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Crime and Punishment

One of the major influences on Rule 34 was a throwaway idea I borrowed from Vernor Vinge -- that perhaps one of the limiting factors on the survival of technological society is the development of tools of ubiquitous law enforcement, such that all laws can be enforced -- or infringements detected -- mechanistically.

One of the unacknowledged problems of the 21st century is the explosion in new laws.

Continue reading (at orbitbooks.net).

238 Comments

1:

Malice probably covers many possibilities, but there do seem to be more crimes of a non-malicious or accidental sort.

2:

Especially the last part bothers me: If we do not have as much free will as we would like to believe, how can our legal system based on reward/punishment hope to work?

We can either go with eugenics* to prevent future crime, we can stick with punishment (which is proven not to work), or we can lock them up to protect the remainder of us, which is insanely costly and impractical.

* Let's be realistic here: Sterilisation of rapists or murderers is technically eugenics, but it's probably no worse than locking them away for all their life, or just murdering them. Having children is great, but living outside of prison walls for another 50 years is a lot more important.

3:

Sterilization and the death penalty are most problematic because they are not reversible. (I'm assuming here for sterilization you're talking about the blunt force removal of body parts.)

And without a perfect justice system, you want to be able to let the criminals go if it turns out their crime was never committed.

And as for rapists not being able to rape again after sterilization, I'm not so sure that's the case.

4:

That is an interesting question. As I think of society at the present; I don't believe so. Every inanimate object has a.... human sponsor, let's call it, at some level. I think, this is because as of now our tools are an amplification device for work; sort of like a lever or pulley. Human input results in larger gross effect.

For example: I drive my car and crash into some people killing them. My car would not be held to blame; because, I initiated input. If I wasn't to blame; then, it would go up the corporate system until blame could be assigned to an individual or group for providing a faulty tool to the public. Of course will it stay this way?

I've heard this discussion about war drones. As it stands a human operator has to push the missile launch button. So, if a war crime is committed; there is someone to accept responsibility. But, they asked what would happen if the system were totally automated. Who shoulders the blame? The military for sending the drone on a mission? The manufacturer of the drone for building a defective product? If them; then, who within the organization? The programmers? The designers? The outsourced parts supply?

If there was an artificial life form with a will.... then I guess we could assign the blame on them. The level of blame corresponding to the beings level of comparable intelligence. Is it a sentient robotic guard dog with a dog's cognitive ability? Then we would destroy it like a dog. Is it at human level cognition? Then it stands trial and tries to defend it's actions.

5:

We can either go with eugenics* to prevent future crime,

Eugenics doesn't work, though. For about a century the British government systematically executed criminals for what today would be considered misdemeanours; then for another century they deported the "criminal class" to Australia, with the intention of effectively removing them from the gene pool. However, Australia and the UK today seem to be roughly equally law-abiding.

There are several reasons for this:

1. Humans breed back towards the average.

2. Criminality isn't hereditary (crime is a social construct insofar as we define criminal acts in law: anti-social behaviour -- which is what we're really talking about -- may have an hereditary component, but it's also got a number of environmental ones).

3. Breeding of livestock for desired traits requires a breeder with continuity of intention that exceeds the life span of the target animal by a considerable margin. As it is, few human enterprises outlast a single human lifetime.

Oh, and as a final aside, I disagree with your assertion that sterilizing rapists or murderers is ever appropriate. Here's a hint: the definition of rape is a movable feast. Here's another hint: many murders lack any dimension of sexual violence. And here's a third: if you were falsely accused of one of those crimes, would you consider yourself to be fairly dealt with by the judicial system is that was the prescribed outcome? The acid test for a judicial process is how it deals with false positives -- the innocent who is accused in error.

6:

I've been thinking about this a lot recently. I live in London and I cycle everywhere rather than owning a car. In the last month I've been stopped by the police twice for hugely trivial things (cycling through a park entrance is apparently not allowed even though cycling through the park is, on top of that cycling slower than walking through a park entrance is apparently just as bad an offence as cycling full speed). I've spoken to fellow cyclists who have the same story, on top of that I was horrified to see on tv last night (traffic cops, BBC 1 8pm) that police in bedfordshire have been given a credit system. Each officer must reach a certain quota of credits per month with different actions earning different offences e.g. giving a cyclist a fine was three credits, taking someone to the station was thirty credits.

With this no-discretion approach to crime and with hugely pedantic laws I'd hate to think how much money would be garnered off of the public every day if CCTV could identify you and automatically send a fine.

7:

Incidentally, you missed out the fourth alternative (to punishment, incarceration, or eugenics): rehabilitation. I know it's kind of unpopular among folks who believe that conviction of a crime is sufficient to forever exclude the accused from participation in human civilization, but it does have quite a lot to be said for it.

The real issue is how to identify the subset of criminals who have an unfixable personality disorder and prevent them from re-offending. To which I'm inclined to suggest that we need a third kind of institution, somewhere between a traditional psychiatric hospital and a prison: because they're untreatable, and they can't be released due to the risk to the public, so they need to be segregated from the general public -- but in a non-punitive manner, because they're essentially suffering from a non-treatable medical condition that renders them dangerous.

8:

For the automated drone committing a war crime I think you would impose new limitations, or insist that they use another product. Add to that separate offences of "inadequate care in the design of a war drone" and "reckless design of a war drone", both of which reference the local best practices, as well as the exigences of war (like not being allowed to bomb civilians unless there's a military reason for it).

9:

Really, the major problem is the sheer number of rules which a person is expected to know about, or to at least obey. The previous UK Government famously created one new criminal offence for every day it was in office, more or less; I would argue that most of these new offences were completely surplus to requirements and that having had a rule of law for the last thousand years or so, we ought to have the canon of laws pretty well sorted out by now.

I would therefore like to see a sunset clause built into the legal system, along with an explicit written constitution. The constitution seems to be necessary to prevent outright abuses of civil liberties, but an automatic sunset clause on laws such that if they are not used within one year of being enacted, they must be re-ratified by a full, free vote in the House of Commons or else be automatically scrapped, would seem a useful idea.

I would also like to see the odious practice of secondary legislation (laws brought onto the statute book by way of an enabler Bill) explicitly forbidden since this allows for huge volumes of legislation to be enacted without democratic oversight. Finally, assuming the House of Lords is reformed, I would like to see the Parliament Acts repealed and once more explicitly forbidden in the constitution.

The net effect here would be to drastically reduce the rate at which the Government could enact laws. There is purpose here; I see no evidence that this legislative diarrhoea has any useful effect, only that it serves as a useless substitute for doing something difficult but useful.

10:

With this no-discretion approach to crime and with hugely pedantic laws I'd hate to think how much money would be garnered off of the public every day if CCTV could identify you and automatically send a fine.

There's quite the furore about this at the moment in London. I remember reading something in the Standard about several locations raking in money from red light cameras set up in such a way that it is very hard *not* to be caught out. Either through misleading road markings, or poor signage or simply taking advantage of a driver's natural inclinations.

Ahh, here's one of them.
http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23940634-motorists-seeing-red-as-yellow-box-junction-rakes-in-pound-1-million-in-fines.do

11:

In which case, you want a fourth institution, a research hospital-prison, which might be built considerably earlier.

However, it may be that you can't make any headway that way and would need to look at society as a whole. What if crime is a "co-operative" response to a natural human urge to feel superior to people.

12:

I never said that sterilizing is appropriate. I only state that is it as appropriate as all the other forms of punishments that we already do, such as locking them up for life, or killing them. While it sounds awkward, sterilizing would actually be less harsh [than the death penalty].

It might be possible to come up with something reversible which by the way would be very popular with everyone who isn't that much fond of pills or latex, in which case I would consider the false positive problem solved. Before that, it is similarly problematic as the death penalty.

Your point of executions not having a measurable effect in the long run still stands. I cede the point due to lack of evidence in favour of the 'eugenics is good' hypothesis. So we're back at square one: The punishment doesn't change the criminal, and neither does it prevent him from repeating the crime.

As for pedantic laws: I could sure do with more laws against littering (and less for transport, even if I have neither car nor bicycle). I don't litter, and the trash on the ground bothers me. It would be incredibly lucrative to fine everyone 25€ who drops a cigarette but in the streets, at least for a while.

13:

On the subject of the new driving while using mobile phone law, it puzzles me why the existing "without due care and attention, or even "dangerous driving laws weren't sufficient already?


On the subject of the BBC 1 "traffic cops" program last night, I've got to say I was surprised during the section with the motorist who said he had no ID, then refused to give a finger print or allow a photograph to be taken. When he eventually said he did have his driving license (as 'ID') one of the coppers said it was a legal requirement to show it! Not sure how true that is, because there is still no legal requirement to carry ID in the UK (even after the previous Gov tried oh-so-hard to bring in ID cards!). Maybe if you ARE carrying it you MUST show it?
I also thought the two coppers were out of order in their handling of that incident and whilst the chap in the back should've kept his cool, they seemed to be revelling in their ability to wind him up!
This isn't the first time I've seen Police doing something similar on these UK TV police shows either!

14:

Oh, I did not ignore that on purpose. I took it as a given that it is to be preferred, and was only referring to the untreatable criminals. We can probably teach people not to steal, but pedophiles will always find children erotic, and we probably agree that serial killers are also beyond the point where you can just explain to them that they are doing bad things. They know that already.

15:

One of the problems with formal codes of ethics is that people break them in order to break them. The same applies to twisting them. So, while it may well seem as if we ought to have finished the basic code of laws by now, in reality laws are a reaction to problems in society, and change as the problems change. Since our society is presently or recently in a high change phase (probably presently), we should expect the code of laws to change to meet that.

16:

I recently read a rather dated set of short stories by David Drake, where the protagonist was a former rapist psychologically altered to be unable to even touch a woman again, indeed he gets physically ill just looking at them. The detailed planning he used in order to even carry out his crime in that particular future was deemed useful to the State, so he is reskilled as a criminal investigator.
I had to find an empty, unfinished dwelling unit with doors I could wedge against the Red Team that was going to come as soon as the scanners picked up what I was doing. You aren't going to successfully rape anybody nowadays if you just lose control, my friend

On the other hand, removing his ability to contact women makes no changes to his basic personality - Lacey is still a particularly disagreeable sociopathic type, who just happens to be rather good as a poacher turned gamekeeper. And the world is still just as filled with criminal enterprise, all the excessive monitoring just makes for a better system for identifying it after the fact.

17:

All of the parts of the system are a moving target: so rehabilitation can be as scary an alternative as punishment, exile, etc. Thirty years ago most western countries would be rehabilitating homosexuals under such a scheme. The Soviet psychiatric system used to do a thriving business in redemption for various criminals. So while fixing people who are [pick your well established criminal behavior here] sounds nice, you have to be comfortable about where the boundaries for crime are going to be drawn.

There's a reason why Foucault included the Intensive Care Unit along with prisons and asylums in his Surveillir et Punir. Casting crime as a disease to be cured is just another arrow in the State's quiver of Disciplinary tricks.

18:

I'm not sure how the UK handles this situation. But, in the United States our drivers licenses are proof of qualification to operate a motor vehicle. So, they can force us to produce one or stop us from driving until we can provide proof. If you were to walk everywhere they couldn't force you to produce identification.

It just happens to have all of our pertinent information on it. :-)

19:

I'd recommend Kanazawa's book 'Why beautiful people have more daughters' as an indication of what the prime motivation is for crime in general. It's pretty much hard-wired into our psyche as an adaptation. Males will do pretty much anything to attract a mate. In a polygynous society where powerful wealthy males have more than their share of mates, the choice for the beta male is to attract a mate or end his gene line. He will lie, steal, kill to fulfil that urge. We may not see it as 'right', but that isn't the point. It's part of our psychology. It's not a genetic component, or it would have been bred out by now, it's in each and every male.

Women not so much, they can attract mates more easily, they don't need wealth or resources to do that.

Even to suggest eugenics it to misunderstand the roots of the problem. It's the same drive that created our civilisation, the desire to impress a potential mate.

Kanazawa's book provides references, but basically crime increases as the gap between the richest and poorest increases.

Hmm..not sure if I made a point there...

20:

It used to be the case (last time I looked, many years ago) in the UK that you didn't have to have your driving license on your person: if the cops stopped you without one they'd serve you with a presenter notice, requiring you to present the notice and your license at a police station within seven days.

That was in the days before photo-ID driving license cards came in; the license itself was just a paper document confirming what you were allowed to drive and recording any penalty points you'd picked up. The license is, in other words, not an identity document.

The trouble with this model is that the cops need some form of ID in order to record the fact that they've served the notice to present on someone. So, AIUI, if you're carrying your license you are required to show it to them, and if you're not, you're required to give them some kind of identifiable information (a credit card? passport? Something like that) or come along to the police station to be fingerprinted.

21:

While punishment may not be much of deterrent, the certainty of being caught has been shown to be effective.
As for laws, maybe they can be implemented without Human participation. Consider the example of using a mobile phone in a moving car. Instead of putting the onus on Humans to obey, put the onus on car and phone manufacturers so that cars and phones talk to each other. When the car is active, it tells the phone not to work.

22:

AFAIK that was still the case as of 2007.

23:

I've heard this discussion about war drones. As it stands a human operator has to push the missile launch button. So, if a war crime is committed; there is someone to accept responsibility. But, they asked what would happen if the system were totally automated. Who shoulders the blame? The military for sending the drone on a mission? The manufacturer of the drone for building a defective product? If them; then, who within the organization? The programmers? The designers? The outsourced parts supply?

An interesting question. What about if it has been proven that the weapon can fire itself from a powered down and unoccupied aircraft? (early AH-64 Apache and Hellfire)

24:

I seem to remember a good few years ago, I think on the BBC, there was a documentary about sex offenders. The issue being discussed was castration, though not physical. It was in fact a chemical castration.

Now if my memory serves me correctly, a good few of the offenders who were interviewed actually wanted to go down that road. They actually wished to be given the option of chemical castration to prevent them from reoffending. Their own view on the subject being that if they have no sexual urges then there is no chance of them offending.

Of course there are ethical questions regarding this. There are also questions of how effective it would actually be. And of course should a form of self mutilation be permitted as part of a criminals rehabilitation.

Personally I found it difficult to fall into either pro or anti camp. I still sit on the fence with deep reservations for both sides.

25:

The police in London (and elsewhere?) have been told to come down hard on cyclists for even the most trivial of offenses. This is because they want to break habits like riding on the pavement, going through red lights etc, so that the planned near-future London with a vastly increased level of cyclists won't be an impossible place to live in.

I'm not having a go, I'm a cyclist myself. As is Boris.

re:rehabilitation. If falsely (or correctly) convicted of a crime, I'd *much* rather do a bit of time than have my attitudes and opinions changed. I've worked very hard to become me.

yes, I realise that if I were imprisoned I might change my mind about that.

26:

You may have worked very hard to become you, but what if you really don't like the you you have become?

As for cyclists, some are a real PITA. Guy dressed in black at night with no lights on the wrong side of the road springs to mind.

27:

Yes. In that case, I'd possibly do the adjustment myself.

re:cyclist.

there's always a counter-anecdote, of course. Just last week I had to ask a driver

"What made me so hard to see? Was it because I'm six foot tall, on a large bike? Maybe you were confused because I'm dressed head to toe in white, with a white hat, a white bike, lights at both ends?"

Anyway, all this bike vs car business is propaganda designed to distract us both from the real enemy - the murdering fascists known as "bus drivers"...

28:

I've a feeling the current rise in direct and secondary legislation stared rather earlier - during the Eighties, I think. See the "Parliament under pressure" section here for a few figures.

Among other things, the amount of secondary legislation isn't currently rising any more, but there's a lot of it. Too much for the houses of parliament to properly scrutinise in full session - that's what the committees are for.

29:

re:rehabilitation. If falsely (or correctly) convicted of a crime, I'd *much* rather do a bit of time than have my attitudes and opinions changed. I've worked very hard to become me.

I am 100% opposite here. I did not "work" to become "me" in any meaningful sense, my attitudes and opinions changed many times through my life, and even if I at present do not like what they are going to be after rehabilitation, guess what? Once my attitudes and opinions had changed, I will like them by definition. They will be my attitudes, after all.

In short, I am not terribly wedded to "being me". Heck, I would not mind selectively erasing some of my own memories and implanting false ones. As long as I knew after the fact which ones were false.

30:

I think it would be inherently quite difficult to make those folks live separately without it being inhumane. Some of them don't make such good company, even for each other.
It would be better to try though.
Perhaps the boundary of their area could be a bit permeable to allow outside folks in a bit.

31:

Also, a lot of those unfixable personality disorders are created by awful upbringing.
Where to draw the line is hard to know and this could open up a huge can of worms. More like a six-pack or case of cans of worms. But
Leaving children to be raised intensely abusively is a major source of unfixable personality disorders.

32:

When the car is active, it tells the phone not to work.

It's interesting how that solution assumes there is only the one person in a car.

33:

What about legal codes that seek to prevent crimes rather than punish them? I'm imagining a combination of best-practices that make crime inconvenient (like putting money in a safe), or discourage criminal behavior through social conditioning (it is extremely rude to litter and only bad people do it).

34:

The police in London (and elsewhere?) have been told to come down hard on cyclists for even the most trivial of offenses. This is because they want to break habits like riding on the pavement, going through red lights etc, so that the planned near-future London with a vastly increased level of cyclists won't be an impossible place to live in.

