Creative Destruction

December 14, 2007

Lies and Insistent Lies

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events — Brutus @ 2:36 am

Anyone with an iota of sense has got to believe that despite vehement denials, many if not most top athletes are currently taking or have taken performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Cycling is one of the worst offenders, but it appears to be widespread in other sports as well. (There’s a blog about everything, of course, and Steroid Nation follows the news on this issue.) Recent admissions by Marion Jones that she had taken PEDs — unwittingly, perhaps — and lied to cover up the fact have resulted in her recently being stripped of her records, medals, and now reputation. Much as I’d like to feel sorry for her, it’s difficult to be sympathetic when she filed a defamation lawsuit against her supplier after she apparently knew that she had been doping. So not only did she lie (repeatedly), she insisted upon her lies in a lawsuit. (Similar insistence by Bill Clinton during his impeachment had the same hubris. Indeed, the cynic in me believes most people will lie out of expediency and insist on their lies when pressed. No shock there.)

Being a poor judge of character, I don’t know whether to believe pro athletes when they protest they’re clean. But I can observe that competition is so intense that there is often no way to compete successfully unless they join the doping ranks. It’s a shame, of course. Marion Jones isn’t the only athlete to pay a high price for the illegal steps she took to achieve her success, and doubtlessly others will admit their transgressions over time.

All this is a good reason to turn our collective attention away from professional sports for a while, not that I expect that ever to happen. When the superhuman feats demonstrated by athletes are revealed to be the result of widespread drug abuse, what pleasure remains for spectators? Or we could decide the opposite: throw competition open to achieving results by any means possible and let athletes decide what they want to do to their bodies. The record books may not represent a level playing field in terms of historical comparison, but within any given year, the top competitors would have no unfair advantages, since no PED would be off limits. And at least the charade would be over.

December 11, 2007

Bullying Cops (Diatribe from Comments)

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Politics — Brutus @ 12:41 am

A visitor to this blog posted a short diatribe in the comments to a post unrelated to his concerns, which understandably has gotten no reaction. I thought I’d pull it forward into the body of a regular post and offer anyone the chance to respond. I’ve edited slightly for grammar and spelling.

Mike says:

I’ve been looking to post this somewhere. I do apologize if this seems like I’m hijacking this thread. I just needed to write about the way I feel. Anyway, here goes…

Look, cops are bullying fascist scum across the board. The real reason someone would join the [police] force is that they like manhandling people, wielding authority, and inspiring fear. These people otherwise would be excellent for running the electric chair. Or the gas chamber. I can’t believe that anyone who is “progressive” would support them. If you are a “leftie” who does, please leave and go join the right wing. I don’t want you in my ideology. A peace activist was arrested for riding a bike on the street. An unarmed immigrant was shot by the cops when they thought he was reaching for a gun. There are so many more stories like these I can tell you about. This is not a case of a few bad apples. This is more commonplace every day. Don’t fall for the “protect and serve” crap. More things are becoming illegal every day, so more and more average people can get shafted, and the injustice system can economically profit. Wake up, America. You are living in a corporate police state, where eventually the only truly legal you can do is shop. You could be turned in by a neighbor who doesn’t like you even if you did nothing bad. Oh, wait, sorry, I think we are there already. What is wrong with some of you liberals who support taking guns away from citizens, but you still want the government to have guns so that they can “protect” you. Those who believe that “safety” is more important than freedom! I’m not saying this to be mean, but I’m saddened and scared by the direction this country is taken. We all deserve better than that.

Please respond to my post. I haven’t been able to get any responses, positive or negative. I want to get a sense of where people are on this. Thanks.

Notwithstanding Mike’s own attempt to bully folks into awareness, I agree with his general thrust. I support the notion of law and order, but I don’t think we’re getting it from law enforcement agencies in the fashion we should. The recent spate of unnecessary tasering people is a good snapshot of how police respond to citizens who pose little real threat.

