I’ve written on many occasions about what I call universal criminality, the crowning achievement of the modern police state, under which there are so many vague, overbroad and counterintuitive laws that every single person is in violation of at least a few of them at all times. Nearly any encounter with the police can be turned into “assault on a police officer” or “resisting arrest”, almost any business can be twisted into “racketeering”, virtually any financial transaction can be redefined as “money laundering” and even normal friendships or business interactions can be tortured into “conspiracy”. But while charges like these can be used to harass, bankrupt and imprison the target, possibly for many years, they often lack the firepower necessary to totally destroy his life forever; after his release from prison he might still be able to find work, have a normal social life and rebuild his shattered fortunes into some semblance of a comfortable existence. Worst of all (from the prosecutorial viewpoint), the public might even side with the victim, turning him into a martyr both during and after his state-sanctioned torture and caging. But there is one weapon in the state’s arsenal which, used properly, will utterly destroy a person’s life. At the end of the process he will have no money, no friends and no home; he will be completely unemployable and condemned to everlasting surveillance, shunned by society and unable even to avail himself of even paid companionship without triggering still more awful consequences. If the prosecutor is really lucky, his victim may even be murdered by the police or other thugs or take his own life. And all it takes to detonate this thermonuclear weapon of modern law is the sending of a single email.
Maggie McNeill, “Instant Criminal”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-09-19.
September 28, 2015
September 25, 2015
J.R. Ireland on the modern day puritans who lose sleep because someone, somewhere, might possibly be looking at porn:
One thing that I have noticed a lot of advocates of sex-worker rights tend to miss though is the parallel between anti-prostitution arguments and anti-porn arguments. I think that the reason for this is simple — prostitution is still illegal, whereas pornography is not only legal, but very visible. It’s all over our computer screens, in fact, and can be found quickly and easily, provided you have the ability to engage in a simple Google search. That means that most pro-prostitution advocates avoid really talking about the issue of pornography, since it’s assumed that this is an issue we’ve already ‘won’ and which we don’t really need to continue babbling about.
Unfortunately, this ignores the fact that there is a burgeoning anti-porn movement that is coming not from the normal enemies of pornography on the right (i.e. Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, etc. who oppose porn on religious grounds), but from leftists who oppose porn on what are alleged to be left-wing grounds — fear of exploitation, a desire to prevent sex-trafficking, a distaste for the vulgar trappings of sexualized patriarchy, and so on.
Anti-Porn feminism is far more advanced in Britain than it is here since British feminists tend to be, and you’ll have to pardon my language, bug-fuck crazy nightmarish lunatics with fake degrees from mediocre universities and a level of self-loathing and insecurity unknown to the sane. It is from this leftist anti-porn position that the activist Gail Dines has arrived. In 2010, she wrote a book entitled Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality and since then she has been on the leading edge, the spear-tip, the vanguard of leftist opposition to pornography.
First, Dines tries to argue that ‘sexual assault centers in US colleges’ have ‘said that more women are reporting anal rape.’ Which sexual assault centers? Care to name them? Care to give me any sort of citation for this claim? Of course not — facts are for the patriarchy and we’re in the post-fact world of third wave feminism now!
Indeed, I find it somehow unlikely that sexual assault centers in US colleges are reporting an increase in rape given that American rape rates fell substantially between 1990 and the present:
Go look up any statistics on the incidence of rape and you will find them to be broadly similar — a spike in the 70s and 80s (which happened to coincide with a general increase in criminality) followed by a lengthy decline ever since. Now, were porn actually causing an increase in rape rates due to ‘sexualizing violence against women’ and ‘normalizing’ practices like rape, you would not have expected to find such an obvious decline in sexual assault rates, would you?
The second claim Dines makes is regarding the scary normalization of pedophilia which she claims is occurring directly resultant from porn involving teenagers. First of all, ‘teen porn’ does not ‘normalize pedophilia’ since the teenagers in teen porn are supposed to be 18 or 19 — in other words, post-pubescent and fully grown women. This isn’t even taking into consideration the fact that many actresses in teen porn are actually in their 20’s and are just ‘playing young,’ but we’ll ignore the fact that this is all fantasy anyway, since the fact that pornography isn’t based on reality seems to be a constant source of confusion for Gail Dines.
