October 2, 2015

Marcus Porcius Cato – the man who almost stopped Julius Caesar

Filed under: Europe, History, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In The Freeman, Lawrence W. Reed talks about one of the last few Republicans in the Rome of Julius Caesar’s ascendance:

In the estimations of many historians, two men hold the honor as the most notable defenders of the Roman Republic. Marcus Tullius Cicero was one. Marcus Porcius Cato, or “Cato the Younger,” was the other.

Since there was a “younger,” there must have been an “elder,” too. Cato the Elder was the great grandfather of the younger. Both men, separated by more than a century, were influential in public office. Think of the elder as the social conservative, concerned in his day with preserving the customs and traditions of Rome. The younger was one of history’s early libertarians, interested more in personal and political liberties because he believed that if they were lost, nothing else mattered. It is this second one to whom I refer in the balance of this essay as simply “Cato.”

By the time of Cato’s birth in 95 BC, the Roman Republic was long in the tooth. Founded four centuries earlier, it had risen from obscurity to political and economic dominance in the Mediterranean. Rome was easily the world’s wealthiest and most powerful society. It wasn’t a libertarian paradise — slavery was a part of its makeup, as it was even more brutal everywhere else — but Rome had taken liberty to a zenith the world had never seen before and wouldn’t see again for a long time after it finally fell. The constitution of the republic embodied term limits; separation of powers; checks and balances; due process; habeas corpus; the rule of law; individual rights; and elected, representative legislative bodies, including the famous Senate. All of this was hanging by a thread in the first century BC.

Cato was just five years of age when Rome went to war with its former allies in the Italian peninsula — the so-called “Social War.” Though the conflict lasted just two years, its deleterious effects were huge. The decades to follow would be marked by the rise of factions and conflict and local armies loyal to their commanders instead of the larger society. A “welfare-warfare” state was putting down deep roots as Cato grew up. The limited government, personal responsibility and extensive civil society so critical to the republic’s previous success were in an agonizing, century-long process of collapse. Even many of those who recognized the decay around them nonetheless drank the Kool-Aid, succumbing to the temptations of power or subsidies or both.

Before the age of 30, Cato had become a supremely disciplined individual, a devotee of Stoicism in every respect. He commanded a legion in Macedon and won immense loyalty and respect from the soldiers for the example he set, living and laboring no differently from day to day than he required of his men. He first won election to public office (to the post of quaestor, supervising financial and budgetary matters for the state) in 65 BC and quickly earned a reputation as scrupulously meticulous and uncompromisingly honest. He went out of his way to hold previous quaestors accountable for their dishonesty and misappropriation of funds, which he himself uncovered.

Later he served in the Roman Senate, where he never missed a session and criticized other senators who did. Through his superb oratory in public and deft maneuverings in private, he worked tirelessly to restore fealty to the ideals of the fading Republic.

October 1, 2015

QotD: The “epidemic” of sexual assault on campus

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Wildly overblown claims about an epidemic of sexual assaults on American campuses are obscuring the true danger to young women, too often distracted by cellphones or iPods in public places: the ancient sex crime of abduction and murder. Despite hysterical propaganda about our “rape culture,” the majority of campus incidents being carelessly described as sexual assault are not felonious rape (involving force or drugs) but oafish hookup melodramas, arising from mixed signals and imprudence on both sides.

Colleges should stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives, an authoritarian intrusion that borders on violation of civil liberties. Real crimes should be reported to the police, not to haphazard and ill-trained campus grievance committees.

Too many young middle class women, raised far from the urban streets, seem to expect adult life to be an extension of their comfortable, overprotected homes. But the world remains a wilderness. The price of women’s modern freedoms is personal responsibility for vigilance and self-defense.

Camille Paglia, “The Modern Campus Cannot Comprehend Evil”, Time, 2014-09-29.

September 29, 2015

Universities, alcohol, women, and consent

Filed under: Health, Law, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Simple Justice, Scott Greenfield includes a poster from Southeast Missouri State University that nicely summarizes both the institutional infantilization of university students and the current double standard on booze and consent rules:

University students, booze and consent

There is universal agreement that any female (though not male) who has passed out is incapable of giving consent to sex. But as the spectrum of reaction to alcohol or drugs comes closer to the sober end, it becomes increasingly problematic. The word used to describe a woman who cannot consent is “incapacitation.”

What is incapacitation? That’s impossible to say. It usually described by either specific instances of conduct (“if she’s puking her guts out, that means she’s incapacitated”), which offers no guidance when she’s not puking her guts out, or when she’s done puking her guts out, or before she’s puking her guts out.

