Quotulatiousness

May 9, 2015

A rather satisfying way to punish an in-game cheater

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:24

BBC News picked up the story of a Guild Wars 2 player who’d been cheating on a massive scale:

A character controlled by a hacker who used exploits to dominate online game Guild Wars 2 has been put to death in the virtual world.

The character, called DarkSide, was stripped then forced to leap to their death from a high bridge.

The death sentence was carried out after players gathered evidence about the trouble the hacker had caused.

This helped the game’s security staff find the player, take over their account and kill them off.

Over the past three weeks many players of the popular multi-player game Guild Wars 2 have been complaining about the activities of a character called DarkSide. About four million copies of the game have been sold.

Via a series of exploits the character was able to teleport, deal massive damage, survive co-ordinated attacks by other players and dominate player-versus-player combat.

To spur Guild Wars‘ creator ArenaNet to react, players gathered videos of DarkSide’s antics and posted them on YouTube.

The videos helped ArenaNet’s security head Chris Cleary identify the player behind DarkSide, he said in a forum post explaining what action it had taken. Mr Cleary took over the account to carry out the punishment.

H/T to MassivelyOP for both the original story and the BBC News link.

May 5, 2015

Interesting jobs for foreigners in China

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

I’ve had a few friends over the years who seemed to somehow be able to spend extended time in China. This article may explain how at least a few of them funded their stays:

In 2010, Mitch Moxley wrote a story for The Atlantic entitled “Rent a White Guy,” relating the story of his trip to Dongying where he pretended to be the representative of a non-existent California-based company that was allegedly building a factory in the city. His Canadian friend Ernie, hired to play the role of director, delivered a speech before a large crowd in which he “boasted about the company’s long list of international clients.” After the speech, “confetti blasted over the stage, fireworks popped […] and Ernie posed for a photo with the mayor.” The article has nothing to say about the extent of the scam. Were Mitch Moxley and his friend Ernie giving a boost to a local company or were the attendees being asked to invest in a company that didn’t exist?

A 2010 CNN report cited one ad posted on The Beijinger by a company called “Rent A Foreigner.” The story describes one foreigner who had police knock on his door one day, “after a financial company he worked at for a couple of months in Xi’an […] allegedly swindled millions of yuan out of clients.”

It’s commonplace in China to see expats paid exorbitant fees as dancers, singers, musicians, or models, often regardless of talent. I have seen unattractive models, dancers who couldn’t dance, and singers who couldn’t sing. One of my friends was once paid handsomely to play bass at a live concert. The thing was, he didn’t know how to play bass — so they left his instrument unplugged and he plucked at the strings as if he had some clue as to what he was doing. Several of the musicians were also pantomiming to a prerecorded track, but the track had no bass, so my friend was pretending to play a part that didn’t exist. No one in the crowd seemed to notice though, and he was paid more than twice what the Chinese band members, who were actually rather talented musicians, earned.

April 29, 2015

A simple, four-step plan to assist African-Americans

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

At Coyote Blog, Warren Meyer lays out his simple but effective plan to help African-Americans:

  • Legalize drugs. This would reduce the rents that attract the poor into dealing, would keep people out of jail, and reduce a lot of violent crime associated with narcotics traffic that kills investment and business creation in black neighborhoods. It would also reduce the main excuse for petty harassment by police that falls disproportionately on young black men. No its not a good thing to have people addicted to strong narcotics but it is worse to be putting them in jail and having them shooting at each other.
  • Bring real accountability to police forces. When I see stories of folks absurdly abused by police forces, I can almost always guess the race of the victim in advance. I used to be a law-and-order Conservative that blindly trusted police statements about every encounter. The advent of cell-phone video has proven this to be supremely naive.
  • Eliminate the minimum wage (compromise: eliminate the minimum wage before 25). Originally passed for racist reasons, it still (if unintentionally) keeps young blacks from entering the work force. Dropping out of high school does not hurt employment because kids learn job skills in high school (they don’t); it hurts because finishing high school is a marker of responsibility and other desirable job traits. Kids who drop out can overcome this, but only if they get a job where they can demonstrate these traits. No one is going to take that chance at $10 or $15 an hour**
  • Voucherize education. It’s not the middle class that is primarily the victim of awful public schools, it is poor blacks. Middle and upper class parents have the political pull to get accountability. It is no coincidence the best public schools are generally in middle and upper class neighborhoods. Programs such as the one in DC that used to allow urban poor to escape failing schools need to be promoted.

