I still believe in Nate Silver’s argument for why Donald Trump will almost certainly not be the Republican nominee for President (basically, if he doesn’t blow up his own campaign, the party establishment will do it for him), but the strength of my belief has been shaken by the Donald’s surprising staying power in the polls and by the big-time professional political operatives who have gone to work for him. It’s getting a bit scary.

This raises the question of who Trump might pick for Vice President if he becomes the Republican presidential nominee. It’s fun to speculate, because the usual rule is that the running mate has to be crazier than the main candidate, and who that heck would that be?

Michele Bachmann seems to be auditioning for the role with some of her recent remarks (the satirists are already giving her the job), and former pro-wrestler and Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura has indicated he’d be interested. And in breaking news, so has Charlie Sheen, who certainly meets the requirement, but I think he’s kidding.

The thing is though, the usual rules don’t apply to Donald Trump. The reason for picking someone crazy as a running mate is so they can act as the campaign attack dog, savaging opponents while allowing the presidential candidate to assume a dignified position above all the dirty fighting. But Trump likes the dirty fighting. In the Trump campaign, Trump is the attack dog.

I suppose it’s possible that Trump will follow the measured and careful advice of his high-priced political operatives and pick someone who balances out the ticket and helps with votes in critical states. But if Trump was the kind of guy who played it measured and careful, none of us would know his name. Trump is going to do something outlandish.

When he was sniffing around the presidency in 1999, Trump famously announced that he would fix U.S. trade policy by appointing himself as the country’s Trade Representative, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s thought of running for both President and Vice President.

That probably won’t happen. But at the same time, Trump loves the attention, so it’s hard to imagine him sharing the limelight with anyone else. Still, I think he’s got to pick someone, so who will it be?

Trump has a giant ego — the biggest, classiest, best ego — and he thinks he can run the country like he runs his company, so my prediction is that his second-in-command for the nation will be his second-in-command for his company: Donald Trump Jr. Because why wouldn’t he pick his eldest son to take over if he dies?

His other children, Ivanka and Eric, are too young to meet the presidential age qualification, but I expect that regardless of whether Junior gets the VP nod, if The Donald becomes The President, he’ll want some of his kids in the White House with him, if not in the Cabinet. Because that’s just how he rolls.

And in the unlikely even that he ever comes across this post, his honest response would probably be, “What’s wrong with that?”

I’m tired of television networks doing this:

Citing similarities between the show’s finale and today’s tragic shooting at a Virginia TV station, USA Network says it will postpone tonight’s finale of Mr. Robot.

“The previously filmed season finale of Mr. Robot contains a graphic scene similar in nature to today’s tragic events in Virginia,” the network said in a statement. “Out of respect to the victims, their families and colleagues, and our viewers, we are postponing tonight’s episode.”

The episode will now air on Sept. 2. The network didn’t elaborate on how the scene from the finale is similar to the events today, in which a person shot and killed a cameraman and reporter during a live televised interview.

I don’t understand how this is about respect for the victims. No matter what happens on Mr. Robot, it’s not about the victims and has nothing to do with them.

I can sort of understand the desire to respect the feelings of the victims’ families and friends, but I have trouble believing that tonight’s episode of Mr. Robot makes any difference to them. Given that someone they love has just died, I don’t think they care what’s on television.

I admit that when my mother and father died a few months apart (from natural causes), I couldn’t watch new episodes of House for a few months. Unsurprisingly, watching people suffer from major health problems in hospital settings had lost its entertainment value for me.

But it didn’t bother me that House was on the air or that other people were watching it, and I don’t believe that today’s victims’ families and friends would be bothered by Mr Robot being on either. The most that might be needed from USA Network is a warning notice before the show so people who might be upset could avoid or postpone watching that episode.

Speaking of my dead parents, why didn’t House postpone any episodes when they died, out of respect for my feelings? For that matter, people are murdered pretty much every day in this country, so why don’t networks postpone shows all the time? Surely the family and friends of those victims would be just as upset by similar violence on television as the family and friends of the people shot in Virginia today. Why doesn’t USA Network postpone episodes for them?

Of course the big difference between today’s shooting and all those other murders (or my parents’ natural deaths) is the vast amount of news coverage. Everybody has heard about the Virginia shooting. What this tells me is that postponing tonight’s episode of Mr. Robot isn’t really about the victims or their families or their friends. It’s about all of us.

My initial thought was that USA Network was concerned the episode’s similarity to today’s tragic real-life events would make it harder for us viewers to enjoy the show, which is bad for the USA Network, because they need us viewers to make money. Even just putting up a warning notice could reduce viewership, although I suspect most fans would catch the episode later.

On the other hand, speaking as a fan, not only was there a depressing event in the news today, but now it turns out I won’t get to see a show I’ve been looking forward to all day. USA Network isn’t really helping me out here, and I’m guessing most other fans feel the same way. (Or maybe these coincidences just don’t bother me as much.)

That leads me to believe that postponing the episode is mostly about the desire by USA Network executives to avoid the appearance of insensitivity. They’re concerned that if they show the episode, someone or some group with an agenda will get outraged and make a big stink about USA Network’s neglect of victims’ feelings and “glorification” of violence.

But saying that in the press release would have been insensitive. So instead they say it’s about respect for the victims and their families and friends. That’s not to say that the people at USA Network aren’t genuinely sympathetic toward the victims and their families and friends. I just don’t think that’s why they’re postponing Mr. Robot.


I’m certainly not panicking. I haven’t even checked my balances. That’s not because I’m so smart. It’s because, when it comes to financial markets, I’m pretty dumb.

I assume I lost money, but what should I do about it? Should I get out of the market now? It’s too late to get the money back, and if it rebounds tomorrow then getting out now will just lock in my losses. I haven’t got a clue what to do.

More importantly, there are lots of people who know more than I do about the market, including people who trade actively all day, every day, for a living, and they have a lot more invested than I do. In order to figure out the winning move in the market, I’d have to figure out what the market will do, and that means figuring out what all those smart people will do. And then beating them at it.

That doesn’t seem like a very realistic plan.

Doing something is no more likely to succeed than doing nothing, and doing nothing costs less and takes less time. And if I want to spend my time and money trying to improve my financial situation, I’m better off spending it on something I know a lot about, like training myself in new software development skills.

When I first downloaded a copy of the hacked database dump from the Ashley Madison adultery-oriented dating site, I naturally checked if anyone I know had been naughty. When that didn’t pan out, I tried to think of something fun I could do with all that data.

Then over at The Big Questions economist Steve Landsburg posted what he called “The Ashley Madison Test of College Faculty Cluelessness” in which he ranked 33 top colleges according to how many of their faculty used their work email addresses to register at Ashley Madison.

…feel free to use these rankings as a measure of your college faculty’s average cluelessness, at least when it comes to maintaining anonymity over the Internet.

I thought that was an amusing way to poke fun at academia, and since I occasionally cover legal issues, I figured that I could do the same for law big. So here’s a list of email domains from Vault’s list of 100 most prestigious law firms to work for in 2016, ranked in order by the number of times email addresses with that domain appear in the Ashley Madison data dump:

Rank Email Domain Number of
Ashley Madison
1 fr.com 18
2 mofo.com 9
3 dlapiper.com 8
3 kslaw.com 8
3 mwe.com 8
3 gtlaw.com 8
7 jonesday.com 7
7 sullcrom.com 7
9 omm.com 6
9 crowell.com 6
9 klgates.com 6
12 reedsmith.com 5
12 sidley.com 5
12 debevoise.com 5
12 bakermckenzie.com 5
16 foley.com 4
16 mto.com 4
16 hunton.com 4
16 kirkland.com 4
16 cgsh.com 4
16 hklaw.com 4
16 whitecase.com 4
16 wc.com 4
16 troutmansanders.com 4
16 winston.com 4
26 lw.com 3
26 morganlewis.com 3
26 velaw.com 3
26 nixonpeabody.com 3
26 mcguirewoods.com 3
26 steptoe.com 3
26 pattonboggs.com 3
26 quinnemanuel.com 3
26 wilmerhale.com 3
26 mayerbrown.com 3
26 bakerbotts.com 3
26 goodwinprocter.com 3
38 nortonrosefulbright.com 2
38 kattenlaw.com 2
38 perkinscoie.com 2
38 arentfox.com 2
38 alston.com 2
38 dechert.com 2
38 gibsondunn.com 2
38 cov.com 2
38 fenwick.com 2
38 dorsey.com 2
38 cliffordchance.com 2
38 finnegan.com 2
38 blankrome.com 2
38 mintz.com 2
38 pepperlaw.com 2
38 weil.com 2
54 hugheshubbard.com 1
54 duanemorris.com 1
54 lockelord.com 1
54 manatt.com 1
54 pbwt.com 1
54 paulweiss.com 1
54 seyfarth.com 1
54 sheppardmullin.com 1
54 venable.com 1
54 bsfllp.com 1
54 ropesgray.com 1
54 akingump.com 1
54 shearman.com 1
54 proskauer.com 1
54 freshfields.com 1
54 wsgr.com 1
54 irell.com 1
54 jenner.com 1
54 bakerlaw.com 1
54 kayescholer.com 1
54 bryancave.com 1
54 cravath.com 1
76 allenovery.com 0
76 arnoldporter.com 0
76 bracewellgiuliani.com 0
76 cadwalader.com 0
76 cahill.com 0
76 chadbourne.com 0
76 cooley.com 0
76 davispolk.com 0
76 dentons.com 0
76 drinkerbiddle.com 0
76 friedfrank.com 0
76 haynesboone.com 0
76 hoganlovells.com 0
76 kilpatricktownsend.com 0
76 kramerlevin.com 0
76 linklaters.com 0
76 milbank.com 0
76 www.orrick.com 0
76 paulhastings.com 0
76 pillsburylaw.com 0
76 srz.com 0
76 simpsonthacher.com 0
76 skadden 0
76 wlrk.com 0
76 willkie.com 0