The underlying rationale is that a woman who is so drunk that she cannot formulate knowing, intentional and voluntary consent, cannot consent to sex. This is a dubious standard, as the incapacity to consent doesn’t mean she would not consent, but that she cannot consent.

To put this in context, consider a person who fully consents, enthusiastically desires to engage in conduct, but wasn’t specifically asked beforehand. This person can truthfully assert that it was non-consensual under the Affirmative Consent standard, because she never overtly expressed consent.* The objective standard is not met, although the subjective standard is fully met.

The problem is reminiscent of drunk driving, which was determined by the objective inability to perform the tasks necessary to safely drive a car before the law turned to Blood Alcohol Content as a proxy, an inadequate measure but a convenient one for law enforcement to prove. Sexual incapacitation suffers from a lack of definition and no objective basis.

What is clear about incapacitation is that it’s not when there is “liquor in the cup,” or when “she has touched alcohol,” any more than it would be a crime for her to thereafter get behind the wheel of a car. Yet, the notion that any alcohol (or drugs, which don’t seem to find their way onto posters or flyers as much) per se vitiates consent is spreading and being used as the hard and fast line.

September 28, 2015

QotD: Universal criminality

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’ve written on many occasions about what I call universal criminality, the crowning achievement of the modern police state, under which there are so many vague, overbroad and counterintuitive laws that every single person is in violation of at least a few of them at all times. Nearly any encounter with the police can be turned into “assault on a police officer” or “resisting arrest”, almost any business can be twisted into “racketeering”, virtually any financial transaction can be redefined as “money laundering” and even normal friendships or business interactions can be tortured into “conspiracy”. But while charges like these can be used to harass, bankrupt and imprison the target, possibly for many years, they often lack the firepower necessary to totally destroy his life forever; after his release from prison he might still be able to find work, have a normal social life and rebuild his shattered fortunes into some semblance of a comfortable existence. Worst of all (from the prosecutorial viewpoint), the public might even side with the victim, turning him into a martyr both during and after his state-sanctioned torture and caging. But there is one weapon in the state’s arsenal which, used properly, will utterly destroy a person’s life. At the end of the process he will have no money, no friends and no home; he will be completely unemployable and condemned to everlasting surveillance, shunned by society and unable even to avail himself of even paid companionship without triggering still more awful consequences. If the prosecutor is really lucky, his victim may even be murdered by the police or other thugs or take his own life. And all it takes to detonate this thermonuclear weapon of modern law is the sending of a single email.

Maggie McNeill, “Instant Criminal”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-09-19.

September 26, 2015

Straight Up: The Issue of Alcohol in Ontario

Filed under: Cancon, History, Law, Liberty, Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 24 Nov 2014

A documentary exploring the peculiar system of alcohol retail and distribution in Ontario.

The beverage alcohol system in Ontario is unique in the world. A government monopoly and a few private companies enjoy preferential access to the province’s consumers. Meanwhile, about 300 Ontario breweries, wineries, and distillers face a number of bureaucratic and structural barriers that effectively shut them out of the market in Ontario. This film tries to explain the origins of the beverage alcohol system in Ontario, and what it means for producers and consumers in the province today.

H/T to Eric Beiers for the link.

September 25, 2015

The anti-porn crusaders

Filed under: Law, Media, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

J.R. Ireland on the modern day puritans who lose sleep because someone, somewhere, might possibly be looking at porn:

One thing that I have noticed a lot of advocates of sex-worker rights tend to miss though is the parallel between anti-prostitution arguments and anti-porn arguments. I think that the reason for this is simple — prostitution is still illegal, whereas pornography is not only legal, but very visible. It’s all over our computer screens, in fact, and can be found quickly and easily, provided you have the ability to engage in a simple Google search. That means that most pro-prostitution advocates avoid really talking about the issue of pornography, since it’s assumed that this is an issue we’ve already ‘won’ and which we don’t really need to continue babbling about.

Unfortunately, this ignores the fact that there is a burgeoning anti-porn movement that is coming not from the normal enemies of pornography on the right (i.e. Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, etc. who oppose porn on religious grounds), but from leftists who oppose porn on what are alleged to be left-wing grounds — fear of exploitation, a desire to prevent sex-trafficking, a distaste for the vulgar trappings of sexualized patriarchy, and so on.

