The Burtons of Leicestershire

Posted by Sappho on May 22nd, 2016 filed in Genealogy

My great-grandfather, Robert Burton Gooden, suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles, was the son of James Gooden (a barrister) and Hannah Burton, who immigrated from Bolton, Lancashire to California in the 19th century. This makes me the fifth generation in my family to live in Southern California, but in a roundabout way; though five generations of us have lived here at one time or another, I actually grew up in New York (and my mother actually grew up in Wisconsin).

There’s a lot more that I could say about my great-grandfather, who lived to nearly 102 and became the oldest priest on the Episcopal Church retirement plan (as a result of which I have a church magazine devoted to his life, written when he turned 100). But this post isn’t about him. It’s about his mother’s family. My uncle, when going through old family papers, came across some notes about the Burtons and sent me a copy. So I am pulling together what I learned from those notes and what I had learned earlier from my grandmother and her sisters.

Many years ago, I taped an interview in which I asked my grandmother about her family. This is what she had to say about her father’s mother, Hannah Burton:
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Posted by Sappho on May 18th, 2016 filed in DNA

As I’ve said in the past, one of the problems with “there can’t possibly be a ‘gay gene’ because evolution would have selected against it” arguments (which should be distinguished from “your ‘gay gene’ hasn’t been sufficiently proven yet” arguments) is the fact that genes can have multiple functions. A gene that has an evolutionary disadvantage in one respect can still be carried on if one of its other evolutionary effects is advantageous.

This ability of genes to have more than one function is called “pleiotropy,” and some genes are hardworking multitaskers indeed. Here’s a post on 23andMe’s blog about a study of genetic variants that influence multiple traits and conditions.

A new study led by researchers at the New York Genome Center and 23andMe analyzed 42 different traits identified more than 300 locations in the genome that influence multiple traits and conditions. The study published in Nature Genetics was supported through a grant from the National Institutes of Health….

Researchers in this study found that variants known to influence puberty also influence height, male pattern baldness and BMI, which are all related to hormonal regulation. Another cluster was found around metabolic conditions such as coronary artery disease, red blood cell traits and lipid levels. And researchers also noted clustering around immune response with conditions like asthma, allergies, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and infectious diseases like childhood ear infections and tonsillitis clustering together.

The researchers say their study validates the use of genome wide association studies to find variants that influence many different traits….

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A little election music

Posted by Sappho on May 18th, 2016 filed in Election 2016, Music

Joel and I just voted. So here’s a little election music:

The Name’s LaGuardia,” from Fiorello.

The Election of 1800,” from Hamilton.

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June 7, 2016 California primary: Some nonpartisan down ballot races in Orange County

Posted by Sappho on May 14th, 2016 filed in Election 2016

Finally, I get to the nonpartisan down ballot races. Let me take the easy one first, the race for the Board of Education, before I get to the trickier question of figuring out enough about the judicial candidates to have an informed opinion.
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June 7, 2016 California primary: Partisan down ballot races in Orange County

Posted by Sappho on May 14th, 2016 filed in Election 2016

Next, let me look at the partisan races that I get to vote on, in my particular part of Orange County. By this, I mean, not races that are separated by party. California recently changed to a blanket primary system (except for the Presidential race and party central committee races), in which candidates of all parties are listed on a single ballot, we all, regardless of party registration, get to vote on all of them, and the top two advance to the November election. Still, even in this blanket primary system, for some offices I get to see party affiliations on my ballot, and for others I don’t. And the party affiliation is information, so partisan and nonpartisan offices are as good a way to separate my blog posts as any. Here are the partisan offices that I get to vote on.
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June 7, 2016 California primary: Ballot propositions

Posted by Sappho on May 14th, 2016 filed in California Ballot Propositions, Election 2016

For a change, we only have one statewide ballot proposition in this election (eight have been certified to go on the November ballot. In addition, I get to vote on two ballot measures for Orange County. My planned votes are:

Proposition 50 (Suspension of legislators. Constitutional Amendment.): Yes

Proposition A (Establish County Ethics Commission to Enforce County Campaign Finance and Ethics Rules): Yes

Proposition B (Require Fiscal Impact Statement for Any Countywide Measure Placed on the Ballot): Yes

None of these propositions appear to be controversial, so I’m not going to bother to explain my positions (I’m saving that for the posts about down ballot races, where I can get more out of the exercise of thinking through my views). But if you want to argue for or against any of these propositions in the comments, feel free.

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June 7, 2016 California primary: Democratic ballot for President

Posted by Sappho on May 14th, 2016 filed in Election 2016, News and Commentary

I’ve been preparing to vote in the California primary in June by studying the down ballot races. I’m going to have several posts about the primary. This, the first one, serves to separate discussion of the Presidential primary from discussion of down ballot races. Here are the rules:

  1. In the comments of this post, you get to try to convince me of how I should vote in the presidential primary. I have already made up my mind, it’s true, but I haven’t actually voted yet. So this is your last chance to persuade me.
  2. California recently changed to a blanket primary system, in which candidates of all parties are listed on a single ballot, we all, regardless of party registration, get to vote on all of them, and the top two advance to the November election. However, none of this applies to the office of President of the United States. That part of the ballot is still partisan. As I am a registered Democrat, I only get to choose among the Democratic candidates. Any attempts to argue that I should vote for anyone other than the Democratic candidates listed on my ballot are off topic for this post. I will list the candidates that you get to argue for or against below.
  3. I won’t be fact checking comments (not on the blog, anyway – obviously I’ll check any facts before I use them to inform my vote). So you can, if you choose, give factually incorrect arguments for why I should vote for or against a candidate. I trust that any of my readers will take care in checking any facts they find on the Internet before voting.

Here is the list of candidates, from my sample ballot:

Roque De La Fuente
Hillary Clinton
Henry Hewes
Keith Judd
Michael Sternberg
Bernie Sanders
Willie Wilson

So, go ahead and tell me why I should vote for Roque De La Fuente. Or perhaps for some other candidate ;-).


The Chaplin’s War

Posted by Sappho on May 9th, 2016 filed in Fiction

It started with a typo. Brad Torgerson has written a book called The Chaplain’s War, and John Scalzi, on his blog, referred to that book as “The Chaplin’s War.” Someone suggested that a book of that title ought to exist. So I wrote the short story “The Chaplin’s War” and shared it with a few friends. A friend pointed out that I’d left my Chaplin in a desperate place, and he was looking forward to seeing how I got her out of that spot. So I wrote “The Chaplin’s Rescue.” And also, while I was waiting to figure out how I’d manage “The Chaplin’s Rescue,” another short story in the same science fiction future, “A Little Sister’s Tale.”

