Archive for the 'Legal' Category

Fast police response

October 6th, 2008

The police, both here and in many (most? all?) other countries in the world, provide a short “emergency” phone number. The idea being that it will be easy to remember, work from all phones in all locations, and be fast to dial in case of a real emergency.

The police here in Israel also has such a number, 100.

Except, it would seem, sometimes they just don’t bother answering it.

Last Sunday (28 September 2008) I went with a friend to a restaurant in the Tel-Aviv north harbour area. On the way back to the car (around 22:45) we noticed a large group of kids around two bonfires which they started along the beach[1]. About 5 meters from there stands a large sign with warnings about prohibited activities, and starting fires is explicitly listed there.

Normally I wouldn’t exactly mind, but those kids were loud and annoying; and those fires were quite large, with one of them burning really close to nearby plants. Plus, I was in a, ahem, fitting mood. So I decided to do my civic duty, and call the police to report the fires and the kids.

I dialled 100 on my cellphone. And waited. One ring, two ring, three rings, four rings, nothing. At this point most automatic answering machines would assume nobody’s answering, and pick up. But this is an a police centre that should be manned non-stop around the clock, so I guess they don’t have answering machines[2]. I waited a bit more (1-2 rings) and still nothing. I was very surprised, and hang up.

My friend was also amazed that nobody picked up the phone. So he tried calling them himself, from his own cellphone. He waited for 13 rings. Nothing. Nobody answered.

Nobody tried to call us back to follow up later on, asking if there’s a problem and why we called the emergency police number. None of our cellphone numbers are blocked, so they could have seen these calls on their incoming call logs (if they bother keeping them).

Good things that it, while being something that should be reported to the police, wasn’t really an emergency.

---
  1. well, technically along the bank of the Yarkon river, which connects to the sea at this area.[back]
  2. And, when operating properly, they really shouldn’t need them, I agree.[back]

Strange people by the side of the road

September 8th, 2008

Last night I saw two cases of cars stuck by the side of the road, and in both cases the drivers behaved very oddly. Well, the second behaved oddly, the first was just a stupid idiot.

Right at the top

Let’s start with the second case. It involved a single car standing on the road’s shoulder. When I came closer I saw something large on the car’s roof. When I came closer I saw that it was the driver, just standing on the car.

I may be mistaken. It was night, and I was going over at about 100km/h (~62mph).

But if I’m wrong then it just means that, instead of a person standing on the car’s roof, there was a dressed mannequin standing on the car’s roof. I hardly think it’s better. Or that someone who would place a mannequin on the roof of their car is somehow less odd than someone who would stand on the roof of their car themselves.

Playing chicken

The first case involved a group of three cars standing on the shoulder of the road. Two of them first, very close by, and one about 80-100 meters down the road. None of them seemed crashed, or banged, so there probably wasn’t an accident, and I’m not sure why they stopped.

Now, I’ll take a little aside, and get back to the story in a few paragraphs. A while ago[1] they passed a law here requiring people to carry light-reflecting vests in their cars, and to wear them whenever leaving the car[2].

Personally I thought the law was silly. After all, if you stop the car because of some problem (usually an accident, or a mechanical problem that you want to check) you’ll stay near the car. Meaning that we’re not talking about passing drivers missing a lone standing person, but are rather concerned about a passing driver missing an entire car at the side. That’s… difficult. A driver will only fail to notice a whole car if they’re sleeping, or drunk, and in none of these cases wearing a light-reflecting vest will help. Actually, there aren’t any cases[3] where a person in a light-reflecting vest, standing right next to a car, will be more visible than the car.

And a driver that sees a car on the side should, and would, expect people to be standing next to it, and so will pay attention, and keep a little distance.

There is, however, one case where wearing this vest isn’t just the law, but is also a good idea. The case where the person, on the side of a fast road, not only gets out of the car, but gets away from the car. Once a person is walking near the road by themselves, they’re hard to see.

Which takes us back to the story.

The guy driving the third car, 80-100 meters away, was walking slowly towards the two first cars.

And, despite the fact that the shoulder was wide enough to fit an entire car, he didn’t walk on the shoulder. He walked on the actual road, on the lane where cars were driving, near the edge of the shoulder.

And he did so without wearing the vest. At night.

I think quite a lot of people almost ran him over. And frankly, he would have deserved it. They, however, wouldn’t have, so it’s a good thing nothing happened (Probably. I did pass him while he was only half-way there, not all the way over)

---
  1. One year? Two? It wasn’t exciting enough for me to remember the exact date[back]
  2. When it’s not properly parked, but rather stopped on the roadside. Of course if you park your car normally, and go out on a sidewalk, you don’t need the vest.[back]
  3. I mean real-world cases. If someone intentionally tries to camouflage their car then it can be done.[back]

Things to avoid when trying to get your prosecutor assassinated

August 22nd, 2007

Say you were sentenced to 30 months in prison for forgery. And say you think it’s the prosecutor’s fault (Because, after all, it can’t really be something you did, right?). What would you do?

That’s right, you’d try to get the prosecutor assassinated, to punish him for not being able to show on trial that you’re not really a dangerous criminal. Makes perfect sense.

Then you need to pick the right hitman. It’s complex. There are, for example, some things you may want to void:

  1. Your first choice of a hitman should not be the judge that tried you. Judges make terrible assassins. And they often refuse these jobs. Go figure.
  2. If you do want to hire the judge to be your assassin, make sure to offer enough money to make this a real offer. For example, a district court judge in Texas would probably expect much more than $5,000[1].
  3. If you do offer the judge the small money, and he turns you down, your next best option is not the lawyer who was your defense attorney during the trial. Lawyers are bad assassins as well. And your defense attorney knows what a slimeball you really are, even if he lied and said nice things about you during the trial.
  4. If you do try for the defense attorney, at least offer him more money then you offered the judge. You should already know that’s not enough money by now. Defense attorneys often don’t earn that much less than judges. Not necessarily even the lousy ones.
  5. Oh, and stick to your target. Don’t change your mind and ask him to actually kill the judge. Yes, it was very rude of the judge to turn down your offer. But killing a judge would cost extra. And besides, the prosecutor is still out there, right?
  6. When you make all these offers, don’t write them on paper with your own handwriting. Don’t touch that paper with your fingers to add your fingerprints to it. Those things are, like, proof, you know? It can get you a much longer jail time than those forgery charges.

All very sensible and sound advice.

Someone didn’t get the memo. Probably didn’t get a lot of working braincells either.

Galveston County District Court Judge David Garner said Connelly, 34, of Santa Fe, was among those defendants who “think outside the box” for allegedly writing a letter offering him $5,000 to kill former prosecutor Donnie Quintanilla, now in private practice in Galveston.

