Posts Tagged ‘justice’

The justice is my penis

WHEREFORE, Captain Justice, Guardian of the Realm and Leader of the Resistance, primarily asks that the Court deny the State’s motion, as lacking legal basis.

It’s good that there are lawyers out there who appear to be having some fun. It’s not the only appropriate response to some of the more ridiculous aspects of their profession – a little more direct activism to unfuck the system would also be nice – but it’s still encouraging to see.

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Fuck the police

Yeah, I’m done with romance. Fuck this shit in the fucking neck.

A St. Paul, Minnesota family claims in a lawsuit that police officers who conducted a wrong-door raid on their home shot their dog, and then forced their three handcuffed children to sit near the dead pet while officers ransacked the home.

And when you read beyond the first sentence, it gets worse. They gave a girl a diabetic episode because they were too busy pointing their guns at her to let her take her medicine. You can die from those. Diabetic episodes, I mean. Also guns.

Fuck every single fucking thing about this. If you change “wrong-door raid” to “illegal home invasion” and “police officers” to “basically anything“, this instantly becomes one of the sickest crimes you’ve heard of in a long while. But because they’re police, and we need those brave boys in blue to conduct raids on the terrorists who live among us and foil their evil plans, events like these just become unfortunate blips on a landscape of protecting and serving.

These people had no right to enter that house. They had no right to forcibly put handcuffs on its occupants, threaten them with death, and murder their pet dog. Nobody ever has the right to do that to other people.

But some people want them to. Many people still think that our predominant attitude toward the police as an institution should be respect, deference, admiration. And what follows from that is that if they need to kick down your door while you’re asleep one day and fire guns in your home, well, it’s a small price to pay. Your house number kinda resembles that of someone who sounds Muslim and looks pretty scary. Your street name began with the same letter. It was an understandable mistake. They’re just trying to keep us safe.

The police force is no doubt full of individuals who deserve respect, and even admiration in some cases. A lot of them surely do try hard to do a difficult job, and succeed in keeping compassion and humility at the fore of their priorities. Police officers themselves I don’t necessarily have any complaint with.

But the official body known as the police deserves skepticism, scrutiny, suspicion, and very serious doubts as to its fitness for purpose.

They spent over an hour holding this family hostage and going through their stuff. If you forget that the “they” in that sentence were police ostensibly trying to keep us all safe from danger, we’re into lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key territory.

Fuck this.

(via Popehat)

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A recent poll reveals that “the austerity census has collapsed“: a majority of the British public apparently support a 75% top rate of income tax for those earning over £1 million.

Anyone who’s paid attention to the trend of my ravingly revolutionary political tendencies lately might be surprised to learn that I find this more frustrating than heartening.

Despite having very little to do with the dreaded spectre of socialism in particular, this idea of the super-rich being hit with correspondingly super-high tax rates is anathema to most capitalists, and the right-wing objections are predictable and well understood. It discourages the “job creators” from going about their job-creating business. It punishes success. It drives successfully industrious people out of the country. It decreases tax revenue by damaging motivation and pushing down productivity. It hurts the economy.

As to whether this is empirically true, I’ve seen arguments backed up by data and graphs that go both ways, and I’m not going to ferret out the complex truth of it here. What interests me is the way the common leftist response misses an important point.

The focus on low- and middle-income households, who are being far more troublingly squeezed even by the lower tax rates than those millionaires and billionaires, is appropriate and important. But even if the financial “hardships” of the 1% don’t exactly tug on many heart-strings, neither am I in this for retribution. If we’re going to increase the tax rate above a certain income level, it shouldn’t be because we want to punish anyone; it should be because it makes economic sense.

If these high tax rates really do demotivate the super-rich to stay in the country and/or keep doing any useful work (which many of them seem to claim is the case), this probably isn’t just down to simple petulance which needs to be beaten out of them. The salaries earned by the richest executives at the biggest companies really are obscenely huge, and it’s bizarre to think that these are jobs which nobody competent would ever be willing to do for any sum so paltry as, say, a mere £1 million a year. But it’s not just about earning a perfectly reasonable living wage. Having what seems like money that’s rightfully yours be taxed away like that, hurts.

