadow home secretary. Mr Davis quit the House of Commons after it voted to allow terrorist suspects to be detained without charge for up to 42 days (the bill now looks set for a rocky ride in the House of Lords). From the steps of the Palace of Westminster, Mr Davis accused the government of presiding over the "slow strangulation" of freedoms and the "ceaseless encroachment of the state" into daily life. He hopes to use the resulting by-election in his Yorkshire constituency as a referendum on Labour's liberal credentials, and on the growth of the nanny state in general.
The charge sheet against the government is long and damning. Besides its 42-day detention proposals (and earlier, failed plans to imprison suspects for 90 days), it is accused of colluding with America to transport terrorist suspects to secret prisons abroad. It has created new crimes, such as glorifying terrorism or inciting religious hatred, that, say critics, dampen freedom of speech. Those who breach one of its Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, introduced in 1998, can be jailed for things that are not illegal in themselves (such as visiting a forbidden part of town or talking to certain people). In 2005 the prohibition on double jeopardy — trying a person twice for the same offence — was removed for serious offences. The government has tried to cut back the scope of trial by jury.
Along with the new crimes have come new ways of detecting them. Millions of publicly and privately owned closed-circuit television cameras (no one is sure precisely how many) monitor town centres. The latest innovation is unmanned, miniature aircraft (adapted from army models) that can loiter over trouble spots, feeding images to police on the ground.
Steve Chapman looks at the rhetorical pants-wetting by various pro-war commentators after the recent Supreme Court decision that Guantanamo detainees have habeus corpus rights:
A lot of people who strongly believe in the war on terror are not above sowing a little terror of their own. From the reaction to last week's Supreme Court decision on Guantanamo, you would think the detainees were all going to be trained, armed and set free at Ground Zero, with free shuttle service to the nearest airport.
John McCain denounced the ruling, which said inmates may ask for federal court review under a procedure known as habeas corpus, as "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country." Former Bush Justice Department official John Yoo warned that henceforth, captured enemy fighters will be read their Miranda rights. The irrepressible Wall Street Journal had a cartoon with a judge atop a cage labeled "Gitmo" watching masked inmates stream out wearing suicide vests and lugging AK-47s.
All this outrage builds on the dissent registered by Justice Antonin Scalia. The court's decision "will make the war harder on us," he thundered. "It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed."
Well, it won't have that effect unless it leads to inmates being released—which it has not, will not anytime soon, and may not ever. If and when it does, he may have a point, though not necessarily a powerful one.
I can't imagine how peaceful it must be in Quebec's court system . . . they've taken care of all the real issues, so they're down to making rulings about whether a father can ground his daughter:
If you deny your children access to TV or withhold their allowance, can they take you to court? And win?
That implausible scenario emerged after a judge in Gatineau, Que., sided with a 12-year-old girl who challenged her father after he refused to let her go on a school trip for disobeying his orders to stay off the Internet.
Experts in family law and child welfare say they were dumbfounded by last Friday’s ruling by Superior Court Justice Suzanne Tessier.
So, at least in Quebec, it's now perfectly acceptable for the courts to review any parental decision regarding that parent's children. As they say on Fark.com, "this should end well".
Can of worms? Check. Opener? Check. Loony tunes judicial precedent set? Check. The Crazy Years have officially begun.
Update: The Volokh Conspiracy treats the news with exactly the right kind of seriousness:
Another Great Satire from The Onion: Court Reverses Father's Decision to Ground Daughter by Keeping Her from a School Overnight Trip. I just love it how the Onion can take real practices and extrapolate them three steps forward to the utterly absurd.
The article is on what must be some mirror site for The Onion — something in Canada called TheGlobeAndMail.com. And it's odd, but the other stories on the site don't seem that funny.
Damon Root points out that John McCain's over-the-top expostulation (quoted in the title of this post) doesn't even come close to being accurate:
Could that possibly be true? As a measuring stick, I'd suggest using The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom, a new book by the Cato Institute's Robert Levy and the Institute for Justice's Chip Mellor.
On issues ranging from eminent domain abuse to the restriction of civil liberties during wartime, Levy and Mellor paint a consistent — and consistently depressing — picture of the Court upholding and enhancing government actions at the expense of individual rights. That's as good a definition of a "worst decision" as you'll ever get: state power trumping individual liberty.