Connelly wrote a second letter to his defense attorney, Houston lawyer Jonathan Cox, offering him $5,000 to kill Garner, special prison prosecutor Alice Gregg said.

He will get the jailtime, though. And hey, maybe the next judge would be more cooperative, who knows?

---
  1. That’s not even a single month’s salary[back]

New neighbours in the office again

June 20th, 2006

The last ones left a few months ago. This starts to feel like a recurring theme, the companies in nearby buildings are stationary, but the people trying to get the upper floors in our own building never stick for long.

The last ones were quiet, and we had little interaction with them. But the newcomers give a first impression that remind me more of the ones we had before.

They came around with the landlord, as he was showing them around the place. And no, I’m not sure what reason is there to show someone around after they already closed the deal. Presumably they got to see what they’re renting before that.

They were quite an odd looking pair (even number of odd people is a lousy pun, isn’t it?).

My boss asked the one that seemed in charge what business are they in.

Stocks.

Informative, and highly descriptive. So my boss asked for a few more details, trying to understand just what will we be getting.

Oh, you know, all sorts of stuff. Like, err, toys. Or computers. Stocks. All sorts of stuff.

So my boss further asked if they’re just using the space for storage, or will there be an office there. And if they’re importing merchandise, or doing something else?

The guys said that he’ll be there personally in an office as well. And that’s it’s not an import business, it’s “stocks”. Consisting of “Toys, all sorts of stuff, computers, whatever”.

The exact word he used, all this time, was “stockim”, with the “im” being a Hebrew suffix for plural, like the “s” in English. Normally when a Hebrew word exists people use it. Such a form of the English noun with a Hebrew suffix is only used when the word is one for which there isn’t yet a Hebrew word, or it’s a very uncommon word.

Stocks, if it’s not obvious, is a word for which there are a few perfectly suitable, and well used, Hebrew equivalents. So even if it wasn’t clear from the guy’s demeanour and attitude, it was obvious he wasn’t exactly talking about moving regular stocks, but usings “stocks” as a codeword for something else…

Oh, well, at least this time they didn’t get parking rights, so we won’t have to share the limited parking lot of the building. Still, looks like we’re going to have some good high-quality legal company again.

Warm welcome for ‘Playboy’ in Indonesia

June 16th, 2006

An Islamic group in Indonesia decided to aggressively object the publication of a local Playboy Magazine edition.

Two policemen were injured Wednesday when about 100 demonstrators, most of them Islam Defenders Front (FPI) members, attacked the Playboy Indonesia editorial office in South Jakarta.

Protesters pelted the building with rocks, shattering windows and panicking the tenants.

A very violent reaction. And while 100 aren’t that large a group in general, it’s a very large group if they’re all actually taking part in the riot and not just standing and looking.

There are legitimate ways to object to things you don’t like, but this sort of violence isn’t one of them. If they think there are legal issues, and they claim they do, then they should have used the courts. If they object to the content they should avoid buying the magazine, and encourage others to do the same.

The demonstrators earlier visited National Police Headquarters to complain about the publication of the magazine. They made a bonfire of about 100 copies of the magazine.

Burning about a 100 copies of the magazine is also not the way. And not only because book (and by extension magazine) burning is bad in general. It’s also because in order to create a bonfire of a 100 magazine they had to first purchase those 100 magazines.

This happened before the riot. So these weren’t copied found in the offices by someone breaking in.

Buying the magazine is a good way to encourage publication. It’s demand. Playboy doesn’t care if people read the magazine, or burn it. They earn the same amount of money either way. And either way they can claim the buyers think it’s hot (OK, lousy pun there, sorry).

Plus, imagine how this looks like in the organization’s expense account. Going over the general ledger of an Islamic organization and finding a purchase order for 100 Playboy magazines is bound to make some accountant giggle.

Imagine that, since it’s related to the organization’s goal, they ask the Indonesian equivalent of the IRS for a tax refund…

The Independent Journalists Association (AJI) condemned the attack. AJI secretary-general Abdul Manan said

“According to press regulations, the FPI could face a maximum Rp 500 million fine,” he said.

500 million Indonesian Rupiahs are a little less than $53,000. On the one hand it seems like a small amount of money compared to the damage described. On the other hand in local terms it may be quite a lot, I’m really not sure.

I’m also not sure why someone from a journalistic association is a reliable source in determining the maximum fine the organization may receive for the damages they caused. Even if the lawsuit for damages will be done by the AJI, and not directly by Playboy Indonesia, or the country (remember, policemen were hurt), their lawyer should make these kinds of comments, and preferably base them on what they request in the lawsuit. This, however, just seems pulled out of nowhere.

And just how seriously do these guys take it? Was that just a one-time riot because people got in a frenzy? Well, no, it’s more serious to them than that, according to their leader:

“If the magazine continues to be distributed, the FPI is ready to go to war,” he said

Of course, saying war when you’re an organization, rather than a country, carries a different meaning.

Still, it’s a shame that people can actually consider going to what they consider war for a purpose as important and crucial as preventing publication of a magazine.

Chief editor of Playboy Indonesia Erwin Arnada said

“Playboy Indonesia is in full compliance with Indonesian law and does not, and will not, contain any nude photography. We have also …

What was that? Playboy Indonesia magazine will not contain any nude photography? Hmm…

I never actually opened an issue of Playboy, but aren’t these things supposed to kind of be about… nude photography? Isn’t that like the whole point?

Or is this supposed to be the version where people finally, finally, actually mean it when they say they only read it for the articles?

And here I thought bars were the one place it was alright to be drunk in

March 26th, 2006

Having laws against being drunk while driving is pretty common, happens in a lot of countries, and is something I see as perfectly fine and correct.

But in Texas they take further, too much further, I think. Now it seems they’re arresting people for being drunk while drinking inside bars.

It doesn’t matter if they don’t plan on getting out of the pub until much later when they’re sober. Or if they intend to go out and walk, not drive. Or if they really won’t do anything bad while drunk.

No, being drunk is the offence. Not doing anything problematical because of being drunk.

Being in a bar does not exempt one from the state laws against public drunkenness, Beck said.

The goal, she said, was to detain drunks before they leave a bar and go do something dangerous like drive a car.

This is Marvellous. Most people who get drunk do not hurt each other. Someone getting overly drunk and hurting someone, while getting much more publicity than someone being drunk and going to sleep (not exactly a news event, is it?) is rare. And the most common way this does happen is by people driving drunk. Something which people are mostly aware of, and can choose not to do, even while intoxicated.

So if someone wants to go to a bar to drink, either to try and drown some big sorrow (doesn’t work, but people still try), celebrate something, or just have a fun evening which includes drinks, this is now dangerous to do in Texas. Anyone getting drunk, without doing anything wrong, without harming anyone, without even thinking about driving, can get arrested.

