Mark Draughn

The internet right now is filled with confused bits of news about the terrorist attacks in Paris. I don’t really have anything to say about the attacks themselves beyond the futile observation that killing innocent people is evil. But we’ve seen these kinds of events before, and there are a few things I like to keep in mind:

  • Many of the early reports are going to turn out to be wrong. There will be confusion, lies, and trolling. The media will speculate, politicians will reassure, and everyone will spread rumors. Don’t put too much stake in any of it.
  • Reports of mass panic will almost always be wrong. For the most part, people don’t really panic, in the sense that they don’t act irrationally or without regard for others. The social order holds up, and most people will be as helpful and cooperative as they ever were. And yet the media will still report mass panic, even when there isn’t any.
  • Try to ignore the stupid shit people say. This sort of thing kicks people’s emotions into high gear, and some of them say stupid things. My policy is to try not to get pissed off by anything anyone says for the first day or two. It’s not worth arguing about stuff said only in anger.
  • Outspoken people will fit events to their own worldview. Whatever you believe, if you think this event proves your point, you’ll want to speak up about it. But if it cuts against your beliefs, you’ll probably find it confusing and remain quiet. So lots of people will be speaking out angrily about how this proves they were right.
  • Everyone will say the same thing. There really aren’t that many different things you can say about something like this, so with all of us talking, a lot of us will be saying the same things. Someone else is no doubt writing their version of this post.
  • Update: The news media distorts proportions. If you’re upset that so many people are saying or doing something bad, keep in mind that it may just be that the media is going out of their way to find people who say or do those things. And if you’re upset that someone didn’t say or do something good, keep in mind that the news media may just be ignoring them.

Keep calm, stay safe, don’t panic, and take care.

Everybody seems to be making fun of Salon these days, and I think I’m beginning to understand why. Case in point: Marcy Wheeler’s post about the recent GOP debates, responding to some of Rick Santorum’s claims about insurance market consolidation under Obamacare:

Santorum claimed to be a lot less worried about consolidation in the watery beer market because, “There’s no town in American anymore that doesn’t have a brewery.” Given that alcohol is one of the most regulated markets, it’s odd that government involvement hasn’t created dangerous consolidation in bad beer.

Wheeler has this backwards. Government involvement did in fact cause consolidation in bad beer. At the very height of government involvement — the total prohibition of beer or any other kind of booze during the 1920’s — the beer market was consolidated under criminal gang bosses like Al Capone, who literally killed their competition. The beer was of terrible quality, and tainted alcoholic brews produced by criminal gangs are estimated to have killed thousands of people.

Even after prohibition, beer production was limited mostly to a few large companies, and it was hard for new and innovative breweries to get started, in part because of the red tape of regulation, and in part because the only place to learn beer making was the big breweries that were licensed for it. For most of the 20th century, the United States produced only a dreary selection of mass-produced corporate beers. If you wanted good beer in the U.S., you bought something imported.

That all began to change in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter signed the bill making it legal for people to brew beer in their homes. Over the next few decades, thousands of people learned to brew beer, and many of them got good enough at it to make the leap into commercial brewing. This was the start of the microbrewery revolution, and it transformed the United States from a country with famously bland beer to one of the most innovative and diverse brewing cultures in the world.

Kate Burkholder is an authoritarian bitch. Kate Burkholder is also a fictional character. This is a problem for me.

I enjoy police procedural mysteries — the crime scene, the forensics, the autopsy, interrogations, politics, history, secrets — but all these years of blogging about libertarian issues and the criminal justice system have made it hard to maintain the willing suspension of disbelief needed to enjoy fiction.

Most procedurals are set in major urban police departments, but the Kate Burkholder series by Linda Castillo is set in the supposedly quiet town of Painter’s Mill, Ohio, in the middle of Amish country. In Gone Missing, Burkholder is asked to assist the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation with a search for some missing Amish teenagers, one of whom has turned up dead.

That part is a pretty good story, but I kept getting distracted by one of the subplots. Over the course of the book, Burkholder has a series of fruitless arguments with the town mayor, who’s upset because her department has arrested his son for drug possession. Sheriff Burkholder may be a fictional character, but like most law enforcement officers, she’s part of the War on Drugs, and that makes it hard to think of her as one of the good guys. I mean, what’s next? Rousting homosexuals from bathhouses? Chasing blacks out of town before the sun goes down?

