No privacy for anyone (but esp. the poor).

Scott Greenfield comments on a recent 9th Circuit decision allowing officers to place “a GPS device on the underbed of a suspected drug dealer’s car while it was parked outside of his house” without a warrant. The court found that the defendant did nothing to show he had an expectation of privacy in his driveway, such as putting up gates, security monitoring, hiding the driveway from the street in some way, etc. Greenfield focuses on Chief Judge Alex Kozinski’s dissent, in which Kozinski notes that the court’s decision amounts to a rule that rich people who can afford such privacy and security measures will still be able to enjoy an expectation of privacy in their driveways, while poor people will not. Kozinski’s larger point is that the judiciary (at all levels) is made up almost exclusively of wealthy people who do not understand, or even really think about, the lives of the poor. That means judges have no idea how the majority of Americans live in a country where 69.8% of the wealth is owned by 10% of the population.

So Judge Kozinski is precisely right about the fact that the judiciary is reserved only for wealthy elites (not necessarily the super-rich, although they are well-represented, but people who never really have to worry about paying the bills). Sadly, the same can be said for our other branches of government. Sure, occasionally a poor or working class person might make it into the House, but the Senate? The executive? Forget about it. Call it aristocracy, plutocracy, or oligarchy, our system of government is anything but equal and democratic.

But the shrinking of the Fourth Amendment represented by decisions like this is just as troubling. The whole “expectation of privacy” test was developed in 1967 in Katz v. U.S., a time when constant, nearly-invisible, electronic monitoring of a person’s every movement (GPS) was not possible, nor even really conceivable. Here, the court has found a perfectly logical way to explain why this particular person doesn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his driveway, but what about in every move he makes in his car? Is it unreasonable for an average person to think that his/her every movement is not being tracked and automatically broadcast to the government? Sure, my car might be traveling on the public roads where the government could watch or follow its every movement, but it’s one thing for the government to do that electronically and invisibly, and a completely different thing for the government to do that physically, so that if I was paying attention I might notice the surveillance. The court’s answer to the driveway question is horrible, but that question almost misses the larger point, which is the electronic and invisible tracking of my every movement by the government without a warrant. In what world is this ok? Ours, apparently — unless you have the money for a gated driveway. But then, the government can just tag your car with the lojack when you’re at the supermarket, right?

I like the cut of your Jib

A new colleague of mine occassionally says “I like the cut of your jib,” which is a great phrase and, well, makes me like the cut of his jib, as well. Most people are probably roughly familiar with the nautical origins of the phrase, but I’d never considered speculation that “there may be an allusion between the triangular shape of noses and jibs in the figurative use of this phrase,” or that it might refer to either someone’s appearance or the direction they seem to be heading, or both. It’s a great phrase, made better by this example usage from Urban Dictionary:

A – lets go for a beer and some readily available cannabis
B – alright, i like the cut of your jib

Oh yes, indeed. But where is this sort of world that includes readily available cannabis?

What collapsing empire looks like

Glenn Greenwald, referring to news that some cities and states around the nation are closing schools and libraries, turning off streetlights, allowing roads to go unpaved, and stopping bus service because of lack of funds:

Does anyone doubt that once a society ceases to be able to afford schools, public transit, paved roads, libraries and street lights — or once it chooses not to be able to afford those things in pursuit of imperial priorities and the maintenance of a vast Surveillance and National Security State — that a very serious problem has arisen, that things have gone seriously awry, that imperial collapse, by definition, is an imminent inevitability?

Oh well, at least we’re still making the world safe for capitalism w/our huge military! Oh, and we also have Steven Slater, “Hero to the underpaid, overworked flight attendants who regularly endure the wrath — and occasionally the fists and feet — of belligerent [airline] passengers. He even has his own ballad (via DF.) That’s the kind of sticking it to the man that’s going to really turn things around!

Target Doesn’t Support Gay Equality Because It Never Did

Abe Sauer:

The truth is not that Target and its leadership have suddenly turned on their commitment to gay rights. It’s more that it never really existed to begin with. Further research shows that Target has funneled significant funding to the most socially conservative of Republicans and that it boasts a frightening culture of anti-gay candidate support from Target’s own stable of top executives.

This is a bummer. Wal-Mart is evil and has been for decades, so Target was generally the best alternative for a sort of low-cost general retailer. Now it seems Target is evil, too — and that it has been for some time. Oh well. Who among us really needs more low-cost general junk, anyway?

“Mad Men” recap: Innocence lost

Heather Havrilesky on S4e2 of AMC’s “Mad Men”:

So how do you hold on to some spirit of innocence and naive happiness in your life? “Mad Men” demonstrates that unless you’re very rich, or very drunk, or in denial — or all of the above — it’s not that easy. 

If you thought the sound of Don hitting bottom was the slap of “the open palm of a hooker’s hand making contact with stubbly face in a darkened room on Thanksgiving as she joylessly rides” him, well, I guess not. Can Don get any more despicable? Sadly, I fear the answer is yes.

“The Last Gasp”: Can you take the pain out of executions?

Scott Christianson on the anti-death penalty dinner party argument:

You have to be aware that the government makes mistakes, that the criminal justice system makes mistakes and that it’s possible that an innocent person could be wrongfully accused and subjected to capital punishment. So, you’d have to ask the person at the party: Do you think that is acceptable? 

The 2010 Tour


If you didn’t watch the Tour de France this year, this is really the image that sums up the whole race. From Bicycling Magazine:

After dropping his chain during an attack on the Bales climb, Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck tries desperately to chase Alberto Contador, Denis Menchov and Samuel Sanchez. At the end of the day he would finish 39 seconds behind and lose his yellow jersey by 8 seconds.

The reason this was *the* moment of the Tour is that Contador ended up winning the overall Tour by 39 seconds — exactly what he stole from Schleck in Stage 15.

Still, Contador is a strong rider who rode well and hard and deserved to win. It was an awesome Tour. I’m looking forward to next year. Was this Schleck’s peak or will he run away with it? Or will someone else emerge to dominate both of this year’s leaders? If you think cycling is not fun and exciting to watch, give the Tour a chance; it just might change your mind.

A case of language that’s struggling toward some idea outside our experience

Point OmegaPoint Omega by Don DeLillo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book that made me finally see “Psycho.” The parallels between the film and the characters in this little novella are what make the book interesting. DeLillo is a prose master so there are some great little lines in there that make it worth your while, but beyond that he’s making readers work with this one. All the characters are so detached and alienated from the world and themselves that it’s, well, painful, and painfully depressing.

I finished it wondering a little what was the point, but, of course, the alienation itself is probably the point. I began to appreciate it when I started thinking about it as a meditation on war, and the planners of war, and how they see the world as an abstraction, a curiosity, something that is not real, a bunch of big ideas. This enables them to construct and set in motion the machinery of death because there aren’t really flesh and blood people and lives and civilizations and societies involved — it’s all just big ideas and theories and stars.

“Consciousness accumulates. It begins to reflect upon itself. Something about this feels almost mathematical to me. There’s almost some law of mathematics or physics that we haven’t quite hit upon, where the mind transcends all direction inward. The omega point,” he said. “Whatever the intended meaning of this term, if it has a meaning, if it’s not a case of language that’s struggling toward some idea outside our experience.”(72)

The planners of war are Norman Bates; their minds have transcended all direction inward until they have begun to eat themselves with dissociation. In the end they have to be someone else to do what they do and they don’t even know that other self that they are, they deny it and almost are unaware of it. If you confront them with the reality of the pain and suffering they create, they will not be able to cope. They will run, retreat, escape, deny, turn away, and become helpless as children. Maybe.

Or maybe it would just be really cool to see “Psycho” slowed down into a 24-hour marathon.

The Top Idea in Your Mind

Paul Graham:

I’ve found there are two types of thoughts especially worth avoiding—thoughts like the Nile Perch in the way they push out more interesting ideas. One I’ve already mentioned: thoughts about money. Getting money is almost by definition an attention sink. The other is disputes. These too are engaging in the wrong way: they have the same velcro-like shape as genuinely interesting ideas, but without the substance. So avoid disputes if you want to get real work done.

. . .

Turning the other cheek turns out to have selfish advantages. Someone who does you an injury hurts you twice: first by the injury itself, and second by taking up your time afterward thinking about it. If you learn to ignore injuries you can at least avoid the second half. I’ve found I can to some extent avoid thinking about nasty things people have done to me by telling myself: this doesn’t deserve space in my head. I’m always delighted to find I’ve forgotten the details of disputes, because that means I hadn’t been thinking about them. My wife thinks I’m more forgiving than she is, but my motives are purely selfish.

This is actually great advice for public defenders. It’s so easy to get sidetracked by little disagreements with prosecutors or judges or to take adverse rulings personally and forget what’s really important — doing your best for your clients. If you allow your personal struggle with “the system” and its components to become the top idea in your mind you’re less likely to do all the best things for your clients because those things easily become obscured by those petty disputes that really just don’t matter.

I wonder if this is actually the difference between those public defenders who love their work and do it well for decades, and those who are always in anguish and burn out after only a few years. Those who let go of the petty, bullshit disputes and focus on what matters are happier, do better work, and retain their sanity. Those who don’t, well they have to find something else to do because the work just eats them up.

(Via Daring Fireball.)