A Verdict of Innocence?

Over at Fault Lines, Andrew Fleischman has a post about the idea of letting a jury determine actual innocence. It’s an interesting post — worth a read — but when I read the headline I thought of something a bit different.

Criminal defense attorneys complain about the difficulty of getting a jury to understand the degree of proof necessary for a criminal conviction. They often feel that the jury is setting the bar for a Guilty verdict at something less than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

My thought (and I know it’ snot original) is that maybe the problem is that we only give the jury two choices: Guilty and Not Guilty. It would be natural for them to regard these as equal choices and lean toward a Guilty verdict if they thought that was more likely, which is a problem because “more likely” is a much less strict standard than reasonable doubt.

Perhaps we could obtain a small improvement in criminal justice by offering the jury a few more choices to pick from, such as Guilty, Not Guilty, and Actually Innocence, with only Guilty counting as a conviction. Or maybe we could offer an array of choices in a familiar form:

Please rate your opinion of the defendant’s guilt on the following scale:

5 – Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

4 – More likely guilty than innocent.

3 – Unable to tell.

2 – More likely innocent than guilty.

1 – Innocent beyond a reasonable doubt.

The defendant would only be convicted if all members of the jury picked #5. I suspect prosecutors wouldn’t like a procedure like this, although as long as the court imposes an “all fives or no fives” requirement, it would be the exact same standard of proof.

I know I’m not the first one to think of this. In fact, some criminal defense lawyers like to explain the different levels of proof to the jury so they understand just how strict the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard usually is. Basically, they’re trying to get the jurors to think about the reasonable doubt standard as the highest in a stepped series of levels of proof. So why not make it explicit?

I don’t know if it makes sense to give the other levels any legal significance — e.g. a verdict of “innocent beyond a reasonable doubt” blocking plaintiffs in a civil suit from claiming otherwise. That might be using the verdict for more than it actually establishes.

Anyway, posting here has been light lately, so I just thought I’d throw that out there.

in Legal

The Bouquet Of My New Suburban Life

I’m still recovering from my move to the new house. It turns out that packing all your stuff into boxes and then trying to reassemble it back into a working life is really time-consuming. I keep running into problems like wanting to put a piece of furniture together, which would be a lot easier with the right tools, which are all in boxes, and I’d like to unpack the tools back into my tool chest so I don’t lose them, but I locked the doors on the tool chest so it would be easier to move, and now I can’t find the keys.

Everything is like that, plus there’s all the stuff I have to figure out about the new house. What do all the light switches do? Where are the hose bibs? How much hose do I need? How does the gas fireplace work? Which way do we turn the keys in all the locks? When is the garbage picked up? And what are all the different cans for?

I only just got my home computer up and running a couple of days ago, and I still haven’t hooked up the speakers. I’ve got my electric shaver, but I can’t find the charger. I had to buy dishwasher soap, even though I know I’ve got enough for hundreds of loads in one of these boxes…

Then there’s last night’s introduction to another aspect of suburban life.

We got home after dark, and since the next day was garbage day, I walked around the side of the house to get the cans to roll them down the driveway to the street. As I passed the little fence that hides them, I heard a noise and looked over. Some kind of small animal was scrambling in the dark.

I couldn’t quite make out what it was, but I could tell right away that it wasn’t moving like a cat or a dog. As I pulled my flashlight from my pocket to get a better look, I remember thinking that it was moving a bit like a squirrel, but it was too big. Maybe a possum? No, I could see the fur was too long and scraggly…and then I flicked the light on.

Of course it was a skunk. A panicky skunk.


It didn’t nail me dead on, but there was definitely a clingy odor on me and my clothes. I seem to have been able to wash most of it away, but every now and then I think I catch a whiff…

Sigh. Welcome to life in the suburbs, I guess.

Oh well, maybe the coyotes will kill the skunks.

Going Dark

I’m going dark in an hour or so. In preparation for the big move tomorrow, I’m about to shut down and pack up the home computers and tear down our internet connection. Shortly after posting this message, for the first time in over 15 years, my wife and I will no longer have broadband internet access.

Except for an iPad and both our iPhones with LTE, along with the Kindle Fire and Lenovo ThinkPad we have tethered to them, of course, which should last us until we can use the WiFi I setup in the new home. Because we’re not savages.