It’s a very different experience (I imagine) to be paid £1 million for doing a job, than to be paid £4 million and then have to give £3 million away to the government. We’re a loss-averse species, for one thing, and it’s a very human trait to let the immensity of our windfall be swamped by the fact that it’s only a quarter of what we really should have had. Never mind that we’re being offered orders of magnitude more financial security than most people on the planet will ever have a chance at. We’re predictably irrational.

So it’s really not at all sociopathic for the super-rich to be a bit miffed by this idea. They earned their millions and billions of dollars legitimately, through their hard work and valuable contribution to the economy, after all. The government wasn’t involved in that, so why should all this money be forcibly taken away from them now to help people who haven’t bothered to be so entrepreneurial?

This, of course – the idea that profits are what the market does, and taxes are how government unrelatedly interferes – is where everyone is completely insane.

The idea that taxation is the point at which the government abruptly steps in and sticks its nose into what had been purely private business between free marketeers up to that point is absurd. The government is essential in supporting a framework of laws which make a massive agglomeration of wealth and capital and power possible in the first place. And you can bet it’s going to be a capitalist-friendly framework, given who’s got the assets to lobby and offer donations to politicians in order to sway their opinions. A framework including all sorts of clever off-shore schemes and work-arounds not easily available to the masses. To pick one of the more obviously egregious examples, when Vodafone owed up to £7 billion in taxes, HMRC simply decided to let them off.

More commonly, though, the problem isn’t that small pockets of businessmen aren’t handing over sufficiently huge sums of their money to the state, but that they’ve seized hold of so much in the first place. Any income that socialists might want to redistribute has already been distributed in some way they presumably deem unjust – but then why was it distributed that way in the first place?

That’s where we should be looking to change things. The system which allows some individuals to go so far above and beyond the reasonable limits of success, that they get to claim dictatorship over land and capital and just keep getting richer off the labour of others. The system which goes so far beyond simply rewarding hard work and innovation, that making 100 million dollars into 110 million is inevitable.

If the majority of the British public got their way, our government would continue enforcing a system of rules by which some individuals and small groups accrue immense wealth… and then take most of it away from them.

Who would get rich from this particular policy? The government.

Do you like the government and want to see them get richer and more powerful, majority of the British public?

I thought not.

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An interesting moment of clarity from QRG [Edit: It’s actually a guest post] at Graunwatch:

You’ve got nothing to worry about, son. I’d suggest going out on a rampage with the boys, getting on the booze and smashing anything that moves. Then, when some bird falls for you, you can turn the tables and break her heart. Of course, the other option is to cut your ex’s face, and then no one will want her.

I wouldn’t be above some impromptu castration, either. Last December German Helmut Seifert cut the knackers off the 57-year-old “boyfriend” of his 17-year-old daughter with a kitchen knife. That’s the way to do it, sir: grasp the issue at its root. Don’t telephone the man and sound him out. Just saw off his nuts. Sure as eggs is eggs, he won’t do it again, will he? See. Direct action. It works (almost) every time.”

Both of these atrocious, inhumane sentiments are quoted from the Guardian, but in entirely different contexts.

The first is an extract from an advice column by Danny Dyer, which the Guardian were reporting on after its appearance in Zoo magazine gained widespread criticism. (I blogged about this two years ago, almost to the day. It’s interesting, incidentally, to note the way my style of public engagement has changed since then – perhaps most notably in my approach to calling people cunts and telling them to fuck off.)

The second is from a straight-forward and apparently wholly irony-free column written by arch-feminist Bidisha, for which she was presumably paid by the Guardian and which is presented by them without comment.

I think Graunwatch over-simplifies the situation by suggesting that the Guardian’s varied coverage of these two opinions is the only difference between them. It’s an important difference, but the distinctions which render the one opinion more acceptable than the other – in at least some sub-editors’ eyes – are also worth examining. The reasons for the distinction are more interesting and complicated than simply a lefty broadsheet being fashionably sexist against men.

The victims of the proposed punishments are, respectively, a young woman who was in a relationship which ended some months ago (at whose instigation remains ambiguous), and a middle-aged man who was “involved with” a teenage girl. (Whether or not the relationship was sexual is also unclear, and Bidisha doesn’t seem too concerned either way; it at least seems to have been consensual.)