Prosecutors, and regulators more generally, like vague standards that are impossible to enforce consistently. It gives them a great deal of discretion in whom they target and how. It is a threat that can be wielded to force pleas to lesser crimes or other “voluntary” actions that obviate the need for a messy trial they might lose.
Megan McArdle, “California Accidentally Legalizes Campus Sex”, Bloomberg View, 2014-09-23.
September 24, 2015
I am often asked if, by calling “sex trafficking” a myth, I’m saying that there is no such thing as coercion in sex work. The answer, of course, is “not at all”; what I’m saying is 1) that coercion is much rarer than “trafficking” fetishists pretend it is; 2) that the term “trafficking” is used to describe many different things along a broad spectrum running from absolutely coercive to absolutely not coercive, yet all of them are shoehorned into a lurid, melodramatic and highly-stereotyped narrative; and 3) that even situations of genuine coercion rarely bear much resemblance to the familiar masturbatory fantasy of an “innocent” middle-class girl in her early teens abducted by “pimps” from a shopping mall, bus stop or internet chat room.
Maggie McNeill, “The Face of Trafficking”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-10-10.
September 20, 2015
Kathy Shaidle explains why using a movie’s worldview (even something as funny as A Fish Called Wanda) is not the best way to develop your own philosophy of the world:
From William James and Herman Hesse to the Beats and the Beastie Boys, Buddhism has long appealed to a certain type of post-Enlightenment Westerner — the one who yearns to fill his “God-shaped hole” with anything but God, that uptight, bossy old guy with all the boring rules and hang-ups (man.)
Buddhism — which looks from the outside like agnosticism but with cooler tchotchkes — is the obvious choice.
Now, Americans in particular take a lot of guff (see: “I forgot my mantra…”) for seeming to prefer trompe l’oeil religion — what Flannery O’Connor had her Hazel Motes concoct: a “Holy Church of Christ Without Christ.” That’s probably not surprising considering you’re a country cofounded by deists.
But while it’s funny to witness lily-white lapsed Catholics, still supposedly stinging from Sister’s ruler, sitting in Zen meditation classes where they’re sure to be slapped with an even bigger stick, let’s remember that Buddhism was an Eastern religion first. It’s like Pearl Harbor: They started it.
And “they” aren’t all the unadulterated egalitarian Klaatus of our Big Sur wind-chime fantasies. Buddhist scandals — both sexual and fiduciary — receive only a slender sliver of the media attention and resulting popular scorn that, say, Catholic ones do. (Oddly enough!) Stand-up comics don’t crack jokes about perverted Theravada monks.
Yet lists of Buddhist big-shot malfeasance include such karma-killers as spreading AIDS and drinking oneself to death. And that’s just in America.
Over in Thailand, the “top Buddhist authority bars women from becoming monks,” but some are now insisting (stop me if you’ve heard this one) that female ordination is just the enema the nation’s corrupt and constipated religious authority needs most.
September 16, 2015
At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson comments on a story about Chinese drivers ensuring that pedestrians they hurt in traffic accidents don’t survive to sue them … because incentives matter:
Smelling a story that was too interesting to be true, I texted a friend who lives in China. He read the article and texted back that every word was correct. This behaviour was so common that it was a kind of dark joke. The phrase “drive to kill” was considered practical life advice for young and old alike. These are not members of some obscure and barbarous cult. China is one of the oldest and most accomplished of human civilizations.
The legal explanation for this — a moral explanation I suspect is impossible — is a combination of a weak insurance system and easily bribable courts. An injured pedestrian can become a lifetime financial liability for the driver. Murder convictions, even in cases with clear video evidence, are still unusual. Faced with a choice of becoming a bankrupt or a murderer the popular choice seems to be the latter.
Homo homini lupus est. Man is wolf to man.
Mainland China is, of course, a dictatorship. It seems likely that in a functioning liberal democracy, such as those of the West, very basic legal reforms would long ago have been implemented to remove these quite literally perverse incentives. The rulers of China have deigned it beneath their notice to make such minor improvements.
