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24 Aug 13:25

200-Plus Scholars Speak Out Against American Psychological Association's Violence/Gaming Study

by Timothy Geigner

We've been covering stories here about studies and claims linking real-world violence and video games for about as long as I've been a reader/writer. An even cursory review of our own record can only lead a reader to conclude that such links are, at best, nebulous, and are perhaps less likely than likely to exist. When coupled with some recent and fascinating revelations about just how easy it is to get a study to say exactly what you want it to say, and to get that study published and reported in supposedly reputable arenas, we're left with the troubling impression that such studies linking violence and gaming are more back-patting endeavors than they are true intellectual efforts.

With that in mind, you may have heard of a recent American Psychology Association report that strongly affirms the link between gaming and aggression, which is in this context meant to be synonymous with violence. This was the product of the APA's task force for studying the existence of such a link. It might represent a scientific victory for those who have long claimed that such a link exists, were it not for the predictably massive problems associated with the task force, the studies it took into account, and the methodology for the conclusions it drew. These problems are evidenced by the over two hundred academics who have submitted an open letter to the APA sharing their collective concerns over how this all went down.

One of those signees, Stetson University psychology professor Chris Ferguson, spoke with Game Informer, detailing the problems with the task force. Among those problems are details such as the task force being mostly comprised of scholars who have demonstrated in the past a willingness to link violence and aggression, the measures they used for aggression, and task force members having previously publicly supported legislation aimed at keeping games away from children.

Ferguson tells me that of the seven task force members, four had at anti-media leanings, with another that uses aggression measures that have been called into question by some factions of the psychology community. "To some degree, they're really commenting on their own product," he says. "I think people interpret these things as neutral. You have to remember that they are commenting on their own product. These are people looking at their own research and declaring it beyond further debate. All of us would love to do that, but we don't really get that chance, nor should we."

He also notes that all seven members of the task force were over the age of 50, citing a correlation between views on media and age. "I point that out because there is solid evidence that age is a correlate for attitudes about video games, even amongst scholars," Ferguson explains. "Age and negative attitudes toward youth predict anti-game attitudes."
For those of us that worship at the altar of science, this serves as a welcome reminder that science is only as good as those conducting it. Bias is omnipresent and omnidirectional and it is something we must always be vigilant against. For instance, cited in the open letter is the fact that the APA previously stated as a matter of policy that violent games should see a reduced exposure to children and that the APA had already made recommendations to the gaming industry about exactly how violence should be portrayed in games, specifically suggesting that real-world consequences should be visited upon violent actors in digital media.

In other words, as the letter states, the APA task force essentially reached the conclusion that the APA's previous work and recommendations were on point, using a hand-picked team comprised of researchers perfectly biased to reach just that conclusion. Adding to the letter's concern over some of the sloppy methodology for drawing the task force's conclusions is the kind of simple real-world analysis of data that has me wondering just how any of this made it past the APA's review to begin with.
Ferguson and his colleagues also point to data evidencing a decrease in youth violence, which contradicts assertions that media (video games and non-interactive forms) are a public health concern. Ferguson cites colleagues at Oxford, Villanova, Western Michigan University, and more that have presented recent findings in peer-reviewed journals. These studies indicate that there is no connection between violent video games and aggression. A study by Patrick Markey at Villanova indicates that "participants who were not angry tended to be relatively unaffected by exposure to violent video games."
In other words, at the exact moment that the APA suggests violence and video games are linked, and at the exact moment that violent video games have exploded in popularity and dissemination, violence amongst youth (and the general public) is trending downward. One would think that if a link existed, we might see some evidence of it outside of ham-fisted studies utilizing questionable methodologies.

But, alas, this is the way of things. And you should expect this to continue, probably right up to the point when most of the research of this issue is being done by a generation in which gaming was prevalent in their youth. Then the studies will likely show something more interesting than a self-created echo-chamber of moral outrage.

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22 Aug 00:00

Striving for Accuracy

by Harvey

John Kerry said the Iran deal was hard to get because “the Ayatollah constantly believed that we are untrustworthy”.

John’s job: convincing them that we were just gullible, instead.

Send to Kindle
24 Aug 14:09

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

by Patrick

A great book by one of my favorite authors.

You can now download Glen Cook's The Dragon Never Sleeps for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

For four thousand years, the Guardships have ruled Canon Space—immortal ships with an immortal crew, dealing swiftly and harshly with any mercantile houses or alien races that threaten the status quo.

But now the House Tregesser has an edge: a force from outside Canon Space offers them the resources to throw off Guardship rule. This precipitates an avalanche of unexpected outcomes, including the emergence of Kez Maefele, one of the few remaining generals of the Ku Warrior race-the only race to ever seriously threaten Guardship hegemony. Kez Maefele and a motley group of aliens, biological constructs, an scheming aristocrats find themselves at the center of the conflict. Maefele must chose which side he will support: the Guardships, who defeated and destroyed his race, or the unknown forces outside Canon Space that promise more death and destruction.
22 Aug 01:29

Under Armour Demands Tiny Clothier 'Armor And Glory' Change Name Or Face Legal Siege

by Timothy Geigner

Under Armour, the clothing brand built on the idea that my belly fat should be clung to by a shirt while I shoot hoops in my backyard, has built up quite a reputation for itself as a trademark bully. To go along with the fun story of its battle against Ass Armor, Under Armour is notorious for trademarking roughly all the things when it comes to sportswear and equipment, and has always had a liberal idea of just how much control the law allows it to have over the use of the word "armor." Most times, very little public attention is whipped up. But now they're picking a fight with God.

In 2013, a Bible-quoting high school football champ named Terrance Jackson, upset that most of the clothing options for his 3-year-old son were covered in skulls and crossbones, decided to start his own “inspirational apparel” company with a scripture-inspired name, Armor & Glory. It recently received some major attention from America’s second-biggest sportswear empire, Under Armour, which demanded the small Maryland company change its name or face all-out legal war.

“It’s trademark bullying at its finest. I’m the little kid in the group and they’re trying to kick dirt on my new shoes,” said Jackson, 37, who said the name came to him one morning, from “the full armor of God” cited in Ephesians 6:11. “When God gave this [name] to me, I never thought once about those guys. We don’t even spell it like them.”
Indeed, much as Ass Armor did, Armor & Glory's name doesn't include the "u," unlike Under Armour. Which is only a minor point, actually, because the chief test here is customer confusion and brand identity, and it takes a more imaginative mind than mine to think up exactly how a company selling a few hundred shirts is going to be mistaken for the clothing company currently chasing Nike for the sportswear crown. More troubling still is the nature of Under Armour's request. The company's legal representation requested not only that all of Armor & Glory's inventory be destroyed, but that it would also have to hand over its domain, profits, and $100k in damages and attorneys' fees.

That would equate to about every last dollar the company has ever made, since its 2013 inception. More interesting, for me at least, is that the company's core audience is Christian athletes wearing the gear in part due to the Christianity-inspired names and slogans. Lawyers for Under Armour have gone so far as to state that if Armor & Glory refuses to cease using the bible-inspired name, the result will be "an expensive and time-consuming legal battle." A more bullying statement is difficult to compose. But Jackson, thus far at least, isn't backing down. Why, you ask?
Ed Tomlin, Jackson’s partner and a former director of football development for Under Armour (who says he left on good terms), says “it’s a matter of principle and a matter of faith.” The name, he added, “was inspired by God. … To turn our backs now would be like we were being disobedient.”
How about that for a fun First Amendment test? If anything can whip up public support in a David v. Goliath legal battle, it's the injection of some honest to goodness bible-thumping. In fact, Armor & Glory has reportedly increased sales and brand-awareness due to the threat from Under Armour, making it all the more silly for the larger company to have engaged in this silly bit of bullying to begin with.

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21 Aug 18:19

Government Forces Natural Skim Milk Sellers to Label Their Milk "Imitation"

by Brian Doherty

Things are seldom what they seem, skim milk masquerades as....skim milk? Government must act!

Government: we can't live without it, it is operating at peak efficiency without a penny to cut, and it's just the name we give for forcing tradesman to lie about their product.