Where does Boumediene fall on that scale? Even if you accept Chief Justice John Roberts' dissent, which argues that the Court permanently weakened the separation of powers by substituting its judgment for that of "the people's representatives," the decision hardly sinks to the depths of, say, Korematsu v. United States, where the majority upheld Franklin Roosevelt's internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
It's exactly the same as the need to defend unpopular speech to protect freedom of speech for all . . . you need to defend the right of habeus corpus even for people you deeply suspect of being terrorists or supporters of terrorism. Giving wide-ranging powers to suspend civil liberties for certain individuals or groups inevitably means weaker protections of civil liberties for everyone else, too.
Regardless of the party affiliation of the current president, any powers granted in this administration will almost certainly be accepted, used, and expanded by the following administration. If you think George Bush can't be trusted with that kind of power (and I'd strongly agree with you if you do think that), why do you think Barack Obama or John McCain would be any more trustworthy?
I wonder if these students appreciate the great irony that always occurs when censorship is involved: As a result of their case, undoubtedly more people have sought out and read the supposedly denigrating articles than would have ever done so in the normal course of events. There is perhaps no surer way to get people to read something than to tell them that they should not be allowed to read it.
Edward Greenspan, "Civil Liberties Alert: CIC's human rights complaints are an administrative fatwa", Edmonton Sun, 2008-06-16
Damon Root posted this yesterday at Hit and Run:
On this day in 1918, Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs gave a speech in Canton, Ohio denouncing America's participation in what we now call World War I. For this "crime," Debs would spend nearly three years rotting in prison, convicted of violating Woodrow Wilson's vile Espionage Act, which essentially made it illegal to criticize the government during wartime (Wilson later refused to pardon Debs, leaving that act of basic human decency to the criminally underrated Warren G. Harding). That's the story told in Ernest Freeberg's new Democracy's Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, the Great War, and the Right to Dissent, which received a big thumb's up from Peter Richardson in yesterday's Los Angeles Times.
Amazingly, the court has come down on the side of the defendant:
Laval police chief Jean-Pierre Gariépy seems to be taking the right attitude to the acquittal of Basil Parasiris, saying that he would ask the Quebec minister of public security for far-reaching changes in the drafting of search warrants, and in the training given to police officers about how to undertake surprise raids.
Laval police conducted the raid in the belief that Parasiris was involved in a local drug ring. Unfortunately, as Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer ruled, there was little proof to back this belief, certainly not enough for a search warrant to be executed in a surprise, pre-dawn raid. Such a raid should be carried out only in an emergency.
The inevitable result of the creeping militarization of police work is that casualties will increase, both among the officers conducting military style raids, and among the victims of the raids. It's heartening that the Quebec Superior Court recognizes the risks these raids incur, and are willing to exonerate those caught up in the real-life terror of being targetted by this kind of attack.
A search warrant for "dynamic entry" should not, on the evidence, have been issued in this case. Police could have arrested Parasiris under calmer circumstances.
A man is dead as a result of an apparently ill-planned raid. Only vigorous corrective action by the authorities can add anything positive to this tragic series of mistakes.
H/T to Radley Balko.
Steve Chapman provides more information on the recent US Supreme Court decision on the habeus corpus rights of Guantanamo detainees:
From the beginning of the war on terror, the Bush administration has had two central objectives. The first is protecting the nation against its enemies. The second is asserting the president's near-absolute authority to wage this war. That approach involved a crucial error: It couldn't advance the second goal without undermining the first.
That's because ours is not a system designed to unleash the power of the government. It's a system designed to control it. By conceiving the president as a virtual monarch in national security matters, George W. Bush and his subordinates have provoked active resistance from both Congress and the courts — which might have been avoided with a more cooperative and pragmatic approach.
The latest illustration came Thursday, when the Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 vote that the administration overstepped lawful bounds in its treatment of the detainees at Guantanamo. For the first time, the justices said foreign enemy combatants held outside our borders may appeal to the federal courts.
This is a welcome development because it upholds certain basic rights and safeguards that are due even to suspected terrorists. It's a worrisome development, on the other hand, because it requires the judiciary to assume grave responsibilities in a realm where it has no special competence.
The ideal is not for the courts to step into these matters. The ideal is for the elected branches to act with enough respect for constitutional values that the courts would see no need to step in.