September 10, 2015
Megan McArdle explains that while it’s quite understandable why governments want to maintain their technological ability to read private, personal communications … but that’s not sufficient justification to just give in and allow them the full access they claim that they “need”:
Imagine, if you will, a law that said all doors had to be left unlocked so that the police could get in whenever they needed to. Or at the very least, a law mandating that the government have a master key.
That’s essentially what some in the government want for your technology. As companies like Apple and Google have embraced stronger encryption, they’re making it harder for the government to do the kind of easy instant collection that companies were forced into as the government chased terrorists after 9/11.
And how could you oppose that government access? After all, the government keeps us safe from criminals. Do you really want to make it easier for criminals to evade the law?
The analogy with your home doors suggests the flaw in this thinking: The U.S. government is not the only entity capable of using a master key. Criminals can use them too. If you create an easy way to bypass security, criminals — or other governments — are going to start looking for ways to reproduce the keys.
Law enforcement is going to pursue strategies that maximize the ability to catch criminals or terrorists. These are noble goals. But we have to take care that in the pursuit of these goals, the population they’re trying to protect is not forgotten. Every time we open more doors for our own government, we’re inviting other unwelcome guests to join them inside.
I don’t really blame law enforcement for pushing as hard as possible; rare is the organization in history that has said, “You know, the world would be a better place if I had less power to do my job.” But that makes it more imperative that the rest of us keep an eye on what they’re doing, and force the law to account for tradeoffs, rather than the single-minded pursuit of one goal.
September 4, 2015
August 21, 2015
Published on 28 Jul 2015
“I keep my mouth shut now. I’ve turned into a professional coward.”
– Hunter S. Thompson in 1967
In the 1960s, Hunter S. Thompson spent more than a year living and drinking with members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club, riding up and down the California coast. What he saw alongside this group of renegades on Harleys, these hairy outlaws who rampaged and faced charges of attempted murder, assault and battery, and destruction of property along the way — all of this became the heart of Thompson’s first book: Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga. Shortly after the book came out, Thompson sat down for a radio interview with the one and only Studs Terkel.
“I can’t remember ever winning a fight.”
“I used to take it out at night on the Coast Highway, just drunk out of my mind, ride it for 20 and 30 miles in just short pants and a t-shirt. It’s a beautiful feeling.”
“ I tried to keep my eyes on him because I didn’t want to have my skull fractured.”
“They want to get back at the people who put them in this terrible, this dead end, tunnel.”
“The people who are most affected by this technological obsolescence are the ones least capable of understanding the reason for it, so the venom builds up much quicker. It feeds on their ignorance.”
August 13, 2015
At Salon, David Dayen tells the astounding tale of American banks going feral and mass-forging legal documents to foreclose mortgages on houses they had zero claim on:
If you know about foreclosure fraud, the mass fabrication of mortgage documents in state courts by banks attempting to foreclose on homeowners, you may have one nagging question: Why did banks have to resort to this illegal scheme? Was it just cheaper to mock up the documents than to provide the real ones? Did banks figure they simply had enough power over regulators, politicians and the courts to get away with it? (They were probably right about that one.)
A newly unsealed lawsuit, which banks settled in 2012 for $95 million, actually offers a different reason, providing a key answer to one of the persistent riddles of the financial crisis and its aftermath. The lawsuit states that banks resorted to fake documents because they could not legally establish true ownership of the loans when trying to foreclose.
This reality, which banks did not contest but instead settled out of court, means that tens of millions of mortgages in America still lack a legitimate chain of ownership, with implications far into the future. And if Congress, supported by the Obama administration, goes back to the same housing finance system, with the same corrupt private entities who broke the nation’s private property system back in business packaging mortgages, then shame on all of us.
August 10, 2015
My observation of rioters, admittedly from a distance and refracted through cameras, is that they enjoy rioting. Pride is not the only thing that goeth before destruction; human nature does too. I certainly know myself the pleasures of destruction, and knew them as a child: still when I dispose of my bottles in the bottle bank I am disappointed if a few of them do not break with a gratifying tinkle. When I am in a temper (which is not often these days), I know the momentary relief and pleasure that a broken window would bring me. But I have a duty not to relieve myself in this way; everyone does.
When the destructive urge is allied to a sense of purpose and righteousness, it is at its most dangerous, for then one denies that one is deriving pleasure from one’s actions — one is only doing what is right.