Then they are going the wrong way about it. Slapping fines on people is just going to piss them off and potentially stop them cycling. Cracking down on bigger issues, letting police practice discretion and providing ample cycle paths/infrastructure would be much better.

re:rehabilitation. If falsely (or correctly) convicted of a crime, I'd *much* rather do a bit of time than have my attitudes and opinions changed. I've worked very hard to become me.

If you didn't commit the crime rehabilitation wont bother you. It wouldn't be a Clockwork Orange style re-education, you might have to sit through ethics lectures that you already agree with but what's the harm in that? If you didn't commit the crime and aren't of a criminal persuasion then you are already the end goal of rehab.

Not wanting to go is a bit like being an athlete and saying "If I was wrongly accused of being unfit I would rather be imprisoned than have to go to the gym".

35:

Phil wrote : "re:rehabilitation. If falsely (or correctly) convicted of a crime, I'd *much* rather do a bit of time than have my attitudes and opinions changed. I've worked very hard to become me."

Of course there's another issue with being the innocent man (or woman) in prison, and that's that to be considered for early release (parole) you have to admit to, and show some remorse for, your crime. That must be hard to take!

re: Driving License
I still have my paper one, having not felt the need to 'upgrade' to the photo ID one. I also never carry it around with me and would hate to live somewhere where I had to carry ID, though I guess I'd get used to it eventually, in a boiling frog sort of way!

36:

Social conditioning is probably the main way forward - Singapore is probably a good example. Their punitive approach towards chewing gum and littering, introduced some 20 years ago has meant that for an entire generation, littering or chewing gum is simply not done.
On the other hand, the pattern of those who do is quite interesting - it breaks down as roughly 5:1 male to female, and 80% is by those under 40, roughly 40% of the total by those 21-30. How much of that comes as some form of social unrest - sticking it to the man as it were I don't know, but the heavily male skew suggests some form of rebellion.

37:
On the subject of the new driving while using mobile phone law, it puzzles me why the existing "without due care and attention, or even "dangerous driving laws weren't sufficient already?

I used to think that too, but there is method in the madness. While "without due care and attention" may cover use of a mobile phone, the copper has to prove that it does in each specific case, which would probably involve lawyers and court time. With an explicit "no using a mobile phone" law it's much easier for said copper to nick someone. Although, anecdotally speaking, it doesn't seem to be having much of an effect as a deterrent.

38:

Something like "The Village" from Prisoner but for the incorrigible?

39:

I can remember when a 'mobile phone' or 'cell phone' was also a 'car phone'.

At least, in certain portions of the States.

From my position (employed by an auto supplier) I know that the luxury end of the automotive market has mobile-phone integration as an option. The car has a microphone, and uses the entertainment-system speakers. A BlueTooth connection can be set up between the phone and the car, such that you can answer the phone while driving. 'Answering' is done by pressing a button on the steering wheel, and the driver can talk as if talking to someone in the car.

In the industry, we're still wondering how 'distracted driving' laws will run into customer desire to talk/text on-the-go.

40:

What about if it has been proven that the weapon can fire itself from a powered down and unoccupied aircraft? (early AH-64 Apache and Hellfire)

This is interesting. Was this a hypothetical situation or did this really happen?

I think that in this and the autonomous drone situation; the responsibility eventually lies with the manufacturer. Unless they could prove gross operator error.

Now in the situation you outlined. I'd be interested in knowing if the fault was in the helicopter, the missile, or a combination of the two together that caused the misfire.

41:

In the States, public CCTV is rather rare.

But there is an abomination known as 'red-light traffic camera', meant to catch drivers who drive through red lights. I think there are also speed-trap cameras.

They take a picture of your car, and send the infraction paperwork with a notice of the fine.

42:

Then they are going the wrong way about it. Slapping fines on people is just going to piss them off and potentially stop them cycling. Cracking down on bigger issues, letting police practice discretion and providing ample cycle paths/infrastructure would be much better.
Are you actually suggesting that a section of the community willfully flouting the law of the land as it pertains to them isn't a major issue?

43:

On a bit of a tangent, the proliferating rules and enforcement may be one of those internal issues that breaks a civilization.

The proliferation of rules is classic top down control, and suggestions for automated enforcement an acknowledgement that you cannot get enough bodies to do the enforcement. Are we seeing signs of Ashby's Law in cybernetics being violated?

If we hypothesize that machines could monitor and issue instant punishment (fines, worse [shades of ED 209?] on a population that cannot possibly do anything without transgressing a rule/law, then we will end up with a very fearful population unable to do much of anything.

That seems to invite wholesale revolt or emigration. Where they can emigrate to is another matter, but even the Gobi desert might start looking attractive. The only unclaimed territory on the planet are the oceans if you wanted to set up new living arrangements.

44:

This actually happened, more than just once. Fortunately, it only applies to the Apache A, so not to aircraft in UK service.

You'd probably need access to US military accident data archives to find proof now.

45:

Speaking for myself, I'm all in favour of red light cameras. (Yes, we have them here in the UK, too -- they're pretty much universal.) The point being, shooting a red is dangerous -- and not just to yourself, but to the innocent third parties who are coming the other way. Moreover, if you can't stop in time for a red light then (a) you're going too fast, or (b) you're not paying enough attention. Both of which are also dangerous. (The this option (c) is that the red light switching time has been deliberately screwed by the state in order to maximize revenue -- but that's an issue for lawmakers: in a properly run traffic system it shouldn't happen.)

NB: if I remember correctly, American traffic lights lack the four phase cycle you get in the UK -- Red/Red and Amber/Green/Amber/Red -- which makes them somewhat less effective.

46:

You mean like this procedure?

47:

Easy trick to fool read light cameras, splash some mud on your plates, wrecks the image recognition algorithm. Kind of like a Captcha

48:

Good argument.

I won't say that running a red light is an allowable thing, but that red-light cameras seem to be utilized primarily as a funding tool, not as an enforcement mechanism. That is, a way to bring money into the City/Police offices through levying fines, and not to increase traffic safety.

That is, the local government in question is suspected of tinkering with the light timing to maximize the money-flow generated from the cameras. There are cases where the cameras appear to ticket for Amber/Yellow, rather than merely Red.

I would be in favor of the cameras if they were activated on an as-needed basis, near intersections that see regular trouble with traffic accidents. Or if they were a general rule at most traffic lights. Instead, we only seem to see red-light cameras in places where the police (and the contracting company handling the camera system) can earn money from them...

Per the 4-phase lighting system, I'd like to do some research on that. Interestingly, Wiki wasn't the best link I hit when I Googled the phrase.

Do you mean a light system which has the states (1)Green, (2)Amber, (3) Red, (4) Red/Amber? It appears that Red/Amber is a short prelude to Green.

49:

I agree with Charlie here (and I strongly suspect we won't agree about Gatsos, so let's agree to leave them alone).

Para 6, yes, you've got the phase variation correct, although it's conventional to start from Red here, as Charlie did.

50:

Tacit in most relevant constitutions are assumptions about non-existence of text-processing, photocopiers and mass-communications.

A constitution today should deal with the abuse and big-brother aspects of technology, and therefore some radical thinking would be necessary.

Here are a couple of ideas:

No democratic elections: Instead N eligible citizens are drawn by lottery along the same lines as jury-duty. (This gets rid of the permanent election-campaign)

Any proposed law or amended law must be recited in toto, unaided from memory by its sponsor in $lawful_assembly, before it is voted on. (Inspires clear and easy to remember language)

Any law, including the constitution, expires automatically after 10 years unless reintroduced (including recital) and and approved by voting. (Inspires keeping things up to date)

And finally: Max 10% of all work hours for public employees (including contractors, temps etc) may be used on administrativia. (Keeps Parkinssons law in check)

51:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-07-06/drivers-stopping-means-miami-red-light-cameras-fail-to-yield-promised-cash.html

Red light cameras made the roads safer by causing people to change their driving habits and stop running reds being classed as "failing" because the local authorities were relying on people not changing to give them a revenue stream

52:

Per the general problem of proliferation of new crimes, I am of the attitude that there are far too many people saying "We need a Law!" when something noteworthy gets on the news.

Can't we cover driving-while-texting with a general distracted-driving ordinance?

Why does a noteworthy cyber-bullying case lead to laws against abusive speech via computers? If some poor girl somewhere committed suicide after being the recipient of a severe amount of electronically-sent abuse, does that mean that I might commit a crime by calling someone a jerk over email?

53:

Are you actually suggesting that a section of the community willfully flouting the law of the land as it pertains to them isn't a major issue?

That depends on the crime. It may be an indicator that the "major issue" is with the law, not the crime.

54:

From my position (employed by an auto supplier) I know that the luxury end of the automotive market has mobile-phone integration as an option. The car has a microphone, and uses the entertainment-system speakers. A BlueTooth connection can be set up between the phone and the car, such that you can answer the phone while driving. 'Answering' is done by pressing a button on the steering wheel, and the driver can talk as if talking to someone in the car.
That's supposed to be "luxury end"?? I have this system on my 2008 Toyota Camry.

55:

For a real-life example, albeit an extreme one: Charles Manson was released, after his original prison term, against his own protestations. He knew he didn't belong in the general population -- but we had (and have) no mechanism for dealing with a criminal who had served his sentence but was still far too dangerous to go free.

...well, I suppose "wait until he masterminds a series of horrific murders, and THEN stick him in prison for life" is a mechanism for dealing with it. Just not a very good one.

56:

I guess it's because one of my jobs is to review luxury vehicles, and see what systems they offer. (Meanwhile, I drive a decade-old vehicle without an MP3-player plugin.)

57:

Yes, the four phase goes Red - Amber - Green - Amber - Red.

It makes a big difference to traffic flow, but is one heck of a shock as a pedestrian when first arriving, because traffic will move the instant the lights go orange, and half the time you never know which way the cycle is moving. On the other hand, this does cut down on jaywalking style issues, via natural selection if nothing else.

58:

Speaking for myself, I'm all in favour of red light cameras.

Fine if they are correctly used and not abused. In the US, there have been a number of reported instances where the cameras reduced traffic violations, then were reset to be more restrictive to increase violations and ensure municipal revenue. IOW, their primary function, safety, was being trumped by the need to raise revenue.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. The incentives were wrong, and the US seems to be going down a track of reinterpreting laws to be more inclusive than in the past. Nothing I read suggests that the UK is any different in this regard.

59:

Red Light Cameras: Yes indeedy. One 'traffic light' option they do have over in the good ol US-of-A is Flashing Amber which kinda turns it into a Four Way Stop, and of course Turn Right On Red which would obviously be ... Left On Red if translated to the UK.

Speed Cameras: IMHO are actually just a clever bit of lobbying by the cameras manufacturers and mostly a cash-cow for the Government. I say mostly because there are some places where they do make real sense, but even then their application can be wrong.
eg 20MPH outside schools - sure, when the schools are open or otherwise in use that makes sense, but the rest of the time it just makes people comfortable with breaking the posted limit. If limits were less arbitrary then maybe drivers would tend to adhere to them more often!
Sort of on the subject of arbitrary speed limits, I heard a (possibly apocryphal) story about some chap driving from Wales to London on the M4 at the (national) speed limit (70MPH) and he was so annoyed he pulled over to one of the road-side 'phones to give the helpful lady an ear-full because it was foggy and they hadn't posted reduced speed limits on the overhead gantries (as they usually do when it's foggy, along with the helpful "Fog" message for those unsure what was causing the reduced visibility!).
Apparently he said "How do you expect me to drive at 70 in this fog!".

Red Light Switching Times: See also, Traffic Light Phasing - it is suspected that Ken Livingstone (former London Mayor) screwed with the phasing to make driving in London worse in the lead-up to implementing the London Congestion Zone, and the associated charge (which, incidentally, is NOT a tax and therefore could all the embassies please cough up!). Subsequently improving the phasing made it easy to say that driving in London was better after the congestion zone was implemented!

Jim said: "I used to think that too, but there is method in the madness. While "without due care and attention" may cover use of a mobile phone, the copper has to prove that it does in each specific case, which would probably involve lawyers and court time. With an explicit "no using a mobile phone" law it's much easier for said copper to nick someone."

Hmm, OK, but it's either dangerous or it isn't. The first such case would need to prove that it is indeed dangerous and subsequent cases would presumably run accordingly (precedent, etc).
The fact that the new Mobile Phone law means you can be prosecuted even if you are sitting in a stationary car seems a bit harsh.
I know there's a wealth of reports saying even hands-free is dangerous, but I currently don't believe it. I don't see talking hands-free to be any more distracting than the mother on the school run with fighting kids in the back, indeed I might argue it would be considerably less distracting!

See also Baby (or Babies) in car seats?
Lighting a cigarette?
Changing a CD (or tape, or 8track for you old folks!).

LOL: Cycling whilst wearing a short skirt!

60:

Systems of law intended to be enforced by humans are structured to take advantage of what might otherwise be considered human failings. Each cog in the great law enforcement machine is arguably acting under their own free will, to varying extents (there is pressure to expend energy on finding murderers, but you won't lose your job if you let a single speeding car go, and while systematically ignoring particular people's minor crimes will eventually be noticed, lenience is a fundamental part of the system, without which there would be nobody outside the prisons). If law enforcement were to be significantly more automated than it is now (even Halting State, with its use of life loggers, brushes up against this because of the increased pressure on cops to be on the straight and narrow) one would need a very different system of law designed with automation of particular types of enforcement in mind.

61:

The fact that the new Mobile Phone law means you can be prosecuted even if you are sitting in a stationary car seems a bit harsh.

That is the interpretation in the UK? AFAIK, the car has to be moving in the US. You can talk at a stop light, or pull over, park and talk.

But to take the argument further, there are lots of things that are dangerous that do not have specific laws aimed at them. Eating, drinking, putting on cosmetics, reading[!].

I've yet to read that someone was fined for reading a map on a smart phone rather than a traditional paper one. But no doubt it will happen.

62:

More generally related to Charlie's post, what happens in the "Rule 34" world when the enforcers lose the respect of the community?

The reason red-light cameras are so hated in the U.S. is that they seem to be focused on generating revenue, not on increasing traffic safety. It is an instance in which the Authority loses some of the respect of the community.

What would such a situation look like in Rule 34?

63:

I know there's a wealth of reports saying even hands-free is dangerous, but I currently don't believe it.

I do. However, the danger is relative: the issue is apparently that the conversationalist at the other end of the line can't see the driver's position so they don't stop yakking when, for example, the driver is tackling a difficult lane merge in heavy traffic and bad visibility as opposed to cruising steadily on the open motorway in light traffic. Whereas passengers in the same vehicle have an incentive to not distract the driver during life-or-death manoeuvring.

On the other hand? It's the driver's job to not be distracted. Me, I turn my phone off while I'm driving because I know I can't pay attention to the road while I'm on the dog'n'bone; in fact, I also screen out verbal noise at busy moments, and ask my passengers to repeat whatever they were saying afterwards. But apparently I'm some kind of obsessive-compulsive freak and most drivers don't really care about not dying before they reach their destination.

65:

Something like "The Village" from Prisoner but for the incorrigible?

And if while there they still commit "crimes"?

I've run into many people both of the habitual criminal types and white collar types who have absolutely no respect for property rights. If they can take it and think they will not get caught, why not is their attitude. And for some of these this extends to the life and liberty of others. Many operate in public with no criminal record unless they get caught cheating on their taxes or similar. And they could care less about rehabilitation. You talk to some who've done time and their attitude seems to be so what if I do more.

I have to wonder if there's a cure for these people. And how much of their attitude is nature vs. nurture. They seem to be mostly males.

Look at the current financial crisis and tell me that many people with this outlook on life were not causing many of the problems from the top of some mega firms down to mortgage brokers telling folks to lie on applications for a home lone.

I'll ignore the religious conversion cures for another debate.

66:

these automated weapons have existed for a while.. anti radiation missile .. is it called ALARM? , it has a loiter mode and if fired in this mode it goes off and attacks whatever it likes.only a matter of time for someone to put an imaging ir sensor on it and tell it to 'go kill'

67:

But, in the United States our drivers licenses are proof of qualification to operate a motor vehicle. So, they can force us to produce one or stop us from driving until we can provide proof. If you were to walk everywhere they couldn't force you to produce identification.

This varies somewhat by state. And keeps changing in little details. In central NC the local police and the state police all seem to have real time computer access so when they pull you over they can pull up details about your car, insurance, your last DL photo, etc... Which translates into they don't ask you for your details about registration and insurance and such unless something doesn't match up.

As to distracted driving, I have to wonder just how distracting it is to have a laptop mounted next to you always on along with a couple of radios, a radar detector control, cameras, plus a few extra other things with lights and switches that a typical policeman has in their car these days.

68:

and how do you know that THEY havent already done that? muhahahaha!!

69:

Beg pardon, but am I the only one concerned over the unmanageable proliferation of laws and the increasing build out of a surveillance network potentially good enough to catch everyone who breaks the laws?

What does it mean for your society when literally everyone is a criminal? I don't think it can mean anything good for anyone.

70:

A big reason we have so many frigging new laws is the UK and US legal systems were designed to deal with mostly property rights when were almost totally about thing you could "touch" and were local to you. Your house, horse, crops, ducats, etc... And what you did was very local to where you lived. And most everyone local knew your business.

