« December 2004 | Main | February 2005 »

January 28, 2005

Glorious People's Republic of Toontown

It's 2005. Do you know where your children are? Perhaps they're enjoying a little kid-friendly entertainment courtesy of one of the most trusted names in kid-friendly entertainment, Disney. Perhaps they're having fun playing with other kids. Perhaps their impressionable young minds are being indoctrinated... into Communism.

I refer to Disney's massively multiplayer online game, Toontown. This seemingly innocent pastime is in reality a sinister glorification of Stalinism, designed to lead children down the Marxist path until they are red, red, red.

Big Mickey is watching! For starters, Toontown itself is quite obviously a totalitarian state. Every street and commons has as its centerpiece the "Headquarters", in which agents of the government assign life-threatening tasks for picayune rewards to the Toonish proletarians. Most significantly, a gigantic telescope protrudes from the roof of each and every one of these headquarters, through which the spies of the state can keep a close eye on the populace.

Everything is painted a garish pastel hue, to soothe the downtrodden and fool themYou will say only what we want you to say  into believing that living under Mickey's iron boot is in fact paradise. Freedom is strictly limited. There is no freedom of speech; instead the denizens of Toontown must choose their words from a government-approved list. Any attempt to give voice to opposition to the state, or indeed say anything not officially sanctioned by the government, is met with immediate and automatic censorship, rendering the language into incomprehensible animal noises.

Toontown's economy is, of course, quite communist. The currency is the "jellybean", and virtually everything in the ubiquitous state-run shops costs exactly one bean. A grand piano costs the same as a glass of water. Toontown strictly regulates the amount of money a citizen may possess, with the elite who have proven themselves through service to the state permitted to carry slighly more than the most worthless members of society. An exchange rate between the jellybean and the dollar is difficult to calculate, since both a dollar bill and a sawbuck can be purchased for a single bean.

But every totalitarian state needs its Emmanuel Goldstein, its Trotsky, its Snowball, its enemy to be demonized and blamed for all of the ills brought upon by the oppressive state. Toontown's enemies are -- who else? -- the capitalists. The evil counterrevolutionaries in this case are represented by the Cogs, sentient robots belonging to four different races. They are:

  • Bossbots, symbolizing the bourgeoise and upper-class management
  • Sellbots, symbolizing the productive entrepreneurs who are so essential to the operation of free markets
  • Lawbots, symbolizing those who protect the legal rights of the capitalists
  • Cashbots, symbolizing Capital itself. That the mere existence of money is portrayed as evil speaks volumes.

A factory, as Disney sees it Cogs have no rights. Indeed, they are subject to summary execution on sight, and the denizens of Toontown are in fact encouraged to hate and destroy Cogs, with the most prolific killers rewarded with money, education, status, and health care. Cogs may be attacked when peacefully walking down the street, or for even greater rewards a Toon may invade a Cog's home and slaughter him and his entire family. Cogs can be attacked, among other ways, by shattering their sensitive eardrums with loud noises, by striking them with heavy objects such as pianos and safes, or by using hypnosis to induce them into walking into a bundle of dynamite. When attacked, a Cog cowers in pain, then shudders and explodes... a fitting end to the enemies of the glorious state.

Say what we want you to say, do what we tell you to do, and fight the capitalists wherever you find them. That is the message that Disney is giving our kids.

NOTE: It pains me that this disclaimer is even necessary, but this post is intended to be satirical and should not be taken seriously.

January 28, 2005 in Games | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 25, 2005

Yet another response to DU

In this post (warning: disturbing images), DUer NightTrain invites "right-wing lurkers" to view images of injured or killed children, and then asks, "Still think the War On Terror will make America safer in the decades to come? For chrissake, how fucking delusional can you be???"

Answer: I'm not delusional, I'm logical. And as such, I recognize argumentum ad misericordiam as the logical fallacy it is. Undoubtedly, one could find similar pictures of German and Japanese children in World War II, and had color photography had been invented, such sad pictures could be found from the Civil War or American Revolution. Does that mean that we should have rolled over for the Axis? Does it mean that the Union should have been allowed to break apart, or British rule should have been endured?

No, it does not. The morality of the war in Iraq is a valid question, but the display of these pictures adds nothing to the debate. They're a cheap appeal to pity, nothing more. And if you allow them to persuade you, I'm afraid it is you who is not being rational, not your opponents.