You could argue that decriminalizing drugs is somehow wrong … but if you’re looking at the harm inflicted by drug abuse and comparing it to the harm to African-American communities in particular, you would have to admit that it’s significantly worse with drug prohibition than it would be under a legal drug-use scenario. Reforming the police? Check what kinds of stuff show up in my Militarization-tagged posts — if that doesn’t convince you, you can’t be convinced.

The minimum wage is one of those issues that seems beneficial to the poor, because it means they get a higher wage on the job than they might get otherwise — what isn’t seen is that this limits the number of jobs that a poor person may have access to. Our education system is not adequately equipping people for the working world, and the more we expect the schools to teach, the less they can teach in the way of life-skills. A bad school can negatively impact someone’s entire working life. In education especially, one size does not fit all. Having more varied educational offerings makes it much more likely that children will be able to get the kind of education they need to succeed in life.

April 22, 2015

QotD: Volunteer armies, conscription, and corporal punishment in Starship Troopers

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

I hate conscription. I regard it as human slavery of the vilest sort and do not think it can be justified under any circumstances whatever. To those who say “Yes, but without the draft we could not defend the United States” I answer violently, “Then let the bloody United States go down the drain! Any nation whose citizens will not voluntarily fight and die for her does not deserve to live.”

I despise jails and prisons almost as much, and for the same reasons, and I am contemptuous of punishment by fining because it is basically unjust, being necessarily uneven and discriminatory in application — e.g., there is a reckless driver in this neighbourhood who is quite wealthy. A $500 fine to him is nothing at all, less than nothing. To me it is an annoyance and one which might well cut into my luxuries and spoil my plans. But to my neighbour across the street, a cook with two children, a $500 fine would be a major disaster.

Yet $500 is what our local courts would charge any of the three of us for drunken driving.

I suggest that ten lashes would be equally rough on each of us — and would do far more to deter homicide-by-automobile.

Both of these ideas, opposition on moral grounds to conscription and to imprisonment, are essential parts of Starship Troopers. So far as I know, no reviewer noticed either idea.

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Sturgeon 1962-03-05, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

April 20, 2015

Everything is “interstate commerce”

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

Last month, Elizabeth Nolan Brown reported on another case where the “interstate commerce” excuse is used to justify federal charges for a purely intra-state activity:

Until 2010, Oregon entrepreneur Lawrence George Owen, 73, owned one restaurant, eight strip clubs, and two adult-video stores in the Portland area. At these businesses, Owen installed ATM machines in case customers needed to take out cash. With that cash, customers could do an assortment of things — tip dancers, buy food and drinks, leave the establishment and go grocery shopping. And sometimes, customers used the cash to privately pay some strippers for sex.

Now Owen faces federal charges for “conspiring to use interstate commerce” in promotion of prostitution.

The charges are the results of a nine year joint-effort by Portland’s vice squad and the FBI. Between 2006 and 2009, undercover Portland police officers arranged for 18 acts of prostitution with dancers at three of the clubs. After that federal agents took over, searching Owen’s businesses and the homes of his alleged co-conspirators and seizing $843,000 in cash.

Owen, it should be noted, was living in Mexico most of this time. He is currently on a U.S. Marshall’s hold in a Portland jail, after being detained by federal agents in late February.