In today's world we own things that will never be tangible. We might have money or other assets that may be on the other side of the planet and can be moved to other locations with a few keystrokes. Much of our impact on the world may be in a location 100s or 1000s of miles from where we sleep. Or we may sleep 1000s of miles from where we "live" most of the time. And hardly anyone may know who we are or what we are doing on a regular basis in any of the places we physically reside on a regular basis. In Kentucky it used to be that if you sold a car you were supposed to visit the county court house where the car was registered to transfer the title. This is now no longer true but in the past it made a mess for some folks who bought a car or trailer in another state and just had the seller sign over the title.

In the US these issues keep the courts full. I'm very interested in the outcome of the court case about if you can be compelled to reveal an encryption code for your personal data and it not be considered an self incrimination violation. This will be a big one.

As a real life example my wife works in Texas during the week and spends most weekends home in North Carolina. We have a car in Texas. When the NC registration comes up for renewal we have some decisions to make. Things like taxes, voting, insurance, etc... all come into play as we state where the car is registered and with who and at what address. In can even impact the costs of our kids college education. Which reminds me I need to look into insurance on the apartment she has in Texas.

71:

Most UK police have this as well. It can come in the form of a smartphone-like devise. They type in something like registration number and get all the info on the car and driver.

72:

Umm, maybe we need to start rethinking our "key principles"? Why shouldn't ignorance of a law be a defense?

The US/UK legal systems are build to handle the problems of a feudal society, with a few appendages. The Napoleonic system was built to handle an early modern society, just out of feudalism with no experience in global governance.

Maybe it's time we rethought the law from the very bottom up? The Greeks had to do it -- but I guess we're much more dogmatic than they are.

Oh Atheist Christians -- how long must the sins of Rome weight on us?

Seriously -- we haven't had a serious rethought of our legal system in millenia.

73:

we haven't had a serious rethought of our legal system in millenia.

The Magna Carta was a serious rethink less than 800 years ago.

The principal of "ignorance is no excuse" does bug me in a plural world. How can one know the local driving laws for each state and country? It's not possible. Last time I was in the UK, I felt distinctly uncomfortable that I might be violating some new driving law that I was not familiar. Discretion on the part of the authorities is a necessary grease to make internationalism work.

And local discretion/rule bending is what must be happening in Napa Valley. It is just not possible that people are doing "wine tasting drives" without a higher incidence of DUIs. Yet on a visit last week, not a single sobriety check was in evidence. I can only surmise that the police do not do this to allow the wine business to work relatively unhindered.

74:

Well my feeling is that modern civilization is hopelessly complex, confused and totally off the rails at this point, and criminal justice is just one symptom. Trying to replace things like culture, ethos and tradition with free market capitalism and a Byzantine system of laws is quite an unprecedented experiment in human history, and doesn’t seem to be working out too well, judging by the number of people in prison here in the United States.

If you’ll forgive this little rant, what I find more generally disturbing is the difficulty even science fiction writers have these days of imagining a plausible better future. Somewhere along the line, modernity seems to have morphed into something very dystopian and pessimistic. It’s as if humanity is on a road to hell and can’t find a way off. The fact that the most “advanced” societies are not even reproducing says something rather fundamental about their ill health.

My own feeling is that materialist civilization is played out and headed for collapse; capitalism and Marxism are have both failed, and it’s time for something new. The popularity of fantasies like Harry Potter and LOTR, the declining popularity of science fiction, the resurgence of Islam, etc. all suggest to me that people are desperate for alternatives to the rather bleak, inhuman future that materialist civilization seems to be offering.

Personally, I like the vision of expansion into space and the “cosmic religion” of people like Clarke, but that seems to have become hopelessly passé and naive. I really do find it incredible how this culture can’t seem to find anything to inspire them beyond some dubious faith in things like “accelerating change” and a “Singularity.” I often feel like I’ve awakened into some kind of dystopian upside-down world, and my only escape is through fantasy, religion and history.

75:

The principal of "ignorance is no excuse" does bug me in a plural world. How can one know the local driving laws for each state and country? It's not possible. Last time I was in the UK, I felt distinctly uncomfortable that I might be violating some new driving law that I was not familiar. Discretion on the part of the authorities is a necessary grease to make internationalism work.

I agree, discretion should not only be advised but taught. Taking an absolutist line on crimes when common sense could show you that a) no harm was done and b) the person may not be likely to know is nonsensical.

76:

Trying to replace things like culture, ethos and tradition with free market capitalism and a Byzantine system of laws is quite an unprecedented experiment in human history, and doesn’t seem to be working out too well, judging by the number of people in prison here in the United States.

Ahem: the US prison population is the result of something very different (and very unpleasant), which becomes rapidly apparent if you look at the demographics of the interned.

77:

You mean racism? Well perhaps that says something else about the failure of modernity, something you probably don't want to even consider.

78:

I'm all for robot red light cameras, and other kinds of upcoming robot cameras. My province has only 150 of them, on a trial basis, and I wish they had 15,000.

But:

d) You're slowly driving behind a tall vehicle whose driver has not stopped or slowed down on the yellow light and whose chassis has blocked the view of the red light.

This happened to me and the big telltale flash of the red light camera was the first indication that there had been a red light.

Luckily I was driving in Ontario, which is not my province, so I never got a ticket.

I suppose that there are a lot more unsuspected use cases.

Which brings me to the fact that nobody can make generalisations about decentralized federations. I have actually driven in some US states where there was a 4 light shift sequence to trafic lights, with yellow being an intermediary at all times, instead of the regular 3 shift where yellow is only a warning that red will soon appear. This can even vary from town to town in the same state.

I wonder how things go on Swiss roads. Ouside of their national freeway system, I mean.

79:

Charlie said: "On the other hand? It's the driver's job to not be distracted. Me, I turn my phone off while I'm driving because I know I can't pay attention to the road while I'm on the dog'n'bone; in fact, I also screen out verbal noise at busy moments, and ask my passengers to repeat whatever they were saying afterwards. But apparently I'm some kind of obsessive-compulsive freak"


LOL: I hate being driven by people who LOOK AT YOU whilst they are talking. Will you pleaaase look at the road!
I chat with passengers as much as the next guy, but I fastidiously continue to monitor the road ahead (and behind using mirrors). Some front seat passengers lean forward (unconsciously) to try and get me to look at them when I'm talking. Nope. The road first, passengers second.
I tend not to talk on the phone in the car nowadays, but I used to before it became illegal, but always with a hands free and never dial whilst driving (I'd call before I set off) and I would simply stop talking if anything interesting happened that required more focus.
But it is a dangerous game to consider yourself a "good driver" because something will always get you in the end!

My guess is that it would be OK for some and less OK for others but legislation is a blunt tool.

80:

I was about to post same thing -- major difference between talking to passengers and talking on a cell phone is that passengers can see when you need to concentrate and usually shut up. Personally, I have no difficulty hanging up on people when I run into dangerous situation (hands-free set helps, since I can hang up with both hands remaining on the wheel), but apparently most drivers have inhibitions about it.

81:

re: "If you didn't commit the crime rehabilitation wont bother you. It wouldn't be a Clockwork Orange style ..."

I think you're making some rather peculiar assumptions about what "rehabilitation" would involve. Since we *don't* currently know what might work, we don't know what it would be like. We certainly can't presume that what is mandated would be what we would hope it to be. Particularly without any evidence that what we would want it to be would work. But even otherwise. Here in the US there are powerful financial endeavors that profit immensely off of the slavery made available by criminal sentences. So one can bet that "rehabilitation" would involve lots of work on jobs that nobody wants to do for MUCH less than minimum wage.

82:
But apparently I'm some kind of obsessive-compulsive freak and most drivers don't really care about not dying before they reach their destination.

It's more that most drivers are not merely ignorant of the risks, but actively disbelieve the risks are real. Every time that they are not paying attention and drive through a red light and don't get killed, this reinforces their belief. A variation on this happens in relation to speeding: these people will argue that it is perfectly safe to drive at much higher speeds, and reference motorways where people drive at over 200mph without increased accidents, and completely miss the point it's not "driving at 40mph" which is unsafe, but "driving at 40mph on a road where kids run out from behind parked cars and everybody expected you to be doing 20".

In other words, the problem is not that they don't care, it is that they are stupid.

83:

Similar situation--Not too long ago, they installed a double red light at a dogleg intersection in the town where I work. So if you're travelling on the main street, there is a right turn with a light, a small straightaway with a turning lane, then a left turn with a light. They are coordinated to allow side street traffic, then turning traffic, then the straightaway traffic.

The problem is, they used newer LED lights. You can only see them from a certain angle. When you are stopped in the small straightaway section between the two lights, you cannot see what color light is shining! You can see the bulbs, but not the light, because you are looking up at too sharp of an angle. It is maddening!

Fortunately, they don't have a camera there. Yet.

84:

re: "Are you actually suggesting that a section of the community willfully flouting the law of the land as it pertains to them isn't a major issue?"

It's a major issue, alright. But perhaps not the one you think it is. If a major section of the community willfully flouts a law, then the law needs to be rethought. Sometimes that means that the basic activity involved needs to be restructured. Sometimes it means the law needs to be restructured. Sometimes it means there needs to be an intensive publicity campaign, not only clarifying what the law is, but justifying why it is good for society. Rarely does it merely mean the law needs to be enforced more diligently. VERY rarely.

85:

Ah, the beloved red light camera...

Speaking from a US perspective where the use and abuse of traffic lights has grown beyond reason, government shows its hand in how it has lost touch with reality and the ideas of freedom from excessive absolutism, and that less is more.

Traffic light crimes and their enforcement no longer exist if a traffic circle replaces the traffic light....

86:

re: "d) You're slowly driving behind a tall vehicle whose driver has not stopped or slowed down on the yellow light and whose chassis has blocked the view of the red light."

Sorry, but you were driving unsafely close behind that vehicle. I know that it was slow, but that doesn't make following that close safe. You can't see what's ahead of him, so you can't judge when you will need to brake. So you need extra space. (OTOH, I think most drivers drive in an insanely reckless manner. It's one of the reasons I pulled my license (after an accident in which I was judged to be "not at fault").

People's reaction times aren't fast enough to safely handle modern traffic speeds. Especially with the traffic densities that exist, but even otherwise. I'm *really* hoping automated cars show up soon.

87:

It's hopelessly naive to think that reworking the legal system from scratch to take into account modern technology would help anything.

The legal system is the way it is because the current byzantine mess of criminal and civil law benefits the small minority of people with enough wealth and power to matter politically. If the entire corpus of law was opened up to reinvention today, entrenched interests would have a completely free hand to shape the future legal system to serve their interests in perpetuity.

Imagine copyright law as rewritten by Sony and Microsoft, and laws on photography written by Steve Jobs, the intelligence services, and every crooked police force. This would not be an improvement unless one believes using Bittorrent or photographing the police ought to be a capital crime.

Unless there is a counterbalancing force in the political process able to resist the grasping demands of entrenched commercial interests--something that has not existed in the UK since before Thatcher or in the US since before Reagan--opening up the legal system to wholesale reform would be a net negative to human welfare.

88:

Technically, you're not required to carry a driving licence or any vehicle documents in the UK, but you can be given a "producer" (I think there's a more formal term) to require you to present them at a Police Station (within, I think, 7 days).

I suspect the cops can get thoroughly awkward if you don't carry your driving licence, because how else do they know who you are. But now the registration document, MOT Certificate, and insurance are all supposed to be on computer. They may still be entitled to see those paper documents, but they hardly need to. If some reports are true, DVLA isn't that good at fulfilling the DPA requirement of keeping accurate records so it's maybe a good thing that the paper documents still have priority over a database search.

I do wonder about the traffic police. There I was, sitting there with a spinal fracture, being given the impression that it was all my fault. Since the truck was doing a U-turn at night when I hit it, it's hard to dismiss the suspicion that the other driver was less than blameless. (This was, by the way, about a month after the accident.) I've heard other stories which give the same impression, and a couple of cases suggest they have been leaning on drivers to pay for a "road-safety course" rather than face the hassle of changes and a trial.

89:

The fact that the most “advanced” societies are not even reproducing says something rather fundamental about their ill health.

From the point of my being a parent for 22 years now I see this a mostly a cultural issues of parenting being thought of as a burden by many of the middle class and up. After all isn't life supposed to be continuously happy and easy?

90:

Imagine copyright law as rewritten by Sony and Microsoft,

Uh, in the US they are. Sort of. They current thought on copyright in the US is that as long as the mouse has a corporate owner copyrights will never expire again. Congress will be lobbied when the current law gets close to letting go of the mouse and another few decades get tacked on to the current law at the time.

It is even so bad that some copyrights that did expire have now been recaptured. As I understand it the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" was re-captured by obtaining the copyright to one of the songs in the movie then extending it to the entire movie. After it had been in the public domain for years or decades.

91:

Have you looked at how freaking much it costs to raise a child these days? Bearing in mind that a university degree is basically a necessity if they want to aspire to a non-burger-flipping job, and even here in the UK that's going to cost around £40,000 in fees (leaving aside four years' subsistence)?

92:

This is the sort of thing where over-sharp defence lawyers, quibbling over details and losing, can end up hacking the rest of us to pieces. I can see something like this coming out of the precedents over "being in charge of a vehicle" which have come out of drink-driving cases.

93:

Could I just ask why, if we were starting from scratch, we would go down any of the lines 'Curmudgeon' suggests?

We would have learnt whatever lessons there are to be learnt, we'd have breathed deeply and determined that we need very few laws indeed. It is entirely reasonable for a set of traffic lights to stop you roadrunning and killing the cross town traffic. It is not reasonable for the gap between the red for you and the green for them to exceed what (?), you tell me. Then it becomes exploitative taxation, not a reasonable rule to live by.

I would quite like, I think, in a science fictional universe, to return the petty minded nature of our kings, lords, knights and policemen, in spades. For it is unlikely in the extreme that any one of them is completely innocent of a crime, no matter how petty.

It seems to me that they should all meet madame guillotine for the most petty of offences, until such times that they realised that there is a certain evil in power.

I think that Harlan Ellison guy got it about right in 'Repent Harlequin said the Tick Tock Man'

94:

Not just their OWN Death oh, Best Beloved, but also other peoples Deaths!

I speculate that it MIGHT, just might, have its roots in the fact that to most people -and drivers are just People when all is said and done - these days, DEATH is only distantly connected with personal death ... that kind of DEATH ..look the other way ! ...does only occur in a hospital Near You and at Medically comfortable remove.There's a special case example to one case removed from Death that applies to emergency/police services in as much as they are dulled by experience or they simply couldn't deal with the job.

These days, in the Tech Advanced Nations, very ordinary people just don't usually have an immediate relationship with Death ...its all tidied up for us before ever we appear at the Undertakers.

I have had the horrible talent of being called to Trouble ... as mentioned in the Modesty Blaise Stories ... but with rather less Glamour. Most of the time you just accept it but, now and then, there are times when ?Fate? seems to go into an overdrive of ironic humour.


Now and then I have been harmlessly present but Called To Trouble when Writers are present .." What DID hapen with that strange Woman who was in Trouble and that you vanished mid-Con-bar to deal with? " whilst Writer is poised over the note-book Type thing

Long before that I once went through a Weird WEEK in which I encountered rather too many Road Traffic Accidents, during which I learned that Blood Does Spread all over the place, that Ones Blond Coloured Suede Boots would Never recover , or as an 'umble traffic cop did say..." NO, Sir ..not even if, as you suggest you stick a hose pipe in the boot and squirt cold water through at force you aren#'t going to recover your footwear to it's fashionable blondness once it's been soaked in blood and .. trust me in this ,there's the Smell.... you REALLY Wont Want The Smell"

In that incident I did learn that a man who has fallen in front of a mini car and suffered severe head trauma does SNORE very loudly .... whilst, as you run to help, all around you the world does seem to slow down whilst you move ever so fast ... there's also the Smell of Blood spilled in quantity.


Long since then I've learned that even cops who routinely deal with the blood and guts of traffic /violent incident situations can go on to themselves to Drink and Drive ..it's a funny old world.

95:

CHarlie @ 5
There's another horrible example too.
SRTICT LIABILTY CRIMES

A widow of over 50 was recently sentenced to ,b. 5years jail because she had an old firearm (her late husband's) in the house.
Fortuneately SOME sense appeared at appeal, and she was re-sentenced (!) to 120 hours community service.
She SHOULD have been given an absolute discharge, of course.
"Innocent Victims" - like Sally Clarke, you mean?
UGH.
See also @ 34,35
If you are innocent, especially for a major crime - YOU WILL SPEND LONGER IN RISON - because you won't/refuse to show remorse for the crime - which you didn't commit.
Like Sally Clarke, again.

@ 20
This is where having an over-60 Bus-and-Rail-pass (with phot) is useful. It is an official document.

ALex Tolley @ 73
The Magna Carta was a serious rethink less than 800 years ago.
MUCH MORE IMPORTANT was the Bill of Rights in 1689
We really do operate on that one.
The problem is the idiot politicians, passin far too many new restrictive laws into effect, without thinking about consequences.

@ 93, and overall.
It's time for that REALLY scary C. S. Lewis quote again:
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
AND
"They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. Their very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals."

And that is what is happening right now.

OK, how do we stop it?

96:

Actually, the granny-with-the-handgun story, while true, misses out certain points -- it came to light during the appeal that he'd died about a year earlier and she'd been keeping the thing on the mantlepiece after discovering it while tidying the attic, rather than spotting it and calling the cops to come and collect it (in which case, modulo some footwork to demonstrate she wasn't the original owner, she'd have been in the clear). Instead, it was discovered when the cops came to pay a house call relating to some other matter.