The notion that this latter victim deserves, not just retribution, but sexually violent retribution in particular, is, firstly, profoundly repugnant; but it also aligns neatly with the “women as victims” narrative common to the left. I realise that’s a dangerous phrase to use without clarification: it’s certainly true that some crimes exist in which the a significant majority of victims are female, and a gender disparity like this should always be taken into account when considering how to deal with these sorts of crimes. But a generalisation that women are “victims” are men are “aggressors” as a matter of course simply doesn’t follow.

And yet, such a generalisation is the only thing which can really explain the glee with which some feminists imagine violently assaulting men, even before those men have provably done anything to any women that might merit it. The idea that there might be any complexity or nuance or humanity to the above tale of castration isn’t even considered. He was some old perv leching after a teenage girl. Just saw his nuts off. Job done.

Another important difference is that, as best I can make out, Bidisha’s comments were the more sincere. Dyer (or whoever wrote that column) was, I suspect, not genuinely suggesting that the letter-writer to whom he was responding should take the specific violent action described. He was making a joke – a bad, tasteless, unfair joke, a joke which insensitively targets women who’ve suffered violence, a joke without even humour as a redeeming quality – but a joke all the same. Bidisha appears to be genuinely in favour of the “medieval justice” she writes about. There’s no detectable hint that she’s affected an extremist position for the purposes of lampooning it, in the way that more gifted satirists tend to make just obvious enough without overplaying it. I can only take her at her indefensible word.

But the similarities between the two pieces are also striking. In particular, they both assume that there’s no need to treat some segment of the population with any particular humanity or dignity, and that’s why what they’re saying is basically fine. With Dyer, that demographic was women, and I think he was fairly criticised for being callous. I suspect “women” didn’t occupy quite the same mental space as “people” for him, and so being blasé about violence against them went unremarked upon in his thought process.

In Bidisha’s case, on the other hand, that demographic is men – but not for the same reasons. She’s not callous about men because they’re not quite people, but because men are fine. They can take it. They’re all homogeneously lumped together in one big privileged group, full of people who never have to worry about any gender issues, and so don’t merit any consideration in matters like this. They’re entirely distinct from women, who are in a separate group of beleaguered victims. Dismembering men with a knife might be an appropriate way to bring them down a peg or two.

It’s dangerous, dehumanising nonsense in either case. Let’s try to remember that getting “revenge” on an entire gender, either because you’ve identified them as the “other” and they need to be put in their place, or because some of them might seem to be abusing their privilege, makes no more sense than any other form of sexism or racism ever has.

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One legal activist is considering the possibility of an action that might “bring the whole [justice] system to a halt” in America.

That action? Organising people to claim their constitutional rights.

At the moment, most people who are charged with a crime will waive their right to a trial. They’re commonly advised that a full trial could lead them to face serious penalties, whereas agreeing a guilty plea beforehand and getting it all sorted out quickly and efficiently would be better for everyone.

If they took the rights they were entitled to, there’s no way the system could cope. But they’re pressured to plea out, and sometimes they have little choice.

Erma Faye Stewart pleaded guilty, having been told that it was the only way she’d be able to look after her children. As it turns out, if she’d gone to court, the case against her would have been dismissed. But that’s no comfort now that she’s been evicted from her home, made ineligible for food stamps, lumped with court costs and probation fees, and given a permanent criminal record.

I already told them, I’m having a hard time, buying my son medicine. I have to have his medicine for his asthma.

Her son needs medicine for his asthma. Goddammit, if you wrote a character in a movie as heart-wrenching as this woman, people would be vomiting into their popcorn at how schmaltzy and contrived it was. Why the fuck are we not better at helping people?

The fact that the US has a serious incarceration problem is no secret. The idea that the system could be so easily crashed just highlights how broken it already is.

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Defense lawyers are not much loved – at least, the expensive kind who are presumed to always be getting their guilty-as-hell but rich clients off on some technicality. And this is certainly worth being watchful of, if justice is something which we think shouldn’t be bought, must be available to all, and should give everyone an equal chance.

But what about prosecutors? Lack of oversight there is also something that opens up frightening possibilities for abuse and injustice, and is something that many in the legal profession are seriously concerned about.

The ACLU is especially concerned about this, highlighting the hundreds of cases where courts have found prosecutorial misconduct (707 instances in California in a thirteen-year period), and the almost insignificant rate of countermeasures taken (a total of six prosecutors disciplined during that time). Multiple times, people have ended up on death row in cases where, for instance, prosecutors withheld evidence that might have overturned a guilty verdict.

