February 2009

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Virginia prosecutor Tom McKenna and I never seem to agree on anything (except maybe guns) and my previous post in response to a police officer’s complaint about the verdict in the Ryan Frederick case is no exception:

A blogging police officer complains of a manslaughter conviction for a dope dealer who killed a police officer attempting to serve a search warrant at his Chesapeake, Virginia house. (lots of the backstory here).

“Dope dealer” is kind of a stretchy term. Since drugs are illegal, there aren’t any approved stores or mailorder suppliers. Everybody who has drugs is usually willing to sell to some to their friends. Technically, that makes them drug dealers. But in reality, there’s a big difference between someone who sells to his friends, and someone who sells drugs as his job.

Since Frederick got up every morning for his job driving a delivery truck, I’m guessing he wasn’t exactly raking in the cash from his tiny grow operation.

Now, this pot head, Ryan Frederick, has been written up cloyingly in Reason and has become somewhat of a poster child for the 420-loving crowd, who see this drug bust gone awry as more evidence of the failure of the drug war and the evils of the supposedly gestapo-like tactics used by police to persecute these peace-loving pot smokers.

That’s because it is more evidence of the failure of the drug war and the evils of the methods used by police to persecute peaceful drug users. Obviously, Tom doesn’t see it that way, and I’m not going to convince him.

Example: Windypundit in turn getting upset with the blogging officer, says this:

Alright Scott, here’s something for you to think about: All this happened because Ryan Frederick was suspected of growing marijuana, a crime which has no victims. The next time you or your police buddies decide to do an armed home invasion because you think there might be evil plants inside, remember that there are hundreds of thousands of potential jurors out here who won’t mind too much if you get your ass killed. Maybe that will make you stop and think about what you’re doing.

Right. So on one side we have an angry officer, upset that a jury in Chesapeake, Va. (a very conservative community) did not find Frederick guilty of murder. On the other side, we have the dope heads and their ideological friends trying to make a Joan of Arc out of this Tidewater Toker.

Alright, I have to admit that the part where he quotes me sounds a bit harsh. On the other hand, I was responding in kind to the blogging officer’s vaguely threatening suggestion that the jurors should stop and think about what would happen next time they called the police if the responding officers knew they had voted to acquit. I wanted him—or people who agree with him—to understand what it sounds like coming back at them.

While it appears that the police might have been more cautious about using the particular informant in this case, there was evidence presented that Frederick, despite denials, knew the police were coming to his house, and indeed had been operating a grow room in the preceding weeks (not to mention the trivial fact that police knocked and yelled “Chesapeake police–search warrant” five times before having to force entry).

If I remember right, the evidence that Frederick knew the cops were coming was from informants of questionable reliability. In fact, among the parade of jailhouse snitches was one who was such a notorious liar that a prosecutor from a neighboring county felt obligated to speak up about it in the middle of the trial.

Whether the police yelled anything loudly enough for Frederick to hear is also disputed. The police say they did, but the prosecutor couldn’t find any neighbors who heard them yelling, and the defense found seven who said they didn’t.

(The situation was confusing and happening fast, so maybe the neighbors weren’t very alert and all seven of them missed the police yelling, but even if the police announced the warrant properly, that’s not the important issue. What matters is whether Frederick knew they were police. So if all seven neighbors missed the yelling, maybe he did too.)

At one point, the prosecutor even tried to imply that Frederick’s prison weight-gain showed he was unremorseful for killing a cop. I’m no lawyer, but it sounds like he was really reaching to try to prove his murder case.

And the bottom line is that the jury clearly rejected his claim that he was acting in self-defense from an unknown intruder– self-defense is an absolute defense, if believed, to the offense they convicted him of manslaughter. By the same token, the jury apparently was hesitant to condone the way the police investigated this case and chose to execute the search warrant.

I think the jury also clearly rejected the claim that Frederick was intentionally trying to kill someone he knew to be a cop. He did something reckless that got a cop killed, but it’s not like he was trying to do that. It’s kind of like he drove too fast through an intersection and accidentally struck a cop directing traffic. He probably wouldn’t get a murder conviction for that either.

A modest suggestion: if the police work in the case was less than optimal, it can hardly excuse the Tidewater Toker, who had no justification to fire a shotgun at a Chesapeake police officer.

Yes, but one of the things both Tom and the blogging cop are both glossing over is that Ryan Frederick did not get a walk on the shooting. He’s been sentenced to 10 years in prison on the manslaughter conviction. He’s going to pay for the death of officer Shivers. He’s just not going to pay with his life.

That neither “side” is entirely happy probably means the jury got it just about right.

Could be. Press accounts of the details of shootings are always sketchy, but it sounds like Frederick shot at someone without identifying his target properly as a threat. If so, the resulting verdict sounds reasonable.

By the way, the fascist Nazi drug cop who “got his ass killed” was Jerrod Shivers, a Navy vet and a decorated police officer with a wife and three children.

Hey Tom, I think calling Officer Shivers a “fascist Nazi” is uncalled for, and you should apologize. At least, I assume that you think he’s a “fascist Nazi” since I sure as hell didn’t call him that.

Officer Shivers is yet another casualty of our stupid war on drugs, and although he was part of the police operation that initiated this violent mess, it’s unfair to hold him responsible. He was just doing his job. If the Chesapeake police department hadn’t gotten it into their head to conduct an armed home invasion to nab a guy growing a few pot plants, none of this would have happened. Ryan Frederick wouldn’t be in jail, and officer Jerrod Shivers would still be alive and taking care of his family.