There is more that might be said about the violent protesters in Ferguson, as elsewhere. It is true, of course, that no one can be equally moved by all the injustices in the world; if such a person existed, his life would be one long protest against injustice and he would have no time for the enjoyment of the ordinary things of life. The best way to be a bore, said Voltaire, is to say everything; and the second best way would be to protest about everything. But still one has a duty to keep one’s wrath in bounds.
I am not against protest as such. But where someone’s protest against one thing is very much greater than against another that is equally near and in aggregate as serious, one may suspect his dishonesty or bad faith. It is true, of course, that a killing by an agent of the state is particularly heinous, especially if part of a pattern, but it is not infinitely serious by comparison with other killings, nor is it the only serious killing. Though Ferguson is not a particularly violent town (its rate of crimes of violence is about average for that of the United States), five people were murdered there in 2011 without arousing the kind of agitation that has captured, and perhaps even captivated, the attention of the world for the last few days. There are places near Ferguson where the violent crime rate is four times higher than in Ferguson, but there has never been a protest of the same order against the depredations of criminals there.
I try to imagine what it would take to make me throw bricks through windows, ransack buildings, and so forth. Having myself suffered only minor injustices and been responsible for my own failures in life, it takes a special effort of the imagination. But even after I have made that effort, I still cannot see a logical or justifiable connection between protest at injustice and looting a store.
Theodore Dalrymple, “Indulging in Destruction”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-08-24.
August 4, 2015
Last month, Randall Holcombe reported on a sensible decision by the Tallahassee, Florida city government when it was discovered that its red light camera program had achieved the stated goal:
Five years ago my hometown of Tallahassee, Florida contracted with Xerox to set up 19 red light cameras at seven busy intersections in town. The contract had the city pay Xerox about $87,000 a month to operate the cameras, and charged drivers a fine of $142 for being caught on camera running a red light.
When the program was established, city officials claimed that the cameras were installed for safety reasons, to deter drivers from running red lights, not to raise revenue. If we take them at their word, the program worked. Red light violations have fallen more than 90% since the program began. The program has been so successful that the city is not taking in sufficient revenues from fining violators to pay Xerox the fees for operating them.
You can guess the ending of this story. The city has announced that when the contract with Xerox expires in August, it will not be renewed and the red light camera program will end. Here is a program that has been a huge success by the city’s stated criterion, so the city is terminating it.
I see two possible explanations for this. One is that governments tend to terminate successful programs and continue the unsuccessful ones. The other is that the city officials who originally stated that the motivation for installing the cameras was to deter red light violations, and not the revenue generated from fines, were lying. I’m not ruling out the possibility that both explanations are correct.
Other municipalities presented with the same set of facts went in another direction: reducing the amber light time to increase the number of cars that could be caught on camera violating the law. That this had nothing to do with increasing public safety on the roads — in fact, probably increased the danger around traffic lights in the case of drivers braking suddenly to avoid entering the intersection as soon as the light turned yellow — but it did do a fine job of increasing the fines that could be collected (who cares about the safety of drivers and pedestrians when municipal revenue is at stake?).
August 3, 2015
Megan McArdle on the recently revealed problems in one of the most frequently used set of statistics on campus rape:
… a new article in Reason magazine suggests that this foundation is much shakier than most people working on this issue — myself included — may have assumed. (Full disclosure: the Official Blog Spouse is an editor at Reason.) The author, Linda M. LeFauve, looked carefully at the study, including conducting an interview with Lisak, and identified multiple issues:
- Lisak did not actually do original research. Instead, he pooled data from studies that were not necessarily aimed at collecting data on college students, or indeed, about rape. Only five questions on a multi-page questionnaire asked about sexual violence that they may have committed as adults, against other adults.
- The campus where this data was collected is a commuter campus. It’s not clear that everyone surveyed was a college student, but if so, the sample included many non-traditional students, with an average age of 26.5. Yet this data has been widely applied to traditional campuses, even though the two populations may differ greatly.