Update: Radley Balko has an eye-opener:
So the really alarming thing about this is not that John McCain objects to the Supreme Court's decision in Boumediene. It’s not even that he breathlessly (and rather shamefully) lumps the decision in with cases like Dred Scott or Plessy v. Ferguson.
No, the truly frightening thing about McCain's response to Boumediene is that the Republican nominee for president doesn’t know what "habeas corpus" means.
Good God, man.
Bob Kopman sent me another link decrying the recently proposed bill C-61:
Canada, one of the shining lights in the copyright and intellectual property world, has a shadow approaching that may dim that for all. The name of that shadow? Bill c-61, which was formally introduced by Industry minister Jim Prentice an hour or two ago. One of the 'highlights' is the abolition of court's flexibility in statutory damages, fixing it at $500 (CAD)
The bill, dubbed the 'Canadian DMCA' has not been popular with many of those it will effect. Over 40,000 have joined a facebook group, run by Michael Geist opposing it. Geist, a law professor at University of Ottawa, has been fighting to oppose these laws for some time now. On the tabling of the bill, he writes "The government plans for second reading at the next sitting of the house, effectively removing the ability to send it to committee after first reading (and therefore be more open to change)"
The bill is controversial in many ways. Whilst supporters of the bill will point to the allowances for time shifting, format shifting, and the ability to 'private copy' (moving a song from CD to an mp3 player for instance). It will, however, prevent that activity, though criminalization, if there is any sort of technological restriction on it. Anti-copy flags on TV shows, DRM on music, or rootkits on CDs would mean that any attempt to make a fair use, would be subject to prosecution and heavy fines.
I guess it's time to lobby the MP . . . before we get to third reading.
Ezra Levant reports on the latest attempt to shut down freedom of speech and freedom of expression:
I think another lawsuit is coming my way.
Today, my lawyer received this letter from a radical Muslim activist in Toronto. It's a Certificate of Registration of Copyright. He claims to have copyrighted the image of Mohammed, PBUH (which stands for "peace be upon him"). In other words, it's now Mohammed, PBUH TM.
I checked it out on Industry Canada's copyright database and, sure enough, there it is: two weeks ago, Akhtar "Hector" Agha has indeed registered a "Restriction on Depiction of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)". It's right there on the government website.
I'm not sure, but I think "Hector" might be looking for a royalties payment for whenever I do something like post this picture.
H/T to Jon for the link.
I usually discount this sort of thing, but according to this article, Senator Lindsey Graham is clearly unstable and probably unfit for office:
In response to today's landmark Supreme Court decision granting habeas corpus to Guantanamo detainees, Lindsey Graham has decided he wants to amend the United State Constitution to strip it of any pesky kinds of civil rights protections that have existed since the Magna Carta.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) vowed Thursday to do everything in his power to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision on Guantanamo Bay detainees, saying that "if necessary," he would push for a constitutional amendment to modify the decision.
Graham blasted the decision as "irresponsible and outrageous," echoing the sentiments of many congressional Republicans and President Bush.
There's being wrong, and then there's being so determined to be wrong that you enter a parallel universe. Senator Graham appears to have been inhabiting that other universe for quite some time.
In a display of serendipidity, Jon sent along a link to this Toronto Star article on proposed revisions to the Copyright Act:
Canadian consumers could face damages of $500 and upwards for owning bootleg copies of music, books and other copyright material, under legislative reforms introduced today.
There would be fines of up to $20,000 for public infringements of copyright law, such as posting music to the Internet or even giving a iPod loaded with your music.
The Conservative today unveiled long-awaited changes to the Copyright Act, a bid to bring the law into the digital age.
And if you're confused about the changes, the government has some advice — go see a lawyer.
"If you need to know how the law applies to a particular situation, please seek advice from a lawyer," read the warning printed on the information sheets distributed to reporters this morning.
"Intellectual property is complicated," a government official told a briefing this morning.
This does seem to support some of the things reported in the article I linked to earlier today.
Update: According to Cory Doctorow, this is just like the American DMCA, except worse:
Canadian Industry Minister Jim Prentice introduced his answer to the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act today as planned, and it's even worse than the US DMCA. The Canadian DMCA allows every single exception to copyright to be eliminated by adding DRM: whatever the law allows you to do, a corporation can take away, just by using DRM to prevent you from doing it. Breaking DRM is illegal, unless you fit into a tiny, narrow, useless exception for security research.
