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Having finally finished reading through this, I commend Ars Technica's coverage of the trial of the Dread Pirate Roberts over the past few weeks. It's fascinating reading, especially if you start from the beginning of the story (the bottom of the page) and go from there.

I confess, early on I was in innocent-until-proven-guilty mode, at least mildly sympathetic to this guy's case, but the prosecution's story as described here seems pretty airtight. (And the defense surprisingly flimsy.) There is a lot of strangeness here, culminating in the final story -- the detailed logs of what purported to be a murder-for-hire scheme, but appears to have been an elaborate scam that ripped off DPR (who seems to have been a somewhat competent engineer but a mediocre criminal) of about a million dollars...
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So we have a man who has been respected and admired for decades; who is highly charismatic and strongly opinionated, and who has spent many years with people giving him particular respect for being strong-willed; whose spiel has always had an undertone of, "I will respect you if and only if you play by my rules". And now it turns out that he's been raping women for ages? I can understand being sad and dismayed if you shared some of his views, but I can't actually say I'm astonished.

I mean, if he'd been a preacher who fit the above description, most folks I know would go tsk-tsk but not be all that surprised. If he was a politician, everyone would be saying, "I suspected all along". Doing your memetic engineering as an entertainer isn't necessarily all that different.

The point is, we collectively have a bad habit of putting charismatic people (most often but not exclusively men) on pedestals when they powerfully say something we agree with. Not only does that set us up for disappointment when we discover their secrets, I suspect it makes it more likely that they will commit serious abuses. I mean, when you tell someone, "you are Powerful and Right, and We believe in You" -- well, history says that that goes to most peoples' heads. The reality is that the Powerful are pretty good at covering stuff up, and continuing to do what they want to do. And worse, they tend to be surrounded by people who don't want to rock the boat by pointing said stuff out.

None of which is to say that every leader commits quite such terrible acts. But as a society, we really need to get better at not being enablers when they do happen. Frankly, the one silver lining in this mess is the media people who have publicly apologized for papering over the history: that at least suggests that some folks might be learning from the mistake.

(And yes, I'm assuming the accusations are at least mostly true. While I don't entirely agree with, "Where there's smoke there's fire", I do generally find that, if I can see the smoke cloud from a mile off, it's probably pretty warm over there.)

Smock

May. 8th, 2012 05:18 pm
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I just have to say, every time I hear the phrase, "Sophisticated underwear bomb" on the news, it gets funnier...
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The Casey Anthony thing dredges up a day that still stands as a favorite of mine. Many of you have heard this story, but for those who haven't, it's worth recounting, and I don't think I've told it on LJ before.

The only time I've actually served on a jury was the first time I was called; I was probably about 23 at the time. The case was in Lowell, IIRC -- I was selected, and then randomly assigned as the foreman. It was fascinating getting to see the system from deep inside.

The case was drunk-driving. As the prosecution put it, this kid (about 19, IIRC -- legal at the time) was driving his red Camaro too fast through Lowell late at night, and got pulled over. The cops smelled alcohol. When they took him out of the car and cuffed him, he was "belligerent" and kept demanding (oddly) to see a doctor. When entering the police station, he was staggering. It was a clear open-and-shut drunk-driving case.

And then the defense got to work -- and it was *fascinating* to watch them adding the details that the prosecution conveniently omitted. For instance, that there had been a police report 10 minutes earlier of a robbery, that had an (as it turned out, unrelated) red Camaro as the getaway car. That the police had torn the kid out of the car and slammed him down on the hood, splitting his lip open. That his friend in the passenger seat was, self-admittedly, completely soused. That the police station is down a substantial flight of stairs, and that he was forced to walk down them, cuffed and bleeding, and not allowed to use the handrails.

The prosecution clammed up, and didn't say a word to deny any of it.

The really fascinating -- and not a little distressing -- part was the jury room. Despite all of this, 10 of the 12 jurors wanted to hang the kid, because he *looked* guilty. He even had admitted that he'd had one beer -- surely, he was just lying, and was actually driving drunk?

It came down to two of us -- me, by far the youngest person on the jury, and the oldest one, a guy who looked to be in his mid-60s -- repeating over and over again, "No Evidence". Because, really, there wasn't any. The prosecution had done a fine job of presenting a circumstantial case, but had presented absolutely zero evidence that the kid was driving drunk. Indeed, the defense's largely implicit argument was damned near airtight: that the police had *thought* they were catching a thief, roughed him up, dragged him in, realized much too late that they had arrested the wrong person, and were pressing drunk-driving charges solely for the purpose of avoiding a false arrest case. The fact that they *hadn't* tried to do a breathalyzer, nor even made him walk a line, indicated strongly that this arrest had nothing whatsoever to do with drunk driving.

