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April 29, 2014

Overnight Open Thread (4-29-2014)

Havel on Legality and Freedom

Amid the kerfuffles over Donald Sterling's ban from the NBA for life and Mozilla's firing of Brenden Eich some commenters have pointed out that it was perfectly legal for the organizations to fire/ban them so why the big whoop. Which is true - it was legal. But misses the point on why their summary expulsion and mob-driven pariah status over relatively trivial actions disturbs many of us here even if we have no love for the targets personally.

Because something being legal really tells us nothing about whether it is moral, good for society, or even just: It's just not forbidden by law. In fact many of the recent scandals noted here - IRS targeting of conservative groups, the Wisconsin John Doe witch hunts, A&E's banning of Phil Robertson, and the selective enforcement (Dinesh D'Souza) and non-enforcement (David Gregory) of laws among others - are probably all legal in the sense that that the acts per se don't violate any laws.

And yet the sum total effect of all these legal acts is to constrain the practical freedom of speech and thought for everyone not on the left and push us towards a more totalitarian society where there is no space for non-approved political beliefs or personal non-politicized speech. But it's all legal-like and each action has all the proper justifying forms and clauses.

Vaclav Havel in his 1978 essay, The Power of the Powerless, (which I just happened to be re-reading last week - okay okay re-skimming) has an excellent section where he points out how a country can a have complete system of laws and courts in which all the procedural niceties are followed and yet still be an oppressive un-free totalitarian system. Laws and a legal system by themselves aren't a very good measure of whether a society is free or not.

If an outside observer who knew nothing at all about life in Czechoslovakia were to study only its laws, he would be utterly incapable of understanding what we were complaining about. The hidden political manipulation of the courts and of public prosecutors, the limitations placed on lawyers' ability to defend their clients, the closed nature, de facto, of trials, the arbitrary actions of the security forces, their position of authority over the judiciary, the absurdly broad application of several deliberately vague sections of that code, and of course the state's utter disregard for the positive sections of that code (the rights of citizens): all of this would remain hidden from our outside observer. The only thing he would take away would be the impression that our legal code is not much worse than the legal code of other civilized countries, and not much different either, except perhaps for certain curiosities, such as the entrenchment in the constitution of a single political party's eternal rule and the state's love for a neighboring superpower.

But that is not all: if our observer had the opportunity to study the formal side of the policing and judicial procedures and practices, how they look "on paper," he would discover that for the most part the common rules of criminal procedure are observed: charges are laid within the prescribed period following arrest, and it is the same with detention orders. Indictments are properly delivered, the accused has a lawyer, and so on. In other words, everyone has an excuse: they have all observed the law. In reality, however, they have cruelly and pointlessly ruined a young person's life, perhaps for no other reason than because he made samizdat copies of a novel written by a banned writer, or because the police deliberately falsified their testimony (as everyone knows, from the judge on down to the defendant). Yet all of this somehow remains in the background. The falsified testimony is not necessarily obvious from the trial documents and the section of the Criminal Code dealing with incitement does not formally exclude the application of that charge to the copying of a banned novel. In other words, the legal code-at least in several areas-is no more than a facade, an aspect of the world of appearances. Then why is it there at all? For exactly the same reason as ideology is there: it provides a bridge of excuses between the system and individuals, making it easier for them to enter the power structure and serve the arbitrary demands of power. The excuse lets individuals fool themselves into thinking they are merely upholding the law and protecting society from criminals.

And the limits of law for creating a free and happy society:

The point is this: even in the most ideal of cases, the law is only one of several imperfect and more or less external ways of defending what is better in life against what is worse. By itself, the law can never create anything better. Its purpose is to render a service and its meaning does not lie in the law itself. Establishing respect for the law does not automatically ensure a better life for that, after all, is a job for people and not for laws and institutions. It is possible to imagine a society with good laws that are fully respected but in which it is impossible to live. Conversely, one can imagine life being quite bearable even where the laws are imperfect and imperfectly applied. The most important thing is always the quality of that life and whether or not the laws enhance life or repress it, not merely whether they are upheld or not. (Often strict observance of the law could have a disastrous impact on human dignity.) The key to a humane, dignified, rich, and happy life does not lie either in the constitution or in the Criminal Code. These merely establish what may or may not be done and, thus, they can make life easier or more difficult. They limit or permit, they punish, tolerate, or defend, but they can never give life substance or meaning. The struggle for what is called "legality" must constantly keep this legality in perspective against the background of life as it really is. Without keeping one's eyes open to the real dimensions of life's beauty and misery, and without a moral relationship to life, this struggle will sooner or later come to grief on the rocks of some self-justifying system of scholastics. Without really wanting to, one would thus become more and more like the observer who comes to conclusions about our system only on the basis of trial documents and is satisfied if all the appropriate regulations have been observed.