It used to be that Parliament got to write copyright law. Now, it's Hollywood companies, who get to overrule Parliamentary law with whatever "business rules" they put in their DRM.
Michael Geist has the depressing analysis. Makes me want to cry. Watch this space for tips on getting in touch with your MP to make sure that this farce dies in Parliament.
Good news for fans of the rule of law: the detainees at Guantanamo do have habeus corpus rights, according to a 5-4 Supreme Court decision today:
In a stunning blow to the Bush Administration in its war-on-terrorism policies, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign nationals held at Guantanamo Bay have a right to pursue habeas challenges to their detention. The Court, dividing 5-4, ruled that Congress had not validly taken away habeas rights. If Congress wishes to suspend habeas, it must do so only as the Constitution allows — when the country faces rebellion or invasion.
The Court stressed that it was not ruling that the detainees are entitled to be released — that is, entitled to have writs issued to end their confinement. That issue, it said, is left to the District Court judges who will be hearing the challenges. The Court also said that "we do not address whether the President has authority to detain" individuals during the war on terrorism, and hold them at the U.S. Naval base in Cuba; that, too, it said, is to be considered first by the District judges.
This is an important — and long overdue — slap in the face to the US government in regard to their cavalier disregard of one of the fundamentals of common law. The detainees (I think they should have been categorized as prisoners of war, right from the start, and treated as such) have the right to be informed of the charges under which they're being held, and to challenge those charges in court.
The only remaining question is whether the Bush White House still feels any need to pay attention to those bothersome gadflies on the Supreme Court . . .
The federal government is secretly negotiating an agreement to revamp international copyright laws which could make the information on Canadian iPods, laptop computers or other personal electronic devices illegal and greatly increase the difficulty of travelling with such devices.
The deal could also impose strict regulations on Internet service providers, forcing those companies to hand over customer information without a court order.
Called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the new plan would see Canada join other countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, to form an international coalition against copyright infringement. [. . .]
The deal would create a international regulator that could turn border guards and other public security personnel into copyright police. The security officials would be charged with checking laptops, iPods and even cellular phones for content that "infringes" on copyright laws, such as ripped CDs and movies.
The guards would also be responsible for determining what is infringing content and what is not.
The agreement proposes any content that may have been copied from a DVD or digital video recorder would be open for scrutiny by officials - even if the content was copied legally.
[C]ritics of the ruling, including the justice minister and the prime minister, insist it must be challenged because it represents a defeat for feminism and secularism. Evidently women's freedom must be restricted to protect their freedom: they cannot be allowed to enter into whatever contracts they choose or make their own legal decisions because they might misuse those rights. Just to be clear, that is the feminist position. As for the secularist imperative, which in France is strong enough to override the free exercise of religion, I do not understand how it can co-exist with legal principles that empower aggrieved religious groups to punish people for speech that offends them. How can the same country that fears Muslims are taking over when they insist on wearing headscarves or marrying virgins prosecute a novelist for contempt of Islam?
Jacob Sullum, "What's the matter With France?", Hit and Run, 2008-06-05
In today's terms, you might call it the Medicare Part D problem: even when Congress starts out with a laudable policy goal, like providing prescription drugs for seniors, by the time the legislation gets through both houses it amounts to little more than a grab bag of giveaways to politically connected business interests. Case in point: the recent Senate-passed Foreclosure Prevention Act, which contains $25 billion in tax breaks for home-builders and other businesses while doing very little to justify its name. The reason for this is straightforward: the amount of money spent on lobbying in the last Congressional session was $2.8 billion, nearly two times more than was spent in 2000. Overall, industry has contributed $14 million to Congressional candidates in this session.
This money, Lessig says, insidiously distorts Congressional outcomes and priorities because Congress members don't experience it as corruption. "Let's say you go to Congress," says Lessig, "and you believe there are two problems to deal with: piracy of copyrighted materials and welfare mothers who are really getting screwed by the system. You open up shop, and a million [lobbyists] come in and say we've got a thousand things to tell you about piracy, and nobody comes into your office and says we're going to help you with the welfare moms. So you shift your focus, but you never feel it. You think: maybe I could've spent more time on welfare moms, but I'm having a real effect on stopping piracy! That's the dynamic that is so critical here."
