Quotulatiousness

March 28, 2015

Is Clean Reader a form of censorship?

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

Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow are both professional writers, both write science fiction and near-future stories along with contributing to magazines and other publications. They both have strong feelings about a new app called Clean Reader, which “sanitizes” eBooks by bowdlerizing the text on the fly to allow sensitive (or neo-Victorian) readers to avoid getting the vapours by being exposed to foul language. Charlie thinks this violates the writer’s Moral rights:

Mangling an author’s text is a clear violation of the author’s Moral rights, an element of copyright which is very weak in the United States and very strong elsewhere (primarily in civil law jurisdictions). (The moral right is the right of an author to be identified as the creator of a work, and for the work represented as their creation to be unaltered by other hands, so that the relationship between creator and created work is clear.) Mangling an author’s text may be legal or illegal in the USA, depending on whether it occurs before or after sale. After all, I can’t stop you buying one of my books and editing it with a sharpie: it’s a physical object and according to the first sale doctrine, it’s yours to do with as you wish. I may be able to legally stop you modifying an ebook, though: ebooks are not sold but a limited license to download and use them is granted in exchange for money — a fine legal distinction that was borrowed from the software business’s tame sharks — and that limited license may permit or deny such usage.

Clean Reader claim to get around this by (a) being a licensed distributor (they provide the app and sell books for it sourced from PageFoundry, a distributor who back-end onto various publishers), and (b) the censorship is performed on the reader device by the reader app, once the book has been purchased and downloaded. There’s a bunch of case law around whether or not it’s legal to do this to movie rentals or downloads, or legal to skip advertisements in recorded programming on your TiVo—it gets murky fast. But let’s suppose they’re right and what they’re doing (“protect the children! At any cost! From naughty words like ‘breast’ and ‘fuck’!”) is legal.

Speaking as an author who deeply resents the idea of his books being mutilated to fit the prejudices of a curious reader’s blue-nosed and over-protective parents (hint: I write for adults — if you don’t think my books are suitable for your or your child’s tender eyes, don’t buy them), what can I do about this?

On the other hand, Cory also hates it but will “defend to the death your right to censor”:

It’s a truism of free expression that if you only defend speech you agree with, you don’t believe in free expression. That doesn’t mean you have to defend the content of the expression: it means you have to support the right of people to say stupid, awful things. You can and should criticize the stupid, awful things. It’s the distinction between the right to express a stupid idea, and the stupidity of the idea itself.

I think Clean Reader is stupid. I think parents who want to ensure that their kids don’t see profanity have fucked up priorities.

I think readers should be allowed to skip my foreword and author bio. I think they should be able to search out their favorite passages and read them out of order.

I think racist readers should be allowed to make an index of “scenes that racists find disturbing,” so that other racists can avoid them. I think those racists are fools and worse for doing it, and I will condemn them if they do. I just won’t say they’re not allowed to do it. A rule that says this kind of list is prohibited would also prohibit a the same list, compiled by anti-racist activists, under the heading, “Scenes with which to annoy racists.”

Shortly after putting this post together on Friday, I got a link from John Lennard to this article in the Guardian:

The Clean Reader app, launched by a couple in Idaho in the US, has announced that after significant feedback from authors, many of whom did not want their work being sold in connection with the app, it has “taken immediate action to remove all books from our catalogue”.

Clean Reader set out to enable customers to, in its own words, “read books, not profanity”. A filter could be applied to ebooks purchased from its online store, which exchanged words that were judged to be offensive with alternatives.

Profanities such as “fucking” and “fucker” became “freaking” and “idiot”, “hell” became “heck” and “shit” became “crap”, according to an analysis of the app by Jennifer Porter. It was not only swear words that Clean Reader scrubbed out of books: Porter, who ran a series of romance novels through the app, found that body parts were also replaced. “Penis” became “groin”, “vagina” was swapped for “bottom” and “breast” changed to “chest”. Exclamations such as “Jesus Christ” became “geez”, “piss” became “pee”, “bitch” became “witch” and “blowjob” was switched with the euphemistic “pleasure”.

Update: Added the link to Cory Doctorow’s post at Boing Boing.

March 27, 2015

Keeping people out of jail isn’t quite as easy as it seems

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

Megan McArdle is being a downer about the idea that if we just stop throwing people into jail for non-violent drug possession, it’ll make a big dent in the prison population:

De-incarceration is clearly an idea whose time has come. But doing it means thinking clearly about de-incarceration. And as I discovered when I went to a recent event on the topic, most of us in the media don’t.