You might be wondering how Owen faces federal charges if all of the alleged prostitution-promoting took place in Portland. Promoting prostitution is only a federal crime under certain circumstances, such as when the perpetrator transports or coerces an individual across state lines for prostitution purposes. Using mail, telephone calls, or other “facilities of interstate commerce” in service of prostitution will also do the trick. But the FBI has no evidence that Owen enticed or transported strip-club employees from outside Oregon, nor that he used mail or telephone calls to help facilitate their prostitution efforts.

When the FBI wants to make a case against someone, however, they’ll find a way. In this case, the FBI decided that ATM machines count as “facilities of interstate commerce.”

April 6, 2015

The Progressive world view on campus is shutting out liberals

Filed under: Media,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:02

In the Claremont Independent, Taylor Schmitt describes how even long-standing liberals are becoming less welcome in the Progressive movement, both on- and off-campus:

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that Fox News spends only 45 percent of its airtime on factual reporting, while it spends 55 percent of its airtime on opinion pieces and commentary. It was unsurprising that a news source frequently lampooned as opinion-driven and biased spends the majority of its time reporting opinion pieces. But why is Fox News considered such a horrible and untrustworthy network when the same study showed that the liberal MSNBC network spends a whopping 85 percent of its airtime on opinion segments and only 15 percent on factual reporting? If Fox’s penchant for focusing on opinion is worthy of criticism, doesn’t MSNBC’s more egregious example of the same sin merit even more? The contempt for Fox I hear coming from liberals coupled with a lack of criticism towards MSNBC suggests that many within the liberal movement don’t want factual journalism at all, but rather opinionated journalism with a liberal bent. In fact, though they would have you believe they merely support truth in journalism, many liberals openly disregard the truth – and criticize those who don’t – when it conflicts with their worldview.

The most recent example that comes to mind is the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. My fellow liberals decided from day one that Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Brown, was in the wrong. Before autopsy results were released, without reading the eyewitness testimony, and with no regard for forensic evidence, the left prejudged Wilson as guilty. Although I personally prefer to hear evidence before forming an opinion, I can understand why –especially in light of the slanted media reporting on the case – many people would leap to the conclusion that Wilson was guilty. What was appalling to me, however, was that when the evidence that was released proved far from sufficient to suggest Wilson’s guilt, the vast majority of the left was still calling for Wilson to be punished. Protests predicated on the assumption of Wilson’s guilt, like the march to Claremont City Hall, were held nationwide after a grand jury failed to indict Wilson, seemingly unconcerned with the fact that the evidence against him was inconclusive at best.

Campus liberals acted similarly in the case of Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student who has vowed to carry a mattress around campus with her until her alleged rapist leaves the school. Rallies in support of Sulkowicz were held at college campuses across the nation, including here in Claremont. Despite the fact that criminal charges were never filed and the man who ostensibly assaulted her was found not responsible by Columbia, supporters of Sulkowicz have continued to refer to him as her “rapist” and harass him on and off campus (have they never heard of the Scottsboro Boys?). The Columbia Spectator decided to print the name of the accused despite the fact that the university had not found him responsible for any wrongdoing (did the Spectator learn nothing from the media’s handling of the Duke Lacrosse case?). This uproar will affect the man for the remainder of his time at Columbia and will continue to follow him for the rest of his life. Because the alleged assault fit into campus liberals’ dominant narrative on sexual assault, the overwhelmingly liberal students of Columbia, the Claremont Colleges, and other elite institutions were eager to risk ruining a potentially innocent man’s life by naming him a rapist, even as new evidence emerges, all of which seems to support the alleged attacker’s innocence.