Of course, good-government reformers have been decrying the influence of money since at least the late nineteenth century. For all of Lessig's status as a visionary (he literally wrote the book on cyberspace law), what's most striking is that, as he admits, Change Congress doesn't embody any "new ideas." He envisions it as a movement tool kit that connects citizens to the work of the reform groups that already exist, a kind of "Google Maps mashup," as he puts it.
Christopher Hayes, "Mr. Lessig Goes to Washington", The Nation, 2008-05-29
Nick Gillespie gathers together some of the more memorable moments of the War on [Some] Drugs:
If the recently concluded HBO series The Wire is arguably the most aesthetically accomplished fictional indictment of the decades-long war on drugs, there is no shortage of contenders for the most absurd bit of prohibitionist agitprop, from the unintentionally hilarious 1936 movie Tell Your Children (better known as Reefer Madness) to the widely parodied 1987 public service announcement in which the role of "your brain on drugs" is played by an egg frying in a skillet to an early 1990s TV ad in which the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles counsel a grammar school kid offered a fistful of joints ("Get a teacher," advise the Turtles, "get a pizza, get real").
Then there's the latest offering sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, a mockumentary called Stoners in the Mist, featuring a pith-helmet-wearing narrator explaining the strange customs of the slack-jawed, amotivational, Lava lamp-loving inhabitants of "Cannabis Isle." Online at abovetheinfluence.com and featuring squirrely navigation and a rhythmic drum track more stupefying than anything produced by Cheech & Chong, Stoners underscores what most Americans already knew: Real winners don't do anti-drug websites.
Here's a short magical mystery tour, culled from the foggy memories of reason's editors, of decades of advertising and small-screen messages that inadvertently made childhood just a little more bearable. And drugs — even NoDoz — just a little cooler.
In a crushing blow to the state's massive seizure of children from a polygamist sect's ranch, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that child welfare officials overstepped their authority and the children should go back to their parents.
The high court affirmed a decision by an appellate court last week, saying Child Protective Services failed to show an immediate danger to the more than 400 children swept up from the Yearning For Zion Ranch nearly two months ago.
"On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted," the justices said in their ruling issued in Austin.
The high court let stand the appellate court's order that Texas District Judge Barbara Walther return the children from foster care to their parents. It's not clear how soon that may happen, but the appellate court ordered her to do it within a reasonable time period.
It's not enough that you disapprove of someone else's lifestyle . . . they have to have actually endangered their children before the state can step in and take the children away. The FLDS may not be a particularly enlightened religious group, and some of their teachings are clearly unpopular with mainstream opinions, but that does not equate with child abuse.
The state clearly over-reached, and the courts are taking the appropriate action to rein in the minions of the state.
In a classic display of misguided enthusiasm, Toronto's mayor moves to punish the law-abiding:
Mayor David Miller announced a plan today that would make all handguns illegal in Toronto, a series of measures that will effectively shut down gun ranges and make it all but impossible to manufacture, assemble or store firearms within city limits.
But critics, including one Olympic target shooter, labeled the mayor’s program window-dressing, saying it will penalize law-abiding gun owners while doing nothing to curb criminal gun violence.
"This is not going to have any impact whatsoever on gun crimes in the city of Toronto,' said Larry Whitmore, of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, which says it has a membership of 15,000 across Canada.
The measures are contained in a report prepared by city staff that is to be presented to the executive committee next week. The report, "City-Based Measures to Address Gun Violence," must still be approved by city council but Mr. Miller wasted no time in signaling his approval of its recommendations.
"I want a safe city," the mayor told reporters. "The truth is, guns are too easily available and if you talk to some kids in some neighbourhoods they tell you they want a gun to protect themselves."
He's right, you know: guns are too easily available.
Unless you want to actually obey the law.
You can't legally buy a handgun in Toronto (or anywhere else in Canada, for that matter) without going through a prolonged bureaucratic process. You cannot get a permit to carry a handgun unless you are employed in law enforcement or a small number of other very specific cases. You have to belong to a gun club, and you have to get specific permission to move your handgun from your secure storage location (which the police have the right to inspect, without advance notice, at pretty much any time) to your gun club.
Even people who are interested in doing so often cannot, because the memberships at many gun clubs are strictly limited and there can be a years-long waiting list.
On the other hand, folks who just want to get themselves a 9mm pistol for "busting caps" can get them on very short notice . . . and Mayor Miller's proposed changes will make no difference to them at all.