Since this post mentions 100 freakin’ law firms, I should probably include a few clarifications:

There are reasons unrelated to adultery for having an account at Ashley Madison. Journalists, for example, have created Ashley Madison accounts while writing stories about the service. (Since I’ve considered writing posts about Ashley Madison in the past, I thought I might have created an account. It turns out I didn’t.) Similarly, employees of law firms could have created accounts as part of the investigation of a legal matter. Or they may just have been curious.

It’s also important to note that Ashley Madison does not verify email addresses, so these accounts need not have been created by any real person at those law firms. They don’t even have to be real email addresses. The email addresses in the Ashley Madison database could have been put there by literally anyone on the internet. (This is why I’m not posting individual addresses.) Some lawfirms have purchased short high-prestige domains, and people entering random letters for a made-up email address could easily hit on them by accident.

Furthermore, there’s a chance that this is not the real data from Ashley Madison. It’s possible I found another fake data dump. This post is based on data listed at The Pirate Bay, and this time I was more careful, so I think it’s the Thursday dump everyone’s been talking about, but I could be wrong. And even if it is the dump everybody’s talking about, there’s no guarantee that it’s really from the Impact Team hacking group, and even if it is, there’s no guarantee that this data actually came from Ashley Madison. As I write this, they have not confirmed its authenticity. However, the lack of vigorous denials makes me think this is probably the real thing.

[Update: A PR representative for one of the law firms pointed out that many of the email addresses are obviously fake, and some of them are duplicates. I had already explained that Ashley Madison does not verify email addresses, but in case the implications of unverified email were not getting across to readers, I have changed this post to put greater emphasis on implications of unverified email. Furthermore, I have replaced the names of the firms with the domain names from the data dump to make it clear that the email addresses are not necessarily valid email addresses at those firms. I also re-wrote the database query to crush out duplicate email addresses, which changes some of the counts and rankings. Finally, I changed the tone to more clearly indicate that this post is intended for amusement.]

So, I thought I’d try downloading the recent dump of the Ashley Madison database just for kicks. I’m not really a hacking-the-dark-web kind of guy, so there’s a bit of a learning curve.

I started by Googling around for news about it, and eventually I found out the files were available via Torrent. So step one was to install a Torrent client.

The next step was to find the torrent for the Ashley Madison data dump. I found a torrent magnet link that seemed legit. I started the download and waited as my internet security software announced one “Malicious Website Blocked” message after another… Just a reminder that this data was coming from a devious part of the internet.

Eventually I had all the files, so the next step was to suck them into a database so I could poke around. Fortunately, they come as a MySQL database dump, which is easy to load. Unfortunately, I don’t have MySQL installed on my home system, so installing it was the next step.

Once I got that done, I imported the membership list, and then did a few SQL queries. Nobody with my last name, so my family is behaving. I tried a couple of other interesting names and also got no results.

Hmm…that’s not very satisfying. Let’s try a common name…yup, lots of Smiths! What about people in Chicago? Yup, got a bunch of those. Anyone I might know? I try my zip code…yup there are a few of those. No one I know. But wait…

What the heck? My zip code is firmly in Chicago, yet these zip codes are coming up all over the nation. Maybe people are putting in fake addresses. Or maybe it’s all fake.

I decide to try a few names a little more unusual than Smith… Nothing. No Changs, no Lees, no Patels, and there are a crapton of people with those names in the world. That’s not good. One more test, just to be sure…I query for how many times every last name appears in the database and find a smoking gun: There are a lot of last names, but all of them appear with equal frequency. That’s a sure sign. Real data is never that random.

Crap. I got fake data. I’d heard there was a lot of that going around.

And I guess when it comes to Ashley Madison, fake data shouldn’t surprise me.

There’s something surreal about discussing Donald Trump’s policy positions. It’s like discussing my cat’s nutritional and exercise choices — they both just do what they do because of what they are. Trump’s plan for everything is that all things will be better because Trump will be doing them. His so-called “positions” are just the talking points his staff has put together. I think reporters could get some mileage asking him questions about the details and seeing how much he remembers.


Trump’s only position paper so far is on immigration, and I’d like to address just a few of the points he makes.

When politicians talk about “immigration reform” they mean: amnesty, cheap labor and open borders.

Well, all three of those things sound pretty good to me. Keeping residents on the run from the immigration police all their lives is a recipe for a rebellious underclass, I certainly don’t want to have to buy all my goods and services from overpriced labor, and with open borders it won’t cost as much to fight illegal immigration because most of it will be legal.

Here are the three core principles of real immigration reform:

1. A nation without borders is not a nation. There must be a wall across the southern border.

If a nations must have borders and borders must have walls… So, we’re still not a nation yet then, are we?

(Remaining two points omitted because they are empty slogans.)

Meanwhile, Mexico continues to make billions on not only our bad trade deals but also relies heavily on the billions of dollars in remittances sent from illegal immigrants in the United States back to Mexico ($22 billion in 2013 alone).

First of all, making money off of trade deals is why we have trade deals. Mexicans wouldn’t trade with us if there wasn’t something in it for them.

Second, the $22 billion figure is a lie. If you read the source he links to, a Fox news item, the $22 billion figure is total remittances, not just remittances from illegal immigrants.

Mexico must pay for the wall and, until they do, the United States will, among other things: impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages;

That’s a foolish and empty promise. If the U.S. government tried to stop remittances, people would just send illegally, creating yet another underground economic activity. We can’t even stop drug cartels from moving billions of dollars across the border every year.

America will only be great as long as America remains a nation of laws that lives according to the Constitution. No one is above the law. The following steps will return to the American people the safety of their laws, which politicians have stolen from them:

I’m pretty sure that paragraph doesn’t actually mean anything.

Triple the number of ICE officers. As the President of the ICE Officers’ Council explained in Congressional testimony: “Only approximately 5,000 officers and agents within ICE perform the lion’s share of ICE’s immigration mission…Compare that to the Los Angeles Police Department at approximately 10,000 officers.

Why in God’s name would we want more ICE officers? They’re one of the most awful groups of people you can name. Whether they’re turning back friendly tourists, keeping out musical styles they don’t understand, jailing people for years and deporting them for crimes they were never convicted of, letting cancer victims die in their custody, or kicking out women because they might have sex with American men, in a nation that prides itself on diversity, it would be hard to find less tolerant bunch of thugs that wasn’t being tracked by the DOJ Civil Rights office.

Nationwide e-verify. This simple measure will protect jobs for unemployed Americans.

So not only does Trump want to triple the number of ICE officers, he also wants to force businesses to do the job that ICE is supposed to be doing, adding even more paperwork and slowing the hiring process.

Defund sanctuary cities. Cut-off federal grants to any city which refuses to cooperate with federal law enforcement.

Again, if you think catching illegal immigrants is so damned important, do it yourself. Don’t force cities to spend their own money on enforcing laws they don’t want to enforce. Make all those ICE agents do their jobs.

Cooperate with local gang task forces. ICE officers should accompany local police departments conducting raids of violent street gangs like MS-13 and the 18th street gang, which have terrorized the country.

Now there’s a group that may be worse than ICE: Gang task forces. (Want to see a gang cop lie? Ask him how he knows someone is in a gang.)

All illegal aliens in gangs should be apprehended and deported.

And all children should have ponies.

Again, quoting Chris Crane: “ICE Officers and Agents are forced to apply the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Directive, not to children in schools, but to adult inmates in jails. If an illegal-alien inmate simply claims eligibility, ICE is forced to release the alien back into the community. This includes serious criminals who have committed felonies, who have assaulted officers, and who prey on children…”

I have no idea what he’s talking about, but I’m pretty sure it’s not true. It may be that ICE can’t detain these people on an immigration hold, but the states can always lock up criminals.