- The responses indicate that the men identified as rapists were extraordinarily more violent than the normal population: “The high rate of other forms of violence reported by the men in Lisak’s paper further suggests they are an atypical group. Of the 120 subjects Lisak classified as rapists, 46 further admitted to battery of an adult, 13 to physical abuse of a child, 21 to sexual abuse of a child, and 70 — more than half the group — to other forms of criminal violence. By itself, the nearly 20 percent who had sexually abused a child should signal that this is not a group from whom it is reasonable to generalize findings to a college campus.”
- The data did not cover acts committed while in college, but any acts of sexual violence; a number of them seem to have been committed in domestic violence situations.
- Lisak appears to have exaggerated how much follow-up he was able to do on the people he surveyed, at least to LeFauve: “Lisak told me that he subsequently interviewed most of them. That was a surprising claim, given the conditions of the survey and the fact that he was looking at the data produced long after his students had completed those dissertations; nor were there plausible circumstances under which a faculty member supervising a dissertation would interact directly with subjects. When I asked how he was able to speak with men participating in an anonymous survey for research he was not conducting, he ended the phone call.” Robby Soave of Reason, in a companion piece, also raises doubts about Lisak’s repeated assertions that he conducted extensive follow-ups with “most” of the respondents to what were mostly anonymous surveys.
In short, Lisak’s 2002 study is not a systematic survey of rape on campus; it is pooled data from surveys of people who happen to have been near a commuter campus on days when the surveys were being collected.
Before I go any further, let me note that I’m not saying that what these men did was not bad, or does not deserve to be punished. But if LeFauve is right, this study is basically worthless for shaping campus policies designed to stop rape.
August 2, 2015
A few weeks back, Strategy Page looked at “practical sorcery” in the Middle East:
ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) recently got some media attention because they had beheaded two Moslem women accused of sorcery. For a Moslem the only thing unusual about this was how the women are killed. Public beheading is usually reserved for men. Sorcery, on the other hand, is quite common in the Islamic world, even though it is strongly condemned in the Koran. Many Islamic majority countries consider sorcery a capital (the guilty are executed) crime. But there’s a lot more to sorcery than that.
For example, back in 2013 Mehdi Taeb, a senior cleric in the Iranian government explained that the major reason so many nations went along with the increased economic sanctions against Iran was because Israel had been using magic to persuade the leaders of these nations to back more sanctions. Without the Israeli witchcraft, the sanctions would not exist. Taeb explained that the Israelis have used this magic before, as in 2009, against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he was running for president. Many Iranians openly opposed Ahmadinejad, who won anyway. This, to Taeb, was proof that devout Moslems could defeat the Jewish magic.
What’s interesting with this observation is that, in 2011 Taeb and his fellow clerics tried to get rid of Ahmadinejad and his zealous (against corrupt clerics) associates. One method used was to send the police (which the clergy control) to arrest key Ahmadinejad aides and accuse them of witchcraft and sorcery. This led to street brawls between fans of Ahmadinejad and Islamic hardliners. Clubs, knives, and other sharp instruments were used. There was blood in the streets. All because of a witch hunt.
Ahmadinejad was quite popular because he has gone after corrupt officials, especially the clerics and their families, who feel they are immune from prosecution and can take what they want. In theory, the clerics can get rid of Ahmadinejad by simply declaring that he is not religiously suitable to run for election. That’s the kind of power the clerics have. But Ahmadinejad was too popular for that sort of censorship and Ahmadinejad was not corrupt. His rants against Israel and the Jews, while a bit much for some clerics, is also not grounds for being declared “un-Islamic” and ineligible to run for election. Ahmadinejad is quite respectful of Islam and most Moslem clerics but willing to go after clerics who are dirty. This is also quite popular with most Iranians, and that scares the dirty clerics at the top.
So why had the clerics decided to accuse Ahmadinejad cronies of sorcery? That’s because in most countries where there is a dominant religion, especially a state approved one, there is usually still a fear that the previous religion (or religions) will try to make a comeback. The former faiths often involved some really old-school stuff, including what many would consider magic and sometimes animal, or even human, sacrifice. It is not uncommon for there to be laws covering those accused to be practicing such sorcery and severe punishments for those convicted. At the very least, the accused will be driven from any senior government jobs they might hold, and that’s what’s being done to dozens of Ahmadinejad associates. In Iran Ahmadinejad was eventually removed from power by going after his more vulnerable associates and sorcery was one of the false accusations used.