. . . at least, it will be if a Singapore-based company wins this patent infringement case:
"A Singapore firm, VueStar has threatened to sue websites that use pictures or graphics to link to another page, claiming it owns the patent for a technology used by millions around the world. The company is also planning to take on giants like Microsoft and Google. It is a battle that could, at least in theory, upend the Internet. The firm has been sending out invoices to Singapore companies since last week asking them to pay up."
File this one under "good luck with that" and "it'll be a cold day in hell".
Jacob Sullum finds some mild amusement in the recent ruling in the FLDS case:
I came across this tidbit while reading about today's appeals court ruling condemning the wholesale seizure of children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch. Or perhaps I should say "children" (emphasis added):
At least half the mothers taken from a polygamist sect's ranch and put in child foster care have now been declared adults, significantly chipping at agency statistics that seemed to demonstrate the widespread sexual abuse of underage girls.
Attorneys for the state's Child Protective Services agency have been conceding, one by one, that many of the mothers authorities cited as evidence that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints committed widespread sexual abuse of girls are actually adults.
They had admitted by midday Thursday that 15 of the 31 mothers listed as underage are adults; one is actually 27. A few are as young as 18, but many are at least 20.
Another girl listed as an underage mother is 14, but her attorney said in court she is not pregnant and does not have a child.
As so often happens in cases like this one, the state has clearly reacted in haste, and is hoping against hope not to have to repent at leisure.
Update: The ruling went against the government in an appeal court in Texas: removing the FLDS children from their parents was not justified.
Like most of Bush's executive power grabs, he relies on findings from the Office of Legal Counsel to give him cover. The OLC's opinions are considered binding on the executive branch. If you work in the executive branch, you're essentially immune from prosecution if the OLC has signed off on whatever you're doing. Which is why John Yoo's OLC memos on torture and detainment are so devastating.
Thing is, over the years Bush (actually, Cheney) has staffed the OLC with lackeys like Yoo and Jay Bybee (now a federal judge). The Bush administration has treated the OLC not as an office from which to get a considered, scholarly opinion on the constitutionality of some power they'd like to claim; rather, they tell the office the power they plan to claim, and ask the OLC to come up with a way to justify it. Yoo's memos would frequently contain footnotes supporting his theories of executive power and secrecy. Unfortunately, those footnotes frequently would refer to previous writings by John Yoo.
Radley Balko, "Now: Secret Laws", The Agitator, 2008-05-22
[. . .] off-air the chit-chat went rather more pleasantly, and, in the course of it, Mr. Awan observed that Jews had availed themselves of the "human rights" commissions for years but it was only when the Muzzies decided they wanted a piece of the thought-police action that all these bigwigs started agitating for reining in the commissions and scrapping the relevant provisions of Canada's "human rights" code.
He has a kind of point. Which is why some of us consistently opposed the use of these commissions even when it was liberal Jews using them to hunt down the last three neo-Nazis in Saskatchewan. Yet, accepting that the principle is identical, there is a difference. For the most part, the Canadian Jewish Congress, B'nai Brith and the other beneficiaries of the "human rights" regime went after freaks and misfits on the fringes of society, folks too poor (in the majority of federal cases) even to afford legal representation. These prosecutions were unfair and reflected badly on Canada's justice system, but liberal proponents of an illiberal law justified it on the assumption that it would be confined to these peripheral figures nobody cared about. You can't blame Muslim groups for figuring that what's sauce for the infidel is sauce for the believer — and that, having bigger fish to fry, they're gonna need a lot more sauce.
Mark Steyn, "I'm starring in one of those movies", Macleans, 2008-05-14
Lawyers and scientists have completely different ways of discovering truth. The lawyers’ way is dueling witnesses. This is as good as any in determining which of two people is lying about a police shootout. It is no good in determining whether a hair sample matches that of the murder defendant or whether Vioxx caused a heart attack. Do heavy objects fall faster than light ones? Scientists answer with an experiment. A court would answer by having the jury hear from two experts, one saying yes, the other saying no. It would make as much sense to have the jury watch a medieval jousting contest between the two witnesses.
William Baldwin, "An Expert? Prove It", Forbes, 2008-06-02
The bold gendarmes of the RCMP/GRC upheld peace, order and lousy policework yesterday in Kamloops, BC. At great risk to themselves, they fearlessly tasered an 82-year-old.
While he was lying in his hospital bed after heart surgery.
I'm not making this up . . .