We have also given up a lot of civic responsibility and personal rights in the process of becoming fat and happy Americans. Many of us have considerably more fear in the last, say, 15 years about being in the wrong place or saying the wrong thing and suffering the wrath of law enforcement, which is ostensibly intended to serve and protect us (as the slogan goes). Authorized users of state violence (police, FBI, CIA, and branches of the military) are often no longer trustworthy with the use of lethal force or even more mundane things like investigating suspects, which now routinely involves illegal surveillance. Over time, law enforcement has gotten to be paranoid about internal threats, so it resorts to questionable crowd management techniques and propaganda campaigns to quell dissent, among other things. It’s a sad state we’re in. But before we develop a consensus that the citizenry needs to act (by voting, or perhaps something more direct) to stem the tide of creeping fascism, there is no solution. We get the government we deserve.

Anyone else with an opinion?

July 8, 2007

Fox News Attack Dog

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Immigration,Personal Ramblings — Brutus @ 11:21 pm

I stumbled across Michelle Malkin on Fox News not once but twice in the past two days, which I take as a sign that I’m meant to blog about her. I’m unclear how long she has been appearing on The O’Reilly Factor, but it is clear after only a small bit of viewing that she’s been studying her betters — and learning. This excerpt on the subject of immigration is a good example:

At the outset, she frames the issue incorrectly, conflating immigration with crime and imploring her expert, immigration attorney Susan Church, to defend them as though they’re the same thing. Church’s initial response rightly unlinked the two issues and offered a better frame for discussing immigration, but things only went south one Malkin rejoined her. YouTube has another “debate” on the same subject with Geraldo Rivera, which I haven’t viewed. (Um, why was Geraldo Rivera of all people interviewed on immigration?)

I avoid watching Fox News, but on those occasions when it happens to be on in the room, I find it difficult to look away. Viewing Fox News is like seeing a train wreck as it happens, and the cult of personality surrounding some of its “journalists” is utterly astounding. Like Bill O’Reilly, Malkin routinely taunts, interrupts, baits, and insults her interview subjects. Why would anyone, knowing how interviewees are treated, be willing to be set up for such apparent slaughter?

As for presenting either news or commentary, The O’Reilly Factor fails miserably. Yet it succeeds as entertainment of the most base kind. On one side of the political aisle, folks gape in disbelief at what they’re witnessing. On the other side, folks jeer and hoot at the sight of the hosts’ “opponents” being eviscerated in debate. I’m still uncertain whether the Fox News hounds, yipping and nipping at everything and everyone, are simply chasing ratings. Can it be they really believe that the ideal of public debate is well served by the freak shows they put on?

July 2, 2007

Brazenly Beyond the Law

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events,Politics — Brutus @ 9:44 pm

The NY Times has a recent editorial that suggests says outright that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled so badly in three First Amendment cases that it no longer pays attention to precedent and is in effect operating beyond the law:

Chief Justice Roberts and the four others in his ascendant bloc used the next-to-last decision day of this term to reopen the political system to a new flood of special-interest money, to weaken protection of student expression and to make it harder for citizens to challenge government violations of the separation of church and state. In the process, the reconfigured court extended its noxious habit of casting aside precedents without acknowledging it ….

For the Times to identify a voting bloc that functions to contravene precedent in something as significant as the First Amendment is pretty astounding. The timing of the Court also reads pretty clearly as politically informed. The First Amendment isn’t a hotly contested issue, though certain instances (such as flag burning) may be. My take on bedrock principles of the U.S. Constitution — so basic and assumed back in the day that they were omitted from the first version and only added later as amendments — is that they should be protected slavishly unless some clear public interest is served by revoking rights. It is far better to extend protection in questionable cases than to infringe someone’s rights, not unlike the conventional wisdom (enshrined in someone’s famous quote, no doubt) that it’s better to let ten guilty men go free than to convict one innocent one.