A story out of Florida, reported by Chicago Tribune, involving those legal paladins of market freedom, the Institute for Justice and a case that has reached a judge after being filed last year, as reported here by Elizabeth Nolan Brown:

The Ocheesee Creamery in the Florida Panhandle produces all-natural skim milk from grass-fed cows with absolutely nothing added, yet the state says they have to call it "imitation."

And while they argue about it, the dairy is dumping hundreds of gallons of skim milk down the drain each week.

Creamery owners Paul and Mary Lou Wesselhoeft were in federal court Wednesday as part of their nearly three-year-old battle with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, which argues that skim milk isn't skim milk unless vitamins are added to it.

But that goes against the all-natural philosophy at the creamery....

"Our customers want an all-natural product. If we call it imitation, they will not buy our product," Mary Lou Wesselhoeft said after the court hearing. "To me it's degrading and a slap in the face because it's pure, unadulterated skim milk."....

The Institute for Justice is suing the state on behalf of the couple.

From the report, the judge in the case seems, rightfully, skeptical of the government's officious and idiotic claims, and its demand, currently being enforced, that creamery just waste the milk rather than sell it without the "imitation" lie on the label.

When I was on the campaign trail with Ron Paul researching my 2012 book Ron Paul's Revolution, it often bemused outside observers how het up Paulites could get out of the right to drink and sell raw milk. These sorts of bringing to bear government force on the choices we can make in selling and consuming food seem minor or laughable to certain elites.

They aren't. They go to the heart of what it means to be free...or what it means to suffer from a state out of control in its reach, its grasp, and its cost.

Seriously, what kind of human in what kind of system could get up in the morning and go to work and enforce a law like this, harming someone's innocent and harmless livelihood, wasting a useful food, in order to make someone say something that's not true? And then take it to court and spend our money defending this outragous use of government time, money, and force?

The topic involved—it's just milk!—makes it seem less evil than it is. But it is evil.

Damon Root on the dairy lobby's bad influence on American law.

19 Aug 22:33

Woman Catches Cop Beating Handcuffed Suspect; Police Union First In Line To Shoot The Messenger

by Tim Cushing

The presumed illegality of filming police is a law enforcement mental disorder. Far too many officers believe they have the right to perform their public service unobserved. Officers continue to take cameras from bystanders who happen to catch them behaving badly. Abby Phillip at the Washington Post details another apparent act of police misconduct that resulted in more misconduct as officers attempted to shut the recording down.

Just after 4 p.m. Thursday, a woman stood a few feet away from several Miami Police Department patrol cars with her cellphone camera recording. After a few seconds, an officer entered the frame, escorting a handcuffed young black man to the back of a police car.

Suddenly, the officer put his head inside the car door and appeared to punch the suspect.

“Oh!” a woman exclaimed on the recording, reacting to what was unfolding before her. The woman, who the Associated Press identified as Shenitria Blocker, moved closer, and the officer climbed into the back seat of the car. Moments later, the camera shook and the video ended.
Here's the video:

The camera shake was due to an officer's attempt to take Blocker's phone away from her. Blocker says they then ordered her to delete the footage or face being arrested. While the video does show Blocker moving in very close to the police car to get a better view of the action, any arrestable offense would have been limited to "interference," and that would only be legit if she refused to move away from the vehicle when ordered to. No such order was given. Instead, the cop went for the camera and threatened her with arrest.

Even if the cops can't find a sufficiently malleable "violation" to charge photographers with, the law enforcement community (including police departments and, especially, their unions) finds ways to ensure no damning recording goes unpunished.

To its credit, the Miami Police Department has suspended the officer caught punching the handcuffed arrestee and is investigating the incident. On the other hand, it hasn't said anything about the unidentified officer who attempted to take Blocker's phone, nor has it issued a statement affirming the public's right to film police officers.

The Miami Fraternal Order of Police, on the other hand, is going out of its way to deliver its own brand of "justice" for Blocker having the temerity to catch one of its officers behaving badly.
In a statement, the police union said “social media has placed a very negative tone on law enforcement nationwide” and that the officer in question was “protecting our community.”
Ah. So that's what happened. A now-suspended officer didn't punch an arrested man who was already in the back of a patrol car. Social media did. In fact, social media should be made to answer for the hundreds of incidents of police misconduct every year. At the very least, people should stop running to social media with their clips of police abuse because being a cop is hard work.

But the union has gone farther than simply making the ridiculous assertion that all of these police officers captured on film doing the things they were actually doing is nothing more than negative spin by Social Media Co. LLC. It's also attempting to disparage Blocker herself -- ironically, by using the same social media that's apparently destroying the reputation of its suspect-punching police officer.

The union has delivered screenshots of Blocker's since-removed Facebook page, claiming these show Blocker is a bad person and therefore, all video captured by her phone should be disregarded… or something.
The remainder of the union’s statement focused on criticizing Smith, the woman who at the time they believed recorded the video. It highlighted screenshots of Smith’s Facebook page and accused her of posting photos of herself with men who have handguns.
According to the farcical police officers' group, the real problem is men with guns on Facebook pages, not an officer punching a handcuffed suspect. If only the "community" had done more to raise Ms. Blocker right, Unidentified-and-Suspended Officer X wouldn't have had to punch a handcuffed man in the back of his patrol car.
“Our community has accepted behavior that motivates violence in our younger generation. It’s time for the community to take a stand against this reckless behavior and stop the violence,” he continued. “As the saying goes: It takes a village to raise a child. Guns don’t belong in the hands of children.”
So, remember: the next time you see a police officer beating a handcuffed person, remember that somewhere out there, there's a male with a gun and someone's daughter might be friends with him. Ask yourself: what's more important here? The reputation of the misbehaving officer? Or the reputation of the misbehaving officer? And then put the camera away. Because as the union sees it, the only people above reproach are the officers whose abusive actions prompt poorly-thought out and thoroughly ridiculous statements from their unions.

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20 Aug 13:39

London sky pool will let super-rich swim through air...

London sky pool will let super-rich swim through air...

(First column, 15th story, link)

19 Aug 11:55

Photo of the Day: In the Ruins of Tianjin

by dmitry

h/t adam brandizzi

A drone operated by paramilitary police flies over the site of last week’s explosions at Binhai new district in Tianjin, China, August 17, 2015. (Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

19 Aug 16:42

Rare 'fire rainbow' spotted over SCarolina...

Rare 'fire rainbow' spotted over SCarolina...

(Third column, 13th story, link)

19 Aug 05:23

When Violent Union Dislike for Affordable Food Nearly Led to War with Japan

by Brian Doherty

Fascinating and news-to-me history I came across today that reminds us that thuggish opposition to people who can outcompete existing businesses in price and/or consumer happiness is timeless (and alas continuing, as see the world of Uber and its competitors for one example) and that it once almost led to a violent international incident, from the site.

Seems turn-of-the-20th-century Japanese immigrant-run restaurants were outcompeting locals with good 10 cent meals. This obviously could not long stand while a proud union man draws breath:

Local 485 of the Waiters and Cooks Union [in Spokane] In 1902....organized a boycott of a ten-cent Japanese restaurant run by a Mr. K. Takahashi. Unfortunately, it was an imperfect tactic, one that did not succeed, mainly because it was hard for workingmen to turn down a cheap meal. So hard, that the union had to institute a $2.50 fine for any member caught entering a Japanese restaurant.

But there were some successes. In 1907, unions and American restaurant owners succeeded in convincing the Seattle city council to mandate a fifteen cent minimum price for a meal, erasing part of the Japanese price advantage....

And in San Francisco, in December of 1906, unions get Japanese children banned from public schools.

On May 20, 1907, however, things blew up. A group of union men caught four of their fellow unionists eating at the ten-cent Horseshoe Restaurant at 1213 Folsom Street. Beatings were handed out to the two men who were foolish enough to exit the restaurant through the front door....

When the police declined an invitation to become involved, the fun spread to a Japanese bathhouse across the street. The demonstrations resumed again the next night, with less vigor, and four more nights after that....

For Washington, however, the most important thing happening in San Francisco was that the trashing of the Horseshoe had become an international incident.

Over the coming weeks, newspapers in both countries, including William Randoph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner, whipped up the war frenzy. Opposition politicians in Tokyo called for war, while a group of high-ranking Japanese officers argued they could defeat the Americans in the Pacific (and probably could have).