But other than that, totally dark.

See you on the other side…

Why Should Miss Lorelei Rivers Give a Shit What Other People Want?

I missed Maggie McNeill’s last Friday the 13th roundup, and it was the only one this year, but there’s something I want to get off my chest about a type of argument that really annoys me, and I figure she won’t mind.

The problem, as it so often is for us libertarians, is the lack of respect for freedom of choice. Here’s the recent Twitter exchange that triggered this post, beginning with Miss Lorelei Rivers discussing sex work:

In case that doesn’t look right, here are the important bits:

Francois Tremblay: “Sex work” is intrinsically dangerous, intrinsically exploitative, intrinsically misogynistic.

Miss Lorelei Rivers: I disagree completely with this statement – and unlike you, I actually am a sex worker.

Francois Tremblay: Great… now listen to the 90% of women in your “work” who want to leave, who have PTSD, or are not as privileged as you are.

I’ll leave the validity of the 90% statistic (and the prevalence and causes of PTSD among sex workers) to someone more qualified. Worrying too much about the details could make us miss a more important point: Why should Lorelei Rivers give a shit what other sex worker want?

There is certainly nothing wrong if Lorelei Rivers wants to know the needs and desires of other sex workers. Maybe she’s just a good person who has empathy for others. But she shouldn’t have to care what other sex workers want. That is, her right to go about her business should not depend on how other people feel about it, and that includes other sex workers. If 99.9999% of sex workers want to quit and find a different line of work, but Lorelei Rivers prefers to keep doing what she’s doing, what possible justification can there be to stop her?

Because we live in a democracy, it may seem reasonable to worry about what the majority wants, but the desires of the majority are a distraction from the real issue, which is personal choice. It’s true that sometimes we have to make collective decisions — usually when making different individual choices would cause irreconcilable conflicts — so we depend on majority rule to tell us that stealing is illegal, and that we should drive on the right side of the road. But we can make our own choices about where to live, and whether to drink Pepsi or Coke.

Choice of employment, including employment as a sex worker, is a Pepsi or Coke kind of thing. In a free society, if some women want to be sex workers and others don’t, there’s no reason they can’t both get what they want.

The second example is even worse:

Again, the relevant portions:

Meghan Murphy: [Amnesty International] is a human rights org. Prostitution exists in fundamental opposition to women’s humans rights.

— and yet this prominent human rights organizations disagrees with you —

Miss Lorelei Rivers: Sex workers are humans who also deserve rights – including the right to make choices about their bodies and work.

Meghan Murphy: Women deserve REAL choices. Also, men should make the CHOICE not to pay vulnerable women for sexual access.

Lorelei Rivers has it right: People deserve the right to make their own choices, including the right to sell sexual services, and anyone who takes away that choice (whether through the U.S. model of jailing sex workers, or through the Nordic model of jailing the the people who pay them) is not respectful of their rights.

I don’t know what Meghan Murphy is trying to get at by claiming sex work is not a “real” choice. Usually when people try to dismiss someone else’s choice by saying it’s not “real,” they mean one of two things, and both of them are bullshit.

First, Meghan Murphy might mean that a woman’s choice to be a sex worker isn’t “real” because the women is deluded, or suffering from “false consciousness,” or is otherwise making a mistake. This raises the obvious question of why anyone should believe that Meghan Murphy is better at understanding Lorelei Rivers’ life than Lorelei Rivers is. There’s also the problem that claiming a choice isn’t “real” isn’t an argument. It’s an attempt to hide the fact that you don’t have an argument.

Second, Meghan Murphy might mean that a woman’s choice to be a sex worker isn’t “real” because many women who choose sex work are trapped in such dire circumstances (economic or otherwise) that sex work is the only way out. This actually makes a certain amount sense. Women who engage in sex work to save themselves from dire situations are like people who jump from a fourth story window to escape a burning building: The jump is a choice, but it’s a choice that is forced upon them by circumstances.

Of course, all our choices are constrained by our circumstances, so there’s a certain amount of special pleading in assuming that the choice to do sex work is qualitatively different from the choice to do something like construction work or nursing.

