April 2005

You are browsing the site archives for April 2005.

In the hope of encouraging more recycling, Illinois Lt. Governor Pat Quinn is pushing a 5-cent deposit for beverage containers. Unclaimed deposits would be used for environmental programs.

I think this is a terrific idea. It will save me a lot of work because I can now just toss this stuff out the car window when I’m driving, secure in the knowledge that the state already has the money it takes to clean it up. Or else that some enterprising person will pick it up and turn it in for the money. No more guilt!

(I know, I know.)

Some people are amazing.

Sally Goodrich, whose son died in the Sept. 11 attacks, kept a grip on her grief as she surveyed the foundations of the Afghan school being built with money she raised in the United States.

Goodrich, a native of Bennington, Vt., and an administrator for schools in nearby North Adams, Mass., has helped raise about $180,000 for the new girl’s school in Surkh Abat, about 30 miles south of Kabul, in Logar province.

I can’t imagine a better way to help the Afghan people while simultaneously striking a blow against Islamic extremism than to educate a bunch of young girls.

My wife went on a business trip on Wednesday and came back Thursday with an amusing story about how she almost got strip searched at the airport.

Strip searched. Ha, ha, ha.

She and her boss were going through the line and the security folks sent her boss in one direction and my wife into some side room. They made my wife take off her shoes. They X-rayed my wife’s purse and found something that bothered them, so they started going through it, taking stuff out and spreading it all over.

Making my wife stand there barefooted while they go through her purse. Great.

They couldn’t find the problem, so this dragged on and on. Meanwhile, my wife’s boss didn’t know what had happened to her, so she called my wife on her cell phone. My wife reached for it, and Skippy the TSA twit yelled at her not to touch it. You know, because they’re in the middle of a search.

I’m seething with anger that this stranger, this self-important little prick would be yelling at my wife. I don’t want to let it show, because my wife would only get upset, and this doesn’t seem to bother her as much as it bothers me.

Eventually, they found what they were looking for: a small utility knife in a credit-card toolkit at the bottom of my wife’s purse. Before they said anything, my wife just told them to take it so she could go.

The worst part is that even if I’d been there, there’d be nothing I could do. They’ve got the numbers, they’ve got the guns, and they’ve got the overbearing federal law enforcement. Yell at them, call them the idiots they are, and they could accuse you of trying to distract them in their duties or some such bullshit. They’ve done it to other people.

Eventually, my wife caught up to her boss, who’d been a little worried. My wife tells it like it’s funny, and maybe it is to her.

Me, I think that internal checkpoints are one of the surest signs of creeping totalitarianism. I think that when the authorities can question you and you can’t question them, it’s tyranny. Only a little bit of tyranny in this case, but even a little bit is way too much.

A few days ago, I wrote about the Predator Accountability Act being considered by the Illinois legislature. This bill would allow prostitutes to sue their pimps for damages. I pointed out a few problems with the bill.

After writing my little screed, it occurred to me that one defense of this bill is that it gives prostitutes access to the courts to obtain damages. Because prostitution is a crime, prostitutes generally don’t have much access to the courts, and lack of access to the courts is almost always a bad thing for people.

I believe economist David Friedman has suggested that providing an informal justice system for criminals is one of the reasons the Mafia exists. Think of Tony Soprano trying to resolve conflicts between his various lieutenants.

It stands to reason that allowing prostitutes to sue would therefore be a good thing, right? Well…

The problem is that the people who want to allow prostitutes to sue don’t really want them to have access to the courts. I know this because nothing in this act gives prostitutes access to the courts in the way that would be most important to them: The right to use the courts to collect from customers who don’t pay.

Or from agencies that don’t split the money like they promised.

I’m not suggesting we should create special rules that allow certain types of criminals to sue other criminals over difficulties carrying out their criminal conspiracy. That would be a huge departure from current law. People involved in criminal acts cannot usually sue over problems arising from those acts, and that’s how it should be.

What I’m suggesting is that best way to help prostitutes, if that’s really your goal, is to legalize prostitution.

Taxes done (getting money back), day job slowing down, back to blogging…

Ah ha! I just found the income tax software I bought back in December. I’ve been looking for that.

Plenty of time. Plenty of time…

The Illinois House just passed the Predator Accountability Act, which the Chicago Tribune’s Dawn Turner Trice describes as allowing prostitutes to sue their pimps for damages. This sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you think you can already file a civil suit against someone who beats or rapes you? Of course you can. Bills like this aren’t a progressive and feminist attempt to protect prostitutes, they’re an attempt to eliminate prostitution by discouraging people from doing business with prostitutes.

Whoever coined the phrase “The devil is in the details” might well have been talking about legislative bills. You have to read past the title and the summary to see what sort of trouble they will cause. The synopsis talks about making it possible to sue people who coerce people into prostitution, but the language of the bill says something else.

For one thing, “sex trade” is defined to include pornography and stripping, even if there is no physical contact. In some ways, I suppose, this expansive defnition makes sense: You shouldn’t be able coerce women into making pornography or taking their clothes off. Then again, you shouldn’t be able to coerce women into washing dishes, building web sites, or approving bank loans. You shouldn’t be able to coerce women, period. But that’s not what this bill is about.

This becomes clearer in the section describing who may be sued. We’ve all seen the mean pimps in TV shows yelling “You’re holdin’ out on me, bitch!” while beating a young girl with a coat hanger, and that’s probably what supporters of this bill have in mind. I think we’d all agree that these guys ought to be sued, prefferably while they’re in prison. In fact, as I said, I’m pretty sure you can already sue for that. But that’s not who this bill is about.

HB 1299 says people “subjected to the sex trade” may sue any “person or entity who:

  • “(1) recruited, hired, offered, agreed, or attempted to hire the individual to engage in the sex trade;
  • “(2) procured, enticed, led away, pimped, trafficked, financed, or profited from his or her sex trade activity;
  • “(3) collected or received any of the individual’s earnings derived from the sex trade; or
  • “(4) advertised or published advertisements for purposes of recruitment into illegal sex trade activity.”

Note what’s missing: No part of this law says anything about any kind of force, harm, or threat. Rather than applying to people who hurt or threaten prostitutes, it applies to anybody who receives money from them, including hired drivers, nannies, doctors, and cleaning ladies.

I’m not just making up this interpretation. The criminal codes have used these kinds of expansive definitions of “pimp” for years, and prostitutes have been complaining about them for a long time. Almost anyone a prostitute shares money with can be prosecuted as pimp, including anybody she hires to do work for her, a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend, and even a relative who receives money to care for her child.

It gets worse. The bill also lists a number of specific defenses that it disallows:

  • the plaintiff apparently initiated involvement with the defendant
  • the plaintiff made no attempt to escape, flee, or otherwise terminate contact with the defendant;
  • as a condition of employment, the defendant required the plaintiff to agree not to engage in the sex trade
  • the defendant’s place of business was posted with signs prohibiting illegal sex trade activity

In other words, there’s nothing a prostitute (or for that matter, a stripper) can do to convince people that she won’t sue them.

It’s not hard to imagine the damage. Call girls often work for agencies that provide services such as advertising and client screening. If this bill becomes law, a few angry prostitutes and their lawyers will be able to sue such agencies out of existence. Similar suits could be pressed against hotels that rent rooms to prostitutes or against landlords who rent to prostitutes, even if they don’t serve customers there.

Prostitutes trying to work in safe, indoor locations will find it more and more difficult to find space, and those that do will have trouble finding safe customers. Many will have no choice but to ply their trade on the streets. There they will become easy prey for precisely the kind of violent jerks we’d like to protect them from.

Allowing prostitutes to sue people for accepting money from them doesn’t protect them. As a broad rule, you rarely end up helping people by impairing their ability to enter into contracts. That just limits their options, which is almost never good for them.

Update: In Part 2, I discuss how to really protect prostitutes.

Dozer is our most recent cat. We got him from Orphans of the Storm about three years ago.

He was about seven years old when we discovered him in a cage outside the adult cat room. The sign said “If you pet me I will purr very loud.” We got him out of his cage and started petting him and sure enough, loud purring. Sort of a jackhammer cadence, loud and slow on the inhale, nothing on the exhale.

We played with him a while and then put him back in his cage, because we hadn’t really planned on getting a cat that day. He just sat there, looking up at us with those big blue eyes of his.

Dozer Close-Up
Larger ImageDozer Close-Up

We caved in and brought him home.

[In my quest for regular content, I’m starting a new feature in which I write about some of the websites in my blogroll.]

If I ever have the misfortune of getting arrested in Virginia, I know exactly who my first phone call is going to: Ken Lammers. He runs the CrimLaw blog and writes most of its content. The best parts of his blog are his stories about what it’s like to be a defense lawyer.

I point to a statement my client made to the probation officer as to his plan for self help after completing his sentence: “I don’t make mistakes twice, I’ll never do that again.” I then proceed to argue to the judge that he should take my client at his word: “You see that the probation officer lists Mr. Smith’s IQ at 76. Well, I just don’t buy it. We can see from the record that Mr. Smith learns and doesn’t make the same mistake twice. In ’85 he was convicted of felony larceny [edit. comment: he stole a dog from the local pound – any theft of a dog is a felony in Va.] but he never made that mistake again. In ’92 his charge of felon in possession of a firearm was taken under advisement and we never see him making that mistake again. Now we see him before the court on the only drug charge ever on his record. I tell you he’s learned this lesson just like he did previously and it is obvious that a long sentence is not needed to drive the point home. I ask you to take him at his word and sentence him to as little time as possible.” The judge listened politely and then proceeded to sentence my client to ten years on each count with eight years suspended, all three sentences to run concurrently.

You can see why I’d want him on my side. Yeah, his client went to prison, but wow…Ken’s got some big shiny brass ones.

Now, I’ve never been the victim of a serious crime, so perhaps my view is warped, but I’ve always liked the idea of a defense lawyer. If I thought I could do the work, I’d want to be one. I admire the breed.

But I know I don’t have it in me. Lammers’s client got two years in jail. It’s in the nature of criminal defense work that Lammers loses a lot of cases. Well, maybe lose isn’t the right word, but total victories—a not-guilty verdict or all charges dropped—are few and far between.

Ken doesn’t talk about his feelings too much, so I don’t know how that sort of thing hits him, but I don’t think I could take too much of that. In my business, computer software development, failure is pretty rare. A project may take a little longer or require a little more work, but unless you’re trying something exotic, it will eventually work. With hard work and careful thought, success is inevitable. That’s not the case in the lawyering business and it would drive me nuts.

To read Lammers’s accounts of it, Virgina law is a lot like the “Shire Law” that governed Valkenvania in Dan Ackroyd’s Nothing But Trouble.

Then he calls my next case and, despite my best efforts, refuses to give my client a continuance so that my client can get his fines paid. He points out that my client has had 5 or 6 continuances already over a 7 month period and there have been no payments made at all. I show him medical records from my client showing that he had congestive heart failure about six months ago and has only been back to work recently. The judge isn’t having any of it. With my client almost crying next to me (in fake “whispers”: tell him this – tell him that – what’ll I do?), the judge sentences him to 30 days in jail but agrees that he can do the time on weekends if I can find a jail which will take him and sets his date to report off for a week.

So the guy had heart failure and lost his job, but the judge still sentences him to jail for not paying his fines. Then—and this part just kills me—the judge makes him look for a prison that will let him do the time on weekends. You mean a judge can’t just make the prison comply with his sentence? I wonder, do Virginia’s death row inmates get threatened with impalement unless they can find an executioner willing to be more humane?

Actually, I guess this counts as leniency in Virginia. God, don’t ever let me be arrested in Virginia.

That’s another reason I could never be a defense lawyer, the unfairness of it all would break me down. If I were defending a woman arrested for prostitution, I’d be fighting the urge to scream at the prosecutor “She’s addicted to drugs and selling her body on the street! Don’t you think she’s got enough trouble without you jackasses piling on!”

I have enough self control not to do that, but the struggle would make it hard for me to concentrate on the job.

Of course, you do explain your client’s position to him (sometimes quite emphatically – I have been in more than one yelling match). If there is videotape of him robbing the bank, two nuns saw him running out the doors, and the police found him with dye matching that of a dye pack on his pants you make very sure that he knows the situation and that he knows the odds of winning at trial.

Did I mention that Lammers takes a lot of court-appointed indigent clients? It makes for some eye-opening reading. My interest in the law arises mostly from my concern for our civil liberties and the great principles that protect them. Like the right to representation by a lawyer, which is respected even in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

As long as it doesn’t cost more than $395.

That’s for a felony. For a misdemeanor, the legislature only pays Lammers $112. To put that in perspective, I recently paid a lawyer $500 to draw up an 8-page contract. Well, not to draw it up from scratch, just to revise it a bit. For that kind of money, Ken Lammers would defend me on a felony burglary charge and throw in disorderly conduct just for fun.

To be fair, if the potential penalty is 20 years or more, they pay Lammers $1096, and if he ever gets a capital case there’d probably be a lot more. Keep in mind that Lammers is not employed by the government, so this money has to stretch to pay for all his business costs. I think the government covers some of his expenses if he gets them approved by a judge.

Lammers’s CrimLaw isn’t just about street-level lawyering. He also does some analysis of interesting recent court rulings. Well, interesting to lawyers, anyway. I find most of them go over my head. He does do some serious thinking about defense lawyering and its purpose in the world.

Basically, whether you are trying to get a good deal or a verdict of not guilty (as few and far between as those are), as a defense attorney you almost invariably represent a client’s liberty interest against society’s long term interest in making him conform and the government’s use of power to either force conformity or seek vengeance.

Lammers makes fun of highly-paid lawyers who get the same results that he does on his government fee, but I imagine that one day he’ll find that he’s one of them. I think he’s on his way to becoming a tough old Virginia defense lawyer. I selfishly hope so, because by then he’ll be writing books about his big cases—where he can afford to hire investigators and everything—and I look forward to reading them.

I’ve been taking pictures for about 3 months now, and much to my surprise I’ve developed an interest of sorts in portrait photography. There’s something I like about the careful effort to take very good photographs of people. I appreciate the detailed care that goes into the lighting and the posing.

I don’t have the equipment for doing real portraits. My camera is basically a point-and-shoot camera with a strong zoom lens. That might be good enough with the right lighting, but I don’t have studio lighting gear, and I can’t justify the purchase. Good portraits require shadows, and without studio lighting I have to find them in the real world. But real-world shadows come with real-world darkness, and my camera doesn’t handle dim lighting very well.

Without the camera and lighting, there’s not much point in asking people to pose. What I end up doing is taking pictures of people at parties or on the street and hoping they come out well. To put it another way, I’m trying to take extra-nice snapshots.

Here’s one of my favorites. This is my friend Monica, caught in a thoughtful moment:

Thoughtful Monica
Thoughtful Monica

There’s something about this photo that works for me. The thoughtful look on her face, the disdain for the camera, the way the fingers of her hand are curled. Probably the most artsy-feminine picture I’ve take so far.

Monica doesn’t like that one. She thinks it doesn’t look like her. I think it does, and I’ve probably seen the side of her face more than she has. But she’s right in a sense. The photo is peaceful and quiet, and Monica is a little more rock-and-roll than that.

She prefers this one:

Monica in a More Intense Moment
Monica in a More Intense Moment

For some reason, it’s easy to get good photographs of Monica. She photographs well. That’s an important thing for a beginning photographer like me. I need to find good subjects, because I’m not good enough to take good pictures of difficult subjects.

That makes this a lot like street photography, which is all about finding interesting people. With that in mind, here’s a picture of Isaac, who I found selling M&Ms on the street corner near my house.


If you have the bandwidth, click for the big picture and take a close look at his face. Even I can’t take a bad picture of a guy with a face like that.

I’ve decided to add Google AdSense advertising to the blog. It’s not so much that I want the money…Well, actually, I do want the money. It’s just that with my stats, I’m not going to be getting the money. That first $100 check should take about a decade…

Anyway, it’s not so much that I want the money, it’s that I wanted to know what Google thinks my blog is about…and now I do.

Google thinks my blog is about cats.

I was raised as a Lutheran, not a Roman Catholic, but just because us Lutherans didn’t see the Pope as our leader doesn’t mean we ignored events in the Catholic church. I remember when Pope John Paul died after only about a month and the cardinals elected a new one who took the name John Paul II. This was huge news here in Chicago because, get this, he was Polish. (Chicago probably has more polish people than Warsaw.)

To my teenage eyes he looked pretty old, so I expected him to die pretty soon too. But he didn’t, not even when he got shot. He just kept getting older. I’d catch a video of him and he’d be a little more stooped over than I remembered and walking a little bit slower. And I’d think any day now… Then I’d forget about it until the next time I noticed he’d aged some more. Any day now…

It feels like I’ve been watching Pope John Paul II dying all my life. At some point, I probably stopped thinking about it. But now that it’s finally happened…it’s a little surprising.