Website Review

I just discovered Sour N Sweet, a silly little blog with a bunch of silly little stories.

I am sick. The kind of sick that makes the thought of consuming anything other than ginger ale and Jell-O a scary proposition. With our household’s Jell-O supply depleted last week by the previous host to the virus now cooling its heels in my stomach, I mustered all of my energy to go buy more. Only problem: the closest grocery store was Whole Foods. If you want to blow a Whole Foods employee’s mind, ask them where the Jell-O is.

Here’s a gripe I can sympathize with:

The money quote to me is this one from a Verizon Wireless VP:

“They [Apple] would have been stepping in between us and our customers to the point where we would have almost had to take a back seat … on hardware and service support,”

To me, that reads, “They would have been stepping between us and our customers to the point where we would have almost had to forgo making money off ringtones, music and getting pictures off phones.”

They may make a big deal about how their network is the best (and I can give them some leeway because of it) – but they disable the full features of most of their phones, like the ability to exchange files with your computer so that you can see those crappy phonecam pics on a screen that you don’t have to squint to see or customize it to your own specifications. Well, you tecnically can, but only if you pay Verizon for the privilege.

Then there’s this:

A Note to the Man Who Talked to Me at Kinko’s

Thank you for asking me if I was finished with my work station, telling me you needed to laminate something there if I was. I was already on my way out the door, but I paused a second to say it was all yours.

With that I was out the door, and started across the street crosswalk. I didn’t even see it coming. A maroon car zipped around a corner without seeing me. As it zoomed an inch by me, I couldn’t help thinking a second would have made all the difference. A second earlier and I could have been road kill. Nuts.

So thanks Mr. Kinkos Stranger, I might owe you my life.

Also, the photography is beautiful. Check it out.

[Update: The authorship, content, and style of this blog has changed dramatically since my review.]

Here on Windypundit, I rant about civil liberties and legal issues and frightening police behavior. Because of these interests, I end up reading a lot of blogs by criminal defense attorneys. However, I’ve noticed that these attorneys themselves don’t rant much about civil liberties, at least not in the same way I do. I guess that’s because the justice system is something I observe, but it’s something they’re a part of. They may not like what they see, but it’s the reality they have to work with everyday, and ranting about reality is for madmen. They have a client in peril, so they usually leave the ranting to outsiders like me.

This brings me to Norm Pattis at Crime & Federalism. Pattis is a criminal defense lawyer, but he’s also a mad ranter like me. Check out his recent post on the Kelo decision, in which he comes within a hair’s breadth of saying it’s time to start shooting people:

Kelo is bad, terrifying law, the sort of law over which a person should think incendiary thoughts. We revolted against Britain over far less.

I guess a guy who’s being hunted by one of his own clients is entitled to a little hyperbole now and then.

Pattis also does civil work, often suing misbehaving cops. He owns a rare book store. He writes fiction, and he’s republishing one story in serial form on the Crime & Federalism site. Oh, and if the name “Norm Pattis” sounds familiar, it might be because he’s been commenting on legal issues for the news media, although he’s in recovery for that now.

The main show, however, is someone named Mike. He founded Crime & Federalism and describes it this way:

According to a report of the American Bar Association, there are over 3,300 federal crimes. These laws are interspersed in 50 titles of the United States Code. Also, the violation of federal regulations is often made criminal: the ABA estimates that the violation of at least 10,000 regulations is a federal crime.

We used to be able to count on one hand when Congress could define or punish crimes. Now no one can know the extent of potential criminal liability under federal law. This blog will explore what happened.

[Citations have been removed from most quoted content for clarity. See the original postings for more information.]

Mike summarizes his views and his concept of federalism like this:

I think there are two main types of federalists: the Heritage-Federalists and the Cato-Federalists. Our different approaches on policy, especially on crime and federalism, can be illustrated by comparing two different discussions on overcriminalization.

