Author Archives: SHG

As Go Comments, So Goes Above The Law

It was a “huge announcement,” as Elie twitted.  At least, it was huge to me, even if you couldn’t care less.  Above The Law announced that yesterday was the end of comments.

This summer, Above the Law (“ATL”) will turn ten. The web has changed a great deal in the past decade, and ATL has evolved along with it.

One area where we’ve seen a lot of change: reader comments. In the early days of ATL, especially before the Great Recession, the comments were amazing.

I don’t think “amazing” means what you think it does. Aside from the mad rush to comment “First!!!,” they tended to be nasty, snarky and critical.  Which didn’t mean they weren’t often funny, and on target.  But the cries of more serious readers with more sensitive feelings were heard, and so comments were eventually hidden behind a wall, so virgin eyes wouldn’t have to see the vulgar language. Continue reading

Recreating History: The Notorious 1994 Crime Bill

Not that we’ll ever run dry on cool aphorisms, but “the perfect is the enemy of the good” seems to set the tone for how the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 came to be law.  President Bill Clinton, along with the smarter of the executive pair, was all for it.  At the time, there was a nation wracked with fear of crime, some real, some imagined, but nonetheless afraid.

And there were calls, demands, to “do something.”  And unlike today, Congress did.

There’s no question that by the early 1990s, blacks wanted an immediate response to the crime, violence and drug markets in their communities. But even at the time, many were asking for something different from the crime bill. Calls for tough sentencing and police protection were paired with calls for full employment, quality education and drug treatment, and criticism of police brutality.

It’s not just that those demands were ignored completely. It’s that some elements were elevated and others were diminished — what we call selective hearing. Policy makers pointed to black support for greater punishment and surveillance, without recognizing accompanying demands to redirect power and economic resources to low-income minority communities. When blacks ask for better policing, legislators tend to hear more instead.

That description is a little too shallow. There was no such thing as “blacks” who asked for anything. There were local leaders, like Al Sharpton, in his sweat suit and big gold medallion, with his pompadour hairdo, and congressional leaders, like Kweisi Mfume, who went on to lead the NAACP.  And then there were ordinary people on the street, who saw the world in the same simplistic terms as people today, asking for solutions that would serve their self-interest without any thought to how the sausage might get made or what could possibly go wrong. Continue reading

Scared Straight: But It Seemed Like Such A Good Idea

The video of Bibb County, Georgia Judge Verda Colvin was just so . . . Menckian.

Ask anybody, and they’ll tell you why the concept of “scared straight” makes so much sense.  Call it by other names, “tough love,” or as with Colvin’s effort, “Consider the Consequences,” and it still seems like a fabulous idea.  After all, doesn’t it make sense that by scaring at-risk youths that they’re on the road to perdition, they will have an epiphany and get the hell off that road?  Of course it does. It’s common sense.

As Chris Seaton notes at Fault Lines, it’s also wrong. Continue reading

Evan’s Law: Just Not A Big Deal

It had the trappings to suggest that it was yet another deep dive into bad law.  It was named after a dead kid, Evan Lieberman.  It gave the police another mystery tool, and one with a cool and utterly meaningless name, the textalyzer. It was enabled by the unprincipled concept of implied consent. And there was a press conference where New York lawmakers and a “group” with a really bad acronym, DORCs, made the announcement.

This is almost always how the stars align for the next new bad law.  Almost.

But not always.  The proposed law, this time, may not be a big deal.

DORCs co-founder Ben Lieberman, a staunch advocate against distracted driving since he and his family lost their 19-year-old son, Evan, in a 2011 collision caused by a distracted driver, has been working closely with Senator Murphy and Assemblyman Ortiz to implement the new law, known as “Evan’s Law.” Continue reading

Cop Shock: Even Child Molestation Gets A Pass

Chicago police sergeant Dennis Barnes started out charged with two felonies, He ended up with a misdemeanor battery.  The 27-year veteran was out of a job, but he was only going to jail for 60 days.  But there was a kicker: the judge also imposed two years of sex offender therapy.

All things considered, sentencing day wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.

In explaining the unusual move, Judge Charles Burns said prosecutors had failed at trial to prove, as required by law, that Dennis Barnes fondled the girl for his own sexual arousal, yet the judge said he believed “something was going on, and that’s something that I find disturbing.”

What makes this unusual is that a defendant either committed the crime to which he pleaded guilty, in which case he should be prosecuted and sentenced for it, or he didn’t. Given that the judge dismissed the felony charged upon the basis that an essential element, sexual arousal, was unproven, then there is no justification to impose a sentence mandating sex offender counseling. If he’s not a sex offender, then don’t sentence him as one. And if he is, then don’t toss the charges. Not even judges get to sentence based on their “disturbing” feelz. Continue reading

Safe Space On Wheels

The idea has been floating around for a while, since SheTaxi launched.  According to TechCrunch, another company is going for it, set to launch in Boston this time.

Uber driver Michael Pelletz is launching a new ridesharing service with a twist: All the drivers and passengers will be women. Chariot for Women will be active in the Boston area on April 19. But does the world need another ridesharing service? Especially one so specific? It turns out maybe it does.

The new Uber of Ubers? This time, with flagrant discrimination. Putting aside the irony of its founder being male, as in he wouldn’t be able to drive for his own company, this concept is an open assertion that the irrational fears of feminism constitute a sufficient basis to overcome all law that prohibits discrimination.

Employment, accommodation, human rights, on federal, state and local levels, laws exist that forbid discrimination on gender. And the core justification for Chariot for Women is that it discriminates.  Continue reading

The Waiter, The Thiel Fellow

On CBS Sunday Morning, a segment on college, even high school, “whiz kids” who have dropped out to become the new prospectors in the digital goldrush. Part of this segment was an homage to Peter Thiel’s Fellowship, a $100,000 prize awarded 20 of the best and brightest dropouts.