In other news likely to become a political firestorm in the coming days (and then blow over in favor of some new revelation, as nearly all of Bush’s missteps do), Pres. Bush commuted Scooter Libby’s 2.5-year prison sentence. Leaving the fine, probation, and criminal record intact rather than a full pardon is nothing to these guys, which is say almost no punishment at all. Haven’t members of the Bush Administration also shown themselves brazenly willing to operate beyond the law? So much for accountability. Of course, it should surprise no one that the Prez steps in to protect one of his aides, but sheesh. Isn’t there even a sacrificial goat to quell the need for political balance anymore?

June 12, 2007

When I Am King…

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events — Robert @ 11:08 pm

The typical reaction accorded to a plaintiff like Judge Pearson will be summary execution.

Or at least a beating.

June 3, 2007

Tough Critic

Filed under: Criminal Justice — Brutus @ 11:23 pm

A report from CBS News informs us that a karaoke singer in the Philippines was shot dead for singing out of tune over the protestations of a security guard in the audience. I have to hold back from saying much about it because the obvious jokes are in very poor taste considering a guy is dead. Let’s just hope that American Idol never goes on the road to Manilla.

May 15, 2007

Copyright in Transition

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events,Economics,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 12:09 am

The U.S. Copyright Office and the Recording Industry Associate of America (RIAA) are doing exactly what they exist to do: protect and police the intellectual property of their constituencies. This post by Off Colfax a few days ago about the Copyright Review Board’s decision to raise royalty rates precipitously for streaming copyrighted content over the web (usually by commercial and web radio services), as well as stories like this one, do nothing to enhance the perception of the RIAA as a common thug with the support of the Copyright Office. Indeed, it’s gotten so bad that the RIAA recently won a contest (in public perception only) for being the worst company in America.

Naturally, it’s unpopular to lend support to an institution known for threatening lawsuits against college students, 12-year-olds, and grandmothers, or one that seems hellbent on instituting punitive royalty rates. I goofed in my first comment on this subject, as I didn’t get that new royalty rates for streaming content will likely put an end to web radio. (I still don’t understand the motivation behind it.) But unlike a lot of consumers, I’m no novice at intellectual property issues (see here and here). So the usual tropes consumers offer up to rationalize their illegal, infringing behaviors get no quarter with me.

What interests me now is that the entire notion of copyright, with its hundreds of years of support in legal practice, appears to be simply beyond the power of most folks to adequately comprehend. That change of sea means that widespread infringement and grassroots movements to relax or invalidate copyright protections, ironically undertaken at the same time that the U.S. government is seeking to impose stronger IP protections on other governments, probably doom the recording industry to extinction. If the consuming public determines, justly or unjustly, that a particular body of law is invalid and won’t respect it, then that law usually gets changed (or flatly ignored, like speed limits). The precipitating factor, in my view, is the technological simplicity of copying — the very thing copyright prohibits.

Before the photocopy machine and digital media, copying and piracy were far more costly and time consuming. Now, the ease and ubiquity of infringing behaviors have become a sort of death by a thousand cuts, except that it’s millions and billions of cuts. The business model on which the recording industry has been based for about 100 years is now so entirely destabilized and transitional that its very survival is threatened. In that context, it’s perfectly reasonable (if unpopular) for the RIAA to seek recourse through legal means, which includes infringement lawsuits (real and threatened) and resetting royalty rates. But the public’s insistence that new distribution methods and business models must (must!) be developed because, like the newspapers, the industry is already dead but doesn’t yet realize it, will probably win the day eventually. If and when that happens, and the financial incentive for creative work disappears with it (since creative work won’t be protectible), I wonder whether it will be a classic case of getting what you want but then deserving what you eventually get: crap music and crap media.

May 3, 2007

Preemptive Pardon

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events,Election 2008 — Brutus @ 9:58 pm

The Chicago Tribune reports that

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said President Bush has made massive policy blunders, but impeaching him or calling him a war criminal is a waste of time.

If I were to made such a statement, it would come across as a personal opinion. But when Obama says the same thing, it comes across — at least to me — as a preemptive pardon for what many consider Bush’s impeachable offenses. After all, Obama is a high-profile presidential candidate. So either he’s a savvy strategist, exhorting us to “turn the page” and move on to the next administration (presumably his) and a hoped-for change of sea in politics that is still nearly two years away if the next elections go as he intends and expects, or he’s taking the opportunity to be magnanimous and perhaps a bit presidential (before the fact) with respect to the current president, against whom he’s not really competing.

