Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: On Freedom

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  • Rich of Observationz,

    Really, dysfunctional countries and ungoverned areas like Zimbabwe or Somalia should be at the top of propertarians' 'freedom' lists. You can do anything you like in those places, subject to a small retainer being paid to appropriate cops and warlords.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4356 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    The fact is that prosecutorial discretion – which in the case of drugs often means the inconsistent and arbitrary application of the law – is the thing that keeps prohibition viable. If the law was fully and equally applied, it would not be viable. It’s selective prosecution that allows politicians like Collins to insist there is no problem.

    Also, would be fair to say that if it was fully and equally applied some of the folks Collins worked with before she entered Parliament might have had considerable difficulty getting a practising certificate? I don't know, and its not really any of my business but I can't help wondering if some of my acquaintances would have had *cough* a slightly different experience of getting pinched with naughty baccy or a skin-full if they weren't articulate, white university students.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11783 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    I don’t know, and its not really any of my business but I can’t help wondering if some of my acquaintances would have had *cough* a slightly different experience of getting pinched with naughty baccy or a skin-full if they weren’t articulate, white university students.

    Indeed.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18508 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Having laws that allow police and prosecutors to use "their judgement" and apply the law to those they deem "bad guys" is a very difficult situation. The potential for abuse is high, yet the ability for police to apply a little used law to get someone off the streets for either their own good or the good of others can be a good thing.

    The stories of bad cops are easily found. The stories of good cops often never surface.

    I don't think it's a reasonable political excuse to not develop better laws but I just don't know that I would do away with all police and prosecutorial leeway.

    To me a part of this equation is having a robust, intelligent and active press. The public needs to know when the balance is wrong and also when it is right.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3215 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Also, would be fair to say that if it was fully and equally applied some of the folks Collins worked with before she entered Parliament might have had considerable difficulty getting a practising certificate?

    And the answer to this fair question is that it probably wouldn't have made a difference. A drug possession conviction will not prevent you from being admitted as a lawyer.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    even though the perverse effects of the law stare us in the face

    I couldn't help wondering if even the slowest politician struggles reconciling this story with the facile cut and paste rubbish from this story just a week later. It seems to me that people hugging each other on MDMA is far more preferable to

    ... violent seizures and hallucinations in people thought to have taken pills known as "red rockets"... ....Some users were so aggressive that they required sedation...

    Still, a win is a win for the boys in blue, I guess.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1738 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    The other half of this story for me is about publication of scientific literature. Open access publication of science is starting to change the landscape but essentially the science community has been held hostage by major publishing houses for several decades now.

    It is no easy or cheap task publishing scientific papers. Journals have/had to pay copy editors, physical printing presses, administration costs etc. They had to maintain databases of editors and reviewers, none of which is free. Some journals ran on cost basis, authors were charged the lowest possible page fees and libraries charged subscription costs, nobody made millions and people were happy. Those journals have embraced online publishing as a way to reduce costs and open access to the knowledge to an ever wider audience.

    Open access publication still has costs, for example a recent paper I wrote cost 1600 Euros to publish in open access. That pays for the real costs of managing a completely online journal. BTW that money comes straight from our grants.

    However some publishers recognised that there were millions to be made exploiting scientists as authors, reviewers and editors. Paying nothing for services and charging anyone and everyone as much as they could get away with, has proved to be a very profitable business model.

    When Aaron Swartz set his laptop to download all those scientific papers from the MIT library system, he was effectively breaking open a box that should never have been locked. It’s doubtful those locking the box had any right to do so. I’m not sure if Aaron should be considered a hero but his actions highlighted something very wrong with the publishing of (mostly) government funded research. His isn’t the only action changing the way science is published and many would argue the changes would have come without him but I have to respect his actions and motives. It’s sad that he was persecuted for those actions.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3215 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    I don’t think it’s a reasonable political excuse to not develop better laws but I just don’t know that I would do away with all police and prosecutorial leeway.

    Yes. There's an important place for prosecutorial discretion, but it's not an excuse for not making better laws. Eric Schlosser's Reefer Madness offers a great examination of how the combination of prosecutorial discretion and sentencing gimmickry has distorted the American system. Basically, prosecutors do the sentencing by deciding which offence they'll prosecute.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18508 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Basically, prosecutors do the sentencing by deciding which offence they’ll prosecute.

    Which really should not be their job. Judges are meant to have that role. And the separation of those roles is meant to serve a very real purpose in the judicial system.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3215 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    His isn’t the only action changing the way science is published and many would argue the changes would have come without him but I have to respect his actions and motives. It’s sad that he was persecuted for those actions.