In Measuring the Explosive Growth of Federal Crime Legislation, sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, former Attorneys General Edwin Meese and Richard Thornburgh criticize Congress’ willingness to criminalize garden-variety crimes, e.g., car jacking.. Some of the reasons they disagree with the growth of the criminal code include Congress’ stepping on the toes of sovereign states, and the high economic cost to pay the law enforcement officers (including generous salaries and pensions). However, not once did Mssrs. Meese or Thornburgh talk about how unjust it is for a person’s conduct to be covered by overlapping federal and state laws.

Heritage-Federalists are still down with the establishment, the only difference is they prefer smaller units of governments. Powerful states are fine, a powerful federal government is less desirable.

Cato-Federalists are more of the anti-establishment wing. We are as concerned with individual rights as the ACLU. We differ with the ACLU on many issues, though, because unlike the left, we think that less government leads to greater individual liberty.

Heritage-Federalists care about federalism because it strengthens the states. Cato-Federalists support federalism because it will help individual liberty flourish. It’s two different worldviews.

Mike, 23 November 2004

Much of Crime & Federalism, especially the middle stuff, consists of summaries of legal briefs, decisions, and other kinds of things I don’t really understand, such as Ken Lay Week or this discussion of pin and string cites. Mike’s style changes several times, probably in response to changes in the kinds of work he does as he emerges from the legal education process.

Some of Mike’s earliest stuff asks a lot of big questions about the law. Here is one of the most amazing things I’ve read about the Bill of Rights:

…Alexander Hamilton […] thought a bill of rights would be unnecessary and dangerous…

Alexander Hamilton cited the preamble to the constitution, “We the people of the United States [ ] do ordain and establish this Constitution” as proof that we did not need a bill of rights. Since we created a government of limited powers, then why do we need a contract protecting our rights. “Here is a better recognition of popular rights than volumes of those aphorisms which make the principle figure in several of our state bill of rights, and which would sound much better in a treatise of ethics than in a constitution of government.”

Moreover, Hamilton feared “declar[ing] that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why for instance, should it be said, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed?”

Can anyone today argue that Congress would lack power under the Commerce Clause to regulate the press? What did we learn about the Commerce Clause that Alexander Hamilton missed?

Mike, 12 April 2004

I never thought of it that way. If—as is apparently the case these days—the Commerce Clause really gives Congress the power to regulate carjackings and toilet flushes and what farmers grow for their own consumption, then of course the Commerce Clause gives Congress the power to regulate the press. It’s only the First Amendment’s revocation of that power that keeps them from doing so.

Mike characterizes the modern meaning of the Commerce Clause this way:

The only way to understand the Court’s Commerce Clause jurisprudence is by turning to chaos theory. Chaos theory tells us that if a butterfly flaps its wings in Hong Kong, it may cause a hurricane in Texas.

If I sneeze in California, it may cause an earthquake in Missouri. Hence, Congress has the power to criminalize my intrastate sneezing because it may substantially affect interstate commerce. (After all, an earthquake can cause billions of dollars in damage. Everyone has heard of the million dollar man. But had you heard of the billion dollar sneeze?

Even one dollar spent in Utah will have a substantial affect on interstate commerce since this dollar will travel across the country many times.

Hence, the Commerce Clause confers upon Congress to regulate any activity it likes, so long as it does not offend the Court in so doing.

Mike 1 July 2004

Crime & Federalism covers a lot of topics. In a later post, he characterizes his earlier blog self as “quite the dilettante” for thinking himself qualified to write about some of those subjects. In a comment, Norm Pattis reassures him, “Dilettantes of the world unite! We have nothing to lose save our shame.”

Besides, Mike brings a fresh point of view. Consider this comment about criminal defendants who get acquitted on “technicalities”:

If an eighteen year old male who had sex with a 17 year and 9 month old female, was charged with statutory rape (in a state where the age of consent was 18), would we say he was charged under a mere technicality? If I committed some strict liability offense about which no reasonable person would know, who would say I was charged under a technicality? No one. Everyone would say, “You broke the law. Now go to prison where they serve chunky peanut butter.”