Mark Steyn recounts his discussions with the "sock puppets" both on the air and after the show. The core of the problem (aside from having extra-legal "courts" at all) is this:
I believe these Canadian Islamic Congress lawsuits — and, yes, I can hear the Socks yelling "That's a lie! They're not 'suits', they're 'complaints'," but that's a distinction without a difference if you're paying lawyers' bills and you regard, as I do, the Human Rights Commissions as a parallel legal system that tramples over all the traditional safeguards of Common Law, not least the presumption of innocence. Where was I? Oh, yeah. I believe these lawsuits are deeply damaging to freedom of expression. If they win (when they win) and the verdicts withstand Supreme Court scrutiny, Canada will no longer be a free country. It will be a country whose citizens are on a leash whose length is determined by the hack bureaucrats of state agencies.
And that leash will shrivel, remorselessly. One of the better points Khurrum made off-air was that this is the first (federal) "human rights" complaint by a Muslim group, and that when it was just the Jews and gays milking this racket we didn't have any of this talk about scrapping Section 13 and abolishing the commissions. And he's right. Which is why the Canadian Jewish Congress position is untenable. As I said in my speech to the "legal jihad" conference in New York a couple of weeks back:
Canada and much of Europe have statutes prohibiting Holocaust denial. Muslim scholars are not impressed by these laws. "Nobody can say even one word about the number in the alleged Holocaust," says Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the favourite Islamic scholar of many Euroleftists, "even if he is writing an MA or PhD thesis, and discussing it scientifically. Such claims are not acceptable." But a savvy imam knows an opening when he sees one. "The Jews are protected by laws," notes Mr Qaradawi. "We want laws protecting the holy places, the prophets, and Allah's messengers." In other words, he wants to use the constraints on free speech imposed by Europe and Canada to protect Jews in order to put much of Islam beyond political debate. The free world is shuffling into a psychological bondage whose chains are mostly of our own making. The British "historian" David Irving wound up in an Austrian jail, having been convicted of Holocaust denial. It's not unreasonable for Muslims to conclude that, if gays and Jews and other approved identities are to be protected groups who can't be offended, why shouldn't they be also?
They have a point. How many roads of inquiry are we prepared to block off in order to be "sensitive"?
It was wrong to create a special category of speech that was protected under Canadian law: holocaust denial is pure, distilled idiocy, but the best way to refute it is to let it be spoken and ridiculed. Forbidding it to be spoken created the worst possible precedent . . . and that precedent is being used now by the "sock puppets" and their controllers to create more restrictions on freedom of speech. It's no longer a question of "whether", it's just a question of "how much more?".
Remember folks, "just because Pierre Trudeau cooked it up" doesn't mean "it's chiseled in granite".
For the better part of six decades, in fact, judicial activism was associated almost exclusively with the protection of economic rights, while its counterpart, judicial restraint, was the rallying cry of liberal reformers. Between Reconstruction and the New Deal, as the states began legislating a variety of new "progressive" regulations, it was judges acting in the name of private property and "liberty of contract" that "usurped" the power of the people, "invented" new rights, and gave birth to judicial activism as we know it today.
This history suggests that a principled form of libertarian judicial activism — that is, one that consistently upholds individual rights while strictly limiting state power — is essential to the fight for a free society. In fact, a genuinely libertarian jurisprudence would, in the words of the legal scholar Randy Barnett, "requir[e] the state to justify its statute, whatever the status of the right at issue." The real legal challenge facing libertarians isn't judicial activism; it is defending individual rights from the liberals and conservatives who seek to take our liberties away.
Damon W. Root, "Unleash the Judges: The libertarian case for judicial activism", Reason, 2005-07
Kathy "Five Feet of Fury" Shaidle is being harassed over a blog post — which merely quoted a section from a national newspaper:
So now this chick Mitra Kermani is calling me on the phone, telling me to take down this post.
I not-very-patiently explained to her that I can post whatever the hell I want on my blog, because this is Canada not Ooongaboongaland, that I got my info from a national newspaper and linked to it, so she has to take up her complaints with them
Based on the original story, you'd have to say that major Canadian corporations must not be running the country, because the kind of trouble Loblaws put up with would be unthinkable in most countries. If the corporate world really did run everything, there'd have been a scurry and hustle on the part of police and courts to cater to the whims of the all-mighty corporate leadership. Obviously that didn't happen in this case . . .
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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