Even if we assume that sex work is special, there’s a bigger problem: When we see people jumping from a fourth floor window to escape a fire, our response should not be to stop them by boarding up the window! Similarly, if women are engaging in sex work out of desperation, it is presumptuous and possibly even dangerous to force them to stop.

(I’m sure sex work prohibitionists would point out that they’re providing exit services for sex workers — the equivalent of installing additional fire escapes in the burning building — but in that case, why bother boarding up the windows? If your exit services are getting women out of sex work, then why the need to criminalize it? If it’s because women are rejecting your exit services and staying in sex work, then perhaps you need to rethink how you’re “helping,” because it’s obviously not working.)

Then, of course, there’s the problem that some sex workers insist they aren’t desperate. I don’t know Lorelei Rivers, but I do know Maggie McNeill a bit, and I’m pretty confident she could be successful at a lot of other jobs besides sex work. But that’s not what she wants to do.

Which brings me back around to the prohibitionist’s pointless claim that sex workers like Maggie McNeill are highly privileged, and that most sex workers would rather quit. But so what? Why should Maggie McNeill give a shit what other sex workers want?

What the Fuck Did I Do?

“What the fuck did I do?”

That’s what Detective Jimmy McNulty asks Bunk at the end of the first season of The Wire as he contemplates all that he has set in motion. It’s a phrase that has been going through my head a lot over the past week.

“What the fuck did I do?”

I bought a house, that’s what I did.

After 26 years of living in a condo, my wife and I decided earlier this year that it was time to buy an actual house, like grownups.

We had a pretty good of an idea of what kind of house we wanted and what we wanted to spend, and we had a lot of help from our good friend Susan, who had a lot more experience with house ownership than we do. It took us about two weeks of looking at homes to figure out how we wanted to balance the trade-offs between combinations of features, location, and price, and then another week to find three homes we liked and figure out which one to make an offer on. Then while we were dickering over the price on that one, a fourth house came on the market for a more reasonable price, so we made them an offer instead and quickly reached an agreement.

Last Friday, at the request of bankers I never met, with the tacit approval of a lawyer I never met, I sent an eye-watering amount of money to a bank account written on a piece of paper by people I never met, as a down payment on a house I was buying from people I never met. This made me a bit nervous. I was only about 99% sure this wasn’t some sort of elaborate variation on the Nigerian scam.

(I was especially concerned about the difficulty of reversing wire transfers, so to satisfy my paranoia, I got the destination account numbers from a second source, just to make sure I wasn’t about to wire all that money to an enterprising and ethically challenged paralegal who had changed the account numbers to their own bank account.)

Then I spent the weekend worrying about all the other things that could go wrong. My most elaborate scenarios involved the sellers — who had given their lawyer power of attorney to do the closing — getting into a fatal car accident right before we started signing documents. We’d go through with the rituals of the deal — funding the loan, issuing checks, transfering ownership, pledging the house as collateral — without knowing that one of the parties was dead. Or maybe it would be worse if they both survived and were unconscious in the hospital because the lawyer’s power of attorney would terminate if they were incapacitated…

Nothing that bizarre went wrong, naturally. But at the closing on Monday it turned out that the sellers weren’t quite finished moving out. The garage was full of stuff awaiting a moving truck, and the movers were saying they couldn’t get there until that afternoon, or maybe the next day.

To my wife and I, this was kind of annoying, but not a big deal. The lawyers, however, handled it like lawyers, quickly producing a two-page handwritten post-closing access agreement that included liability clauses and a daily rental fee backed by money left in escrow. I’m sure I would have been grateful for their work if something had gone wrong, but I found it kind of amusing nonetheless. In any case, the seller was gone in four hours.

(And yes, I notified my lawyer to release the rest of the money.)

After the seller left, I immediately got my first taste of home ownership when I noticed that there was packing material from the movers all over the front lawn…which was now my front lawn…which I now had to clean up…

Since then, we’ve had a locksmith out to change the locks, we’ve had a pair of electricians give us an estimate on fixing some inspection issues, we’ve had a garage door tech reprogram the remotes and make sure the doors stopped safely when obstructed (another inspection item), we’ve had a guy out to refinish the hardwood floors, we’ve had a cleaning service quote us a price for a top-to-bottom cleaning before move-in, we’ve had an exterminator spray around the outside of the house, we arranged to have a lawn service clean up and maintain the lawn the rest of the summer and fall, we’ve had Comcast out to set up cable and internet (I arranged for all the other utilities earlier), we scheduled delivery of some furniture we bought a while ago, we’ve ordered a desk, a new washer and dryer, and a new cooktop and hood.