Teddy Roosevelt dispatched special commissioners to investigate, and theGreat White Fleet to intimidate. It worked. The Japanese had second thoughts about war, and racial and labor tensions were calmed for a few years.

If you can eat affordable ethnic food in your town, thank labor unions, I guess, for failing to completely destroy them for all time, despite their efforts.

19 Aug 12:18

Spanish Police Park In Handicapped Spot, Fine Person Who Caught Them For 'Impugning Their Honor'

by Tim Cushing

A question that is almost always ignored when crafting legislation is "How will this new law be abused?" In the case of Spain's horrific Gag Law (officially [and hilariously] known as the "Citizen Security Law"), the answer is, "As much as possible."

Just a couple of weeks away from a Spanish citizen being fined for calling his local police force "slackers," a Spanish woman has been fined for posting a picture of police car parked in a handicapped spot to her Facebook page.

A Spanish woman has been fined €800 (£570) under the country’s controversial new gagging law for posting a photograph of a police car parked illegally in a disabled bay.

The unnamed woman, a resident of Petrer in Alicante, south-east Spain, posted the photo on her Facebook page with the comment “Park where you bloody well please and you won’t even be fined”.

The police tracked her down within 48 hours and fined her.
If nothing else, the new law has reset law enforcement priorities. If law enforcement is insulted, the perpetrator needs to be tracked down before the trail goes cold.

According to the original report at, differing narratives have emerged. One version of the incident says the officer who parked in the handicapped spot approached the photographer and explained the situation, apparently hoping to prevent a disparaging upload. If so, it didn't take. Another version says the uploader called to apologize to the police, presumably to ward off a citation. If so, that didn't take. And yet another version says there was no interaction between police and the photographer until they showed up at her home to hand her a ticket.

What really happened isn't important, because there's the Official Police Narrative. The spokesman for the police informed Petreraldia that "in an emergency" police are allowed to park wherever they want, so as to expedite the apprehension of suspects.

The "emergency" behind this illegal parking job? An "incident of vandalism in a nearby park."

And, of course, the only other official remnant of this one-two punch of exemplary policework is the €800 ticket.

It seems the police -- if they felt so demeaned by the Facebook post (which was swiftly removed by the original poster) -- could have asked for an apology, rather than €800. Or the department could have offered its explanation of the situation (as it did!), rather than fine the citizen. But the law is the law, and as such, must be abused to the fullest extent allowable.

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19 Aug 13:14

Poor But Honest

by accordingtohoyt

When I was in North Carolina, at one time while my dentist was asking me questions while she had both hands and instruments in my mouth, she finished one of my sentences that started with “Oh, we grew up poor” with “But honest” which was not at all what I meant to say.  Oh, we were honest, as in we didn’t steal, but mostly for two reasons: one, grandma would have given us her “more in sorrow than in anger” look, and second, we weren’t conscious of needing anything.

Don’t get me wrong, I was a kid like other kids, and when there was a faddish toy I would drool over it.  But, perhaps because we didn’t have a TV till I was eight, it just never occurred to me that we were poor.  When I was six I asked grandma what we were and she said “We’re not poor, we’re not rich.  We make do.”

That’s about right.  In the same message in which my brother said we’d been poor as Job, he also mentioned we were rich as kings, much richer than we’re now when grandma would objectively describe our lifestyles as “what a luxury” what with running hot water and a bathroom per person in this house right now.

If you just said “Wut?”

Look, the only reason I knew there were people much better off than us is that at 12 mom contrived to have me attend a high school in the “rich” area of town.  (Theoretically, we all lived in a rented room down the street from the school.  In point of fact, mom paid a lady to forward our mail.) For the village we were between middle class and upper middle class.  In fact, when truly rich people came to the village or had their kids visit, I was among the small number of kids invited to play with them.

My childhood is, in point of fact, unclassifiable in US terms.  Sarah C. wrote a thing which I might post later, about all this, about the nostalgie de la bue and saying “but I was even poorer” that goes on on the other side, which quickly becomes “but I drank a cup of cold poison.”  She pointed out anyone born in the US (with the possible exception of Appalachia and other small pockets, such as the one Larry grew up in) was automatically better off than anyone born abroad.  From what I’ve seen, probably still is, except for the very rich.

OTOH the American assumption that those who come from  Latin countries that my dentist reflected must have been starving in tar shacks is almost — almost — infuriating.  The reason it’s not infuriating is that it is so funny.  Built into this is the idea that either Latin people are discriminated against in their own countries (wut?) or that they need leftists to enlighten them and make their lives bearable. Note this doesn’t apply if you come from English Speaking countries, where in point of fact, many people lived like we did when I was a kid, because then, of course, you have privilege, so you couldn’t have been poor-poor.

My delving into my childhood was more to show that I don’t impress conventionally.  And it’s really hard to sell me the Marxist theory of oppression that must be broken by government.

We’ve been damn broke.  And we’ve been enviably rich in many ways.  And we faced “you can’t come in” with “you and whose army”.

I grew up poor by US standards, but everyone was poor.  Okay, not everyone.  I remember going to the architect’s house when my parents were having the house built, when I was 5? 6? and being very impressed at the shiny woodwork.  We lived in a 100 plus year old house and our doors were painted and repainted with thick white paint.

My grandparents owned land and houses (grandma’s dad had bought most of the village before dying young.  He was a cattle dealer.  Yeah, yeah, I have cowboys in my ancestry) but in an era of rent control it didn’t do much, except for the fact we retained “right of cultivation” to a lot of the backyards, (lawn was sort of unknown in our circles) so we could grow twice the potatoes, had a chestnut tree and a lot of vines.

My parents lived extremely tight because dad has a religious hatred of credit.  Not just credit card debt, a hatred he passed on to me, or loans, but of any credit, including mortgage.  The first fifteen years of their marriage (I was born around year ten) were spent saving to buy a house outright.  They didn’t manage it, but built a house with a ten year mortgage.  And after that was paid off, when I was about 16, our lifestyle APPROACHED middle class US.

I still didn’t go to coffee shops as much as my friends, because I had no allowance, and earned my pocket money, but that was good as it saved me from the “coffee and pool” circle who usually repeated every year.

OTOH in my twenties I had some very rich friends who didn’t give a d*mn if they had to pay for me, so I got to vacation in really expensive resorts.  Mind you I came home to mom turning off the hot water (which the new house had) in summer because it was wasteful, but I got to go to places where the British nobility hung out.  And by the time I was in college, I was invited to embassy and consulate parties, due to my grades in foreign languages.  (Italian consulate had the BEST ice cream because most ice cream parlors in Porto were owned by Italians.)

Anyway, the reason for delving into my background was to point out that it rendered me singularly immune to Marxism.

When I was in 10th grade, one of my friends drank the koolaid and disputed with me that my family was upper class.  I asked her how, since her dad — skilled blue collar, manager — made about twice as much as my dad did.  Her sputtering reaction was that my parents were better educated, they had books, they–

They had the markers of upper class in the village.  Though in mom’s case, she was as educated as my friend’s mom, at least formally.  But mom took an interest in world affairs and history (mostly through the radio) while her mom took an interest in gossip and recipes.

I stiffly pointed out to said friend that Marx’s “classes” were economic only.  She didn’t like like.  She is still, I think, communist.  Eh.

My best friend at the time came from hereditary-upper-class meaning that her family had some noble ancestors (oh, who doesn’t in Europe?  Keeping it in their pants just didn’t apply to those people) and a lot of manners and parents who were both educated.  But I used to give her my used sweaters (when we got to the point mom was retired and, I swear, made those for recreation) because her family had 13 kids and therefore were a little tighter than we were with 2.  (Though I’m sure her dad too made more than mine.)

The completely insane background and the fact my dad acted like the dad in Have Space Suit “Dad, I want a radio.” “Go ahead, I have no objections” — Which meant I built one from parts of broken radios in the attic — left me singularly unimpressed by both wealth and poverty.  Later when my brother replaced his crappy and now broken tape player,(which he’d bought with his tutoring income) I bought it off him for 20 escudos and spent more time fixing it than listening to it, until mom got tired of her kitchen table getting used to perform surgery on the beasty and gave me a tape player bought from the smugglers (What?  Well, the shop was in Smuggler street which was a dead give away.  Yep, I grew up in a fantasy town) when I was 19.