We’re hampered by the rampant perception that all we need is to wise up and stop incarcerating people for simply possessing drugs, something many of us feel shouldn’t be a crime at all and certainly shouldn’t merit prison time. At the event I attended, someone who has actually studied the matter closely pointed out what experts know and most journalists apparently don’t: Relatively few people are in prison for simple possession or for other minor crimes. The shock in the room was palpable.

I wasn’t shocked, but not because I am somehow immune to this delusion. Rather, I had it stripped from me a few years back, when I went to Hawaii to report on its innovative probation program, Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement. HOPE has sharply reduced the number of people who “flunk” probation and end up with long prison terms. To study it, I sat in a courtroom for a week and actually watched how the process worked. I’ve written about it in my book, but here’s something I didn’t write about: how shocked I was by the composition of the docket. I’d been expecting a lot more simple possession — and a lot less robbery, assault, domestic violence and burglary.

Even the most dedicated anti-incarceration activist would call these “real” crimes, and they were numerous. Even the most dedicated advocate of drug legalization — such as, say, me — would have to admit that a large percentage, perhaps the majority, of the people who committed “real” crimes had some sort of a drug problem — not as in “smokes more weed than they really should” but as in “admitted to the judge that they had smoked crystal meth recently enough to flunk the drug test they were about to be required to take.”

March 18, 2015

This is not how a justice system is supposed to work

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

Nathan Robinson points out a key finding from the Ferguson investigation … that in a municipality of 21,000 people, the police have outstanding arrest warrants out for 16,000:

The Department of Justice’s 102-page report is a rich source of damning facts about the Ferguson criminal justice system. But tucked halfway in and passed over quickly is a truly revelatory set of figures: the arrest warrant data for the Ferguson Municipal Court.

It turns out that nearly everyone in the city is wanted for something. Even internal police department communications found the number of arrest warrants to be “staggering”. By December of 2014, “over 16,000 people had outstanding arrest warrants that had been issued by the court.” The report makes clear that this refers to individual people, rather than cases (i.e. people with many cases are not being counted multiple times). However, if we do look at the number of cases, the portrait is even starker. In 2013, 32,975 offenses had associated warrants, so that there were 1.5 offenses for every city resident.

That means that the city of Ferguson quite literally has more crimes than people.

To give some context as to how truly extreme this is, a comparison may be useful. In 2014, the Boston Municipal Court System, for a city of 645,000 people, issued about 2,300 criminal warrants. The Ferguson Municipal Court issued 9,000, for a population 1/30th the size of Boston’s.

This complete penetration of policing into everyday life establishes a world of unceasing terror and violence. When everyone is a criminal by default, police are handed an extraordinary amount of discretionary power. “Discretion” may sound like an innocuous or even positive policy, but its effect is to make every single person’s freedom dependent on the mercy of individual officers. There are no more laws, there are only police. The “rule of law,” by which people are supposed to be treated equally according to a consistent set of principles, becomes the “rule of personal whim.”

And this is precisely what occurs in Ferguson. As others have noted, the Ferguson courts appear to work as an orchestrated racket to extract money from the poor. The thousands upon thousands of warrants that are issued, according to the DOJ, are “not to protect public safety but rather to facilitate fine collection.” Residents are routinely charged with minor administrative infractions. Most of the arrest warrants stem from traffic violations, but nearly every conceivable human behavior is criminalized. An offense can be found anywhere, including citations for “Manner of Walking in Roadway,” “High Grass and Weeds,” and 14 kinds of parking violation. The dystopian absurdity reaches its apotheosis in the deliciously Orwellian transgression “failure to obey.” (Obey what? Simply to obey.) In fact, even if one does obey to the letter, solutions can be found. After Henry Davis was brutally beaten by four Ferguson officers, he found himself charged with “destruction of official property” for bleeding on their uniforms.

March 9, 2015

Brendan O’Neill defends “drunk sex”

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

Writing in Reason, Brendan O’Neill laments “the state’s intervention into private life”:

Is it acceptable to have drunk sex? Most people who aren’t citizens of the Islamic State or followers of some frigid Christian group will answer with an emphatic: “Hell, yeah.” Not only is it acceptable, they’ll think; it’s good, one of life’s great pleasures, a rare moment when you can ditch the pesky rational thinking required in everyday life and instead abandon yourself — mind, soul, and genitals — to a moment of dumb, beautiful joy.

Well, enjoy it while you can, folks. Because like everything else pleasurable in the 21st century — smoking in a bar, complimenting a lady on her looks, drinking a bucket-sized Coke — drunk sex is under attack from that new caste of killjoys who wouldn’t recognize fun if it offered to buy them a drink (“unwanted sexual advance.”) Drunk sex is being demonized, even criminalized: turned from something that can be either wonderful or awkward into, effectively, rape. They warned us for years, “Don’t drink and drive.” Now it’s, “Don’t drink and fuck.”