Now I’ve published them all on SmashWords, as The Fall of the Ubagane Empire series. You can buy them as eBooks for $0.99 each.

Here’s an excerpt from “The Chaplin’s War” to give you an idea what the series is like:

I, Vijaya Choudhary, am a Chaplin.

I thought it best to keep that from the Qorathi. It’s not that I’m anything other than proud of my work. But he and I, for the moment, were not exactly on the same side.

Peacekeeping is an honorable job. Promises, once made, must be kept, and noble are the warriors who ensure that those promises hold, the GalPax forces who maintain the lines of ceasefires and peace settlements.

But until that ceasefire settlement is made, you must fight like hell, to be in position to make the right deal when the time comes. And we humans have a truce with the Dilgarians on one front only. On that front, GalPax may take its proper stand. But on the front to which I was headed, no truce held.

And I am a bard of war.

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Quality Education Support Trust (QUEST)

Posted by Sappho on May 1st, 2016 filed in Education support

Today, in our Quaker Explorations before meeting for worship, one of our members spoke about an education project that she had learned about during her recent trip to India. There is an NGO called Quality Education Support Trust (QUEST). You can find some of their educational videos on Youtube.

Here’s a brief description from their leaflet:

QUEST is a Non-Governmental not-for-profit organisation working on quality related issues in the field of Early Childhood Education, Elementary education, and Teacher education since April 2007. Over the past 8 years, work has been initiated in 6 districts of Maharashtra: Thane, Palghar, Nandurbar, Jalna, Junnar and Dhule. The organisation has reached around 9000 children, through its various programmes, and around 1000 teachers through workshops and its online forum which is available in the regional language (Marathi).

There may be more about this organization later on this blog, but for now I figured at least I’d get a brief description and link up.

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Oh, They Call It Puppy Love

Posted by Sappho on April 27th, 2016 filed in Speculative Fiction and Other Geekiness

Yesterday we got to see the 2016 Hugo Nominee Finalists, and learned the answer to the question: Would the Puppies sweep the awards this year as well? On the one hand, we knew that they were organizing again, and that the nomination system was still vulnerable to slates – that a determined minority can sweep a category by all voting for the same set of works, while the uncoordinated majority scatter their votes. Last year, a proposal passed to change the nomination system to one harder to game, one in which a coordinated slate is guaranteed to get some of its choices on the ballot, but can’t lock down an entire category. But that proposal only goes into effect if it’s passed again at this year’s WorldCon, so this year, the same vulnerability would apply. On the other hand, with a much larger number of people having bought memberships last year, and more perhaps being motivated to nominate works, there was a chance that the impact of slates would be diluted.

At first glance, the finalists appear to be Puppied, but not as heavily Puppied as last year. Best Novel has a book by Ann Leckie, who was a non-Puppy nominee last year, one by N.K. Jemisin, who is not at all on the same side as Rabin Puppy leader Vox Day (VD got banned from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for calling this famous African-American SF writer “an educated, but ignorant half-savage, with little more understanding of what it took to build a new literature by ‘a bunch of beardy old middle-class middle-American guys’ than an illiterate Igbotu tribesman has of how to build a jet engine….”), and Jim Butcher, a Puppy nominee last year but one whose works are generally popular enough that I’m sure he got voted below No Award only due to being on the slate. Other nominees include people like Stephen King and Neil Gaimann, who need no Puppy support to make it on the ballot. And Mike Glyer and his File 770, who won praise for their Puppy reporting (I nominated them myself), but seem to be more popular with non-Puppies than Puppies, are on the list.

It turns out, though, that David Barnett at the Guardian has crunched the numbers and foudn that, once again, the Hugo Awards shortlist is dominated by Puppy nominees.

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Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg would fund your third party why, exactly?

Posted by Sappho on April 27th, 2016 filed in News and Commentary

By today, I imagine tweets about primary results have eclipsed, on Twitter, Monday’s news about Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei’s Wall Street Journal horrible op-ed calling for a third party candidate. I first heard about it before work yesterday, when I read Daniel Drezner’s take down of all the ways the op ed goes horribly wrong.

I bring this up because Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei’s Wall Street Journal op-ed manages to ignore all of these warnings. Praising the plain language of Donald Trump? Check. References to disruption? Check. Calls for an “Innovation Party?” Check. VandeHei also leans hard on the “Normal America vs. D.C. bubble” trope, which will be a topic for another column.

Today, however, Spoiler Alerts would like to focus on VandeHei’s yearning for a military leader to set things right….

Indeed, VandeHei’s longing for a candidate from the military who

could build on death-by-drones by outlying the type of modern weapons, troops and war powers needed to keep America safe. And make plain when he or she will use said power. Do it with very muscular language — there is no market for nuance in the terror debate.

is, let’s say, not the third party America needs, and Daniel Drezner shows why, by pointing out an example of what such a candidate might look like.

But at lunch time at work Monday, I checked out a paper copy of the Wall Street Journal and read the editorial myself. And, as I’m a computer geek rather than a foreign policy wonk like Drezner, my eye was drawn to an obvious computer geek flaw in Vanderhei’s proposal.

Vanderhei proposes a third party that takes a lesson from Trump’s campaign that

Voters aren’t dopes: They want an unvarnished look at their future president’s personality and ideas. They can tolerate uncomfortable truths.

This party would support a foreign policy with “very muscular language — there is no market for nuance in the terror debate.”

And it would be headed up by Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg.

Why not recruit Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg to head a third-party movement? Maybe we can convince Michael Bloomberg to help fund the movement with the billions he planned to spend on his own campaign—and then recruit him to run Treasury and advise the president.

I will even throw out a possible name for the movement: The Innovation Party….

And it would succeed by winning disaffected Trump and Sanders supporters.

Hello? Zuckerberg and Sandberg are actual people with their own specific views and issues, not generic poster children for innovation. Zuckerberg favors immigration reform. Sandberg wants to encourage women to lean in to leadership. Whatever gave you the idea that either of them would have any reason to fund a party that’s based on the notion that Trump is winning because he’s telling “uncomfortable truths”? That either of them actually sees Trump’s words as “truths” of any kind, comfortable or uncomfortable? That a party whose positions would appeal to immigration reform advocate Zuckerberg would also be a party that would draw Trump supporters? That people who are enthusiastic about Sandberg’s Lean In philosophy would have a lot of overlap with a candidate, Trump, who’s historically unpopular with women? And, by the way, why is a muscular foreign policy presented with no nuance supposed to bring in Bernie Sanders supporters?

Calls for a “centrist” third party often wind up proposing to recreate political coalitions that are represented just fine in the political system we already have. Sometimes, it’s a proposal for a new, moderate third party candidate (perhaps Bloomberg?) who will adopt the new, centrist policies that the writer has failed to notice are close to the ones Obama already promotes. This time, though, it’s the Republican Party that’s being recreated. Vanderhei wants a party that includes business friendly leaders (Zuckerberg! Sandberg! Innovation!) blended with a “muscular foreign policy” and a right populism like that of Donald Trump. He fails to notice that this is already the Republican Party we have. Why are these groups going to like each other more in a new party than they do in the Grand Old Party?

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One line summaries of movies with Bechdel test results

Posted by Sappho on April 24th, 2016 filed in Movies

Call Girl of Cthulhu one line summary: When the call girl of virginal artist Carter Wilcox’s dreams is impregnated by Cthulhu, he and his roommate Erica Zann must stop a cult from bringing about the end of the world.

Bechdel Test rating: Passes, due to conversations between two women about stopping the impending end of the world, and conversations between Edna and Squid about preventing impending doom, and words exchanged between Squid and Erica about the same.

Notes: High camp, as you would expect.

The Martian one line summary: An astronaut stranded on Mars must survive until he can be rescued.

Bechdel Test rating: Passes, due to brief conversations between two female astronauts during the rescue effort.

Notes: An interesting combination of solitary Robinson Crusoe style ingenuity from the “Martian” and Apollo 13 style (but with more diversity) engineering teamwork from the people involved in the rescue effort.

August: Osage County one line summary: A family unravels in the wake of the suicide of their father/husband/brother/brother-in-law/uncle.

Bechdel Test rating: Passes overwhelmingly, as most of the movie involves three sisters and their mother talking to each other, sometimes about men and sometimes about other things.

Notes: One of the supporting actors is Misty Upham, turning in a fine performance as a young Native American woman hired as a live-in cook and caregiver. I was interested in seeing what else she had acted in, so I looked her up, and, shoot, she died young! And her family believes she could have been saved if search and rescue efforts were more prompt.

Avatar one line summary: A former Marine turned security guard changes loyalties from the company that hired him to the more spiritual blue aliens whom the company would dispossess of their forest.

Bechdel Test rating: Passes, as female aliens discuss with each other the plight of their people.

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The Scourge of Political Correctness

Posted by WiredSisters on April 20th, 2016 filed in Historical Jesus, Moral Philosophy, Quaker Practice, Theology

Apparently, it all starts in childhood, at least some people’s childhood. I distinctly remember my mother telling me (when I was maybe five years old?) “Be nice.” I think at the time, it had something to do with not hitting the neighbor’s three-year-old.

I also vaguely remember my mother telling me that, if I couldn’t say anything nice about one of my schoolmates, I shouldn’t say anything at all. And didn’t Thumper the Rabbit say something like that to Bambi? Omigod, Walt Disney was one of the authors of political correctness! Is no one safe?
And then I started going to Sunday School, where I distinctly remember my teacher telling me that Jesus said to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. This conspiracy has no limits!

Well, I’m about to run out of exclamation points, and I’m only on my fourth paragraph. But I can find almost no place safe from the sinister forces of PC, and just switching to a Mac won’t help. Actually I do remember where I first heard the term (aside from computers, that is.) Back when I was working as a military counselor (trying to help people get out of the armed forces, most of whom as a taxpayer I really didn’t want in there anyway, but that’s another story), my work required me to go to meetings and conferences with various kinds of Left and Far Left organizations. I learned all kinds of interesting stuff about the American Left of the 1970s. I learned, for instance, that Maoists always come on time to meetings, but Stalinists are more fun at parties. I learned how to spot undercover government agents (they do all the scut work and make meetings last forever.) I learned that the women in the local chapter of the Revolutionary Communist Party all got their hair cut at the same place.

And, dear reader, that was where I first heard the term “politically correct.” It was used by a Stalinist describing a Maoist (or possibly the other way around—gimme a break, I’m going on 75 now.) It was, as we would say now, snark, used to describe somebody’s excessive or even obsessive devotion to the minutiae of political principle. It was a kind of in-group joke. Not long after, a colleague of mine suggested raising money by printing up some T-shirts with “POLITICALLY CORRECT BRIGADE” in Boldface Old English type on the front, and “PCB” on the back. We never got around to doing it, but it was a fun thing to contemplate. PCBs, the real ones, I mean, polychlorinated biphenyls, were big back then. They were a nasty chemical that kept turning up all over the place no matter how hard the EPA tried to get rid of it. And then I never heard the phrase again, for another decade or so. When it did turn up again, it was in a totally
different context and with a totally different meaning.

A digression here: I used to be an English teacher. I even got a Master’s degree in the subject. One of the papers I wrote in pursuit of the degree was a study, mostly through the OED, of all the major dirty words in our current vocabulary. The study revealed that almost all of them had started out as euphemisms for something presumably even dirtier.

Most of them had started out as some kind of slang, too. Slang changes faster and more often than more conventional usage. Back in the 1960s, for instance, Black youth (and white youth who thought it was cool to emulate them) used the words “tight” and “up tight” to mean close to another person. But in less than a decade, “uptight” had found its way into the general vocabulary, with the meaning “anxious, rigid.”
Which is pretty much what happened to “politically correct.” It started out meaning “excessively devoted to arcane political principles,” as part of the in-group vocabulary of the American Left. And then it turned up on the American Right with the meaning “avoidance of expressions or actions that can be perceived to exclude or marginalize or insult people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against” (I got this straight from Webster’s.) “Politically correct” gets defined as “Conforming to a particular sociopolitical ideology or point of view, especially to a liberal point of view concerned with promoting tolerance and avoiding offense in matters of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.” What the American Right (and, apparently, the Right in the UK as well) mean by it is “those prissy prigs who won’t let me bad-mouth people I don’t like.” (Or, as I’m sure Donald Trump been known to say, “who won’t let me call a spade a spade.” If he hasn’t, he will.)

Most recently, the sinister forces of political correctness are credited with objecting to laws allowing doctors and other health care providers to refuse to serve members of the LGBTQ community. If they’re right, of course, Hippocrates was among the first of the Politically Correct Brigade, well before even Jesus.

Okay, it’s time for a philosophical analysis. I can’t take full credit for it. Jonathan Haidt’s “moral foundations theory” is what got me started thinking about it. That theory posits that all human morality rests on some or all of six foundational values:
Care: cherishing and protecting others; opposite of harm.
Fairness or proportionality: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating.
Liberty: the loathing of tyranny; opposite of oppression.
Loyalty or ingroup: standing with your group, family, nation; opposite of betrayal.
Authority or respect: obeying tradition and legitimate authority; opposite of subversion.
Sanctity or purity: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions; opposite of degradation.

