Archives for November, 2004

“Prize Wanker,” Indeed

An infuriating tale of overcriminalization across the pond:

The community support officers reacted immediately. They behaved as if they had never seen a penknife before, pulling out the bottle-opener, the corkscrew, the thing that gets stones out of horses’ hooves. “This device has a locking blade,” said the constable. My goodwill towards the police began to give way to alarm. I reached for my mobile to call the lawyers and explain that I was going to be late but the constable stopped me. “Turn that phone off,” he said. “You’re about to be arrested for possessing offensive weapons and carrying a bladed instrument in public. You’ll be allowed one call when we get you to Charing Cross police station.”

Link courtesy of Walter Olson’s excellent Overlawyered.

Posted on Nov 30, 2004 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Go Directly to Jail


Cato has just released a new book on the crisis of overcriminalization, edited by, uh, me. The book’s called Go Directly to Jail: The Criminalization of Almost Everything. The criminal law used to be society’s last line of defense–reserved for behavior that everyone recognized as seriously wrong. Now it’s becoming Congress’s first line of attack–a way for legislators to show they’re serious about whatever social problem is currently making headlines, whether it’s corporate scandals or email spam. The results are a burgeoning prison population, unchecked prosecutorial power, and a growing threat to the rule of law.

The book focuses on three trends in particular:

1. Overcriminalization: the use of the criminal law to punish behavior that used to be handled with civil lawsuits or fines, or even to cover behavior that’s just none of the government’s business.

2. Runaway federalization of crime. The Constitution leaves the ordinary administration of criminal justice to the states. Yet the federal government increasingly over the last 30 years has started to take over the prosecution of street crime. There are only three federal crimes in the Constitution. But today there are over 4,000 federal crimes. That in itself is a crime against the Constitution.

3. The use of heavy-handed criminal law enforcement tactics against people guilty of minor offenses at worst and in some cases people who aren’t guilty of crimes at all.

The book has something for everyone. Conservatives will appreciate the focus on the rule of law and the dangers of leaving ordinary businesspeople at the mercy of prosecutorial whims. Liberals will appreciate the extended treatment of mandatory minimums and the impact of the drug war. Pick up a copy here. If you have a blog, I’d appreciate it if you would spread the word.

Incidentally, I’m upset that they cut the cigarette out of the cover photo.

Posted on Nov 29, 2004 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Touching Warm

Listening to XM, I just found out, to my horror, that Frank Sinatra recorded a version of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” Oh Jesus, it’s online. The things men do when they’re trying to maintain their relevance…

Posted on Nov 28, 2004 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Not Sucking in the Seventies

Apropos of nothing, I find it difficult to hate David Frum as much as I should, mainly because he wrote the wonderful book How We Got Here: The 70’s: The Decade That Brought You Modern Life–For Better or Worse. If you’re old enough to remember the 70s, and if you like cultural history, pick it up. If you know somebody who fits that description, get it for them for Christmas. It’s a sharp book, and great fun to read–there’s something to be said for a man who can make you remember the Captain and Tenille, and then relate them to rising divorce rates. The book has the feel of an intellectualized VH-1 special, and I don’t mean that as a slight.

Posted on Nov 28, 2004 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment


So I’m watching a VH1 special about teen movies in the ’80s (yes, it’s that kind of Saturday night) and the announcer, talking about James Spader’s tendency to play the preppy villain in John Hughes movies, says “he was a rich sneering jerk who the girls slept with anyway.”

What do you mean, “anyway”?

Posted on Nov 20, 2004 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Tierney and the Times

Via Virginia Postrel comes this nice profile of the NYT’s John Tierney, and speculation that he may be Safire’s replacement at op-ed. Make it so! And then fire Maureen Dowd. Not because she’s liberal, but because she’s an embarassment. Fiftyish women should not use phrases like “way harsh.”

Posted on Nov 17, 2004 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

“Purveyor of Poison”

I think pot should be legal and you ought to be able to carry a gun in public. But you don’t have to agree with that to be appalled at this story.