January 25, 2005 in Democratic Underground | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 20, 2005

I am well hung

...well, at least my jury was. After three days of testimony and two of deliberation, we failed to reach a verdict in State v. Stewart. Which is a pity, because the guy was guilty of both counts of assault (one in the second degree, one in the third) with which he was charged. I take some solace in the fact that we learned after the trial that the defendant is presently incarcerated on an unrelated charge and won't be walking free for another two years, but it would've been nice to get him off the streets for the next decade or so. The final score on the second degree assault was 4-8, and on the third degree was 11-1.

It was an interesting case; when the prosecutor begins her opening statement with, "What must one endure for love?" you know you're in for a good show. I was quite surprised to find myself on the jury to begin with. Being constitutionally incapable of restraining my big mouth, I spoke up quite a lot during voir dire, and although I wanted to serve, I was very much concerned that by drawing attention to myself I'd be talking myself into a dismissal. For example, the prosecutor asked the entire pool of prospective jurors what sort of evidence we'd expect to find in a domestic violence case. I volunteered that I'd expect to hear testimony from the victim, reports from medical professionals and/or police, and possibly physical evidence. She then asked the pool if we could think of reasons why we might not hear from the victim in such a case. Again I piped up that the victim might love the defendant and not want to see him convicted. Considering that in fact we were not expected to hear from the victim, it's a wonder that the prosecution didn't dismiss me for my preconceived notion that she'd testify, nor the defense for my inference that a victim's feelings might cause her to exonerate a guilty man. I'm glad I got this opportunity, and after the trial I expressed my gratitude to both attorneys for their trust in me. I did my best.

The highlight of the trial was the surprise witness. It was probably not a surprise to the attorneys or the judge, but every one of us jurors was given a jolt. After being asked in voir dire about a victim not testifying in a domestic violence case, and after the prosecutor said in her opening statement that we probably would not hear from the victim, on the morning of the third day of testimony (after the long MLK-day weekend) the victim was called to the stand. And once there, she proceeded to perjure her ass off.

The victim did love the defendant, enough to forgive him for assaulting her, enough to lie under oath to protect him. After she was called but before she was asked any questions, she addressed the defendant directly and said, "I'm sorry, baby, I didn't mean to get you locked up." We were of course admonished to disregard this statement, but it hardly mattered... it became plain from her testimony that she loved him and wanted him acquitted. I'm unsympathetic. As I stated in an earlier post, I don't like perjury. I consider it among the most serious of crimes; the presumption that a witness under oath will testify truthfully is key to our legal system and perjury is an attack at one of our society's basic pillars. During her closing remarks, the prosecutor urged us not to judge the victim harshly for her obvious lies. Sorry, but I do. If she truly did not want to testify against her beloved, the honorable thing would be to refuse the subpoena and do her time for contempt of court if necessary.

And she got what she wanted. Despite the fact that every one of us jurors knew she was a liar, the mere fact that she invented alternate stories to explain her proven injuries was enough to raise reasonable doubt in the minds of some jurors and hopelessly deadlock us. Shame on her. Nobody deserves to be assaulted, but there's a limit to how much sympathy one can feel for a person who not only refuses to help herself, but breaks the law to harm herself.

The assault in the third degree charge, with a lone holdout hanging the jury, was related to a hematoma the victim sustained to her forehead. We all agreed, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the victim was alone in an apartment with the defendant at the time, and that the defendant hurled a beer bottle. Also in evidence was the fact that the victim told a fire department medic who responded to the scene (after the defendant had left and the victim's daughter had dialed 911) that she had been struck with a beer bottle. Furthermore, the victim told a police sergeant some weeks later that the defendant had thrown the beer bottle at her head. On the stand, however, the victim claimed to have no recollection that she told the medic about being hit with a beer bottle, and also claimed to have lied to the police sergeant because she was angry at the defendant at the time and wanted to cause trouble for him. She claimed that she sustained her injury by running into a wall. She also claimed that she had only remembered running into the wall three days before her testimony. What pushed that rather farfetched story into the realm of unreasonability for me was the fact that she did not speak to the policeman who responded along with the medic, and on the stand she said that she didn't talk to him "because I didn't know if I could get in trouble for hurting myself." In addition to the fact that nobody reasonably believes that accidentally injuring oneself is against the law, this contradicts her testimony that she didn't even remember that she was the cause of her own injury until much later.

