Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Objectivity Through Negativity

I recently came across this article on the ol' Facebook, and it's one of my least favorite types of arguments. To save you the read, it's about how liberals are becoming like Fox News because they sometimes share memes that aren't 100% accurate. It's not so much this particular article I have a big problem with (though it is a pretty poorly argued article), but the idea this just happens to be the latest variation of this really annoying rhetorical device a lot of progressives use: talking shit about other progressives to show that they're the Very Serious one, who totally gets it, not like all those other morons, amirite?

Really what they're doing is falling prey to the South Park version of objectivity, wherein if you treat all sides of an argument as equally wrong (regardless of the veracity of any of the claims) then you therefore must be objective, because you've dinged everyone! And of course, as everyone knows, objectivity doesn't mean getting things correct, it means making sure you don't appear as if you have any particular proclivities toward any particular idea. If you can meet that bar, then everything you say is ipso facto objective, regardless of how inane or empirically false it may be.

To bring it back to the article in question -- the author's saying lefties are becoming like Fox news because they'll believe stuff that fits their worldview that isn't always entirely accurate. Beyond the fact that the idea people are less critical of things that support their worldview and more critical of things that do not (something which has been both thoroughly empirically verified as well as just being so intuitively obvious), this is a dumb argument.

I clicked one link at random, in which he discusses misconceptions about the 1994 crime bill. Because he is a smart and critical thinker, not like all these other morons he's lumped in with, he spends awhile explaining that while the bill made some difference in our imprisonment rates, it wasn't single-handedly responsible for mass incarceration. A fair, if largely uninteresting, point.

Though here's the problem: the entire thing was premised on some unpublished review of data. You know what good unpublished data is? Absolutely none at all. With unpublished writings, we have no way of knowing whether they are worthwhile or just completely made up. In fact, the entire justification for why we have scientific journals is to avoid exactly this situation; by having a peer review prerequisite to publication, we can have some faith that the data in question has been analyzed in a meaningful way that leads to trustworthy conclusions. Without that process...well, here's some unpublished data analysis for you: the more you cite unpublished data analyses, the more likely you are actually a lizard person from outer space! I've got all this unpublished analysis here to prove it!

Anyway, not to pick too much on this one particular point I happened to click on, but if the entire premise of your article is to chide people for playing fast and loose with the truth, it's not a particularly good look to cite a study that has not at all been vetted for rigor or accuracy.

Besides, such fine-grained critiques don't really matter, as the underlying logic of this argument is terrible. It basically amounts to "There's no evidence Hitler ever killed anyone, so you're way off base if you think he merits being in a discussion about the Holocaust." Because, to stick with this one example, pretty much no one is saying the 1994 crime bill single-handedly gave us mass incarceration, or that by overturning it, suddenly our cjs would be completely fixed. Instead, every mention I've seen of it really just use it as a short hand, as one of the most recognizable pieces of official legislation to come out of a decade or two of public hand-wringing about urban crime and "super predators." So pointing out that the crime bill only had a modest effect on mass incarceration is so completely missing the point, it forces one to wonder if there isn't another reason this guy is getting so pedantic with this.

And my guess would be that it's because he's trying to show he's above the fray and has magically gained some sort of objectivity not available to anyone else. It makes him a Very Serious Person, unlike all those other immature people blinded by their ideology. Which is a dumb argument.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Who's More Likely To Steal Your Stuff -- Police or Criminals? The Answer Will Shock You!

If you're not familiar with civil asset forfeiture, you really should be. Here, let Jon Oliver explain it to you:

If you're too lazy to watch the video, here's the really short version of asset forfeiture: it's terrifying. As opposed to criminal forfeiture, which is the result of a criminal conviction, civil forfeiture requires no trial. Hell, it doesn't really even require evidence. Hell, you don't even need to be aware that your property is suspected of being used in a crime for it to be taken from you. And then the entire burden of evidence is on you to get your stuff back.

Because, in one of the many fun legal quirks of our criminal justice system, in civil asset forfeiture cases, it's the physical object considered guilty, not a person. This is why these types of cases feature ridiculous names like "The United States Government v. 1,960 Bags of Coffee" or "The United States Government v. 667 Bottles of Wine" (and yes, these are both actual case titles). Since it's the property that's considered guilty, it literally does not matter at all if the person who owns it is factually innocent (in most cases, the person whose property was seized is never even charged with a crime).

Originally this began as a way to break up criminal organizations. The theory was that beyond just putting people in prison, we would take all their criminal goods and supplies as well so someone else couldn't just pick up where they left off. And it was largely used that way, until 1986, when legislation was passed allowing police to keep up to 100% of the seized cash and items, depending on various minutiae and state laws. Prior to this legislation, the vast majority of seized assets were simply turned over to the general fund.

Do you care to take a guess as to what happened when we switched from police having to turn all of that sweet loot over to someone else and instead let them keep it themselves?

You should really only need one guess, as the results are not terribly surprising: in 1985, there was a little over $27 million in assets seized nationwide. By the turn of the century, that number was well over 1 billion dollars a year. Funny, but it turns out that if you tell the police they are allowed to take whatever they want in a system that provides basically no oversight and in which anyone whose stuff they take has to go through an insane amount of legal hurdles for the chance of ever getting it back...well, it turns out the police will just go ahead and take whatever they want.

And while the very practice itself is horrifying to anyone who believes in democracy, or individual rights, or you know, just not having their shit taken by random assholes, 2014 marked a milestone in the rampant abuse of asset forfeiture laws:

In 2014, federal law enforcement alone took more from stuff from people than burglars.

(It should be noted that only counts federal law enforcement, neglecting the insane amount stolen er "seized" by state and local law enforcement.)

I don't really think I can come up with anything appropriately snarky enough to make a joke funnier than the reality of the fact that you're more likely to get robbed by a police officer than by a burglar. Though I will say that as someone who occasionally brings up the idea of police abolition, the most common argument against such a proposal is that crime would run rampant. I guess now I can note that at least in the case of property theft, police abolition would actually greatly reduce the amount of crime in our fair nation...

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Black Quarterbacks Sulk, White Quarterbacks Lead

It took just about three minutes -- three childish, sulking, petulant minutes -- for Cam Newton to completely undo all the goodwill he'd created this NFL season 
This particular HAWT TAEK was penned by Chris Chase, but it could have been written by any thousands of people who hate Cam Newton.

Or maybe they don't so much hate Cam Newton, as they hate the idea that a Black man, a vocal and charismatic Black man nonetheless, is playing the most important position for a team in the Super Bowl. Could it be that maybe these folks are less concerned with the specific things Newton has or hasn't done, but are more concerned with the idea that an uppity Black man is spoiling their conceptions of how sport and authority work? After all, if the quarterback is supposed to be the smartest guy on the team, and there is a large and vocal segment of the American public that does not think Black people are capable of being intelligent leaders...well, just give it a quick google search.

For while I can't speak for everyone who finds Newton's post-game press conference distasteful, I can speak to exactly what Chris Chase thought the last time a quarterback didn't show the utmost in sportsmanship after the big game. Of course, this previous time it was a white quarterback, but since Chase's anger probably has nothing to do with race, I'm assuming he was just as hopping mad when Payton Manning (a guy whose sexual assault charges were conveniently swept under the rug) threw a hissy fit and stormed off the field after he threw away his team's chance at a championship.

Let's see, what did Chase write about that behavior? Behavior much worse than holding a shorter than usual press conference? I bet he totally took Peyton to task for his "sulking, petulant" behavior, right?

Huh. When Payton Manning does it, it's a sign of a fiery competitor, and anyone who thinks it's poor sportsmanship is misguided. Yet when Cam goes "against our misguided notion of what sportsmanship should be" he doesn't get the same spirited defense.

Gee, I wonder why that might be. I mean, what could possibly be the difference between these two quarterbacks?

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Hilary as the PUA of Presidential Politics

I've been trying to come up with a good metaphor for how, well, insistent Hillary supporters are in the lead up to the Democratic primaries. When challenged, Hillary and her supporters seem less angry in the way anyone is angry when challenged on something important to them, but more annoyed that anyone dare interrupt the coronation. It would not be hard at all to imagine Hillary or one of her supporters explaining "You need me, America! Your guilty conscience may force you to vote for Bernie, but deep down inside you secretly long for Hillary to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king! That's why I'm running -- to protect you from yourselves!"

For a long while their behavior both in real life and online has reminded me of something I couldn't put my finger on, but this morning it came to me:

Clinton supporters are like a horny teenager trying to pressure his girlfriend into sex.

It's the only other group of people I can think of that have the same singular persistence on a goal and who treat any obstacle to their goal as not only a horrible affront, but as basically unthinkable behavior. After all, they want this so much. How could anyone else not want it? Not to mention how quickly their courting turns into rejection when it's clear that you're not going to be swayed. It's virtually the exact same logic:

HRC: Come on, vote for me. Vote Hillary. You know you want to.
Democratic voters: I don't know, I don't think it's such a good idea.
HRC: Oh, come on, it'll feel great. I know you, and I know you want this.
DV: Well, I've been thinking about it, and I think Bernie's better for me.
HRC: What? That loser? He can't satisfy you like I can. Come on, let's do it.
DV: I don't know...
HRC: Come on -- everyone's doing it. You don't want to be the one loser not doing it, do you?
DV: I don't know. I care about racial and economic justice and keeping the US out of disastrous illegal foreign wars.
HRC: Oh yeah, I totally believe all that, too. Didn't you see the copy of Infinite Jest I have sitting on my desk? I totally get all that deep stuff and, like, think about it all the time.
DV: But didn't you support so-called welfare "reform," DOMA, the disastrous criminal justice measures of the 90s that lead to the US having the world's largest prison population, the horrible shame that is the war on Iraq...
HRC: But that was then. I totally get why that stuff was not cool and I've already apologized! WHY DO YOU KEEP BRINGING THAT UP IF I'VE ALREADY SAID I'M SORRY?!?
DV: Well, I just don't feel comfortable with someone who believes those things.
HRC: I don't believe those things anymore! I believe what you believe!
DV: Yeah, but Bernie's always believed what I believe, instead of just conveniently believing it now that lots of other people do.
HRC: Ok, but what about the Supreme Court?
DV: Yeah, that's important.
HRC: So you get it! We better hook up before that becomes an issue!
DV: Well, that's one important issue, but that seems like an awfully thin premise for such an important decision.
HRC: Yeah, but I can handle all those other things because I'm the most popular.
DV: Sure, you're pretty popular, but I don't see what that has to do with evaluating you as a person.
HRC: WHAT?!? THAT'S THE ONLY THING! You'll never get a chance to be with someone so popular again!
DV: But I'm not concerned about how popular you are, I'm concerned about whether you're the right person or not.
HRC: GOD! Why do you have to be so frigid?!? I've put in all these years as Secretary of State. Why the fuck were you letting me do that if you weren't going to put out?!?
DV: I thought you actually wanted to be Secretary of State. I didn't know that you serving in that capacity meant I had apparently agreed to this.
HRC: UGH! You knew what the deal was! Why are you making this so hard instead of just giving it up like I know you want to?!?
DV: Sorry, I think I'm going to go with Bernie instead.
HRC: FINE! Fuck you, you crazy bitch! I didn't even want you in the first place! There's plenty of people that want me! I don't need you!!!!!