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AvatarComments by dragonfrog*

On “Wednesday Writs: Criminal Justice Reform

Bike bells are good in places where there is a lot of bicycle use. You might not be heard inside the cabin of a car, but you can ring the bell when you're approaching a blind corner and if someone's coming the other way they won't be taken by surprise.

I saw this practice when I lived in Germany and thought "oh, that's what bike bells are for"

On “Joe Biden’s Right

As you observe, there's no particular benefit at this point in keeping Madoff in prison. I don't think a humane sentence should be dependent on realistic prospect of repayment.

Madoff should be out, and measures in place to garnish his income - for consistency and on the off chance he returns to the workforce - even though it will only ever realistically return a pittance compared to the amount he stole.

Generic small time fraudster might well be able to pay off the full debt and build actual personal wealth, while Madoff will merely know that he's never going to be rich. That's OK.

On “Wednesday Writs: Criminal Justice Reform

L6 - If I bought a car from a dealership and then drove it home I would absolutely expect that it was sold to me in a street legal configuration - that I would have to do something wrong in my driving to get a ticket, beyond just having the car on a public road exactly as I bought it. If it turned out they sold me a car in a state illegal for street use, I would expect they'd cover both the fine and the cost of repairing the deficiency.

It is really odd to me that we accept it as normal in the bicycle business that I can buy a commuter bike, ride it home, and be ticketed because it's illegal to use as sold, for the purpose for which it was designed. In my jurisdiction that means bikes are sold without a bell (mandatory at all times) or lights (mandatory for riding after dark).

I mean, I probably wouldn't get a ticket because I present as white, middle class and middle age. But native or black people definitely do not get the same leniency as I do - they get frequently stopped for such 'ticky-tack' laws.

On “Joe Biden’s Right

Madoff is not really just the prototypical financial crimes guy, any more than Usain Bolt is just the prototypical going out for a jog in the morning guy.

Designing a system around the world record holder rather than someone closer to the median is going to waste a lot of time on problems of scale that don't in practice matter very often.

The prototypical financial crimes guy could be barred from financial work, incarcerated (or not) for a couple of years while getting their plumber's ticket and working on any addictions they were feeding with their crimes, and then have their earnings as a plumber garnished for the next several years to pay back their victims the few hundred grand they stole.


Madoff in particular owes, as I understand it, about 10 or 20 billion dollars to his victims, is 81 years old, has no meaningful job experience other than as henhouse guard. That's not a formula for much financial restitution taking place.

More generally - for a generic fraudster who realistically has some working years ahead of them and owes people consistent with not-the-biggest-fraud-in-history - maybe some prison tone would be in order, given a more rehabilitative prison system than the US's. Devote serious work during that time to make sure they have a post release support plan - housing, sobriety, employment, medical needs, etc.

Generic fraudster should be rrady for work that doesn't require authority over other people's money - a trade maybe, or IT skills. Garnishing their income might even be helpful toward restitution at ordinary fraud levels.


Bernie is 81 years old. He owes his victims somewhere between 10 and 20 billion dollars.

Even if he lives to an exceptionally old age with exceptionally little loss of mental faculties and energy, he's going to die before he covers his debts.

Oh and - I really like the Finnish style of income-scaled fines. A fine of "5 weeks discretionary spending money" makes much more sense than the same flat amount for a traffic violation committed by a seasonal worker in their barely-held-together rust bucket vs. a millionaire in their third-best Ferrari.


The middle, you have excluded it.

Also I'll note, it's so funny (to me if to no one else) that you're calling me a "punish punish punish" guy that I couldn't even get offended if I tried.


But Bernie was a finance guy, right. I say let him keeping working in finance, but anything and everything he makes above, say, $50K/yr, goes to his victims.

That seems like an unspeakably terrible idea. Working in finance has one absolute requirement - being trustworthy with other people's money. Madoff has proven he lacks it. Whatever he does for work, he shouldn't ever be put in a position of authority over anyone else's savings.

If someone works as a Brinks truck driver for years, and eventually decides they're sick of earning working class wages and handling all this money they don't get to keep, so they start stealing money from their cargoes - you don't say "Well, his only work experience is as a Brinks truck driver - let's let him keep working as a Brinks truck driver, but dock his wages so he's earning even less than he did when he was tempted into stealing from Brinks trucks."

Docking everything above $50K a year in *apparent* income would just give him a motive to more carefully launder whatever he steals. We know of him because when he was merely a millionaire he decided he was entitled to be a billionaire and willing to steal to get that way. 99% likely that, if he's legally limited to being a thousandaire and given the same access to other people's money as before, he'd steal even harder.

On “Thursday Throughput for 9/12/19

Heh, and there indeed is Dana Larsen's thread. I might at least have read the post before replying...


What you mention is surely true.

Another factor is that apparently a lot of the studies have one of a few common methodological flaws

- they compare weed from the 80s measured in the 80s with 80s analytical chemistry techniques (which under-detected THC), to weed from the 2010s measured with much more sensitive techniques, and don't correct for that.

- they measure everything with modern techniques, meaning that their 80s samples have been sitting around in an evidence locker locker for 30 years degrading, and essentially conclude that since a 30 year old loaf of bread is staler than bread from this morning, everyone must have been eating stale bread in the 80s.

Each decade's "weed is X times stronger now than a decade ago" studies seems to start with "a decade ago" strength well below the last decade's "today" value, and end with a "today" value much higher than the next decade's study will end up using as it's "a decade ago" value.

Dana Larsen did a compilation of decade-by-decade "weed is X times stronger now than it was a decade ago" statements, and multiplied those X values together to find that weed now is 12,600 times stronger today than in the 60s. So, if today's strong weed is 20% THC, in the 60s it must have been 0.0016% THC. In other words, it would have been totally inert and not become popular as a recreational drug in the first place.

Or it's gotten stronger, but not by nearly as much as is often claimed.



Weak weed is coming back (in Canada at least) with legalization - that's one of the things I'm happiest about!

The constant push to breed higher and higher THC strains was because of prohibition (if you're going to be carrying a fixed weight of illegal plant matter, optimize the risk / reward ratio by breeding it as strong as possible since profit is based on weight of THC and sentencing on total weight of plant matter).

Now you can still get the 20% THC / 0% CBD wheelchair weed, but you can also get nice mild 6% THC / 6% CBD weed. You just chat with the nice person at the shop counter, and they'll set you up with varieties that match what you're after.

And when I've gotten the stuff with something closer to a 1:1 THC:CBD ratio, it's been more like what I remember from the 90s - really nice for falling asleep to, rather than something that's nice enough but keeps me awake.

For what it's worth, Mexican ditch weed was never a thing here. A lot of the on-average strengthening of weed over time in the USA was a shift in markete share from Mexican to Canadian weed - the weed in Canada doubtless got stronger over the same time period too, but it was never (since I started in the 90s anyway) the kind of schwag it sounds like Americans had access to.

On “Little Miss Don’t Disappear

Thanks for the pieces you've contributed here, and thanks in advance for the ones you will.

Like North, I am one who likes your fiction and disagrees with you on politics - but I absolutely don't dislike YOU on account of your politics, or dislike your political writing. You'd have to have some seriously despicable political beliefs for me to dislike you just for being one who believes them, and you absolutely don't - we just disagree on some stuff.

Kinda comes back to your point about this being a place for stirring the pot. Every interaction I've had with you or read you have with someone else leads me to think you a generous and respectful and thoughtful and insightful person. It's a pleasure to disagree with someone like you, and I appreciate both our agreements and our disagreements.

On “Wednesday Writs for 9/11: Willie Francis is Executed, Twice

"No, if you are not proven guilty, you are innocent, in the eyes of the law. And in the end, that is all that matters. It is no longer a point of public record, you don’t have to put anything down in an application, etc. Can people still feel that you are guilty? Of course, but they can do that no matter what the law says or doesn’t say. "

How is this preferable to having charges without a realistic prospect of conviction dropped as early as possible, so less public money is wasted, defendants aren't financially needlessly harmed by legal fees, the charged parties can go back to normalcy as quickly as possible, and the end result from a legal perspective (no criminal record) is the same?

I already listed ways proceeding to trial is worse.


An acquittal isn't a finding of innocence anyway, as we are frequently reminded. It just means such evidence as exists leaves some room for doubt.

Cops are basically never held to account for perjury on those occasions when their lies are disbelieved by judges or juries.

So, in the case where someone innocent is arrested, a trial can result in false imprisonment of the innocent, or in their being dragged through the whole trial process, losing considerable sums of money and time and possibly their job, housing, custody of their children, mental health, etc.

In no case does it result in some kind of public vindication for the accused.


It might even work out to the defence attorney's ultimate advantage - getting such a colourful demonstration on the record of just how unreasonable the judge is being.

On “Pizza in Rome

"The best pizza I had while there, however, was ironically the cheapest. It was a little restaurant with the outward appearance of a shack"

It's remarkable how often this kind of thing happens.

The best fish I've ever had was probably at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere North Carolina. We'd been to Calabash for a day trip from visiting my grandmother. Calabash has since my mother's youth turned from a fishing village with a few really good simple restaurants, into a touristy town whose main street is full of brightly signed tourist trap restaurants. The one we ate at was in fairness pretty alright.

On the way back, we took some scenic backroads, resulting in our being on the road about 25% lost and 100% hungry when we expected to be back already. We stopped at a little grocery store / plastic lawn chair restaurant / might have had a gas station too - because it was there and we were hungry. It was exactly the kind of perfect simply prepared seafood my mom remembers Calabash used to offer.

On “What Is the Purpose of Primaries

You don't have to pay party membership dues or anything?

In Canada, where you do (the fees are low - my NDP membership is $10 a year, I think the other parties are similarly priced), about 98% of adults are not members in any party. It does have the benefit of keeping the drama around party leadership selection way down.

On “Where There Is Vapor There Is Not Always Fire

It's hard to tell but it probably is possible to get vape juice that puts much more THC into a lungful of vapour than just smoking even high potency hash oil would do.

Folks claim to sell liquid that has 1000 mg THC / mL. That seems very dubious to me as there wouldn't be much room for carrier liquid at that point, but I'm not a physical chemist nor do I play one on television.

Cannabis concentrates up to about 90% THC by weight exist, and have names like 'wax' or 'shatter' because that accurately describes their consistency - presumably a relatively thin liquid would have to have less THC than that.


It does seem to be specific to products that use vitamin E oil - which is a perfectly healthy nutritional supplement when ingested (i.e. at worst it's useless but harmless), but a terrible thing to inhale.

I can't imagine the THC itself would be the culprit - we've been inhaling THC for a longish time now.

Just generally the idea of buying vape liquid produced by illegal operations not bound by any list of allowed ingredients just seems so bad. Especially given that the older style marijuana vaporizers have been around for ages, and they just heat regular marijuana hot enough to cause the desirable cannabinoids to sublimate but not hot enough to burn the plant matter, so it's basically the known quantity of marijuana, minus all the tar and soot.

On “Pineapple Pizza is an abomination in the Eyes of The Lord.

Isn't pizza al tonno e cipolla a fairly traditional Italian combo?

But really even if I'm mistaken I'm ok with being a pizza heretic - there's a place we go to sometimes that has a duck confit, fig, and goat cheese pizza that is too die for. Also one with barbecue bison and I forget what all else.


Corn is fine on pizza IMO. I like it best with some meat though - chicken or tuna are good accompaniments.

Pineapple is also just fine on pizza. Not my favourite (if I'm ordering, most places have combinations I'll get instead) but far from my least favourite (if there are several options at a buffet and one is ham pineapple, I'll take a slice of that and not bother with some others)

Unless we're talking about the really thin crust pizza that gets like 90 seconds in a wood heated oven. Somehow pineapple seems all wrong for one of those.

On “Tuna Pizza, the Spice of Social Media

Tuna pizza might be a work of the devil, but if so it's a work of temptation to draw is into the sin of gluttony.

I've only once had tuna steak at a steak house, but that was a revelation - rare steaks, so tender, so tuna!

On “That’s Amore!

Every now and then someone releases a shocking report on how much stronger cannabis is than it used to be.

If you multiply enough of these together (study from the 70s about how much stronger today's weed is than in the 60s, times one from the 80s about how much stronger weed is than in the 70s, etc) you find that today's weed is about 12,000x stronger than it was in the 60s, when apparently you had to smoke a joint the size of your head to get a buzz.

Turns out the typical method for these studies is to go to the evidence room and take some old weed that's been stored for a decade or two without any kind of temperature or humidity controls, and also some weed that was seized last week, and discover what you observe - that today's pizza is much fresher than Saturday's.

On “Browser History

I'm pretty sure it was Altavista that had a 'refine your search' page, where it would show you terms that frequently came up alongside the ones you had searched, and you could then choose useful ones to include or exclude.

So for example I was able to look up a not very well known Canadian band from the 1970s whose name was also the title of an album by a very well known Canadian band from the 1970s, a musical instrument, someone from Greek mythology, a part of a bird's anatomy, and a disorder of the spine - none of which I had known about but was quickly able to exclude - so I could fairly easily find pages that would otherwise have probably come in about result number 400 if I'd been using a search engine with today's Google's features.

On “Katie Steinle’s Killer Wins Appeal

Given the the gun was a semi-automatic one, not a revolver, the "Russian roulette" theory sure asks the jusryto believe that Garcia Zarate also doesn't know a lot about games.

The whole theory of the prosecution was really that he was just taking pot shots at strangers without any motive whatsoever? I'm not surprised a jury declined to convict.

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