But yes, in general "strict liability" laws are a hideous mess. See also Operation Ore, and the folks who did serious prison time for possession of kiddie porn because some bastard had stolen their credit card details and used it to purchase the aforementioned online.

97:

The Magna Carta let the Barons do what they wanted without the King telling them they could not. Big freaking deal to the people under the Barons .
Your's and our legal systems is based on the case law that the Squire used to keep peace in his village. Most countries that were given that are moving to the kind of system Napoleon made. They say it works better. Our lawyers want to keep what they know.
There's laws and there's crime. It looks like some laws are there mainly to make fines. Punishing or rewarding cops to find crime is poisonous to societies trust of the itself. In America the jails are full of people doing live a bit at a time. When they do a crime they don't think they will be caught this time. And they are right, the do crimes over and over between the times they are caught. All the laws in the world will not mean anything to them. Mostly there fathers or grandfathers had jobs not crime. Something broke, fixing it may not be possible.
Most of the criminals that go to jail here are mildly retard drug users. Just about everybody they know is or has been in jail. It looks like the Right is right. All we can do is treat crime like a public heath matter and put them were they can't hurt others.
But then there are the ones with damaged minds. One study over here was at a gladiator school for the young criminals. Everyone there had obvious signs of brain damage. There must be something that would help them even if it was just watching them.

98:

People's reaction times aren't fast enough to safely handle modern traffic speeds.

A typical modern hatchback has about the same acceleration and maximum speed as a high-end 1950s sports car, and much better road-holding and suspension and brakes; while younger people supposedly have quicker reflexes (all the games controllers when they're kids) that doesn't help the old folks.

Like my 87 year old father, in the Honda Civic that had Aston-Martin grade handling by the standards of when he was learning to drive in the mid-1940s.

It's something of a miracle that RTA fatalities are actually falling in the UK, all things considered.

99:

Chralie @ 96
First apologies for the awful typos in my prvious post (tired and sober is BAD)
Secondly - the granny-with-a-handgun.
Is a classic example of "ignorance of the law"
She DID NOT KNOW that it was a "strict liabilty" offense - it was her deceased husband's old gun - it wasn't going anywhere, and she wasn't using it, or intending to .....

Followed by "Lets get some super-points by jailing this hramless granny" by moronic/vicious cops (Take your pick)
Yes, she was silly (maybe stupid) and certainly ignorant.
For that she gets hammered?

100:

Here in Austin less than 1% of the vehicles on the road are motorcycles yet they produce 30% of the traffic fatalities. I wonder what percentage are baby boomers on big road bikes that their reflexes are no longer up to the task of handling and what percentage are young riders on hot sporty bikes who lack sufficient judgment and skill to cope with them.

Some of the highest performance sports bikes are in the range of 3 lbs per horsepower and rival a Formula 1 car in acceleration.

101:

Have you looked at how freaking much it costs to raise a child these days?

Uh, yes. My kids are 19 and 22 and both in college for at least 3 more years.

I figure about $250K each to get to 18.

But if we don't want to do it then we should accept a culture of sharia or salsa surrounding us in our old age. If that's what you want fine. And I'm not saying it is a bad thing. But who are you passing the torch to if not your children?

102:
It's something of a miracle that RTA fatalities are actually falling in the UK, all things considered.

It's mostly good engineering. Modern cars are aggressively safe to be inside; crumple zones and roll cages mean that while even a minor collision now usually destroys the car, you will survive most accidents with no more than broken bones. The gradual disappearance of older cars without all that stuff is responsible for a lot of the decreasing accident rates; much of the rest can be attributed to improvements in road design.

The most dangerous place to be on the road is on a bicycle. There's not much you can do to protect the rider.

103:

I suspect it would be impossible to build an automated system of crime detection and law enforcement without completely replacing the existing legal codes. Automating detection of crimes requires a description of the laws that's logical and consistent; the machines have to be able to parse the laws' syntax, and to be able to connect the semantics to actions in the real world. The last time I heard about anyone trying a semantic analysis on a law, the result was basically many pages of no op. And the situation is worse when you're talking about a legal corpus and not just a single law: consider how many contradictions, paradoxes, logical inconsistencies and just downright illogical stupidities there are in a legal system that has to recognize hundreds of thousands of indictable offenses.

Does anyone here believe that the legislatures we have, whether House of Representatives or House of Commons, would be willing to go through all those laws and submit them to semantic analysis and correction, no matter what the payoff?

104:

In most localities, you get a ticket for obscuring the license.


(I actually thought of "obscuring" -- I'm getting a bit better with words recently.)

105:

I don't turn my cellphone off in the van, I just don't answer it. Something like 99% of my calls come from my HMO, and, in general, I can just call back later. The last call I had while I was driving was the clinical aide at Nephrology calling to make sure I remembered the appointment the next day. Which, of course, I did, so I didn't bother calling her back.

106:

Non-white races and the poor. They do overlap a good bit, but not entirely.

107:

Yeah, I get a lot of other drivers moving quickly into the space between me and the former car before me. I just let up on the accelerator and move back to a safe length again.

108:

Why would I want, or need, to pass the torch? Why can't I just look at it?

109:

I think that if you put people like your father back into 1950s style cars the casualty rate would rocket.

110:

I know that when I used to ride a bike (Honda 900, Suzy 750) when I was about 30 that even a few days of *not* riding was enough for me to feel that I "lost my edge". I did not get a car license until I was 35, so I was quite a serious biker. Motorbikes like that are ultra high performance eg 0-60 in 3 seconds, and very unforgiving.

111:

Have you looked at how freaking much it costs to raise a child these days?

It is ridiculous. There is a funny reversal of fortunes when dealing with raising children in North America; and, I dare guess most of the western world. A good friend of mine had a child coming up on two years ago. The husband and wife both earn over six figures individually; but, they are barely keeping their heads above water.
While, a young woman I know through work has three already and is considering a fourth. This is possible because she earns fairly little and has government assistance.

If you want lots of kids it doesn't pay to earn too much.

As Mr. Stross commented about the cost of college. I think that the educational system could use a major overhaul as well. Given the state of modern technology; we should use it to our benefit. I'm sure everyone has had the most interesting of subjects made dull by an unenthusiastic teacher; and, conversely a mediocre or tedious subject come to life due to the exuberance of a good teacher.
So, why are we not producing great multimedia content with these amazing teacher for students to consume? I imagine a class where you learn from a great lecturer like Feynman and a local teacher is on hand to help with specific questions if need be.

I know that there are schools that make videos of class lessons available online; but, these are just videos of standard classes. I would love a Nova or Through the Wormhole level of production.

112:

All of this bring the following questions to mind.

1) Are the police fit for purpose? The purpose the public has for them, and/or the purpose the powerbrokers have?

2) Is the legal system fit for purpose? Again public and/or powerbrokers?

Personally, I suggest in this overcomplex, interconnected world, the answer is no - at least as far as the public is concerned.

And to take a leaf out of Chalie's posts, if you think they are not, how do you encapsulate and move on?

113:

So, why are we not producing great multimedia content with these amazing teacher for students to consume?

Because it is hard work. Very hard work. And a lot of it.

114:

LabRat001 @38:
Something like "The Village" from Prisoner but for the incorrigible?

This certainly isn't "The Village" but perhaps fits the bill?

McNeil Island Special Commitment Center:

In 1998, the state legislature authorized moving the Special Commitment Center  from the Monroe Corrections Center to McNeil Island. The Special Commitment Center was created in 1990 by the passage of the Sexual Predator Law.  Rather than being released following the end of their prison term, chronic and violent sex offenders could be civilly committed after a court's determination that they were "mentally abnormal." The new Special Commitment Center is a total confinement facility located within the corrections center's secure perimeter. The program, designed to provide long-term, specialized mental health treatment for sex offenders, is operated under the control and direction of the Department of Social and Health Services.

115:

And why would people make a choice to make their lives miserable and hard? It seems pretty unlikely that the human race is going to go extinct any time soon (existential threats aside). You can make a case for breeding being as selfish as choosing not to. It is the right of everyone to weigh up the pros and cons and decide if they want to make a massive commitment for the rest of their lives. You can hardly blame people for ticking the "No thanks" box.

116:

And I don't buy the "if we don't breed we'll be overrun by fuzzy-wuzzies" line either.

117:
Speaking for myself, I'm all in favour of red light cameras. (Yes, we have them here in the UK, too -- they're pretty much universal.) The point being, shooting a red is dangerous -- and not just to yourself, but to the innocent third parties who are coming the other way.

The problem is that red light cameras have been shown to increase accidents at intersections where they are installed. There are a few suggested reasons for this; I believe the most likely one is that the presence of the cameras adds one more item to the list of things that distract drivers, and makes them nervous.

118:

I am not terribly thrilled with the whole concept of indefinite detention on the grounds of a mental condition making somebody unsafe in society.

It sounds good in principle, but we have that as a legal construct stateside, and the implementation has been that they use it to deny people parole on the basis of a mental illness that was never diagnosed until 2 weeks before the parole hearing.

Then of course there's the problems with courts not feeling it necessary to enforce the same rights for prisoners in the mental health wing of a prison as the regular prisoners get (and this one was a problem even before the whole prison labor isn't slavery BS reached my state).

119:

How the fuck are you supposed to run a society with an assumption of no free will? How is democracy supposed to work? How can the government even know what people want it to do, if the people can't (by definition of no free will) decide what they want?

120:

Ian @ 112
You asked:
1) Are the police fit for purpose? The purpose the public has for them, and/or the purpose the powerbrokers have?
2) Is the legal system fit for purpose? Again public and/or powerbrokers?

Well, given the revelations in the past week, concerning the vile Murdoch, his pervading culture of fear, and the toadying of all to M.
The answer to both quesions must be: NO.

@ 117
Red-light cameras in the UK.
I don't know about the USA, but here, there is, as far as I have seen always enough time to stop between the yellow showing, and the red coming "on" provided you are travelling at a sensible speed.
Quite a lot of junctions have a "long yellow" for this specific purpose.

Anatoly @ 119
Because the "principle of Free Will" as classically defined is WRONG.
[ If you want to hurt your brain, compare and contrast with the two-slit experiment ]
That is to say, we DO have "free will", but it is also a constrained "free will", often based on conditioning and upbringing, as well as current cirmcumstances. Read back through recent posts here, never mind other places, and you'll see what is meant.

121:

Greg @120

1. When someone asks "how", don't start your answer with a "because".

2. Should we decide who can and can't vote, "based on conditioning and upbringing as well as current circumstances"?

122:

Anatoly @ 121
Well your part 1 response is idiotic, I'm afraid:
"Why do things fall down?"
- Because of gravitational attraction ...
And of course the you then go to the equations, so It IS an answer.
As to your part 2 question, that's an interesting one.
I'm going to pass on that at present.

I not that no-one has yet stepped up to the hot-seat, and attempted to answer the question I posted re. the C. S. Lewis quote, and how do we prevent this situation arising (or getting worse, according to how far you think we have come down that road.)

123:

But if we don't want to do it then we should accept a culture of sharia or salsa surrounding us in our old age. If that's what you want fine.

Racist garbage, and you should be ashamed of yourself for spouting it.

It's not merely offensive, it's clearly factually wrong. You've completely ignored the alternative option, which is to spend a chunk of your tax dollars on social programs that support the next generation: kindergarten care, maternity leave, and university scholarships/subsidies for the non-rich. All of those programs exist or have existed elsewhere in the developed world and all of them smooth the way for middle class folks who want to raise families. Size of families correlates strongly in post demographic transition societies with the provision of social support for maternity and education.

Meanwhile, the first-generation immigrants you're having a racist snit against are also going through the demographic transition to first-world fertility levels -- they won't be outnumbering anyone.

124:

"I suspect it would be impossible to build an automated system of crime detection and law enforcement without completely replacing the existing legal codes. "

As a trivial example, all you have to do is pull over at the side of a red route, leave the engine running and use your mobile phone..

The car is then deemed (by separate bits of legislation) to be both stationary AND moving.. and you can be fined for either or both states...

125:

It sounds good in principle, but we have that as a legal construct stateside, and the implementation has been that they use it to deny people parole on the basis of a mental illness that was never diagnosed until 2 weeks before the parole hearing.

Yeah; that's a really major problem -- one that suggests inherent corruption in the medical adjunct to the penal system, at that.

(The way we deal with crime strikes me as being fundamentally broken. It's not as broken as the Bloody Code, but there are some worrying points of similarity, and in the long term the BC has been recognized as a grisly failure.)

126:

This is an interesting article for me, since I've long been of the opinion that while some crimes do need to be defined, they shouldn't be pinned down in legislation until it's possible to enforce them consistently. Speeding is one such crime, where the possibility of comprehensive, consistent law enforcement is now within range[1] of the technology as we have it - but it hasn't really been possible until now.

I'm also of the opinion that what might work better overall is something along the lines of meta-laws - legal principles which encode sets of behaviours which aren't acceptable socially (or legally) and which can be used as general pointers, rather than requiring specific actions to be declared illegal. So, for example, in the case of using a mobile phone, or texting while driving, the over-riding meta-law which would need to be enforced would be something along the lines of: "in the interests of public safety, when driving a car or performing any other potentially hazardous, concentration-requiring action, any distraction is potentially harmful. It is therefore not acceptable for a person to deliberately engage in actions which would split their concentration while driving."

Now, that one could be argued about (and probably would - just in the time I was writing it my head came up with the questions of "what about listening to the radio, is that a distraction?[2]" "what about having a conversation with passengers in the car?" "what about the mother with young children in the car?") but the main point I'm getting at is that what might be needed for people to learn as their go-to set of legal knowledge is a group of such meta-laws and the thinking behind them. It could also be useful as a way of dealing with the sort of thinker who says "well, I have good reflexes, so I should be allowed to speed" - the meta-legal principle behind speeding laws is "this is the safe speed we've determined for the majority of people driving on this stretch of road"; if you want to prove you should be an exception, explain why, and explain how you're going to make your exceptional nature clear to everyone else on the road (including cyclists, pedestrians, other motorists etc); and explain how you're going to prevent some other antisocial bastard from copying you. Or pay your fines, and stick within the fucking speed limits from there on in, hot rod.

The other point I'd make is after all of this, giving people the knowledge of the meta-laws makes it more possible for them to obey the laws, should they choose to (if you choose to act in the interests of the overall principles of legal actions, then you're obeying the law). So, for example, the meta-principle behind IP law is that "it's good for people to be able to gain credit/kudos/make money from their ideas", and given this, I can get behind the notion that IP piracy isn't necessarily a Good Thing. The meta-laws, the guiding principles behind legal ideas, are the thinking which makes a disparate group of people into a society (and for all Mrs Thatcher loved to proclaim the opposite, society does exist). If we can assert what the principles are that make our society worthwhile as meta-legal statements, I think we can build a more co-operative social system.

[1] I figure all that's needed is a series of networked little RFID readers on roadside landmarks sending timestamps in to a centralised server (or servers), RFID chips within cars (fitted as a part of the existing motor vehicle registration process) each providing a unique identifier for the car in question, and a simple algorithm used to check the difference between each timestamp in a given direction. If, for example, your car is marked as moving past marker A at timestamp (a), then at marker B at timestamp (a+x), marker C at timestamp (a+y) etc, then the values for those journeys can be compared against the known values for a legal journey, and if you're consistently getting lower timestamp values over (for example) a 5km distance between point A and point Z, you're booked for speeding over that distance and that length of time. All administered remotely, and you get your fines in the mail, just like you might from a multanova or photo radar.

In Australia, where there's typically a 10km/h easement allowed to cover the difference between what the copper's speedometer says you were doing, and what your speedometer says you're doing (thus meaning everyone typically travels at around 10km/h over the limit all the time) this method would probably result in a net drop in the typical speed of traffic on the road as well. Plus the system could be used to give real-time traffic reports (traffic moving at 30km/h average in a 60km/h zone - there's a problem on that road, try a different one) and provide an up-to-the-minute look at road usage and traffic load on a street-by-street basis.

[2] I'm one of the ones who'd be arguing it isn't - for me having the radio on (or having my MP3 player going) is a way of using up the spare processing cycles, and effectively allowing myself to put more of my concentration on the driving, rather than being distracted by the fireworks going off in my head. That said, it has to be the right sort of noise to be a suitable distraction, which is why it's more likely to be the MP3 player (and headphones).

127:

I read about greenland using horomone suppression drugs to prevent rapist recidivism and then having those convicts work for a living to support their families, insofar to the point where they were allowed to hunt with firearms- the difference being that they had to be under surveillance a lot and their movements were sometimes controlled. Greenland has a small population so who knows how well it would work in a place like the USA (and my ears are getting calloused the more I hear the exceptionalism argument around here) but it's an interesting idea.

128:

In replies: Charlie @5, the definition of rape is not a "moveable feast" - as someone of the rapee class (I'm female, 1 in 6 lifetime risk of being raped - so far I'm in the lucky 5) let me put it to you bluntly: any sexual contact sans legal consent is a form of rape. By "legal consent" I'm talking an actual (not implied), informed, affirmative statement (not just a head-nod, but an actual "yes" for preference), obtained without threats, menaces, or coercion of any kind (such as "you'll get/keep your job providing you say yes" or "I won't hurt you/your children/someone else so long as you say yes"), from a legally adult person for the purposes of sexual congress (so even if a thirteen year old says "yes" to the nice film director without coercion, they're not a legally adult person, and it doesn't count) who is neither inebriated nor intoxicated in any other way (so no roofies, no alcohol) and if you're not certain if it counts as a legal yes, the answer is fucking NO!. What is so bloody hard about this?