“…ICE should be working with any state or local drug or gang task force that asks for such assistance.”

Drug task forces. Even worse than gang task forces.

End birthright citizenship. This remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration. By a 2:1 margin, voters say it’s the wrong policy, including Harry Reid who said “no sane country” would give automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants.

Shorter Trump: Wahhh, we can’t deport the brown babies!

Increase prevailing wage for H-1Bs. We graduate two times more Americans with STEM degrees each year than find STEM jobs, yet as much as two-thirds of entry-level hiring for IT jobs is accomplished through the H-1B program. More than half of H-1B visas are issued for the program’s lowest allowable wage level, and more than eighty percent for its bottom two.

The H-1B program ties workers’ visa status to their employer, making it hard for them to change jobs. This reduces their bargaining power. If you change the H1-B program to allow them to become unemployed without losing their jobs, they’ll demand wages much closer to American workers. Of course, that might make employers less likely to sponsor them, so maybe just eliminate the sponsorship requirement and convert it to a general guest worker program.

Some of Trump’s proposals amount to little more than anti-immigrant bigotry. I know his defenders insist he’s only talking about illegal immigrants, but not in these sections. This is pretty much an appeal to group identity:

…Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas. This will improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program.

And this is even more explicit:

Requirement to hire American workers first. Too many visas, like the H-1B, have no such requirement. In the year 2015, with 92 million Americans outside the workforce and incomes collapsing, we need to companies to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed.

Or this:

Immigration moderation. Before any new green cards are issued to foreign workers abroad, there will be a pause where employers will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers. This will help reverse women’s plummeting workplace participation rate, grow wages, and allow record immigration levels to subside to more moderate historical averages.

And then there’s petty shit like this:

Jobs program for inner city youth. The J-1 visa jobs program for foreign youth will be terminated and replaced with a resume bank for inner city youth provided to all corporate subscribers to the J-1 visa program.

Jesus. Trump thinks the reason inner city youths can’t get jobs is because their resumes aren’t getting enough exposure.

And then there’s the naked “save the children” appeal:

Refugee program for American children. Increase standards for the admission of refugees and asylum-seekers to crack down on abuses. Use the monies saved on expensive refugee programs to help place American children without parents in safer homes and communities, and to improve community safety in high crime neighborhoods in the United States.

Why not raise taxes on gambling to save the children? Or real estate development? Reality TV shows? Everything seems like a good idea when you cast the alternative as not saving the children.

Even if we ignore the wackier stuff, the failure in economic thinking here — common to most political rhetoric about economics — is that it’s all about Americans as workers, but not about Americans as consumers. Cheap labor means it costs less to produce the goods and service everyone consumes. The laborers get better jobs, we get more stuff. Everybody wins. That’s why pretty much every economic study indicates that immigration is a net advantage for our economy and for the world.

I would have written more about Trump’s immigration policy, but instead I’ll just suggest you read these great pieces by Megan McArdleNick Gillespie, and Robby Soave.

And finally, Peter Suderman takes on the mistake of thinking that Trump actually has policy positions:

In his 1987 book The Art of the Deal, for example, Trump wrote that, in conducting his real-estate business, he would draw up architectural plans designed to look far more expensive and thoughtfully designed than they were, or have construction equipment engage in meaningless busywork in order to impress investors with the illusion of activity.

With his half-baked immigration white paper, Trump is doing essentially the same thing, but for his presidential campaign: He’s attempting, through the use of a simple gimmick, to create the illusion of thoughtfully crafted, substantive policy detail.

Which is pretty much where I came in.

“A lot of people sit down and discuss their lives, things like are they happy, but it’s not like that with me. I don’t think positively, I don’t think negatively, I just think about the goal. But it’s not like I sit down and write goals. I just do things.”

— Donald Trump, Master Apprentice, 2005 (source).


“Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just…do things.”

— The Joker, The Dark Knight, 2008 (source).

Here’s everything wrong with feminist anti-sexwork thinking in one tweet:

In case that wasn’t formatted right, that’s Lena Dunham, who opposes Amnesty International’s proposal to decriminalize prostitution, tweeting “While there are clearly sex workers by choice, the majority globally are there because of poverty, homelessness etc. Aka lack of choice.”

When she talks about “sex workers by choice,” I assume she’s talking about vocal activists who have made it clear that they think sex work is a great job. Around here that’s folks like Maggie McNeill, Mistress Matisse, Brooke Magnanti, Serpent Libertine, Furry Girl, and the whole Tits & Sass crowd. These are the sex workers (or former sex workers) who are speaking out in favor of Amnesty’s proposal, and who are arguing against Dunham’s condemnation of it.

The implication is that these women are special cases — sex work’s 1 percent — who have chosen sex work freely, and who are not representative of the vast majority of sex workers, especially worldwide, who are not doing sex work by choice.

If by “lack of choice” she meant coercive sex trafficking, she’d have a point, because by definition the victims of sex trafficking have no choice: They are slaves, and they are rape victims. There’s little evidence, however, that these victims are more than a small minority of sex workers, and in any case, Amnesty International is not proposing to legalize slavery and rape.

When Dunham writes “the majority globally are there because of poverty, homelessness etc,” she’s talking about poor women, often in developing countries, whose choices are severely limited by economics. The do sex work out of necessity, and Dunham doesn’t think that’s really much of a choice.

Unfortunately, statements like Dunham’s confuse the issue because they conflate two different meanings of the concept of choice, which can be defined as:

: the opportunity or power to choose between two or more possibilities : the opportunity or power to make a decision

: a range of things that can be chosen

By the last definition, choice is about the set of options available to you, but by the first definition, choice is about your power to control which option you pick.

The set of options available to you is outside your control. It depends on factors like your genetics, how you were raised, what society you were born into, what kind of people you met, and what kind of options they offered you. This kind of choice is about where life takes you, and a lot of it is just a matter of luck.

On the other hand, when activists talk about people choosing sex work, they are talking about the first definition: Women who, given the options available to them, have chosen to do sex work. A big part of the anti-sex-work message is the claim that no women would choose to be a prostitute, that all prostitutes are “prostituted” by someone, that they are all victims of human traffickers and pimps. One of the ways sex work activists counter those claims is to tell their own stories about the choices they made.

This is not to say that they chose that line of work from a field of infinite possibilities, but that they freely choose from the options available to them. And of course women living in “poverty, homelessness etc” have to choose from a smaller array of options.

Economist Amartya Sen has argued that the range of choices available to people is a better measure of comparative quality of life than the usual measures of income or consumption because it captures the value of having choices: All other things being equal, having access to a Walmart that sells 140,000 items makes your life better, and earning $50,000 in a free country is better than earning $50,000 in a totalitarian state. So when Dunham and others talk about “poverty, homelessness etc” limiting women’s choices, that’s another way of saying these women are poor.

We now arrive at the point where I really have trouble following the logic: If these poor women are choosing sex work because they have so few choices, you’d think the solution would be to offer them more choices, wouldn’t you? But if we criminalize the way they earn money, we’re reducing their choices. People who think like Dunham are advocating the very thing they are complaining about.

Or to approach it from a different direction, I’d like to ask Dunham why she thinks these poor women have decided to do sex work. Is she saying they’re too stupid to know better? I’m sure she’d deny it, but how else to explain why she’s disregarding the choices these women made about their own lives?

By definition, these women are trapped in a situation that offers them very few options, none of which are very good. And out of that array of bad options, they chose to do sex work. Doesn’t that mean that every other options was worse? So when you prevent them from doing sex work, aren’t you forcing them to do something that will make their lives worse? These poor women have decided that that sex work — sometimes referred to as “survival sex” — is their best option. It seems arrogant and unwise to think you know better than they do.

Unfortunately, when you try to make this argument, someone inevitably tries to put it in the worst way they can think of:

My response is that I could just as easily have started this post with that image and called it “Everything Wrong With Feminist Anti-Sexwork Thinking In One Tweet.”

(I’ll admit that message sounds pretty harsh, but that’s because we use references to blowjobs as insults: “You cocksucker! Suck my dick!” I’m not sure if that’s because telling another man to suck your dick implied that he was gay or effeminate or what, but given how much men enjoy getting blowjobs, it’s a little weird to imply that giving blowjobs is demeaning. I mean, what’s the message here? Giving a blowjob is demeaning to women, but you totally don’t think it’s demeaning when your girlfriend is giving you one?)

In any case, fair enough, I’ll own that. But I would phrase it a little differently: Poor women should be able to earn money by giving blowjobs to rich men if they want to. The if they want to part is real important, because I think we all agree it’s wrong to force women to sexually service men. But opponents of decriminalization apparently think it’s perfectly okay to use force to prevent prevent women from earning money by sexually servicing men.