Political groups can be divided on the basis of which of these values they prioritize. Conservatives prioritize Liberty, plus Authority and Sanctity. Liberals prioritize Care, Fairness, and Loyalty. But Haidt doesn’t cross-cut this matrix with what I see as the equally significant division between absolute values (which are always and everywhere to be applied) and relative values (which are no better than the particular people or purposes they are applied to.)

For liberals, authority and loyalty are no better than the people one is being loyal or deferential to. They are relative values, whereas care and fairness are absolute. (For more PC background, see Matthew 5/ 43-47:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.)

And for conservatives, care and fairness are no better than the people one is being caring or fair to. The main reason conservatives dislike liberals is that liberals feel obliged to at least try to respect everybody, even people the conservatives view as immoral or disgusting. Giving that kind of respect to criminals, or sexual deviants, or welfare drones, is what “political correctness” (as a Right-Wing slur) is all about.
I have long since gotten used to people saying “I’m going to say something politically incorrect [snigger snigger]” before saying something unpardonably racist or sexist or just plain obnoxious. It’s roughly equivalent to the driver who honks his horn before zipping through a stop sign or a red light or a pedestrian crosswalk. I have to give Donald Trump credit for not introducing his various tirades with that phrase. (Not unlike the rabbi who could find no suitable way to eulogize a particularly vile decedent except by saying “His brother was worse.”)

And yes, sometimes PC language can be really funny. The first and possibly the best treatment of the PC phenomenon happened in 1957, well before anybody ever used the term, at the hands of Stan Freberg (see But a lot of good things can be funny, especially the first few times we hear them. That doesn’t necessarily invalidate their goodness.

So anyway, the next time somebody accuses you of being politically correct, don’t bother arguing with him (it’s almost always a him.) Just say “thank you,” try to deserve it, and go on about your business.

Jane Grey

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USA: World’s Poorest Rich Nation

Posted by WiredSisters on April 10th, 2016 filed in Economics, History, Law

Installment Two: Crime and Punishment

This is about a 1995 case, in the context of the 1995 criminal justice system.  Things haven’t  changed much since then.  In 1995, Rolando Cruz, who was twice tried and convicted for the murder of Jeanine Nicarico, was granted a new trial by the Illinois Supreme Court, which finally decided that someone else’s confession to the crime just might be a significant piece of data.  The prosecutor claimed to be infuriated and appalled.  So were the victim’s parents.  They had a right to have this case finished, they said.  “Cruz has already had a lot more chances than my daughter had,” Jeanine’s father said.  The case has lived a year longer than Jeanine herself did.

What this tells us is pretty much the same thing the Gary Dotson case told us, the same thing we learned from the 1994 Texas death penalty case in which the U.S. Supreme Court in its wisdom decided that innocence, at least if not asserted in the proper time, place, and manner, is a mere technicality, the same thing we just learned in the Supremes’ Osborne decision from Alaska.  We learn from all of these cases that the “criminal justice system” is not actually about justice.  Indeed, it is not even about vengeance and retribution, as we ordinarily understand them–doing unto the others who have done unto us.  It’s about human sacrifice.  If the Bad Guys have caused X amount of destruction, pain, and death to the Good Guys (us), the Good Guys are thereby entitled to cause roughly the same amount of destruction, pain, and death to any member of the Bad Guy class–i.e., young, poor, non-white, male, high school dropouts with prior criminal records.  The Bad Guys, like all sacrificial animals, are interchangeable.  We may be horrified when we find santeros sacrificing livestock in the public park, but, after all, we generally find chickens more likeable than Bad Guys.

Once upon a time, criminology students were taught that the purposes of the punishment meted out by the law enforcement system were four: rehabilitation, deterrence, incapacitation, and retribution.  Well, we gave up on rehabilitation 30 years ago, on deterrence 20 years ago, and on incapacitation 10 years ago.  Now we are giving up on specific individual retribution.  That is:

1) we no longer believe the criminal justice system can reform the Bad Guys–once a Bad Guy, always a Bad Guy

2) we have decided that we do such an uncertain and sloppy job of catching the Bad Guys that almost no one from the Bad Guy class is deterred from committing crimes by the prospect of arrest, prosecution, conviction, and punishment

3) we can’t even be sure of keeping Bad Guys off the street for any length of time any more; and now

4) we can’t afford to take the time and effort to make sure we’re punishing the right Bad Guy for a particular crime he actually committed.  This, of course, should have been obvious to us 30 years ago, when, for the first time, more criminal charges were resolved by “plea bargains” than by trial.  The whole point of the plea bargaining system is that, if the prosecution can’t prove and doesn’t know what the defendant has done to deserve punishment, the defendant does know. Currently, 97% of all criminal cases are resolved with plea bargains, in which the prosecution doesn’t have to care if the defendant did what he was accused of doing, so long as he meets the other requirements of membership in the Bad Guy class and can be persuaded that he will get a better deal by pleading guilty to whatever the prosecutor wants to charge him with than by going to trial.

At the same time, in parallel with these developments, the victims’ rights movement has been evolving.  It arose as a reaction to the increasing mechanization of prosecutorial offices.  Prosecutors currently consider “unwinnable” any case that depends on the testimony of an innocent civilian witness, as opposed to someone they can rely on to testify as and when required–a police officer, a paid police informant, or an accomplice of the defendant.  So prosecutors rarely go out of their way either to file or to follow up charges brought by innocent civilian witnesses.  They see their job as “disposing of cases,” rather than convicting people for acts they have actually and provably committed.  Victims and their families, not unreasonably, got tired after a while of having to take time off from work again and again to go to court without ever having an opportunity to testify.  They got furious with not being informed of all court dates, and then seeing cases dismissed because “the complaining witness did not appear.”  (As a practical matter, the defendant can probably turn up missing several times before anything serious happens to him; if the complaining witness fails to show up once, the case is almost automatically dismissed.) They got utterly fed up when the prosecution bargained their cases down to time served and turned the criminal out onto the street, without even warning the victim, much less consulting her.  And they found it even more infuriating that they–and all other taxpayers–had to pay exorbitant sums in tax money to maintain this system.  The defendants get free room and board (with no obligation to do anything to repair the damage done to the victim); the lawyers get a job; and the prosecutor gets elected to whatever he’s running for this year. And the victims get–a lot of lost time from work, a lot of intimidation in court from the defendant and his buddies, the pain of having to remember and recount the victimization over and over for years, and the same gigantic tax bill the rest of us get.  Who can blame them for being angry?