I’m not convinced that impeachment is the proper course of action, especially if we can’t impeach Bush and Cheney simultaneously to avoid a Cheney presidency (the horror!). Still, I’m fully willing to cast aspersions toward policies and decisions emanating from the White House, many of which appear to my regular citizen’s eye (meaning I lack legal training) to contravene the U.S. Constitution and focus on enriching and empowering a small portion of the population as the expense of the rest rather than seriously looking after the wider national interest.

April 25, 2007

Beautiful Superwomen

Filed under: Content-lite,Criminal Justice — Brutus @ 10:20 am

What is it with all these overachieving beauty queens anyway? Do they get the taste of it in their blood or something?

April 21, 2007

Compare and Contrast

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events — Robert @ 1:51 pm

Meet Venus Ramey, the 82-year old former Miss America (1944) who recently confronted thieves on her Kentucky farm. Caught in the act, the men offered to leave; Miss Ramey declined their offer, shooting out the tires of the car to prevent them from driving away and holding them at gunpoint until police arrived.

She had to balance on her walker to get her gun in firing position, but she managed.

Is any further comment required?

April 12, 2007

Behavior Modification in Action

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Science — Brutus @ 4:05 pm

This report from the Seattle Times introduces a new solution to the old problem of bank robbery: be nice. Apparently, bank personnel who identify a suspicious character (often based on dress alone, especially dress that obscures identity) can head off a potential heist by being aggressively nice and corralling the questionable person in a “customer service on steroids” scenario. The report focuses on treating would-be robbers nicely, but the key factor in my view is simply having multiple people interact with the culprit before the fact (in the event of an actual robbery) who would presumably then be able to make a positive identification after the fact. Still, it appears to be effective at reducing the incidence of bank robbery in Seattle, which is for unexplained reasons unusually high.

I rather like the idle of using positive reinforcement and subtle behavior modification to thwart crime. It also makes me wonder whether a foreign policy of “aggressive diplomacy” might better serve our objectives than the gunboat diplomacy currently in use. The obvious difference in scale between individual crime and crises among nation-states might tend to make such a comparison nonsensical, but I still wonder if involving other nations in overwhelmingly nice endeavors (or a simple observation “we can see what you’re doing and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves”) would effect any change in the way despots and terrorists operate.

February 21, 2007

Surveilling Using Cell Phones

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Politics,Science — Brutus @ 1:21 pm

Here is a bit of shocking news (or not so shocking depending on your jadedness): the mic on your cell phone can be activated as a transmitter to allow eavesdropping on your conversations even when the phone is powered down and you are merely in the vicinity of the phone. From the link above:

The technique is called a “roving bug,” and was approved by top U.S. Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him.

As I understand it, wiretaps and bugs are legal when issued through a court, but the mechanism to effect a tap requires a personal visit to the compromised device or location. The roving bug is presumably activated remotely and mobile, which represents a technological development that makes eavesdropping push-button simple, and with it, invites abuses and rationalizations along the lines of “it’s only for a moment,” or “it’s merely temporary,” or “it’s for the greater good” by eliminating the plodding steps necessary to activate one.

I believe that this tool is so seductive (meaning so simple to use) that those in government with the technology (or others? criminals?) couldn’t withstand temptation to deploy it whenever they see fit, meaning illegally. The means/ends distinction inevitably slides too far over to the “end” side of the continuum.

Along similar lines — using technology against people in a bid for government control of populations — I learned that the U.S. military has weaponized microwaves and created a heat ray gun that burns flesh. The device is described as harmless and nonlethal, since the ray penetrates less than 0.5 mm of skin, but the lon-term effects are nonetheless unknown.

