Monthly Archives: January 2012

Self-Interest And Tautologies

The Libertarian take on “self interest” can be annoying:

A colleague of mine still insists — after a good twenty years of our discussing the subject — that people can act altruistically. “Give me one example,” I ask, “just one. We have numerous and varied interests we pursue, and we act only in anticipation of being better off afterwards than if we had not acted,” I tell him. “In other words, all volitional action is self-interest motivated.”

I like Butler Shaffer and a lot of what he writes, but when you start bandying about “all” statements you’re bound to wind up in a logical wasteland.  Your seemingly emphatic statement about this or that becomes, when further considered, meaningless and without content:

A rhetorical tautology can also be defined as a series of statements that comprise an argument, whereby the statements are constructed in such a way that the truth of the proposition is guaranteed or that the truth of the proposition cannot be disputed by defining a dissimilar or synonymous term in terms of another self-referentially. Consequently, the statement conveys no useful information regardless of its length or complexity making it unfalsifiable. It is a way of formulating a description such that it masquerades as an explanation when the real reason for the phenomena cannot be independently derived.

Grant the point:  all volitional action is self interested.  So what?  Then on that score, no act can be distinguished from any other, by definition.  Murder is the same as a self-sacrificial effort to heal the sick.  Yet because these two acts are obviously so profoundly different they can still be distinguished; we’ll just call it something else other than the one being “altruistic” and the other being “self interested”.

Logic is not a silly word game.  The world is a real thing.  You can dogmatically define yourself into a corner and claim victory, but you’re still painted into a corner.  What’s the point?

Ayn Rand had some valuable insights.  But “all volitional action is self interest motivated” is not one of them.

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The Inexplicable – Explained, Sort Of

We get all upset around here at the things police sometimes do:  lying, cheating, framing people, wrongfully convicting people.


But it’s also fair to get upset at the things police sometimes don’t do.  Take the Canadian case of Robert Pickton.  Please.

This guy is sort of a classic straight from a slasher/horror flick real life creepy monster.  Operates a pig farm in British Columbia.  Yes, a pig farm.

On the side he killed prostitutes.  Many of them, perhaps dozens.  Over years.  Long after some in the various police investigative agencies began to suspect him.  Long after there was ample evidence implicating him, to be had for the asking.  Right under the noses of police, the top brass of which repeatedly looked at what can only be described as the overwhelming proof and….scoffed.

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Another Tragic Death Row Tale

Jeffrey Havard, sentenced to death for sexually abusing a baby and killing her.

He had always maintained that he accidentally dropped the little girl after bathing her.  She hit her head on the toilet and suffered a brain hemorrhage, resulting in death.

Now, in the so often meaningless post-conviction proceedings, a respected expert says that all the evidence is consistent with Havard’s story and there’s no evidence of sexual abuse or “shaken baby syndrome” in the record.

Two interesting quotes from the linked article.  First the guy who prosecuted the case:

District Attorney Ronnie Harper remains convinced Havard is guilty, saying proof of sexual assault was overwhelming. “I had doctors crying on the witness stand,” he said.He said he’s “never seen a guy look more guilty” than Havard did in his videotaped statement.

He “looked guilty” and the doctors cried.  The idea that someone of the mental acumen of Ronnie Harper is entrusted with the power to prosecute people for crimes, including death eligible crimes, is a searing indictment of the legal profession, the judiciary and the system as a whole.  People that stupid are supposed to be weeded out by law schools and bar exams, and it’s past time to figure out why that doesn’t work. More excellent graduates of law schools and criminal justice colleges are needed.

The other thing that kind of jumps out is a quote from Havard’s sister, in his “defense”:

She believes he is innocent of any sexual abuse and shudders to think he is still behind bars. “We know he dropped the baby,” she said. “We’re not saying he is totally innocent, but he’s been in there for 10 years. It’s very heartbreaking.”

Strange, isn’t it?  If he just dropped the baby by accident, he certainly is “totally innocent” from a criminal standpoint,and has no business being in prison at all, to say nothing of being on death row and slated for execution.

But victim blaming is very common, even among people who are close relatives with natural bonds of affection.  Group think wears everyone down.

(H/T Radley Balko)

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Occupy DC (Update)

Things are getting a little hairy at these Occupy things:

Now honestly?  The lady cop was a little quick on the trigger.  There’s obviously a back story, because even though the police don’t say anything the guy knows they’re coming for him, and so do they.  They should still tell him what the charge is.  They should still tell him he’s under arrest. The taze didn’t look necessary at that point, though I would admit the guy was being a tad unruly.

Overall, it’s hardly the worst police behavior to have been caught on tape in recent years.  Not by a long shot.

But you know what is kind of disconcerting?

There’s been what you might call an entrenchment into hostility.  It has a long term feel, like this is one of those things that’s going to go on until some kind of climax is reached.  And the police job is getting more difficult it seems.

They bring it on themselves.  And by catering to them so much, the courts haven’t helped either.  In the short term it makes everyone’s life easier to do that, but things always erupt eventually.

Update:  If you wade through this post and the comments to it, it appears the incident in the posted video is collectively viewed more or less the same way it was described here:  not perfect, not a cause for outrage against the police.

But this was interesting:

It was obvious early on that this pointless Occupy nonsense would end in violence, and I only hope the media and the Obama administration pays a high price for encouraging, enabling and trying to legitimize the most juvenile, incoherent and narcissistic protest I’ve ever seen….and I’ve seen a lot. Even been in one or two…

Is the “Occupy nonsense” continuing, and doomed to “end in violence” because the Obama administration has encouraged it?  I don’t think so.  It is an outgrowth of the failure of institutions provided for the just resolution of disputes.  Such as the courts.  Primarily the courts.  They don’t work anymore, and too many people know it.

Every single unjust decision by a judge has ripple effects, extending from the parties to the witnesses to the relatives and friends of the parties, and on and on.  I’ll ask my fellow lawyers:  think about that.  Think about how many injustices you have witnessed on your own cases or the cases of others, and just run with the idea.

It’s frightening.  And it’s obvious.

In the law we have the idea of “proximate” causation because disputed incidents invariably have many causes and you have to draw the line somewhere.  And because we’re constantly trying to make it easier on ourselves  (okay, not just that – we also have an obligation to make things clear for others) we don’t want to get metaphysical about causation.

But to me at least, this is a no-brainer.  You can call the “Occupy” thing “nonsense” and ridicule the participants all you want.  It’s not going away.  It’s genesis is the same social pathology that caused the French revolution.  Most of the participants can tell you a story of terrible injustice un-redressed.  I know this because it could not possibly be otherwise, given the depth and breadth of the perfidy of judges.  Other officials too, but especially judges, whose perfidy, when it occurs, is peculiarly socially destructive:  it does not simply take away justice in the particular case, it takes away the very hope of justice for a much larger group.

I agree with one of the commenters over at SJ that it’s not fair to say that the Occupy movement has no clear message or purpose.  They want the rule of law.  They have explicitly demanded that, meaning they know it does not now exist in the US.  And they are right, right down the line.  That’s where their energy and strength comes from:  reality that they know through personal experience, or the personal experience of their friends or neighbors or loved ones.  There is too much of it now to be glossed over with media propaganda and perp walks.

This has nothing to do with encouraging words from Obama.  This is a manifestation of a rupture in the basic fabric of society, and history is repeating itself word for word, note for note.



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“Absolute Priority To Debt Service”

That’s what the EU “troika” wants Greece to do.  Constitutionally.

See, this is the problem with the 99%:  they’re so behind the curve.  For months I’ve been crying in the wilderness, encouraging them to use the constitution to liberate themselves from the 1%.  No luck.  They’d rather get tear gassed in Oakland and have their tantrum.

Meanwhile, the 1% are already using constitutions and law to further oppress the 99%.  For now it’s in Greece, but it won’t be long before it’s here, too.  And once the 1% gets a leg up in that fight, good luck trying to stop them or reverse their gains.  Then they’ll proceed under color of “law” to drive whole countries into servitude and peonage.

This shouldn’t happen.  One idea of the constitution is that it requires super-majorities so that small cabals – the 1% – can’t run everything.  The 99% are surely a super-majority, right?

Some days I just wonder.

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Occupy Oakland: Fall Back, Regroup

Pretty good discipline here on the part of the crowd:

The Occupy thing may have legs, as they say.

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Welcome To Oakland, CA 2012

I imagine this image will go viral.  (H/T Lili Loofbourow on the photo.)  Occupy Oakland had a busy night.  So did the Oakland Police Department.  Lots of other photos here.

The continued ‘peacefulness’ of this movement is doubtful.


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