How come only criminal defendants take advantage of technicalities? When prosecutors overcharge an indictment, or send people to prison for 10 years for importing lobster tails in plastic rather than paper bags, it’s somehow consistent with wholesome morals and an effective criminal justice system. Why are constitutional rights technicalities where as criminal laws are the law?

Mike, 28 July 2004

I think that’s pretty neat. I’m going to use that line of reasoning next time I get into that argument.

Mike’s also annoyed by complaints about big-spending criminal defendants, and for exactly the same reason as I am:

Riddle me this: Why does it anger so many people when a criminal defendant spends massive amounts of money? Do they not know how much money the prosecution spends? This story from CNN is illustrative:

Prosecutors in the Kobe Bryant case spent nearly $400,000 trying to get the NBA star convicted of raping a woman at a Vail-area resort last summer, documents show. That includes nearly $75,000 for expert witnesses and travel, more than $78,000 to investigators and more than $35,000 for a broadcast news clipping service.

Once you factor in the salary and benefits for the investigators and prosecutors, the bill would likely reach 1 million dollars. Which is, by most educated guessers, what Kobe Bryant spent defending himself.

Mike, 15 September 2004. [The CNN link was dead.]

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Mike’s New Year’s Eve post from 2004 has a twist on that:

Disavowing the rights of criminal defendants on the ground that these rights so important to them will never be relevant to you, is immoral. Those who would allow the government to unconstitutionally abrogate the rights the rights of others but jealously guard their own deserve neither freedom nor safety.

Mike, 31 December 2004

What the heck, here’s one more thing Mike and I agree about. Living in the land of the Nicarico case, this strikes home:

This excellent article entitled “Innocence Lost” discusses numerous cases of innocent people being freed from prison. As you might expect, none of the prosecutors apologized for falsifying evidence, withholding evidence in violation of their ethical and legal duties, and putting lying police officers on the witness stand. At the least, I expected to see a prosecutor ask: “How could this happen? How could I have done a better job? How can I prevent this from happening again?” Instead, what you get is this:

The strangest thing happened to John Stoll this past spring. After 20 years in jail for an infamous crime he did not commit, a judge said it had all been a mistake, and he was set free.

“You win some, you lose some,” the prosecutor shrugged, refusing to offer any admission of error or hint of an apology for all that her office had put Stoll through.

Mike, 16 November 2004

There are other bloggers who make guest appearances. Timothy Sandefur, for example, has this to say about “takings”:

Michael Rappaport writes, in answer to Orin Kerr’s question about private takings, “why did the Framers not write the Clause more explicitly to prohibit private use takings…? [I]t was regarded as unnecessary. No one thought that a taking for private use was legitimate.” Yes, and we know that because they said that “[n]o person shall be…deprived of…property, without due process of law.”

Properly understood, the Due Process Clause is a prohibition on private takings. The Fifth Amendment says, property shall not be taken for private use (the Due Process Clause) and if it’s taken for a public use, we’ll pay just compensation (the Takings Clause).

Timothy Sandefur, 26 February 2005

Crime & Federalism has some fun stuff too.

Congress is limited to enumerated powers. Each power is referred to, in shorthand, as a clause. Thus, “The Congress shall have Power … to regulate Commerce” is the Commerce Clause.

Hidden in the text of the Constitution is also the Baseball Clause. Congress, it seems, has the power to regulate baseball.

Mike, 5 December 2005

You also have to see this professor’s exam for yourself. And then there’s the whole Justice Scalia sodomy issue.