This is not going to be good for the bars, I bet. Most bar patrons don’t plan in advance to get totally drunk, just to have a drink or a few, but I guess most aren’t entirely and completely sure they won’t drink a little more than planned. And now it’s dangerous. They drink to much, they can get arrested for it. Getting into a bat to have a couple of drinks now carries risks. Bye bye bars, hello coffee shops and restaurants.

And I can’t help but wonder about the next step. They’re arresting drunk people because they may do things. Things which they’re not doing, didn’t do, and don’t plan on doing. But because they’re theoretically capable of them, they get arrested. How is arresting drunk people, because they may drive, different from arresting angry people because they may decide to hit someone? Or arresting people who carry firearms because they may decide to shoot someone?

If you want to go and arrest people before the do something dangerous, well, you might as well just hit the streets and arrest every single person you see. Some of them are going to do dangerous stuff. Why take the risk, when it’s obvious they’re capable of it?

Anyone not bed-ridden should be arrested, and the sooner the better. Everyone will be much safer that way.

I never gotten really drunk in my life, but right now I’m very happy that I don’t live anywhere near Texas…

Three strikes and you’re ou…tragous.

March 22nd, 2006

There’s this guy called Chaym Hecht who sometimes gets on the air with a series about some big problem in the country, and proceed to throw lots of hype and possible-nonsense about what he considers to be a terrific solution that will end the problem.

Personally I never watched any of these shows, and there are enough people making noise out there that I didn’t find any reason to give him more attention than I give the rest.

Today, however, I received a forwarded email from a friend, regarding another project of his. The big problem this time is crime, or more specifically the high rates of property crimes, and the potentially insufficient enforcement.

The email contained a link to the show’s site (Hebrew only, sorry), hosted under the site of the television network which broadcasts his show. Something which one would expect will give some credence to what is said there. Sure, people sometimes get their facts a little wrong, but a reputable television network won’t put pages full of outright lies, hype, and misinformation, right? Well, wrong.

I was actually amazed by how much nonsense they managed to stick into so little text. And that’s what is supposed to convince people to support his idea. They even have a petition page there, allegedly going to the ministers of justice and internal security, and to the law committee in the Knesset. So what’s on the site is supposed to be enough for people to be able to declare that they agree and support the suggested legislation.

Now, my problem isn’t exactly with the proposed legislation. That is, I don’t support that law he’s suggesting, but that’s not why I’m writing this post. People have a right to suggest law I don’t support. What they shouldn’t do is present background and supportive facts which are not true and not factual.

The law he suggests is presented as being similar to the Three Strikes law in the US, where judges should be lenient on a first offence, strict on a second, and have a mandatory large jail time for a third offence. And it shows some info about the law in the US, which is supposed to convince us it will be a good idea to do the same here.

Except that much of the information presented is false. And that the laws, while similar on the outline of escalation for three offences, are different in their most important characteristics.

The main page tells us that the proposed legislation could reduce crime rates by 50 percent. This value is taken from another paragraph on the page, telling us that after two years from when the Three Strikes law was accepted in the US the crime rates there dropped by 50 percent.

A second page is then provided with some background information about the origins of the law in the US. That page discusses… California. No mention of the fact that Washington approved such a law first. It only talks about California. And tells it like it was enacted there first. Not critical, but not exactly true.

I just mentioned it to get the dates, for that two years reference. Because that page mentioned it being enacted in California in 1993, and mentions President Clinton making it a US Law in 1995.

It’s not clear if we should expect a 50% reduction in crime rate in California between 1993 to 1995, or between 1995 to 1997. Let’s look at both, and try to find out.

First, here’s a site dedicated to supporting the Three Strikes law in California. We can expect them to be biased, but we can expect them to be biased in favour of the law. That is, showing the highest possible improvement, the highest possible reduction in crime rates. And what do they say on their front page (emphasis mine)?

California’s crime rate is down 32.7% versus a 13.0% drop for the rest of the nation! New York state added 34,000 police to achieve an even greater reduction than California – 33.4% in the 6 major categories.

32.7% is a very nice figure. It’s not 50% however. Not even close. And, as they themselves note, the law enforcement is important, but it’s the investment in enforcing the law, not merely having a Three Strikes law. Put more cops, you get lower crime rates.

They even post nice comparisons, over the five years from 1993 to 1998, showing countries with the Three Strikes laws, and without. And you can see for example Connecticut, with the law, getting a 18.6% reduction, while Arkansas, without this law, getting a 21.3% reduction. Doesn’t say that the law isn’t helping, but it does say that the law can certainly not account for the entire reduction, maybe not even for most of it.

And still no mention of that 50% figure. And if two of these years would have had such a drastic improvement, they would have been mentioned. If they can have a page in 2006 showing the five years until 1998, then I’m sure they could have just as well shown two years, if those had a much more impressive crime reduction number. Remember, this site is really pro the law.

But let’s not trust them to be biased, let’s check more facts, for the exact years we want. Let’s check the year-by-year crime rate statistics provided by the FBI through the Disaster Center.

Year Index Violent Crimes Property Crimes
1993 2,015,265 336,381 1,678,884
1994 1,940,497 318,395 1,622,102
1995 1,841,984 305,154 1,536,830
1996 1,660,131 274,996 1,385,135
1997 1,569,949 257,582 1,312,367
1998 1,418,674 229,883 1,188,791

Anyone notices a two year period there in which the drop was at 50% ? I don’t see it either.

Never mind the number, there’s a much more obvious way to see the lack of such a big jump. The Office of the Attorney General of California has a few charts with information about crime in the state. Like this lovely graph, showing crime rates over all the relevant years, with a separation between violent crimes and property crimes. What does this graph show? It very clearly show that property crime rates started to drop before 1993, although violent crimes seem to change at about that year. It also shows that the drop is for less than 50%, and that there weren’t any two years there with a much higher rate than the others around them.

Or, to put it bluntly, that 50% figure is an outright myth. Where did they take the figure? I don’t know, but I have two options. One is that they just made it up, since it sounds impressive. The other is that it has something to do with this Attorney General statement, from 2002, on the drop in crime rates in California in the 1990′s:

Between 1991 and 2000, California’s overall crime rate plummeted 50 percent. The homicide rate fell 47 percent. California’s crime rate made history in 1999 with the largest one-year drop ever, 14.9 percent. During the decade of the 1990s, California’s violent crime rate declined at almost twice the rate of the rest of the United States.

Except that it talks about the entire decade, not any specific two years. And mentioned the largest drop to be in 1999, surely quite a few years after California, and other states, enacted the Three Strikes law. And it mentions that the crime rate drop there is the lowest in the US, while California is far from being the only state with the Three Strikes law. That petition site of Mr. Hecht mentioned 24 other states, implying they all saw similar crime drop rates… Guess what? They didn’t. Not a one.

That statement says some more, though:

There is considerable debate among criminologists about which strategies were most effective in the 1990s. Some point to helping at-risk youth, getting guns out of the hands of criminals and tougher sentencing laws. Others point to more police on the streets, community policing and the abatement of the “crack epidemic.” Still others point to the economy, after-school programs and other prevention programs.

Anyone else missing the line there saying that the drop was mostly due to the Three Strikes law? It’s there under “tougher sentencing”, I imagine. Doesn’t seem to be the focal point from this, though.

OK, change of subject. That show site has another page, giving some statistics about the crime rates in Israel. Some is taken from the police, stating that there’s a an attempt at thefts, roberry, break-ins, etc, every 44 seconds. And such rates for murders, rapes, and drug trafficking and usage. That serves to illustrate that there’s a problem, so fine. Though I doubt very much we’re worse off than some US states with a Three Strikes law.

But then they go on to list, on the same page, results from a survey they did on the show. 68% of Israeli citizens have had a break-in, or had their car stolen, apparently. Notice, this is not according to the police, this is according to the survey. Guess what? People who didn’t have any such problems are less likely to want to participate in such a survey.

Also, according to this survey, 69.6% protect their houses against burglaries. I assume this includes putting locks on the doors, and installing an alarm system. If so, it sounds to me like it’s way too low, and should be much much higher. Even in areas where crime is extremely rare it’s still good sense to keep your house, and your possessions, secure.

Another fascinating bit from this survey, only 9% believe that the police is capable of handling property crimes. Not sure what handling means, but that numbers seems… practically meaningless. Lack of faith in the police is nothing new. And is usually true even when the police operates spectacularly. Still, I’m willing to accept most people don’t have much faith in the police. Fine. Why is that relevant? Guess who will have to track down the people committing the crimes if a Three Strikes law will be enacted? Right, the police. Guess who will have to keep track of how many times they were charged with the crimes? Right again, the police.

As far as I could see the proposed law does not include replacing the police, or even restructuring the police. If anything, it only deals with the idea that judges are too lenient with people who they find guilty of repeatedly committing property crimes. The law doesn’t deal with actually tracking and arresting them, nor does it deal with the ones not found guilty (For lack of evidence, or other reasons).

93.9% of the people asked do not agree to a condition where thieves deserves compensations when they are hurt during their “job”. Is that terribly irrelevant, or am I missing something here? This is a much bigger problem in the US than here. Any real cases like that here are extremely rare. And, most importantly, this has nothing to do with the Three Strikes issue, or with generally the crime condition in Israel. At all.

And last, 87.6% believe that thieves should be incarcerated for a long duration. No mention how long is long. And are we only talking about someone entering your house, taking all the electronics, jewels, and silverware, and then trashing the place? Because in the way this is written, that also applies to someone who swipes a money bill you leave on a counter in a bar unattended.

All in all, lots of survey info which is not relevant, and not really informative. The only purpose it serves, especially under a heading of “Crime Status in Israel”, is to aggravate people, and make them annoyed. Because annoyed people will be more inclined to think that yes, there’s a problem, and this solution of making sure the guilty will be punished is good. Except that, as I said, it doesn’t say anything about the actual crime conditions, or about the effectiveness of the suggested law.

Mob inflammation techniques, pure and simple.

OK, having gotten through the measly background, the adrenaline pumping techniques, and the false factoids on how good the concept is, there’s the page detailing the exact suggestion. Though “detailing”, and “exact”, may be too strong to refer to the the four very short paragraphs. And yet, this is all there is, and what people are expected to sign a petition saying they want to become law. Nearly as good as saying “I trust Mr. Hecht, just ask him what the law should be, and don’t bother me with specifics”.

The page starts with the claim that the system is focused on property crimes, because these crimes are the crime base in Israel (No, I’m not sure what crime base is supposed to mean either, it’s not like anyone wanting to commit a violent crime has to commit some property crimes to build it on). And as an example of how more common they are (Personally, if violent crimes were more common than property crimes, I’d be really worried) we are told that in 2004 property crimes were 64% of the crimes in Israel.

Remember that nice graph from the Office of the Attorney General of California? Go take a second look. Or, if you don’t trust your ability to get ratios from graphs, go check the data tables. Now, did you get the impression that in California there are, or were when the Three Strikes law was enacted, more violent crimes than property crimes? No, I don’t see it either. I see a ratio much bigger than 64%, actually.

So we want to base the law on their law, but change it to deal with property crimes and not violent crimes, because we have a bigger problem with property crime than they had? That’s what the site is saying. But it’s obviously not true, and a complete non-sequitur. If simple property crimes don’t seem like a good call for this law to people having such a law for years, why would that be enough for us to think it’s a good idea here?

The second paragraph deals with the suggestion for first offence. During the first offence judges will be required to consider all the extenuating circumstances when sentencing. Though of course they will still be allowed to jail the accused for the maximum 5 years allowed under the law. Then the paragraph goes on to present the condition as it is today. It being that only 6% of property felons are sentenced to jail.

That 6% is presented as too small, and a problem. But the new suggestion claims to only change the current law by forcing the judge to consider all extenuating circumstances. So, if only 6% are jailed now, it can be expected that less than 6% will be jailed there. It is the idea behind the law, that since second and third offences are harsh, first offence will be easier for someone with an excuse. But sticking this 6% problem there is exactly counter to the point. He’s presenting it as a problem, together with a suggestion which will make this particular alleged problem worse.

And there’s no mention of what exactly does the statistic refer to. Big crimes, small crimes, attempts at theft and burglary or only the real things? It doesn’t even say if those 6% are from the people convicted as guilty, or only of people accused.

The third paragraph deal with second offence. For a second offence there will be a mandatory four months jail time, no probation. Currently, it says, only 11% are sentenced to jail.

This is not detailed enough. Some things deserve jail time, some don’t. Some more, some less. This is why judges have discretion. And the Third Strike law, while intended to reduce this discretion for third offences, isn’t supposed to do it for a second offence without any ability to reconsider. This suggestion, as is, doesn’t even treat cases where the required jail time would be longer than four months. Four months for everything, and that’s that. The end. I do assume they allow a judge to set longer sentences, if not shorter, and if not any other sort of rehabilitation techniques, but it doesn’t say it. So again, the petition is to support a law which is either flawed, or with details the supporters don’t know.

The fourth, and last, paragraph deals with third offences. Anyone convicted in a third offence will be sentenced to three years in jail. And there are a bunch of exclamation marks there, tucked up to help put people in the right mood.

All in all, not very inspiring, unless you got here already mad enough not to think about what you’re reading.

And all this, the push for a Third Strike legislation for property crimes, when California, for example, is considering making their own law even more lenient for non-violent offences, is very out of place.

California, the state that launched a national get-tough-on-crime movement with its “three strikes, you’re out” measure in 1994, is poised to reconsider whether to ease the stiffest provision of its landmark law: locking up third-time offenders for the rest of their lives.

Two ballot initiatives – both led by Los Angeles area prosecutors – are aiming to put more flexibility in the three-strikes law, in a bid to address concerns that it is imprisoning too many nonviolent criminals at too great a cost to taxpayers. The measures would come before California voters in November if they qualify for the ballot.

The Americans, living with this law for years, aren’t all in agreement whether it’s good or not. They publish studies, some supporting this side, some the other. Certainly the idea has benefits, but it also has its drawbacks. Anything like that needs to be considered carefully, not driven forth by populism.

The suggestion for this law is similar to the Three Strikes law in that it has escalating conditions for the first three offences. But here the similarity ends. It targets different areas of crimes, for different reasons. Any attempt to justify this one on the basis of that one is unfounded.

All that, of course, is pretty meaningless. Because, you see, on-line petitions are meaningless anyway. They don’t do anything, they don’t achieve anything, and nobody who is the target of one takes them seriously. They’re too easy to falsify, too hard to verify, and too hard to know how to judge. So the chances of our Ministers, or Knesset committees, deciding to pay attention to one are slim at best. Less than that, even.

All it serves is to allow Mr. Hecht to say in the future that he had a brilliant solution to drastically reduce our property crime rate (Oh, go check that graph again. Did you notice that property crime rates in California started climbing after 1999? Without anybody cancelling the Three Strikes law?), and nobody did anything about it.

There’s an old joke, saying that it’s a pity that all the people who really know how to run a country are too busy cutting people’s hair, serving them drinks, and driving them around. I think we need to add running television shows to the list, maybe.

A suggestion that has merit would not be presented using hype, hyperbole, and false information. These things do not indicate an idea that can survive because it’s good. Nor does it indicate that the one coming forth with the idea really thinks it’s a good one.

And there are worse things than Holocaust denial

February 22nd, 2006

On the same article regarding the guy being jailed for denying the Holocaust there were some responses. One of which, from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, I find totally objectionable:

The verdict was welcomed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which also highlighted the issue of freedom of speech.

“While Irving’s rants would not have led to legal action in the United States, it is important that we recognize and respect Austria’s commitment to fighting Holocaust denial, the most odious form of hatred, as part of its historic responsibility to its Nazi past,” the center’s associate dean, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, said in a statement.

First, countries don’t have responsibilities to their past. They have responsibilities to their present, and should have responsibilities for their future. Nothing Austria will do today will ever change its Nazi past (inventing a time machine and going to kill baby Hitler excluded). It will only have an effect on how the country looks today, and will look in the future. And throwing people in jail for thinking something contrary to current doctrine, even if I believe that doctrine to be absolutely correct, doesn’t seem responsible to me.

More importantly, there are much more odious forms of hatred than Holocaust denial. Killing people, for one. Saying otherwise is greatly belittling every other sort of hate crime in the world. Against Jews, or otherwise. There’s plenty of hate to go around, unfortunately.

The audacity of this Rabbi Abraham Cooper to claim that nothing worse can be done than denying the Holocaust is something I find much more objectionable than someone denying the Holocaust. The latter I can define as an idiot and be done with it. Rabbi Abraham is Worse. Listen Rabbi, when someone murders a Jew for being a filthy Jew, or burns a synagogue, do you find yourself saying “oh, well, at least they didn’t deny the Holocaust?”. Because that’s what you apparently just said.

Heck, one of the reasons for founding Israel was to prevent such events as the Holocaust from happening again. But here we hear that doing similar things is not as bad as denying they happened in the past. So maybe we should just close shop, because we already have Austria guarding that particular front?

But don’t worry, Rabbi. Even though you’re saying far worse things, I don’t think you deserve to go to jail either. You just deserve some contempt and disdain.

In this series (Holocaust denier gets three years in Jail):

  1. Being an idiotic jerk should not be a reason get thrown in jail
  2. And there are worse things than Holocaust denial

Being an idiotic jerk should not be a reason get thrown in jail

February 22nd, 2006

An Austrian court sentenced a man to three years in jail, for denying the holocaust existed. Or, as the case may be, for trying to grossly misrepresent the events that occurred as something not even close in scope to what actually happened.

The historical evidence seems pretty overwhelming, so it never ceases to surprise me how some people can choose to ignore so much of it just because of their own personal views. Of course, my own opinion isn’t without bias, me being a Jew (though a secular one) and living in Israel. But still, I do believe that the evidence clearly shows that most of what we believe happened during the holocaust really did happen.

Therefore I do most sincerely believe that this guy, David Irving, is an idiot.

What strikes me as being too much, though, is throwing him in jail for it. Yes, the guy believes in quite a load of… manure. On the personal front I’d probably hate him, and it would very probably be mutual. None of that should be something worth being jailed for, though.

Many people believe in all sorts of totally wild nonsense, much of it extremely easier to prove wrong than it is to prove the holocaust happened (hint: That’s quite easy to prove), and yet nobody throws them in jail for it. Usually they’re not even thrown in asylums.

Many other people (though a large overlap probably exist) believe in all sorts of really offensive stuff, and yet they don’t get thrown in jail for it either.

So why this particular stupid belief, and even the attempt to propagate it in public, should be considered so much worse, is beyond me. I may personally find it more offensive than a lot of other stuff but, until the day I get to rule the world with my iron fist, that shouldn’t really count for much.

That said, the reason Austria has these laws forbidding holocaust denial is understandable. Germany and Austria suffered quite a lot of backlash over the actions of Nazi Germany under Hitler. And the Austrian governments, whether out of political expediency or actual feeling that they should carry a shame over the actions of someone who happened to get born in the same country they live in, wanted to make it obvious how badly they feel about it.

Fine. We got that. You think Hitler was really bad, and what he did was really bad. That’s alright, most of the world agree. Now get over it. Seriously.

Explaining during history lessons what went wrong, and why those views are wrong, that’s fine. Quite welcome, even. But making it illegal to hold a belief, as misguided as it may be, as long as nothing is done about it (Going out killing Jews is doing something. Merely thinking that a good Jew is a dead Jew, isn’t doing something. Not that denying the holocaust is exactly wanting Jews dead, but I think that passes the semantic point well enough), that’s misguided itself.