And some of the responses of the criminal justice system to the victims’ rights movement were in fact fairly appropriate:

1) the use of civil suits against defendants, to prevent them from ever being able to profit from book and movie rights resulting from the crime, or ever being able to get rich at all, from any source;

2) Victim-witness assistance programs, to counsel victims and witnesses, and keep them informed of court dates

3) in many jurisdictions, requirements that the prosecutor must consult with the victim or the victim’s surviving family before plea bargaining the case

4) in some jurisdictions, the right of the victim or his/her surviving family to address the court before sentencing, whether the conviction results from a trial or a plea bargain.

The problems arise when the victim or his/her family demand a role in the process of adjudication (the “did he do it or didn’t he?” phase of the trial) beyond that of occurrence witness, and use that role to testify to the victim’s good character and beloved place in the community, or the devastating consequences of the crime.  These issues have no relevance at all in the adjudication phase.  At that point, it is the job of the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they have prosecuted the actual perpetrator, and of the trier of fact to find that they have done so, before any questions connected to the victim’s character and value to others can even be considered.  Before we can talk about the kind of person the victim was, we need to establish that s/he was in fact this defendant’s victim. The victim and his/her family have no right to see a particular defendant convicted, unless he happens to be provably guilty.

Indeed, even at sentencing, the fact that the victim was a good person, loved and valued by community and family, and that the loss of the victim, especially in such a horrendous crime, has devastated the family and the community, is only dubiously relevant.  Is it really more heinous to kill a church-going mother of 2 small children than a homeless man with no known family? If we take this position, we are only a short distance away from giving a medal to a person convicted of murdering a street person or some other general nuisance, instead of punishing him. The victim’s character and value to family and community are certainly valid questions in a civil suit, for purposes of calculating damages.  But in a criminal case, the controlling issue in sentencing should be the effect of the crime on the public welfare (what the medievals called “the king’s peace.”)

Well, okay, that was then.  Now, we’ve already decided that justice has been done, the victims made whole, and the “king’s peace” restored, if anybody is convicted of the crime.  The fact that the wrong person may be languishing in jail is of no consequence, so long as he is the right kind of person–young, male, preferably non-white, poor, high school dropout with a prior criminal record.  Whether or not he committed this particular crime, we figure we are all better off if people like him are in jail rather than on the street.

Most recently, we are even willing to extend this reasoning to the death penalty.  It’s okay to fry the wrong person so long as we fry somebody from the Bad Guy class.

We are not even made particularly uncomfortable by the fact that convicting or punishing the wrong person may well mean that the right person is still on the streets, threatening and victimizing other Good Guys.  After all, given enough time, and a wide enough dragnet for “the usual suspects,” the person who escapes prosecution for a crime he has actually committed will probably end up behind bars or even on Death Row for somebody else’s crime, or another one of his own (as Brian Dugan–the confessed killer of Jeanine Nicarico–did, after all.)

The criminal justice system has turned into an actuarial operation, which is defined as functioning properly when the people most likely to be guilty of some violent street crime are also most likely to be convicted of and punished for some violent street crime, whether or not the two crimes are identical, and whether or not any individual “most likely” suspect is actually guilty of any violent crime at all.

Of course, at this point, we may simply not have the money to use the criminal justice system for its original purpose.  The FBI estimates that only a tenth of all violent crimes committed are reported; less than half of all reported crimes result in arrest; less than half of all arrests result in the bringing of criminal charges; and, as stated earlier, 97% of all criminal charges are resolved by “plea bargaining” rather than trial.  Serious pursuit and trial of all violent criminals would increase the cost of the criminal justice system by a factor of something like 240.  No politician on the face of the earth would seriously consider proposing this to the taxpaying voters.

But, if we are not to have a real system of justice, why should we pay as much as we are paying, just for the current actuarial arrangement?  Why not take the actuarial concept to its logical conclusion and just hold a lottery on a regular basis, to choose the members of the Bad Guy class who get to go to jail, and for how long?   Once or twice a year, we could hold a big lottery to pick a candidate (or two, or however many our marketing mavens think would pay off maximally) for Death Row?  The system would not only be cheaper than our current one, it could actually be made to pay for itself or even run a surplus, if we turned it into a state-sponsored, televised “Reality Show” sweepstakes.

We wouldn’t even have to televise the actual executions, if the do-gooders insist on keeping them off the screen.  Just Vanna White drawing numbers out of a rotating basket, with the pictures of  the suspects sweating it out until the word comes down, and then reacting appropriately to winning or losing.  Then we interview all parties on Oprah (hey, it pays a whole lot better than a presentence investigation–can you say “privatization”?) and hold a contest for school kids to write in with the most original ideas for execution.  First prize, obviously, is a ringside seat for the winner and his or her family; second prize is a working model of the winner’s choice of an electric chair or guillotine; third prize is a statue of the Lady with the scales.  Only she’s dressed in a spandex bustier and hot pants, fishnet stockings, and spike heels, with twenty-dollar bills peeking out of her cleavage.

Red Emma


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USA: World’s Poorest Rich Nation

Posted by WiredSisters on April 8th, 2016 filed in Economics, Health and Medicine, Uncategorized

Installment Four: The High Cost of No Health Care*

Imagine you run a health insurance company.  Your source of income is the premiums paid to you by individuals and, sometimes, government agencies under Obamacare.  Your income gets spent on providing health care for the people you insure, the people who pay your premiums.  If you spend all of their premiums on actually providing health care, or health care plus your own overhead (marketing, accounting, CEO salaries and so on), you make no profit.  Your shareholders will be mad at you.  Eventually you will either go out of business or get bought out by a larger company that does a better job of taking in more income and paying out less in expenses.  Ideally, what you would really like is to be able to collect premiums without having to provide health care at all.  You, gentle reader who do not in fact own a health insurance company, may think that’s an impossible dream.  It’s not.

Because health insurance plans typically have all kinds of out-of-pocket expenses attached to them. Read this ( for a more detailed analysis. The whole idea of copays and deductibles came to us from the economic puritans who consider it immoral for an ordinary non-rich person to access any service or commodity—even one for which s/he has already paid a substantial sum in advance, such as an insurance premium—without having to also shell out cash from his/her pocket, preferably at the time and place where the service or commodity is received.   A person who receives goods or services—even goods or services for which s/he has already paid up front–without also paying cash on the barrelhead is likely to regard them as “free.” Economists suspect that people who believe they are getting something for free are likely to get greedy about it. They may demand too much of it, or demand stuff they don’t really need. This leaves less for other people in the same program, and will ultimately drive costs up for everybody.