So after about an hour of haranguing, the older fellow and I won the argument, as the rest of the jury admitted that there wasn't any there there. We acquitted the kid efficiently, and the whole thing was over in about four hours all told.

And y'know, the hell of it is that I still suspect he probably *was* driving drunk -- the circumstantial evidence wasn't trivial. But it was way, way below the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt", and the verdict *had* to be an acquittal: not only was there doubt, it was screamingly clear that he'd been railroaded in order to cover up a police error. The sense that this is the way it is supposed to work was very strong, and I developed a deep appreciation for why things work the way they do. Presumption of innocence really does matter.

So hearing one of the jurors on Nightline last night, repeating that point over and over again -- that the prosecution just plain didn't present any solid evidence -- has quite a ring of familiarity to me. It's good to see that the system still works, even in this media-soaked age...
jducoeur: (Default)
The Casey Anthony thing dredges up a day that still stands as a favorite of mine. Many of you have heard this story, but for those who haven't, it's worth recounting, and I don't think I've told it on LJ before.

The only time I've actually served on a jury was the first time I was called; I was probably about 23 at the time. The case was in Lowell, IIRC -- I was selected, and then randomly assigned as the foreman. It was fascinating getting to see the system from deep inside.

The case was drunk-driving. As the prosecution put it, this kid (about 19, IIRC -- legal at the time) was driving his red Camaro too fast through Lowell late at night, and got pulled over. The cops smelled alcohol. When they took him out of the car and cuffed him, he was "belligerent" and kept demanding (oddly) to see a doctor. When entering the police station, he was staggering. It was a clear open-and-shut drunk-driving case.

And then the defense got to work -- and it was *fascinating* to watch them adding the details that the prosecution conveniently omitted. For instance, that there had been a police report 10 minutes earlier of a robbery, that had an (as it turned out, unrelated) red Camaro as the getaway car. That the police had torn the kid out of the car and slammed him down on the hood, splitting his lip open. That his friend in the passenger seat was, self-admittedly, completely soused. That the police station is down a substantial flight of stairs, and that he was forced to walk down them, cuffed and bleeding, and not allowed to use the handrails.

The prosecution clammed up, and didn't say a word to deny any of it.

The really fascinating -- and not a little distressing -- part was the jury room. Despite all of this, 10 of the 12 jurors wanted to hang the kid, because he *looked* guilty. He even had admitted that he'd had one beer -- surely, he was just lying, and was actually driving drunk?

It came down to two of us -- me, by far the youngest person on the jury, and the oldest one, a guy who looked to be in his mid-60s -- repeating over and over again, "No Evidence". Because, really, there wasn't any. The prosecution had done a fine job of presenting a circumstantial case, but had presented absolutely zero evidence that the kid was driving drunk. Indeed, the defense's largely implicit argument was damned near airtight: that the police had *thought* they were catching a thief, roughed him up, dragged him in, realized much too late that they had arrested the wrong person, and were pressing drunk-driving charges solely for the purpose of avoiding a false arrest case. The fact that they *hadn't* tried to do a breathalyzer, nor even made him walk a line, indicated strongly that this arrest had nothing whatsoever to do with drunk driving.

So after about an hour of haranguing, the older fellow and I won the argument, as the rest of the jury admitted that there wasn't any there there. We acquitted the kid efficiently, and the whole thing was over in about four hours all told.

And y'know, the hell of it is that I still suspect he probably *was* driving drunk -- the circumstantial evidence wasn't trivial. But it was way, way below the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt", and the verdict *had* to be an acquittal: not only was there doubt, it was screamingly clear that he'd been railroaded in order to cover up a police error. The sense that this is the way it is supposed to work was very strong, and I developed a deep appreciation for why things work the way they do. Presumption of innocence really does matter.

So hearing one of the jurors on Nightline last night, repeating that point over and over again -- that the prosecution just plain didn't present any solid evidence -- has quite a ring of familiarity to me. It's good to see that the system still works, even in this media-soaked age...
jducoeur: (Default)
The post from Something Positive was sufficiently well-received, so today let's take a look at XKCD's contribution to understanding the Japanese radiation situation. This post from a few days ago demonstrates, once again, that Randall is possibly the most prominent and clever thinker in modern data visualization, with a chart that quite literally puts things in elegant perspective. Worth a quick look, as an antidote to occasionally-fevered media hype about the current mess. (Thanks again to Aaron for the link...)
jducoeur: (Default)
The post from Something Positive was sufficiently well-received, so today let's take a look at XKCD's contribution to understanding the Japanese radiation situation. This post from a few days ago demonstrates, once again, that Randall is possibly the most prominent and clever thinker in modern data visualization, with a chart that quite literally puts things in elegant perspective. Worth a quick look, as an antidote to occasionally-fevered media hype about the current mess. (Thanks again to Aaron for the link...)
jducoeur: (Default)
Aaron pointed me to this excellent FAQ on the Japanese reactor situation, over on (of all places) the Something Awful forums. You have to click through an annoying ad to get to it, but it's a fine, calm discussion of what's going on there, and what the actual risks are.