[…]

On both sides of the Atlantic, campuses that were once hotbeds of anti-The Man radicalism have become conveyor belts of conformist policymaking, particularly in relation to anything that has what these prudish heirs to Andrea Dworkin consider to be the rancid whiff of s*x. And what kind of sex do they loathe most? Drunk sex.

Numerous colleges now insist that it isn’t possible to consent to sex if you’re three sheets to the wind, which means that all sexual acts carried out under the influence are potential crimes. The University of Georgia warns students that sexual consent must be “voluntary, sober, imaginative, enthusiastic, creative, wanted, informed, mutual, honest.” There are many problematic words in that — “imaginative”? Can’t we consent to sex unimaginatively, maybe by saying “Oh, go on then”? — but the most problematic is “sober.” Apparently sex must always be booze-free.

[…]

It’s hard to know what is most repulsive about this creeping criminalization of shit-faced sex. Is it the way it infantilizes women with its sexist implication that they are less capable of negotiating sexual encounters while drunk than men, hence the drunk man must shoulder responsibility for these apparently depraved shenanigans? This echoes the temperance movements of the late 19th century, which likewise warned dainty ladies that getting blotto would lead to sexual misadventure and downfall. Or is it the way it demonizes men, turning even the sweet, utterly non-violent young lad who has to have eight vodkas to buck up the courage to sleep with his beau into that most heinous of criminals: a rapist? Or is it the fact that its aim is to deprive us of one of the great hoots of human life: stupid sex, where you don’t know or care what is going on, where the condom is, or even if she’s on the Pill? That moment of madness, that instant when feeling takes over and your brain has a night off, that time when you can’t string a sentence together but somehow you can still have sex… seriously, students, you should try this.

The big problem is the shift in recent years from talking about rape to “sex without consent.” Rape is a violent word that describes a conscious act by a wicked man (usually) to defy a woman who says no and to force sex on her. Disgusting. Lock him up. But “sex without consent” is a totally different phrase: it’s more passive, signalling an act that doesn’t require criminal intent and which can cover everything from rape as it was once understood to drunk sex, drugged-up sex, or regretted sex. We’ve gone from punishing those who rape to casting a vast blanket of suspicion over anyone who has sex. But the fact is — and please don’t hate me — sex isn’t always 100 percent consensual. Especially after booze. Sometimes it’s instinctual, thoughtless, animalistic. Sometimes it just happens. It’s sex without consent — that is, without explicit, clearly stated, sober consent — but it ain’t rape. It’s sex.

March 7, 2015

An update on the Adrian Peterson saga

Filed under: Football,Law,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

If you haven’t been following along at home (and I don’t blame you if you haven’t), Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson only played in one game last season, due to media and fan outcry after he was charged over a beating he performed on one of his children. When I first heard about it, I thought it was a tempest in a teapot … that the mother of one of Peterson’s several children was trying to get her 15 minutes of media fame. Once I saw the photographs of the child’s injuries (taken a few days after the beating), I completely changed my mind. The child’s mother was totally right to raise this issue and Peterson did need to go to court over the incident.

Peterson is without a doubt the best running back of his generation — one of the greatest talents of all time — yet he still has his own issues that prevent him from achieving what his athletic talents would otherwise allow. And he’s his own worst enemy, because he doesn’t seem to get it that he himself is the one at fault for last year’s disappointments and frustrations (it wasn’t Roger Goodell holding the switch, and it wasn’t the team encouraging him to do it … this is all on Adrian). 1500ESPN‘s Judd Zulgad tries to put it in understandable terms:

Let me be clear about one thing: Peterson’ distrust, or anger, at the Vikings is misguided, juvenile and irrational. It’s also not surprising. Having covered Peterson on a daily basis for four seasons, I can tell you that for a superstar player he never seemed to have a huge ego.

But what also became clear about Peterson, and this took time to realize, was that his “get it” factor was incredibly low. That has shown itself in various ways.

In November 2009, Peterson was clocked driving 109 miles per hour in a 55-mile-per-hour zone. In March 2011, minutes before NFL owners locked out players, Peterson gave an interview to Yahoo! Sports in which he compared the players’ place in the game to “modern-day slavery.” In October, Peterson admitted to smoking “a little weed” while out on a $15,000 bond after being indicted on a felony child abuse charge.

Take these incidents on a case-by-case basis and maybe they can be rationalized. But put them together and you’re dealing with a guy who doesn’t get it.

The child abuse charge was why Peterson ended up playing in only one game this past season and why he ended up being transferred from the commissioner’s exempt list to the suspended list and is now back on the exempt list after a court found in his favor last week and gave the case back to the NFL.