That said, the criminal aspect of rape is not that it's sexual contact, as that it's sexual contact without consent, performed as an acting-out of entitlement, social status, rage, and/or the urge to domination. The meta-crime a rapist commits is a violation of the meta-principle that "everyone is allowed bodily autonomy" (and yes, this is the same meta-crime committed by the anti-abortion extremist, or the person committing GBH).

Thad @55: Charles Manson knew he didn't belong in the general population because 1) he'd spent the majority of his life in prison and was therefore thoroughly institutionalised; 2) he has NO legally saleable skills and too much of a criminal history to be expected to be able to find a job without a great deal of ongoing assistance; and 3) he knew the general population he was being released into was that of the continental USA, and his life expectancy was therefore measured in days if the news of his release was mentioned in the press. He might well have been a criminal, but he also has a working instinct for self-preservation. By the bye, the murders committed by the Helter-Skelter crew were basically a symptom of a cult breaking down, not an active choice of Manson's - they were much more analogous to the final days of Jim Jones' Guyana compound before everyone drank the Kool-Aid. Manson's problem wasn't that he was murderous per se, it was that he was insufficiently murderous to deal with the self-destruction of the cult he'd created.

Charlie @ 76 - Indeed, the US prison population now is analogous to the UK prison population during the golden years of the colonisation of Australia - it's largely the under-classes, and they're largely imprisoned for the "crime" of being poor and trying to do something about it (whether that be to cease being poor, through criminal action, or whether it's to escape from the reality of their poverty via drugs). This growing prison population is why I suspect if there's any move toward space colonisation, there will eventually be a proposal made to use convict labour as a way of cutting costs. The use of convict conscripts as LEO (that's Low Earth Orbit) labour will be very much a political win/win situation for a suitably Laura Norder minded politician - they're doing good, they're putting something back to society, and gods above but they can't escape easily from that situation (and if they try, well, they can see how far they can get without oxygen). Just don't go putting any prison colonies on the moon, that's all I'd ask.

129:

Meg @ 128
Well R. A. Heinlein had the transportation problem in one of his greates novels: "Double Star"

Chalie - the "Bloody Code" um.
You are probably going to find this offensive (?)
I'm agin the Death penalty for murder, but I actually think re-introducing it for two others, Piracy and High Treason might be a very good idea.
It is very hard to get a mistaken conviction for Piracy, and I'd relly like to see every Prime Minister since 1979 dangling, since they've ALL committed treason. And no, I'm not talking about the EU, either, lest anyone get a mistaken impression.

Aside:
I thought you were permitted to use a mobile phone from the driver's seat PROVIDED you were: stationary, out-of-gear, and with the handbrke ON ??

130:

I know there's a wealth of reports saying even hands-free is dangerous, but I currently don't believe it.

I do.

I do too. I even find the radio distracting and turn it off when entering driving situations that require especially close attention.

131:

Your definition of rape sounds reasonable, problem is it's not really that practical; to elaborate, let me tell you some little stories told by some friends some day or read about, names omitted, details somewhat changed or invented, but in general true to the events; btw, thank Cthulhu OGH's blog is somewhat pseudonymous.

First scenario, also somewhat the gravest; female friend, from now on called protagonist, has some problems with her girlfriend and leaves common home to stay with some other female friends for a few day; same time, a male friend of hers for some years is alone and invites he for a sleepover till everything clears up. Male friend and protagist were in a kind of relationship 5 years ago, culminating in a one-night stand, but it didn't work out; they have been good friends after that.

It gets late, they watch a movie, and eventually male friend goes on protagonist. Protagonist doesn't encourage him, but doesn't dissuade him either. It culminates in vaginal intercourse, and protagonist 'gets into it', e.g. she seems to enjoy it on a physical level. After that, both sleep; next day, female friend shocked what happened last night, calls it rape and leaves male friend in disgust. So much for the story of my friend, she added that it was the story she told her, and she added though she was not that sure if all the details were factual, she thought that something happened and that the scenario was somewhat plausible. Oh, BTW, protagonist and male friend are on good speaking terms again. Also add that this story is the most elaborate because 'drama king/queen' is a praise word for male friend, protagonist, the friend who told me and me.

Other scenario, think of Egan's 'Distress', where the (male, just in case somebody is as prejudiced as me[1])narrator does some self-injurious behaviour to make his part-time lifepartner stay with him. Is this rape, e.g. using coercion?

Third scenario, girl wants boy, who doesn't find her that attractive, but eventually goes along, because he somewhat likes her. Some day, she starts to do some heavy petting on him, he doesn't encourage it, but doesn't dissude her either, culiminating in him, err, exploding. Afterwards, he decides to end the relationship.

While none of these scenarios is really that much of a paragon of ethical behaviour, I think the first worst, the second in the middle and the third the most ambiguous, especially since one could paint both girl(quasi-rape) and boy(making false hopes) as the miscreant, one can still argue they are somewhat difficult to put down and still a far cry from kidnapping a schoolgirl or penetrating at knifepoint[2].

OK, you could argue they were somewhat worse then physical assault, because all actors knew each other and there was trust involved, but still, it's something of a grey zone. Also, this argument may show that part of the rape is in the perception of the events, I heard a story that was quite similar to the first one, and this time the protagonist (other person) liked it.

Add to this that it's often a '(s)he said, (s)he said', and that it's likely both parties were basket cases not only after the events, but had some issues before, especially, but not only attachment issues, impulse control disorders or even slight cases of autism, e.g. alexithymia. Which is not to say that these circumstances necessarily excuse the events.

If you excuse me now, I have to dress in black and go to a gothic party. ;)

[1] I wish my lawn was emo, then it'd cut itself.
[2] Though as a long-time Nick Cave listener, I know there are people who like that.

132:

If the "draconian" speed control you envisaged was to be used, then cars would probably be fitted with special indicators notifying the driver that the limit is being exceeded. It then seems a short step to having cars which automatically apply a governor to keep the vehicle within the speed limit.

However despite your claims that speed limits are some sort of rational number based on experience, they are not. The 30mph limit in UK residential areas (that is still the limit, yes?) was in force before I was born, in the first half of the C20th. Cars in the UK were scarce. The situation today is very different, yet the limit remains the same. The US has a 25 mph residential limit.
I see no rational limit setting, just arbitrary rule setting.

In the US, under some circumstance, you can fight a speeding ticket in a speed restricted zone by showing that the authorities had not done a traffic speed survey within the 2 [>] years. IOW, if you are technically speeding, but so is the average driver, it is not an offense.

I think the idea of meta laws is very nice and a good way to chunk the plethora of individual ones. However, in reality, the truly byzantine set of laws in force in the US today would likely defy simple meta law classification.

133:

The loans system as currently set up acts effectively as a graduate tax rather than as a loan. Repayments are linked only to the graduate's earnings and not the balance of the loan, The repayments take the the form of a 9% surcharge on earnings above £20,000 per annum, which is index linked, and any remaining balance is then written off after 30 years. In effect it is off balance sheet government debt paid for by a hypothecated graduate tax and as such shouldn't be a deterrent to going to university. Once you account for the way that an individual's earnings rise over the course of their career as the accumulate seniority it appears that the amount nominally owed by the graduate is largely hypothetical as except for those on very high pay (according to BBC Radio 4's More or Less a career average somewhere above £70,000) the loan will not be paid off in full.

134:

Something that's never, ever talked about is that crime and un-employment go together. Some people love the trill and risk. But not all.
In the States, the safest way to ride a motorcycles is to go 7 mph faster than traffic. In most places you can kill bikers and never be charged with a crime. Back when I was fit to ride, ever year someone would pull up along me and move over putting me on the side of the road. They would seem to look me in the eye and make a turn, I mean I could sometimes feel the heat of their radiator. They say they did not see you and the cops will say you must have been speeding. Your dead and can't say other wise. Also most American riders are not good. The driving tests are a joke. It's been shown that most motorcycles locked up the back wheel and slid into a wreck

135:

I think you're missing the point on rape. In the UK the Sexual Offences Act 2003 classes rape as the insertion of a penis into the mouth, vagina or anus of the victim. However previous to this the definitions were slightly different, indeed it was not that long ago that a man or a wife couldn't be raped. As it is I still find it ridiculous that a man being forced to have sex with a woman is not classed as rape (nor sexual assault by penetration) but the same situation with the roles reversed is rape.

Another problem with rape is the definition by country, in some countries lying to a person about yourself to impress them and thus seduce them can be classed as rape.

However all this pales into comparison for what happens if you are wrongly accused of rape. Nobody here, least of all our host, was suggesting that rape is not a serious issue. However we can all be intelligent adults and realise that we can criticise aspects of the sexual offences act and societal attitudes without detracting from the condemnation of the crime as it stands.

136:
I'm also of the opinion that what might work better overall is something along the lines of meta-laws - legal principles which encode sets of behaviours which aren't acceptable socially (or legally) and which can be used as general pointers, rather than requiring specific actions to be declared illegal.

The idea of meta-law, and in general of obeying (and enforcing) the spirit of the law in preference to the letter of the law when the two are not aligned, is one that appeals to me. However, there are real problems with implementing it, and I believe that law enforcement systems that try to use it are not stable in any society that's not a strict autocracy. There's a strong tendency for such systems to swing back and forth between acceptance of meta-law and insistence on adherence to the letter of the law.

Until a few years ago, the traffic laws in the state of Oregon were based on meta-law: there was a single, primary, overriding principle that was used to judge the legality of the actions of a driver; it took precedence over all the details of other traffic law. That principle was called the Basic Rule, and it essentially said, "All actions of a driver shall be judged with respect to their affect on the safety of all drivers, and to the safe and effective operation of the roads."1.

In practice, this meant that a cop could give you a ticket or even arrest you for doing something that was legal, but was, in the cop's opinion, unsafe for the conditions in which you were driving. Conversely, a cop could give you a pass for doing something clearly illegal if it was safe for those conditions. I know of several incidents in which drivers traveling at speeds far in excess of the speed limit were waved on by a state trooper after determining that the driver was awake and alert, that the car had a good set of tires, that weather and road conditions were good, and that there was no other traffic to endanger (I-84 at 3 in the morning is almost empty in some stretches; even the truckers have pulled over to take a nap). On the other hand, I know of other incidents in which drivers travelling well below the speed limit were ticketed because of road conditions or because of unsafe lane changes, etc.

Why did the law change? Two main reasons, IMHO:

  • More and more drivers were defending themselves against Basic Rule Violation charges with legal appeals to the letter of the law, and some were getting off (because the law gives judges a great deal of latitude in choosing which aspects of the law to follow, and because a driver could always find a lawyer who wanted to game the system); this reduced income from traffic fines in a time when local and state governments were being starved.
  • The State Legislature, having become increasingly Republican/Libertarian (that is to say, hostile to the power of law where it doesn't serve their ends), wanted to reduce the power of government as manifested in the police to diverge from the letter of the law.
  • In a democracy (or any society with at least some pretensions to democracy) there is always a tension between the two ideals of "A government of laws, not a government of menhumans", and "A society of educated citizens living by common principles." So we have periods in which we give more power to the police and the courts to determine the appropriate responses to antisocial acts, and after awhile we favor taking that power away and asserting detailed control of those responses to prevent the abuses that have resulted. Here in the US one such pendulum swing occurred in the 1980's as a result of public discovery of the abuses of the laws regarding institutionalization of the mentally-ill, when the asylums were emptied and the rights of the mentally-ill asserted. We're starting to see the pendulum swing back now as the public reacts to the huge number of homeless mental patients out on the streets. Another such situation was the effect of the "get tough on crime" meme that swept politics in the late 1980's and 90's that resulted in taking away much of the flexibility in sentencing that judges had in certain criminal cases. That's still going on, but a reaction against it is starting, as some of the abuses of sentencing become public.


    1. Shorter version: "Don't be an idiot or a hog." Meta-law, ISTM, usually boils down to some version of the Google ethic, or an admonition to be responsible for the results of your actions.

    137:

    This may come as a surprise to you, but I actually agree with you on the subject of rape. (One minor nit: the rapee class is not exclusively female.)

    What I meant by "the definition of rape is a moveable feast" is that the murky grey areas at the edges are highly variable. For example, there are jurisdictions where the age of consent is 18, where it's 16, where it's 14, where it's "anywhere between 12 and 16 as long as the participants are within two years of age and willing and not in a position of authority wrt. one another", and so on. And, of course, sex with someone below the age of consent is statutory rape. There are circumstances ranging from the violent serial attacker who is clearly a menace to society at large, to situations where the rape verdict is only delivered after considerable argument as to precisely how many drinks the victim consumed and how long ago (because the question is whether they were unable to give informed consent by reason of excessive intoxication).

    One-size-fits-all solutions are generally a bad idea in criminal law, and advocating irreversible punishments (execution, castration) for crimes strikes me as liable to result in irretrievable miscarriages of justice.

    138:

    Two related comments:

    Mental disability is a major problem both medically, judicially and for the penal system, exactly because of the presumption of "free will."

    What does "free will" mean in a person who periodically or under certain stimuli goes insane ?

    Do they have free will when they are not insane ?

    Who gets to decide when they do and when they don't ?

    Having lived through that hell, trying to protect two small kids from their biological mother, I have seen more hand-wringing and a lot less action than I would have preferred.

    Free will itself is in trouble on so many fronts that it is not even funny.

    Nowhere more so than in advertising, which is, at the bottom of it all, the discipline of subverting the free will at will.

    Talk to somebody who works with "segmentation" in the advertising business, and you will be surprised how much psychology they (ab)use.

    It gets particularly troublesome when these techniques are used for political advertising and campaigning in a presumptive democracy.

    Of course, eventually these techniques will be blunted by education and evolution, but I often wonder if you can keep a modern society functioning, if everybody are so skeptical all the time, or if we need to put footnotes on free speech if we want to have a society.

    We already have a footnote restricting the right "to yell fire! in a crowded theater". Recent politics indicate that we may also need to restrict the right to yell "Fear!" in a neurotic society.

    139:

    The situation today is very different, yet the limit remains the same.

    Alex, we have 20mph speed limits in some residential areas and outside schools these days. (Edinburgh is planning to switch to a blanket 20mph speed limit in the city centre, except on a handful of designated main roads, in the near future.)

    This followed research on survival figures among pedestrians and cyclists struck by vehicles at different speeds: 20mph is much more survivable with minor injuries (contusions/grazes/sprains) even than 30mph.

    140:

    Thanks for your remarks, which add to my interest as I'm reading Rule 34. BTW my thesis advisor was from Edinburgh, and it's a pleasure to be reminded.

    Another thing about "more rules" all the time is that such a world increasingly privileges mental ability to deal with complexity. As an educator this worries me.

    141:


    I thought you were permitted to use a mobile phone from the driver's seat PROVIDED you were: stationary, out-of-gear, and with the handbrake ON ??

    Ah, but you're Not Allowed to stop on a "Red Route", therefore the car can be deemed to be in motion and they've got you both ways.

    Someone was supposedly prosecuted for permitting a dog to be in control of a motor vehicle - he'd "double parked" outside a newsagents to get his morning paper, etc., leaving the dog in the car. UK law does not recognise the concept of "double parking" and he was booked for it. (This may be apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, as I can't find any trace of it on Google.)

    142:

    Especially important is the fact that when an adult is hit by a car, it's usually at waist height, but when a child is hit it's usually around or above the torso, and the child will also end up under the car sometimes. No idea where some people come up with these kinds of value judgments on car laws.
    I guess it's also worth noting that two activists protested against seat belt and motorcycle helmet laws, and both of them were killed in auto accidents because they didn't wear seat belts/helmets.

    143:

    we have 20mph speed limits in some residential areas

    I trust these will be well signposted.

    The US has the school speed restriction, with the very ambiguous "when children are present". Residential areas are putting in speed bumps to force speeds to below the statutory 25mph.

    I'd like to read the study about injuries. Obviously the lower the impact speed, the less likely, and less severe the injuries to pedestrians will be. But why stop at 20mph? Why not 10, or 5?

    While reducing injuries is very laudable, I've also noticed that children in CA suburbs increasingly use the public roads to play in. What happened to keeping off the roads and playing in the park? The training of children to look before crossing roads seems to be dying, especially as roads are now being used as extended play areas.

    144:

    Hi Alex,

    Depending on where you are, there may not be much park, or the park is full of dog turds, drug pushers, or the generally imagined, rarely real pedophiles. Los Angeles in particular is notorious for the low number of real parks available to residents.

    There's a whole thing in the environmental community about nature deficit disorder, and what you're talking about is a symptom of it. I don't think the woods have gotten less safe, I think people have gotten more scared.

    145:

    I don't think the woods have gotten less safe, I think people have gotten more scared.

    Yes, I've read a number of newspaper articles saying just this. The widespread availability of murder/kidnapping news just reinforces the fear. Mothers worry about their kids being snatched in shopping malls.

    Where I have lived (SF Bay Area) there are plenty of safe, turd-free parks to play in, usually within 1/2 a mile or so. But the kids still insist on playing in the street, basketball and softball[!?] in particular, as well as skateboarding and ball games.

    But I suspect the parental unit fear factor trumps all. ("Play where I can see you").

    146:

    Trottelreiner @131: You need to re-read my comment @ 128 again. The responses to all of your various scenarios are actually all contained within the sentence where I define "legal consent".