Don't forget that the Soviet Union had a beautiful constitution full of rights as well as a full legal and court system with all sorts of protections and limits written into it. And yet in practice the USSR was nightmare totalitarian state that brutalized and murdered people. And had all the proper legal paperwork filled out to do so.

"Who runs the world? The liberal elite"

The popular rhetoric of income inequality, the attacks on Charles and David Koch, the assertion that the system is rigged against the common man, the accusations that a vast right-wing conspiracy has despoiled the American landscape and society and polity - these are the means by which the ruling class masks its true position and justifies its continued agglomeration of power and of wealth.

...Seven of the ten richest counties in the country voted for Barack Obama in 2012, many of them by huge margins. Six of the ten are in the Washington, D.C., metro area, which has benefited from government employment and payment regulations, from government contracting, and from consulting, lobbying, and lawyering for clients petitioning the government. The median income of Falls Church City, Va., is $121,250 dollars. In 2012, Falls Church City voted for Obama 70 percent to 30 percent.

Democrats represent eight of the ten richest congressional districts in the country. Democrat Carolyn Maloney represents the district with the highest per capita income of $75,479. Outgoing congressman Henry Waxman represents the district with the second-highest per capita income of $61,273. The only two Republicans on the list are Representative Leonard Lance, whose New Jersey district ranks seventh, and outgoing Representative Frank Wolf, whose Virginia district ranks tenth. The average per capita income of Democratic House districts is $1,000 more than Republican ones.

And yet this is the standard media image of a Republican:


'Verbatim: What Is a Photocopier?'

While this is acted out, all the dialog came from the actual deposition of a Cuyahoga County Recorder's Office IT administrator in a 2010 lawsuit over their new policy of no longer providing digital copies of documents. (Thanks to Slu)

Calculating Pi Via the Mossberg 500 Method

Imagine the following scenario. The end of civilization has occurred, zombies have taken over the Earth and all access to modern technology has ended. The few survivors suddenly need to know the value of pi and, being a mathematician, they turn to you. What do you do? According to a couple of Canadian mathematicians, the answer is to repeatedly fire a Mossberg 500 pump action shotgun at a square aluminum target about 20 meters away. Then imagine that the square is inscribed with an arc drawn between opposite corners that maps out a quarter circle. If the sides of the square are equal to 1, then the area of the quarter circle is pi/4. Next, count the number of pellet holes that fall inside the area of the quarter circle as well as the total number of holes. The ratio between these is an estimate of the ratio between the area of the quarter circle and the area of a square, or in other words pi/4. So multiplying this number by 4 will give you an estimate of pi. That's a process known as a Monte Carlo approximation and it is complicated by factors such as the distribution of the pellets not being random. But the mathematicians show how to handle these too. The result? According to this method, pi is 3.13, which is just 0.33 per cent off the true value. Handy if you find yourself in a post-apocalyptic world.

You can read the original paper here. This may be the first mathematics paper to ever explicitly reference the zombie apocalypse. The math behind this isn't as trivial as I imagined since they had to account for the fact that the distribution of shot itself isn't random which would skew any Monte Carlo results. No word on what (if any) chokes they used.

1 0VJ2KnzhS8-D7jjYptj4aA 1 7lAX2xoHdkjl7mfUtQLLcg

Value Of A Modern Day Slave: $12.45

I think I've got that much change floating around in my Jeep somewhere.

Most of the 234 Borno schoolgirls in Boko Haram captivity have been ferried abroad to Chad and Cameroon after they were married off to sect members on N2,000 [about $12.45] bride price each, an elder told Daily Trust yesterday.

And DMartyr makes a good point on Boko Haram's behavior:

Some will call Boko Haram extremists who do not represent Islam. Yet they are behaving as the Quran says they should behave - they are following Muhammad's example. So, what does that make them?

Beer Blimp Terrorizes Eastern Canada Airways

Perhaps you'll remember that the people at Budweiser Canada had a blimp designed to be a giant goal light for the Olympics. They teased it in an ad during the Super Bowl and then it appeared over the skies of Toronto before the Canadian men's team's first game in Sochi.

Well, we have an update. A Budweiser goal light blimp is on the loose. I repeat, the blimp is on the loose. While stationed in New Brunswick at a ball hockey tournament Saturday, the two-story, 70-foot-long blimp broke free of its tether and began to float away.

According to Transport Canada's Civil Aviation Daily Occurrence Reporting System (CADOR), the blimp was last reported floating 1,200 to 1,500 metres up.

Creepy Or Romantic? Man Photoshops Himself Into Girlfriend's Childhood Photos

Well as most guys eventually learn it all depends on just how attractive you are and whether she's into you or not.


The AoSHQ group. Yeah.

Teh Tweet!

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