So they attach co-pays and deductibles to the process of using the services their customers have already paid for up front (sorry I keep repeating this. It’s just so easy to forget.) A co-pay is a sum of cash the customer shells out at the time of service. Its original purpose was just to remind the customer that the service isn’t free. When I first became a member of an HMO, my co-pays were typically ten dollars or less per occasion. At the time, both my husband and I were regularly employed at jobs with benefits (one of those benefits was, in fact, the HMO) and considered a ten-dollar co-pay to be no big deal. In the meantime, my income has gotten smaller and the co-pays have gotten larger. This is pretty much what has happened to everybody in the last thirty-plus years.

Then there’s deductibles. These are sums the customer is “supposed to” pay out of pocket as his/her “share” of health care expenses. Nobody has ever explained the concept more clearly to me. There is just some share of medical care that the customer is “supposed to” pay for directly no matter how much s/he has already paid for in premiums. This is some kind of moral obligation probably invented by Ayn Rand.

So more and more people are now (under the ACA) required to have health insurance. At the same time, the companies providing it are doing more and more to discourage those people from using that insurance, by tacking extra out-of-pocket expenses onto it. So people still avoid getting health care until their medical problems turn into medical emergencies, at which point both they and their insurers will have to pay out huge sums to cope with those emergencies. We are left, in fact, at pretty much the same point poor people were at before the ACA—using emergency facilities as their main source of health care. This is both economically and medically inefficient. But the insurance companies are just fine with it, most of the time. They are still trying to figure out how to avoid paying for as much as possible of the emergency care in question. My guess (please don’t tell this to anybody who works for an insurance company) is that they will insert a clause in their policies that says something like “If you could have prevented the necessity for this emergency care by seeking ordinary preventive care at any time since you obtained this policy, we will pay for only 50% [or 25%, or whatever] of the cost of this emergency care.” You heard it here first. But not (I suspect) for the last time. In the immortal words of Kris Kristofferson, “nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ if it ain’t free.”

Red Emma**

*The previous installment, Hangman, should have been labelled Installment Three.  Sorry.

 **Did you know Emma Goldman was a nurse?

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USA: World’s Poorest Rich Nation

Posted by WiredSisters on April 7th, 2016 filed in History, Law, Moral Philosophy, Uncategorized

Installment Two: Hangman, Slack Your Rope

The 8th Amendment to the Constitution provides that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”  This prohibition actually dates back to England in 1688, and you really don’t want to know what kind of “cruel and unusual punishments” its authors were worried about at the time.

The folk song “Hangman,” which dates back to 17th-century Europe in many versions, tells the story of a person sentenced to be hanged, and his (or her, or his or her lover’s) attempts to raise enough money from friends and family to buy off the hangman.  In some versions of the song, the attempts are successful, in others, not.  At any rate, we start out with the presumption that the prospective victim lacks the funds to pay the ransom/bribe/fine from his or her own resources.  Which is the folk origin of the legal concept of “excessive” bail or fines.

Our own legal system is now replete with means-testing for fines, penalties, and bail.  Let’s start with bail.  The purpose of bail is to assure the defendant’s presence at trial. Logically, that means the amount set by the court should be something the defendant can afford to post temporarily, but cannot afford to lose permanently.  The court almost always makes at least a perfunctory inquiry into the defendant’s financial situation, but rarely goes into any real-world financial detail.  If the defendant has a private attorney, the court almost always equates the ability to pay a lawyer with the ability to post a large bail.  The logic of this is flimsy: it’s true that if I can afford to buy a Ford, I can afford to buy a Chevy, but once I have bought the Ford, I cannot use the same resources to buy a Chevy.  And while there is nothing unconstitutional about forcing me to choose between a Ford and a Chevy, forcing me to choose between adequate legal representation and not spending several months in jail without even having been convicted of a crime ought to be recognized as unconstitutional.  Which points to an unspoken assumption on the part of the criminal justice system that almost everybody has some kind of resources for the really necessary things.  If a defendant can’t come up with bail and the cost of a private attorney, s/he just doesn’t care enough to try.

Of course, in some situations, the court deliberately sets bail in an amount almost nobody could afford.  Last year, I had a client who was unemployed himself, and whose parents were employed respectively as a home health aide and an auto mechanic.  The judge set his bail at five million dollars. (One of the bailiffs asked me, as I went into the lockup to visit the defendant, “What president did he assassinate?”)   Eventually, we got it reduced. To three hundred thousand dollars.

Obviously our client couldn’t afford the “lower” bail either, so he spent nearly a year in jail awaiting trial before accepting a relatively good plea bargain rather than spend any more time in jail to take his chances at trial before a judge who obviously thought he was a dangerous person to begin with. And, given the rather well-known conditions in Cook County Jail, where he was spending this time, it should be reasonable to expect the judge to take judicial notice that nobody stays there voluntarily, and that any amount of bail that keeps a defendant locked up there is by definition excessive.

Constitutionally, the only matter at issue for a defendant locked up in Cook County Jail is “deprivation of liberty.”  It is precisely the same constitutional issue that could legitimately be raised by somebody locked up in the VIP Suite of the Ritz Carlton with unlimited room service and no doorknobs on the inside.  The conditions of the place where one is deprived of liberty are constitutionally irrelevant. But to the defendant, the conditions are the real issue.  Had our client been offered confinement in the Ritz Carlton for however long it would take his case to get to trial, he would probably have accepted it. (I certainly would have advised him to.)

If the court had ordered an amount of bail he could actually afford (somewhere around $1500, I’m guessing), this would not only have enabled him to stay home and work while awaiting trial, it would also have enabled him to pay his own lawyers, and pay them in full, rather than relying on his parents, who could afford only partial payment at best.

More important, it would have enabled our client to insist on a trial.  In this particular case, my colleague and I were quite sure we could have won an acquittal, or at least gotten the charge reduced to something not involving physical violence or use of a weapon.  The prosecution could not have proved either of those elements. Our client had never touched a gun.  There was absolutely no physical evidence that he had.

And that in turn would have meant that, after the criminal proceedings were over, we could have sued the police department civilly for shooting our client 5 times, causing him considerable pain and suffering and leaving him with a permanent limp.  In all likelihood, the city would have settled for a reasonable sum.  The decision to set bail in an amount that neither the defendant nor his family could have raised saved the city a whole lot of money and got them off the hook for shooting the defendant for no particular reason.

The judge and the prosecutor in the case were, I suppose, decent people.  I do not suspect either of them of torturing kittens in their spare time.  But the decision to set bail on my client at three million, or even three hundred thousand dollars was obviously a strategic one.  It was meant to subject the defendant to unpleasant and dangerous conditions to pressure him into a plea bargain. Thus the state could avoid having to try a questionable criminal case and then settle a civil case to compensate the defendant for the injuries inflicted by police overzealousness.  It worked.  I cannot possibly believe, nor expect you, gentle readers, to believe, that this case was unique.  It is part of a pattern that enables the state to run its criminal justice system at what it considers a reasonable cost. It is a system based on ransom and extortion.  America deserves better. Human beings, made in the divine image, deserve better.