I’ve got to wonder if the people who made this sign gave any thought to what would happen if rich men took their message to heart and stopped paying poor women for sex. Wouldn’t that make them even poorer?  Do these people imagine that, freed of the option of sex work, the women would all just go out and get better jobs? Or do they think that once those “rich men” can’t pay women for sex, they’ll instead contribute the money to charities for the poor?

Prostitution by poor women is called “survival sex” for a reason. And nothing good happens when you take away someone’s means of survival.

New York Times reporter Matt Apuzzo has a fascinating story about Dr. William J. Lewinski’s work as an expert witness in police shooting cases.

When police officers shoot people under questionable circumstances, Dr. Lewinski is often there to defend their actions. Among the most influential voices on the subject, he has testified in or consulted in nearly 200 cases over the last decade or so and has helped justify countless shootings around the country.

Apuzzo’s story is reasonably balanced, but I’d like to talk about a number of red flags when it comes to Lewinski’s work.

His conclusions are consistent: The officer acted appropriately, even when shooting an unarmed person. Even when shooting someone in the back. Even when witness testimony, forensic evidence or video footage contradicts the officer’s story.

My guess is that most police shootings are justified — at least from the point of view of the officer pulling the trigger — but if Lewinski is reaching the same conclusion every single time, then what exactly is he bringing to the table? How much expertise is he contributing when you could replace him with a guy holding up a sign reading “The officer acted appropriately”?

Consistently finding that the officers acted appropriately also raises the issue of bias, which is the next red flag:

He has appeared as an expert witness in criminal trials, civil cases and disciplinary hearings, and before grand juries, where such testimony is given in secret and goes unchallenged. In addition, his company, the Force Science Institute, has trained tens of thousands of police officers on how to think differently about police shootings that might appear excessive.

That’s a pretty big conflict of interest. He runs a company that gets most of its money from police departments to train police officers, and then he offers expert testimony on police conduct in court cases which could send police officers to jail and cost police departments millions of dollars in damages. If he testifies against an officer in a shooting, he risks alienating the sources of his income.

Many policing experts are for hire, but Dr. Lewinski is unique in that he conducts his own research, trains officers and internal investigators, and testifies at trial.

When it comes to the credibility of an expert, doing original research can go either way: On the one hand, it can be a good sign because making original contributions to a field of knowledge requires you to understand it in great detail. On the other hand, it can be a bit of a red flag because it’s easy to cross the line between original science and making up your own special science. (See, for example, forensic bite-mark “expert” Dr. Michael West.)

Lewinski’s personal “About” page says this about him:

Dr. Bill Lewinski is one of the world’s leading behavioral scientists whose work has focused primarily on the intensive study of the human dynamics involved in high stress, life-threatening encounters.

And his Force Science Institute “Who We Are” page describes his research this way:

Dr. Lewinski is conducting the leading research on human behavior in force encounters. His current focus is on action/reaction parameters, perception, attention & memory and judgment. His research has been published in national law enforcement publications, websites and e-news lines. This research has been highlighted on 48 Hours Investigates and the BBC’s Panorama.

Those are not exactly scholarly publications. In fact, of the nineteen published research papers listed by Dr. Lewinski, sixteen are in law enforcement publications. On the other hand, the remaining three papers appear to be genuine research published in legitimate peer-reviewed journals. The man has a Ph.D. and he taught college courses for decades. He’s been involved in some real research.

Still, this is not the research output of “one of the world’s leading behavioral scientists.” For instance, a quick search shows that his most-cited paper was referenced 23 times. By comparison, my old college adviser has a paper that was cited 94 times, and while he was a great teacher, he wasn’t a leader in his field either.

It’s also hard to say what Lewinsky contributed to his two most-cited peer reviewed papers because he wasn’t the lead author for either of them. That was Professor Joan N. Vickers from the University of Calgary Kinesiology department. She has dozens of peer-reviewed publications, many of which have been cited hundreds of times, which means she probably is the kind of scientific leader that Lewinski wants people to think he is.

Apuzzo’s article discusses some criticisms of his research, but I have no way to tell how valid they are. It appears that much of his research is about human behavior under stress in situations typical of police shootings. For example,

In 1990, a police shooting in Minneapolis changed the course of his career. Dan May, a white police officer, shot and killed Tycel Nelson, a black 17-year-old. Officer May said he fired after the teenager turned toward him and raised a handgun. But an autopsy showed he was shot in the back.

Dr. Lewinski was intrigued by the apparent contradiction. “We really need to get into the dynamics of how this unfolds,” he remembers thinking. “We need a lot better research.”

He began by videotaping students as they raised handguns and then quickly turned their backs. On average, that move took about half a second. By the time an officer returned fire, Dr. Lewinski concluded, a suspect could have turned his back.

That seems plausible to me. I don’t know enough about human perception and reaction to know if that particular example is correct, but I do know there’s been a lot of research in this area. We’ve learned a lot about the limits of human perception and behavior, including that we overestimate our ability to understand what happened, and it all gets worse under stress.

That’s why I think it’s wrong to impose severe criminal punishments on people when they make ordinary human mistakes, even when the consequences are unusually tragic, and I see no reason not to extend that principle to the police. Civil damages are a different matter. After all, the officer still made a mistake, and someone still got hurt who didn’t have it coming.

Somewhat disturbingly, Dr. Lewinski doesn’t see it that way. He doesn’t think the officers made mistakes. He the thinks the limitations of human perception and reaction are a justification for a frightening shoot-first policy:

The shooting looked bad. But that is when the professor is at his best. A black motorist, pulled to the side of the road for a turn-signal violation, had stuffed his hand into his pocket. The white officer yelled for him to take it out. When the driver started to comply, the officer shot him dead.

The driver was unarmed.

Taking the stand at a public inquest, William J. Lewinski, the psychology professor, explained that the officer had no choice but to act.

“In simple terms,” the district attorney in Portland, Ore., asked, “if I see the gun, I’m dead?”

“In simple terms, that’s it,” Dr. Lewinski replied.

That’s not the first time we’ve encountered cops who shot people for doing exactly what the cop told them to do. It seems like a no-win scenario for motorists.

“A batter can’t wait for a ball to cross home plate before deciding whether that’s something to swing at,” he told the Los Angeles deputy sheriffs. “Make sense? Officers have to make a prediction based on cues.”

Lewinski is talking about the generally uncontroversial observation that human physical actions are faster than reactions. A bad guy deciding to shoot a cop has the advantage of surprise, so he can be pulling the trigger before the officer has time to recognize what’s happening and respond. This is a real concern for police officers, but Lewinski’s recommendation that officers should solve that problem by shooting before they see a clear threat is deeply disturbing.

Just imagine what it’s like for the black motorist in this story. A cop stopped him, and for whatever reason he had his hand in his pocket. Yes, the smart thing would have been to hold both hands where the cop could see them, but he goofed, and now the cop is screaming at him. What is he supposed to do?

If we accept Dr. Lewinski’s evaluation of the situation, it doesn’t matter if he keeps his hand in his pocket or pulls it out. Either way, the cop should shoot him, because waiting to see if he has a gun would put the cop at risk. So neither of the motorist’s choices will get him out alive. The simple act of putting his hand in his pocket was a fatal mistake from which there is no escape.

On the other hand, what if the motorist did have a gun in his pocket. Then he might be able to survive the encounter with this cop by pulling the gun as fast as he can and shooting first, before the cop can shoot him.

If someone is trying to murder you, even if it’s a cop, you have the right to self defense. Of course, you can’t be doing something wrong at the time — robbing a liquor store, mugging an old lady, breaking into someone’s home — you have to come into the situation with clean hands. But the only thing the motorist does wrong in this scenario is having a hand in his pocket, which is not a crime.

(The paradoxical thing is that having a gun might violate the law, which might mean he can’t claim self-defense, but not having the gun would leave him clear to defend himself, but he’d have no means of doing so.)

You might argue that the motorist has no reasonable belief that the cop is going to kill him: Just because an armed cop is standing outside his car screaming at him doesn’t mean the cop is going to murder him for no reason. That seems like a pretty good argument, but Dr. Lewinski refutes it for us:

“In simple terms,” the district attorney in Portland, Ore., asked, “if I see the gun, I’m dead?”

“In simple terms, that’s it,” Dr. Lewinski replied.

By Lewinski’s own logic, the black motorist can’t afford to wait too long to decide whether or not the cop is going to kill him. By the time he sees the muzzle flash, it’s too late. Best to shoot the cop first, just to be safe, right?

(Reminder: I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t advice. This is a hypothetical argument in a blog. For God’s sake, don’t go thinking it’s okay to shoot cops!)

You might still think it’s not reasonable for the black motorist to believe that the cop will kill him for no reason. Yet that’s exactly what Lewinski is claiming the police officer should do: Kill the motorist before he sees a clear reason to do so. So not only is Dr. Lewinski providing a self-defense argument for black motorists to shoot cops, he’s also providing empirical justification for believing cops are likely to shoot them for no reason, because that’s what he’s telling them to do.