Peterson ended up pleading no contest to misdemeanor reckless injury on Nov. 4 in Texas. The Vikings’ only misstep when it comes to how they handled the Peterson situation was the fact that after having him sit out in Week 2, they briefly decided that he could continue playing before outrage from fans and sponsors forced the team and the league to come up with a way to make him go away.

In recent interviews, Peterson has brought up his concerns about returning to the Vikings, as if they are at fault for his lost season. Perhaps Peterson’s feeling is that if the charges against him hadn’t occurred in the days after footage of Ray Rice striking his fiancée in an elevator surfaced that commissioner Roger Goodell’s punishment would have been different.

He’s probably right.

But let’s not forget that Peterson is the one who struck his 4-year-old son with a “switch”. If Peterson is angry at anyone for having to sit out, his frustration should be directed at himself. Second on that list should be Goodell.

The Vikings did nothing wrong when it came to Peterson not playing and, if anything, they should be angry at him. Spielman, Zimmer and everyone else knows this.

They also know that if they want to get anything in return for Peterson they have to act like they want him back. Thus, the trip to Houston became a necessity, even if it was a charade.

I was horrified at the punishment Peterson inflicted on his child. I thought the decision to de-activate him while his court case was in process was sensible and right. Then, of course, I was mortified when the Vikings tried to re-activate him so quickly, and I lost some confidence that the Vikings’ management could so mis-read the situation. As things progressed, I was unhappy with the NFL in turn for their hypocritical and inconsistent treatment of Peterson, as the league tried to reverse the flow of time itself in order to use Peterson to expiate their own disciplinary sins and omissions.

I can’t blame the NFL Players Association for pushing this, as the NFL should not have the power to retroactively define the terms and conditions under which NFL players work. Punishing Peterson for transgressions (however repulsive) that occurred before those particular rules were put in place is far from justice. Even more, the way the league has handled the situation makes little sense, as the punishment seems to be inflicted on the team Peterson plays for even more than on the player himself (after all, Peterson still collected a multi-million dollar salary while he was in NFL limbo). In what sense should the other 52 players on the Vikings’ roster have to put up with additional uncertainty (beyond the fact that their top player is kept out of the game).

Initially, I hoped that Peterson would recognize that he’d transgressed the boundaries that most North Americans accept on what is reasonable discipline for a four-year-old, admit that he was wrong, and work to regain the trust of society (in general) and the Minnesota fans (in specific). Instead, it appears that Peterson still can’t accept that what he did was wrong and he clearly resents the team management for not backing him 110% during his time away from the team. This is an amazing level of delusion and inability to empathize with others … the Vikings may not have been there for every twist and turn of his legal tribulations, but if that was what he expected, it only emphasizes that he’s not really aware of how badly he disappointed his employers, his fans, and the general public by his actions.

In light of this, perhaps it’s better for all concerned if Adrian Peterson continues his career somewhere other than in Minnesota. I hear Indianapolis, Dallas, and Arizona are lovely places to play football. Maybe one or the other will be his next employer/fanbase. That might be best for everyone.

Update, 9 March: This article might make some heads explode…

March 6, 2015

Djinn accused of murder … by victim’s boyfriend

Filed under: Law,Middle East,Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

While we’re on the topic of odd beliefs in the middle east, here’s a fascinating court case:

If the East ever perfects its own version of the courtroom drama — Piri Mason, say — it will surely consist of dramatic moments like this: Koksal Sahin, a Turkish man accused of murdering his girlfriend, stealing her valuables, and fleeing from Istanbul to Izmir, pleaded not guilty this week and offered the court revelatory testimony of what actually happened. “As far as I understood,” Mr. Sahin told the court, “a genie attacked her.”

According to the defendant, when this genie saw an Islamic amulet that was hanging from Mr. Sahin’s neck, the malevolent entity went berserk. Mr. Sahin realized what was happening because his late girlfriend was “saying something in Arabic” while attacking herself. The genie not only caused Mr. Sahin’s girlfriend to stab herself in the stomach and cut her own throat, he testified, but it also grabbed Mr. Sahin himself and flew him off to Izmir, where he found himself registered as a guest in a hostel, apparently in possession of the girlfriend’s valuables.

But Mr. Sahin’s story is not as ironclad as it may seem. While several aspects of the story are consistent with the behavior of genies — or djinn — according to traditional lore and even some judicial precedent, others are previously unrecorded. Djinn are certainly believed to be able to possess human beings and to influence their behavior, and they have a long mischievous history of flying people about and depositing them in distant places, especially when the humans are asleep. And while cases of djinn killing people may exist in the lore, instances of djinn murdering their own human hosts unprovoked are highly unusual.