But one juror felt that the mere fact that the victim denied the assault was enough to raise reasonable doubt. I tried to sway her by arguing that we all agreed that the victim clearly did not want the defendant convicted. Therefore, her testimony exonerating him should be viewed in the same light as a defendant's testimony exonerating himself. If someone's accused of a crime and gets on the stand and says "I didn't do it", that statement alone should not suffice to establish reasonable doubt. Similarly, the victim's sworn statement that the defendant didn't do it should be viewed with the same degree of skepticism, and in and of itself should not have ruled out a conviction. But she wouldn't budge. During deliberations, she often appeared uninterested and bored. Her mind was closed.

The more serious charge, assault in the second degree, was also the more hotly disputed among the jury, with only four jurors including myself convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. The facts were as follows:

  • The victim sustained a fractured jaw.
  • The report filled out at the hospital stated that she had been punched by her boyfriend of seven years, a description which applies to the defendant.
  • She told the police sergeant during the same interview in which she accused the defendant of throwing a beer bottle at her that the boyfriend punched her and broke her jaw.
  • She was seen with the defendant the morning her jaw was broken.
  • On the stand, she testified that her jaw was broken by a man named Arturo. Supposedly, Arturo had been stalking her, and in front of her dry cleaner and in the presence of the defendant he started an altercation. Fisticuffs broke out between the defendant and Arturo, and when she attempted to break up the fight Arturo punched her in the face.

I became convinced that the defendant was guilty of this assault using the following logic. One and only one of the following must be true:

  1. The victim was not assaulted.
  2. The victim was assaulted by the defendant.
  3. The victim was assaulted by Arturo.
  4. The victim was assaulted by somebody else, or by more than one person.

We can prove that the defendant is guilty by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that #2 above is true. But it is exactly equivalent to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that #1, #3, and #4 are false. If we do not reasonably doubt that three of the statements are false, we do not reasonably doubt that the remaining statement is true.

I was very disenheartened that many jurors completely objected to this entire line of reasoning. "It's not a logic puzzle", one of them said. Well, logic is a tool that's useful for more than just puzzles, and I'm saddened that more people aren't aware of this. In any case, all of us believed beyond a reasonable doubt that #1 was false.

I believe beyond a reasonable doubt that #4 is false, because it did not seem reasonable to me that if the defendant were not guilty of the assault, the victim (who clearly wanted the defendant acquitted) wouldn't simply tell the truth rather than falsely accusing Arturo. I believe beyond a reasonable doubt that #3 is false primarily because of the victim's demeanor while testifying. She had been called by the prosecution, to whose aims she was of course hostile. She was generally unresponsive and hesitant, but when she testified about Arturo (and about running into the wall), she became animated and spoke very rapidly. Her testimony on those matters was worse than incredible -- it had negative credibility. I was convinced that she was lying. She accused Arturo, she was lying, therefore Arturo was innocent. In addition, the alleged fistfight with Arturo happened in front of a dry cleaning business on a busy street at 5:00 PM on a weeknight. It strains credibility to the breaking point that there were no witnesses to the altercation. That eliminates all possibilities except one -- the defendant did it.

I'm sorry we didn't reach a verdict. But again, I'm glad to have had the experience. If you get the chance to serve on a jury, take it.

January 20, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 13, 2005

What's wrong with the ACLU

Hat tip to James Taranto of OpinionJournal's Best of the Web today for pointing out the ACLU's page on free speech:

It is probably no accident that freedom of speech is the first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." 

Note the ellipsis. It's there for the usual reason: to indicate an omission. Here's the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, with the omitted words highlighted:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I doubt you'd see an ACLU fact sheet declaring it "no accident" that free exercise of religion is the first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment, but it's rather amazing that they go so far as to excise it entirely to promote free speech to the exalted (and legally meaningless) primary position.

Seems that the ACLU's copy of the bill of rights is down to 8.5 amendments from 9. They've already pretended that the freedom to keep and bear arms doesn't exist, and now they're making it explicit that they deny the right to freely worship.

I'm not religious, and I do not believe in any of the established Gods. But I respect the freedoms of those who do. The ACLU was once a noble organization, but it's been hijacked. No longer interested in defending the liberty of all Americans, it now devotes itself exclusively to issues important to political liberals.

January 13, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Back to Washington

Well, the trial isn't in session today, so it's as good a time as any for an update.

When I previously posted here and elsewhere about the Washington gubernatorial race, I was extremely cautious. I warned against premature claims of fraud, and was determined to give the election every benefit of the doubt.