Right now, the system seems designed to motivate many of its participants – defense lawyers, prosecutors, etc. – toward the goal of “make sure our side wins”, instead of “learn as much about the truth as possible” or “try to ensure the greatest amount of justice done”. As it is, why wouldn’t people hide evidence that would hurt the case they’ve been trying to make, or allow it to get “lost”? When everyone’s taking sides and simply trying to win, and there are no significant recriminations for breaking some of these rules, what reason would anyone find to play fair?

Of course, there’s one very simple step we could implement which would fix all these problems and make everything wonderful, and I’ll tell you what that is right now. All we have to do OH SHIT A TIGER RUN




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Continued from yesterday’s Part 1, here.

The issue becomes even stickier when you consider mental health issues, and the “insanity defense”. When is it unreasonable to hold someone accountable for their actions if they are not mentally stable?

A recent edition of stats-nerdery programme More Or Less on Radio 4 talked about a man who began making sexual advances to his eleven-year-old stepdaughter. The man was later discovered to be suffering from a brain tumour. He’d never displayed any such behaviour previously, and it stopped immediately after the tumour was surgically removed. Both the tumour and the inappropriate behaviour began to return over time, and it was clear that his personality and identity were being profoundly affected by this unnatural growth intruding on his grey matter.

For someone with a severe medical condition, it seems that the most important treatment offered or imposed may also be medical, rather than simply punitive. But we don’t even need to delve particularly far into the complex science of mind and consciousness to question whether any kind of punishment or criminal justice is warranted in a case like this.

We are our brains, after all, and so there can be no obvious cut-off point at which we’re no longer personally responsible for our actions. If a brain tumour can put sufficient distance between our actions and our “selves” that we can be absolved of guilt, then what about a minor head injury or birth defect? What about mental trauma from childhood abuse, or any other psychological troubles that might induce you to behave irrationally? There’s no easy answer as to when it becomes somebody’s “fault”, even (I suspect) in principle.

But we can still come to useful conclusions about criminal justice without getting bogged down in these difficulties. While we might find child abuse unambiguously unacceptable, can it possibly help anyone, in any way, to lock the perpetrator up in jail, in the brain tumour scenario described above?

It’s not like he needs to be deterred from doing anything terrible ever again. When he doesn’t have an abnormal brain condition, he’s shown no inclination for such acts, and when he does, his inhibitions are so biologically affected that any psychological deterrent will be worthless. And it can hardly be said that we’re “sending a message” that other potential child abusers don’t need to worry about being caught; a brain tumour is something we can check, after all, and there are still systems of punishment in place for those whose behaviours can’t be so easily corrected.

The possibility of the tumour recurring is of concern. The extent to which we’d be justified in detaining someone who might someday develop a medical condition that could lead them to unacceptable behaviour is an important question, and one largely informed by the current state of our medical science.

But this is a real scenario, and it really shakes the foundation of any punitive deterrent-based system of justice. It’s entirely possible that somebody could commit a horrible crime, and yet the response that would accomplish the most good – fewest children molested in future, smallest reduction in individual freedoms, etc. – is not to punish them at all.

If that’s the case, there are staggering numbers of non-violent and casual drug offenders whose prison sentences may urgently merit reconsideration. And that’s just a start.

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There’s very little about any modern system of criminal justice which isn’t controversial. Even cautiously suggesting something like “Crime is bad and it would be good if there were less of it” raises questions about what should constitute a crime, and how good a job the current state of our laws is doing at representing the things we consider socially unacceptable.

One way to reduce crime, as well as to stop people from doing unquestionably criminal things, is to stop labelling certain things people do as “criminal”. In the case of, say, murder, the latter option isn’t really practical; on the other hand, homosexuality and blasphemy have both been considered crimes deserving of harsh punishment in the past, but are widely agreed to be acceptable today.

But even when it comes to acts that we all agree cannot be socially condoned, there are major disagreements in how to respond.

One primitive view of what our criminal justice system is for is that it’s for punishing bad people. A slightly more sophisticated approach might suggest that it’s for punishing people for doing bad things. But if this is really our deepest goal, then the criminal justice system’s implicit intent, regardless of its motivations, is to make things worse.

You stole someone’s wallet? We’re going to steal several years of your freedom. Same if you violently attack someone in the street. If you go far enough, we might even kill you. We’re also doing bad things, but only to people who deserve it, because of the bad things they did.