March 5, 2015

Reason.tv – Montana’s Yoga Pants Ban is a Joke (or is it?) Nanny of the Month (Feb ‘15)

Filed under: Government,Law,Liberty,Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 4 Mar 2015

They’re busting backyard archery in Minnesota, and massage shops in California, but you’ll find the Nanny of the Month in the Big Sky state where one lawmaker got his undies in a bunch over the Bare as You Dare bike ride and decided to crack down on indecent exposure, including yoga pants! (Especially the extra-naughty beige colored ones.)

But wait, is the whole ban one big joke or is the state representative who proposed it backpedaling in the face of ridicule?

Tax Free Savings Accounts

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

At Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, Livio Di Matteo talks about tax free savings accounts (TFSAs), registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs), and why some people are getting upset that some Canadians benefit more from these financial tools than others do:

A major theme running under most of these arguments goes something like this — Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) at least leave “a legacy of tax revenue to future governments” whereas TFSAs may generate “supernormal” returns that will escape taxation and on top of it will accrue primarily to the well-off.

However, when I think of RRSPs and TFSAs, I see them both as essentially the same. They are both “tax expenditures” that are designed to encourage saving by promising some type of tax incentive. The broader debate should really be about how we want to encourage more saving and then about “tax expenditures” in general rather than how much we should allow as limits to either RRSP or TFSA contributions.

However, if we are going to argue about RRSPs and TFSAs, to my mind what differs is the timing of the break. For an RRSP, you are getting the tax incentive upfront and deferring the taxes until you withdraw the money. For a TFSA, you are making the contribution with after tax dollars and allowing the contribution to accumulate tax free — the tax benefit comes down the road as the money grows.

[…]

Young households with children who face more cash constraints might find the RRSP more attractive while older households would probably find the TFSA more attractive. All other things given, both vehicles are of greater advantage to higher rather than low income earners because higher incomes are more likely to be able to save — period. If you are going to make the argument that TFSAs are somehow favouring the wealthy or higher income earners, you need to acknowledge that the same argument applies to RRSPs.

Update, 7 March: It kinda helps when I remember to include the correct link to an article…

March 3, 2015

Sure, Molon Labe, whatever … but talk is cheap

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

At Ace of Spades H.Q., WeirdDave explains why it’s easy to talk about resisting illegal actions by the government, but few would really be willing to bear the cost:

In 480BC, Xerxes of Persia demanded that the Greeks under King Leonidas of Sparta surrender their weapons. King Leonidas responded with a laconic Molon labe, which translates as “Come and take them” and a legend was born. Even though the Greeks lost the Battle of Thermopylae that followed, King Leonidas’ stirring phrase has echoed with defiance down through history. The phrase has a rich history in America, too. From Fort Morris, Georgia, to Gonzales, Texas to Second Amendment defenders today, “Come and Take It” resonates in American hearts.

With the disturbing news this week about BATF’s attempt to ban M855 NATO Ball ammunition, the internet has been alive with people swearing fealty to the idea of molon labe. I approve. However, talk is cheap they say, and internet talk is cheaper than most. Anyone who considers themselves a patriot needs to take a good long moment of quiet reflection and ask themselves, honestly, what does molon labe mean? More specifically, they need to ask themselves what are the ramifications of defiantly proclaiming “Come and take them” if the authorities say “OK”.

The ramifications are simple: YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.

This isn’t universally true, of course, but in order for molon labe to mean anything, in order for it to be effective, you have to accept that it IS true. If we ever get to the point where the authorities are attempting to forcibly disarm the population at large, the only way to prevent it from happening is to meet force with force. If it comes to this, you will lose. Every time. Even if you are armed, ready, and respond instantly to aggression by the authorities, there are a whole lot more of them than there are of you. You might kill one, or even several, but they will keep coming and they will bring resources to bear that you can not hope to match. Officers. SWAT teams. Snipers. Air cover. Drones. They WILL take you down, and that’s not all. No, you have to accept something else too:

YOUR FAMILY IS GOING TO DIE TOO.

Think I’m talking crazy talk? Ask Vicki Weaver. Ask Sammy Weaver. I’ll wait.

“Residual” racism and the breakdown of the African-American family

Filed under: Business,Law,USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Reason, Steve Chapman looks at the tangle of issues still causing problems for African-Americans in the United States:

The breakdown of the black family is a sensitive topic, though it’s not new and it’s not in dispute. President Barack Obama, who grew up with an absent father, often urges black men to be responsible parents.

Nor is there any doubt that African-American children would be better off living with their married parents. Kids who grow up in households headed by a single mother are far more likely than others to be poor, quit school, get pregnant as teens and end up in jail.