Anti-Porn feminism is far more advanced in Britain than it is here since British feminists tend to be, and you’ll have to pardon my language, bug-fuck crazy nightmarish lunatics with fake degrees from mediocre universities and a level of self-loathing and insecurity unknown to the sane. It is from this leftist anti-porn position that the activist Gail Dines has arrived. In 2010, she wrote a book entitled Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality and since then she has been on the leading edge, the spear-tip, the vanguard of leftist opposition to pornography.


First, Dines tries to argue that ‘sexual assault centers in US colleges’ have ‘said that more women are reporting anal rape.’ Which sexual assault centers? Care to name them? Care to give me any sort of citation for this claim? Of course not — facts are for the patriarchy and we’re in the post-fact world of third wave feminism now!

Indeed, I find it somehow unlikely that sexual assault centers in US colleges are reporting an increase in rape given that American rape rates fell substantially between 1990 and the present:

US rape rate 1973-2013

Go look up any statistics on the incidence of rape and you will find them to be broadly similar — a spike in the 70s and 80s (which happened to coincide with a general increase in criminality) followed by a lengthy decline ever since. Now, were porn actually causing an increase in rape rates due to ‘sexualizing violence against women’ and ‘normalizing’ practices like rape, you would not have expected to find such an obvious decline in sexual assault rates, would you?

The second claim Dines makes is regarding the scary normalization of pedophilia which she claims is occurring directly resultant from porn involving teenagers. First of all, ‘teen porn’ does not ‘normalize pedophilia’ since the teenagers in teen porn are supposed to be 18 or 19 — in other words, post-pubescent and fully grown women. This isn’t even taking into consideration the fact that many actresses in teen porn are actually in their 20’s and are just ‘playing young,’ but we’ll ignore the fact that this is all fantasy anyway, since the fact that pornography isn’t based on reality seems to be a constant source of confusion for Gail Dines.

QotD: The danger of vague laws

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Prosecutors, and regulators more generally, like vague standards that are impossible to enforce consistently. It gives them a great deal of discretion in whom they target and how. It is a threat that can be wielded to force pleas to lesser crimes or other “voluntary” actions that obviate the need for a messy trial they might lose.

Megan McArdle, “California Accidentally Legalizes Campus Sex”, Bloomberg View, 2014-09-23.

September 24, 2015

QotD: Sex trafficking

Filed under: Law, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I am often asked if, by calling “sex trafficking” a myth, I’m saying that there is no such thing as coercion in sex work. The answer, of course, is “not at all”; what I’m saying is 1) that coercion is much rarer than “trafficking” fetishists pretend it is; 2) that the term “trafficking” is used to describe many different things along a broad spectrum running from absolutely coercive to absolutely not coercive, yet all of them are shoehorned into a lurid, melodramatic and highly-stereotyped narrative; and 3) that even situations of genuine coercion rarely bear much resemblance to the familiar masturbatory fantasy of an “innocent” middle-class girl in her early teens abducted by “pimps” from a shopping mall, bus stop or internet chat room.

Maggie McNeill, “The Face of Trafficking”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-10-10.

September 23, 2015

In debt to the bank? Underwater on your mortgage? You might want to check the document carefully…

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At The Intercept, David Dayen says that there are a lot of sketchy documents that banks are hoping will stand up in court, but they might well be wrong:

A Seattle housing activist on Wednesday uploaded an explosive land-record audit that the local City Council had been sitting on, revealing its far-reaching conclusion: that all assignments of mortgages the auditors studied are void.

That makes any foreclosures in the city based on these documents illegal and unenforceable, and makes the King County recording offices where the documents are located a massive crime scene.

The problems stem from the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS), an entity banks created so they could transfer mortgages privately, saving them billions of dollars in transfer fees to public recording offices. In Washington state, MERS’ practices were found illegal by the State Supreme Court in 2012. But MERS continued those practices with only cosmetic changes, the audit found.

That finding has national implications. Every state has its own mortgage laws, and some of the audit’s conclusions may not necessarily apply elsewhere. But it shows how MERS reacted to being caught defrauding the public by trying to sneak through foreclosures anyway. Combined with evidence in other parts of the country, like the failure to register out-of-state business trusts in Montana, it suggests that the mortgage industry has been inattentive to and dismissive of state foreclosure laws.

New libertarian books of interest

Filed under: Economics, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Washington Post, Ilya Somin draws attention to two new books of interest to libertarians:

Two exciting new books have just come out that are likely to be of great interest to readers interested in libertarianism, and political and legal theory. They are Markets Without Limits: Moral Virtues and Commercial Interests, by Jason Brennan and Peter Jaworski, and Justice at a Distance: Extending Freedom Globally, by Loren Lomasky and Fernando Teson. As the titles imply, both books have a libertarian orientation. But you don’t have to be a libertarian (or close to it) to agree with the authors’ positions on these issues, and even those interested readers who ultimately reject the authors’ conclusions can learn a lot from them.

In Markets Without Limits, Brennan and Jaworski argue that anything you should be allowed to do for free, you should also be allowed to do for money. They do not claim that markets should be completely unconstrained, merely that we should not ban any otherwise permissible transaction solely because money has been exchanged. Thus, for example, they agree that murder for hire should be illegal. But only because it should also be illegal to commit murder for free. Their thesis is also potentially compatible with a wide range of regulations of various markets to prevent fraud, deception, and the like. Nonetheless, their thesis is both radical and important. The world is filled with policies that ban selling of goods and services that can nonetheless be given away for free. Consider such cases as bans on organ markets, prostitution, and ticket-scalping. Perhaps the most notable aspects of the book are that the authors don’t shy away from hard cases (see, e.g., this summary of their discussion of the sale of adoption rights), and that they thoroughly address a wide range of possible objections from both left and right. The issue addressed by the book has enormous practical significance, in addition to its theoretical importance. To take just one example, the ban on organ markets condemns thousands of people to death every year, because it leads to a severe shortage of transplantable kidneys relative to the number of people who need them.

September 16, 2015

The fate of pedestrians in Chinese traffic accidents

Filed under: China, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson comments on a story about Chinese drivers ensuring that pedestrians they hurt in traffic accidents don’t survive to sue them … because incentives matter:

Smelling a story that was too interesting to be true, I texted a friend who lives in China. He read the article and texted back that every word was correct. This behaviour was so common that it was a kind of dark joke. The phrase “drive to kill” was considered practical life advice for young and old alike. These are not members of some obscure and barbarous cult. China is one of the oldest and most accomplished of human civilizations.

The legal explanation for this — a moral explanation I suspect is impossible — is a combination of a weak insurance system and easily bribable courts. An injured pedestrian can become a lifetime financial liability for the driver. Murder convictions, even in cases with clear video evidence, are still unusual. Faced with a choice of becoming a bankrupt or a murderer the popular choice seems to be the latter.

Homo homini lupus est. Man is wolf to man.

Mainland China is, of course, a dictatorship. It seems likely that in a functioning liberal democracy, such as those of the West, very basic legal reforms would long ago have been implemented to remove these quite literally perverse incentives. The rulers of China have deigned it beneath their notice to make such minor improvements.

September 10, 2015

Making it easy for governments to monitor texts, emails, and other messages

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle explains that while it’s quite understandable why governments want to maintain their technological ability to read private, personal communications … but that’s not sufficient justification to just give in and allow them the full access they claim that they “need”:

Imagine, if you will, a law that said all doors had to be left unlocked so that the police could get in whenever they needed to. Or at the very least, a law mandating that the government have a master key.

That’s essentially what some in the government want for your technology. As companies like Apple and Google have embraced stronger encryption, they’re making it harder for the government to do the kind of easy instant collection that companies were forced into as the government chased terrorists after 9/11.

And how could you oppose that government access? After all, the government keeps us safe from criminals. Do you really want to make it easier for criminals to evade the law?

The analogy with your home doors suggests the flaw in this thinking: The U.S. government is not the only entity capable of using a master key. Criminals can use them too. If you create an easy way to bypass security, criminals — or other governments — are going to start looking for ways to reproduce the keys.


Law enforcement is going to pursue strategies that maximize the ability to catch criminals or terrorists. These are noble goals. But we have to take care that in the pursuit of these goals, the population they’re trying to protect is not forgotten. Every time we open more doors for our own government, we’re inviting other unwelcome guests to join them inside.

I don’t really blame law enforcement for pushing as hard as possible; rare is the organization in history that has said, “You know, the world would be a better place if I had less power to do my job.” But that makes it more imperative that the rest of us keep an eye on what they’re doing, and force the law to account for tradeoffs, rather than the single-minded pursuit of one goal.

September 9, 2015

“For some reason she rarely has the scarlet ‘(D)’ printed next to her name underneath the photos of her looking like an indignant troll doll”

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Colby Cosh has more on the controversy over Kim Davis and her beliefs:

The U.S. District Court, petitioned by the unhappy couple, duly ordered Davis to cut out the nonsense at once. She continued to refuse, creating another much-photographed scene at her office, and was summoned back to court Sept. 3 to explain. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), that tireless friend to the friendless, actually intervened on Davis’s behalf; it disagrees formally with her view on the law, but it asked that she be fined for contempt of court, rather than imprisoned.