We could apply Dr. Lewinski’s argument more broadly: If you’re a white guy walking down the street and you see a young black male walking toward you, how can you be sure he’s not going to shoot you? Best to shoot him first, just to be sure. After all, if you see the gun, you’re dead, right?

Of course, if you’re the black guy, and you see a white guy coming toward you, shouldn’t you shoot him first? After all, he’s probably thinking about shooting you first. Or maybe not, but can you afford to wait until you’re sure? Dr. Lewinski doesn’t think so: If you see the gun, you’re dead.

We could follow this line of reasoning as far as we want, until we’re gunning each other down in the streets for not showing empty hands and hurtling nuclear bombs across the oceans because we fear our enemies might do the same.

My real point is this: The reason we can justify so much mayhem with Dr. Lewinski’s argument is that Dr. Lewinski’s argument is morally bankrupt. It fails the “What if everyone did that?” test. He’s not telling cops to kill to protect themselves from danger, he’s telling them to kill whenever they can’t be sure they’re safe. And no one can never be sure they’re safe.

A few years back, I wrote about one of those puppycide incidents that went really bad:, and I asked why police couldn’t use less lethal methods to subdue the dog. Someone defending the police told me it would be nuts to go on a drug raid with pepper spray instead of a gun. (Apparently it’s an either/or thing.) My response was that if this was true, then by choosing to conduct drug raids with gun in hand the police have also chosen in advance to meet all resistance with lethal force: Could be a bad guy with a gun, could be a lady with a baseball bat, could be a 10-year-old boy with a hammer. They all get a bullet.

If that’s really the case, then maybe police shouldn’t be conducting so many raids. And if we accept Dr. Lewinski’s argument that cops doing traffic stops should be able to shoot anybody who might be a threat, then maybe they shouldn’t be doing so many traffic stops.

I think it’s telling that you only really hear this argument as a defense after the fact. No police department issues up front warnings to citizens that they will be shot if they fail to put their hands up as an officer approaches. That’s because they know this is a shameful policy, and they don’t want to claim it unless they have to.

Getting back to my example of cops who run into a frightened 10-year-old with a hammer during a drug raid, despite all the bad stuff we’ve seen cops do over the years, I’m confident most officers would find a way to handle that kid without shooting him. Because nobody wants to kill a child.

So maybe the best way to get police to stop unnecessary killings is to find a way to make them want to stop unnecessary killings. Maybe cops will find better ways to stop motorists that are less risky for everyone. Or maybe when a cop who sees a black motorist with his hand in his pocket, he will just roll with it and hope he doesn’t get shot. After all, that’s what the black motorist is doing.

(Hat tip: My co-blogger Ken helped me to characterize the legitimacy and influence of Dr. Lewinski’s research.)

Both Jeff Gamso and Scott Greenfield have written about Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Mark Dwyer’s opinion in People v. Collins discussing the admissibility of a certain type of DNA analysis in a criminal case. Since I have an amateur’s interest in both science and criminal law, I thought it might be interesting to read the actual opinion.

Surprisingly, despite the complexity of the subject and the amount of detail, it’s actually pretty readable. Dwyer takes the time to explain a lot of what the reader needs to know to understand what’s going on. And if you’re interested in this kind of thing, it’s fascinating. I think I understand it, so let me see if I can explain some of the science…

The basic issue is whether the court should allow the prosecution to present a certain type of DNA evidence from the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. DNA evidence itself is generally considered very reliable, but in this case the evidence was based on a very small sample of genetic material discovered at the crime scene and processed using a technique called high sensitivity analysis. The judge had to decide if this specialized technique was good enough to allow it to be admitted as evidence.

To understand the basic problem, imagine that you get a voicemail message in which the caller is speaking so quietly you can’t understand what he’s saying. So you try turning up the volume. This makes the caller’s voice louder, but it also amplifies the crackle and pop of the phone line and the background noises behind the caller. The amplifier circuit even introduces some noise of its own. So even though the caller’s voice is louder, you still might not be able to make out what he’s saying.

Photographers working in low light see a similar phenomenon when they try to crank up their camera’s ISO sensitivity. It makes the picture brighter, but it also adds a lot of speckled noise to the image. This happens to the image for roughly the same reason turning up the volume doesn’t make the voice easier to understand: In trying to amplify the signal, you’ve also amplified the noise — and introduced some as well.

The same thing happens with high sensitivity DNA analysis. One of the steps involves using a process called PCR to vastly multiply the number of copies of the DNA markers in the sample, because the process for measuring the markers requires a lot of material to work with. This process is called “amplification,” and just as with the audio and photographic examples, it will amplify the noise and introduce some of its own.

When the starting DNA sample is fairly large, it’s like a voicemail caller who speaks loudly or a photograph taken in bright sunlight: The signal stands out clearly from the noise in the system. When the sample is small — so-called “touch DNA” or a very degraded sample — the noise can overwhelm the signal.

The ME’s office came up with an interesting way to deal with the noise problem: Basically, they fed samples of known DNA through the high-amplification process and measured the statistical likelihood of the different types of noise. This allowed them to develop mathematical models of the effects of the various types of noise.

That wasn’t enough to filter out the noise completely, but it did allow them to make probabilistic determinations about the original DNA sample. Given a particular amplification result, they could now estimate the probability of getting that result from a particular suspect’s DNA fed through the noisy amplification process. They could also produce an estimate of the probability of getting that result from a random member of the population for comparison. Finally, they could even do this for mixtures of DNA from several people. The end result is that they could say things like, “It is 100,000 times more likely that this is a mixture of the defendant’s DNA and that of two other random people than that it is a mixture of the DNA of three random people.”

That’s not the sort of trillions-to-one odds you get with pristine DNA samples, but it is pretty good. If the science is for real. Which was kind of the question in front of Judge Dwyer.

In New York, the standard for admissibility of scientific evidence is Frye, which basically boils down to saying that the methodology behind the evidence must be widely acceptable to the relevant scientific community.

The high sensitivity analysis technique in question had recently been invented by the New York ME’s office and was not used much elsewhere, so Judge Dwyer could not conclude that it was widely accepted on that basis. His analysis didn’t end there, however, because the technique might still be considered widely accepted if it consisted only of components that were widely accepted. That is, doing several widely accepted things together is probably still widely accepted.

Judge Dwyer found that many parts of the high sensitivity analysis technique were indeed widely accepted — polymerase chain reaction amplification, electrophoresis, Bayesian statistics — but not all of them. Therefore he found that high sensitivity analysis was not widely accepted.

The problem that struck me as most significant was the experiments conducted by the New York ME’s office to determine how high-amplification noise affected the known DNA samples. This was a unique experiment, and as such it was a great piece of science, but until other labs have reproduced the results, it can’t really be considered widely accepted. Furthermore, the custom software that does the statistical analysis has not been made available for review, so it’s not clear how other labs could ever reach a conclusion about its acceptability.

Judge Dwyer’s opinion goes into a great deal more detail about the potential causes for concern and why he’s ruled that the technique is not widely accepted. It’s clear he’s given this a lot of careful thought, and as an observer of our justice system, it’s great to see judges take such care to get the science right. It makes me feel good about the system.

Trust Jeff to ruin that:

…he did something that almost never happened with expert evidence: he did it properly. That’s worthy of some note. Frye is readily abused.

And Scott:

To the uninitiated, what happened in Collins may seem, well, normal, expected even, since it’s perfectly reasonable to expect judges to do their job.  But what Justice Dwyer did was remarkably bold, maybe even exceptional.  He said “no” to a new wrinkle in DNA analysis, and he did so after other judges said, “sure, why not?”

With pathetic regularity, the by-product of bad forensic science is revealed when defendants convicted with the utmost certainty are later exonerated.

Oh well. At least it felt good while I was reading it.

This is the second half of my summer trip report. Part 1 took us through our stay at the Opryland hotel.

The next day we checked out and made our way to Memphis. Every time we’ve been to that city, we’ve made it a point to stop in at the Peabody Hotel downtown for drinks or a meal or just to see the famous ducks in the lobby. This time, however, we were checking in for a few days.

Morning Duck March at the Peabody Hotel, Memphis

The Peabody opened in its original location in 1869 and a lot of famous people have visited it over the years, from Johnny Cash to Michael Jordan to the Dalai Lama. Elvis had his high school prom there, and he came back a few years later to sign the paperwork for his RCA deal, some of it scrawled on Peabody stationary. Tom Cruise shot parts of The Firm on the rooftop.

The Peabody’s French restaurant, Chez Philippe, is arguably one of the best restaurants in Memphis, so naturally my wife and went across the street for burgers at Huey’s. We didn’t shoot any toothpicks into the ceiling, but apparently it’s the thing to do.