I don’t know for sure, but I sense that at some point we’ve passed the point where we have enough weapons and technology to deploy an effective military or police force. What we really lack is an enlightened and judicious humanity (characterized by diplomacy, restraint, and unwillingness to act preemptively) to act as a brake on our apparent technophilia.

While it looked like a good or necessary step at the time (and perhaps even in hindsight), the creation of the atomic bomb ushered in a new era of nastiness and angst from which we have yet to recover. Although the two technologies mentioned above aren’t nearly so sweeping as the bomb, they are certainly part of the same complex of idea that drive weapons technology. Maybe someout out there is actually saying once in a while “let’s not pursue this one, it’s too awful,” but I don’t get the feeling that’s true.

February 5, 2007

Paedophile trio locked up on chat room evidence

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events — Gled @ 2:37 pm

Unprecedented convictions

Three paedophiles who used internet chat rooms to plot to kidnap and rape two sisters were jailed for a total of 27 years at Southern Crown Court on Monday.

David Beavan, 42, of Bransgore, Hampshire, Alan Hedgcock, 41, of Twickenham, and Robert Mayers, 42, of Warrington, had never met. Hedgcock, who was given an eight year sentence, used an incest-themed chat room to tell Beavan, who was handed 11 years imprisonment, of his plan to abuse sisters aged 13 and 14. Beavan indicated he wanted to join the attack, and the pair later recruited Mayers via the internet too.

Judge Geoffrey Rivlin, QC, said the mens’ conversations were “most lurid and disgusting”, the BBC reports.

The logs came to light when police confiscated computers after Beavan told Bournemouth police about the plot in January 2006, claiming he was a “vigilante” gathering evidence. They revealed a detailed history of the plan, including the discussions of their targets, where and how the crime would take place, as well as thousands of child porn images.

Outside court, Detective Constable Dave Adams, of the Met’s child abuse investigation command, said: “This case should act as a really stark warning that the internet is not a hiding place to plan and participate in criminal acts.”

My bold. I should also be a stark warning to anyone who has gotten involved in such a plot, perhaps thinking that it was just a fantasy, and who becomes concerned that ones co-fantasists are actually planning to carry the offence out. Do not, whatever you do, scotch the plan by reporting it to the police. Not only will you be prosecuted, but you’ll get three years longer than the person whose idea it originally was.

I’m not saying that this was the case with Beaven. Nor do I necessarily buy his claim to have been a “vigilante”, but it seems very odd that someone who had acted to frustrate the plot should be the one most severely punished.

(Crossposted between Feminist Critics and Creative Destruction.)

January 23, 2007

Is the Vatican a Rogue State?

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Ethics — Brutus @ 3:38 pm

This link to a story in Spiegel International Online offers this juicy first paragraph:

The Vatican’s attorney general Nicola Picardi released the astounding statistic at the start of 2007: The tiny nation’s justice department in 2006 had to contend with 341 civil and 486 criminal cases. In a population of 492, that measures out to 1.5 cases per person — twenty times the corresponding rate in Italy.

How ironic is it that Vatican City has the highest per capita crime rate? Apparently, a lot of it is the result of pilgrims, tourists, and visitors to St. Peter’s Cathedral. And besides, Vatical City is completely surrounded by Italy, which has developed a reputation in recent years for brazen pickpocketing and victimization of visitors.

December 31, 2006

Cory Maye Motion for Retrial Denied

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events — Robert @ 2:40 am

The motion of Cory Maye, the young Mississippi man facing life in prison for shooting a police officer raiding his home, for a new trial has been denied.

A retrial would have been the fairest outcome for Maye. The next logical step for Maye supporters is probably to petition the governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, for executive clemency. I imagine that Radley Balko (see the link), who has been doing yeoman work on this case for at least a couple of years now, will have information on how and when that effort will take place.

Citizens have a right to defend themselves in their homes, and – speaking as easily the most law-and-order type around these parts – the cops had damn well better make sure that they identify themselves as cops before they go busting down doors in the middle of the night. It is tragic that a police officer lost his life in this raid, but the tragedy isn’t Maye’s fault and the blame lies squarely on the police who conducted the raid.

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