    Scenarios: 1) "Protagonist doesn't encourage him, but doesn't dissuade him either."

    "By "legal consent" I'm talking an actual (not implied), informed, affirmative statement (not just a head-nod, but an actual "yes" for preference), obtained without threats, menaces, or coercion of any kind (such as "you'll get/keep your job providing you say yes" or "I won't hurt you/your children/someone else so long as you say yes"), from a legally adult person for the purposes of sexual congress (so even if a thirteen year old says "yes" to the nice film director without coercion, they're not a legally adult person, and it doesn't count) who is neither inebriated nor intoxicated in any other way (so no roofies, no alcohol) and if you're not certain if it counts as a legal yes, the answer is fucking NO!."

    Your friend's male friend, no matter how well-intentioned he was, did not receive a clear "yes", and therefore should not have proceeded.

    2) "the (male, just in case somebody is as prejudiced as me[1])narrator does some self-injurious behaviour to make his part-time lifepartner stay with him. Is this rape, e.g. using coercion?"

    "By "legal consent" I'm talking an actual (not implied), informed, affirmative statement (not just a head-nod, but an actual "yes" for preference), obtained without threats, menaces, or coercion of any kind (such as "you'll get/keep your job providing you say yes" or "I won't hurt you/your children/someone else so long as you say yes"), from a legally adult person for the purposes of sexual congress (so even if a thirteen year old says "yes" to the nice film director without coercion, they're not a legally adult person, and it doesn't count) who is neither inebriated nor intoxicated in any other way (so no roofies, no alcohol) and if you're not certain if it counts as a legal yes, the answer is fucking NO!."

    Threatening to harm anyone at all if someone doesn't behave in a manner you'd like is coercion, and therefore any "yes" obtained by same is not a legal "yes". But again, back to the meta-principle at the end: if you're not certain whether you have a legal "yes", then your answer is "no". (Oh, and nagging until you get someone to change their mind just in order to shut you up is coercion too - because you're effectively threatening not to give up on this until they give in).

    3) "Some day, she starts to do some heavy petting on him, he doesn't encourage it, but doesn't dissude her either, culiminating in him, err, exploding."

    "By "legal consent" I'm talking an actual (not implied), informed, affirmative statement (not just a head-nod, but an actual "yes" for preference), obtained without threats, menaces, or coercion of any kind (such as "you'll get/keep your job providing you say yes" or "I won't hurt you/your children/someone else so long as you say yes"), from a legally adult person for the purposes of sexual congress (so even if a thirteen year old says "yes" to the nice film director without coercion, they're not a legally adult person, and it doesn't count) who is neither inebriated nor intoxicated in any other way (so no roofies, no alcohol) and if you're not certain if it counts as a legal yes, the answer is fucking NO!."

    The young woman in question is just as guilty of aggressive sexual behaviour in this case as a male person doing the same to her would be, and it is just as wrong when she does it as it would have been had it been done to her. Yes, women can rape men. No, it isn't culturally recognised as such (either as rape, or as rape initiated by a woman, or even as something which is harmful to the man in question) all that often. It doesn't mean it can't happen, and it doesn't mean it isn't just as wrong when it does happen.

    If you want a further referent, the notion to which I'm referring is called "enthusiastic consent". It's a very straightforward consent standard, although it does mean people actually have to do weird things like listen to one another and pay attention to what the other person is saying.

    When it comes down to issues of "X said/Y said", then maybe it's time we started thinking about the way we deal with these particular crimes, and the seriousness we offer them. At present, consent isn't a major consideration in rape trials, because most legal systems address consent as a negative - if no clear, firm, repeated, loud, audible-to-others denial is present, consent is implied to have been present - or in other words, the default legal position on consent is that consent is present unless otherwise denied. The burden of proof falls upon the person who is alleging rape, and they have to prove they repeatedly refused consent, in all possible manners, at every step of the entire process, because a single incident of consent (whether obtained by overwhelming force, overwhelming coercion, drugs, alcoholic stupor, unconsciousness, or any other damn means) is regarded as proof of agreement. By contrast, if we switch to a standard of "enthusiastic consent", consent is not present unless otherwise clearly stated. This switches the burden of proof back to the accused rapist, who has to provide clear proof that the person making the accusation did not withdraw consent at any stage in the proceedings. The standard changes from "X didn't say no" to "Y didn't ask for a yes".

    (Yes, I am a bit aggro on this particular issue, but then I've been living the last thirty-one years of my life on constant watch for Schrodinger's Rapist. That sort of thing does tend to warp a person's thinking just a little).

    PS: as for the penetration at knifepoint, providing it's sanely negotiated beforehand, safety is planned for, and there has been enthusiastic consent received to all aspects of the planned roleplay, who am I to argue with what people choose to do together?

    147:

    Alex Tolley @ 132 - The majority of cars have those "special indicators" already. They're called "speedometers". Under Australian law at least (which is the only version I'm familiar with), legal speed limits are an UPPER limit on how fast you're supposed to be driving in a particular area. Possibly this is different elsewhere?

    Changing times, changing conditions, and changing enforcement regimes vary laws. At present, speed restriction laws are treated as a handy revenue-raising tool, because enforcement is necessarily so haphazard and so inconsistent. However, speed restriction laws were originally put in place as a safety measure, to provide for the safety of other people on the road. Consistent enforcement protocols would actually move speed restriction laws back to being the safety measure they were designed as. The fun bit is they'd actually work by making it easier/more rewarding for people to choose to comply with the law than to choose to break it (which is always the best way to operate law enforcement, after all).

    148:

    Charlie @137 - My apologies for my tone in comment 128. It wasn't justified in the least, and it was plain unmannerly toward my host.

    I agree that one-size-fits-none punishments are a Bad Thing in general. However, I do stand by my definition of what rape is (and ideally, what rape should be defined as in a people-friendly legal system).

    The big problem with solutions like "castration for rapists" is that the majority of rapes aren't performed out of sexual need or sexual desire (although they're often dressed up as such, as a way of shifting the blame from the raper to the rapee), but rather out of the impulse to dominate, or the impulse to assert ownership, or just plain, simple old rage. At present, a lot of legal systems aren't set up to recognise the motive behind rape, but rather set up to deal with the window-dressing - which leads to things like the "provocation" defence (aka "the woman tempted me") and the lack of recognition of consent as a positive assent, rather than as a negative lack of dissent.

    149:

    What are these speedometers of which you speak? ;)

    The US (California at least) also uses frequent stop lines at junctions, whereas the UK mostly doesn't. This is often rigorously enforced by the police, who issue tickets if the car hasn't come to a complete stop. It certainly isn't clear to me what the safety benefits of a complete stop are, and if they are, why the UK (or elsewhere) doesn't use them so aggressively.

    As you say, road rules have become less of a safety issue, but rather a revenue generating game. We've seen this in spades since 2008 where municipal tax revenue has fallen, resulting in highly stepped up traffic enforcement, the the extent that California traffic courts are clogged up, and the fines have been increased to pay for the court's time.


    150:
    the burden of proof back to the accused rapist

    You seem to have mislaid the presumption of innocence somewhere. Good thing he's an "accused rapist" so we already know he's guilty, the cad.

    151:

    You talk of a rape law which requires the accused to prove that their partner enthusiastically consented. That seems as dangerous as a libel law which requires the accused to prove that what they said was true.

    I sympathize with the idea as ethics (and because human communication is hard enough without the sexual games that most cultures play!), but I'm trying to imagine a situation where two people have sex and one can [i]prove[/i] that the other “enthusiastically consented.” Except sex work (where there are often legal reasons to keep the agreement in speech) or sex with an audience or a camera watching, I can't imagine any. Basing the definition of rape on consent ended a lot of injustices but created a legal mess: if two people go into an empty room together and have sex, how can you prove whether both consented?

    152:
    One-size-fits-all solutions are generally a bad idea in criminal law, and advocating irreversible punishments (execution, castration) for crimes strikes me as liablecertain to result in irretrievable miscarriages of justice.

    FTFY. Here in the US 122 prisoners on death row have been ultimately found to have been wrongfully convicted and released; we have no idea how many more were executed before their convictions would have been found invalid. 14 were exonerated based on DNA evidence; many of the more than 1,000 prisoners executed in that time had DNA evidence which had never been tested and now never will be.

    153:

    What good is hard punishment if they don't think they will be caught? Numbers say the likely hood of being caught, not the punishment keeps crime down. After the last LA riot I read LA had 1/9 the Cops Euros believed was needed for it's size.
    I keep reading that it was once almost impossible to convict anyone of rape. Now its far from that and the punishments are very hard. So now we have a rape murder rate that I think was unheard of then. They seem to be looking at the Punishment and think killing the witness is a good thing. Maybe going backwards in punishment would leave more live women.
    I've been reading that English driving laws in some places are nothing but a way to strip mine motorists.
    Here in the States we had Speed Trap towns where almost everybody in town was paid by fines. Auto clubs tell people about them so they can be driven around. The States jump on them now as soon as they know about them. We have a State Hiway that's crazy dangerous from speeders. The city paid for a Radar Photo Speed trap. The State made them stop using it on the hiway without a cop on it, for fear it would be used as a speed trap to make money. About every day the Fire trucks and Aid trucks pass my house to the latest wreck.

    154:

    There are several customs in the US that should change, IMO.

    1. Fine revenue should not go to the general fund of the police department, or even to the overseers of the police. Bad perverse incentive. I suggest it be added to the foreign aid budget.

    2. Being "tough on crime" should not be an electoral positive. As long as it is, politicians will benefit from throwing innocent people in jail, and we have to trust their better judgment and moral compass to restrain them from doing so.

    2a. Directly electing judges and DAs is folly.

    3. At no point should any significant organized group of people have it in their direct best interest to imprison more people. Tricky I know.

    4. The USA should stop declaring war on things that can't surrender and unlikely to be eradicated.

    5. Holding children legally and/or morally responsible for the crimes of their parents is stupid, dangerous, and morally reprehensible.

    155:

    We are going to end up having to subscribe to Google.

    Google is based in California

    Because of certain features of the State Constitution, the State of California struggles to raise adequate funds by taxation.

    The State Legislature will find some act which they can criminalise, and routinely fine Google for. Hence Google will have to find an extra source of income.

    I don't think it is a coincidence that YouTube is using youtu.be as a domain. And Douglas Adams, if there is an afterlife, can probably manage a smile at that.

    156:

    http://www.washingtonsblog.com/....while Goldman Sachs was helping Greece hide its debt from the official statistics, it was also hedging its bets through buying insurance on Greek debt as well as using other derivatives trades to protect itself against a potential Greek default on its debt. So while Goldman Sachs engaged in long-term trades with Greek debt (meaning Greece would owe Goldman Sachs a great deal down the line), the firm simultaneously was betting against Greek debt in the short-term, profiting from the Greek debt crisis that it helped create...

    157:

    Administrative notice

    I'm going to suggest that everyone think twice before posting on the subject of rape law on this thread for the next day or so.

    We're getting a bit over-heated, and if the discussion degenerates into personal accusations or abuse I'm going to shut the whole thread down.

    158:

    @Alex:

    There is a big change in survival statistics between 20 and 40mph. At 20 mph, 10% of car-pedestrian/cycle accidents lead to fatalities. At 40mph its 90%. Momentum goes as velocity squared.

    Secondly this leads to more cyclists being present, leading to safer behaviour all round: both better driver behaviour and better cyclist behaviour, as the cycling population consists of less agressive cyclists(*) out to defend their lives. As the cycling population in Ireland went up, the deaths in traffic halved in the last ten years.

    20mph seems to be the "acceptable limit" given our current road structures. Below this the average driver will not tolerate, given that travel distances, housing estates, etc. have not noticably shrunk in the last decade. So nobody is pushing for less than 20mph, but rather more separate bike lanes, greenways, etc. as the cyclist and pedestrian numbers increase.

    159:
    1. Fine revenue should not go to the general fund of the police department, or even to the overseers of the police. Bad perverse incentive. I suggest it be added to the foreign aid budget.

    Perhaps a similar treatment should be applied to punitive damages awarded in civil court.

    There's no logic to punitive damages going to the plaintiff, and again it sets up perverse incentives. The plaintiff gets actual damages, as these may be determined, and if punitive damages are called for, they should go somewhere else.

    160:

    I know it's pedantic and kind of beside the point but energy increases as the square of velocity (1/2mv^2) not momentum. Momentum is proportional to velocity (m*v).

    161:
    who is neither inebriated nor intoxicated in any other way (so no roofies, no alcohol) [...] What is so bloody hard about this?

    I know a girl who maintains that she needs a moderate amount of alcohol before hitting on somebody, and I don't think it is acceptable to engineer a society in which she can't get laid.

    Intoxication - and making decisions while intoxicated to some degree (see "Dutch courage") - is very much a part of our society and culture, and puritanical attitudes which attempt to deny or change this are both unproductive and cannot result in a workable system.

    Sure, it's easy to define a legal system without any grey areas. But it will not work as a system for mediating human behaviour.

    (Glasshouse discusses this issue a little)

    162:

    Charlie, I have had a spot check of the thread, and can't sse any comments about one of your inital points, that we now live in a 'complex' society, with an associated 'complex' legal framework to support it. By complex I mean 'too many relationships and/or individually complex elements for any one individual to understand'. Whilst you have focused on the legalistic liability aspects, this is an area of interest and research in the safety assurance community. I am just getting round to finishing Sidney Dekker's book 'Drift Into Failure' and there are a whole suite of cross applicable ideas in it.
    In fact if you define safety as 'freedom from harm' and the legal system as a 'societal safety system' then the whole book has applicability.
    Sorry for spraffing some half formed thoughts, but there seemed some good bleed overs there.

    163:

    Good thought.

    164:

    The State Legislature will find some act which they can criminalise, and routinely fine Google for. Hence Google will have to find an extra source of income.

    No, Google would simply move out of California's jurisdiction. Another state, or another country.

    165:

    I'd still call it somewhat of a risky sex practice, though the specifics might matter, like "drinking with you steady sex partner, where both parties know what is going to happen" or "going for the 0.8 permille line, than party at the local disco of ill repute to get a new partner". But then, one could argue that drinking to ease inhibitions might be covered by 'enthusiastic consent' when the intention was there before starting to drink, though I still think it's one of these grey areas.

    But this raises another question, there are some pharmaceuticals that are known to interact with sexual behaviour, Flibanserin is an example that was going to be marketed for just that, but the mechanism (5-HT1a agonism) in question can be found with other pharmaceuticals, namely anxiolytics (buspirone) and antidepressants/antipsychotics. Another thing is many of the newer dopamine agonists used in Parkinson's and maybe of use in other things like schizophrenia, depression, restless leg etc. can have funny side effects. And then there was this tanning product that was quite effective as an aphrodisiac. Last but not least, given that increased sexual impulsivity was one of the side effects of para-chlorophenylalanine, the fact that there is a new generation of trypthophan hydroxylase inhibitors might become interesting.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18192499

    Please note those drugs are specifically developed not to act in the brain, but first of, even though TPH1 is said to not be expressed in the brain, there are clinical effects of genotypes:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18506706

    Second of, when using diminuished brain penetration, there are interactions that might make this point moot, e.g. when using quinine as a malrial prophylaxis:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11014404

    Problem is, on the one hand people might become vulnerable when on some of these medications without even realising it; on the other, total sexual abstinence when on all of these drugs doesn't sound that great either.

    I think that is quite relevant to the point OGH was making, when we institute a law against using benzodiazepines as a date rape drug, we might stipulate that it is not necessary that the rapist slipped the benzodiazepine himself, else there is a giant loop hole. Though with that, we should make provision for people on benzodiazepines or other sedatives for medicinal reasons, like panic attacks or epilepsy. But than, what if you know someone is on benzodiazepines for panic attacks and think this person easy prey?

    P.S. @Meg, I'm going to write an answer to #146, problem is I'm just somewhat in a hurry.

    166:

    A related issue is that the legal system is so expensive to use that average people put up with a lot of abuse sooner than try to get recourse.

    One of the hard questions is to what extent should we want laws to be enforced. It's all too tempting to promote law-abidingness as an absolute virtue when you like a law, but considering the extent to which laws change, this probably doesn't make sense. Neither does not having laws.

    Two sf novels which include absolute enforcement of laws: _The Ring_ by Anthony and Margroff, in which it's the main topic of the story, and _Footfall_ by Niven and Pournelle, which wastes the idea as a throwaway notion.

    167:

    I've yet to see an intersection in Missouri that got a red-light camera where the yellow light wasn't shortened. More forceful braking required, more rear-end collisions, financial benefits to everyone but the public. In short, what could've been good for public safety is being used as a politically safe tax increase.

    168:

    The 20 or 30 mph limit (or the 30 or 40 km/h limit we have here in Finland) also needs some form of policing those speeds: at least here many people drive over the speed limit, even when it's near schools or daycare or other such places.

    They probably feel that they are slowed down too much by the limit, but I personally can't see that the 30-60 seconds more it usually takes to drive through such a residential area makes any difference whatsoever in my arrival time...

    169:

    Here's an article about apparent yellow light shortening in Colorado Springs: "Red Light Cameras Never Lie". Seems the city shaves a second off, though the article doesn't confirm that with the transit authorities. My only real problem with them is that the flash on the camera can be disracting or startling if you don't know it's there.

    More recently the police have acquired a van with radar cameras to catch speeders, fortunately they put a sign up a 100 yards, or so, ahead to warn.