In a case that has spurred intense soul-searching in legal circles, a 25-year-old convicted drug dealer, who was arrested two years ago for selling small bags of marijuana to a police informant, was sentenced on Tuesday to 55 years in prison.

The judge who sentenced him, Paul G. Cassell of the United States District Court here, said that he pronounced the sentence “reluctantly” but that his hands were tied by a mandatory-minimum law that required the imposition of 55 years on Weldon H. Angelos because he had a gun during at least two of the drug transactions.

“I have no choice,” Judge Cassell said to Mr. Angelos, who seemed frozen in place as the extent of the sentence became apparent.

The judge then urged Mr. Angelos’s lawyer, Jerome H. Mooney, not only to appeal his decision but to ask President Bush for clemency once all appeals were exhausted.

Well, good luck with that.

Cassell noted that “The sentence was all the more ironic… because only two hours earlier he had been legally able to impose a sentence of 22 years on a man convicted of aggravated second-degree murder for beating an elderly woman to death with a log.”

Posted on Nov 17, 2004 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30

Another birthday. I used to dread them. Now I kind of like them, as they bring me closer to the time when my curmudgeonliness is age-appropriate. Advancing age also opens up new fashion possibilities. Like tweed headgear. As Alan Cabal put it: “The future is bright and shiny and filled with exhilarating adventures. Youth worship is over. Welcome to the Age of the Old Fart at Play.”

Posted on Nov 16, 2004 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Does Gmail Have a Sense of Humor?

I know that Amazon and Gmail have computer algorithms “selecting” material to put in front of you, and that it’s not actually a little man going over your book choices or reading your email. But sometimes you have to wonder. Gmail ads selected for me today in an email where a friend made an offhand crack about the Patriot Act:

Free Compliance Guide
The Facts On Patriot Act Section 326 Compliance: Free Download

Official RNC Site
Learn how you can help promote the GOP message today.

Patriot Act Compliance
Verify customer identity to compliy with Section 326

You have to love the middle one.

Posted on Nov 15, 2004 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Sympathy for the Devil

Of course I think Ashcroft was a terrible attorney general, a dedicated enemy of civil liberties and federalism. Yet it’s odd that he’s become the main focus of civil libertarian ire in the Bush administration. As others have pointed out, Rumsfeld and Cheney are far worse. It says something about this administration when you realize that on occasion, Ashcroft stood in the path of those pushing further incursions against the Constitution. Case in point: as Newsweek has reported, Cheney pushed for much broader use of the “enemy combatant” designation:

“They are the enemy, and they’re right here in the country,” Cheney argued, according to a participant. But others were hesitant to take the extraordinary step of stripping the men of their rights, especially because there was no evidence that they had actually carried out any terrorist acts. Instead, John Ashcroft insisted he could bring a tough criminal case against them for providing “material support” to Al Qaeda….

In the months after 9/11 there were fierce debates–and even shouting matches–inside the White House over the treatment of Americans with suspected Qaeda ties.On one side, Ashcroft, perhaps in part protecting his turf, argued in favor of letting the criminal-justice system work, and warned that the White House had to be mindful of public opinion and a potentially wary Supreme Court. On the other, Cheney and Rumsfeld argued that in time of war there are few limits on what a president can do to protect the country.

I doubt we can expect as much from Gonzales, who, as White House Counsel, pushed the idea that the president didn’t need congressional approval to invade Iraq because George H.W. Bush had secured congressional authorization to expel Hussein from Kuwait 12 years before.

Posted on Nov 11, 2004 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Several thousand shoulder-fired missiles — the kind that could be used to shoot down aircraft — are missing in Iraq, and their disappearance has prompted U.S. military and intelligence analysts to increase sharply their estimate of the number of such weapons that may be at large, administration officials said yesterday.

Link via Phil Carter.

Posted on Nov 10, 2004 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Line of the Day

“Republicans have bigger yards.”

–Tom Firey, explaining all that Red space on the electoral map.

Posted on Nov 8, 2004 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


Has anybody seen a state-by-state breakdown of third-party vote totals? Among other things, I’d like to try to figure out if I likely know everyone in D.C. who voted for Badnarik.