To question the guilt of Darren Wilson was to be a racist, and to question the veracity of Sulkowicz’s story was to be a sexist rape apologist. Doing either of these things would almost certainly get you branded as a conservative. As a liberal who did both of these things, I have been appalled by the irrational mob mentality displayed by my fellow liberal students at events like the Ferguson protest and the “Carry That Weight” march in support of Sulkowicz. I am struggling to come to terms with this new reality wherein sticking to an objective view of the facts is considered a conservative trait. The campus left’s complete unwillingness to adjust their opinions of these cases to fit with the facts shows a thought process completely devoid of reason. Facts are apolitical. To question prevailing liberal thought on Ferguson and Columbia because of the evidence (or lack thereof) is not a conservative position. It is a realistic one. To question prevailing liberal thought on Ferguson and Columbia is not to deny the existence of racism in law enforcement or sexual assault on college campuses, but to acknowledge that not every individual case fits those patterns.

March 28, 2015

Singapore

Filed under: Asia,Government,Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Back in 2009, the government of Singapore used some of Bryan Caplan’s writing to defend their policies against accusations of authoritarianism. In return, Caplan pointed out some aspects of Singapore’s government he finds appalling:

1. Conscription. Though they laughed at me in Singapore, this is clearly state slavery — and there are plenty of less draconian means to defend the city-state from conquest. (Like… paying soldiers market wages). Only a democratic fundamentalist would imagine that the right to vote is more important than the right to say “No” to a job offer.

2. The death penalty for drug trafficking. Jailing people for capitalist acts between consenting adults is bad enough. Murdering people for selling intoxicants to willing buyers is sheer barbarism.

3. State ownership. While Singapore’s state-owned companies act surprisingly like capitalist firms, why settle for second-best? And if you needed further empirical evidence that state ownership undermines personal freedom even if it is “run like a business,” take a look at the Straits Times or Singaporean television.

4. Defamation law. Letting people sue people who badmouth them is bad enough. But Singapore takes defamation law to its logical, absurd conclusion: You can’t even badmouth government officials unless you can prove that your charges are true. The problem with these laws isn’t that they’re undemocratic — after all, Singapore still allows criticism of policies. The problem is that they violate human freedom. People should be allowed to say what they like about whoever they like, whether or not they can prove it, and whether or not they’re right.

5. Censorship. The Internet has made Singaporean censorship largely obsolete, but it’s still an outrage that you need the government’s approval to stage a public performance.

Bottom line: Singapore’s critics have plenty of genuine grievances to denounce. (And under Singaporean law, it’s legal to do so — just don’t get personal!) So why do the critics keep complaining about “lack of democracy” when the real story is that most Singaporeans persistently prefer the PAP to the opposition?

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…

Indian government about to discover the Streisand Effect

Filed under: India,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The BBC made a film called India’s Daughter. The Indian government decided that the film made them look bad, so they banned the film in India and attempted to force the film out of worldwide circulation. In the internet age. It hasn’t been going well for the would-be censors so far:

The Indian government has remained defiant over its ban on a BBC documentary about the 2012 fatal gang-rape of a student in Delhi despite a groundswell of acclaim for the film from prominent Indians who watched it online.

After India’s Daughter broadcast in the UK on Wednesday night, the hour-long film surfaced on YouTube, where the Guardian was able to view it on Thursday afternoon despite reports in Indian media that the government had ordered it be taken down.

India’s home minister, Rajnath Singh, has threatened to take action against the BBC, though did not elaborate on what form this may take, save that “all options are open”.

Police in Delhi continue to pursue the investigation against filmmaker Leslee Udwin, who has left the country, and her Indian crew. Officers visited the homes and offices of Indian crew members on Thursday in a bid to collect the entire footage of the film.

Though online viewing figures for the documentary about Jyoti Singh’s death remained in the low thousands, there was much acclaim from influential literary and Bollywood figures who questioned the necessity of the government’s ban.

“It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve seen – it’s moving and makes you think,” said the novelist Chetan Bhagat. “It’s bone-chilling, yet it shakes you up – it’s a must-watch film.”

H/T to Perry de Havilland for the link.

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 3, 2015

“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 2, 2015

Who “saw” that coming?