Obviously this isn’t how we want to see ourselves. We’re acting as noble moral arbiters, stamping out evil in others where we find it. We’re making the world better.

So, maybe the criminal justice system should in fact be for minimising the number of bad things that people do.

You can see why punishing bad people seems to follow from here. It’s an intuitively obvious way of preventing them from doing bad things. If someone does something bad and gets punished, they’ll want to avoid being punished again, so they won’t do so many bad things. It’s one of the most important things we can think of to teach our children. Fear of punishment will also stop many bad things from being done in the first place. Whether it’s flogging, incarceration, or death, people will presumably adapt their behaviour to make sure it doesn’t happen to them.

But just because we’ve had one obvious idea, and it seems to have some merit, that’s no reason to just stop thinking. Are there other things we could do besides punishing criminal acts, which would reduce the amount of bad things people do?

It’s widely accepted that there are. Some of them are pretty far outside the box. But if the only reason we want to punish people is to reduce crime, then we have to consider other things that might also reduce crime.

It’s possible, I suppose, that we have some other reason for wanting to punish people who commit crimes. Maybe it’s fun for us, or we just can’t stand the idea of people who do bad things not suffering any vengeance for it. But that doesn’t sound like something we’d want to accept. We’d be kidding ourselves that our motives were in any way noble and good, if that were the case. We’re not sadists. We only want to punish people when there’s a useful purpose to it.

This is something that’s often lost sight of. Whenever those who make or enforce the law talk about crackdowns or zero-tolerance policies, against criminal behaviour that’s out of control, the justifications are expected to be self-evident. But the leap of logic leaves an important gap. These harsher policies against crime depend on the idea that resolutely cracking down will reduce the amount of crime.

Is that true?

Well, a lot of the time, it seems like you’re not even supposed to ask the question. The way politicians often talk about it, we’re encouraged to make a direct link from our abhorrence of a crime to a demand for harsher retribution, and skip over the question of whether anything will actually be improved by such a policy. In many cases, it evidently won’t be.

Put aside any kneejerk reaction against the idea of criminals getting some kind of “free ride” for a moment. For certain crimes, the numbers clearly show that sending someone to jail makes them more likely to commit more crimes in the future when compared against other options. There are things that we know work better than jail for some offenders.

I’m sure a lot of people who insist on “no free ride” for criminal offenders are acting with society’s best interests at heart. But the fact is, a lot of the policies intended to make sure criminals don’t get a free ride do exactly the opposite of helping.

So, what’s more important: Satisfying our innate, emotional sense of what feels like enough punishment for wrong-doers, or actually reducing the amount of wrong that gets done, and looking at the data scientifically to figure out what will most effectively accomplish that?

To be continued tomorrow, once I’ve figured out exactly where I’m going with this.

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This story, as those like it tend to be, is really quite unsettling and scary.

It’s a story about a young girl being held captive in a room and accused of murdering her infant son.

It’s a story of harassment and ideological cruelty masquerading as an uncompromising search for truth.

It’s a story about a class of people with special privileges, which give them the right to lie, make false accusations and promises, hold children hostage, and evade anything more than a cursory reprimand if enough attention is brought on them that they’re found to have done anything wrong.

When people discuss the purpose and focus of skeptical activism, this is an area which I’ve long thought is undervalued. Real harm is occurring, which could be prevented by a better understanding of critical thinking and even a passing awareness of the available science.

People need to know more about false confessions. How they happen. How often they happen. What the police are doing to 16-year-olds to make them happen.

(via Ed Brayton)

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– For pretty much the same reasons as Hemant, I have significant reservations about the idea of a “National Atheist Party“. As in a political group, not, like, a godless shin-dig. I’d be more into the latter, though I’d probably still rather stay home.

– Hayley Stevens has launched a new podcast – or relaunched an old one with a makeover, kinda. Worth a look if you’re interested in paranormal research by someone competent and well informed.

– A 37-year-old woman in the States has been in jail for eight years. She’s charged with the murder of her daughter, but hasn’t had a trial, and apparently isn’t likely to. She’s suffering from mental health problems, and isn’t getting the help she needs, and nobody wants to just let her out of jail for fear of… something. Jesus. (via @radleybalko)

– And for all their faults, The Sun newspaper aren’t quite the lecherous filth that some recent assertions had suggested.

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