May he rest in peace.

On this we agree.

A police officer named Scott in Hampton Roads has this to say about the Ryan Frederick verdict:

Ryan Frederick will forever be known as a cop killer.  He shot and killed Detective Jerrod Shivers in January 2008 while the Chesapeake Police Department was serving a search warrant at his house.  He is a cold blooded killer.

Our justice system, however, has seen fit to convict this…  Frederick of Manslaughter and recommended a sentence of 10 years, the maximum.  Frederick faced capital murder.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury?  You have FAILED MISERABLY.  You have failed the family of Detective Shivers, police officers, the City of Chesapeake, Commonwealth of Virginia and this nation.  Failed.  Failures each and every one of you.

Scott, you just don’t get it. Frederick was convicted of manslaughter because that is what he did.

Yes, Frederick killed a cop. That’s undisputed. But there is no reason to believe he intended to kill a cop at the time he pulled the trigger. The only testimony that disputes this comes from a bunch of snitches.

(Here’s a quick test for any police officer who claims the snitches were credible: If you were interviewing one of these guys at the police station, and he asked you if he could examine your duty pistol—hold your loaded gun in his hands for just a minute—would you let him? If not, if you’re not willing to let him have a deadly weapon, then you damned well shouldn’t let them kill Frederick with their words.)

According to the jury, Frederick behaved stupidly—he shot without identifying his target—and Jerrod Shivers is dead. It was a tragic mistake, but a mistake he should have been able to avoid. And for that mistake, he will lose 10 years of his freedom.

The next time you need police, please be sure to tell them you were on the Frederick jury.  While that is an emotional statement, I do know that no matter what, the officers will still be professional.  But I bet it made you stop and think didn’t it?

Just like all the people who have voted in the polls on PilotOnline.  Voting for acquittal.  The next time YOU need police, be sure to tell them you think that Frederick should have been let off for killing a cop.

Alright Scott, here’s something for you to think about: All this happened because Ryan Frederick was suspected of growing marijuana, a crime which has no victims. The next time you or your police buddies decide to do an armed home invasion because you think there might be evil plants inside, remember that there are hundreds of thousands of potential jurors out here who won’t mind too much if you get your ass killed. Maybe that will make you stop and think about what you’re doing.

If the tables were turned, and it was a cop who shot blindly through a door, killing a civilian, I wonder how that would have turned out at a trial?

Well, Sgt. Joseph Chavalia of the Lima, Ohio SWAT team was on a raid when he heard other members of his SWAT team firing at a dog on the floor below. He misinterpred this as gunfire coming from a nearby room and fired into the room blindly, killing an unarmed woman named Tarika Wilson and mutilating her infant son’s hand. Officer Chavalia was acquitted.

Even if he’d been convicted, he wouldn’t have had to do more than eight months in jail because the prosecutor only filed misdemeanor charges. Once released, Chavalia could have gone right back onto the SWAT team.

Then there are the three Atlanta police officers—Gregg Junnier, Jason R. Smith, and Arthur Bruce Tesler—who stole drug evidence from one of their cases and planted the drugs on a suspected drug dealer in order to coerce him into giving them information about other drug dealers. He pointed out a house where he claimed to have bought drugs. The officers then used that information plus a few lies to get a no-knock search warrant.

The house turned out to belong to 92-year old Kathryn Johnston, who was a grandmother, not a drug dealer.

The crooked cops botched the no-knock entry, giving Johnston just enough time to get her gun to defend herself against what she must have assumed were a bunch of thugs breaking down her door. The police shot her to death (wounding each other in the panic fire) and then, finding no drugs, they tried planting some to frame her.

Officers Junnier, Smith, and Tesler were convicted, but only one of them got a sentence as long as Frederick’s, and with good behavior he’ll be out sooner.

So, since you asked, if “the tables were turned” and a cop shot blindly through a door and killed someone, I would expect the blue wall of silence to close comfortably around him. He’d get a light sentence. Assuming it even reached the trial stage.

Joel Rosenberg has been a co-blogger here on Windypundit for a few months, so I think it’s time to give him an “About” page. I asked him if he wanted to write it, but he told me to write it myself. So I did.

Actually, the page is not so much about Joel as it is about my attempt to write something about Joel. I’ve managed to turn his “About” page into yet another post about me. I think he deserves that for being too lazy to write it himself.

Anyway, here it is, the “About Joel Rosenberg” page [revised 2013]. I’ll put the link in the sidebar when I’ve heard what Joel has to say about it’s accuracy…especially about those years he spent in Afghanistan smuggling heroin and guns for the mujahideen. (Just making sure he reads it.)

In the two previous posts in my amateur exploration of the stimulus (GDP, and then Recession), I explained what a recession is and what many economists think causes one. Now I’m going to try to explain my understanding of what a solution has to do, and why some people think a stimulus package is a good idea.

(This series of posts is my first attempt to write anything about macroeconomics, so if I’ve screwed this up, let me know in the comments.)

The problem, as you may remember, is that the population has a whole is trying to save money and is therefore not spending any. This reduction in aggregate demand leads to a decline in production and therefore in employment, causing much misery.

(There are some other theories about how recessions happen, but this theory is the one that seems to be behind the current stimulus package.)

The solution, in general, is to find a way to push aggregate demand back up to the normal level. This will happen naturally as struggling people and firms bid down wages and prices. With the same amount of money chasing lower priced production, consumption will eventually rise again.

But “eventually” is a long time. Is there something we can do to speed things up?

The best solution would be to have the CIA fire up their mind control machines and force all Americans to increase their consumption purchases back to the level they would have consumed at if there wasn’t a recession. Since everyone’s spending will support everyone else’s income, we should skate right over the recession.

There are two problems with this approach. First, there’s no such thing as CIA mind control (or so they told me to say). Second, people should only resume normal consumption to the extent that they reduced consumption due to fear of a systemic economic problem. To the extent that people reduced consumption due to fear of an actual personal economic problem—losing a big client, working on a product that has gone out of style, getting too old to star in porno films, etc.—they should continue the prudent path of reducing their consumption. This second problem also affects every other approach we will explore.

If we can’t use CIA mind control to force consumers to spend more, perhaps we can simply persuade them, either by talking up the economy or by directly asking people to consume more. I’m pretty sure that President George W. Bush had this in mind when shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attack he clumsily urged Americans to “go shopping.”

It seems doubtful that talking up the economy will actually work. When an elected official or one of his minions starts talking about how great things are, we tend to assume that he’s just campaigning for re-election.

On the other hand, we seem to respond fairly predictably to fear, so I think our leaders can really hurt the economy by talking it down. It can’t have helped consumer confidence in their economic future when Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson practically wet himself over the bank crisis.

If we can’t force people to spend more, and we can’t talk them into it, maybe we can trick them into it by making them feel richer. Crank up the presses at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, print up $1 trillion in hundred-dollar bills, and send about $3000 in cold hard cash to every man, woman, and child in America.

It won’t make anyone any richer—printed money has no intrinsic value, and printing a lot of it has no immediate effect on GDP—but maybe it will make people feel richer. They’ll become more free with their money and buy more stuff, aggregate demand will rise, and people will go back to work to produce all the stuff we’re buying. The recession will be over.

With a few tweaks, this is actually the first workable idea I’ve described. In fact, we already have the Federal Reserve working on it. Rather than mailing out packages of cash, the Fed manipulates the money supply through large-scale transactions in goverment securities, loans to member banks, and adjustments to certain banking regulations, with the goal of driving down the interest rates banks charge each other for short-term loans of cash. This has the same effect on the money supply as sending out piles of cash, but it’s far easier to do.

In fact, the Federal Reserve has been doing this for decades, lowering interest rates to fend off a recession, and then raising them to fend off crippling levels of inflation. (Increasing the money supply doesn’t directly increase GDP, so if there’s more money chasing after the same amount of stuff, it drives up prices.)

The problem is, the Fed has nowhere to go. The current target interest rate is essentially 0%, meaning the Fed is happily pumping up the money supply whenever it can. This has never happened before. Clearly, while manipulating the money supply—monetary policy—is a workable idea, it’s not enough to fend off the current recession.

(Some people think the real problem is that having the Federal Reserve manipulate the money supply is not a workable idea, and that any appearance of success is just blind luck. This seems unlikely to me, but it’s not something I’m confident about.)

The failure of the Fed to fix the problem with monetary policy leads us to reconsider one of the ideas I mentioned earlier: Forcing people to spend money.

The good news is that even the crazy people in Washington realize they can’t create a Department of Spending to send out men with guns to force us all to spend money. The bad news is that they don’t need to. They have the IRS.

Recall my line diagram:


Instead of encouraging us to spend more money, the government can simply take the money from us and spend it directly. If we won’t push our spending up from the red line to the blue line, they’ll take our money and do the necessary spending on our behalf.

This doesn’t require quite as much spending as you’d think, because the same multiplier effect that helped speed the crash will also help with the recovery. The people who benefit directly from the government spending will go on to spend some of the money they receive, which will add to somebody else’s income, who will go on to spend more money, and so on. This allows a relatively small amount of spending to make a difference.

The multiplier effect also adds a complication, because different ways of spending the money will likely have different multipliers. Pundits are discussing whether government spending has a better multiplier than private spending, whether poor people have a better multiplier than wealthier people, and whether you get a better multiplier from one quick burst of spending or from a long-term spending program.

Next: Problems with the stimulus.

Too busy to write much, but here are a few random shots around the web:

  • Radley Balko has a way with headlines. The whole post is worth reading.
  • When you go through the TSA checkpoints at some airports, body image scanners can now check you for weapons…and see you naked through your clothes. If we put up with this just to fly a plane, is there any limit to how much the government can demand to invade our privacy?
  • If you’re a computer geek, you’ll probably appeciate this. If you’re geeky enough to understand what SQL injection is, you’ll laugh at this. If you’re a super-geek with knowledge of non-discretionary computer security standards and covert channels, you’ll gape in wonder at this.
  • To balance out the computer geekiness, here are a few amateur model portfolios that came up at random: AmyLeslie, and Bunny.

I’ll try to post something I actually wrote a little later. Take that as a promise or a threat.

I first saw this technology concept video about 20 years ago at a presentation at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Part of NCSA’s mission was to explore personal computing applications that required supercomputer-level processing at the time, but which would make sense in the future when everyone has a supercomputer on their desk.

I vaguely remember my impressions at the time:

  • I was skeptical about the voice recognition and natural-language in the interface. That seemed like an awful hard thing to do back then, and it still seems pretty hard to do. Modern voice recognition is a lot better, but it’s still hard to get a computer to understand the structure of natural languages.
  • I was also skeptical about the document searching capability shown in the video. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to do useful searches of millions of documents without natural language processing to understand what the documents were about, but it turns out you can do a useful amount of information retrieval using relatively simple keyword algorithms. We even have some form of the video’s query completion.
  • I thought the talking-head to represent the computer was excessive and pointless. I think the world-wide hatred for Microsoft’s “Clippy” proves I was right.
  • I thought the streaming video conferencing was excessive too. I was mostly wrong about that. The technology is well within reach, and we could have it whenever we want, but we don’t seem to want it very much. Phone calls are intrusive enough without having to worry about how we look.

The most interesting part for me was the computing technology behind the real-time climate simulation. The NCSA had one of the most powerful computers available—a multi-million dollar liquid-cooled Cray-2 supercomputer—and it would take thousands of them running in parallel to perform that kind of climate simulation at the speed shown in the video.

The capability shown in the video implied some sort of computing utility—the term “grid computing” would later become fashionable—that could quickly and cheaply provide massive amounts of computing from a shared resource pool, much the same way you can quickly grab a few kilowatts of electricity off the power grid whenever you need it.

We are tantalizingly close to reality here:

  • Making some rough assumptions about relative computing power and speed two decades ago and now, think I could rent the modern equivalent of 1000 Cray-2 computers from the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud service for about $40/hour. It’s not quite like the video yet because it would take about 10 minutes to bring them all online and get them running a particular program.
  • Every time you do a Google search, you probably grab that much computing power for the split-second it takes to do the search. Google’s datacenter has their search software pre-installed on pre-provisioned hardware, so you couldn’t do that with an arbitrary computer program of your own design like in the video.
  • A 3D graphics gaming card for a personal computer uses specialized graphics processing units. Although optimized for shading computer-generated images, modern GPUs are becoming complex enough to perform general purpose computing. A top-end gaming card for under $500 is probably comparable to hundreds of Cray-2 computers for solving certain specialized problems.

It won’t be much longer.

I found this video at Google Blogoscoped, which also has some interesting examples of more recent concept videos from other companies.

The amazing Radley Balko has just posted a story he uncovered about a couple of forensic experts working on a case for the state of Lousiana who apparently mutiliated a child’s corpse in order to frame a man for murder.

Really. There’s video. The images are disturbing.

Via Nobody’s Business comes the news that our British cousins have made it illegal to take pictures of cops:

From today, anyone taking a photograph of a police officer could be deemed to have committed a criminal offence.

That is because of a new law – Section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act – which has come into force.

It permits the arrest of anyone found “eliciting, publishing or communicating information” relating to members of the armed forces, intelligence services and police officers, which is “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”.

You might think that last part about terrorism is a safeguard against abuse, but it’s not. It won’t prevent the cops from arresting you. The only place it does any good is at your trial, and by then it’s too late. Even if the charges are dropped and you are released later the same day, the cops will already have confiscated your camera and had a chance to delete your photos.

Why would they do that?

Check out this story Simple Justice found about how one Schenectady cop spends his shift:

Dwayne Johnson, who was the city’s highest paid officer last year with earnings of $168,921, spends most Tuesday early mornings in an apartment at the corner of Queen Philomena Boulevard and Sir Benjamin Way, near Kings Road. Although Johnson is typically scheduled to patrol the city until 8 a.m., he parks his marked police car on Sir Benjamin Way just before 4 a.m. and remains indoors for several hours.

The eight-year veteran of the department was observed by a Daily Gazette reporter and other witnesses as he entered and stayed in the apartment on five Tuesdays in a row this year.

The reporter has photographs.

If British cops are anything like Schenectady cops, it’s no wonder they don’t want their picture taken.

Well, I’m lazy, and don’t want to replow the ground that others have already plowed; I’m more inclined to do a little freelance gleaning at the corners.  And since somebody asked, and I was writing on it anyway . . .

So let’s start here, with the reporting on how Jason Vassell stabbed Bowes and Bosse. 

Sounds pretty simple, no? 

Well, no.   Quick jump to here, where prosecutor and former criminal defense attorney Ken Lammers asks a bunch of good albeit not dispositive questions. And then to here, where Scott Greenfield posts about it.  And skip to here, for a very partisan account, and do let’s remember that “partisan” and “liar” are two different words, and also different from “Fair Witness“. 

Now, as a guy who spends a fair amount of time conducting training classes for people who want to carry guns in Minnesota (and elsewhere), this one hits kind of close to home; the only way it could hit much closer, without me being the guest of honor in the proceedings, is if it were a Minnesota thing.  (The fact that the tool used either in proper self-defense and/or excessive force happened to be a knife rather than a gun may make a difference to some, but I don’t much care.)

The specifics of this case are going to be governed by Massachusetts law, and a quick glance at the MA equivalent to Minnesota’s defense of dwelling statute raises more questions than it answers. So let’s forget about that. The folks in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts are stuck with MA law, whatever it may be, and good luck to them with it.

Me, I’m not trying to decide not whether or not Vassel did everything right — that’s easy:  reading between the lines at the “Justice for Jason” site, it’s clear to me that he didn’t — but whether or not he did enough wrong that he ought to be in trouble, with a very real risk of a criminal conviction.

Again, let’s back up for a second — and I promise to stop doing that, as I’m going to start tripping over the furniture.

When we point at a thing we call “self defense”, we’re sometimes talking past each other.  In a criminal proceeding, it’s what the lawyer types call an “affirmative defense.”  To simplify (and the lawyers reading this are, as always, invited to tell me how wrong I am, and how my simplification is misleading) when a guy claims self defense, he’s saying, in effect, “yeah, I shot/beat/stabbed/hacked the guy, and I meant to do it, but I had three good reasons for it:  I didn’t want to be involved in the fight, I had a damn good reason to think that he would have killed or crippled me, and I really had no other choice, except for getting killed or crippled.”  (In some places, add . .  “. . . and among the reasons that I had no other choice is that I couldn’t run away.”)

Here’s the thing:  if the prosecutor can show that any one of those is missing, the guy goes to prison.  Just one; he’s dangling over a prison cell, clinging to a chain that has three (or four, depending) links, and since he’s in court, you can visualize the prosecutor sawing at one or more of those links, knowing that if he breaks any one — two would be fine, but one will do every bit as well — the guy falls in.

The standard for self-defense isn’t, as Justice Holmes long ago told us, whether or not detached reflection can properly be demanded in the presence of an upraised knife (or, although he didn’t say it, a couple of thugs)  after all.

And for once, the law as I understand it and what seems reasonable to me — I got my freelance philosopher’s license some years ago; it’s issued at birth with human DNA — really do agree, at least mostly.  It’s not okay to go around starting fights and beating the crap out  or killing or crippling people to take their dignity, health, or stuff; people under stress not of their making can’t be expected to sort things out perfectly, or benefit from hindsight, but can be required — under penalty of law, to not be very unreasonable when they find themselves in a mess not of their own making.

Now, back to the partisan account . . . and let’s assume that it’s spun, at least a little bit, but not horribly inaccurate as to the series of events.  I’ll indent their stuff, and undent mine. 

At approximately 4am on Sunday February 3rd two young women students visited Jason Vassell a fellow resident of MacKimmie in his dormitory room.

A bunch of college kids are still up partying after a late Saturday night.  It would not shock my conscience were some alcohol and a bit of courting behavior going on.

Upon entering and finding the room “stuffy” one of the young women crossed to the window and raised the shades. She was astonished to find the face of “a large white man” pressed against the window and staring back at her.

And were it the face of “a small Asian woman”, would she have been unastonished?  Nah.  The attempt to — quite possibly legitimately; it’s not always a forgery, you know — play the race card aside, it’s not usual to find anybody outside anybody else’s window at four in the morning, although — the face pressing aside — there likely could be an innocent explanation.

I’m guessing that there wasn’t.

 Asked by Jason to explain his presence outside his window

Please.  “What the fuck are you doing?  Get the fuck away from there,” or stronger language would be entirely appropriate under the circumstances.  

the man (John Bowes) launched into a loud tirade of racial invectives and violent threats directed at Jason. Another man was observed

Who did this observing?  I’m not sure it mattered, but when people use the passive voice, I want to frisk them to see what else they’re hiding.  

outside the room and he joined in the abuse. Told to go away, the man became more enraged and kicked in the window.

See above. There’s nothing wrong with telling somebody to get away from your window at 4AM, even if they’ve responded to your inquiry as to the reason for their presence without saying bad words or summoning jerks.

Understandably frightened, the two young women then left the room, and the police were called.

Good so far, although I’m still unhappy about the passive voice.  (Hey, partisans?  It’s okay if one of the young women called the cops, rather than Vassell.)  I sense a pattern.  The safe thing to do — in a lot of ways — is to call the cops.  Whether or not to announce that to the folks outside is a judgment call; either would be okay with me.  (At my home, I would, but I do have specialized tools available in the event that that announcement persuaded them that entering the home and beating me to death in advance of the arrival of the badged folks was a wise decision, and such tools would be in hand, as whatever kind of idiot I am, I’m not that kind.) 

While awaiting the arrival of the police, Jason, feeling outnumbered and at risk, called a friend from a neighboring dorm for support.

The attackers have kicked in a window (either that, or the partisans are lying; I’m betting that the window was broken inward, and by the jerks), a guy could reasonably feel that he wasn’t safe where he was, and wouldn’t want to be alone.  How long until the cops get there?  I dunno, either, but “when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.”  Phone a friend?  Sure.

When his friend arrived Jason went to the lobby and not seeing his tormenters, opened the outside door.

Excuse me, folks.  You forgot about the knife.  I’m not irritated with your guy for getting it, and I’m very much not irritated with him and/or his lawyer for not discussing that with you, but, sheesh:  yeah, he grabbed something that he might be able to use for self-defense, if things continued to go pear-shaped.  This proves one thing: he’s not an idiot. 

As his friend was entering the two intruders appeared from the side and entered the lobby. The big intruder assaulted Jason and broke his nose. In the ensuing skirmish both intruders were stabbed.

A guy’s in his dorm room, quite possibly intending to put some moves on some friendly young women (there’s not anything wrong with that, you know), only to find some creep trying to peek in through the window. 

Epithets are exchanged; a window is broken.  The guy grabs a knife (and I don’t care whether it’s a steak knife that he keeps to cut his food or a P’Kal identical to the one in my right front pocket at the moment; it’s a fargin’ tool) and retreats from his room, to go down to the front door to let in a friend who he’s asked to come over while he’s waiting for the police to show up (and, remembering that he’s not an idiot, probably to take possession of the knife and fade slowly into the woodwork when the cops do, just so there won’t be a misunderstanding), and the two jerks rush in.  (Both the news report and the partisan site are clear that the confrontation happened in the dorm lobby; Amherst dorms are locked at night — I just checked — and they couldn’t have gotten in without the door being opened for them; while it’s a safe guess that Bosse is or was an Amherst student, Bowes never was.)

He gets a broken nose in the fracas that they instigated, and then they get themselves cut up some. 

How much?  Well, remembering that even  an out-of-shape overweight fifty-four year-old can stab something (or, conceivably, somebody) more than ten times in two seconds, maybe we can cut a bit of slack to a kid whose nose has just been broken, in a fight that, in this version, he didn’t start, and which he wasn’t outside trying to continue? 


Let me give you another version of what happened . . .

A couple of relatively harmless — so far; yeah, maybe, there was the trouble that there were in in high school for racially motivated attacks, possibly — but more than a little obnoxious white kids are partying at at night at Amherst, and haven’t left, as they haven’t managed to score with any of the cute Amherst girls (and/or cute Amherst guys) by four in the morning; as is often the case, the booze that they’re drinking just makes everybody else more attractive. They’re lounging about outside a dorm, maybe having a cigarette — near the one where they’ve been partying (it’s February, and it got just a little below freezing there that night; they’re not going to be partying outside), and some guy leans out a nearby window and shouts, not in a friendly way, to get away. 

Words are exchanged.  Everybody uses bad words.  They use worse words, maybe, and one of them starts pounding on the window with his closed fist.  Bad choice; the window breaks.  The guy inside announces that he’s calling some friends to come and beat them, and they’re on their way.  (They don’t hear that the cops have been called.)  

And then . . .

And then the whole story that they’re the imperfect victims breaks down.  Because the imperfect victims might not be scared off — they’ll stand their ground, even though it’s not their ground — or they might run, but the one thing that they don’t do is figure out a way to get into a locked dorm building to confront the guy whose window they’ve just broken in the lobby.  Wait for the cops so that they can get their story in first?  Sure.  Outside.  Run away, and kind of hope that ends it?  Possibly.

Shove their way into a locked dorm to continue the confrontation, break a guy’s nose.  Sure:  if they’re looking for more trouble, not happy with what they’ve found.

Something stinks, and it’s not just the food at the dining hall, either.

So, why would a prosecutor push this?  I dunno.  If you want to assume that the prosecutor is being reasonable, about the only thing that makes sense is that, after defending himself with the knife — it’s not reasonable to require a guy to be able to push away his attacker without tools, unless he’s some sort of martial artist, and probably not then — he kept going and going, or at least the prosecutor thinks that. 

Which, of course, leaves us with the problem that both of the imperfect victims are not only still alive, but were out of the hospital in fairly short order.

I’ll try to keep an open mind, but, gee, this sounds like it can’t be a lot better than, well, it sounds like.   

Provably some, probably many prosecutors really hate self-defense.  Some feel that if you let people protect themselves, that’s a long step down the slide to vigilantism.  (There’s a technical term that we self-defense activists use about people who think that way; we call them “morons.”  Strong language to follow.)

One local-to-me city attorney has been known to say that any time that somebody takes out a gun, he should be prosecuted, regardless of the facts — let the jury sort it out.  And if that means he has to bankrupt himself to pay a lawyer, well, that’s his problem.

After we passed the our carry reform law in 2003, word went out in my county that the County Attorney herself had passed the word that at least the first permit holder to use a gun in self-defense would be prosecuted, period, pour encouragez les autres, and was prepared to, at a moment’s notice, slide down the firepole she had installed between her office and the press room at the HCGC to announce the indictment.  (She is, I’m happy to say, no longer my County Attorney; alas, Amy the Klo is my US Senator, so that story doesn’t end happily.)

So, yeah; I’m willing to be open-minded, but this does look pretty awful, and I’m hearing the sounds of the choo-choo; Vassell is, by first approximation, the victim of a railroading.

Which makes him better off than crippled or dead, but that’s about the only good thing that can be said about it.

Not the only time that the prosecutors have gone after the victim, mind you; google for “Martin Treptow” sometime.   

In another post, I mentioned that I was worried that I might write something that was so bad it wasn’t even wrong. I borrowed that phrase from Steven Pinker (who borrowed it from someone else), and since saying that, I’ve been concerned that people might not understand what I mean. I’m talking about a level of level of misunderstanding so profound that it’s difficult to evaluate because it has no logical connection to the subject under discussion.

On a completely unrelated subject, Eric M. Wallace at Illinois Review has just posted this video of World Net Daily commentator Jason “Molotov” Mitchell talking about “Darwin vs. Liberals”:

It’s hard to know where to begin, but let me see if I can give it a shot.

I guess I’ll start with the misconception about the purpose of the theory of evolution. It’s not a normative theory. It doesn’t say how things should work, it just describes how things do work. In a soundbyte: IS, not OUGHT.

So when Mitchell says “I thought that the struggle is supposed to build a better breed of human,” he’s way off the mark. The struggle for survival isn’t supposed to build a better breed of human, it just does. But it’s not a moral system. There’s no reason we should bow down to evolution and let it rule our lives. We’re smarter than it is. We can control our lives on our own terms.

While I’m at it, the reason for believing in evolution isn’t “hiding behind evolution” to escape “moral responsibility.” It’s because evolution is a scientific theory that explains a lot of things about the world. People believe in evolution because it works.

Then there’s the whole bit about England. Based on a few incidents with some Islamic protesters, Mitchell declares that the United Kingdom will be under Sharia law within 10 years. He then claims this proves the superiority of the god-believing Muslims, even though his “proof” is something he totally made up in his head.

Our cousins in the U.K. are definitely acting a little screwy these days, but they still have a far higher standard of living than in Muslim countries. With a population of 60 million, the U.K. has more than twice the GDP of any Islamic nation, and nearly 2/3 the GDP of Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and all the -stans combined, despite their vast oil wealth and a combined population of over half a billion people. On a per-capita basis, only a few of the small oil kingdoms have a better standard of living.

And if economics doesn’t convince you, how about the Brits’ kickass special forces, blue-water Navy, and arsenal of nuclear weapons?

Getting back to the main point, although evolution and capitalism both feature competition and failure to survive as key concepts, they aren’t quite the same thing. I’m sure someone has done a point-by-point comparison of the logical structure of evolution and capitalism, but basically, economic entities don’t survive and grow like reproducing organisms, and reproducing organisms don’t have intelligent managers guiding their development.

Besides, if evolution and capitalism go together, shouldn’t believers in God be socialists?

Finally, there’s the gay rights v.s. evolution issue. There’s no need to re-hash my speculation about gayness in evolutionary theory to explain why Mitchell’s argument is so stupid. For one thing, it’s enough to point out that Larmarck’s theories about inheriting acquired characteristics were discredited long ago. Discouraging gay behavior will not eliminate gayness from the human species because you can’t change people’s genetics by changing their behavior. It would be like getting yourself hair implants in the hope that it would keep your children from going bald.

Further, there’s a real logical disconnect in saying that gays are harming the human species because they don’t reproduce. People who don’t reproduce can’t possibly affect the genetic composition of future generations because they don’t have future generations.

I know, I know, I’ve wasted a lot of time on this idiotic video. It would be easy to just call it “stupid” and move on. Sometimes, however, I just get the urge to point out that idiocy is not always about bad ideas or bad values. Often it’s about factual, objective errors. Sometimes stupid stuff is stupid for a reason.

This is the 2nd post of my amateur exploration of the reasoning behind the stimulus bill. I think I do okay writing about microeconomic issues, but this is my first real attempt at discussing macroeconomics. There’s a distinct possibility that some of this is very badly wrong, or worse, so badly written that it’s not even wrong.

My last post explained what happens to Gross Domestic Product during a recession. Normally, our GDP should be steadily increasing as indicated by the theoretical blue line in the graph below, but instead it takes an unexpected dip like the red line below, taking our standard of living with it.

Stimlus-GDP-Recession.gifThis happens without any obvious cause such as a disaster that destroys our productive capacity. As I explained, it seems to happen out of some sort of collective madness which just makes us stop working.

It turns out that’s actually pretty close to the explanation that many economists accept. It goes something like this:

Suppose you’re an ordinary laborer in the normal economy, just working for your paycheck, saving a little, and spending the rest on the usual sorts of things—food, shelter, clothing, transportation, health, entertainment, and so on.

Then one day something happens that makes you think your income is going to take a dip in the next year or so. Maybe your company announces it’s going to close the plant you work in, or maybe you’re in sales and you lose your biggest customer. Whatever it is, something makes you think your income is going to decline, possibly all the way to zero, in the near future.

The obvious, sensible, rational response is to start trying to save enough money now to get you through the rough times ahead. You do this by cutting back expenses. You buy fewer video games, eat out less, rent from netflix instead of going to the movies, cancel the Hawiian vacation you had planned, and put off replacing your old car. You take the money you save, and you put it in the bank.

You are not the only person affected by your decision to cut back expenses. All the people you bought from will feel the pinch too. Your decision (at least in theory) reduces the income of the clerks at the video game store, the servers and chefs at the restaurants you patronize, the staff at the movie theater, the airline and hotel you would have used for your trip, and your car dealer and the employees of the plant that makes the car.

These people, facing the decline in income, make cutbacks of their own, passing the misery on to the people they buy stuff from, and so on, and so on. Through this multiplier effect, your change in spending habits has a small but far-reaching effect on the economy around you. Likewise, changes in other people’s spending habits have a small but real effect on your income.

On the other hand, these effects are somewhat mitigated by the banks. When people save their money in a bank, the bankers promptly lend it out to other people who, unlike the savers, are trying to increase their spending by borrowing money. And just as your cutbacks were multiplied into your economic sphere, their increase in spending provides money to the people they buy from, allowing them to spend more as well. Most of the time, spread out over the millions of people in our economy, it all works out about the same.

The problem comes when, for some reason, everybody becomes worried about their future at the same time—perhaps because of a sudden shock in oil prices, or a stock market crash, or a wave of bank failures—so everybody tries to save money by cutting back on expenditures at the same time. Since everybody’s expenses affect everybody’s income, the decision to cut back spending leads to a nation-wide reduction of income, also known as a recession.

The banks are no help because with everybody saving, nobody wants to borrow money, then when the recession hits, nobody has money to put in the bank. (In the current crisis, the credit markets have frozen up, so nobody is lending money that would boost consumption.)

To make matters worse, everybody can see what’s happening. Even people who hadn’t been afraid for their incomes before the recession will begin to worry about the economy, and they will start cutting their expenses, further deepening the recession. In this way, a vague fear of the future can transform itself quickly into a recession that’s happening right now.

Our economy does not adapt to a recession smoothly. The math behind a recession shows that if everybody agreed to a small reduction in income, we should be able to slip through without increasing unemployment. But for reasons that are complicated and puzzling to economists, income is “sticky” downward—nobody wants to be paid less—so instead of incomes dropping evenly, many people’s incomes barely drop at all, while other people lose their incomes completely when they get laid off.

There are other theories that can explain how recessions happen, ranging from the likely-to-be-true-in-some-cases to the ravings of lunatics, but this is the explanation that will eventually lead us to the justification for the stimulous bill.

Next: Some solutions.

Strangely, it appears sanity may prevail in the ridiculous investigation into Michael Phelps’ alleged pot smoking by Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott:

COLUMBIA, S.C. – A South Carolina sheriff said Monday he was not going to charge swimmer Michael Phelps after a photo of the 14-time gold medalist showed him smoking from a marijuana pipe.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said he couldn’t ignore the photo but defended his investigation.

I have to say, I didn’t see that coming. I gave this outcome only a 2% to 6% chance, depending on whether the local DA was interested in filing charges.

I want to bloviate about the economy and the stimulus a bit, so I’m going to try to explain our current unpleasantness as I understand it. My economic knowledge is purely amateur, so if you think I’m wrong, let me know. (And if you think my explanation is so bad it’s not even wrong, let me know that too.)

The U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is, roughly speaking, the value of everything produced in the United States in one year including all the goods and services that make our lives better—from food, clothing, and medicine, to booze, music, and television. GDP is not the economist’s final end-all measure of success, but it’s probably the best estimate of success. (GDP also includes the production of capital goods, exportable goods, and whatever the government does, but those don’t participate much in the story I’m trying to tell.)

In normal economic times, GDP increases slowly as time goes by. In part, this is simply because the U.S. population is increasing and therefore the size of our labor force is increasing. More workers are producing more goods and services.

GDP also grows because of increases capital. Note that to an economist, capital does not mean money. Rather, capital is the means of production, anything that makes it possible for workers to produce stuff for someone to consume.

A can of tuna in your pantry is the final consumer good, and a tuna fish in the ocean is raw material, but everything used to turn that fish into that can of tuna is capital, including the fishing boat used to catch the fish, the forklift that move the fish into the canning plant, the canning plant itself and all the canning machines, the tools used to repair the canning machines, the trucks used to carry the cans to the supermarket, the supermarket itself, the grocery cars, the cash registers, and the parking lot where you place the bags of tuna cans in your car.

(The actual cans containing the tuna are not capital because they are used up in the process of production. Similarly, such consumable supplies as the energy used to run the factory, the fuel for the delivery trucks, and the paper for the cash register are also not capital. They’re just inputs to the process of making the final product.)

Finally, not only are more people working in more factories (labor and capital), but the factories are becoming more efficient, which makes the people more productive, thus raising the GDP. In other words, GDP also grows because our technology is improving.

So, if you chart GDP over time—five years, say–it’s supposed to look something the blue line on this graph:


Most of the time, that’s what happens. There are a few bumps and squiggles, as well as some seasonal variation, but actual GDP tends to follow the slow theoretical upward path pretty steadily, and year after year our lives get a little better. Over a few decades, the effect accumulates like compound interest, and our lives get a lot better.

Every once in a while, however, something strange happens: Instead of the nice theoretical blue line dicated by labor and capital growth, the actual GDP takes a dip for year or two, as shown by the red line in this graph:


We call this a recession. Since the quality of our lives depends on the goods and services we consume, the sudden dip in available goods and services reduces the quality of our lives.

We don’t normally think of it that way, however, because of a simple fact about the GDP: All of us earn our incomes from our part in producing the GDP. So we don’t experience it as a drop in available consumer goods, we experience it as a drop in the income we have available to purchase consumer goods.

In a way, that doesn’t so bad. Look at the red line in the graph above. The bottom part of the recession dip is still above the position of the blue line at the left edge of the graph. This illustrates an interesting point: For a healthy, growing economy like ours, a recession is like taking our standard of living back in time, and usually not more than a few years back. Even if we lost a whole decade, were things really that bad in 1999?

No, but a recession to 1999 levels could still be fairly painful. First of all, our standard of living has been rising slowly for the last 10 years, but a recession would be a sudden shocking drop, which is much harder for people to handle. Second, the loss of income isn’t spread evenly across the entire workforce. Instead, most people sail through the recession with hardly any loss in income, but a few people experience devastating losses, losing their jobs and declaring bankruptcy. Third, the loss of income isn’t spread across industrial sectors. Some sectors manage to grow during a recession, while many stagnate, and a few of them (usually those already teetering on the edge of relevancy) vanish completely, taking the careers of thousands of people with them.

That’s what a recession is like, and in a fundamental way, it’s a very strange phenomenon. Remember, GDP growth is caused by increases in labor, capital, and technology. So you’d expect that one of those is decreasing in order to make GDP decrease, but which one is it?

It’s not the workforce. No plague has wiped out millions of workers. And as we all know, unemployment goes up during a recession, meaning that there’s plenty of labor available, but there isn’t anything for them to do.

It’s not capital. No nuclear war has destroyed our industrial cities. Investment does slow down during a recession, but the existing capital goods aren’t destroyed. During a recession there are tons of closed factories, empty offices, parked trucks, unused generating capacity—all the tools to produce goods and services for consumers—just waiting for someone to put them to good use.

It’s not technology. No hoards of religious fanatics have suppressed our science as a offense to their god. Technology has been improving for centuries without any backsliding. We haven’t suddenly forgotten how to make stuff.

So what the heck is going on? For some strange reason, we’ve started producing less and less instead of more and more. It doesn’t make sense. The factories are built, the workers are eager, and we know what we should be doing…but we’re not. Our economy has been overcome by madness.

Update: I have modified the second paragraph to reflect Kip’s correction in the first comment below.

Next: An explanation.