While skimming through old postings from Crime & Federalism I began to make this strange emotional connection to, of all things, the latest Star Wars movie. I had found Revenge of The Sith unexpectedly moving because, like everyone else who had seen the first movie, I knew that it was all going to end in ashes. Crime & Federalism has moments like that:

May 03, 2004

Government Files Cert. Petition in Raich v. Ashcroft

The cert. petition is available here.& Will Raich be the next Lopez or Morrison?

Mike, 3 May 2004

As we all know now, the Court approved of arrests in medical marijuana cases and took us all in the opposite direction from Lopez and Morrison.

Eventually, nearer the other end of the blog as I write, we get to this:

What’s odd – or perhaps not? – about Kelo is that although minorities and the elderly bear the burden of eminent domain, political liberals support a narrow interpretation of “public use” and thus won’t protect them. As usual, liberals are telling the poor that the Nani State Knows Best. Though I must wonder how many six-figure-making liberals would allow their homes to be crushed for the “public good.” It’s funny how we always know best when asking others to sacrifice.

Contrary to ignorant assertions that groups like the Pacific Legal Foundation and Institute for Justice shill for big business, Kelo shows conservative public interest groups acting contrary to big business’ goal. Almost always it’s large companies seeking to use the city’s power to condemn property. After all, little folks don’t wield much influence over city hall — It takes a lot of money to buy a city.

Mike, 4 March 2005

And with that, we’ve come back around to where I started with Pattis’s fiery prose. The Commerce Clause reaches into every corner of the universe, and petty tyrants can take our property at will. Alberto Gonzales stands next to the Emperor on the bridge of the Executor, breathing heavily in his dark suit, as Federalism falls.

Or something like that. It’s getting late and it’s time to post this thing.

One of the sites I visit pretty frequently is Jim Leitzel’s Vice Squad. The blurb on the site describes it as

Explorations of public policy concerning alcohol, nicotine, other drugs, prostitution, gambling, pornography, ….

Jim Leitzel is the Associate Director of Public Policy Studies (or something like that) at the University of Chicago. He’s an economist, but most of Vice Squad is not about the economic issues, and most of the posts are not very scholarly. Oh, Leitzel does get in the occasional lengthy post about the economics of vice, but most of the articles are stories and links to stories about governmental responses to vice.

Paul Mooney, a comedian and former writer for Richard Pryor said recently that he could tell the government wasn’t really serious about opposing gay marriage because they weren’t arresting people for engaging in it like they did interracial couples in the 60’s. Well, if that’s the criteria, I guess we had better sit up and listen – the government is taking gay marriage seriously. The District Attorney for Kingston, New York is now arresting people for performing same-sex marriage ceremonies, according to today’s Chicago Sun Times.

—Nikkie, March 16, 2004

This last post was by Nikkie, one of several members of the Squad, which also includes Mike, Ryan, and Bernard. Actually, they don’t post very often; mostly, it’s Jim Leitzel’s blog. I haven’t seen enough material from any of the other bloggers to form an opinion. Leitzel, on the other hand, posts a lot. Because of his academic credentials, you might expect him to be dreary and pedantic. But when I think of his writing, the word that keeps coming to mind is snarky.

Having wasted $45,000 already in a star-crossed grand jury attempt to pin obscenity convictions on the owners of the Lion’s Den adult superstore, Dickinson County, Kansas, is back in court. This time it is the county prosecutor who is bringing the charges. (Hey, isn’t all this obscenity litigation diverting resources from some anti-evolution squabble?)…

Evolution Update: The Lion’s Den in Abilene, Kansas, used to be a Stuckey’s.