I have similar problems with the way other fictional portrayals of criminal justice clash with my beliefs and values. On a recent episode of Major Crimes they were trying to find a missing child, and when they interviewed a suspect they told him that because there were exigent circumstances he had no right to remain silent and no right to a lawyer. I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think that’s how it works. There might be some special rules about the admissibility of statements made to the police when questioned about certain things, but I’m pretty sure you can always shut up and lawyer up. They were lying to him about his rights.

They lie a lot on that show, often tricking suspects into doing or saying things that give them away. That seems legitimate enough, but the Major Crimes detectives also lie about how much evidence they have against suspects in order to trick them into confessing. That’s pretty cool on television, where the rules of series drama pretty much guarantee they’ve got the real bad guy. But in real life, unfortunately, sometimes when the cops convince a suspect that they’re sending him to jail, he ends up telling them whatever they want to hear in the hope of getting some leniency, even if it means admitting to a crime he didn’t commit. This is how false confessions are made.

Even worse, Major Crimes‘s Captain Sharon Raydor doesn’t just want suspects to leave the interrogation room under arrest, she wants them to leave having accepted a plea deal, so there’s no change they’ll escape justice by winning at trial.

It doesn’t help that police brutality has become increasingly acceptable in police fiction. When Harry Callahan tortured the Scorpio killer in Dirty Harry to get him to reveal the location of a kidnapped child, at least we could understand why he felt he had to do it. Since then, however, the cop who “plays by his own rules” has become a staple of police dramas, from Jethro Gibbs on NCSI to Julio Sanchez on Major Crimes to Sheriff Walt Longmire. These fictional cops get tough on criminals because they care so much about the victims and will do whatever it takes to protect the innocent and bring the guilty to justice. (Except Steve McGarrett on the new Hawaii 5-0 who seems to torture suspects just to annoy Danno.)

But in the real world, brutal cops don’t get started by torturing serial killers into revealing the locations of their kidnap victims or by executing crime kingpins who are too smooth to get caught. In the real world they start by beating down street kids who mouth off. They start by tasering belligerent motorists and shooting people’s dogs. In real life, we get guys like Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, who was involved in torturing 200 criminal suspects, some of whom appear to have been innocent.

I’m currently reading a murder mystery in which the victim is a prostitute who the investigating officer had busted and then turned into an informant. The story is full of talk about the dangers facing police informants without once considering that the victim became an informant only because the officer coerced her into it by threatening to jail her for a victimless crime. In the real world, I don’t have much respect for cops who arrest someone for a victimless crime and threaten them into doing dangerous work as an informant.

I didn’t have much respect for Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad either. He wasn’t a murderer like Walter, Gus, and all the rest, but he was a DEA agent who had presumably ruined a lot of lives. He didn’t deserve to go out like that, but live by the sword, die by the sword.

Even in nonsense like Terra Nova — about a family that travels back in time to the Cretaceous period as part of an expedition to save humanity from ecological disaster — it bothered me that the father was a former narcotics officer. I kept expecting him to import his poisonous ideology into the colony.

In Gone Missing, Sheriff Kate Burkholder eventually figures out what has been happening to the children. (Spoiler alert, although I won’t give away the killer’s identity.) The Amish are expected to live their lives according to the ordnung, an informal but rather strict moral code, and much of the story involves Amish children struggling with its requirements. It eventually turns out that all of the abducted Amish children had broken the rules — by having sex, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, or wearing makeup — and the villain is a crazed Amish man who’s trying to save the children from their sinful ways by kidnapping them and keeping them locked up in dismal cells for months or years. The villain was willing to subject the teenagers to great suffering because, to paraphrase Shaw, he has mistaken the customs of his tribe for the laws of the universe.

This is, of course, the exact same thing that Sheriff Burkholder is doing to the mayor’s son: She’s willing to lock him in a dismal cell for months or years in order to “straighten him out” for breaking rules that are just as arbitrary and essentially religious in nature as the ordnung. And even when the mayor pleads for his son’s freedom, Burkholder is a merciless enforcer of her society’s moral customs.