Things have changed. Those who oppose the legitimacy of the election have met the standard of proof. Revelations of dead people voting, improperly tallied provisional ballots, and out-of-whack ballot/voter numbers have convinced me that the election results are not legitimate. These things happen in every election, of course, but with the whisker-close margin of victory, they are enough to throw the outcome into doubt. The Chelan County judge who will hear the contest brought by Rossi should invalidate the results and order a special election.

January 13, 2005 in Election '04 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 06, 2005

The ethics of voir dire

No, I haven't been dead, I've been on vacation. I get back, and what do I find in my mailbox? A jury summons.

Unlike many people, my reaction wasn't to groan or to chuck it in the trash or to start thinking up excuses. I've never served on a jury before and I've always wanted to. Not only do I feel it's part of my civic duty, but I'm fascinated by the law and this is a great opportunity to see the criminal justice system from the inside. But it also presents me with an ethical dilemma.

Voir dire (from Anglo-French "to speak the truth") is the pretrial exercise that empanels the jury. During voir dire, I will be asked certain questions. Do I have an ethical obligation to tell the truth?

On the face of it, the answer seems to be "yes, of course". By default there is always an ethical duty to honesty. Furthermore, I believe that potential jurors during voir dire are under oath, strengthening that ethical duty and imposing a legal duty as well. So what's the problem?

Well, the problem is that I believe in the doctrine of jury nullification. Juries are not accountable to anyone for their rulings (as long as they have not been bribed, threatened, or otherwise tampered with), and are within their rights to acquit the clearly guilty. We live in a system of checks and balances, and I believe that juries impose a check on the criminal justice system. If a law is unjust, jurors may acquit those who violate it.

Unsurprisingly, those who are checked do not like being checked, and seek ways around the check. This is manifest in the federal government, where all three branches have to some degree evaded the provisions which are supposed to hold them in check, but it happens elsewhere as well. Judges, legislators, and prosecutors don't like having their power to dictate, legislate, and prosecute usurped by a bunch of uppity nobodies who had nothing better to do than sit on juries. Judges have taken to giving strong instructions to juries that they must vote to convict if they have no reasonable doubt that the law is violated, regardless of how they feel about the law. This is a load of garbage... no juror "must" vote any way and if the jury acquits the defendant is acquitted, period.

Where this comes into voir dire, though, is that a prosecuting attorney is likely to ask a prospective juror if there is any reason he would be unable to render a guilty verdict, and if he answers in the affirmative he is likely to be dismissed. The prosecutor can avoid jury nullification simply by cherry-picking the jury... if, that is, the prospective jurors are honest.

Suppose you lived in a jurisdiction which had legalized slavery. Suppose you stood in the jury box of a man accused of aiding a runaway slave, for which the penalty is death and worse. He did nothing more than knowingly allow a fleeing woman and her two small children to sleep in his barn overnight on their way to a safe border, but if he is convicted of this compassionate act he will be publically drawn and quartered, his property will be seized, and his children will be branded and turned loose to become beggars. That's the letter of the law, under which he is clearly guilty. The prosecuting attorney is standing before you, demanding to know if there is any reason you would be unable to convict. If you say yes, he'll just find somebody else. He'll continue to challenge jurors for cause until he's got a box full of slaveowners eager to see one of those do-gooders get his. On the other hand, if you lie, if you foreswear yourself and commit perjury, you can at the very least hang the jury and possibly win an acquittal.

I'm not a big fan of perjury. I believe perjury perverts the legal system. But what if the legal system itself is corrupt and abstaining from perjury would merely preserve that corruption?

The practical impact is this: I don't know if I could convict someone of a consensual (aka "victimless") crime. If a defendant is accused of a nonviolent drug offense, or prostitution, or illegal gambling, I don't know if my ethics will allow me to help send him to jail. On the other hand, I don't know if my ethics will allow me to stand by and allow him to be convicted because I wouldn't lie about my beliefs.

I hope it doesn't come up. I hope I will be assigned to a jury that's trying a defendant accused of what I would consider a bona fide offense. But just in case, I'd better resolve this dilemma now. I'd appreciate any advice or insights from my readers.

Of course, now that I've actually made this post, if I do wind up on a jury that's trying a victimless criminal, and he is acquitted, this post might very well serve as grounds for a mistrial.

January 6, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack