Quotulatiousness

July 15, 2017

The Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee

Filed under: History, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

As a long-time admirer of H.L. Mencken (since discovering Prejudices: A Selection in a used book store on Queen Street in the mid-1980s), I’ve always had an interest in the skullduggery around the “Scopes Monkey Trial” … and apparently so has Colby Cosh:

H.L Mencken celebrates the repeal of Prohibition, December 1933.

In a merely procedural sense, the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, ended on July 21, 1925 with the conviction of biology teacher John T. Scopes on the charge of instructing students that “man has descended from a lower order of animals.” But of course the real Monkey Trial is eternal, winding its way anew through American life, decade after decade. The carefully staged publicity stunt in Tennessee was merely one occasion in a longer struggle over the nature of man and the limits of his knowledge. I know this is an old-fashioned romantic ACLU-liberal view of the matter, but I hold to it.

As I write this column, county officials in Dayton are unveiling a statute of Clarence Darrow, the garrulous, crooked lawyer who represented Team Enlightenment in the original 1925 contest between Darwinian evolution and the Scriptures. In 2005, the citizens of Dayton, where Monkey Trial tourism is now a crucial industry, erected a statue of William Jennings Bryan on the grounds of the immortal Rhea County courthouse. Bryan had been the chosen hero of evangelical Christianity in the trial, dying less than a week after its conclusion, and is the namesake of a local bible college, which paid for the statue.

[…]

I became a serious student of the Scopes Trial as an undergraduate. Like anybody else, I had seen the 1960 Hollywood rendering of the play about the trial, Inherit The Wind, which represents Bryan as an ignorant windbag, Darrow as a tired, patient figure of ostentatious nobility, and a thinly disguised H.L. Mencken as a cruel nihilist newspaperman. Today, I suppose I would regard Mencken as the real hero of the show. He was privy to the ACLU’s engineering of the trial as a publicity stunt, but he also always said that Tennessee was within its constitutional rights to forbid the teaching of evolution — to be, in his view, just as backward as its people wished.

Inherit The Wind makes its pseudo-Mencken a heartless guttersnipe mostly as a device for elevating a sympathetic Darrow even further. This is part of the movie’s major liberty with the events of the trial: it has Bryan drop dead in mid-rant at the moment of its culmination, instead of waiting a few days. What I discovered as a student was that, aside from this excusable concession to theatrical unity, the film probably deserves some kind of prize for general fidelity to historical events.

May 10, 2017

Raging Bitch, Good Shit, and Flying Dog Beer’s Fight for Free Speech

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 16:21

Published on 10 May 2017

“I’ve lived my life as a pro free enterprise person,” explains Flying Dog Brewery CEO Jim Caruso. “Not pro business. Pro free enterprise, pro consumer choice, artisanal manufacturing.”

A central player in America’s craft beer revolution, Caruso is dedicated to creating something special both inside and outside the bottle. Famed artist Ralph Steadman, best known for his iconic illustrations for work by Hunter S. Thompson, creates all of Flying Dog’s labels. It was Steadman who spontaneously wrote on his first commissioned label “good beer, no shit.” And it was this label that kicked of Flying Dog’s first — but not last — fight with government censors.

Caruso sat down with Reason’s Nick Gillespie to talk about his run-ins with the state, why he is a libertarian, and the how his values keep him happy.

“I’m a happy person. And I attribute that to living as an individual, taking self responsibility, self reliance, but connected to society. It’s not a lone ranger sort of thing.”

Cameras by Meredith Bragg, Todd Krainin, and Mark McDaniel. Edited by Bragg.

December 12, 2015

The US government’s no-fly list

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Kevin Williamson on the travesty that is the no-fly list:

There are many popular demons in American public life: Barack Obama and his monarchical pretensions, Valerie Jarrett and her two-bit Svengali act, or, if your tastes run in the other direction, the Koch brothers, the NRA, the scheming behind-the-scenes influences of Big Whatever. But take a moment to doff your hat to the long, energetic, and wide-ranging careers of three of our most enduring bad guys: laziness, corruption, and stupidity, which deserve special recognition for their role in the recent debates over gun control, terrorism, and crime.

The Democratic party’s dramatic slide into naked authoritarianism — voting in the Senate to repeal the First Amendment, trying to lock up governors for vetoing legislation, and seeking to jail political opponents for holding unpopular views on global warming, etc. — has been both worrisome and dramatic. The Democrats even have a new position on the ancient civil-rights issue of due process, and that position is: “F— you.” The Bill of Rights guarantees Americans (like it or not) the right to keep and bear arms; it also reiterates the legal doctrine of some centuries standing that government may not deprive citizens of their rights without due process. In the case of gun rights, that generally means one of two things: the legal process by which one is convicted of a felony or the legal process by which one is declared mentally incompetent, usually as a prelude to involuntary commitment into a mental facility. The no-fly list and the terrorism watch list contain no such due process. Some bureaucrat somewhere in the executive branch puts a name onto a list, and that’s that. The ACLU has rightly called this “Kafkaesque.”

Here’s where our old friends laziness and stupidity play a really prominent role: The no-fly list is not composed of identities, but merely names. Lots of people share the same name. So, for instance, the late Senator Ted Kennedy ended up on the no-fly list, because somebody had used his name (or a similar name) as an alias. Among people called “Kevin Williamson,” we find myself, the famous Scream screenwriter, a notable Scottish politician and political activist (he is also the author of Drugs and the Party Line), a Canadian entertainment journalist, a fine woodworker who sells his wares on Twitter, and a famous underwear model for whom I am unlikely to be mistaken. If a trip to the DMV or the IRS one day eventually sends me over the edge into full-on barking mad durka-durka-Mohammed-jihad territory, those other Kevin Williamsons are going to suffer simply because we share a name.

And, of course, every third actual dirtbag terrorist has the same name as a million other ordinary schmoes, because Arabic names tend to be a little repetitive. (Is there a Mohammed al-Mohammed in the house? Seriously, go to LinkedIn and see how many graphic designers and accountants walking this good green Earth share that name.)

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.

April 21, 2013

“Fatally flawed” CISPA bill passed by US congress

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:57

The BBC reports on the unwelcome CISPA bill and its progress through the legislative machinery:

The US House of Representatives has passed the controversial Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act.

Cispa is designed to help combat cyberthreats by making it easier for law enforcers to get at web data.

This is the second time Cispa has been passed by the House. Senators threw out the first draft, saying it did not do enough to protect privacy.

Cispa could fail again in the Senate after threats from President Obama to veto it over privacy concerns.

[. . .]

The bill could fail again in the Senate after the Obama administration’s threat to use its veto unless changes were made. The White House wants amendments so more is done to ensure the minimum amount of data is handed over in investigations.

The American Civil Liberties Union has also opposed Cispa, saying the bill was “fatally flawed”. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Reporters Without Borders and the American Library Association have all voiced similar worries.

March 31, 2013

The question is not whether armed drones will be deployed domestically, but when

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:01

Glenn Greenwald presents a strong case that it is inevitable that armed drones will be deployed over the US:

The use of drones by domestic US law enforcement agencies is growing rapidly, both in terms of numbers and types of usage. As a result, civil liberties and privacy groups led by the ACLU — while accepting that domestic drones are inevitable — have been devoting increasing efforts to publicizing their unique dangers and agitating for statutory limits. These efforts are being impeded by those who mock the idea that domestic drones pose unique dangers (often the same people who mock concern over their usage on foreign soil). This dismissive posture is grounded not only in soft authoritarianism (a religious-type faith in the Goodness of US political leaders and state power generally) but also ignorance over current drone capabilities, the ways drones are now being developed and marketed for domestic use, and the activities of the increasingly powerful domestic drone lobby. So it’s quite worthwhile to lay out the key under-discussed facts shaping this issue.

I’m going to focus here most on domestic surveillance drones, but I want to say a few words about weaponized drones. The belief that weaponized drones won’t be used on US soil is patently irrational. Of course they will be. It’s not just likely but inevitable. Police departments are already speaking openly about how their drones “could be equipped to carry nonlethal weapons such as Tasers or a bean-bag gun.” The drone industry has already developed and is now aggressively marketing precisely such weaponized drones for domestic law enforcement use. It likely won’t be in the form that has received the most media attention: the type of large Predator or Reaper drones that shoot Hellfire missiles which destroy homes and cars in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and multiple other countries aimed at Muslims (although US law enforcement agencies already possess Predator drones and have used them over US soil for surveillance).

March 11, 2013

Democratic supporters still hoping Rand Paul will shut up and go away

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:52

In the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald rounds up the reactions on the left to Rand Paul’s filibuster last week:

Last week’s 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan’s confirmation as CIA director by GOP Sen. Rand Paul was one of the first — and, from the perspective of media attention, easily among the most effective — Congressional efforts to dramatize and oppose just how radical these Terrorism-justified powers have become. For the first time since the 9/11 attack, even lowly cable news shows were forced — by the Paul filibuster — to extensively discuss the government’s extremist theories of power and to debate the need for checks and limits.

All of this put Democrats — who spent eight years flamboyantly pretending to be champions of due process and opponents of mass secrecy and executive power abuses — in a very uncomfortable position. The politician who took such a unique stand in defense of these principles was not merely a Republican but a leading member of its dreaded Tea Party wing, while the actor most responsible for the extremist theories of power being protested was their own beloved leader and his political party.

[. . .]

Meanwhile, a large bulk of the Democratic and liberal commentariat — led, as usual, by the highly-paid DNC spokesmen called “MSNBC hosts” and echoed, as usual, by various liberal blogs, which still amusingly fancy themselves as edgy and insurgent checks on political power rather than faithful servants to it — degraded all of the weighty issues raised by this episode by processing it through their stunted, trivial prism of partisan loyalty. They thus dutifully devoted themselves to reading from the only script they know: Democrats Good, GOP Bad.

To accomplish that, most avoided full-throated defenses of drones and the power of the president to secretly order US citizens executed without due process or transparency. They prefer to ignore the fact that the politician they most deeply admire is a devoted defender of those policies. After stumbling around for a few days in search of a tactic to convert this episode into an attack on the GOP and distract from Obama’s extremism, they collectively settled on personalizing the conflict by focusing on Rand Paul’s flaws as a person and a politician and, in particular, mocking his concerns as “paranoia” (that attack was echoed, among others, by the war-cheering Washington Post editorial page).

[. . .]

The reality is that Paul was doing nothing more than voicing concerns that have long been voiced by leading civil liberties groups such as the ACLU. Indeed, the ACLU lavishly praised Paul, saying that “as a result of Sen. Paul’s historic filibuster, civil liberties got two wins”. In particular, said the ACLU, “Americans learned about the breathtakingly broad claims of executive authority undergirding the Obama administration’s vast killing program.

March 6, 2013

ACLU to investigate the militarization of US police forces

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:00

At the Huffington Post, Radley Balko reports on a new ACLU campaign:

The militarization of America’s police forces has been going on for about a generation now. Former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates first conceived the idea of the SWAT team in the late 1960s, in response to the Watts riots and a few mass shooting incidents for which he thought the police were unprepared. Gates wanted an elite team of specialized cops similar to groups like the Army Rangers or Navy SEALs that could respond to riots, barricades, shootouts, or hostage-takings with more skill and precision than everyday patrol officers.

The concept caught on, particularly after a couple of high-profile, televised confrontations between Gates’ SWAT team and a Black Panther holdout in 1969, and then with the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1973. Given the rioting, protests, and general social unrest of the time, Gates’ idea quickly grew popular in law enforcement circles, particularly in cities worried about rioting and domestic terrorism.

[. . .]

Kraska estimates that total number of SWAT raids in America jumped from just a few hundred per year in the 1970s, to a few thousand by the early 1980s, to around 50,000 by the mid-2000s.

The vast majority of those raids are to serve warrants on people suspected of nonviolent drug crimes. Police forces were no longer reserving SWAT teams and paramilitary tactics for events that presented an immediate threat to the public. They were now using them mostly as an investigative tool in drug cases, creating violent confrontations with people suspected of nonviolent, consensual crimes.

December 1, 2012

The ACLU and the introduction of sex as a civil right

Filed under: Books, Law, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:33

For Reason, Debbie Nathan reviews a new book by Leigh Ann Wheeler:

When it comes to Americans’ understanding of sexual privacy and public sexual expression, most of us are effectively members of the American Civil Liberties Union. This is so even for people who carry no card, pay no dues, and — if such a thing were possible — have never even heard of the organization.

That’s the takeaway from How Sex Became a Civil Liberty, Leigh Ann Wheeler’s dense but fascinating account of the ACLU’s wildly successful efforts, since its founding almost 100 years ago, to bring sex under the purview of the Bill of Rights. Wheeler, a Binghamton University historian, could have stuck with a wonky narrative about a long march of law and jurisprudence. Instead, she’s taken what she calls an “empathic” approach. She has combed vast archives, including personal correspondence of the ACLU’s founders and decades of files from the national office and local affiliates.