For a while, I held out hope that author Linda Castillo saw the same parallels I did, and I half expected to see a scene at the end where Burkholder saw the horrors brought by overzealous enforcement of conformity to authority and decided to cut the mayor’s kid some slack. But it didn’t happen. Either Linda Castillo or the character she created just doesn’t see the world my way.

Which is a shame, because the Kate Burkholder stories are actually a pretty decent mystery series. I still enjoy them, but I feel funny about it.

When I watched the trailer for the movie Truth, I had no idea what it was about, so I was surprised to discover that someone had made a movie about the Killian documents, the journalism scandal that effectively ended the careers of news anchor Dan Rather and news producer Mary Mapes. I thought it was great that someone had made a whole movie about what happens when journalists lose sight of the importance of accuracy — truth — and rush to release a story that is too good to check. It’s a classic tragedy, in which the characters’ downfall comes from their own flaws.

So imagine my shock as the trailer continued and I realized that Dan Rather and Mary Mapes were the heroes of this movie. The filmmakers have apparently bought the narrative that Rather and Mapes were the victims of a right-wing conspiracy to cover up an important story about President George W. Bush.

[Disclaimer: I haven’t actually seen Truth, but reviews such as this one convince me that the trailer presents its viewpoint accurately enough.]

The documents were purportedly memos by Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, who was George W. Bush’s commanding officer in the Air National Guard in the 1970’s, and they appeared to document Bush’s misbehavior and the special treatment he received while in the Guard. Even four years into Bush’s presidency, this would be an important story. As long as the documents were for real.

Which they weren’t. The evidence stacks up like this:

  • The documents were provided to CBS by Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, who had previously made unsupported claims about Bush.
  • Although purportedly written by an Air National Guard officer, the documents used jargon typical of the Army National Guard, which was the same branch of the National Guard that Burkett served in.
  • Burkett admitted to destroying the original documents and only gave CBS photocopies.
  • The documents appear to be in a font very similar to Times Roman, a proportional font that we all get on our computers these days, but which would have required expensive specialized equipment to produce in the 1970s. This equipment was extremely unlikely to be used at a military base for routine memos.
  • The most damning problem with the documents is that if you opened up a copy of Microsoft Word 2003 and started a new blank document, you could easily produce documents identical in appearance without making any adjustments to the fonts, spacing, or margins.

Basically, CBS News was taken in by fake documents created by someone trying to hurt Bush’s chances at a second term. It’s amazing to me that no one noticed the documents weren’t produced on a typewriter using non-proportional type. Kids these days might not be aware of the limitations of office document technology in the 1970’s, but certainly someone in a news organization should have known what typed documents looked like. When the documents were released, bloggers picked up on the problem immediately.

Granted, many of them were right-wing bloggers, and many of them had already established their hatred for Dan Rather. That certainly made their claims suspect, but it didn’t make them wrong. And it quickly became obvious that they were right. Document experts are reluctant to make definitive statements based on viewing photocopies of the documents, but they all agreed the documents were most likely recent fakes.

Rather and Mapes could have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they had just admitted they rushed the story and made mistakes, but instead they stood by their story and went down with it. Apparently they blame all this on Viacom — CBS’s corporate parent — caving in to conservative demands.

The most astonishing part of the trailer is the Mapes character’s dialog at the end. “Our story was about whether the President fulfilled his service. Nobody wants to talk about that. They want to talk about fonts and forgeries,” she says dismissively. “And they hope to God the truth gets lost in the scrum!”

Yeah, it’s always nice to know the truth. But you weren’t helping.

Folks on the internet have been a bit outraged at a woman who sued her 8-year nephew:

Jennifer Connell claims the boy, Sean Tarala of Westport, acted unreasonable when he leaped into her arms, causing her to fall on the ground and break her wrist four years ago. This week Connell is asking a six-member Superior Court jury to find the boy liable for his actions.

She is seeking $127,000 from the boy, who she described as always being “very loving, sensitive,” toward her. The boy is the only defendant in the case.

It sounds kind of awful, suing a child for essentially hugging her too exuberantly, but this is actually a pretty routine legal matter.