UPDATE: Reader “Max” provides the numbers in the comments below. 442! We’ve got the numbers for a mini Free State Project. All you people need to move to Mount Pleasant and we’ll take over the ANC. It’ll be like Amsterdam with guns!

Posted on Nov 8, 2004 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Does Have a Sense of Humor?

I went on to put “I Am Charlotte Simmons” on my Wishlist, and got offered a twofer deal where I could also get Updike’s new novel for a reduced price if I bought both at once. I wonder how Updike feels about that.

I read the Wolfe excerpt recently in Rolling Stone and wasn’t too impressed. It was cloyingly condescending to the people Wolfe holds up as exemplars of simple country virtues: Charlotte’s hill-country parents. But I’m sure I’ll read the book anyway. As someone who grew up in the lull between two sexual revolutions (damn!), I’m intrigued by the theme: kids today and their Brave New World morals. As the Post reviewer notes, if you read Wolfe’s foreword, you have a pretty good idea of where the book’s going to take this:

Ostensibly a passage from a biographical dictionary, this foreword describes a young psychologist’s experiments with cats. After Victor Starling removes the amygdala from the brains of some test animals, the cats “veer helplessly from one inappropriate affect to another, boredom where there should be fear, cringing where there should be preening, sexual arousal where there was nothing that would stimulate an intact animal.” After weeks of observing these animals, Starling invites a colleague into his lab, and one cat suddenly starts to thrust violently, sexually, against this newcomer’s leather shoe. Just what one would expect — until the visitor points out that the cat trying to mount his wingtip is one of the normal control animals. At this juncture, the biographical note informs us, Victor Starling makes the discovery that ultimately earns him a Nobel Prize:

“The control cats had been able to watch the amygdalectomized cats from their cages. Over a period of weeks they had become so thoroughly steeped in an environment of hypermanic sexual obsession that behavior induced surgically in the amygdalectomized cats had been induced in the controls without any intervention whatsoever. Starling had discovered that a strong social, or ‘cultural’ atmosphere, even as abnormal as this one, could in time overwhelm the genetically determined responses of perfectly, normal healthy animals.”

Posted on Nov 8, 2004 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I Wanna Be Anarchy. But I Can’t.

Liberty magazine has the transcript of an interesting panel discussion on minarchism vs. anarcho-capitalism. The participants are Charles Murray, David Boaz, R.W. Bradford, and David Friedman. I suppose I’m a minarchist, but I’ve learned from both camps. Friedman’s anarchocapitalist Machinery of Freedom is probably my favorite short book on libertarianism. I agree with the anarchists that expecting a minarchy to stay mini is the ultimate in utopianism. And if we ever got to a system of competing private protection agencies, you wouldn’t catch me saying “now hold on, people, we’ve got to establish a state.”

But there is something otherworldly about the descriptions of how this is supposed to operate, whether in Rothbard, Friedman’s Machinery of Freedom, Bruce Benson’s Enterprise of Law, or Barnett’s Pursuing Justice in a Free Society. And when anarchocapitalists invoke past examples of stateless societies, like the Comanche Nation, Medieval Iceland, or Papua New Guinea, I can’t help feeling like we’re in Margaret Mead territory here. Most of us are not inclined to rethink what’s possible in terms of social organization because some sociologist somewhere purports to have uncovered a primitive society where property is held in common or attitudes toward sexuality and gender relations are radically different. I don’t know why we should be much more impressed by lessons from Saga period Iceland.

I think Murray hits on the right question when he says, “Given the way human beings are, is this plausible?” Looking out over the broad swath of human history, it’s hard to escape the notion that organized coercion is hardwired into the human brain.

That doesn’t mean that geographic monopolies of force are necessary, or that they provide a better world for us than we could hope for otherwise (in many cases, that’s clearly not so). It just means they’re to be expected. The state, like another word beginning with ‘s’, happens.

Posted on Nov 7, 2004 in Uncategorized | 11 Comments