[…]

It’s true that whites don’t force blacks to have children out of wedlock. But it’s wrong to suggest that whites bear no responsibility. Poverty is often the result of lack of access to good jobs or any jobs, and discrimination by employers didn’t stop in 1965 — and hasn’t stopped yet.

The impact of drug laws, and the harsher treatment black men get from the criminal justice system, means that many have records that scare employers away. But research indicates that white applicants with criminal records are more likely to get interviews than blacks without criminal records.

A lot of the well-paid blue-collar jobs once abundant in cities have vanished. Moynihan lamented that unemployment had long been much higher for black men than for whites, and the gap is bigger today.

Without decent jobs, these men are not likely to be able to find wives or support families. They are not likely to get married or stay married. If family breakdown causes poverty, poverty also causes family breakdown.

African-Americans often find it hard to leave blighted neighborhoods. They can find themselves steered away from white communities by real estate agents or rejected by landlords. The Urban Institute reports a fact that ought to shock: “The average high-income black person lives in a neighborhood with a higher poverty rate than the average low-income white person” (my emphasis).

March 1, 2015

What colour is your barn?

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

In Mother Jones, Kevin Drum looks at an interesting bit of data from the 1800s:

Here’s the background. Homicides increased dramatically between 1900-11, but most of that appears to be the result of increased rural homicides, not urban homicides. If lead exposure is part of the reason, it would mean that rural areas were exposed to increasing levels of lead about 20 years earlier, around 1880 or so. But why? Nevin suggests that the answer to this question starts with another question: Why are barns red?

    The national roadProfessional painters in the 1800s prepared house paint by mixing linseed oil with white lead paste. About 90% of Americans lived in rural areas in the mid-1800s, and subsistence farmers could make linseed (flaxseed) oil, but few had access to white lead, so they mixed linseed oil with red rust to kill fungi that trapped moisture and increased wood decay. Red barns are still a tradition in most USA farming regions but white barns are the norm along the path of the old National Road. Why?

    ….The reason the red barn tradition never took root along that path is likely because the National Road made freight, including white lead, accessible to nearby farmers. USA lead output was a relatively stable 1000 to 2000 tons per year from 1801-1825, but lead output was 15,000 to 30,000 tons per year from the mid-1830s through the mid-1860s after the completion of the National Road.

    ….The first American patent for “ready-mixed” paint was filed in 1867; railroads built almost 120,000 track miles from 1850 to 1900; and Sears Roebuck and other mail-order catalogs combined volume buying, railroad transport, and rural free parcel post delivery to provide economical rural access to a wide variety of products in the 1890s.

    The murder arrest rate in large cities was more than seven times the national homicide rate from 1900-1904 because lead paint in the 1870s was available in large cities but unavailable in most rural areas. The early-1900s convergence in rural and urban murder rates was presaged by a late-1800s convergence in rural and urban lead paint exposure.

February 27, 2015

Virginia’s asset forfeiture rules about to change for the better

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

Techdirt‘s Tim Cushing reports on a hopeful sign from Virginia:

The Institute for Justice’s 2010 report “Policing for Profit” [PDF] listed Virginia as one of the worst five states in the nation in terms of forfeiture abuse. Pushing the state towards its Bottom Five finish was this perverted incentive: 100% of the proceeds from civil asset forfeiture were retained by the law enforcement agency performing the seizure. And, like a majority of states, Virginia also perverted the justice system, deeming the property “guilty” and transferring the burden of proof to those whose assets were seized.

Now that civil asset forfeiture has gone mainstream, receiving coverage from major press outlets, legislators are having a harder time ignoring opponents of these “legalized theft” programs. In response, Virginia’s lawmakers are trying to drag the state out of its forfeiture morass.

    Last week the Virginia House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved a bill that would effectively raise the burden of proof for civil forfeitures by forcing the government to return seized property unless it can obtain a criminal conviction. The bill, introduced by Del. Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania) and Del. Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon), passed by a vote of 92 to 6 and is now being considered by the state Senate.

This fixes one major issue with many civil asset forfeiture programs. Virginia’s laws only demanded a “preponderance of the evidence,” something that sounds like a lot but in reality is far lower than establishing guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If the latter edges towards a theoretical 75% assurance of guilt, the percentage for asset forfeiture approaches a coin flip: 51%. Now, there needs to be a conviction before the agency can keep the seized property.

February 25, 2015

Net Neutrality, Title II Proponents “Assume Nothing Has Changed” Since 1995: Daniel Berninger

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

Published on 23 Feb 2015

“All the logic that we are seeing in the Net Neutrality debate is assuming that nothing has changed; it’s assuming that it’s 1995. What’s actually happened is that people get more and more service, year in and year out,” says Daniel Berninger, a telecom activist who was involved in the early days of internet-phone service of Vonage.