The key to understanding what’s going on, and why Jennifer Connell is not actually the monster some people are making her out to be, is that while she is technically suing her nephew, the real target is the insurance company that holds the homeowner’s policy. The kid is just the defendant for legal purposes, since he’s the immediate cause of her injury, but he was almost certainly represented by an insurance company lawyer since they would be the ones paying. People do this all the time. It’s how you make insurance companies pay claims.

Much has been made over a few of the details:

In court Friday, the boy, now 12 years old, appeared confused as he sat with his father, Michael Tarala, in the Main Street courtroom.

The implication is that he was confused over why the aunt he loved was suing him, but I think it’s safe to say that any 12-year old would be confused by the formality of a courtroom. Heck, I find it all confusing whenever I’m at the courthouse.

The boy’s mother, Lisa Tarala, died last year.

That’s hard on the poor kid, but that’s not a reason to let the insurance company off the hook.

Jack Marshall, who should know better, has been particularly scathing about some parts of this:

The horrific actions of the 8-year-old has turned her life into a living hell, she told the jury. “I was at a party recently, and it was difficult to hold my hors d’oeuvre plate,” she said. Believe me, I know what a social handicap that can be.

Yeah, when you see “hors d’oeuvre” written out, it’s easy to make fun of, but here’s the thing: I can hold an hors d’oeuvre plate. Holding a plate with small bits of food isn’t a difficult feat of strength. But the point of her testimony is that she still can’t hold a plate steady even though the injury has had four years to heal. This isn’t just a temporary problem. It’s a permanent debilitating injury.

The extent of the injury is further indicated by another point that people are making fun of:

She changed her mind, she says, because her life was “turned upside down as a result of the injury.” “I live in Manhattan in a third-floor walk-up so it has been very difficult,” she said. “And we all know how crowded it is in Manhattan.”

It certainly is hard to walk up three flights of stairs on one’s hands.

As a 51-year-old guy with bad knees, I say fuck that ableist bullshit. Did you ever notice there are railings in most stairwells? Did you ever wonder why they’re there? It’s because some of us need to hold on with our hands to steady ourselves on the stairs, especially when carrying something that throws us off balance. That’s got to be a lot harder when your wrist is weakened by injury.

As it happens, the jury decided against her because of the way the jury was told to evaluate the kid’s behavior:

Quinnipiac University law professor William Dunlap said in civil cases like this one involving children, the jury is instructed to view the child as a child, and not by a “reasonable person” standard.

“When you’re talking about young children, you’re talking about a subjective standard – not an objective standard,” he said. “The child is not required to conform his behavior to the way a reasonable adult is expected to behave.”

If the defendant had been 18 at the time of the incident, he would have been expected to act like a “reasonable adult.”

“The jury is supposed to judge the child’s behavior by how a child of similar age, intelligence and experience is expected to behave,” he said.

So she took her chances when she visited an 8-year old. Fair enough. And New York personal injury lawyer Eric Turkewitz says he would not have taken the case:

Would I have taken such a case? No. Because the jury did what I expect a jury would do. But eviscerate her on the Internet for it? No. She took the advice of counsel. Bad judgment call perhaps, though the attorney defends the decision to move forward.

In other words, she went to a kid’s birthday party, got injured by accident, and then a lawyer advised her that she might be able to recover some of her medical costs (and probably lost wages) from the homeowner’s policy. So why not try it? I mean, other than because the internet outrage machine might decide to pick on you…

Someone at CNN interviewed her:

“This was meant to be a simple homeowners insurance case,” she said. “Connecticut law is such that I was advised by counsel that this is the way a suit is meant to be worded.”

Connell said that an individual, not an insurance company, had to be named as a defendant.

“I adore this child. I would never want to hurt him. He would never want to hurt me,” she told CNN.

The boy refers to Connell as his aunt, although she said he is the son of her cousin. The family remains close. Just a few weeks ago, Connell said, she took the boy out shopping for his Halloween costume.

“It’s amazing the power that the Internet has that something can go viral, completely out of context,” she said. “I’m certainly not trying to retire to some villa in the south of France. I’m simply trying to pay off my medical bills.”

And her lawyer thought this might work. Maybe he was just hoping to pressure the insurance company into kicking in a little more than the single dollar they had offered. Since she lost, maybe this wasn’t the best legal decision. Or maybe it was worth a try. If you suffered a debilitating injury in my house, I sure wouldn’t hold it against you if you tried to get some money out of my insurance company. That’s one of the reasons I have the policy.