—Jim Leitzel, June 1, 2005

Of course, no blog on vice policy would be complete without mentioning the War On Drugs. In addition to occasionally announcing that the latest giant drug bust must surely mean a victory over illegal drugs, there’s also stuff like this:

(Incidentally, as the sting operations involved fake cocaine buys, seven of the officers were charged with “attempted possession of cocaine,” which carries a sentence of 5 to 40 years in prison and fines of up to $2 million, apparently – imagine what actual possession of cocaine could get you! And I suppose that this also means that somewhere there are workers whose job it is to manufacture fake cocaine. Maybe it is even a thriving business – “the Department of Labor reports that jobs in automobiles and steel production fell by 2.4% in the third quarter, but overall employment remained high, thanks to an 11% increase in jobs in the fake cocaine sector.” And just as cocaine comes in various qualities, I suppose fake cocaine does, as well. Imagine low quality fake cocaine, and the sales pitch: “Well, it’s true, it doesn’t really resemble cocaine very much – looks rather more like saltwater taffy – but if you squint, you might mistake it for real cocaine, or at least higher quality fake cocaine, and it is much cheaper than the higher quality fake coke.”)

—Jim Leitzel, September 19, 2003

Vice Squad is all-vice all-the-time, so they find a lot of the smaller stories as well:

[An] Associated Press story in today’s Chicago Tribune…concerns people who have a difficult time urinating into a cup on demand: “Their problem, a little-known phobia known as paruresis, or shy bladder syndrome, isn’t new. But the intensely personal malady is getting some unwelcome exposure, an unforeseen consequence of widespread workplace drug testing.” The Trib article tells the story of a man who was fired from his job at a Caterpillar plant in Georgia for his inability to produce a urine sample within the requisite three hours. This seems to me to be a very fair way for managers to implement downsizing.

—Jim Leitzel, February 10, 2004

Again, there’s that little bit of snark at the end.

Of course, drugs aren’t the only vice (Thank God, because I don’t do drugs):

According to [a] Reuters article, a Boise strip club uses an exception in the law to get around a ban on nude dancing. The city public nudity ban explicitly exempts activities with serious artistic merit. The idea was to ensure that art classes and stage productions would not be cited under the law. But what constitutes an art class, anyway?: “On what it calls Art Club Nights, the Erotic City strip club charges customers US$15 (8 pounds) for a sketch pad, pencil, and a chance to see completely naked women dancers.”

—Jim Leitzel, March 04, 2005

I’m hoping that if I continue to blog regularly and improve my writing skills, some day Jim Leitzel will invite me to join Vice Squad as a co-blogger. It’s not really that I want to share publishing space with these folks. I just figure they must throw some kick-ass parties.

Update: Arg. Jim Leitzel is even sneakier and more twisted than I imagined. He has thwarted my thinly-disguised attempt to get a return link by cleverly shutting down the Vice Squad blog.

Curses.

Another Update: Vice Squad isn’t quite dead after all, although Jim Leitzel assures us “I Can Quit Whenever I Want…”

Leitzel also gives me that return link I was fishing for by posting an article about my review in which he questions my use of the word “snarky.” The truth is that although I’ve heard the word used a number of times, this is probably the first time I’ve ever tried to use it myself. It appears to be British slang that’s made it over here, and it has a variety of meanings. The one I meant is from urbandictionary.com:

(adjective) describes a witty mannerism, personality, or behavior that is a combination of sarcasm and cynicism. Usually accepted as a complimentary term. Snark is sometimes mistaken for a snotty or arrogant attitude.

Her snarky remarks had half the room on the floor laughing and the other half ready to walk out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve added a new link in the Resources section to Citizen ICAM, the Chicago Police Department’s online map of recent criminal activity. It’s nice to see that my neighborhood is still remarkably free from criminal activity.

When they first put this up, you could also use it as a shopping guide. Are you planning a visit to Chicago and want to find where to go to get street drugs? Just query a few areas until you find where all the narcotics busts are, and that’s where you’ll find the dealers.

It looks like these crimes are no longer being reported on the map. I used to work in one of the highest crime areas in the city, but when I checked on it just now, it had no narcotics busts. I checked a few other areas, same thing. No prostitution either, so you can’t find the hooker strolls.

UPDATE: I checked some data from a few weeks ago, and several narcotics and prostitution arrests do show up. Maybe the vice data is just getting into the system a little slower.

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