Between Huey’s and Corky’s, we stayed away from the hotel restaurants and still had a lot of good food. The only meal we had in the hotel was a magnificent Sunday brunch at the Capriccio Grill.

Writer David Cohn has written,

The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg. The Peabody is the Paris Ritz, the Cairo Shepheard’s, the London Savoy of this section. If you stand near its fountain in the middle of the lobby, where ducks waddle and turtles drowse, ultimately you will see everybody who is anybody in the Delta and many who are on the make.

That a great paragraph, and it was probably true when Cohn wrote it. The Peabody has a long history of ups and downs — it moved to a new building in 1925, and it went completely out of business in the 1970s (along with most of downtown Memphis), before being take over by new owners — so the Peabody today isn’t as connected to its history as they like to pretend, but it’s still a beautiful old hotel, full of rich architectural detail wherever you look.


If you find yourself visiting Memphis, you should at least stop in and have a drink in the lobby.


Whenever we’re away from home, my wife begins to miss the cats, so on long trips I like to try to find local rescue shelters where we can visit some kitties. In Memphis we stopped in at Mewtopia Cat Rescue, a small shelter in a converted former veterinary clinic in eastern Memphis. The volunteer staff told us stories about how they had acquired the place, a former veterinarian’s office, and the work they did to refit it as a cat shelter. It seems like a good place for lost cats.

As we walked around, I noticed one cat kept coming back to rub against my legs. I had the urge to pick him up, but I didn’t want to spook him, so instead I sat down to see if he’d sit in my lap. Sure enough, within a few seconds he climbed up and then put his paws on my shoulder and purred as he nuzzled my neck. A few minutes later in the kitten room I noticed a cat watching me intently, so I turned away slightly and hunched down, and he jumped right up onto my shoulders. Apparently I now have an unsettlingly good grasp of cat body language.

On our way home to Chicago we spent the night in St. Louis. We both (totally unfairly) think of St. Louis as an armpit because our last time there we stayed in a crappy roach-infested Days Inn. Determined to give the city another chance, we stayed in a somewhat more expensive room at the Renaissance St. Louis Grand Hotel…which didn’t quite work out.

There weren’t any roaches, but the hotel had just been through some major renovations, and everything had that not-quite-ready feel. For example, even though we had some kind of “executive” room, the desks hadn’t been installed yet, so the hotel sent someone to setup a chair and a card table (fortunately we bring our own outlet strip). And when we hit the hotel restaurant for late dinner the staff seemed flustered, like they weren’t really used to dealing with guests.

I know, I know, I’m whining. But given the high quality of the last three hotels, it was a bit of a letdown, and not nearly enough cheaper to make it a good deal.

That was one of the things I learned on this trip: Stay at convenient but relatively inexpensive hotels while traveling and save the nicer hotels for the destinations.

Speaking of hotels, here’s the scorecard:

Fastest wi-fi: Opryland Hotel.

Most over-priced wi-fi: Renaissance St. Louis Grand Hotel.

Best customer service: Opryland Hotel.

Best feeling like a big shot: The Peabody, especially when swiping my key card in the elevator to get it to stop on our “special” floor.

Most overpriced soda pop: Opryland Hotel.

Fastest elevators: Marriott Courtyard Louisville Downtown.

Slowest elevators: The Peabody.

Most comfortable bed: The Peabody.

Ever since I took up the hobby of photography, I’ve had to deal with the issue of people getting annoyed or suspicious when I start taking pictures. On private property they often ask me to stop, and even on public property they ask questions, especially at night.

One good exception is weddings, like the one that started our trip. My photography hobby has transformed weddings from tedious social occasions to exciting opportunities for picture taking. People actually want me to take pictures, and they appreciate when I post them.


I learned about another nice exception on this trip: You can wander the halls of great hotels like the the Opryland and Peabody taking pictures, and even at 2 am nobody will question you. This seems like something I’ll be able to put to good use in the future.

One last thing I learned is that once I relaxed and surrendered to the higher-than-normal cost of everything on this vacation, I got used to spending money. $120 dinners for two began to seem normal, and why not get a few 20-ounce bottles of Diet Pepsi for the room at $3.00 each? I was going price-blind.

Anyway, when we woke up the next morning, we skipped breakfast, GTFO of St. Louis, and drove almost straight through to Chicago. We stopped at home long enough to bring up a load of luggage and turn on the air conditioning, and then we drove to dinner at Ledo’s Pizza while the place cooled off.

Life was back to normal.

Rapper Chief Keef was originally scheduled to perform at the Red Moon Theater in Chicago at a benefit for the family of Dillan Harris, a 13-month-old baby killed in a car accident. However, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office put pressure on the venue to cancel the concert,

The city called Red Moon and requested they not host the concert, calling Chief Keef “an unacceptable role model” who “promotes violence.”

Apparently Mayor Emanuel is acting as the arbiter of acceptable musical performances in Chicago. So if you’re planning to have gangsta rappers or outlaw country singers at your event, be sure to run them past the Mayor’s office first to make sure they are morally pure. Also, I assume performances of Threepenny Opera are now forbidden, because Mack the Knife is a bad role model for the children.

Chief Keef’s performance was rescheduled to be at the Craze Fest concert festival in nearby Hammond, Indiana, but Hammond Mayor Thomas M. McDermott Jr. reached out to shut that down as well:

“I know nothing about Chief Keef,” Mayor McDermott, 46, said. “All I’d heard was he has a lot of songs about gangs and shooting people — a history that’s anti-cop, pro-gang and pro-drug use. He’s been basically outlawed in Chicago, and we’re not going to let you circumvent Mayor Emanuel by going next door.”

First of all, circumventing Illinois by going next door is kind of northwestern Indiana’s value proposition: Drive toward Indiana on I-80 and you’ll see a dozen billboards for fireworks stores and strip clubs.

In any case, the argument for kicking Chief Keef out of Craze Fest comes with a bit more of a rationalization:

All of the Craze Fest acts — which included Riff Raff, Lil Bibby and Tink — had been previously vetted because the event was held at a public park…

That sounds at least superficially reasonable, except that when public space is involved, I’m pretty sure the authorities aren’t supposed to discriminate against the views expressed. Just because newspaper vending machines are placed on public sidewalks doesn’t mean government authorities can control what stories are printed. They shouldn’t be allowed to control the content of musical performances either.

There’s one more thing, and if you haven’t spoiled it by reading the links, it will blow your mind: Chief Keef apparently has outstanding warrants in Illinois (for a missed DUI hearing and child support), so he was never planning to come here anyway. Instead, he was going to appear by hologram, which is apparently a thing we can do here in the future.

So what this boils down to is that, except for a difference in display technology, the mayors of Chicago and Hammond now think it is their business to tell event producers what they can have on television. Logically, it’s no different than them putting pressure on movie theaters to not show Roman Polanski movies. Even if they have a valid point — that watching Polanski movies or Chief Keef concerts is repugnant — they have no business using the power of public office to force their cultural tastes on others or to prevent others from exercising their own cultural tastes.

I don’t know anything about Chief Keef, but Mayor Emanuel is right that there are bad role models involved: He and Mayor McDermott are censorious thugs.

Update: First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh weighs in:

Unless I’m missing something here, then, this is a pretty clear First Amendment violation on the part of the City of Hammond. And it seems to me that, in America, performances by controversial singers can’t be “basically outlawed,” even “in Chicago.”

Our trip this year started off with a wedding — the son of an old friend was marrying a wonderful woman who we all liked — and we caught up with the show at the rehearsal dinner on Friday night. It was at Luigi’s House, which seems like a decent enough restaurant. The hotel, on the other hand, had a really hard bed, slow elevators, and questionable bathroom plumbing.

On Saturday, we went downstairs to a special room the wedding party had rented for the bridal party to prepare. They had a couple of hairdressers in, and then my wife spent a couple of hours helping the bridesmaids get made up — she’s got some makeup skills — and I took pictures.


Then it was on to the ceremony — which was nice and short — and then off to the reception, which turned out to be great fun. It was also a chance for me to try out the low-light shooting capabilities of my new camera gear. Between some fast lenses and the high ISO you can get from cameras these days, I was very happy with the results.

The next day, we got out relatively early and drove east into Indiana and then south down I-65. (I think every driving trip I’ve taken in this century has required a drive on I-65 in Indiana.) The sun was still up when we veered off I-65 to take highway 31 onto the Clark bridge for the river crossing into Louisville.

We checked into the Marriott Courtyard Louisville Downtown, which was very empty — I got a parking space right next to the elevator. This hotel turned out to be a lot nicer than the one we had stayed in for the wedding, with fast elevators, working plumbing, and a comfy pillow-top mattress on the bed.