Over at Simple Justice, Scott wrote in the comments about receiving threats:

I get “threats” regularly. The difference is grown ups don’t cry about how they’re “terrified” whenever any flaming nutjob writes something on the internets. I’ve been told that’s because I’m male and can defend myself, while they’re just fragile females, but it’s a nonsense argument. Words are words, for better or worse.

It’s hardly worth my time whining about words that threaten me, but the SJWs are obsessed with it, and so the idiot children who attack them have a very different impact than the idiot children who attack me.

To which commenter DrPizza responds:

Were words just words when 4chan lunatic posts that he’s going to shoot up a school and then does precisely that?

First of all, I don’t think the 4chan link has proven out. It seems to have been a misunderstanding, a satire, or a hoax (4chan apparently has a strong discordian vibe).

More importantly, even it if were true, it would be a completely different thing. The people threatening Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn are making anonymous threats against public figures that they don’t personally know, whereas the Umpqua Community College shooter killed a teacher and a bunch of students in a class he was taking. Even if he had posted about it on 4chan, his targets were people he knew personally and met on a regular basis. These are completely different scenarios.

Sometimes words are just words.

Other times words betray intent.

How does one reliably determine the difference? Which words should be ignored; which should not?

Threat assessment is a tricky subject, but as a general rule, people who make anonymous threats against public figures almost never actually carry out the threatened attack. That doesn’t mean they’re not assholes and criminals — they’re still trying to use threats of violence to intimidate and manipulate — but it’s best to ignore them if you can find a way to do so.

That’s not always as easy as Scott makes it sound. Since these people don’t actually attack their targets, drawing attention to themselves is the best they can hope for, and so they tend to get really good at it. Scott’s probably met some genuinely dangerous people, so he can spot people who are faking it on the internet, but the rest of us have to pretty much take it on faith.

A few weeks ago people were talking about a new study by Melissa Farley that purports to find correlations in men between the purchase of sexual services and aggression towards women.

Sex buyers were more likely than men who did not buy sex to report sexual aggression and likelihood to rape. Men who bought sex scored higher on measures of impersonal sex and hostile masculinity and had less empathy for prostituted women, viewing them as intrinsically different from other women. When compared with non-sex-buyers, these findings indicate that men who buy sex share certain key characteristics with men at risk for committing sexual aggression […]

(Speaking of lack of empathy and treating sex workers as intrinsically different from other women, the phrase “prostituted women” implicitly robs sex workers of their agency, making it easier for anti-prostitution activists to ignore the voices of sex workers. That sort of language is a longstanding complaint from sex work activists. You’d think “facultied women” like Farley would know that by now.)

I really didn’t feel like reading the whole study, and fortunately I didn’t have to, because Elizabeth Nolan Brown has read it and she has a few concerns which are worth reading if you’re wondering about the accuracy of the study. Having said that, I’m not so sure that accuracy matters, because even if the study holds up, I don’t see how you can get from the results of this study to a policy of prohibiting sex work. If sex work clients are disproportionately dangerous, then wouldn’t it make more sense to decriminalize prostitution so that sex workers don’t have to work in secret and can safely ask for help when they need it?

I broke down and read some of the study, and it turns out Farley and company explain their thinking this way (internal citations omitted):

Researchers of prostitution have been largely polarized into two camps based on whether they understand prostitution to be primarily sexual labor or primarily sexual abuse.


Is a sex buyer’s use of a woman in prostitution motivated by the same dynamics that lead a person with resources to seek a service provider to clean their house or shine their shoes, or is the use of a woman in prostitution more akin to the dynamics seen in perpetrators of sexual violence? […] If buyers of sex, compared to those who do not buy sex, score higher on attitudes and behaviors of sexual aggression, given that prostitution is also a sexual practice, that result would empirically suggest that, for the consumer population, prostitution is a practice that is consistent with those attitudes and behaviors, making it more similar to a practice of sexual aggression than to the purchase of other services.


The question of whether prostitution is more like a job or whether it is more like abuse/sexual aggression is an important question on a societal level as well because it leads to very different policies. If prostitution is understood primarily as labor, then it needs to be legalized and regulated (as in the Netherlands, Germany, and Australia). If prostitution is understood primarily as abuse/sexual aggression, it needs to be abolished (as in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland).