How cool is that?

The cameras showed the faces of a handful of young whizzies, filled with risk-taking aplomb and ideas for new apps that were pretty much like old apps, and didn’t do much of anything to change the world. But hey, all they want is some VC loot and a chance to sell it to someone with enough money to turn them a profit, so they can do it all again.

But the kids they didn’t put on camera were the waiters in the restaurants where the TV producers ate lunch, or picked up a venti fruiticcino. Because they were going to be huge successes too. The problem is that the faces they show, the stories they tell, are of the handful who are treading water, if not quite surviving.  Continue reading

Monetizing OPC Isn’t Brave

I’ve never been a member of the “information wants to be free” club. That’s because I create content (this stuff you’re reading), and as much as I choose not to monetize it by putting advertisements on SJ, though there is the donate button on the sidebar, it pisses me off when someone else decides to take my content, put it on their website and make money off it. I give it for free. You don’t get to steal my content so you can make money.  Is that wrong of me?

At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow writes about a new browser called Brave.

Brave is a new experimental browser from Brendan Eich, inventor of Javascript and co-founder of Mozilla. It comes with a built-in ad-blocker that only blocks third party ads, and replaces them with non-tracking ads from its own inventory, whose revenue is then shared with publishers and users, on better terms than most ad networks give.

If my understanding is correct, Brave takes OPC (“other people’s content”), strips out the advertising that the original source of the content uses, and replaces it with its own advertising.  There is one additional aspect, but it needs to be addressed separately, that the revenue from the replaced ads are “shared with publishers and users.”

For obvious and self-serving reasons, one can understand why users would love that. Instead of finding themselves in the constant position of having to suffer advertising to enjoy the internet, they would get something out of it.  And publishers too? Well, that’s not as simple. Continue reading

Why Waiver Won’t Work

My bad.  When I argued that the Senate had a constitutional duty to provide “advice and consent” on the president’s Supreme Court nomination, but that there was no enforcement mechanism to compel it to do so, I blew off the notion that the failure to perform this duty could constitute a waiver.  And yet, Gregory Diskant, a senior partner at Patterson Belknap and former clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall, argues exactly that in the Washington Post.

If you took the view that the Senate’s failure to act could constitute a waiver, then you, too, could be a senior partner at a major law firm. You would still be wrong, but well paid, and given the opportunity to publish sentences like this:

The Constitution glories in its ambiguities, however, and it is possible to read its language to deny the Senate the right to pocket veto the president’s nominations.

Glories in its ambiguities? Pretty darned poetic, but what he’s probably trying to say is that the vagaries of the Constitution’s language should be read with sufficient flexibility to address unforeseen problems and provide answers. This is the “living Constitution” view, that it’s meant to be interpreted, and re-interpreted, by each generation in light of its priorities, concerns, experiences and sensibilities.  It’s the opposite of the textualist and/or originalist view.  Continue reading

The Syndrome, The Shaken Baby Witch Hunt

For reasons that aren’t clear, it seemed as if the “Shaken Baby Syndrome” had been thoroughly debunked and, like its predecessor, the Satanic Cult Hysteria, as best reflected in the outrageous McMartin Preschool prosecutions, somehow faded out of the legal system as another of our horribly misguided leaps into the abyss.  Sorry. It’s not gone. While the name has been changed a bit to “Abusive Head Trauma,” it’s still very much with us.

Syndrome

The Syndrome, a new documentary by director/producer Meryl Goldsmith and investigative reporter Susan Goldsmith, provides a deep dive into its origins, its promoters and, of course, the fact that it is based entirely on flawed science that has managed to grip the imagination of the legal system and public, neither of which is well known for its high expectations of reason.

And unironically, one detail which is both shocking and yet wholly unsurprising is that the same physicians who were at the heart of the ritualistic cult hysteria went on to create this new “diagnosis” to explain the unexplainable, to provide a means to prosecute and convict based upon the mythology that a trio of symptoms* could not be explained except as the result of the violent shaking of a baby, homicide. Continue reading

Appreciating Gender Studies

I once suggested that the reason gender and deviant sexuality majors were underemployed and underappreciated was because it was a less than useful endeavor. I was taken to task, naturally, for my anti-intellectualism and lack of interest in how other genders feel.  I was not convinced.

But now that there is a twitter account called Peer Reviewed, I have seen the error of my ways.

Continue reading

But For Video: Skeptics Edition

As video began emerging of police encounters, some embraced it as the solution, the thing that would answer all questions, solve all problems, fix everything. Others warned that it was a good thing, but hardly the solution. A little thought, and the issues with video became, well, apparent. From missing video, to doctored video, to incomplete video, to distorted video, problems were manifest.

In the New York Times, police law prof Seth Stoughten did a demonstration of why, sometimes, your eyes do deceive when there is a video that appears to answer questions but really doesn’t.  His point wasn’t that video was unhelpful or a bad thing, but that the unsophisticated reliance on video, the view that video is the solution, fails to grasp that it’s not without flaws.

Tim Cushing at Techdirt explains how the police have figured this out as well, and are now busy exploiting the flaws.

Officers are actors and directors in their own scenes. Even when performances are captured by bystanders and their cell phones, there’s still plenty of “drama.” Multiple cops swarm the same suspect, blocking the body from view. Officers shout “Stop resisting!” even when subjects are prone with hands behind their back and under the weight of four or five cops. This allows officers to deliver extra amounts of force, instantly justified by the repeated shouts about resistance. Continue reading