I learned there was absolutely no virtue in being poor.  A lot of the truly very poor in the village made more than we did but spent it on either wine or frivolous stuff (mom classified meat every day as frivolous stuff, mind.)

In fact, when government started rendering assistance, most of the welfare cases lived in crappy houses and went through broke periods through what mom called “lack of head.” When they had money they ran through it, then pawned everything the second half of the month.

(Mind you mom thinks I do the same, because while I have two kids in college, I can’t drop 10k to come over with the kids when she wants me to.  To an extent she’s right.  No matter how tight the money, you can plan to make it plenty.  We choose not to live in a tiny apartment with the kids.  OTOH it’s our investment: buying more house than strictly needed, in places headed up and trading up regularly that allowed us to own a house that our peers couldn’t with double the income.  Now if we can sell it and downsize, when we no longer need the space and good schools are of no consequence, we can come close to debt free, which we couldn’t otherwise.)

All of this and dad’s cavalier attitude to anything I wanted to do “I need to go to Germany to improve my German.”  “Go ahead.  I trust you abroad.”  (I got a job as a hotel maid for a summer.) his absolute assumption that if I wanted I could figure out how to do it, and his certainty that he didn’t really care how difficult it wold be to get into college for instance, both of his kids WOULD make to college made me singularly unimpressed by people who complain of micro aggressions and discrimination.

And it made me singularly unimpressed by wealth, too.  My rich friends had it easier, of course, but they were also easily impressed by brands, and they had never had to fight for what they wanted.  If grades didn’t qualify them to enter public — free — college, that was all right.  Mommy and daddy would buy them a spot in the private one.

I think this is why the plot lines that consist of “victim is oppressed and spit upon and dies in gutter/gets bloody revenge” have always bored me.  The idea that you have to “make way” for someone and make their path easy because they’re a one-footed Patagonian Lesbian makes me laugh.

You are a minority/poor/oppressed and want to write science fiction?  Fine, I give you my dad’s answer “Go ahead.  I have no objection.”

You want to feature a minority/poor/oppressed in your story?  Go ahead, I have no objection.  Just don’t make them sad sacks who need the help of the enlightened to get anywhere.  Sad sack characters and ex-machina socialists are BORING.  I don’t care what they taught you in school, getting there on your own is much more fun, both to do and to read about.

This is something the establishment doesn’t get — both the genuine upper class and strivers.  It’s amazing how many of the puppy kickers are in point of fact well off, upper class in the Marxist sense, even if they feel “downtrodden” for whatever reason.  And the rest, the strivers, have adopted the attitudes of the “upper class” and their class-signaling Marxism.  As I said originally, more papist than the pope — It’s something they can’t seem to grasp.

The working class gets rescued by benevolent Marxists (or even attacks academics while drinking gin — good Lord, pull the other one, it plays Elvis) is only exciting to Marxists with messianic illusions.

From the rest of us it elicits a yawn and an itch of the middle finger.

Write people of whatever color, orientation, wealth level you want.  Make them live.  Make them interesting.

We don’t add special points for flagellation of Marxist stereotypes and we do deduct them for predictability.

Or write whatever the heck you want. I mean, the pap has its fans — but it’s not us.

Just don’t demand we doff our hats and bow and scrape and tell you that stuff we don’t like and which is formulaic and poorly written is “of course, better” because it “fights the patriarchy” or whatever other idea you’re obsessed with at the time.

We don’t care.  You’re in an entertainment job.  Your job is to entertain the public.

The public is rarely entertained by lectures.

If it makes you feel better, I’ll make grandma’s face when someone was bragging to her about how special they were, and I’ll say “Oh wow.”

But I still won’t tell you boring stories that conform to whatever the new Marxists are peddling are better.  Learn your craft.  Then write whatever the crap you want.  And let the rest of us write whatever the crap we want.

Go ahead.  we have no objections.

19 Aug 12:56

Lone Star Rail Insanity

by Randal O'Toole

I don't understand the obsession with trains. Particularly in areas where they are among the least efficient, flexible or cost effectives means of solving transportation problems.

Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin is congested, so obviously (to some people, at least) the solution is to run passenger trains between the two cities. Existing tracks are crowded with freight trains, so the Lone Star Rail District proposes to build a brand-new line for the freight trains and run passenger trains on the existing tracks. The total capital cost would be about $3 billion, up from just $0.6 billion in 2004 (which probably didn’t include the freight re-route).

Click image to download a PDF version of this map.

By coincidence, that was the projected capital cost for the proposed high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando (cancelled by Florida Governor Rick Scott), which are about the same 80-miles apart as Austin and San Antonio. But, despite the cost, Lone Star wouldn’t be a high-speed rail line. According to a 2004 feasibility study, trains would take about 90 minutes between the two cities, with two stops in between. While express trains with no stops would be a bit faster, cars driving at Texas speeds could still be faster.

Lone Star is asking the San Antonio city council for $500,000 to help pay for an environmental impact statement and other studies. Austin has supposedly already agreed to fund its share, though it isn’t in the city’s budget.

Lone Star is promising 32 trains (16 each way) carrying 20,000 riders (10,000 round trips) per day at fares of up to $12. That’s more than 600 riders per train; though some may not go the entire distance, it still seems high. Megabus currently operates three buses a day that take 85 minutes between the two cities at fares of $1.50 to $7.50. It seems likely that if there were 20,000 people per day wanting to pay $12 to take the trip at the same speed, Megabus would find them.

If the goal is to relieve congestion on I-35, two new lanes would probably cost less than a billion dollars and would be capable of moving far more vehicles per day than Lone Star would take off the road. Of course, the highway is probably not congested over the entire route, so two new lanes for the full length probably aren’t necessary. Besides, self-driving cars will probably go on sale and eliminate any need for passenger trains before the first Lone Star train would turn a wheel.

San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, who famously cancelled the city’s even more backwards streetcar project, says that Lone Star isn’t one of her priorities. “There will be benefits from this alternative transit option, but we have to be good fiscal stewards,” she added. Local taxpayers should hope that she and the San Antonio city council can resist the starry-eyed Lone Star plan.

19 Aug 01:22

Quotation of the day on moral busybodies vs. robber barons…. (and self-medication as a basic right)

by Mark Perry

…. is from C. S. Lewis, from his 1948 book God in the Dock: Essays on Theology:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.

HT: Nicolas, who provided that quote and wrote the following in the comment section of this CD post about drug use:

“What has to be recognized is that self-medication is a basic right, and moderate drug use is not a moral or medical defect.”

The post Quotation of the day on moral busybodies vs. robber barons…. (and self-medication as a basic right) appeared first on AEI.

19 Aug 10:00


by Mike

Clark’s nutcracker, Rocky Mountain National Park, September 2, 2009
Clark’s nutcracker, Rocky Mountain National Park, September 2, 2009

18 Aug 14:22

Prosperity Politics

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)


Even when I disagree with John Oliver’s politics (which is quite frequently), he makes me laugh.  (A steady offering of humor prompts me to forgive lots of sins.)  My son, Thomas, and I roared with laughter yesterday morning as we watched Oliver’s recent smack-down of televangelists who preach something called “the Prosperity Gospel.”  (Warning: Adult language.)  

Until watching Oliver’s video, I was only vaguely aware of this sub-species of scam-artists.  But as I watched this video I kept thinking to myself “These people – these scamming televangelists – remind me of something.  What?  Who?  What???  Who????”  Then it hit me: Politicians!

Most Americans (myself included) – and, most assuredly, all Americans to the left of Mike Huckabee – understandably both laugh at the antics of these televangelical slime balls and shake our heads with a mixture of sorrow and befuddlement that fellow human beings fall prey to their idiotic dupery.  But without claiming that there is a one-to-one correspondence between cosmetics-caked preachers of the Prosperity Gospel and typical politicians crawling the corridors of Washington, DC., I submit that the overlap and similarities between these two types of public pleaders are far greater than most respectable Americans are willing to admit.

According to the Prosperity Gospel (or so I gather), sending money to one of its preachers will, by some mystical force, eventually result in more material prosperity redounding to the benefit of those who heed the call to send money to these con artists.  Of course, the people who send their money to these swindlers are convinced that these swindlers are sincere oracles of a higher power – oracles who tell of a genuinely reliable means of both pleasing the higher power and being rewarded materially for doing so.

Naturally, the only people becoming more materially prosperous through this scam are the swindlers and their entourages.  The poor suckers who fall for the swindlers’ schemes are drained of wealth.  And it is the rare and cold-hearted person who asserts that, because the swindled people should have been smart enough to see through the deceits and illogic of the swindlers, the swindlers aren’t blameworthy.

The parallels between government and these televangelical swindlers are numerous; they’re too numerous even to list in a single blog post.  I’ll content myself here to point out only some of these ominous parallels, which include the notions that:

– sending your money off to other people will result in that money being spent in ways that promote your long-term well-being better than your long-term well-being would be promoted had you spent your money yourself;

– telegenic people speaking into the camera while alluding to mysterious doctrines – and claiming to have special understanding of those mysterious doctrines – are motived chiefly by your best interest as they plead for your money;

– these telegenic people must, of course, fly about in private jets and live luxuriously, for they – unlike you – are tasked with a special responsibility to work for a Higher Good;

– these telegenic swindlers are expert not only at feigning sincere concern for strangers, but also at spinning lies and deceits to explain away the constant failures of their prophesies.


One significant difference that notably separates the Prosperity Gospel swindlers from what we might call the Prosperity Politics swindlers is that only the latter have the power to grab the money of people who don’t fall for their deceits.  If the Prosperity Politics swindlers manage to dupe 50% +1 of the voters into falling for their scam, the Prosperity Politics swindlers get to grab the money of not only the people who naively fall for their dupery but also the money of those of us who see such dupery for what it is.

It should at least give pause to those who are enthusiastic about substituting the ‘will of the majority’ for the freedom of each individual to choose to lead his or her life as he or she will to reflect on the fact that the world has no shortage of people who fall for the Prosperity Gospel fraudsters.  Democracy – as opposed to individual freedom – allows people who fall for the Prosperity Gospel to have a say in your life and in the lives of everyone who understands that the Prosperity Gospel is the work of Satan.

18 Aug 11:54

Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)


… is from page 463 of the 5th edition (2015) of Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics:

The illusion of investment is maintained by giving the Social Security trust fund government bonds in exchange for the money that is taken from it and spend on other government programs.  But these bonds likewise represent no tangible assets.  They are simply promises to pay money collected from future taxpayers.  The country as a whole is not one dollar richer because these bonds were printed, so there is no analogy with private investments that create tangible wealth.  If there were no such bonds, then future taxpayers would still have to make up the difference when future Social Security premiums are insufficient to pay pensions to future retirees.  That is exactly the same as what will have to happen when there are bonds.  Accounting procedures may make it seem that there is an investment when the Social Security system holds government bonds, but the economic reality is that neither the government nor anyone else can spend and save the same money.

Eighty years ago this month (on August 14th, 1935, to be precise), Uncle Sam foisted on its subjects a scheme that would make Charles Ponzi green with envy.  And to help hide the hideous nature of this spending-other-people’s-money fraud, Uncle Sam maintains a scam called the “Social Security Trust Fund” – which is simply I.O.U.s written by the government to itself.

If you think that the Social Security Trust Fund represents real wealth for the American people held in trust by their agent, the U.S. government, go out right now and hire an agent and give him the following powers:

– he can regularly take a large chunk of your current income and spend it however he chooses on you; but

– for every dollar that he takes from you he must draft an I.O.U. requiring that you will repay yourself that dollar in the future; these I.O.U.s are stashed in a “Trust Fund” maintained by your agent; your agent assures you that this Trust Fund contains enough wealth to enable you to live comfortably in your retirement.

When you retire, you attempt to redeem your I.O.U.s.  Only then, lo and behold!, does the realization hit you that an I.O.U. that you owe to yourself is no wealth at all for you.  Those I.O.U.s are redeemable only if you return to work and then pay yourself, with your income, the value of each of your I.O.U.s.

You’ve been scammed by your agent, although you yourself bear much of the blame for being so stupid as to fall for his misrepresentation.

18 Aug 05:45

School Tried to Expel a Student For Tweeting Two Words About Kissing a Teacher: ‘Actually, Yeah.’

by Robby Soave

KissA Minnesota student who had to transfer high schools to avoid an expulsion for an incredibly short, wholly inoffensive Tweet can sue the district for violating his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, a federal judge ruled.

The student, Reid Sagehorn, first landed himself in trouble with Elk River School District administrators in January of 2014, according to Education Week. He was asked on an internet message board whether he had made out with a certain 28-year-old teacher at Rogers High School; he tweeted his two-word answer: “actually, yeah.” Sagehorn later claimed that he was joking.

Superintendent Mike Bezek didn’t think the Tweet was funny. Sagehorn was initially suspended for five days. His punishment was then increased to 10 days, but dragged on for weeks. He eventually transferred schools to avoid expulsion.

Sagehorn was an honors student and captain of the Rogers football team before he transferred.

As if the ruin of Sagehorn’s academic life wasn’t enough, Police Chief Jeffrey Beahan told media outlets that the teenager could face felony charges. District officials argued that the tweet was obscene.

That’s utter nonsense, of course. Sagehorn’s mildly suggestive statement about kissing a teacher doesn’t even come close to crossing the line into obscenity territory.

Sagehorn is now suing the school district and police chief. Last week, a federal judge declined to dismiss the suit, ruling that it should proceed. That’s good news for Sagehorn—who will likely be compensated for damages in an eventual settlement—and very bad news for the bullying authority figures who made his life miserable for no good reason. Teens don’t lose the right to say stupid things merely because everything is offensive to edu-crats.

17 Aug 17:26

Germany Says Taking Photos Of Food Infringes The Chef's Copyright

by Glyn Moody

Over the years, Techdirt has had a couple of stories about misguided chefs who think that people taking photos of their food are "stealing" something -- their culinary soul, perhaps. According to an article in the newspaper Die Welt, it seems that this is not just a matter of opinion in Germany, but established law (original in German):

In individual cases, shared pictures may be illegal. At worst, a copyright warning notice might come fluttering to the social media user. For carefully-arranged food in a famous restaurant, the cook is regarded as the creator of a work. Before it can be made public on Facebook & Co., permission must first be asked of the master chef.
Apparently, this situation goes back to a German court judgment from 2013, which widened copyright law to include the applied arts too. As a result, the threshold for copyrightability was lowered considerably, with the practical consequence that it was easier for chefs to sue those who posted photographs of their creations without permission. The Die Welt article notes that this ban can apply even to manifestly unartistic piles of food dumped unceremoniously on a plate if a restaurant owner puts up a notice refusing permission for photos to be taken of its food.

It's sad to see this kind of ownership mentality has been accepted by the German courts. As a Techdirt article from 2010 explained, there's plenty of evidence that it is precisely the lack of copyright in food that has led to continuing innovation -- just as it has in other fields that manage to survive without this particular intellectual monopoly, notably in fashion.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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16 Aug 21:51

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

by Patrick

This is an entertaining story by one of my favorite authors.

For a limited time, Brandon Sanderson's novella Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is available for only 0.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Originally appearing in the Dangerous Women anthology and now available as a solo ebook, Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is a chilling novella of the Cosmere, the universe shared by Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series and the #1 New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive.

When the familiar and seemingly safe turns lethal, therein danger lies. Amid a forest where the shades of the dead linger all around, every homesteader knows to follow the Simple Rules: "Don't kindle flame, don't shed the blood of another, don't run at night. These things draw shades." Silence Montane has broken all three rules on more than one occasion. And to protect her family from a murderous gang with high bounties on their heads, Silence will break every rule again, at the risk of becoming a shade herself.
15 Aug 06:45

An Odd Fractal

by Greg Ross

In 1653, Blaise Pascal composed a triangular array in which the number in each cell is the sum of the two directly above it:

In 1915, Polish mathematician Waclaw Sierpinski described an equilateral triangle in which the central fourth is removed and the same procedure is applied to all the succeeding smaller triangles. Perplexingly, the resulting structure has zero area:

Interestingly, if the odd numbers in Pascal’s triangle are shaded, they produce an approximation to Sierpinski’s triangle:

And as this triangle grows toward infinity, it becomes Sierpinski’s triangle — an arrangement of numbers that takes the shape of a geometrical object.

Please support Futility Closet on Patreon!

15 Aug 14:30

Success Academy Posted Its Latest Test Scores. The Results Are Astounding.

by Jim Epstein

Success AcademyNew York released its annual test scores this week, and Success Academy, the city's rapidly expanding charter school network, posted remarkable results. Again.

Success Academy schools did well in English—68 percent of students were proficient, compared with 30 percent in the city over all—but in math, the scores were astonishing. Ninety-three percent of Success Academy test-takers were proficient in math, compared with 35 percent citywide.

To put that into perspective, of the 1,282 public schools tested, just 12[*] were part of the Success Academy network, or 1 percent of the total. Yet 5 out of the 10 schools that scored highest in math were part of the Success Academy network. Of the 20 schools that did best in math, 9 were part of the Success Academy network. All twelve schools in the network were ranked in the top 40 for math. Results of this sort were unheard of before Success Academy arrived on the scene.

It's clear that Success Academy trounces the vast majority of public schools, but the rankings appear to show it dominating all but the very best. Are Success schools also markedly better than the other schools in the top five percent in New York City?

They are.

I asked statistician Aaron Brown to take a look at the data. He pointed out that a problem with the rankings is that "the chosen metric is so close to 100 percent for top schools that a big difference in ranking can represent a small difference in kids." So it could be that the quality of the education is really no better at Success Academy than at the other top schools.

To clarify what these results really mean, Brown crunched the numbers by putting all the Success Academy students, plus all the kids who go to the top five percent of other schools, in one pot. Then he took a random sample of 3,065 kids to see how they did compared to the 3,065 kids from Success Academy. This exercise is designed to answer the question: What if those Success Academy kids had been distributed among all of the top schools in the city? Would they have done better or worse in math?

Brown found that they would have performed significantly worse: 310 fewer kids would have gotten a level 4 on the exam, the top score. And 203 more kids would have received a 1 or a 2, which are considered to be failing grades. That would have been a tremendous waste of potential.

Of course, this assumes that all of these schools are drawing from the same pool. That's difficult to determine with any certainty, but we know that Success Academy students, who are selected through a random lottery, tend to come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Seventy-seven percent of its students qualify for free or reduced school lunch. Ninety-two percent of test takers were black or Hispanic.

Success AcademyIt's fun to thumb through the data and see how Success schools trounced their counterparts in wealthy zip codes.

Two-bedroom apartments near Brooklyn's P.S. 321 tend to sell for more than a million dollars, in part because parents are desperate to get their kids into the famed Park Slope elementary school. At P.S. 321, 82 percent of test takes were proficient in math this year. That's respectable—56th highest in the city—but well below all 12 Success Academy schools.

At P.S. 87, which is P.S. 321's counterpart on Manhattan's Upper West Side (except the kids are even richer), 80 percent of students were proficient in math. That earned the school 67th place citywide, or well below every Success Academy school.

In an email, Brown noted selection bias might still partially explain Success' scores:

Any school will look good if its students are the brightest poor kids with the most parental support, and even affluent neighborhoods have some challenging kids and problematic parent situations. Still the overwhelming statistical performance of Success Academies versus even the best other New York public schools sets a high hurdle for anyone who wants to attribute the results to selection bias or test defects.

Let's not forget that when Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) was running for office, he told a teachers-union crowd that Success Academy's founder and CEO, Eva Moskowitz, must "stop being tolerated, enabled, supported.”

Last year, I profiled Renee Lopez, a struggling student who was slipping through the cracks at a traditional public school. Then she won a coveted spot at Success Academy and got the help she needed.

For more on Success Academy's political fight with the mayor and the teachers union, watch Reason TV's profile of Eva Moskowitz, which I put together with Nick Gillespie:

[*] There are 32 schools in the Success Academy network, but the state combined 7 middle schools with their accompanying elementary schools in its data reporting. Twelve more schools haven't yet reached grade level to participate in the testing, and one school is a high school, which means students there take a different set of tests.

14 Aug 04:01

Federal Court Puts Limits on Cellphone Tracking

by Steven Greenhut

The GOP debate Thursday set viewership records for an obvious reason: One never knows what Donald Trump, the loose-lipped real-estate mogul might say. But many analysts believe the most significant exchange was when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul sparred over warrantless searches by the National Security Agency.

Christie argued for giving officials the "tools" to collect data. Paul shot back: "You get a warrant." The issue centers on the Fourth Amendment, which offers the public protection against "unreasonable searches and seizures." The matter goes far deeper than presidential politics, as such cases wind their way through the courts.

Neither candidate mentioned a relevant federal ruling late last month in the U.S. District Court covering Northern California. Officials sought the right to track suspects' Cell Site Location Information, or CSLI, for 60 days without gaining a warrant. Such location information lets law enforcement track the whereabouts of our cell phones in relation to cell towers.

According to the court, "(m)ost modern smart phones have applications that continually run in the background, sending and receiving data without a user having to interact with the cell phone." This gives investigators a vast amount of information about the people they are tracking.

In its amicus brief calling for the warrant requirement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California quoted from a 2010 federal ruling: "A person who knows all of another's travels can deduce whether he is a weekly churchgoer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups".

Unfortunately, case law over this particular issue of cell phone tracking has been less than clear. Government officials note the wireless companies include disclaimers stating that they might turn over such data to the government, which they believe to be sufficient warning to the public.

The U.S. Supreme Court has dealt with cell phones and privacy, but the CSLI tracking information is a newer matter. Nevertheless, Judge Lucy Koh recounted various federal rulings and found some basic principles apply: Notably, "the expectation of privacy is at its pinnacle when government surveillance intrudes on the home"; long-term surveillance efforts undermine privacy; and cell phones aren't just phones — they "can reveal a wealth of private information about an individual."

The government argued the public can avoid their surveillance by not using a cell phone. But Koh rejected that argument: "Considering the ubiquity of cell phones, and the important role they play in today's world, it is untenable to force individuals to disconnect from society just so they can avoid having their movements subsequently tracked by the government."

She ruled that the government needs a warrant — and not just a court approval, which is based on lower standards of proof. Warrants require probable cause.

In a previous California high-court case, the state's justices had ruled that a cell phone was not fundamentally different from a cigarette pack in granting police officers unlimited power to search them. That was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 9-0 decision. Obviously, there's a huge difference between searching a cigarette pack for hidden drugs and tapping into all of a person's contacts and databases in a modern cell phone.

Fortunately, as technology advances so too are courts' — and legislatures' — understanding of these matters. "Statutory laws need to be updated for the modern world," said ACLU attorney Nicole Ozer, because "law enforcement is taking advantage of these outdated laws to get information."

When the Legislature returns from session, it will revisit the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (SB 178), which is moving forward on a bipartisan basis. It sets consistent standards for the government's access of all electronic communications. It specifically addresses the CSLI matter, and would require police agencies to obtain a warrant before tracking Californians' whereabouts via their cell phones.

So clearly the courts and laws are continuing to address the issue, with Koh's ruling the latest example that the Paul position might be winning the day.

14 Aug 13:32

What It Takes for a Judge to Reject a Dog-Authorized Cash Seizure

by Jacob Sullum

Let me start by saying I do not know what Straughn Gorman was doing with $167,070 in cash stashed throughout his motor home, including bundles in the freezer and the microwave. Maybe he really was planning to buy marijuana with it in California, as the cops suspected. But the way they managed to take his money starkly illustrates how law enforcement agencies can conspire to evade constitutional limits with the help of canine accomplices. The forfeiture case, which is documented by dashcam video of two coordinated traffic stops, also shows there still are some limits on cops' license to steal, as long as judges are willing to enforce them.

On the morning of January 23, 2013, Gorman was driving west on Interstate 80 in Nevada when he was pulled over by Trooper Greg Monroe, ostensibly because he was driving too slowly in the left lane. Instead of simply issuing Gorman a ticket or warning and sending him on his way, Monroe asked him about his occupation and destination. Gorman said he worked for a paddle board company on Maui and was on his way to visit his girlfriend in Sacramento. He added that he was thinking about moving to California. Monroe thought those answers were suspicious, so in addition to doing a record check he called for a drug-sniffing dog, but there were no available K-9 units in the vicinity.

Monroe returned to Gorman and told him he was free to go but continued to grill him, asking about his income. Gorman declined to talk about his finances. Monroe asked if there was anything illegal in the motor home and if he was carrying large amounts of cash. Gorman said he had about $2,000. "Do you mind if we search the vehicle?" Monroe asked. "I do mind, yes," Gorman replied. At that point, about 23 minutes after the stop, Monroe reiterated that Gorman was free to go and walked back to his patrol car, saying aloud to himself on the way back, "He's carrying money."

Monroe knew he did not have probable cause to search the motor home, but he was not about to let the Fourth Amendment stop him from taking advantage of a profitable opportunity. He called Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP) dispatch to pass along his suspicions and explain that a dog would be needed to justify a search of Gorman's potentially money-laden vehicle. NHP then contacted Elko County Sheriff's Deputy Doug Fisher to suggest that he and his drug-detecting dog might want to stop Gorman further down the road. Fisher also spoke directly with Monroe, who gave him Gorman's name and license plate number, described the traffic stop, and told him he had to let the motor home go because Gorman would not consent to a search and no drug dogs were available. 

Fisher lay in wait for Gorman about 45 miles west of the first traffic stop and pulled him over again 40 minutes after Monroe let him go, ostensibly because a curtain was obstructing the driver's side window. Gorman complained that he had just been pulled over for 20 to 30 minutes and resisted answering Fisher's questions, saying, "I've been asked a lot of other questions at the other place....Am I getting a ticket? Am I detained?" Fisher said he was being detained for the moment because a record check had no been completed yet. In the meantime, he wondered, would Gorman mind if he walked his dog around the vehicle? "I have opposition, if that means anything," he said. It didn't, because the Supreme Court has said police do not need permission or any special justification to walk a dog around a vehicle during a traffic stop.

Fisher reported that his dog sat down and stared at the motor home's back right compartment, which he described as a clear alert signal. Informed that he would be free to go once his record check was complete but that the motor home would have to stay because the dog had alerted to it, Gorman expressed disbelief. "Did you make him alert?" he asked. "No," Fisher replied. "I did not make him alert." Gorman volunteered to open the back rear compartment, which he said contained "charcoal and stuff like that." He suggested that Fisher "look in it, because there's no drugs." Fisher responded that the dog's alert, regardless of where it happened, gave him probable cause to search the entire motor home.

After Fisher obtained a warrant by phone from a local justice of the peace, he searched the vehicle with help from the dog and another officer. They seized the money, Gorman's laptop, and the motor home, which belongs to his brother. Later the laptop and the motor home were returned, but the Justice Department agreed to adopt the forfeiture of the money, an arrangement under which the feds generally keep 20 percent of the proceeds and leave 80 percent for the local agencies that initiated the seizure.

Monroe and Fisher took full advantage of Supreme Court rulings allowing pretextual traffic stops, routine use of drug-sniffing canines, and dog-authorized searches. But it seems they overlooked what turned out to be an important sentence in Illinois v. Caballes, the 2005 decision in which the Court said cops may deploy dogs at will during traffic stops. "A seizure that is justified solely by the interest in issuing a warning ticket to the driver," the Court warned, "can become unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete that mission." Last April the Court elaborated on that principle in Rodriguez v. U.S., finding that an eight-minute delay for the purpose of facilitating a canine inspection violated the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable seizures. That decision proved to be Monroe and Fisher's undoing.

In a June 12 decision, U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks cited Rodriguez in rejecting the seizure of Gorman's money, saying his detention, which spanned two separate stops, had been unreasonably delayed so that the cops could  find and take the cash. The first stop took 23 minutes, and the dog sniff happened 12 minutes into the second stop. All together, Hicks said, "Gorman was detained for a total of approximately thirty-five minutes without convincing independent reasonable suspicion—before the officers conducted a canine sniff of the motor home and obtained probable cause for the search." He noted that Fisher knew Monroe had already conducted record checks on Gorman but "conducted additional redundant checks in order to prolong the stop to allow for a canine sniff."

Hicks also questioned the breadth of the search, saying "the Court is not convinced that the dog’s positive alert to the compartment gave the officers probable cause to search the entire motor home." He noted that "the officers did not even begin their search of the motor home with the compartment" but instead went directly to the main cabin. Because the unreasonable delay was sufficient reason to throw out the seizure and order the return of Gorman's money, Hicks did not resolve this issue.

Had he not been constrained by the Supreme Court's excessive faith in police dogs and their handlers, Hicks might also have wondered whether the dog's purported alert provided probable cause for anything. Despite the alleged alert, no drugs were found in the compartment that supposedly attracted the dog's attention or anywhere else in the motor home. So what exactly triggered the purported alert? The smell of money? More to the point, how could Monroe and Fisher be confident that a drug-detecting dog would alert to a motor home that they suspected was carrying cash but not drugs?

It's almost as if a dog's alert, which (as Gorman suggested) can easily be invented or triggered by a handler's deliberate or subconscious cues, is nothing but a bullshit excuse for a search that cops are already determined to perform. My former colleague Radley Balko recently noted a federal appeals court case featuring a dog that alerted to 93 percent of the cars it examined. That is not the sophisticated screening device described by the Supreme Court. That is "basically a probable cause generator," as Balko put it. The appeals court, by the way, thought the dog was good enough for government work, although it was wrong four times out of 10 even when examining cars preselected by suspicious cops.

Hicks did not merely throw out the seizure of Gorman's money and question (however tentatively) the magical legal powers of dogs. He also rebuked the federal prosecutors who adopted the forfeiture for trying to conceal the conspiracy between Monroe and Fisher:

The Court is disappointed that the United States would aggressively pursue this forfeiture action while all of its moving documents for summary judgment and supporting affidavits contained material omissions concerning the history leading to the traffic stop and canine sniff at issue. The government’s Motion for Summary Judgment, with supporting affidavits from Deputy Fisher and the Assistant United States Attorney, made no disclosure of anything which would have suggested that Fisher's stop was a follow-up on Monroe's stop and was based upon suspicion of a drug-related offense....

The government's nondisclosure of the information regarding Monroe's initial stop is troublesome for many reasons, but certainly because the relationship between the two stops is so obviously relevant to the legal issues before the Court....

The government has a duty of candor and fair disclosure to the Court. The Court expects and relies upon the United States Attorney's Office to be candid and forthcoming with material information uniquely held only in possession of the government and clearly relevant to central issues before the Court. That did not occur here.

Hicks indicated that Gorman, having successfully challenged the forfeiture, was entitled to have the government cover his legal expenses. According to his lawyer, they total $153,000—almost as much as the amount of money seized from the motor home. That gives you an idea of why so many forfeiture victims give up rather than challenge seizures in court. Unsurprisingly, federal prosecutors do not want to pay Gorman's legal fees, and this week they announced that they plan to appeal Hicks' rejection of the seizure as well.

[Thanks to Chris Reade for the tip.]

14 Aug 12:18

Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)


… is from page 192 of Karl Popper’s 1969 paper “A Pluralist Approach to the Philosophy of History,” which is a chapter in the 1969 collection Roads to Freedom: Essays in Honour of Friedrich A. von Hayek (Erich Streissler, Gottfried Haberler, Friedrich A. Lutz, and Fritz Machlup, eds.):

[G]etting educated is getting an inkling of the immensity of our ignorance.

13 Aug 20:10

The School Choice Myth That Just Won't Die

by Jason Bedrick

The myth that there’s no evidence that school choice works has more lives than Dracula. Worse, it’s often repeated by people who should know better, like the education wonks at Third Way or the ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate education committee. In a particularly egregious recent example, a professor of educational leadership and the dean of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education wrote an op-ed repeating the “no evidence” canard, among others:

The committee also expands the statewide voucher program. There is no evidence privatization [sic] results in better outcomes for kids. The result will be to pay the tuition for students who currently attend private school and who will continue to attend private school—their tuition will become the taxpayers’ bill rather than a private one. Additionally, the funds for the expansion would siphon an estimated $48 million away from public schools, decreasing the amount of money available for each and every school district in the state.

It is astounding that a professor and a dean at a school of education in Wisconsin would be unfamiliar with the research on the Milwaukee voucher program, never mind the numerous gold standard studies on school choice programs elsewhere. Fortunately, Professor James Shuls of the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Martin Lueken of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty set the record straight:

…the Wisconsin Legislature commissioned a comprehensive five-year study by researchers at the University of Arkansas. The research team matched and compared children at private schools in the choice program to similar students at Milwaukee Public Schools. The study concluded that children in Milwaukee who used vouchers were more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in four-year colleges and persist in college.

These findings are very similar to those of “gold-standard” studies done nationwide. Among 13 peer-reviewed studies on voucher programs that use research methods based on random assignment, all but one study concluded that vouchers benefit students (the other was unable to detect an impact). In addition, recent work by a Harvard economist demonstrates that giving low-income families better educational options can help improve social mobility for children.

Just a year and a half ago–in response to yet another school choice denier who should know better–the coauthors of the Milwaukee study clarified that their research found school choice produced “a modest but clearly positive effect on student outcomes.”

First, students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice (“voucher”) Program graduated from high school and both enrolled and persisted in four-year colleges at rates that were four to seven percentage points higher than a carefully matched set of students in Milwaukee Public Schools. Using the most conservative 4% voucher advantage from our study, that means that the 801 students in ninth grade in the voucher program in 2006 included 32 extra graduates who wouldn’t have completed high school and gone to college if they had instead been required to attend MPS.

Second, the addition of a high-stakes accountability testing requirement to the voucher program in 2010 resulted in a solid increase in voucher student test scores, leaving the voucher students with significantly higher achievement gains in reading than their matched MPS peers.

Moreover, as Shuls and Lueken note, “private schools in the choice program obtain these results when the government funding for a voucher is 60 percent less than what public schools receive.”

The final two claims by the UW-Madison faculty–that the voucher program benefits students who would attend private school anyway and siphons money from the district school system–also fail to withstand scrutiny. A conservative analysis of the Milwaukee voucher program by Prof. Robert Costrell of the University of Arkansas found that “about 10 percent of low-income voucher users would have attended private school anyway.” The 2009 study also found that the voucher program produced significant savings to the state taxpayers, as shown in the figure below:

Taxpayer Savings from Milwaukee Voucher Program

Chart by Robert M. Costrell.

A Friedman Foundation study released last year found that the Milwaukee voucher program saved the state more than $238 million since its inception in 1990. Moreover, as the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty notes in a recent report, Wisconsin gives a “school choice bonus” to district schools that lose students to the voucher program. Although a district’s total revenue decreases when a student leaves (along with the variable costs associated with that student), the “school districts will actually have more revenue per pupil because the district can continue to count students it no longer educates for equalization aid and revenue limit purposes.”

Sadly, opponents of school choice are likely to continue resurrecting the “no evidence” canard. But when they do, Van Helsings like Shuls and Lueken will be there to put a stake in its heart.

14 Aug 00:00

4gifs: [unedited / video]

13 Aug 16:30

Sesame Street Strikes a Deal with HBO

by Jesse Walker

If PBS doesn't do it, who wi— oh:

Like so many HBO shows, the new Sesame Street will center around a charismatic male lead who is sometimes prone to violent outbursts.Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit group behind the children's television program, has struck a deal with HBO, the premium cable network, that will bring the next five seasons of "Sesame Street" to HBO and its streaming outlets starting this fall.

The partnership will allow Sesame Workshop to significantly increase its production of "Sesame Street" episodes and other new programming. The group will produce 35 new "Sesame Street" episodes a year, up from the 18 it produces now....

Sesame's partnership with HBO comes at a critical time for the children's television group. Historically, less than 10 percent of the funding for "Sesame Street" episodes came from PBS, with the rest financed through licensing revenue, such as DVD sales. Sesame's business has struggled in recent years because of the rapid rise of streaming and on-demand viewing and the sharp decline in licensing income. About two-thirds of children now watch "Sesame Street" on demand and do not tune in to PBS to watch the show.

PBS was not able to make up the difference, so Sesame was forced to cut back on the number of episodes it produced and the creation of other new material.

They looked into a partnership with BBC America, but the channel insisted that the show change its format.That's Emily Steel writing in The New York Times. The HBO episodes will air on PBS later in the year, so they can still be seen by people who can't afford HBO. (This isn't the cable channel's first excursion into Muppetdom, by the way: Back in the '80s, it was the American home of Fraggle Rock.)

Bonus link #1: Here's a piece I wrote to mark Sesame Street's 40th birthday, focusing on the ways the show emerged from "a full-blown collaboration between commercial showmen and social engineers." Among other things, I pointed out that "Public broadcasters today react to any threat to their funding by raising the possibility that Sesame Street would be forced to fend for itself. But if there's anything on PBS that can cover its costs independently, it's Sesame Street."

Bonus link #2: Ah, but what about shows that don't feature beloved puppets? In this article I looked at three ways public TV and radio programs can support themselves without federal sponsorship. (I should also note the considerable amount of money PBS stations could make if they participate in the FCC's spectrum sale next year—a prospect that would take away some of their footholds on the traditional TV dial, but could give producers considerable resources with which to fund programming on other platforms.)

13 Aug 19:32

Yelp Doesn't Delete Negative Reviews Its Sponsors Don't Like -- It Merely Hides Them So They Won't Ever Be Viewed

by admin

Update:  This post may be unfair, as discussed here.  I am not fully convinced, though.

I won't repeat what I wrote before, but several months ago I wrote a long article about my suspicions that Yelp was using its review recommendation system to disappear reviews its corporate sponsors and their attorneys did not like.   My evidence was based on my actual experience writing a detailed, fact-based negative review of an insurer, only to have it disappear from the site and be left out of the insurer's overall score.

It took me a long time to find the review, along with dozens of others, in a purgatory of "not recommended" reviews reachable from a near invisible link that doesn't even look like a link.  I won't retype the whole post but my evidence was in part:

  • Yelp says it is sending reviews to not-recommended purgatory because they are of lower quality or have reviewers with less reviewing history on Yelp.  But a scan of the reviews in my case showed no such pattern.  Not-recommended reviews were at least as (and arguably more) detailed than recommended reviews, and there was no discernible difference in reviewer experience.  The not recommended reviews were also no less moderate, as there was immoderate language (and horrible grammar) in accepted reviews while there were calm and reasoned reviews that were rejected.
  • What the not-recommended reviews had in common was that they tended to be more negative on average than the recommended ones (which is hard to do because the recommended reviews average to about 1.5 stars)
  • Looking at several local independent restaurants, I saw no or few not-recommended reviews and pages and pages of recommended reviews, a ratio that was reversed for the major insurer which presumably has far more resources to intimidate or buy off Yelp.  For the insurer, there were two not-recommended reviews for every one recommended one.
  • I knew this insurer to be willing to litigate against bad reviews, since they have sued me for libel to remove my review.  Presumably, they would not hesitate to threaten Yelp as well.
  • Yelp already has a review quality system driven by upvoting by customers based on the usefulness of the review.  So why the need for an entirely parallel review-rating system unless that rating system was for an entirely different purpose than quality control.

Yelp got a lot of grief a while back accusing it of deleting reviews, so its CEO has pledged on multiple occasions that it doesn't do so.  I believe them.  Instead, it looks like Yelp disappears reviews in a way that the CEO can truthfully say they were not deleted, but they are for all intents and purposes invisible to the public.

Anyway, all this was spurred by the following trailer sent to me with this article from a reader.  Apparently a film called Billion Dollar Bully is being made about Yelp, and from the hints in the trailer it appears that they will be taking on many of the issues I listed above and frankly have only been able to guess at rather than prove.  Brava!

12 Aug 14:53

Letter to Editor PREDICTED COLORADO EPA SPILL One Week Before Catastrophe=> So EPA Could Secure Superfund Status

by CO2Insanity

h/t Remlaps

Letter to Editor PREDICTED COLORADO EPA SPILL One Week Before Catastrophe=> So EPA Could Secure Superfund Status. Typical Obama administration. If there isn’t a problem, create one so you can use it to get your way.