We still have to fish ethernet and coax to more locations, setup the new wireless router, order another desk, order a couple of new office chairs, replace the casters on our old office chairs with something hardwood-friendly, figure out how the exterior lighting works (haven’t found all the switches yet), clean the gutters and downspouts, and remember to start checking the mailbox.

And we still have to finish packing, vaccinate and board the cats, move all our shit to the new place, and get the cats back. And unpack.

Then we have to sell the old place.

Then there’s walkway repair, fixing the shed, a new mailbox, new fencing, snow removal…and all the things I haven’t thought of yet…

What the fuck did I do?

Libertarian Party Memes

The Libertarian Party has been a real hoot this election. I think everybody is familiar with Senator Bernie Sanders’ supporters promoting his candidacy with the “Feel the Bern” meme. Naturally, Libertarians have their own version for Governor Gary Johnson.

It’s exactly what you think it is.



I think my favorite Libertarian meme (so far) belongs to the John McAfee camp. Actually, this might be mocking John McAfee. It’s hard to tell, given his campaign style. Heck, for all I know, this is an official campaign press release.




That’s pretty much going to be my impression of John McAfee forever now.

Some Random Annoying Nonsense about Libertarianism

[Same post as before, but this time with a title. Arg.]

Lucy Steigerwald points to an annoying Vox article about libertarianism by Drew Brown with the cringe-inducing title “Why Libertarians and MRAs Sound the Same When They Talk About Feminism.”

The piece starts out with some real issues of women being harassed by assholes, and private employers firing said assholes, which doesn’t bother me a whole lot. However, once the author starts discussing libertarianism, the piece becomes a loony tune:

At first it might seem sort of surprising that a libertarian would come to the defence of a guy getting fired for saying sexist shit in public. I mean, the whole movement is essentially designed to uphold employers’ rights to do almost whatever the fuck they want to their underlings.

See what I mean? The libertarian movement’s basic philosophy rests on the foundation of the non-coercion principle: You can only do whatever you want to other people if you have their consent. I suspect Brown is confused because he disagrees with some of the things employees have consented to, such as low wages or working conditions he doesn’t like.

But it’s possible that because the guy was fired from Hydro One, Ontario’s government-owned (at least for now) electricity company, this could be seen as an act of state repression as heinous as food safety regulation or public transit.

Maybe. It’s kind of complicated, having to do with whether the guy had a duty to behave himself as a representative of his employer, and whether the limits imposed by his employer pass some tests of legitimacy for government agencies. Here in the U.S., this would be a constitutional issue related to First Amendment limits on how governments can control their employees’ speech, but this all took place in Canada, which turns out to be a whole different country.

And if you don’t think food safety regulations can be hideous form of state repression, you probably haven’t been paying attention to how those regulations are enforced. Food safety is a great thing, but it also becomes an excuse for shutting down competitors to politically powerful agricultural interests, expanding the fiefdoms of government bureaucrats, and weirdly puritanical crusades against things like raw milk.

So then why would a libertarian spring to sexism’s defence? A cursory visit to the Manosphere can show you a statistical link between libertarians and anti-feminist men’s rights activists. Even self-identified “libertarian feminists” like Jessica Flanigan note a tension between the goals and values of libertarians and those of feminists.

And she come out in favor of libertarianism whenever the feminist goal of discouraging sexism crosses over into coercive tactics. So…not the best example.

When you look at it this way, it’s not hard to see that libertarians and men’s rights activists are two sides of the same reactionary coin.

Weirdly, that link goes to a post about how libertarianism is supposedly related to the neoreactionary movement. For fuck’s sake, neoreactionaries want a return to monarchy! The author just thinks libertarians and neoreactionaries are closely related because, for completely different reasons, they both oppose his liberal ideals.

Brown then goes on to explain what MRAs are all about. It’s kind of long, but remarkably nuanced.

MRAs are the disaffected losers of a male-dominated world. They are legitimately upset that they have to put up with all the bullshit that traditionally masculine gender roles impose on men (do dangerous work; live and die by your dick; defer to “naturally” nurturing women in child-care custody battles; etc) but they don’t enjoy any of the payoffs they were promised for playing along. Patriarchy is a pyramid scheme, and for every Don Draper at the pinnacle there are a thousand Pete Campbells underneath them, whining that they can’t get their due.

At this point, Brown is on the verge of stumbling on the basic relationship between MRAs and the libertarian movement. People who used to control everything are starting to feel political power shift to other groups — from whites to people of color, from men to women — and that frightens them. And when people who frighten you are in control of the government, making the government less powerful begins to look like a good idea. And calling yourself a libertarian sounds a lot better than admitting you’re a racist or a sexist.

Unfortunately, Brown goes in a completely different direction:

You can see why these people would get along with libertarians, who are also very emotionally invested in maintaining bullshit social and economic hierarchies under the veneer of individual rights.

First of all, libertarians believe that people should be able to form whatever social and economic hierarchies they want to, which they should be free to maintain or tear down as they see fit, as long as no one forces anyone else into the hierarchy by, for example, enacting the hierarchy into law.

Second, it’s not a veneer, you jackass. It’s a guiding principle. And I guess Brown realizes that, because he then launches an attack on individualism:

One of the basic premises of libertarianism is that only individuals exist. There is no such thing as a group or a gender or a race or a nation or a community of any kind.

Not quite. Believing there’s no such thing as a group or a gender or a race or whatever would be silly. He’s misstated the principle. It’s not that only individuals exist. It’s that only individuals matter. That is, government policy should be evaluated on the basis of it’s effect on individuals, not on nebulous or questionably defined social groups.

This doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong with a policy that harms a group such as women or people of color. But the policy isn’t bad because it harms the group, it’s bad because it harms the individuals that make up the group.

Obviously, the idea that we all go through life as isolated individuals and that group identities (race, class, gender, sexuality, etc) don’t define us in any meaningful way could only seem plausible to a white man of at least moderate financial means—or anyone bound up in the aspirational fantasies of whiteness, masculinity, and economic elitism. Whiteness, and especially straight male whiteness, is treated as the de facto standard from which others deviate, to such an extent that a straight white (cis, able-bodied) man can completely forget his experience is not universal. From within that perspective, it’s easy to see freedom as consisting in, and only in, being left alone to do whatever you want with your money.

It’s the only definition of freedom that doesn’t involve oppressing others. That some straight white cis able-bodied men claim this kind of freedom for themselves while taking it from others — Thomas Jefferson is the archetype — doesn’t mean that being left alone is a poor definition of freedom. It just means that some straight white cis able-bodied men are hypocritical assholes.

Both libertarians and MRAs are dedicated to missing this point. They speak in the language of individual rights and equality because by reducing all the complexity of the social world down to a set of isolated units, they can pretend that everyone’s privileges and disadvantages are rightfully earned.

I don’t know about MRAs, but us libertarians reduce the complexity of the social world to a set of isolated people because when it comes to evaluating public policies, isolated people are easy to understand: They all matter, and they all matter equally. From where I sit, it’s people who divide us into tribes that are trying to take advantage of us, regardless of which tribes they call their own. Conservative tribalism is every bit as bad as liberal tribalism.

Even the imagery of the “Nanny State” is hilariously sexist—as if the government is a giant woman, nagging the boys to do their homework and making them go to bed before the good TV shows are on.

It has nothing to do with gender. When the government outlaws sex toys or toy guns or Big Gulps, we call it the “Nanny State” because nannies take care of children, and the government is treating adults like children.

[…] if there’s one place where libertarians and MRAs often overlap, it’s in being smug, condescending pricks on the internet.

Right back at ya, bro.

Confuse the Record

Hillary Clinton is the secret love child of Bill Maher and Rachel Maddow who became the brain-eating zombie Queen of planet Zorg before traveling back in time to marry Bill Clinton and kill Vince Foster with her retractable poisonous fangs because he was about to reveal that she was conspiring through a private email server to use her speaking fees to raise funds for terror attacks in Benghazi to distract us from her plan to have the Clinton Foundation use climate change as a cover for to enslaving humanity for her Muslim overlords.

Come at me bro.