From these papers she has assembled a story about men and women working through their own sexual passions and contradictions as they shaped a legal and political practice for the entire country. She reveals how activists pushed, slouched, and pushed some more to arm their fellow citizens with sexual rights, even as those rights provoked further conflicts, including among ACLUers themselves.

January 31, 2012

Gary Johnson calls for the immediate repeal of the Patriot Act

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:09

Posted at the Gary Johnson campaign website:

Speaking Sunday night to a national ACLU conference, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson called for repealing the Patriot Act in its entirety. The two-term governor and presidential candidate’s remarks were delivered in Orlando, FL, at the ACLU’s annual National Staff Conference.

Johnson said, “Ten years ago, we learned that the fastest way to pass a bad law is to call it the ‘Patriot Act’ and force Congress to vote on it in the immediate wake of a horrible attack on the United States. The irony is that there is really very little about the Patriot Act that is patriotic. Instead, it has turned out to be yet another tool the government is using to erode privacy, individual freedom and the Constitution itself.

“Benjamin Franklin had it right. ‘Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety’.

“Absolutely, protecting the American people from those who would do us harm is the federal government’s most basic duty. Everyone gets that. But when harm is done, as on 9-11, it is the nature of government to ask for more power and more authority in order to protect us. That’s how we get laws like the Patriot Act.

January 3, 2012

Gary Johnson tops ACLU campaign report, beating Barack Obama and Ron Paul

The American Civil Liberties Union is doing something different this year to assist voters in finding the candidates who most clearly support civil liberties. This “ACLU Campaign Report Card” highlighted the good and bad aspects (at least in the ACLU’s view) of each of the current GOP candidates and President Obama:

We may surprise some people in that the scores in the report card — which is viewable here — don’t divide along party lines. In fact, the report card reveals a deep ideological rift in the GOP.

Our experts found that Republicans Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman earned solid scores, with four, three and two torches across most major categories, although both received one torch on marriage equality and none on reproductive rights.

President Obama also achieved solid scores or better across most categories, including four torches for ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. However, he received just one torch and none for keeping Guantanamo Bay open and continuing unconstitutional surveillance under the PATRIOT act, respectively.

Republican-turned-Libertarian Gary Johnson scored even better than Paul, Huntsman and Obama, earning four and three torches on most major issues. They stand in stark contrast to the other major GOP candidates, three of whom — Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum — didn’t earn a single torch in any of the seven major categories.

Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich received torches in only one category: two torches each for promoting a humane immigration policy, including their support for a path to legal status for some long-term residents.

Ultimately, the good news from the report card is that genuine support for our constitutional values and freedoms has no partisan boundaries. Indeed, Ron Paul’s recent surge in Iowa has been attributed to his adherence to the Constitution and civil liberties.

October 7, 2010

Isn’t this a barbaric practice for a free society?

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:25

I’m generally fine with our American neighbours, our societies are similar in so many respects, but this whole “Pledge of Allegiance” thing is something that I just don’t get. A country that theoretically prides itself on being the “home of the free” can still put you in jail for failing to recite it on command?

Danny Lampley (who clerked for me in law school), was jailed by Chancery Court Judge Littlejohn in Tupelo for failing to recite the pledge of allegiance in open court today. Danny was one of the local lawyers who represented the plaintiff in the Pontotoc school prayer case years ago, working with the ACLU and People for the American Way.

I’m informed that Danny rose and was respectful, but did not recite the pledge.

Is this just Judge Littlejohn being a prick, or does this sort of thing happen regularly? What penalty would he get for not singing the national anthem?

H/T to Radley Balko for the link.

November 3, 2009

Challenge to human gene patents allowed to proceed

Filed under: Law, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:25

A judge has allowed an ACLU challenge to two human gene patents to go to court:

The first-of-its-kind lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law claims that the patents violate free speech by restricting research.

U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet of New York, in ruling that the case may proceed to trial, noted that the litigation might open the door to challenges of a host of other patented genes. About one-fifth of the human genome is covered under patent applications and claims.

Sweet wrote:

The challenges to the patents-in-suit raise questions of difficult legal dimensions concerning constitutional protections over the information that serves as our genetic identities and the need to adopt policies that promote scientific innovation and biomedical research. The widespread use of gene sequence information as the foundation for biomedical research means that resolution of these issues will have far-reaching implications, not only for gene-based health care and the health of millions of women facing the specter of breast cancer, but also for the future course of biomedical research.

The case against the patent office and patent-holder Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City is the first to challenge a patented gene under a civil rights allegation — in this case the First Amendment.

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