I will admit to very mixed feelings -- horror for the people living nearby, annoyance at the fact that this will likely hobble nuclear power for at least a decade, and hope that, when the industry does begin to recover, it might motivate people to use more modern and fail-safe nuclear technologies. Yes, I'm mildly in favor of nuclear power as a component of the overall electricity mix, but only with a much more careful choice of reactor designs...
jducoeur: (Default)
Aaron pointed me to this excellent FAQ on the Japanese reactor situation, over on (of all places) the Something Awful forums. You have to click through an annoying ad to get to it, but it's a fine, calm discussion of what's going on there, and what the actual risks are.

I will admit to very mixed feelings -- horror for the people living nearby, annoyance at the fact that this will likely hobble nuclear power for at least a decade, and hope that, when the industry does begin to recover, it might motivate people to use more modern and fail-safe nuclear technologies. Yes, I'm mildly in favor of nuclear power as a component of the overall electricity mix, but only with a much more careful choice of reactor designs...
jducoeur: (Default)
Here's a good little article in Ars Technica, taking a look at the increasingly-common rumors that have been spreading about "global cooling" -- basically, the way that a lot of people with a vested interest in fighting the idea of global warming have seized on short-term statistics and ignored the long-term ones. Apparently the AP did a simple little experiment of sending the data, context-free, to some statisticians and asking what trends were seen in the numbers: the result (which won't surprise most people here) is that the pattern of warming is quite clear, and the "cooling" is nothing more than statistical blips and preconceptions...
jducoeur: (Default)
Here's a good little article in Ars Technica, taking a look at the increasingly-common rumors that have been spreading about "global cooling" -- basically, the way that a lot of people with a vested interest in fighting the idea of global warming have seized on short-term statistics and ignored the long-term ones. Apparently the AP did a simple little experiment of sending the data, context-free, to some statisticians and asking what trends were seen in the numbers: the result (which won't surprise most people here) is that the pattern of warming is quite clear, and the "cooling" is nothing more than statistical blips and preconceptions...
jducoeur: (Default)
[Happy birthday to [livejournal.com profile] cvirtue, and belatedly to [livejournal.com profile] liamstliam!]

I suspect some folks here might be interested: over on The Art of Conversation, I just posted about today's big news of Google Autopilot, along with some speculations about how it will get applied to social technology in the near future. Come on over -- I'd be interested in your take on it. (And will be curious whether I get comments on it from Autopilot itself, or if that's going to take a few more days yet...)
jducoeur: (Default)
[Happy birthday to [livejournal.com profile] cvirtue, and belatedly to [livejournal.com profile] liamstliam!]

I suspect some folks here might be interested: over on The Art of Conversation, I just posted about today's big news of Google Autopilot, along with some speculations about how it will get applied to social technology in the near future. Come on over -- I'd be interested in your take on it. (And will be curious whether I get comments on it from Autopilot itself, or if that's going to take a few more days yet...)
jducoeur: (Default)
... but still, how *do* you manage to get two nuclear submarines to collide with one another by accident? I mean, seriously, that's two needles wandering around in a haystack and managing to run into each other. Given the three-dimensional nature of the environment, it's pretty remarkable...
jducoeur: (Default)
... but still, how *do* you manage to get two nuclear submarines to collide with one another by accident? I mean, seriously, that's two needles wandering around in a haystack and managing to run into each other. Given the three-dimensional nature of the environment, it's pretty remarkable...
jducoeur: (Default)
There's something faintly surprising to see a large plane ditch in the water successfully. You get the water-crash drill every time you take off, but I don't recall actually seeing that trick *work* before.

Granted, the plane wasn't 5 miles up yet, so it wasn't a worst-case scenario; still, I'm impressed at the early reports that everybody seems to have made it. I'll take a completely-survived disaster as an oddly comforting portent for the year...
jducoeur: (Default)
There's something faintly surprising to see a large plane ditch in the water successfully. You get the water-crash drill every time you take off, but I don't recall actually seeing that trick *work* before.

Granted, the plane wasn't 5 miles up yet, so it wasn't a worst-case scenario; still, I'm impressed at the early reports that everybody seems to have made it. I'll take a completely-survived disaster as an oddly comforting portent for the year...

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