Yes, it would be much harder for someone with such views to rise to a position of political power where mentioning those views is illegal. That’s true. But is that worth running laws requiring what’s effectively a thought police?

There are so many other bad ideas people believe in. This one got into law because they had one such person who eventually managed to act on it on a large scale. So is that really the main worry they should keep carrying?

Historical events leave scars, and effect laws and culture for many years. The bigger the event, the deeper the scars, and the longer the effect lasts. But as some point people have to separate between laws that have a positive influence on current and future events, and laws which only hurt those and their sole benefit is making people feel better about the past trauma.

Speaking of which, I think it’s quite possible we have similar laws here in Israel. And such laws are even more understandable here than in Austria, since it’s to be expected a country of Jews will be a lot more touchy on the subject. And yet I think even here holding such a law is misguided. Not to mention silly, since those views really have no chance of catching on here.

Let the idiots rave. No need to turn them into martyrs for the few other misguided people who believe them. Heck, most racist and anti-Semitic people (assuming that’s the group the Austrian legislators worried about) don’t deny the holocaust. They may think it was a very good event, and should have gone out longer, but from there to denial the way is long. Not to mention, denying the holocaust takes away from such people the biggest example they have of how things should run.

Which is why I think holocaust deniers aren’t, and shouldn’t be, anything too exciting. Nobody much cares about them and their views, on both/all sides. There’s no much difference between them and people who want to deny other historical events, except that this one is more loaded culturally and politically.

Throwing someone like that in jail is bad on two totally different front. The first is that it simply gives the issue too much attention. Why fight over whether it’s allowed to deny the holocaust? It happened, and anyone insisting the earth is flat (Though I do admit there’s a bit more evidence for that) should be of no interest.

The second is that it’s a bad precedent for arresting people due to simple beliefs and opinions. If people think that such a law is a good idea, the distance isn’t that great until other stupid thoughts and beliefs become illegal as well. And from there it’s a slippery slope. I like my freedom of speech to much for that. To be wholly inappropriate and paraphrase, I don’t want it to end in cases of… First they came for the holocaust deniers, and I did not speak up, because I wasn’t a holocaust denier

In this series (Holocaust denier gets three years in Jail):

  1. Being an idiotic jerk should not be a reason get thrown in jail
  2. And there are worse things than Holocaust denial

So does Hurtt has nothing to worry about?

February 21st, 2006

I’m not sure whether I really like the Hurtt Prize idea, or whether I think it’s totally appalling and the guy behind it should get thrown in jail just for the principal of it…

The chief of police in Houston has shown himself to be a total idiot, pushing forward a program to have constant video surveillance all around the city. That’s not the totally idiotic part (though it’s bad enough). The totally idiotic part was that, in response to privacy concerns, the idiot has the audacity to wonder why would people who didn’t do anything wrong need to worry…

Privacy, for anyone who isn’t capable of realizing it on their own, is important. No, really. Giving the government, police officials, your fellow neighbourhood people, or anyone else, the ability to spy on you and your actions freely, is a bad idea.

It will be misused, even if nobody plans to misuse it from the get-go. And it doesn’t help safety and security. It just helps the illusion of safety.

While adding the very non-illusionary feeling of being constantly monitored and under watch.

Bad, bad, bad idea.

Unless you’re, like chief of police Hurtt (Who to his credit isn’t the first, not the most important, of the many people around the world supporting such extensive surveillance), expecting to be the one having the power to use this, and not expecting to be the target.

So this Hurtt Prize idea is quite an apt response.

Somebody is setting up a monetary prize to be given to anyone presenting videotaped proof that chief of police Hurtt performed any sort of crime. This, obviously, with the implicit but very obvious idea that people will have to go around him all the time with cameras, watching and monitoring his every move.

Anyone doing that to me would find themselves sued very quickly for stalking. And I won’t take lightly the total ignorance of my privacy and right to personal life.

Chief of police Hurtt, however, doesn’t have any reason to complain. Obviously. Because, after all, if he isn’t doing anything wrong, what does he have to worry about?

If he would do something wrong, then that would put him in a bit of a problem, yes. It’s all the more likelier to get noticed and published. But he doesn’t need to worry and complain now, because he doesn’t actually plan on doing anything wrong, does he?

I wonder how this would develop…

Chinese can’t play for long, at least not on-line

November 26th, 2005

Recently there have been a few stories about people suffering damage due to excessive on-line gaming. Some idiots staying in their rooms for days playing non-stop, not taking care of themselves.

These stories get headlines, because as we all know the news media is always looking for sensations, and this is the kind of news that sells. Sad, but true.

It is, however, an incredibly small and irrelevant problem. The amount of people actually getting hurt, or dying, due to excessive gaming is very small. It just seems bigger because we’re used to just a fraction of events being on the news, while in this case every single instance gets the headlines. Plenty of other addictions are far worse, and far more damaging. Heck, plenty of other addictions actually exist in more than a score of rare and isolated cases.

So what most people do is shrug in wonderment of the idiots involved, and go on with their lives ignoring this phenomenon. Because it’s obvious it’s not really a phenomenon.

The Chinese , however, apparently think otherwise, and see this as a real problem, requiring real treatment:

Online computer gamers in China will be penalized for playing their favorite game for more than three hours at a time, as part of a plan to prevent young people from becoming addicted to fighting dragons and warlords in cyberspace.

Players that spend more than three hours online at a time will lose experience points and weapons in the cyber world.

Once a player has played for more than five consecutive hours, the system cuts the ability level of that player’s character to the lowest level allowed by the game, often zero.

Players must take a two hour break before logging into the game again to avoid being penalized.

Totally and completely crazy. In order to solve a non-problem, they’re interfering with the gameplay of nearly every single playing of on-line games in the entire country. Personally I don’t play these kinds of games, but I do occasionally play some computer games, and can easily see how annoying and distracting such limitations are.

On the other hand, the Chinese authorities are limiting Internet access in various forms for quite a long time, so I guess the idea came naturally to them.

The few quotes in the article from players seem to indicate they think it’s stupid as well, and some plan to try and trick the system. Which would be a pretty natural reaction, though I do doubt if it’s as safe to do it in China as it would be here.

The next big terrorist target: Bingo

November 1st, 2005

In Kentucky they take the war against terror seriously, and like to cover all the angles. Terrorist activities need funding. Heck, everything needs funding, and terror is no different. So one of the things to do to fight terror is to try and block their avenues of obtaining funds. And the fine people of Kentucky have started acting in earnest to stop a major gaping hole in the terror-funding blockage: Bingo games

Kentucky has been awarded a federal Homeland Security grant aimed at keeping terrorists from using charitable gaming to raise money [...] The idea is to keep terrorists from playing bingo or running a charitable game to raise large amounts of cash, Holiday said.