    Yes. Both Lessig and danah boyd have have similarly noted that "his methods were not mine" in pursuit of the goals they shared.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18508 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Eric Schlosser’s Reefer Madness offers a great examination of how the combination of prosecutorial discretion and sentencing gimmickry has distorted the American system

    Which is an abuse of discretion, to be clear, in the same way that the prosecutors in the Swartz case really should be considering just how much they fucked up here (and if there’s any justice in the world facing some professional/personal sanctions but.)

    Also I am kinda wary of the idea of better laws — like, sure, you can stop outlawing stupid things, but I don’t, fundamentally, think that it is possible to write laws which don’t require huge amounts of discretion.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1262 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    Which is an abuse of discretion, to be clear, in the same way that the prosecutors in the Swartz case really should be considering just how much they fucked up here (and if there’s any justice in the world facing some professional/personal sanctions but.)

    My understanding is that in order to progress their careers prosecutors want big flashy cases which they can be sure of winning. As much to do with the way they are promoted and paid as whether they are decent human beings.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3215 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    A drug possession conviction will not prevent you from being admitted as a lawyer.

    Seriously? Every law student I know was terrified of being busted, because it would preclude them from the bar, so they said. Did this change (this was the 90s), or were they just wrong? If so, it was Law School itself telling them the porkies.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood,

    It was swampd by the Swartz news, but the day before JSTOR had announced they were trialing limited open access for individuals.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 841 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to BenWilson,

    Seriously? Every law student I know was terrified of being busted, because it would preclude them from the bar, so they said. Did this change (this was the 90s), or were they just wrong? If so, it was Law School itself telling them the porkies.

    It might get in the way of getting a job, but while you have to declare it when you apply, the the chance of something like that actually standing in your way is remote. The things to be be avoiding were dishonesty convictions.

    I can't rule out that in the years before I was admitted these things were treated differently, but I'm confident of the time I was at university and since.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    I was just saying on Twitter how much I enjoy posting things like the Crooks and Liars link on Facebook in order to feel some of my very conservative American relatives quietly imploding. (I am kind of an asshole. :) )

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3623 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Clint Rickards was admitted as a lawyer. If he can get in, anyone can, surely.

    Is he still practising?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4356 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    I can’t rule out that in the years before I was admitted these things were treated differently, but I’m confident of the time I was at university and since.

    My dad had a law-student friend in the late 70s who’d been busted for possession (I’m not going to name him) and was worried about how it might stop him practising. I don’t think it’d happened before. He was very open about it when the time came, and was (after a little delay, I think) admitted to the bar, and got a job. I know of another case a little later as well. Not sure about subsequent careers though.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1434 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Danielle,

    I was just saying on Twitter how much I enjoy posting things like the Crooks and Liars link on Facebook in order to feel some of my very conservative American relatives quietly imploding.

    The danger is they'll all arrive at the airport... Minus any assault rifles, at least :)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1434 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    And weird stuff like politically appointed prosecutors doesn't help, I don't think.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1262 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    It might get in the way of getting a job, but while you have to declare it when you apply, the the chance of something like that actually standing in your way is remote. The things to be be avoiding were dishonesty convictions.

    Declare convictions? Or having used illegal drugs at some point in your life or not? 'Cause the first is on record anyway, and the second seems like just the kind of thing it would be very tempting to lie about, encouraging dishonesty.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to BenWilson,

    Declare convictions? Or having used illegal drugs at some point in your life or not? ’Cause the first is on record anyway, and the second seems like just the kind of thing it would be very tempting to lie about, encouraging dishonesty.

    You had to declare convictions. Also any occasion on which you received diversion.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Clint Rickards was admitted as a lawyer. If he can get in, anyone can, surely.

    Is he still practising?

    Yes. You can search the register of lawyers here.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    As Mike Joy found out the hard way, it’s getting increasingly difficult to hold a "free" and reasoned public debate without the risk of being labelled “PC”, “bleeding heart”, “latte liberal”, or words to that effect. Not too long ago, those anti-PC types who fling such labels complained of being labeled “rednecks” or “bigots”, and now they’ve become exactly what they hate.

    A kind of neo-McCarthyism, much?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4057 posts Report Reply

  • Kit McLean,

    Minor point... Swartz was a co-owner of Reddit - it was co-founded by Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian. They merged with Infogami, Swartz company a year or so later. Not to diminish his role or deeds before or after Reddit and I'm sure to most it seems like a pedantic point. But if we're all sad/angry about the death of a guy who 99% of people had never heard of last week we should at least do him the courtesy of getting one of his main contributions to the Internet correct.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 24 posts Report Reply

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