July 5, 2015
… in Germany most human faults and follies sink into comparative insignificance beside the enormity of walking on the grass. Nowhere, and under no circumstances, may you at any time in Germany walk on the grass. Grass in Germany is quite a fetish. To put your foot on German grass would be as great a sacrilege as to dance a hornpipe on a Mohammedan’s praying-mat. The very dogs respect German grass; no German dog would dream of putting a paw on it. If you see a dog scampering across the grass in Germany, you may know for certain that it is the dog of some unholy foreigner. In England, when we want to keep dogs out of places, we put up wire netting, six feet high, supported by buttresses, and defended on the top by spikes. In Germany, they put a notice-board in the middle of the place, “Hunden verboten,” and a dog that has German blood in its veins looks at that notice-board and walks away. In a German park I have seen a gardener step gingerly with felt boots on to grass-plot, and removing therefrom a beetle, place it gravely but firmly on the gravel; which done, he stood sternly watching the beetle, to see that it did not try to get back on the grass; and the beetle, looking utterly ashamed of itself, walked hurriedly down the gutter, and turned up the path marked “Ausgang.”
In German parks separate roads are devoted to the different orders of the community, and no one person, at peril of liberty and fortune, may go upon another person’s road. There are special paths for “wheel-riders” and special paths for “foot-goers,” avenues for “horse-riders,” roads for people in light vehicles, and roads for people in heavy vehicles; ways for children and for “alone ladies.” That no particular route has yet been set aside for bald-headed men or “new women” has always struck me as an omission.
In the Grosse Garten in Dresden I once came across an old lady, standing, helpless and bewildered, in the centre of seven tracks. Each was guarded by a threatening notice, warning everybody off it but the person for whom it was intended.
“I am sorry to trouble you,” said the old lady, on learning I could speak English and read German, “but would you mind telling me what I am and where I have to go?”
I inspected her carefully. I came to the conclusion that she was a “grown-up” and a “foot-goer,” and pointed out her path. She looked at it, and seemed disappointed.
“But I don’t want to go down there,” she said; “mayn’t I go this way?”
“Great heavens, no, madam!” I replied. “That path is reserved for children.”
“But I wouldn’t do them any harm,” said the old lady, with a smile. She did not look the sort of old lady who would have done them any harm.
“Madam,” I replied, “if it rested with me, I would trust you down that path, though my own first-born were at the other end; but I can only inform you of the laws of this country. For you, a full-grown woman, to venture down that path is to go to certain fine, if not imprisonment. There is your path, marked plainly — Nur für Fussgänger, and if you will follow my advice, you will hasten down it; you are not allowed to stand here and hesitate.”
“It doesn’t lead a bit in the direction I want to go,” said the old lady.
“It leads in the direction you ought to want to go,” I replied, and we parted.
In the German parks there are special seats labelled, “Only for grown-ups” (Nur für Erwachsene), and the German small boy, anxious to sit down, and reading that notice, passes by, and hunts for a seat on which children are permitted to rest; and there he seats himself, careful not to touch the woodwork with his muddy boots. Imagine a seat in Regent’s or St. James’s Park labelled “Only for grown-ups!” Every child for five miles round would be trying to get on that seat, and hauling other children off who were on. As for any “grown-up,” he would never be able to get within half a mile of that seat for the crowd. The German small boy, who has accidentally sat down on such without noticing, rises with a start when his error is pointed out to him, and goes away with down-cast head, brushing to the roots of his hair with shame and regret.
Not that the German child is neglected by a paternal Government. In German parks and public gardens special places (Spielplätze) are provided for him, each one supplied with a heap of sand. There he can play to his heart’s content at making mud pies and building sand castles. To the German child a pie made of any other mud than this would appear an immoral pie. It would give to him no satisfaction: his soul would revolt against it.
“That pie,” he would say to himself, “was not, as it should have been, made of Government mud specially set apart for the purpose; it was not manufactured in the place planned and maintained by the Government for the making of mud pies. It can bring no real blessing with it; it is a lawless pie.” And until his father had paid the proper fine, and he had received his proper licking, his conscience would continue to trouble him.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.