Because nothing spells lots and lots of free-flowing money quite like Bingo does. And if the fine people of Kentucky can see it, then it must be just a matter of time until the terrorists do to…

Sure, Bingo games are a way to make money. But it’s not such an amazingly terrific way. So yes, terrorist probably could also raise some money from Bingo games. But they can use all the other methods as well. If someone can make money out of it, so can a terrorist.

What then, you’ll go after each and every single way in which people can potentially raise money? Because if you do, then you should be aware right from the start that there’s only one thing to do. Only one method that can guarantee those nasty terrorists won’t be able to make their money. Only one sure-fire way to guarantee that those terrorist will not have any way to make a dime

Communism. If Kentucky will fully embrace communism, to the fullest, not letting anyone own any private property, then they’ll solve the problem.

The state Office of Charitable Gaming won the $36,300 grant and will use it to provide five investigators with laptop computers and access to a commercially operated law-enforcement data base

I also really wonder how are they going to spend an amount of $36,300 on just five laptop computers. I know laptops are expensive, but this strikes me as rather steep… I think maybe someone there should take a look into ways for law enforcement to make money. Or better yet, ways for them to save money, instead of spending it on all this nonsense. Seriously.

No animals were harmed during the writing of this post

October 23rd, 2005

It’s a very old tradition. Whenever a movie, or a TV show, had a scene involving a hurt animal, the end-credits included a message stating that no animals were hurt during the shooting of the movie. Never mind if the plot included some person actually hurting the animal, or if the scene just included some animal which was dead or wounded, this disclaimer was shown.

Personally I always found it somewhat ridiculous. It seemed quite natural to me that if a scene showed a horse slipping during a chase, and later on the horse was shot to take it out of its misery, no real horse got its legs broken and no real horse was actually shot. But apparently just because it makes sense to me doesn’t mean it makes sense to all viewers.

At least, I assume these things came about as a result of complaint by actual people who didn’t have a clue. Since getting all those complaints must have scared everyone’s legal departments, they must have felt they had to either put on those disclaimers, or put some of the complainers out of their own misery. And the second option (merit notwithstanding) was not exactly practical, or legal.

Some actually took it in good stride. I remember some TV series in the past using this as a source for jokes, claiming things like that no actual ants and flies were hurt during the filming (or maybe it was that flies were hurt, I’m not so sure). I recall once seeing a disclaimer that no actual unicorns were hurt, as well.

There was also a great joke in the computer adventure game The Secret of Monkey Island. After giving poisoned meat to a bunch of guard dogs (vicious piranha poodles, in this case. Yes, this was a crazy game), a message popped up stating that no animals were hurt during the making of the scene, and that the dogs are not dead but only sleeping. Or something to that effect, it’s been more than a few years since I played the game last.

I’ve gotten used to it, and while notifications that no animals were hurt are still appearing on movie credits, I tend to just ignore them. I assumed almost everybody else tended to just ignore them as well, and that this was just being added as lip service without anyone paying too much attention

I was wrong. Things have escalated. The simple days when some brain-dead people merely required being reassured that no animals were actually hurt are passed. After all, what’s to prevent a studio from actually killing and torturing those poor animals, and then telling everyone they didn’t? People need some protection from those conniving movie studios and lying TV execs. There has to be a way to make sure. Some supporting evidence, or maybe a third party that would monitor all scenes including animals. Someone who would give support to the claims that it’s all really faked… Right? Wrong. Err… right.

end credits message about how no animals were harmed, this time with a name of a group that can verify itPersonally, I was very very surprised to find this out. But here I was, taking a few extra seconds after this episode of House ended, and what do I see on the screen? A statement letting me know that no animal was harmed during the making of the episode (I’m not sure if they were referring to the few very quick seconds that were supposed to involve cockfights, or to the few very quick seconds showing a dead rat in a mousetrap). But this time with a twist. This is not just asserted by the studio, no.

The scenes were monitored by a third party. By no less than the American Humane Association. I think that these people have way too much time on their hands if they can do that. Seriously so. Does anyone really think it’s a good idea to spend time and money on this? To have someone monitor dead rats to make sure they’re not really rats, or not really dead? Or to have someone monitor a few chickens, to make sure they don’t get any actual chance to peck each other for a moment?

I think they, or rather whoever think these functions of them are necessary, should have some sense talked into them. Or knocked into them. Or maybe just to be put out of their misery. It would be the humane thing to do, after all. Just as long as no animals (no other animals, anyway, but let’s not go into the whole evolution issue now) are harmed in the process.

LAPD, the United States Court House, and bail

October 12th, 2005

In the previous post we finished with the Japanese gardens in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, and started to head back to the car.

Along the way, us bunch of criminal came along to no less than the LAPD building. Naturally, none of us really care much about the LAPD, or their building. Could be some of them are doing a stellar job, I’m not saying anything against the LA police, just that police departments by definition are not that much of a tourist attraction, right? Generally speaking, if as a tourist you get to know the police too well, it’s a very strong indication you have a problem.

But in this case there was a different cause for excitement, mostly on account of V, my partener for the trip.

Any of you watches the TV series The Closer? If not, check it out, a really good police drama. Good scripts, except for the pilot episode that had a paper thin mystey. But it’s less a procedural, and more about the main character, Brenda, which is being excellently acted by Kyra Sedgwick. In any case, the series takes place in LA, where their made up Priority Murder investigation unit is located inside the LAPD building, and they show pictures of it sometimes on the series.

Surprisingly enough, in real life the building looks exactly like it does on the series. Amazing, eh? So, in any case, police be here. We didn’t wander inside, mind you.

And we got another fun legal experience on the way back. Actually, I can’t remember if it was in front of the LAPD building, or later on in front of the United States Court House.

Which is, regardless of whether it was there or not, a big big building. I mean, big. Scary to think how many judges, legal aids, and other people it can contain. Even if some of the space is reserved for actual courts.

It’s also very elegant. I guess they think justice should not only be done, but also should be seen. Although, of course, it’s been a long long time since law and justice referred to the exact same things. I mean, that’s what lawyers are for, right? Sometimes to keep the two as far apart as possible. OK, OK, not fair, lawyer jokes. But I’m allowed.

So what is the funny event that transpired there, you ask? When we were standing there (And thinking about it some more, this was at the LAPD building, not the court house. But hey, the court is nice, so I’ll leave the pictures and narrative here anyway) we got approached by some guy who gave each and every one of us a band/keychain. Taking a look at them, they each had printed on them, in large letters, a phone number for a bail bond company. A 1-800 number, even.

It was even more amusing for me, because we don’t really have that whole bail bond concept here. I mean, I think we must have something similar in concept, but you don’t really have those very visible companies offering those services of paying your bail money for you. It’s not a large business like it is in the states.

They put people to stand outside the big central police station, and give everyone a phone number for the company. So heck, if we’d have gotten arrested for our crimes , we’ll have an obvious source to turn to when trying to arrange bail. Ha, as if I’d ever do anything so small-scale that a sane judge would allow me to be released on bail. Dream on.

We told the guy we’re not getting arrested at the moment. And that we don’t really count on needing bail money any time soon. But he gave them anyway, saying his instructions were to give one to each and every person passing nearby. Cute.

Harry Potter and the Half-Witted Court Order

July 20th, 2005

I was originally going to go with “Half-Witted Judge” for the title, but then realized it could be interpreted as libel. After all it’s possible that Justice Kristi Gill is normally very intelligent and was just on drugs at the time, or that someone bribed her with enough money to make this a rational decision on her part. Since I don’t know, I shouldn’t go around making those half-assed assessments.

What got me so riled up is this story, about a store in Canada accidentally selling some of the new Harry Potter books a few days before the official release time. What happened was that a Supreme Court judge has ordered the people who bought the book to return it. And in addition to returning it to the publisher until the release date, they were forbidden from talking about it or even reading it.

From what I understand, someone in the store made a mistake and put the books on the shelves, a few people who saw them decided to buy them, and the mistake wasn’t caught by the clerk when they made the purchase.

The store must have had a contract on the release date with the publisher, or their supplier, and so is probably guilty of a breach of contract. Had the publisher sued the store over it, I could have easily understood a ruling in favour of the publisher.

But the buyers? They bought a book, a book which was presented on the shelves of a store, like they buy any other book. They didn’t bribe the clerk, they didn’t try to trick anyone, they just made a simple, and legal, purchase.

Had the store’s mistake been criminal, I still may have understood. If someone legally buys stolen goods, there may be justification in returning it. But it was a contractual/business issue, not a criminal issue. The store sold the books. The buyers bought the books. The books are theirs, and are their property. I may be mistaken, could be that the Canadian law sees this differently, but I don’t think that’s very likely… Can anyone correct me on this? Please?

So what right did the judge had to order the books returned? In essence the court temporarily impounded private property. And why? Because the publisher, a commercial entity, decided they only want to sell the books later, and thought this may cost them money. That sounds like very poor justification to me. Courts should intervene on legal grounds, not just because a corporation doesn’t like something.

Personally, though that’s beside the point, I’m also against the whole official release date concept. Sell the book when you have printed copies. The standard excuse, as they also wrote in this article, is that “its debut has been highly orchestrated to enable everyone — readers, reviewers, even publishers — to crack it open all at once.” The key word, the incorrect word, being “enable”. It doesn’t enable people to do anything. It limits them to. It’s a perfectly legitimate business decision, but don’t tell me it’s for the benefit of the public. It’s not, it’s for the benefit of the publisher. Still, as I said, that’s entirely beside the point here.

Now, back on track, if the publisher really thinks having those people read the book will hurt, then the publisher should sue the store for the estimated losses. Not try and get the already sold books impounded.

The ruling, with agreement from the publisher I assume, did set some compensation. When they will take the books back, they will receive autographs by the author, Mrs. Rowling. Now, this may be very exciting for a die-hard Harry Potter fan, but it isn’t necessarily ample compensation. If it were, then why involve the court? I’m sure that the publisher could have made the same offer as a private deal. They didn’t, so maybe people didn’t consider an autograph by the writer to compensate having their property impounded, for being put under secrecy, or for being forced to wait reading a book they had bought. It’s also an indication that the judge knew they didn’t do anything really wrong, or else why give compensations in any case?

Personally, I’m a very avid reader. I have over 1,500 books in my library, and read plenty of loaned books from friends, and public library books. And yet I care about the books, not the writers. Even with writers and series I really like, the books interest me a lot more. A signed book by the author may some day has financial value, and it’s really nice to get a book personally dedicated, but it doesn’t matter all that much. It may very well be it’s the same for some of those people.

Again, they didn’t even have to be great Harry Potter fans. Just interested enough to buy the book when they saw it on display in a store.

Claims they should have known it was earlier than the release date are also so much hogwash. Yes, there were plenty of publications with the date. But unless you are one of the people who bother to pre-order, who pays attention? I check what books are available when I go to the book shops. If there are specific titles I want, or parts of series to complete, I especially look for them, and if I don’t find them I may collect a bunch and order on-line. But even for the ones I really want, I hardly ever bother to check exact release dates. Most people don’t. It’s enough to know the general season, or month, that a book will be out, and knowing that it would be possible to find it later. So a few days before the release date, most people would really not pay attention. And even if they do, the clerk on the store is the authority figure here. If the store sells it, then it is obviously being sold. It’s a no-brainer tautology. Besides maybe asking the clerk a single time if it’s really for sale, there’s nothing a person should be expected to do.

The gag order is also a very troubling aspects. Telling people they’re forbidden to talk about state secrets is something understandable. Telling people not to talk about a book, isn’t. Sure, they may make some money out of it. So what? Heck, the publisher may even lose a little money out of it, but again, so what? Obviously the publisher cares. But it’s not a legal issue, and nothing that the court can use to order people to remain silent. The only reason for not talking about the book is that the publisher is worried over losses. By that same logic people should be forbidden from talking about any sort of bad experience they had with any product. All consumer protection groups and organizations should also be permanently shut down. After all, they may hurt some corporation’s bottom line.

Unless, of course, the judge thought that the content of the books is real, and some Canadian wizards need a little more time to sort out their affairs so that the rest of the people will not follow hints in the book and find out about them. This could make sense. Except, of course, that the book is urban fantasy, and doesn’t contain any actual state secrets. If it did, the person ordered to be silent would have been the author, not the people buying it a few days early.

It might have also been different had these people been actual reviewers for the publisher. Someone who receives an early copy from the publisher under an agreement that they will not blab about it in public can indeed be legitimately, and legally, expected to keep silent. But these people didn’t have any sort of such agreement with the publisher whatsoever. No signed contract, and not even a mutual understanding, a handshake, or even a half-hearted wink. The people had no interaction with the publisher at all. They just bought a book. This does not give the publisher any rights to tell them what to do with what they bought, and it’s a shame that a Supreme Court judge thinks it does.

I had a conversation about this with a Canadian friend. I was surprised that instead of being outraged the friend was amused. The amusement was from basically the same source that troubled me, that a Supreme Court judge had made a stupid ruling, which is probably illegal, over something as trivial and petty as a reading book. When I inquired if it doesn’t raise big concerns about the court system, I got a reply that in any case their whole court system is absurd, does nonsense like that all the time, and not taken too seriously, so it doesn’t really matter…