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Ubiquitous Crime is the New Normal

I was called to jury duty this week in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis. This happens every 2 years for me; this was my fifth or sixth time. Although I’ve sat through voir dire several times, I’ve never been chosen. This probably has to do with the fact that I’m a lawyer. Today’s case was a criminal case, and I come with special baggage, since I was a prosecutor for the state of Missouri for four years, after working for the state juvenile court two years before that. This is the kind of background a defense attorney would rather not deal with, so I was not chosen to hear the case.

In today’s proceeding, the defendant was charged with the sexual assault of several teenage girls, while using a gun. These were very serious charges, indeed.

The reason I’m writing this post is that I was overwhelmed with the amount of serious crime that has touched the lives of the 75 people on the jury panel. Ubiquitous crime appears to be the new normal.

We were only asked about two types of crimes, gun violence and sexual offenses, but it seemed as though most of the prospective jurors were victims or at least their close friends and families were victims of these types of crimes. About 20 jurors discussed their encounters with sexual predators. About half of the 20 approached the judge to discuss their experiences in private—you could tell from their faces that these were, and still are, emotionally wrenching experiences. Many of the jurors openly discussed their experiences in front of the full courtroom. The victims includes young and old, men and women. Two men on the panel stated that when they were children they had been sexually violated by babysitters. Several of the jurors had difficulty speaking of the incidents, because they were overcome by emotion. More than a few prospective jurors stated that they would be unable to sit in judgment of today’s defendant because of the continuing emotional impact based on their own history.

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July 21, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

Chomsky on Libertarianism

Noam Chomsky was recently asked to describe libertarianism:

What’s called libertarian in the United States, which is a special U. S. phenomenon, it doesn’t really exist anywhere else — a little bit in England — permits a very high level of authority and domination but in the hands of private power: so private power should be unleashed to do whatever it likes. The assumption is that by some kind of magic, concentrated private power will lead to a more free and just society. Actually that has been believed in the past. Adam Smith for example, one of his main arguments for markets was the claim that under conditions of perfect liberty, markets would lead to perfect equality. Well, we don’t have to talk about that! That kind of … libertarianism, in my view, in the current world, is just a call for some of the worst kinds of tyranny, namely unaccountable private tyranny. Anarchism is quite different from that. It calls for an elimination to tyranny, all kinds of tyranny. Including the kind of tyranny that’s internal to private power concentrations. So why should we prefer it? Well I think because freedom is better than subordination. It’s better to be free than to be a slave. It’s better to be able to make your own decisions than to have someone else make decisions and force you to observe them. I mean, I don’t think you really need an argument for that.

July 20, 2014 | By | Reply More

Project Censored: Top 25 Underreported Stories

A worthy list by Project Censored. We need to get the garbage off the “news” and start promoting these stories. It would give democracy a change.

July 20, 2014 | By | Reply More

First take: boudoir photography

IMG_9559 Andrea natural light lo res

Steve Grappe of PhotoG Studios offered a boudoir photography workshop Sunday. I attended and learned a lot of about lighting, shooting and posing. The venue was the Cheshire Inn, in STL. Obviously, this is a engaging genre, and it was equal parts fun and work.

The woman below, Andrea Fentem, is beautiful in a unique way – she told me that her mother is a blonde haired blue eyed Swede and her father is native American. This photo is one of my favorites so far, though I’m still culling and post-processing the batch. I’ll put others on my Flickr site soon. I can’t say enough about Steve, who is both an excellent teacher and a great guy to know. I’ve taken his classes on several subjects over the past year and a half, including low key lighting and post-processing. Before then, I didn’t even own a DSLR, so things can move fast in photography.

July 15, 2014 | By | Reply More

Rampant NSA recording of phone calls, not simply metadata

William Binney, one of the highest-level whistleblowers to ever emerge from the NSA:

“At least 80% of fibre-optic cables globally go via the US”, Binney said. “This is no accident and allows the US to view all communication coming in. At least 80% of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the US. The NSA lies about what it stores.”