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

J.D. Tuccille talks about what it takes to turn off the 21st century at least temporarily:

CBS 5 screen capture

CBS 5 screen capture

Some asshole turned off the 21st century in northern Arizona yesterday. The hardest part was probably the hike. The modern world flows to northern Arizona in a cable that runs hundreds of miles through the desert. That cable was cut in an isolated river bed near New River, north of Phoenix. Once the vandals were there, doing damage wasn’t that big a challenge. The cable is about as thick through as a man’s leg, so the right tool in a backpack was all it took. And there went the 21st century, and maybe a few illusions some of us (**cough**) may have about the extent of our independence.

What went with that cable was most cell phone service (every company but Verizon was down), the Internet (multiple ISPs run through the same pipe), the 911 system, and pretty much any digital communications connection you can imagine. Northern Arizona businesses largely became cash only—including the roadside stops vending gas to cross-country travelers. Trucks lined up waiting for the stations to get back online so they could process company credit cards to fill their tanks. It’s not like the drivers could just take out cash — ATMs were down, too.

My wife’s pediatric office was able to examine kids and patch them up. But checking on test results, getting reads on x-rays, scheduling appointments with specialists, and electronically sending prescriptions to pharmacies were all out. Old-fashioned landlines worked, but medical facilities are part of the modern world. Thoroughly digitized and electronic, hospitals, labs, and clinics were reduced to sending couriers back and forth.

There’s a lot to like about the interconnected, digitized modern world. I wouldn’t be telecommuting from a rural area if I didn’t have an electronic link to the world beyond. People like me now have the historical luxury of living where we want while doing work that, not so long ago, required an actual presence in a major population center.

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 10, 2015

Edmund Curll, “printer, pirate, and pornographer”

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

Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown, guest-posting at Charlie’s Diary, discuss a thoroughly awful man of letters:

Like now, there were ripoff booksellers masquerading among the legitimate ones, though today’s scammers (see Writer Beware) are rarely as colorful as the rascally Edmund Curll — printer, pirate, and pornographer. He stole material with flagrant disregard for copyright. As soon as some prominent person died, he collected gossip — it didn’t matter if it was true — for a biography, and if he didn’t have enough material, he made it up. Prominent people reportedly dreaded dying because of what Curll would do to them. A faint echo of the Curll treatment occurred a couple weeks ago, when Colleen McCullough’s obit started off by noting how fat and unlovely she’d been.

Curll churned out so much X-rated stuff under various guises that the word ‘Curlicism’ became synonymous with porn. Prison, a stint in the stocks, even being blanket-tossed and beaten by the boys at Westminster school not only didn’t stop him from theft and libel, he turned them all into marketing opportunities. Even when he was convicted of libel and forced to publish an apology and a promise to stop printing, his repentant words touted his latest books.

He’s best known for the twenty-year running duel with the poet Alexander Pope, from whom he not only stole, he lampooned under his own name and with sockpuppets. It began when he first pirated Pope, prompting the poet and his publisher to meet Curll at the Swan, where they slipped a mega dose of “physic” (think ExLax) into his drink. He turned that, too, into a marketing event, once he’d recovered from the extremes of ejecta; when Pope published a couple of triumphant pamphlets, claiming Curll was dead, Curl came right back with new material demonstrating that he was very much alive and up to his usual racket.

Their history — and there are other equally crazy-ass stories — remind me of the whoops and hollers of internet feuds and FAILS now, among writers, editors, publishers (some individuals wearing all three hats).

Aside from the Curlls, most booksellers, the publishers of the eighteenth century — like the editors working at traditional publishers now — were hardworking people who made careful decisions about what to publish because they were the ones fronting the costs of printing and of copyright.

The booksellers of Grub Street were all about copyright. For most of the eighteenth century, they met yearly, over sumptuous dinners, to hold a copyright auction that was exclusive to the booksellers. Interlopers were unceremonious chucked out.

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