Net Neutrality proponents, including President Obama, argue that internet-service providers (ISPs) need to be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in order to keep the internet “free and open.”

Berninger heads up VCXC, a nonprofit that is pushing for regulatory and policy changes to speed up the transition to IP-based networks for voice and data sharing. He’s an unsparing critic of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan to implement Net Neutrality by regulating broadband network operators under Title II or “common carrier” provisions of federal law.

Title II has historically applied to telephone companies, which were regulated as public utilities and subject to government scrutiny regarding every aspect of service, including pricing and universal service obligations. Since the mid-1990s, the internet has been classified as an “information service,” which is subject to much less regulation under Title I of the relevant federal law.

“Title II regulation has been around for 80 years,” says Berninger, “and we know exactly what it can accomplish and what it can’t accomplish … in all the things that it touched, it essentially destroyed innovation.” In 1956, he explains, as part of a consent decree involving ATT, phone service was regulated by the FCC under Title II while “information services” were essentially unregulated. “We split communications and computing and treated them entirely different — essentially as a twin experiment. Well, one twin prospered and one twin did not do very well.” Berninger argues that virtually all the problems that proponents of Title II regulation and Net Neutrality worry over — such as the blocking of specific websites and the deliberate slowing of traffic — haven’t occurred precisely because ISPs are subject to market competition and must constantly innovate to keep customers happy. FCC regulation would hamper that.

The FCC will vote on Wheeler’s proposal later this week and is widely expected to endorse it. The FCC has lost two previous attempts to assert regulatory control over the internet.

February 23, 2015

Do these count as “known unknowns”? Searching for copies of the Magna Carta

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

At the Magna Carta Project, Professor Nicholas Vincent recounts how he tracked down a previously unknown copy in Sandwich:

Now, I have often found that the most interesting original records of Magna Carta, as of much else, have gone unnoticed precisely because they are assumed either to be copies rather than originals or because they travel with other less famous documents. Cataloguers, assuming that Magna Carta is much too important to have been overlooked, have very frequently assumed that originals are copies, not from any physical evidence of the fact, but simply because the idea of possessing an unknown Magna Carta has appeared to the cataloguer to be as absurd as suddenly stumbling upon an unknown play by Shakespeare or a unknown canvas by Vermeer. The most famous documents are often the documents that, in their natural habitat, have been least studied. Edgar Allan Poe sums up this situation perfectly in his story “The Purloined Letter”. Poe’s plot here turns on the fact that, if you wish to hide something that everybody else assumes hidden, the best place to hide it is in plain view.

The Hereford Magna Carta of 1217

The Hereford Magna Carta of 1217

I can claim, long before last December, to have found at least three Magna Cartas. All were in plain view. None of them was ‘unknown’, in the sense that they had all previously been listed, albeit in obscure places, either as Magna Cartas or as ‘copies’ of Magna Carta. They were nonetheless ‘unknown’ in the sense that they were either assumed to be ‘copies’ or ‘duplicates’ rather than originals (one of the three 1217 Magna Cartas, and the 1225 Magna Carta in the Bodleian Library in Oxford), or were known locally but without any appreciation that local knowledge had not come to national or international attention (the 1300 Magna Carta preserved in the archives of the borough of Faversham). In one instance (the 1217 Magna Carta now in Hereford Cathedral), it had been catalogued as a royal charter of liberties, but without realizing that these liberties were those otherwise known as ‘Magna Carta’. I vividly remember phoning Hereford Cathedral, in 1989, and asking if I could go down there the following day to see their Magna Carta (for there could be little doubt from the catalogue entry that Hereford’s ‘Charter of liberties 1217′ was a 1217 Magna Carta). I received a very dusty answer. ‘We have no Magna Carta’, I was told, ‘You must be thinking of Mappa Mundi!’. Ignoring this, and ordering up the document by call number, I found myself, the following morning, greeted on Hereford railway station by the canon librarian and the delightful cathedral archivist, Meryl Jancey. Archivists and canon librarians do not generally go to the railway to greet visiting postgraduate students. Short of playing me up Hereford High Street with a brass band, they could not have expressed more joy. And inevitably, their first question was ‘How much is it worth?’.