For dinner, based on the recommendation of a coworker of mine, we drove back across the river for snacks at Cluckers, which turns out to be a surprisingly good place to relax on Sunday night after a long drive. It’s simple food in a laid-back environment, with a nice view of the river.

On Tuesday morning we got back onto I-65 the next morning and headed south toward Nashville. We were making good time, and so we were puzzled when Google navigation pinged to ask us if we wanted to take a route that was 4 minutes faster. That seemed odd, because hadn’t it already chosen the fastest route? Assuming it was a GPS glitch, I decided to ignore it.

A few minutes later we ran into a traffic jam and came to a complete halt. We weren’t even inching forward. We were stopped. Google Maps traffic showed the road solid red for the next half mile. It seemed likely that something bad had happened just ahead of us, but it was too far away to see what.

We had stopped just a couple of hundred yards past the off-ramp to Bethel road, and I could see a stream of cars getting off and turning left. I guess this was probably what Google would have advised us to do. As we waited, I saw a firetruck arrive on Bethel and take the on-ramp to the expressway ahead of us.


While I waited, I got out and took a few pictures, and I surveyed the landscape between the expressway and the ramp for the exit we had just missed, trying to decide if our Acura RDX could cross it. On the one hand, the RDX is sold as a crossover vehicle and has all-wheel drive. On the other hand, it’s not really much of an SUV. On the third hand, gently sloping land isn’t exactly challenging terrain. On the fourth hand, I’ve heard that grass can be unpredictably slippery or muddy. Ultimately, I decided to just wait.

After about half an hour traffic suddenly started crawling forward. As usual, people weren’t ready for it. If you’ve never been in a large expressway standstill before, it’s surprising how fast cars get moving once the blockage is cleared. They don’t reach a very high speed, but the impulse for the transition from stopped to moving propagates backward surprisingly fast. If you’re outside your car and you notice movement ahead, you need to rush quickly if you don’t want people driving around you.

When we reached the location of the blockage, our two southbound lanes were still blocked by about five or six emergency vehicles, and we all had to squeeze by on the right shoulder. Off to the left we could see an appalling mess. It looked like a guy in a white pickup had been towing a mobile home which had somehow gone off the left edge of the highway and flipped over the guard rail into the ditch. It had broken open, spilling blankets, clothing, shoes, coolers, and a hundred other personal effects all over. There was no way to tell if anyone had been inside. I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to let anyone ride in a trailer being towed that way, but I know some people do it anyway.

We eventually reached our first real vacation destination, the Opryland hotel. I had visited the place many years ago for a tech convention, although I stayed across the street in cheaper accommodations. Then a few years later, my wife and I passed through and had a nice dinner in the Cascades restaurant. This time, we were going to stay in the hotel for a few days.

The Opryland hotel is frackin’ huge. It’s got a couple of thousand rooms divided into sections separated by enclosed, climate-controlled garden areas filled with pathways, fountains, and restaurants. It’s a beautiful place, and I highly recommend you stop in just to see it if you’re ever in the area.

On the other hand, all of the meandering gets a bit tiring after a while, and it seemed that no matter where we wanted to go, it was always a long walk to get there (top speed: mozy). Wear comfortable shoes, and ask for a map or be prepared to ask directions a lot. The paths are confusing, and the bellman told me it takes about a month to really learn your way around.

Also bring a lot of money. A giant resort hotel like Opryland has everything you need for a few days, and it’s a pain in the ass to leave the property, so they get to jack up all the prices. And although the Cascades restaurant had some really tasty dishes that might be worth the money, there’s something just wrong about the overpriced burgers at Stax. And someome should tell them that selling bottles of Diet Pepsi for $3.50 makes Baby Jesus cry.

On Tuesday night we attended a show at the Grand Ole Opry. I’m not a huge fan of country music so I didn’t know any of the acts except Rascal Flatts, but my wife knew about half of them and she had a really good time. I had a good time too. Country music is a lot more fun when it’s performed live right in front of you.

A friend recommended that we try the Old Hickory Steakhouse in the Delta area of the hotel, so that’s where we ate on our last night. It was a meal to remember. First of all, because this was our anniversary vacation, the hotel comped the entire meal, which would not have been cheap.The Caesar salad was startlingly fresh, the steak was very good, and the side dishes were all great. The oddest thing I’ll remember about our meal, however, was our waiter, Paul.

All of the staff at the Opryland Hotel have clearly had impressive amounts of customer service training, but Paul took it to the next level: He was efficient without being brusque, friendly without being intrusive, attentive without being smothering, and he seemed to be a good spirited fellow in a way that didn’t feel forced. It’s weird to say this, but I think he might be the best waiter I’ve ever had.


That’s enough for now. I’ll wrap this up in the second half.

Scott Greenfield has an interesting post about how much computerized data the government is allowed to seize when serving a warrant. Current practice is to seize it all and do whatever they want with it. Orin Kerr had proposed allowing the government to continue to seize all the data but putting restrictions on the use of that data so that only data responsive to the warrant can be used.

Scott’s position, if I understand it correctly, is that the warrant limits the scope of the seizure to the data specified in the warrant, and if the government can’t figure out how to limit their seizure to that data alone, then they just don’t get to seize anything. Too bad, so sad.

In my heart, I like Scott’s argument. He’s argued in that past that it’s a bad idea to make rules for the digital world by using analogies with the way we did things in the pre-digital world. That makes a lot of sense to me. We now store far more data in digital form than in the forms of data storage available when the Fourth Amendment was passed — my guess is we have more on our hard drives now than has ever been written down in all of human history — and if we were to make up rules from scratch to keep people secure in their persons, houses, papers, effects, and digitally stored data, against unreasonable searches and seizures, they would be considerably different from the rules we’ve evolved by analogy.

We’ve been witness to a similar situation when applying copyright law to digital data. Historically, copying and distributing creative works has been hard, so it made sense to have rules that govern copying and publication. And in the early years of the digital media revolution, copyright owners and publishers tried to build a virtual digital implementation of the system of rules we had been using for printed and recorded works. But as soon as consumers discovered they could copy digital works quickly, cheaply, and perfectly, they started to abandon the old copying and publication rules as too cumbersome, and we now seem to be evolving toward a system based around convenient access to source materials: If I hear a song on the radio and I want a copy, it’s much easier for me to download it from iTunes for $1.29 than it is to find someone willing to let me copy it for free. (Eventually, we will probably have laws that allow us to do this without 57-page click-to-accept legal agreements.)

Congress and the courts have been damned slow to adapt the search and seizure rules to the digital world in a reasonable way. Between things like the current rules for seizing computers and the third-party doctrine, the government has far too much easy access to our digital data, but I like to think that will eventually change as more people who grew up living in the digital world become judges and members of Congress. Someday they’ll get it, and we’ll get robust protection of digital data. Until then, Orin’s plan is about as good as it’s likely to get.

Still, I have at least three suggestions for improving Orin’s plan:

First and foremost (and least implausible),  the government should not be allowed to seize computers for longer than it takes to copy the data and return the computers to the owners. A business without its data is a business that cannot operate, and a warrant to seize data becomes an order to shut a business down. (Even having a personal computer seized is damned inconvenient and expensive.) This is a longstanding problem with seizing evidence, but given that digital copies are quick, cheap, and perfect, it’s an area where seizures in the digital world can and should be less troublesome than in the physical world.

Second, it would be nice for a change if the restrictions on the government came with real teeth. I’m not sure how that could work, however, since the initial seizure would still be legal. But without any punishment for breaking the rules, the government will still try to use everything it has, and the worst that could happen is that a judge will say no. And really, if the government discovers something juicy in the non-responsive seized data that they’re not allowed to use, is it realistic to assume they will simply ignore it? Without serious penalties, what’s to stop them from trying a little “parallel construction” to conceal the fact that they’re using the restricted data?

A similar problem arises in civil lawsuits when one party wants to examine business records from another party, such as all emails relevant to the disputed matter. The party responding to the discovery request doesn’t want to turn over all its email messages, full of sensitive business secrets, to the opposition, but the party requesting the email messages doesn’t trust the provider not to leave out messages that would hurt it in the lawsuit. One common solution to this problem is to have the responding party turn over all email messages to a neutral third party which is responsible for picking out the relevant messages and turning them over to the party requesting them.

So my third suggestion is that perhaps digital data seizures in criminal matters could be filtered through a neutral third party as well. I believe there’s some precedent for this in the way client files are protected when a lawyer is being investigated for a crime: The court appoints a special master to review the files for privileged material. Perhaps that protection could be extended more broadly to include filtering terabytes of non-responsive data down to just the material specified in the warrant. It would be a time-consuming and expensive process, but maybe that would discourage fishing expeditions, especially the fishing expeditions that turn into massive data dredging operations.

In a tweet, criminal defense blogger Norm DeGuerre refers to an article by Michelle Alexander that asks,

What would happen if thousands of people charged with crimes refused to plead out?