That approach struck me as so wrong-headed that I had to stop writing this post because I couldn’t figure out how to explain why it bothers me. (And it’s not just because I’m shocked to read that prostitution has been successfully abolished in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland — which must be really shocking to Swedish, Norwegian, and Icelandic prostitutes.) It’s just absurd to try to determine if a relationship is exploitative by looking at aggregate statistics about psychology and attitude.

I mean, prostitution is often conflated with sex trafficking, a form of slavery, but would it make sense to judge whether slavery in America was bad for the slaves by profiling slave owners to see if they had sadistic tendencies?

Let me expand on that example. Not every black person living in the South was a slave. For a variety of reasons, about half of all free blacks — a couple of hundred thousand people — chose to live and work in the American South right up until the Civil War. In particular, some types of plantations had slaves working as skilled craftsmen. If they were freed, they often stayed in the area for economic reasons: They had developed skills that were valuable to plantation owners, so it made economic sense to stay with the plantations. These free craftsmen often worked side-by-side with slaves.

Now suppose an abolitionist version of Melissa Farley had discovered free black carpenters working on plantations in the South. It’s not hard to imagine her concluding that since plantation owners are known to use slave carpenters, which is clearly exploitation, the free carpenters must also be victims of exploitation by the plantation owners. Therefore, she would conclude, the best way to protect free blacks from exploitation is to outlaw carpentry on plantations.

The free black carpenters might try to explain that they were working on the plantations by their own choice, but it’s easy to imagine someone like Farley dismissing these claims for the same reasons people like her dismiss the claims of sex workers: She’d say they’d spent so much time as slaves that they’re suffering from “false consciousness.” Or since some of them used to supervise other slaves on the plantation, she’d accuse them of being part of the “slave driver lobby.”

It’s a bit of a stretch, but we could even imagine some sort of abolitionist NGOs that “rescue” free blacks and transport them to the North, even though the North wasn’t necessarily better than the South for free black people, especially since leaving the South meant abandoning their community and quitting lucrative jobs for less desirable work in the North.

In this historic setting, it’s pretty clear that “rescuing” free blacks would be a mistake. Our imaginary abolitionists claiming to rescue free blacks from plantation owners are in fact the ones ignoring the choices of free black workers. They would be the ones denying blacks their freedom.

The moral and ethical aspects of specific actions should not be confused with the general moral and ethical tendencies of the individuals who perform them. Enslaving black people is about as racist and white supremacist as you can get, but the plantation owner’s enslavement of some black people doesn’t mean that every black person found working on a plantation is the moral equivalent of a slave. A bad person doing good things doesn’t make the good things bad.

Similarly, asking whether clients of prostitutes have good attitudes toward women is missing the point. Prostitution is labor if the women get paid and choose to do it of their own free will, it’s abuse if the women get abused, and if the women are forced into it, it’s rape and human trafficking. We don’t need to do social surveys to get this right. What we need to do is make sure that sex workers are free to choose, and then we need to trust that they will make the best choices about who they accept as clients.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m tired of television networks doing this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

That doesn’t seem like a very realistic plan.

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

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

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

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

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

Rank Email Domain Number of
Ashley Madison
1 18
2 9
3 8
3 8
3 8
3 8
7 7
7 7
9 6
9 6
9 6
12 5
12 5
12 5
12 5
16 4
16 4
16 4
16 4
16 4
16 4
16 4
16 4
16 4
16 4
26 3
26 3
26 3
26 3
26 3
26 3
26 3
26 3
26 3
26 3
26 3
26 3
38 2
38 2
38 2
38 2
38 2
38 2
38 2
38 2
38 2
38 2
38 2
38 2
38 2
38 2
38 2
38 2
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
54 1
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 0
76 skadden 0
76 0
76 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Here are the three core principles of real immigration reform:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All illegal aliens in gangs should be apprehended and deported.

And all children should have ponies.

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

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

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

Drug task forces. Even worse than gang task forces.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is even more explicit:

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

Or this:

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

And then there’s petty shit like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is pretty much where I came in.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

: a range of things that can be chosen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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