[…]

The Forest Charter of 1225, British Library Add. Ch. 24712

The Forest Charter of 1225, British Library
Add. Ch. 24712

One other detail before we pass on. Magna Carta as issued in 1215 promised reform not only of the realm as a whole but of the King’s administration of those parts of England placed under ‘forest law’ (i.e. set aside for the King’s hunting, with severe consequences for land use and the preservation of game). In 1217, to answer this demand for reform, King Henry III not only issued a new version of Magna Carta but, as a companion piece, an entirely distinct and smaller charter known as the ‘Forest Charter’. From 1217 onwards, the Forest Charter travelled in the company of Magna Carta, rather as a pilot fish accompanies a shark. It was in order to distinguish between these two documents, bigger and smaller, that as early as 1217 Magna Carta was first named ‘Magna’ (‘the great’). Thereafter, on each successive reissue of Magna Carta, the Forest Charter was also reissued, in 1225, 1265, 1297 and 1300. The Record Commissioners, in their search for original documents, were much less thorough in their treatment of the Forest Charter than they were in their search for its more famous sibling. Blackstone had found only two original Forest Charters, both of them very late. The Record Commissioners knew of only three. By contrast, we now know that at least twelve survive. Some of these turned up fortuitously at the time of my own search for new manuscripts in 2007. Others had resurfaced even more recently.

So it was, that around 4.30am in the morning of 9 December 2014, I decided that a catalogue entry describing a Forest Charter of 1300, might well merit further investigation. Even in the seven years between 2007 (when I compiled my lists for Sotheby’s) and 2014, when I stumbled on the reference to the borough of Sandwich’s Forest Charter, I had found at least three further original Forest Charters previously misidentified or ignored. The earliest of these, of 1225, came to light amongst the muniments of Ely Cathedral, the most recent, of 1300, in the British Library. An original of 1300 at Oriel College seen by Blackstone, reported missing in 2007, had re-emerged safe and sound.

Thanks to modern technology, from Belfast to Maidstone is a mere click of the mouse. At 4.39 Greenwich meantime on the morning of 9 December last year, I sent an email (I have it in front of me) to Dr Mark Bateson. I have known Mark for nearly twenty years, first as an archivist at Canterbury Cathedral (where he was one of those who devised the magnificent catalogue of Canterbury’s medieval charters), and more recently following his transfer to Maidstone. I told him that I had found the reference to a Forest Charter , and as I noted in my email: ‘If this really is the 1300 Sandwich copy of the forest charter, issued under the seal of Edward I, then it is a major find. There are only a handful of such exemplifications still surviving as originals. It would also fundamentally alter our understanding of the way in which the charters of liberties were distributed for the later reissues of Magna Carta. Is there any chance of your taking a sneak preview?’

February 19, 2015

QotD: The prohibitionists

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

This notion, I believe, is at the bottom of much of the current pathetic faith in Prohibition. The thing itself is obviously a colossal failure — that is, when viewed calmly and realistically. It has not only not cured the rum evil in the United States; it has plainly made that evil five times as bad as it ever was before. But to confess that bald fact would be to break the forward-looking heart: it simply refuses to harbor the concept of the incurable. And so, being debarred by the legal machinery that supports Prohibition from going back to any more feasible scheme of relief, it cherishes the sorry faith that somehow, in some vague and incomprehensible way, Prohibition will yet work. When the truth becomes so horribly evident that even forward-lookers are daunted, then some new quack will arise to fool them again, with some new and worse scheme of super-Prohibition. It is their destiny to wobble thus endlessly between quack and quack. One pulls them by the right arm and one by the left arm. A third is at their coat-tail pockets, and a fourth beckons them over the hill.

The rest of us are less tender-minded, and, in consequence, much happier. We observe quite clearly that the world, as it stands, is anything but perfect — that injustice exists, and turmoil, and tragedy, and bitter suffering of ten thousand kinds — that human life at its best, is anything but a grand, sweet song. But instead of ranting absurdly against the fact, or weeping over it maudlinly, or trying to remedy it with inadequate means, we simply put the thought of it out of our minds, just as a wise man puts away the thought that alcohol is probably bad for his liver, or that his wife is a shade too fat. Instead of mulling over it and suffering from it, we seek contentment by pursuing the delights that are so strangely mixed with the horrors — by seeking out the soft spots and endeavoring to avoid the hard spots. Such is the intelligent habit of practical and sinful men, and under it lies a sound philosophy. After all, the world is not our handiwork, and we are not responsible for what goes on in it, save within very narrow limits. Going outside them with our protests and advice tends to become contumacy to the celestial hierarchy. Do the poor suffer in the midst of plenty? Then let us thank God politely that we are not that poor. Are rogues in offices? Well, go call a policeman, thus setting rogue upon rogue. Are taxes onerous, wasteful, unjust? Then let us dodge as large a part of them as we can. Are whole regiments and army corps of our fellow creatures doomed to hell? Then let them complain to the archangels, and, if the archangels are too busy to hear them, to the nearest archbishop.

H.L. Mencken, “The Forward-Looker”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress