Monthly Archives: March 2008

Censoring the Gay Kids, Fitna, and Movies About Iraq

Random shots around the web:

In the Bookbag: A Splendid Exchange

I just received a copy of A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World by William J. Bernstein. He’s got a website, and he’s apparently a fan of Windypundit because he comped me a copy of the book. (I guess this blogging thing is finally starting to pay off.)

A Splendid Exchange looks like it’s going to be a history of long-distance trading, from a time when only luxuries and valuable tools were traded, to our present day, when bums sleeping on park benches are kept warm by clothing made on other continents.

I read a little of the book tonight, and it looks like it’s going to be fascinating read, but not a quick one. It’s so packed with details and stories that blasting through it would be overwhelming. I’ll probably keep it in my backpack and read a few pages whenever I have a chance.

in History

Dim Bulb or Bright Idea?

Here’s an interesting local law:

The same week millions of people across the world are encouraged to turn off non-essential lights for 60 minutes during the second annual Earth Hour, the Village of Homer Glen is being honored for adopting one of the most comprehensive lighting ordinances in the state.

The ordinance limits how much light a business can generate based on lumens, a measurement of emitted light. It also mandates that lighting fixtures must have shields or other means of directing light downward. Laser lights, flashing lights, searchlights and other intrusive lighting are prohibited.

My libertarian instinct is to rebel against this. Grocery stores, factories, warehouses, parking structures, bars, car dealerships—all these places have distinct lighting requirements, and I can’t imagine that the people who crafted this ordinance are smart enough to get them all right. No one’s that smart.

Also, part of the justification for this ordinance is to save energy—as if people need government prodding with these prices.

On the other hand, the ordinance’s backers also justify it as reducing light scattered into the sky, making it easier for people to see the stars. At least that’s a genuine externality: If my use of light on my property impairs the stargazing abilities of other people on the their propery, then I’m imposing a cost on them that I’m not paying for.

More generally, if I shine a light into your property that impairs your enjoyment of it, isn’t that legitimately something that could be regulated? Air pollution, noise pollution…light pollution?

Anyone else know what to make of this?

To a Prosecutor Concerned That I Might Nullify

If you are a prosecutor, it’s possible you found this because I’m a potential juror and you were Googling my name. I already wrote something like this in response to a question on Mark Bennet’s blog, so I might as well spell it out here. (And yes, I’m in kind of a bad mood.)

This argument is going to be more emotional than logical, but when it comes to describing and predicting my own behavior, there are times when my reason is slave to my passion.

I understand that as a juror I have a role to perform, and that it’s important to do it well and with integrity. I’m supposed to obey the judge, listen to the evidence, and follow the law.

I can assure you, I’m going to try. For whatever it’s worth, the only time I was a juror on a criminal case, we voted to convict, and I was one of the people who reached that conclusion early and helped convince others.

That said, you should know that I believe in my heart that it is wrong to punish people for crimes that have no possible victims. My position is a bit nuanced, but to a first approximation you can safely assume that I don’t believe it’s right to punish people for gambling, prostitution, drugs, or many other things that might be called “vice.”

If you allow me on a jury in, say, a drug case, this puts me in something of a quandary. I want to do my duty, but I feel that under some circumstances doing my duty will lead to an immoral result. I truly don’t know what I would do in most cases.

To save you the trouble of reading my entire blog, however, I might as well warn you that there is clearly some point at which I would balk. There is some point at which I would nullify, voting to acquit even if the law and evidence clearly indicate guilt.

It is my firmly held belief that much of the War On Drugs is, to be blunt, evil—as evil as witch burnings and slavery and Kristallnacht.

Some of this evil is done by prosecutors, who seek to obtain horrible punishments for the most minor of crimes. (If you prefer to blame the legislature, go ahead. It’s just as bad either way when it comes in front of a jury.) Exhibit A in the list of prosecutorial horrors is the case of Richard Paey, wheelchair-bound father of three, sent to prison for 25 years for forging his prescriptions for painkillers.

Would it have been wrong for the jury to nullify in that case? If so, does that mean you believe Paey deserved his harsh sentence? If he didn’t deserve it, how is it right for the jury to be presented with a chance to stop it and do nothing?

Maybe you think Richard Paey and other perpetrators of vice got the sentence they deserved. Then let’s try an example of a different sort: Denmark Vesey. In Charleston in 1822 he was the leader in a conspiracy of thousands of slaves to rise up, temporarily seize the city, and then grab ships in the harbor and sail away to freedom. The uprising was disrupted before it could start, and the leaders were put on trial. Vesey and 34 others were convicted and hanged.

There was never any chance a Charleston jury would nullify, but if it had, would that have been wrong? Should slaves be executed for insurrection against their masters? If not, then why would it be wrong for a jury to stop the executions despite the law?

Unless you are truly devoid of moral reasoning, there must be some level of unjustness at which you will abandon the law to avoid complicity in unconscionable evil. I haven’t been in a position to find out where that limit is for me, but at the moment I write this, I suspect it is within the bounds of our War On Drugs.

If you place me on a jury and ask me to do what Paey’s prosecutor asked his jury to do, I’d like to think I’d have the moral courage to nullify. And if asked to justify my nullification, I would say that I nullified because the law did not allow me to have you jailed for your cruelty.

So if you want to consign someone to a horrible fate for a crime that harms no one, and you don’t want me to nullify, don’t ask me to take part in your foul deed. Do it without me.

Design, Deportation, Dead Dogs, and the DEA

Random shots around the web:

 (Hat tip: Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer)

Sepak Takraw, Time Travel, Home Defense, and Our Robot Masters

Random shots around the web:

Five Years Later In Iraq

We just passed the fifth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, and the staff of Reason magazine have been looking back to 2003 to review their positions on the war in Iraq then and now. I figure I might as well go on the record about where I stood then and where I stand now.

Back then, I knew I didn’t know enough to have a well-informed opinion (and I was still new enough to blogging to let that stop me), so I wrote very little about the invasion except for a tongue-in-cheek strategy suggestion. I was hardly a war booster, but if pressed I would have said that invading Iraq was probably a good thing.

To start with, getting rid of Saddam Hussein was a great idea. He was a tyrant and I say death to tyrants.

There were those who opposed the invasion on the grounds that Iraq was a sovereign nation which we had no right to invade. I had a simple answer to that: The only legitimate governments are democracies. Any government which is not of, by, and for the people is not a government we should respect. Dictators are the moral equivalent of gangsters, and Saddam Hussein was no more the legitimate ruler of Iraq than John Gotti was the mayor of New York.

What give us the right? I think everyone has the right. You don’t need anybody else’s permission to free someone from tyranny. (You wouldn’t want to free someone against their will, of course, but in the absence of a clear and uncoerced statement to the contrary, I think it’s safe to assume that people want to be free.)

Then why not invade some other dictatorship such as Iran, Syria, or “our friends” the Saudis? I wouldn’t have a moral problem with overthrowing any of those governments, but an illegitimate government only keeps it from being immoral to invade, it doesn’t mean we have to invade.

Just because we believe people would be better off if we invaded, doesn’t mean it’s our duty as a nation to do so. Even back then, it was clear that an invasion would have a cost in blood and treasure, and we owe it to our soldiers and our taxpayers not to squander what they give us on wars that do not serve our national interest. We should only invade Iraq, I thought, if it also served a legitimate national interest.

That’s where the weapons of mass destruction came in. Keeping such weapons out of the hands of terrorists was a clear matter of national security.

Then there’s the oil. Protesters can chant “no blood for oil” all they want, but that doesn’t change the fact that American civilization will crumble if we don’t get oil. The safety of our oil supply is a matter of national security as well, and if invading Iraq and setting up a free democracy will help stabilize the region, all the better.

I thought invading Iraq would serve a confluence of interests. A successful operation would

  • overthrow a tyrant
  • eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction
  • free the Iraqi people
  • spread democracy in the middle east
  • help stabilize the region
  • safeguard our oil supply

But if an invasion is such a great idea, why wasn’t I a war booster?

Well, although that list makes the invasion sound like a terrific idea, there’s one very important point I left out which concerned me very much at the time: Invading Iraq and accomplishing the items on that list is only a good idea if it actually works.

The problem was, I knew far too little about the middle east, the Bush administration, and modern warfare to make many confident predictions. I was sure the initial invasion would sweep the Iraqi army from the battlefield, but when it came to picking up the pieces afterward, I had no idea what would happen.

The best I could figure out is that it all depended on the Iraqi people. If they welcomed us as liberators and enthusiastically started the hard work of building a free democracy, everything would be fine. But if they cooperated with an organized guerilla resistance movement, we’d be stuck in an ugly situation for a long time.

The best I could do was listen to what all sides were saying and decide who made the most sense. The Bush Administration had Colin Powell and access to everything our intelligence agencies knew about the middle east.  The anti-war crowd had Hollywood celebrities and giant paper-machete heads, and they seemed to think that insulting George Bush for not approving the Kyoto agreement was a compelling argument against the war. (I’m simplifying a bit.) Also, the anti-war crowd had been wrong every step of the way in Afghanistan.

At the time, I still believed that, whatever their faults in other areas, the Bush administration was serious about national security. Also, without free speech the Iraqi people couldn’t tell us what they would really do if we invaded, but I figured our intelligence agencies had the assets and capability to make some really good guesses.

So, I figured the invasion would probably be successful, and therefore it was probably a good idea. I didn’t love the idea, but I thought evertything would turn out better in the end.

Once the war was underway, as I expected, we quickly accomplished the first goal of overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

Troublingly, the second goal, destroying the weapons of mass destruction, proved to have been unnecessary.

As the war dragged on, we went backwards on the last two goals, stabilizing the region and safeguarding our oil supply. As for the middle two goals, I’m not sure if what the Iraqis have now can really be called freedom, and I don’t think we’ve impressed the Muslim world with the benefits of democracy.

Even after the war started to go bad, the question that kept nagging at me was “Would the world have been a better place if Saddam was still in charge in Iraq?” The answer, I thought, was “no.”

But here we are after five years of violent confict and Iraqis are still dying, Iran is emerging as an unopposed power in the region, and the enemy has learned a lot about how to fight us. I’m beginning to think it’s a no-win situation, and our best move is to admit it and cut our losses.

Of course, given my track record on this subject, it’s just as likely that the resistance is going to collapse next month, the Iraqis will begin to build a working society, and the liberals will gain power in Iran.

It’s probably better if you don’t pay attention to a thing I say.

Click Here For an FBI Raid

There’s no way this could possibly go wrong:

The FBI has recently adopted a novel investigative technique: posting hyperlinks that purport to be illegal videos of minors having sex, and then raiding the homes of anyone willing to click on them.

Undercover FBI agents used this hyperlink-enticement technique, which directed Internet users to a clandestine government server, to stage armed raids of homes in Pennsylvania, New York, and Nevada last year. The supposed video files actually were gibberish and contained no illegal images.

A CNET review of legal documents shows that courts have approved of this technique, even though it raises questions about entrapment, the problems of identifying who’s using an open wireless connection–and whether anyone who clicks on a FBI link that contains no child pornography should be automatically subject to a dawn raid by federal police.

CNET is a tech news site, so they spotted the first thing I thought of:

There’s no evidence the referring site was recorded as well, meaning the FBI couldn’t tell if the visitor found the links through Ranchi or another source such as an e-mail message.

If that’s true, then the FBI has no proof of why someone followed the link or what they thought it would get them. Anybody could have found one of those links and posted it to another web site with a misleading message such as “click here to see playful kittens.”

Or imagine you’re reading a forum or some blog comments, and you read a message that says “Oh my god, does this look like child porn to anyone?  Should we tell someone?” Can you be sure you wouldn’t reflexively click the link before thinking about it? Have you ever clicked a link by accident when you selected a window?

Anyone who followed one of those links could get raided by the FBI. That’s a scary thought.

To be fair, in the case described in the CNET article, the posts by the FBI were very explicit about what was supposedly at the other end of the link, and the FBI servers recorded 5 clicks to 3 different files over a six hour period from the same IP address. That’s more than just one reflexive click or a mousing error.

Nevertheless, this seems like a dangerous direction to take law enforcement.

(Hat tip: Crime & Federalism)