Tzivia L.



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Free trade and its discontents

Posted by Sappho on April 2nd, 2016 filed in Economics

Economists, left and right, are generally much more bullish on lowering trade barriers than the general public. Still, some allow for caveats. A Bloomberg article this fall pointed out that

For example, Jagdish Bhagwati, one of the most ardent defenders of free trade and globalization, has made a distinction between free trade and international capital mobility. The free flow of financing across borders, Bhagwati says, is a source of dangerous instability. Nor is Bhagwati the first economist to make this claim. But free trade and capital mobility go hand in hand — international investment drives the creation of global supply chains….

The other question is, what about free trade’s losers? Here, I ran across an interesting post today by Tim Harding

Fifteen years ago, the conventional economic wisdom was that free trade was almost unambiguously a good idea. Here’s the basic logic. There are two ways for the British to get hold of wine. We can grow and press our own grapes, or we can make something that the French want and trade with them. If we’re good at making, say, computer games and the French are good at making wine, then trading is the better way to get what we want.

The idea that we might, Trumpishly, “beat the French in trade” sounds appealing but is incoherent. And while a British Sanders might point to the loss of jobs in the UK wine industry, that would miss the gains in the software industry. There is little economic difference between a tariff on the import of French wine and a tariff on the export of British software….

It was always clear that, despite the win-win nature of trade at the national level, freer trade could create losers — such as British vineyards and French computer game studios. But the conventional wisdom was that these losses were both small and fixable with the right policies of retraining or redistribution….

Autor, Dorn and Hanson conclude that the American workers who have been hurt by competition with China have been hurt more deeply, and for a longer period, than many economists predicted. Employment has fallen in industries exposed to trade competition, as expected. But it has not shown much signs of rising in export-oriented sectors.

The US labour market is less flexible than we thought, it seems….

More at the above link. Harding does argue that the old arguments in favor of free trade still have the same force for the economy as a whole, but free trade’s losers may not be able to wait for that long run benefit.

* I do have to point out that trade barriers are the only thing on which Trump and Sanders really agree. Otherwise, even when they point to the same problem, such as the corrupting influence of money in politics, they have different proposed solutions. (Sanders wants to ditch Citizens United, while Trump says we should vote for the guy who buys politicians – him – rather than the politicians who are bought, because I guess buying politicians isn’t corrupt?)

** I’m not entirely sure exactly what policies “Smith and Ricardo were right about the general benefits of free trade, but workers hurt by competition are hurt for longer than we thought” should lead to, but I found the post interesting and worth sharing.

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On Foreign Policy and “Good Instincts”

Posted by Sappho on April 2nd, 2016 filed in News and Commentary

Daniel Larison writes about the “good instincts” trap in evaluating candidates on foreign policy:

“He may not know the issues that well, but he has good instincts.”

Now, I do think “good instincts” may have some force in a particular case. Let’s say that candidate A and candidate B both have some reasonable level of foreign policy knowledge and background, but candidate A has a longer resume, while candidate B’s instincts are to favor the foreign policy that you, the voter, consider wise. In that case, by all means choose candidate B. But not all candidates do have that reasonable level of foreign policy knowledge. And here, I think Larison gets it right.

The “good instincts” defense usually relies on cherry-picking statements that a candidate has made that supporters like while explaining away all of the others that they don’t. As it turned out, Bush’s preference for unilateralism and his disdain for international agreements were far more reliable indicators of how he would govern than the “humble” approach he professed to favor, and his lack of experience and knowledge proved to be much more important in producing bad policy decisions than most people probably thought possible before he was elected. Another problem with this argument is that it makes the candidate’s superficial public persona more important than his actual record (or lack thereof).

The biggest problem with the “good instincts” argument is that it lets the candidate off the hook for his lack of knowledge, which is treated as a minor weakness that can be easily remedied instead of the serious flaw that it really is….

So, probably not a good idea to go with the “Saudi Arabia, absolutely” candidate.

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USA: World’s Poorest Rich Country

Posted by WiredSisters on March 30th, 2016 filed in Anarchism, Democracy, Economics, Law, Moral Philosophy

Installment One: SSI and the Decline of Elegant Legal Ethics

SSI is the popular abbreviation for Supplemental Security Income, a program administered by the Social Security Administration for elders and people with disabilities who have no other source of income and no work history.  The maximum monthly benefit for an individual who qualifies for these benefits is $733, as of January 1, 2016.  “Supplemental” is sort of a misnomer—it sounds as if it should mean that you get this on top of some other source of income, so you can reasonably expect to end up with some total amount more than $733 per month.  In fact, it means that SSI will “supplement” any other source of income, but only up to the total amount of $733.  Like if you stand out on the corner with an empty cup and some kind soul comes along and puts a dollar bill into it, SSI will give you another $732 for that month. Assuming, of course, that you report receiving the dollar bill, which the law requires you to do.

If you have no regular source of income other than SSI, of course, you will have a real problem finding a place to live, unless you are lucky enough to have qualified for subsidized housing.  Here in Chicago, we have waiting lists for housing subsidies.  In fact, we have a kind of waiting list for the waiting list.  That is, the last time the Chicago Housing Authority opened up its waiting lists was two years ago.  At that time, they held a lottery to get onto a waiting list.  The list itself was something like 45,000 names long.  How long it takes to move up on the list and actually get a subsidized roof over one’s head depended on a number of circumstances.  Suffice it to say that people have been on the list for ten years or more.  Many have died while on the list. Got that?  First you sign up for a lottery to get onto the waiting list.  If you’re lucky enough to win a spot, you then have the privilege of waiting up to ten years for a subsidy that may or may not open up during your lifetime. If you don’t luck out in the lottery, you have to find some way to pay “market rent” in Chicago.  Finding housing at a “market rent” you can afford while living on $733 a month also requires a substantial amount of luck, since the market in question results in cheap housing being either “upgraded” for higher rents, or torn down to be replaced by much higher rents.  SSI is, however, kind enough to pay benefits to homeless people who otherwise qualify.

Illinois, like many other states and localities, also has a program of its own for people who can’t even get onto SSI.  It’s called General Assistance, and it does not operate in the city of Chicago.  Elsewhere, it mostly pays $245 a month or less.  In many places, it is viewed as a program “for the homeless.”  (By which, presumably, they mean homeless people, not homeless penguins or goldfish or robots. But it’s hard to tell, these days.)  It is not officially designated as a program for undomiciled individuals.  It just works out that way, because nobody can possibly pay rent on that kind of money.  But as a result, in many jurisdiction, our more solid citizens campaign to eliminate such grants, because they presume that people get to be homeless by being addicted, and that giving them cash only enables them to feed their addiction.  It is, obviously, only a matter of time before SSI meets the same fate, as housing costs continue to rise.

This is all background for the story of what happened to me the other day, in the course of interviewing a client whose SSI grant had been cut because some friends got together to help him out.  He had made the mistake of reporting this to his Social Security office, as required by law.  And I heard myself telling him, “Don’t do that again.”  Don’t, that is, do what the law requires.  If SSI asks him about the amount and sources of his other income, lie.

I’ve been a lawyer for nearly 40 years and I’ve never done that before.  I have developed all kinds of elegant ways to accomplish the same goal while staying technically on the right side of the Canons of Ethics.  I was dismayed by this particular situation both because I really do try to keep my practice ethical, and because I have never before been unable to find an elegant way around my client’s ethical problems.  I have dealt with several powerful and malevolent entities, both public and private, without being reduced to out-and-out mendacity.  But this time, I just hit a brick wall.

My client is dealing with a system that no honest person can possibly survive in.  If he does survive, that’s proof positive that he’s cheating.  He is not by temperament a cheater, and probably feels a lot worse about this situation than I do.  But SSI is designed to drive a certain proportion of applicants into homelessness and premature death.  I do not want my client to be one of them.  If he gets into trouble for this, I will gladly confess that he was acting on advice of counsel, and accept whatever punishment the feds decide to mete out.  I have become a conscientious objector to SSI means-testing.  This is what it means to practice law in the world’s poorest rich country.






What’s So Simple About Simple Battery?

Posted by WiredSisters on March 30th, 2016 filed in Law, Moral Philosophy, Race, Uncategorized

On March 8, in Jupiter, Florida, Corey Lewandowski (Donald Trump’s campaign manager) grabbed journalist Michelle Fields by the arm to keep her from asking Trump a question.  He grabbed her hard enough to leave bruises.  The local police have now charged him with what various sources are calling “simple assault,” “simple battery,” or “misdemeanor battery,” and defining as “unconsented touching” of another person.  As a lawyer, I am irresistibly fascinated.

In Torts 101, back in the early 1970s, I learned about assault and battery, in both criminal and civil contexts.  Strictly speaking, assault involves only causing the victim to fear being attacked.  It doesn’t require any physical contact. Battery is unconsented physical contact.  It can range from groping, grabbing, or shoving to amputating the wrong limb.  In many jurisdictions, such as Florida and Illinois, it is a misdemeanor.  It can become a felony (“aggravated battery,” here in Illinois) by causing really serious injuries, or being committed against the wrong person [for instance, in Illinois, a public employee], in the wrong place [such as a CTA bus or a schoolroom], or with a weapon [like a bat, a broken bottle, a knife, or a pepper spray bottle.] Last time I counted, there were roughly 173 kinds of aggravated battery (“agg bat,” as the locals call it) in the Illinois criminal statutes.  Any kind of unconsented touching that doesn’t fall within one of those classifications is simple battery. I assume Florida works pretty much the same way.

I know more about agg batt than I would like to, because some years ago, my husband (now deceased) was attacked in a gas station by a quartet of punks.  He was not, thank heaven, seriously injured, and they weren’t using weapons, so this was, on its face, simple battery, or maybe even simple assault, since we really weren’t sure any physical contact had been made.  We reported it to the police the next day.  We then spent the next six months trying to get them to charge, locate, and arrest the culprits.  We got a license plate number which enabled us to track down one of them.  Somehow, the police managed to get the names of a couple of the others.  And, speaking as an attorney, I realized and tried to get the police to notice that the attack was in fact at least two kinds of aggravated assault/battery, since my husband was both a senior citizen and a visibly disabled person.  That reasoning didn’t get us anywhere. The case (to the extent that it really was a case) continued to be labeled as simple battery.  The police finally managed to get the owner of the license plate arrested, brought into court, and lectured briefly by the judge. End of story.

Probably the reason the other three guys never got brought in and nobody did a minute behind bars was twofold: the kids were all impeccably Caucasian, and one of them was the son of a suburban police officer.  In short, the police were unable to resolve the issue in their usual expeditious manner, by arresting the First Available African-American Guy.  I have had a couple of clients with similar issues—trying to get an assailant arrested who was something other than the First Available N-word.  With similar results.

But, legally, there is more to the matter of “simple” assault and battery than race.  As a society, we, and the law enforcement system that supposedly serves us, really don’t care about the minor disputes of our inferiors.  It starts early.  We tell children, “I don’t care who started it, both of you stop fighting or you’re grounded for the rest of the week.”  We don’t want to take the time to find out who did what to whom because we presume they are equally guilty anyway, and what they are mainly guilty of is bothering their superiors with their petty squabble (or kerfuffle, or bickering, fuss, hassle, row, spat, or tiff—all synonyms provided by my thesaurus for a completely unimportant disagreement between completely unimportant people.)

The problem is, of course, that sometimes petty spats can turn into mayhem, murder, or World War III.  As we have become more sensitive to the possibilities for escalation, we have created class after class of aggravated assault/battery protection special classes of people or people in particular situations: child abuse, domestic violence, elder abuse, abuse of disabled persons, and so on.  Most recently, we have actually come up with one that involves assault/battery between minors—bullying.  I’ve heard arguments that making bullying a matter for the law enforcement system just “criminalizes normal behavior among kids.”  But in fact, bullying often includes behavior that would already be criminal if the victim were an adult, like shoving somebody into a locker.  So I’m all for these special categories of assault and battery, if that’s what it takes to arouse official notice of people beating up on those weaker than themselves.  The problem is, it shouldn’t.  If we took the basic categories of assault and battery seriously in the first place, we wouldn’t need all these special statutes and enforcement mechanisms. We could save a substantial amount of public money, and maybe even save lives.

So I applaud Michelle Fields and the Palm Beach police for pressing charges against Lewandowski, even if, as seems likely, it does no damage to the Trump campaign.  At least it raises our awareness that anybody—even a journalist—has the right to be safe from being grabbed, shoved, or groped.


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… But this village is mine.

Posted by Sappho on March 29th, 2016 filed in News and Commentary

When I mention our family’s village in Greece, I usually write that Rizes is the most beautiful village in the universe.

And it is.

Your family’s village might also be the most beautiful. This is possible. I understand that. But this village is mine.

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