This Is Your Brain On Speed

So what if Woody Allen prefers young Asian women who were once his adopted daughter?  It doesn’t mean he’s wrong about everything.

OUR favorite Woody Allen joke is the one about taking a speed-reading course. “I read ‘War and Peace’ in 20 minutes,” he says. “It’s about Russia.”

Mark my words, hot fudge sundaes will eventually be conclusively determined to be health food. But I digress.  Years ago, Evelyn Wood offered a program to teach us to speed read.

The promise of speed reading — to absorb text several times faster than normal, without any significant loss of comprehension — can indeed seem too good to be true.

And it’s back, this time in apps. Continue reading

UC Davis’ Return of the Pepper Spray

It was 2011, and the optics were horrible.  UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike was pictured spraying O.C., pepper spray, in the faces of sitting protesters. They refused to obey, so the students were sprayed. This resulted in a settlement of $38,000 to Pike for his suffering.

Chief Annette Spicuzza did her best to explain to those of us who didn’t understand the First Rule of Policing why Pike’s actions were necessary.

Spicuzza said officers were forced to use pepper spray when students surrounded them. They used a sweeping motion on the group, per procedure, to avoid injury, she said.

“There was no way out of that circle,” Spicuzza said Friday. “They were cutting the officers off from their support. It’s a very volatile situation.”

Rather than appreciate how hard it is to be a campus cop, to face students violently sitting, the internet kept pounding the optics, the viral picture of Pike showing the world the fun times ahead for UC Davis students.  This was bad for business. Continue reading

Do It Once, Get It Right

There were a bunch of stories, a couple decisions, a few commentaries, that I wanted to write about this morning. I’m not.  Instead, I’m writing this.  I’m writing this because I’m angry.

My early morning, the time that I use to write, was consumed with dealing with OPFs, Other People’s Fuck-ups.  It wasn’t one. Not ten. It was a far more substantial number. It wasn’t people who were doing me a favor, but people and businesses who get paid to provide a good or service. And some do, except they do it wrong. And others promise to do it, but then don’t, or at least don’t within the time frame it needs to get done.

They apologize for the inconvenience. They understand my frustration. What they do not do is their job.

Some offer excuses, usually related to how difficult it is to get things right.  Some explain their policy, which is essentially their way of telling you that as happy as they may be to take your money, they feel no compulsion to do anything in exchange.  Some just shrug and tell you they will correct their mistakes. And maybe they will. Eventually. Or maybe they will make a change and then test your fortitude to catch their latest fuck-up or go through the process of trying to fix it again. Continue reading

Too Little Due Process, Too Much Deference

There was a question on my law school application, “how many hours a week do you plan to study?”  It was an idiotic question, so I responded with an appropriate answer: “How long must a man’s legs be?” They admitted me anyway.

Senior Southern District of Ohio Judge Sandra Beckwith was confronted with a similar question.  She answered.  Poorly. From K.C. Johnson at Academic Wonderland:

Among the dozens of due process cases filed since the Dear Colleague letter’s appearance, the most significant factor in the outcome is the randomness of judicial assignments…

Last month, Senior U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith, a George H.W. Bush appointee, joined this undistinguished list. She heard a lawsuit filed by two accused students at the University of Cincinnati. Even in the world of university sexual assault investigations, UC’s conduct was particularly bad.

Continue reading

The Standard in Aiken? Give Cop Rape A Break

The starting point is peculiar, as nobody doubts the facts of the case. Aiken, South Carolina, Police Officer Chris Medlin anally raped Elijah Pontoon.  He raped Pontoon on the side of the road. He raped Pontoon without a warrant. He raped Pontoon without lawful justification.  There is no question, no dispute whatsoever, that Medlin anally penetrated Pontoon without consent.

According to Radley Balko’s follow-up, the local government, aside from being unaware that Aiken was being sued for the rape, was otherwise taking action to address the rape. Whether it is sufficient is a matter of some question, but it’s better than merely stonewalling the problem as other municipalities and their police departments have done.  But they’re doing something, and, since the video of the rape went viral and eyes have turned toward Aiken and its cop rape problems, they’ve drawn an F.B.I. investigation into why the cops in Aiken rape on the side of the road.

And yet, there is something about the fact that this occurred, that a cop raped, raped a black man, molested a black woman, raped on the side of the road, raped without a warrant, raped without anything approaching a lawful justification (a problem so huge, in itself, as to warrant a far larger discussion that won’t happen here), that suggests a local paper should consider saying something, well, unfavorable about it.

Does the Aiken Standard approve of rape?  Hardly. But it approves of cops, and when cops rape, it’s entirely differentContinue reading

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