Norm then asks

Bringing the system to its knees is in your clients’ best interest. Why aren’t we doing it?

And in a blog post, Mark Bennett gives the standard response that every thoughtful criminal defense lawyer gives when confronted with the “take every case to trial” idea:

The answer is simple: because we do not serve our clients’ best interest. We serve our client’s best interest. And what is in the clients’ best interest has nothing to do with what is in the client’s best interest.

What Mark’s getting at, once you sort through his very specific use of apostrophes — and assuming I’m not totally crazy here — is one of the more interesting game-theoretic aspects of criminal defense: The ethics of legal representation require lawyers to act in each client’s best interest (in the context of legal representation), and they are not allowed to sacrifice the client’s interests to achieve their own goals, including their goal of acting in the interests of other clients.

Thus, when making decisions about how to proceed for a particular client, they are not allowed to take into account the effects of their decisions on any other client of theirs, now or in the future, nor are they allowed to pursue social goals that might benefit other clients of theirs or other lawyers. For example, if a lawyer represented several people accused of committing a crime together, he would theoretically be obligated to make independent decisions about each client — including whether to recommend testifying against his other clients, in which case he might find himself racing to the prosecutor’s office on behalf of two or more clients at the same time!

No lawyer could possibly handle a conflict of interests this severe without at least the appearance of impropriety, so the ethics of legal representation wisely prohibit a lawyer from representing multiple clients in the same case (or whose interests otherwise conflict). Consequently, when several people are accused of committing a crime together, each defendant gets to have a separate lawyer. In practice, this means they would also have to be from separate law firms (except apparently in some public defender’s offices.)

If lawyers somehow cooperated to implement a “take every case to trial” strategy, the justice system would be overburdened, which would mean that prosecutors would probably be willing to offer really amazingly good deals to some defendants in the hope that they will plead out and reduce the trial load. It might be in the best interests of all clients considered as a whole to go to trial, but it could also be in the best interest of any single client to take the really great deal he’s been offered. Since defense lawyers are required to act in the best interests of each client, they would each be obligated to advise their client to take the deal. But when enough clients take the deals, the burden on the justice system is relieved, and the “take every case to trial” strategy collapses back to plea bargaining as usual.

As a consequence, the “take every case to trial” collective strategy would fall apart almost immediately as long as lawyers continued to obey the ethics rules. Consequently, no ethical criminal lawyer would seriously consider attempting this strategy. Which is why, no matter how unpleasant it is in the aggregate, lawyers continue to correctly advise their individual clients to take good plea deals rather than risk being found guilty at trial.

Civil law is more flexible, and several parties to a lawsuit will often consent to representation by the same lawyer in the interest of simplicity and cost savings if they consider themselves to be on the same side — e.g. all sued by the same plaintiff. This is especially likely to be the case if a single party such as a common employer has agreed to pay all costs. Since all the damages are coming out of the same party’s pocket, the lawyer is effectively representing a single client.

In criminal matters, the same is true of the prosecution. There may be victims, but the prosecution is carried out on behalf of the government, so all prosecutors are working for the same client. They are free to make any tradeoffs they want between cases, such as offering deals to some defendants to testify against others, and they can use their discretion to pursue broad policy goals, treating some crimes lightly in order to free up resources to come down hard on others. This flexibility is one of the fundamental differences between prosecution and defense strategies.

I should emphasize that none of this is intended to impugn Norm DeGuerre’s ethical standards for bringing this up. Subsequent twitter exchanges make it clear that he understands the ethical issue, but he nevertheless laments the resulting harm to clients.

However, being after all a lawyer, he does seem to be trying to skirt the ethical issues when he tweets,

And who knows, maybe we would be better at trials if we accepted our clients’ decisions and DID more of them.

Clients often say they want a trial even in cases where it would be a really bad idea. Ultimately, the decision is up to the client, but a good lawyer is supposed to try to talk them out of doing dumb things. However, if the lawyer didn’t try very hard, and the client still went to trial, the client would get what he wants, and going to trial would put pressure on the justice system to not take other cases to trial, so clients as a whole would conceivably benefit. This would benefit clients in general at the expense of specific clients, but if it’s what the specific client wants…maybe it’s ethical?

(I think probably not, because lawyers have a duty to give good advice, but I’m in over my head here. Lawyers are experts at finding tricks in systems of rules, so there might be situations where this is completely ethical.)

Norm also seems to think that a significant number of criminal lawyers are trial averse — due to either fear or laziness — and discourage their clients from going to trial more often than they should, which hurts all criminal defendants by easing the trial load on the prosecutors’ office. (Norm apparently loves going to trial. As he puts it elsewhere, “As a public defender, a client telling me, ‘I didn’t do shit!’ is enough of a reason as any to take his case to trial.”)

In another post, Mark Bennett takes that idea in an interesting direction:

[F]or the sake of the system it’d be better if more lawyers had pathologically rosy outlooks, because then fewer defendants would plead guilty. In fact, one way that we might get more defendants to refuse to plead guilty is to get lawyers to believe more in their ability to win more cases. If our concern is the clients’—rather than the client’s—interest then we want to encourage criminal-defense lawyers to view trial more optimistically, whether or not that optimism is merited.

How might we encourage criminal-defense lawyers to view trial more optimistically? One way would be to pretend to teach them to be better lawyers—to teach fake CLE, and pretend to give them more tools to use to win their trials.

This neatly skirts around the ethical issues of legal representation. The folks teaching the fake CLE classes are deceiving the lawyers by pretending to teach them skills that don’t work, but if the ultimate result is to bring the plea bargaining system to its knees, then it could produce a net benefit for clients. And the lawyers teaching the classes have no ethical obligations to any individual client, so they are free to seek to maximize the clients’ aggregate welfare. In fact, since bringing down the system will probably end with prosecutors charging fewer people, this will even help people who are never the clients of any lawyer.

This is the logic of many public health initiatives — the flu vaccine kills a few people every year, but the vaccination program saves thousands. It is also the logic of many public interest activist groups, which may engage in activities intended to improve society, even at the expense of some members of society.

(Mark goes on to say that fake CLE classes might not be such a good idea, and that a much better solution would encourage lawyers to be more optimistic about trials by actually teaching them better trial skills.)

Interestingly, I think the article that got Norm DeGuerre excited in the first place may also avoid the ethics issue. The way I read it, Michelle Alexander isn’t encouraging lawyers to crash the system, she’s contemplating the possibility of the clients themselves doing it:

After years as a civil rights lawyer, I rarely find myself speechless. But some questions a woman I know posed during a phone conversation one recent evening gave me pause: “What would happen if we organized thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people charged with crimes to refuse to play the game, to refuse to plea out? What if they all insisted on their Sixth Amendment right to trial? Couldn’t we bring the whole system to a halt just like that?”

Great change often involves sacrifice. If thousands of black people in Montgomery could boycott buses for a year, if the boycott leaders could be arrested and jailed, if black people could risk beatings and arrest for sitting at whites-only lunch counters, if slaves could risk their lives escaping, and thousands of people could fight and die in a civil war…then perhaps today enough people would be willing to risk lengthy jail sentences to bring down the system of mass incarceration.

“I’m not saying we should do it. I’m saying we ought to know that it’s an option. People should understand that simply exercising their rights would shake the foundations of our justice system which works only so long as we accept its terms. As you know, another brutal system of racial and social control once prevailed in this country, and it never would have ended if some people weren’t willing to risk their lives. It would be nice if reasoned argument would do, but as we’ve seen that’s just not the case. So maybe, just maybe, if we truly want to end this system, some of us will have to risk our lives.”

It would be better to wind down the system of mass incarceration through moral suasion and peaceful change, but if that’s not working, maybe something drastic will be needed.

Finally, while the ethical barriers to a “take every case to trial” strategy depend on the nature of lawyers’ obligations to individual clients, a more fundamental requirement is that there be a trial tax: If going to trial isn’t particularly likely to be worse than taking a plea, then taking cases to trial becomes the dominant strategy. If the justice system treats defendants terribly even if they accept plea bargains, and if the prosecution comes to depend on plea bargains so much for certain types of cases that they lose the organizational capability to convict people, then all hell can break loose.

You know how we worked? We put the state on their heels with our crazy volume of cases.  At the height of our “reign” it was a full nine months from the time somebody demanded trial until their first trial setting.  The state was so overwhelmed that they were only getting subpoenas out a week to ten days before the trial.


When you force the state to actually prepare for trial on every damn arrest the cops make, you’re going to win a lot of cases. Like, almost all of them. They were having to drop cases as quickly as we set them. We’d be crazy to change anything.

Although, as the author of that post eventually discovers, the system has ways of defending itself. It’s one thing to gum up the works, and it’s another thing to cause lasting positive change. It may not be possible to overthrow mass incarceration with cool legal stunts.