This is an excerpt from the U.K. Guardian.

I’m still waiting to hear outrage from so-called liberal democrats. All I hear is murmurred “concern” and an unwillingness to speak out. In short, the Dems and the Repubs are aligned on this issue, and this really disappoints me.

July 14, 2014 | By | Reply More

People seek to date themselves.

From FiveThirtyEight Life

People are interested in people like themselves. Women on eHarmony favor men who are similar not just in obvious ways — age, attractiveness, education, income — but also in less apparent ones, such as creativity. Even when eHarmony includes a quirky data point — like how many pictures are included in a user’s profile — women are more likely to message men similar to themselves. In fact, of the 102 traits in the data set, there was not one for which women were more likely to contact men with opposite traits.

July 14, 2014 | By | Reply More

On marrying the wrong person

The Philosopher’s Mail offers some wisdom here:

All of us are crazy in very particular ways. We’re distinctively neurotic, unbalanced and immature, but don’t know quite the details because no one ever encourages us too hard to find them out. An urgent, primary task of any lover is therefore to get a handle on the specific ways in which they are mad. They have to get up to speed on their individual neuroses. They have to grasp where these have come from, what they make them do – and most importantly, what sort of people either provoke or assuage them. A good partnership is not so much one between two healthy people (there aren’t many of these on the planet), it’s one between two demented people who have had the skill or luck to find a non-threatening conscious accommodation between their relative insanities.

The very idea that we might not be too difficult as people should set off alarm bells in any prospective partner. The question is just where the problems will lie: perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us, or we can only relax when we are working, or we’re a bit tricky around intimacy after sex, or we’ve never been so good at explaining what’s going on when we’re worried. It’s these sort of issues that – over decades – create catastrophes and that we therefore need to know about way ahead of time, in order to look out for people who are optimally designed to withstand them. A standard question on any early dinner date should be quite simply: ‘And how are you mad?’

July 12, 2014 | By | Reply More

Map to NSA programs by Propublica

Per ProPublica,

This is a plot of the NSA programs revealed in the past year according to whether they are bulk or targeted, and whether the targets of surveillance are foreign or domestic. Most of the programs fall squarely into the agency’s stated mission of foreign surveillance, but some – particularly those that are both domestic and broad-sweeping – are more controversial.

July 10, 2014 | By | Reply More

How pervasive are binding pre-dispute arbitration clauses imposed by for-profit businesses upon consumers? Herman Scwartz of The Nation reports:

Two reports issued at the end of last year show how effective the Court’s arbitration rulings have been. Last December, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a preliminary report, which found that contract clauses mandating pre-dispute arbitration are a “common feature of consumer financial contracts”; a final report is due by year’s end. The agency found such clauses in over 50 percent of credit card loans, 81 percent of prepaid charge cards and in checking accounts covering 44 percent of all insured deposits.

The CFPB found further that about 90 percent of such contracts, including almost all credit card loans, insured deposits and prepaid cards, also prohibit participation in current or future class or other joint actions in both judicial and arbitration proceedings. This usually forces consumers who have been injured in small amounts to drop the matter entirely, even though the defendant may have harmed many others the same way, for too little is at stake for each individual to justify the time, trouble and expense of individual arbitration. . . .

These two clauses are not just in consumer financial contracts, but are standard in cellphone and nursing home contracts, individual employment contracts, shipping agreements, passenger tickets and in many other areas. They have also been imported into the exploding commercial traffic on Internet websites. When consumers click their assent to the conditions imposed by a seller online, few if any realize they are often acceding to these limitations on their rights to a judicial resolution and a class action. Some merchants have gone so far as to claim that just opening a box for a computer, for example, is enough to constitute the necessary assent to such conditions in an “agreement” placed in the box.

What is the bottom line?

The Supreme Court has given financial institutions, businessmen, unscrupulous employers and others a license to do wrong. As the California Supreme Court put it, they have been given an “exemption from responsibility for [their] own fraud.”

July 9, 2014 | By | Reply More