Judge David Bunning was having none of it, and put her in the clink. He says he expects to revisit his decision after Davis has cooled her heels for about a week, after which time the gays and lesbians of Rowan County will have had a fair crack at obtaining permission to marry. Five of Davis’s six underlings told Judge Bunning they are willing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the meantime. The sixth is her son, but the judge indulgently overlooked his impudence and calculated that five pairs of writing hands would be plenty to handle the work.

The tangential presence of the ACLU in the legal battle reminds us that there are some features of the United States that remain admirable — that the country has not yet totally degenerated into a shouting match of contending personal narcissisms. Another one is that there have been at least as many demonstrators on behalf of same-sex marriage rights as friends of Kim Davis at the offices of the Rowan County clerk. It is, with all due respect, a place hitherto best known in American history for a 19th-century blood feud between moonshiners.

August 28, 2015

Google and the (bullshit) European “right to be forgotten”

Filed under: Europe, Law, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick points and laughs at a self-described consumerist organization’s attempt to force Google to apply EU law to the rest of the world, by way of an FTC complaint:

If you want an understanding of my general philosophy on business and economics, it’s that companies should focus on serving their customers better. That’s it. It’s a very customer-centric view of capitalism. I think companies that screw over their customers and users will have it come back to bite them, and thus it’s a better strategy for everyone if companies focus on providing good products and services to consumers, without screwing them over. And, I’m super supportive of organizations that focus on holding companies’ feet to the fire when they fail to live up to that promise. Consumerist (owned by Consumer Reports) is really fantastic at this kind of thing, for example. Consumer Watchdog, on the other hand, despite its name, appears to have very little to do with actually protecting consumers’ interests. Instead, it seems like some crazy people who absolutely hate Google, and pretend that they’re “protecting” consumers from Google by attacking the company at every opportunity. If Consumer Watchdog actually had relevant points, that might be useful, but nearly every attack on Google is so ridiculous that all it does is make Consumer Watchdog look like a complete joke and undermine whatever credibility the organization might have.

In the past, we’ve covered an anti-Google video that company put out that contained so many factual errors that it was a complete joke (and was later revealed as nothing more than a stunt to sell some books). Then there was the attempt to argue that Gmail was an illegal wiretap. It’s hard to take the organization seriously when it does that kind of thing.

Its latest, however, takes the crazy to new levels. John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s resident “old man yells at cloud” impersonator, recently filed a complaint with the FTC against Google. In it, he not only argues that Google should offer the “Right to be Forgotten” in the US, but says that the failure to do that is an “unfair and deceptive practice.” Really.

As you know by now, since an EU court ruling last year, Google has been forced to enable a right to be forgotten in the EU, in which it will “delink” certain results from the searches on certain names, if the people argue that the links are no longer “relevant.” Some in the EU have been pressing Google to make that “right to be forgotten” global — which Google refuses to do, noting that it would violate the First Amendment in the US and would allow the most restrictive, anti-free speech regime in the world to censor the global internet.

But, apparently John Simpson likes censorship and supporting free speech-destroying regimes. Because he argues Google must allow such censorship in the US. How could Google’s refusal to implement “right to be forgotten” possibly be “deceptive”? Well, in Simpson’s world, it’s because Google presents itself as “being deeply committed to privacy” but then doesn’t abide by a global right to be forgotten. Really.

August 22, 2015

Coming soon to Massachusetts (maybe) – pot pubs

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Forbes, Jacob Sullum looks at the finalized ballot initiative to be presented to Massachusetts voters in the next general election:

When the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts unveiled the text of its 2016 legalization initiative this month, the group highlighted several features of the measure but omitted the most interesting one. The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act would allow consumption of cannabis products on the premises of businesses that sell them, subject to regulation by the state and approval by local voters.

That’s a big deal, because until now no jurisdiction has satisfactorily addressed the obvious yet somehow touchy question of where people can consume the cannabis they are now allowed to buy. The legalization initiatives approved by voters in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska all promised to treat marijuana like alcohol, which implies allowing venues similar to taverns where people can consume cannabis in a social setting. Yet all four states say businesses that sell marijuana may not let customers use it on the premises.

Although a few “bring your own cannabis” (BYOC) clubs have popped up to accommodate people who want to use marijuana outside their homes from time to time, the legality of such establishments is a matter of dispute. The result is that people can openly buy marijuana without fear, but they still have to consume it on the sly, just like in the bad old days. The problem is especially acute for visitors from other states, since pot-friendly hotels are still pretty rare.

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