    170:

    Cities get to decide their own speeds in the US and we mostly have 25mph on small streets, but it's 15mph for one school because of the way it's placed next to the street.

    171:

    Back to prisons...
    They theoretically exist for several reasons:
    a) To punish
    b) To remove the offender from society
    c) To rehabilitate

    Mixing these functions does not work - they should be seperate. If you want to punish somebody, then we have fines, community service and all the way up to a Singapore style flogging (nasty, traumatic, cheap and memorable).
    To remove the vast majority of offenders from society does not need bars and guards. Some kind of "internal exile" would be sufficient.
    As for rehab, just sentence the perps to A levels at a secure institution etc.
    With real prison reserved for the Hannibal Lecters.
    Oh... and all drugs legalized, which would halve the existing prison population overnight (as well as elininate most crime).

    172:

    In the UK speed limits are enforced (with locally variable success and enthusiasm) both by police patrols and large numbers of fixed speed cameras. In addition to the traditional radar-gun and road-marking type that can cause idiots to brake hard when they see a yellow box, there are now increasing numbers of pairs that check your average speed over a fixed distance (mostly on major roads). If the camera can't read your license plate, you're breaking the law (although prosecutions on that one are rare).

    173:

    One of the things UK speed cameras need painted on the is the speed limit. I'm one of those idiots who occasionally brakes hard because I *think* the speed limit is X but not entirely sure now I have to *know* for certain.

    174:

    A serious mystery involving red light cameras

    http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2005-12-01/news/dead-man-driving/

    175:

    Braking for a camera because you're not sure of the speed limit is arguably driving without due care and attention (but I won't tell anyone if you don't, because I've had "is this 50 or 40" moments too); there ought to be sufficiently regular and obvious repeater signs on any non-national-speed-limit roads that there's no excuse. But some roads are better signed than others, and when they change or introduce a limit it can take a while for the repeaters to catch up :)

    More what I had in mind are the people who happily do forty along the residential main road near where I live, brake hard to 20 for the camera, and then accelerate away again. Well, and the people who are doing 30 and brake hard to 20 anyway, presumably because the camera knows if you've had naughty thoughts.

    176:

    The most dangerous place to be on the road is on a bicycle.

    I wonder if this could be connected in some way to the tendency of many cyclists to do what is safe rather than what is legal? Or perhaps just the tendency of the surviving cyclists to put their own safety ahead of the law?

    The problem is that laws often favour one party over another. Blatantly with patent law, but many day to day activities have that problem too. Trying to sue a recalcitrant retailer for a bad sale is nigh on pointless, and laws against police brutality might as well not exist for all the good they do (locally we have plod trying to pretend that an african refugee who was savagely beaten before being dumping in a river, was perfectly healthy when released after his arrest despite no-one seeing him in the few hours between that release and his body being found).

    Similarly for cyclists - the road laws are mostly about mitigating the threat of overpowered armoured boxes travelling at significant speeds. Asking cyclists to obey them is missing the point. In countries that want to encourage cycling the infrastructure is built accordingly - both physical and legal infrastructure. Follow some Euro countries and make liability rest on the motorist by default and see how motorist behaviour changes, for example.

    One example is the "start riding just before the light turns green". Yes, it's illegal. Yes, it means I clear the space in front of the car behind me before they start moving. Why does that matter? Well, some people see the light go green and hit the accellerator by reflex. Then they hear the crunch, look for the cyclist, and say "sorry, didn't see you". They mean "didn't look for you", but the effect is the same - a gerous break from my job spent in care of the state. The motorist... might get fined, might not, depends on whether the police can be bothered. I'd like the situation to be modified so that any time I spend in state care, so do they, just in a different institution.

    177:

    A related issue is that the legal system is so expensive to use that average people put up with a lot of abuse sooner than try to get recourse.

    In one local police brutality case it's more like "too scared to complain" and "wants nothing more to do with the legal system". Admittedly he was arrested, abused, beaten, pilloried in the media, threatened and harassed. All by "the legal system". So it probably seems like an especially unattractive course of action to him. But it looks as though his lawyers are pushing the issue.

    Normally it's primarily financial. But I'm well used to my complaints to the police being received with "you must be willing to take at least one day off work to appear in court as a witness" before they'll even record my complaint. That in itself is a significant hurdle, especially when the cost of that day off work is greater than any fine that might be incurred by the offender (and there's no prospect of compensation). When a motorist destroyed my bike wheel recently the police kindly explained that it would be significantly cheaper for me to simply buy a new wheel and get on with life than to attempt to get compensation from the motorist, even if they admitted guilt.

    178:

    I've been trying to wrap my head around what a legal system that assumes free will doesn't exist would look like.

    For one thing, the distinction between victim and perpetrator vanishes, replaced maybe by a statistical weighting system, x behaviour from party a may lead to unwanted outcome y, therefore it must be modulated. Whether party a is a perpetrator or victim according to old fashioned reckoning is irrelevant, the system will pick the most efficient ways to discourage outcome y.

    I'm visualizing a sort of mix between sharia law and pet care ordinances.

    Possibly related link:
    Chinese doctor sets out to cure bad driving

    179:

    @178,

    >I've been trying to wrap my head around what a legal system that assumes free will doesn't exist would look like.

    One could use the Calvinist approach: that people were divided up into the "elect" and the "damned" (in the biblical sense of that word). Only the "elect" could go to heaven, and nothing the "damned" did would divert their course from hell.

    The Protestant Work Ethic came from this dogma. With the added bits claiming that hard work was good in and of itself, while also pleasing to God. Goofing off was the mark of the "damned" (this is probably where we get the saying "the devil finds work for idle hands"). So, while your position amongst the "elect" or "damned" was predetermined before you were born, the "elect" would work hard and be saved. If you were "elect" and chose not to work hard, then you became damned, and no different than those damned before birth.

    180:

    The yellow light is shortened in Missouri with a red-light camera. I've watched and the light is red both ways for a bit. I guess it gives time to clear the intersection. I don't know about getting a fine that way.
    The Protestant Work Ethic was so important that Think Tanks said Jobs had to be kept to keep the America we had. The main idea was to have shorter work week that paid the same. They were worrying about automation and knew the Top would make so much more they could take care of the rest. Then the Cons took over and the ones that lost, thanks to firm government plans, were just losers and who cared about them.

    181:

    Well, we know free will is irrelevant to any question of ethics or causality, thanks to yer man David Hume, so a legal system with no free will looks exactly like a legal system with free will.

    I'm dead serious here. Why do people hear "no free will" and assume "a free pass for the contents of your skull"? Exactly the same feedback loops are known to affect your future behaviours as before (it's called "learning"), and exactly the same political pressures will exist for a mixture of prevention, punishment and rehabilitation in the criminal justice system.

    182:

    Moz, the single most common cause of fataccs involving cyclists in UK cities is "cyclist is stuck by heavy vehicle (bus or truck weighing over 7.5 tonnes [say 15_000lb for the colonials]) making a signalled left turn at a traffic light". Accordingly, whether or not the heavy driver saw the cyclist, we know that:-
    1) The cyclist saw the heavy and its manoevre.
    2) Said cyclist then positioned themself half-way up the side of the heavy, where its side will naturally "cut in" left.

    Also, ref para 4, have you considered positioning yourself 2 or 3 feet out from the kerb and not "trying to always make the head of the queue at the lights"? Stop trying to blame others for your failures in defencive riding!

    183:

    A good start would be for the law to assume that if a car or truck is in collision with a bicycle or pedestrian, the operator of the powered vehicle is at fault and on the hook for a serious driving offense -- at a minimum, as serious as drunk driving (loss of driving license; possible prison sentence) -- unless they can demonstrate recklessness on the part of the cyclist or pedestrian.

    I'm not a great fan of reversing the burden of proof, but the imbalance in traffic law is so ridiculous at present that there's little incentive for drivers to engage in behaviour that minimizes the danger to other classes of road user. Like, for example, looking for and avoiding pedestrians or cyclists.

    184:

    I've been trying to wrap my head around what a legal system that assumes free will doesn't exist would look like.

    The system for determining who committed a crime would look just the same as it does today.

    However, the post-conviction idea of punitive detention would be abandoned entirely and replaced by something different, which might superficially look similar (institutions with bars on the windows that people are sent to despite their expressed preferences) but which serve radically different purposes: rehabilitation, training in avoidance of undesirable behaviour, and (for those who can't be rehabilitated) indefinite detention for public protection.

    In other words: rehab, training, and prevention rather than revenge or punishment.

    185:

    I'd disagree with that argument, because it removes any incentive other than self-preservation (which already works badly at best) for cyclists to practice defensive riding like not placing themselves in gaps where they may be invisible to a vehicle driver short of the driver getting out of the vehicle and walking round to look (for instance, mid-way through a turn, there is a point where all the mirrors show the driver of an artic on the inside of the turn is the front corner of the trailer).

    186:

    Charlie @ 183
    MUST disagree with that one - for reasons I'm prepared to discuss with you, but not on this public blog.

    And, for everyone else, I do cycle (I even had the frame made for me, back in the 1970's) as well as drive a car, and use public transport.

    187:

    There have been recent studies showing substantial numbers of inmates suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome in varying degrees. The hallmark of this disease is the inability to see the consequences of their actions. Which explains the recidivism rate but is truly horrible because their behavior is the result of an organic brain disorder. In the United States prisons have become dumping grounds for the mentally ill as services have become cut to the point to where health and safety meet litigation. A lot of people can't get services anymore until they become a danger to themselves or others.

    188:

    Meg @128: By "legal consent" I'm talking an actual (not implied), informed, affirmative statement (not just a head-nod, but an actual "yes" for preference), obtained without threats, menaces, or coercion of any kind (such as "you'll get/keep your job providing you say yes" or "I won't hurt you/your children/someone else so long as you say yes"), from a legally adult person for the purposes of sexual congress (so even if a thirteen year old says "yes" to the nice film director without coercion, they're not a legally adult person, and it doesn't count) who is neither inebriated nor intoxicated in any other way (so no roofies, no alcohol) and if you're not certain if it counts as a legal yes, the answer is fucking NO!. What is so bloody hard about this?

    I think this is a commendably clear definition.

    It puts my hitherto opinion about motion activated cameras in my bedroom ("NO!!!1!11!") in a complete tailspin, though. There has to be some way to document consent, and while the camera might not be sufficient, it will still be necessary for every single act.

    189:

    rehab, training, and prevention rather than revenge

    I think this is spot on.

    I especially like the word "training". All we know tells us, the brain is extremely malleable. You only have to be consistent and repetitive over significant time frames. Especially if you want to break deeply ingrained habits, beliefs and destructive self-models.

    If you see free will not as something you're endowed with by the Grace of God, but instead an ability acquired by cultural impregnation and hard training/ regular exercise of it, then you're a lot closer to what we currently know is really going on there.

    190:

    "Malleable" of course assumes the absence of organic brain damage, that's a totally different page...

    191:

    A good day to be thinking about law and order, and staying in watching the news.

    Scotland Yard hasn't seen this much action since "101 Dalmatians."

    On Hunter S Thompson's birthday, too.

    (my cycling safety tip - don't wear a bike helmet. Wear a building site hard hat, and have a high-vis tabard that's quite grubby. Couple that to being 5'11" and it's easy to pass as someone who'd use an umm.. uncomplicated and direct way to resolve disputes. Not that I am such a person.)

    192:

    Absolutely not. Where I live, "cyclists" will often use the pedestrian walkways to cross junctions, and even then ignore the pedestrian signals, making it next to impossible for a car driver to deal with "cyclists" alternately using the road and sidewalks to avoid stopping.

    I'm also extremely tired of seeing cyclists riding at dusk/night without lights, in dark clothes.

    Making the powered vehicle driver the de jure guilty party ignores reality. Worse, the incentives to make car drivers more careful may just make cyclists less careful, despite the injury asymmetry.

    193:
    I'm not a great fan of reversing the burden of proof,

    Well in this case, if you're driving around with a cyclist wrapped around your front axle it's not unreasonable to expect you to answer a few questions.

    There's a proven case of manslaughter right there, so proving that there were extenuating circumstances is reasonable.

    The previous scenario discussed seemed to be strongly implying all sex is rape unless conclusive proof otherwise can be provided, which is a completely different matter.

    194:

    Phil @191: (my cycling safety tip - don't wear a bike helmet. Wear a building site hard hat, and have a high-vis tabard that's quite grubby. Couple that to being 5'11" and it's easy to pass as someone who'd use an umm.. uncomplicated and direct way to resolve disputes. Not that I am such a person.)

    Add to that a 1' piece of 1" reinforcement iron in a thigh pocket and you've got The Complete You're Going To Regret It Kit ;-)

    195:

    #192 - Likewise, where I regularly encounter cyclists in an urban environment. Anyone who actually believes that most urban cyclists practice defensive riding shoud spend an hour or 2 in the 3 Judges (real ale and cyder pub, which works nicely with our other interests) at Partick Cross observing the passing traffic.

    #193 Paras 2 and 3 - Well yes, IIF the cyclist is wrapped round the front steer axle. If you refer to my #185, the more likely scenario involves them being under the front axle of a trailer bogie with a mark from their shoulder on the trailer side about half-way down because they thought it was a smart idea to "filter" part-way up between the kerb and a vehicle that was signalling to make a left (UK) turn.

    196:

    In Ontario, there is a reversal of the burden of proof for collisions between motor vehicles and pedestrians/cyclists for suits regarding civil negligence, but no Criminal Code or quasi-criminal reversal of onus, and these sorts of provisions are not uncommon in other jurisdictions.

    On one hand, this means that to have any effect, the injured person (or his/her estate, in the case of wrongful death) has to sue the driver of the motor vehicle, rather than the Crown taking care of it. On the other hand, the burden of civil liability for even relatively minor injuries can frequently be heavier than criminal penalties. However, once we get into wrongful death, the penalties are likely to be lighter, since the loss-of-income burdens on civil negligence principles are much higher than the recovery for wrongful death.

    197:

    Going back a few days, but:

    If the US prison population is a separate issue from "free market capitalism and a Byzantine system of laws", it's a closely related one. The upper class is better prepared to navigate said system of laws than the lower class (which is of course disproportionately made up of ethnic minorities).

    Of course there's a semantic argument to be had about how much the current US political/economic system actually qualifies as "free market capitalism". It's really more of a rigged game where the richest people can do whatever the hell they want and shift any negative consequences onto the poor. And if we're to acknowledge that's not really free-market capitalism at all, then yeah, I would agree that the incarceration rate is unrelated to free-market capitalism.

    @183: That's how it works in my state. Responsibility is presumed to be the driver's.

    We've still got a fair number of rather unsafe laws for cyclists, though; it's technically illegal to bike on the sidewalk, which is asinine; it's often much safer to bike on the sidewalk, both for the cyclist and for motorists. (It makes sense in cases where sidewalks are crowded with pedestrians, of course, but the law doesn't make that distinction; you're not supposed to bike on the sidewalk even if it's empty.)

    I remember a recent Youtube video by a New York cyclist who, after being ticketed for straying from the bike lane, decided to record himself complying with traffic laws and cheerfully colliding with any obstacle that happened to be sitting in the bike lane.

    None of which is to discount the comments made about idiot cyclists; Lord knows I've seen plenty of them in my time. (Hey, guy starting as soon as you see the other direction's light turn red? The reason yours isn't green yet is that you're supposed to wait until after the ARROW, you dink.) But I'm inclined to think the burden of proof should be on the person driving the more dangerous machine. If that's going to make cyclists more reckless, well, I'd rather be a safe driver contending with a reckless cyclist than a safe cyclist contending with a reckless driver.

    198:

    Old plot from the detective series Colombo - a guy tries to get an alibi by having a friend drive through a red light while wearing a photographic mask of him

    199:

    On the lack of free will thing:

    Perp: I could not help it, because I have no free will

    Judge: I too have no free will, which is why I can do nothing but send you to prison

    200:

    Back in the late 1800's "The American Wheelmen," did a lot of good. They got laws that made a bike legally a vehicle with the same rights as other vehicles. This was so bikes could pass horse drown wagons without the teamsters whipping them of the road.
    Now they have the same rights to the road as cars, trucks and busses. It's not working, things have changed. Around here the same kind of women who walk spread across a lane so they can talk to each other do the same with bikes. Two close by killing bike-car hits happened thanks to the bikes spread over into oncoming traffic on curves and getting hit. Both times the young drivers freaked and drove away. And then came right back. They were both in the right by law, but were convicted of leaving the accidents for a very short time. Both were given heavy punishment.

    201:
    Likewise, where I regularly encounter cyclists in an urban environment. Anyone who actually believes that most urban cyclists practice defensive riding shoud spend an hour or 2 in the 3 Judges (real ale and cyder pub, which works nicely with our other interests) at Partick Cross observing the passing traffic.

    You're actually trying to point to the bad behaviour of some cyclists as if that has anything to say to the point of riding safely rather than according to the law? Seriously?

    I wonder if you also disparage the pedestrian traffic that regularly gets mowed down as well?

    I regularly run on pavement and sometimes I have to rabbit out into the road before the light turns green (in defiance of the law) because if I don't, I'll get hit by some inattentive woman on her phone making a right. This goes double for being hit head on by a driver making a left turn if I'm on the opposite side of the road.

    But I'm sure the hordes of walkers who regularly terrorize our hapless motorists completely discounts any real justification I may have for breaking the law, right :-(

    202:

    Generally, in the DC area, if it's night and the pedestrian wears dark clothes and a hoodie (very common) and doesn't walk on the crosswalk, the car driver doesn't get charged. We also have too many little kids who dart out between parked cars, the car coming down the street is too close to stop, and the driver isn't charged there, either.

    203:

    Not really. My brother has a metal plate with his skull, and they had to take some of that area of brain out. Then they worked with him to get other parts of his brain take up what was taken out. The same thing happened to Gabbie Giffords.

    204:

    As someone once said to me at night, while I was driving: "Wow, you nearly hit that Black guy"
    Me: "What Black guy?"
    A black guy at night, dressed in black, casually expecting drivers to see him and brake/avoid probably got a nasty but non fatal surprise.
    The problem was the oncoming traffic shone their lights in my eyes, he was outside of my main beam and there just wasn't enough contrast. Plus, I wasn't looking for people like that.

    205:

    (Hey, guy starting as soon as you see the other direction's light turn red? The reason yours isn't green yet is that you're supposed to wait until after the ARROW, you dink.)

    As I said, I'd rather not be dead right.

    I dunno about where you live, but over here we have people who collect stats on road deaths. Aside from the headline number - roughly 10,000 people killed by motor vehicles for every one killed by a bicycle - they also try to attribute fault. Even by the generous estimation of fault used here, they could only get up to about 40% of cyclists who in some way might have contributed to their own death. Compared to 80% plus motorist contribution, and clear fault in more than 50% of cases (numbers add to more than 100% because "partly at fault"). I beleive there is also approximately one case per year where the cyclist may have contributed to someone else's death.

    Purely on that basis, it makes sense for the assumption to be that the motorist is at fault.

    And I would cheerfully live in a place with automatic enforcement of traffic laws. My observations are that I get more abuse when I'm driving than I do when I'm riding, as I try to obey the law much more when driving. Since most motorists break the law most of the time, this causes problems. The easy test is to teach an obnoxious 10-12 year old the road rules and offer them a reward for each infraction they record. Otherwise there's a cognitive bias in reportinhg that makes the results worthless (I suspect someone will demonstrate this shortly).

    206:

    Years of riding motorcycle showed me that many drivers just do not see anything that is to small to hurt them. I've kicked cars moving in on me and they seemed astounded that anyone was there. If it's that hard to mix motorcycles and cars, it's useless to try and mix cars and bikes safely.
    What's needed is bike lanes that are more than painted lines. Just wreck the sides of buildings and put them in next to the side walks. Riiiight.

    207:

    I'm getting amused at the claims of cyclists practicing defensive cycling. How can this be if the cited accidents are exactly those that would have been avoided if cycling defensively. To claim otherwise suggests malicious driving by the majority of car drivers. This seems very unlikely.

    Like most people, I cycled as a child, rode motorcycles in my youth, then stuck with cars for safety, once that sense of invulnerability disappeared. I would not ride bikes or motorcycles in even suburban USA, and didn't allow my kids to ride bikes either.

    There is a lot to be said for really separating cyclists for road traffic.

    Final note. We do have recreational paths too, and I've seen more than a few cyclists act like a$$es with regards to walkers. Maybe they were just the bad minority, or car drivers acting out their aggression on bikes instead.

    208:

    I'd quite happily spend an hour or two at the Judges next time I'm in Glasgow -- not sure I'll be looking at the traffic much, though. Not sure you can, if the place is as crowded as I recall.

    As a pedestrian, I deal with plenty of idiots of all locomotion types (inattentive drivers who've run me down, cyclists riding on the sidewalk or by the curb that cut me off, and pedestrians who wander blindly into the street, or block the curb in front of me so I can't get off the road). Though it's only the drivers that have me afraid for my life, I don't think that's sufficient justification to make them at fault by default. I think it should be everyone's responsibility to avoid accidents (more like the law of the sea). Additional responsibility should go to those capable of more destruction, though.

    Mind you, some of the cyclists are certainly crazier -- several have been swearing at the cars not yielding to them while they cut me off. But mostly the roads are barely wide enough for the cars and have awkward traffic patterns, with little thought given to cyclists.
    And this is not data.

    209:

    The "lycra louts" are becoming deeply unpopular in central London.
    Cyclists have knocked several pedestrians down in places, and things don't appear to be getting any better.

    210:

    One passed me on a narrow pavement (the road obviously being too dangerous for him), from behind, doing maybe 20mph. Had I moved to the wrong side unexpectedly it would have been really nasty.

    211:

    Compare with Amsterdam, where (a) there are kerb-separated cycle paths alongside almost ALL roads, and (b) cycling is a normal mode of transport that normal people engage in.

    If cycling is dangerous, only the adrenalin addicts will engage in it, and they'll treat it as an extreme sport.

    I'm arguing for cycling Amsterdam-style -- as an ordinary part of our transport infrastructure that normal people use. To get there we need to provide (a) segregated cycling infrastructure (no parked cars in cycle lanes, forcing them out into traffic!) and (b) make cycling safe enough that ordinary people will consider doing it.

    212:

    Charlie @ 211 - I have no problem with that.
    It would certainly be better thabn the all-against-all "war" going on at present.
    Incidentally, I cycled to and from my physiotherapy session this morning, since going by car would have probably been slower, I might not have found somewhere to park at the other end, either.
    But when a cyclist knocks a pedestrian over, outside Cannon Street Station (the cyclist was ignoring the pedestrian-crossing lights) and then knocks aside people trying to restrain him - it's getting bad.
    As stupid and selfish as car-drives using their mobile phones in motion, in fact.

    213:

    I wonder. Isn't traffic planning going in the exact opposite direction now, for safety reasons? E.g. getting rid of any separating barriers altogether, getting rid of signage and stop lights, in order to force people to pay attention instead of following the rules/lines/lanes.

    It's certainly what I have been seeing locally around here – and I don't remember cycling capitals like Copenhagen and Amsterdam going in that much for strict separation either. (A-dam was a while ago, I could be wrong.)

    214:

    I'm one of those rare cyclists that actually abides by the rules of the law on the road, I wait at red lights, I will certainly not go if there's a pedestrian in my path... Thats just... careless!

    215:

    In Colorado we recently (fortunately) elected as Governor, the Democrat former mayor of Denver. One of his Tea Party opponents called the former mayor's "European Style" bike sharing plan a "UN Socialist plot".

    Here in Colorado Springs, in the last few years, we have been getting bicycle lanes on streets that are wide enough to accommodate them along with curb parking. There are occasionally people double parked in them, though. When I'm riding I try to stay out of traffic as much as possible, and the only time I'm on the sidewalks is if it's the only way to get to the next part of the bike trails, and always stay to the side. Basically, I treat it like any other vehicle and follow the rules of the road. Unfortunately Driver's Education is not required here.

    216:

    I'm most astounded that our society has become so accustomed to cars that we almost completely ignore the associated risks. How is it that we can accept walking down a sidewalk when two steps in the wrong direction can result in your death?

    How is this remotely acceptable?

    Granted most people learn to walk in a straight line and not become too distracted (kids have to learn this awfully quickly), but is this Darwinian selection really the one we'd choose to have? Mostly I just don't think we should confuse this state of affairs with one which is desirable.

    This situation is so inherently dangerous that naturally a complex set of legal requirements arises around it - but ultimately we need to do better.

    217:

    Reading through the comments here, one can certainly detect a more aggressive type of participant (motor vehicle driver) and a more lenient type (pedestrian/bicycle). May be worth thinking about.

    218:

    A few months ago I made an appointment with my rheumatologist at a time that would let me stop at a restaurant that was open on the way home. When I finished and pulled into one of the four lanes at the intersection, the light turned green and a bicyclist rode across the front of all the cars. If any one of us had hit him, it would have been his fault.

    219:

    but is this Darwinian selection really the one we'd choose to have?

    Perhaps yes? The world is risky. That is why we learn how to minimize risk, both by design and by behavior. Do we really have to engineer the world so that risks are eliminated, because this is certainly not costless, nor desirable in all it's attributes.

    At least we have sidewalks so the chariots don't drive over you. ;)

    220:

    ITS DUMB NOT TO FOOL PROOF LIVE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. Know by some as the "Peoples Republic of Colorado Springs." Not that there is anything wrong with that.
    Looks like a lot of people are not as in love with bicyclists as bicyclists are. I was riding off road before the 60's and my later road bikes were just plan elegant. But they don't always fit in the real world.
    And CS is right I think about some making it a risk sport. I've talked to some and its Type A all the way. It's not a hippy, trippy thing.
    Back on crime, I think I recognize some Americans posting. (one more time) Years ago I read that English and American crime rates are more or less the same. But for killing. The people in power will not spend money unless its in the right parts of town.
    A movie about drive by shooting come out and the drive by killings rocketed up in the towns it played. So much for the media having nothing to do with how people act.
    I was still Do Gooding then. I remembered a old city law that said anybody with a gun in a car that could be used got 6 months, in jail no more no less. I called the DA's office. and they did not know about it. Some months later the two main American news magazines said we were the only place in the US with a declining drive by rate. Then a new mayor came in and closed the new jail and took money away from every thing to pay for entertainment corporations to come to town. Now the drive by's are just like every where. There is even more killing. And now the city owes money it can't play to the out of town corporations.

    221:

    Also there are ways, as Charlie says, to make cycling more integrated, and there are ways NOT TO DO IT as shown in the top article shown in the link.
    Oops, as they say.

    222:

    Many of the people in my area use bikes because they can't afford cars (and, many can't get car licenses). Unfortunately, most of them are not very good at biking.

    223:

    I know that people have naturally gravitated away from viewing this post and comments because it's old. But I'm posting this in the hope that some of you might check in periodically and the news seems very pertinent to some of the above discussions.

    Does the perpetrator of the horrendous massacre in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik, deserve death?

    If so is it a factor that the amount killed or the particular targets influence your response? If the number killed influenced your decision what do you think is your tipping point?

    My personal feeling is yes put him to death. Is it a rational conclusion on my part? No, I don't think so. I just feel that every breath he is allowed to take; diminishes the value of every person's life that he chose to end. Purely emotional. Would it have mattered if he only killed 50? 20? 2? I don't think so.... not for me.

    A society, optimally, establishes a balance of value. When you took an eye I got an eye in return; or, now the value of the eye in monetary form. The balance is returned. When you take a life or the innocence of a victim it is hard to quantify the value of what was taken. So the balance is returned by removing the perpetrator by locking them away or killing them.

    I know this is simplistic. I know that the poor and disenfranchised feel that their value is not in balance with others in the same society; so, in many cases they choose to ignore the imposed rules that try to govern them.

    I'm just interested in the opinions of the readers here. Of the many forums I've visited; there is a very nice level of discussion here.

    224:

    My answer is: yes he should be executed, and yes number of victims DOES matter.

    The reason is that I view death penalty differently than most people seem to. As far as I am concerned it is neither punishment nor deterrent -- it is removal from society of an element too dangerous to allow to exist. I do not support death penalty for murders committed in heat of the moment, or even for premeditated single murders -- because those could be isolated events. I support death penalty only for individuals who carry out multiple premeditated murders for reasons which are not going to disappear. This case qualifies.

    Also, I do not believe in making distinction between murder and attempted murder. Had Anders Behring turned out to be such bad shot that all of his victims survived, I would still call for death penatly. Leave him alive, and he will just practice until he gets it right.

    225:

    No, he should not be executed (nor will he). You can have all the moral revulsion you like, but you do not get to make society at large into murderers, which is what happens as soon as tax money is spent on killing a prisoner. We are better than he is.

    And as for "dangerous"... well, no. He was dangerous, appallingly so, two days ago. Now he's just an arsehole in a cell. To kill him would be to magnify him, instead of belittle him.

    226:

    No way in Norway, err.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punishment_in_Norway

    On a related note, if you are no Norwegian, wondering if the Norwegians should use the death penalty is no less problematic from an souvereign status than wondering if US-Americans should not use it; not that I care that much about that.

    On still another note, executing the guy would only make him a martyr, even if only in his own eyes. Letting him see the error of his ways, though...

    227:

    Nobody deserves death. Neither the shooter, nor his victims. It doesn't rehabilitate, it doesn't protect society any better than a full life sentence, all it does is provide for bloodthirsty revenge -- which diminishes the perpetrator. In other cases it also risks an irrevocable miscarriage of justice. (I'll grant that this one looks totally cut and dried.)

    Moreover, I'm strongly opposed to the death penalty under ALL circumstances, because I think it's a terrible mistake to give the State the power to inflict death on its subjects. (I'm always astounded when I run across libertarians who support the judicial death penalty, too.)

    228:

    As far as I am concerned it is neither punishment nor deterrent -- it is removal from society of an element too dangerous to allow to exist.

    Except there are other, more humane ways to do the same thing. Ways that don't turn prison service personnel into killers (there is, I believe, some history of PTSD among folks who attend or participate in executions) and that don't hand over the power of life and death to the state.

    Moreover, you're implicitly applying botched Bayesian reasoning to the killer's probability of striking again. Humans aren't deterministic automata who repeat the same behaviour time and again until you kill them. I'd rather live in a system that admits the possibility (however remote) of redemption, even for the worst killer, than one that treats us all like robots.

    229:

    I'm not saying you are wrong. I just disagree.

    You bring up an interesting question. You don't want us to sink to his level. Do humans have an intrinsic morality? Do we really know good from bad? I do not know.... If I think about it; probably no. Morality seems to be based on convention. We don't kill each other. But, we kill our enemies. Head hunting and cannibalistic tribes lived under what we would consider evil notions yet had no qualms about their rule sets.

    Anders Behring Breivik has already taken from his society immeasurable value. So is the society then obligated to continue to support him by feeding, housing, and clothing him? When does he start to pay them back? There was a time when one could banish him; thereby removing him from the benefits of the group. This in turn cost the group very little.

    While in prison could his work preformed contribute to the society? But do we then run into the problem of slave labor?

    Is it more moral to keep a person locked up indefinitely to only die of old age in a cell then it is to kill them outright? Isn't the sentence then essentially the same? They die in our custody. Some would say that nature is the executioner in the one scenario. But, then should we give them medical care while in custody if nature is trying to kill them?

    230:

    Nobody deserves death.

    I may disagree with that. But one of the big problems I have with executions -- which I think is a big problem in every other aspect of the "justice system," just not as final -- is that if the judge, the prosecutor, or the jury are wrong, they don't have to worry about any sort of punishment.

    I know the reasons for that. But... power without cost corrupts.

    231:

    Nobody deserves death.

    ( I had to add this because rereading my post it could come off snarky. Imagine a inquisitive tone when reading)

    Interesting idea. Is there an intrinsic right to life then? About sixteen thousand children die every day from starvation. Horrible way to die. Their rights seem to be ignored. Who do we petition to uphold these rights?

    Does a cockroach or a horse have a right to live? Nature has always been consume or be consumed. Seems that these rights are just human constructs. So are they real? Does a majority of the populace have to consent to infer these rights?

    Don't get me wrong. I would love a world where everyone could grow old loving who they wanted, thinking what they wanted, and doing what they wanted. As long as it didn't interfere with my right to do the same.

    I love the Will Rogers quote "Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose."

    232:

    This is purely discussion on my part. I have no method nor inclination to change how a group of people chose to live. I wish them nothing but the best.

    233:

    Well, I just wanted to make it clear that from a juristic POV, there are some practical obstacles about this, even though I don't know how the Norwegians think about reintroduction at the moment. But if they'd do now, then his lawyer could try the European Court of Human Rights[1].

    On a personal level, well, I for one was always of the opionion that it was my personal privilege to go Titus Andronicus[2] on people that mistreated me, my family or loved ones, but I still had to carry the legal consequences, like imprisonment. Let's leave it at that, though.

    On an official level, I have some problems with the death penalty:

    1) Possibility of an irreversible miscarriage of judgement; unlikely in this case, but that just means the the more deluded/less intelligent ones get harder punishment than the callous ones. At the risk of invoking Godwin, the fact often mentioned by Nazi apologetics that there is no written order by Hitler concerning the final solution seems to be quite intentional on the part of the people at Wannsee etc.; you really think plausible deniability is an invention of the post-war CIA?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plausible_deniability

    2) You mentioned that life in prison might be harder than execution; well, I have no problem with that[3]. Hard punishment is somewhat orthogonal to this whole issue; there is hardly a discussion of amputating limbs with murderers, though one could argue that this is worse than prison for life, but maybe better than death. Same goes for castration, whipping, having to watch TV in the early afternoon...

    3) Giving the state power over live and death is something of a bad precedent. First murder, than drugs ("it's kind of slow murder, you know"), and in the end we're at smoking cigarettes in a pub.

    4) The intelligence angle, and I'm not speaking about IQ here. There are some questions about the truth of the findings in the trial of Timothy McVeigh, e.g. did his group act in isolation, what was the level of involvment of other groups on the far right etc. It'd be interesting what the guy had to say about this some years later[4]. Except he can't, duh...

    [1] See protocol 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
    [2] You know, Shakespeare's try at the splatter genre.
    [3] BTW, there is some inconsistency in your argumentation there; on the one hand you ask if he deserves death, on the other you ask if life in prison is not as hard or even harder. Proposing one form of punishment as harder than the other and than asking if the other is not too hard is somewhat strange.
    [4] Not that Manson, Agca etc. were that illuminating, though.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mehmet_Ali_A%C4%9Fca

    234:

    Let me clarify my argument. Not being a writer sometimes I tend to jump from subject to subject without fully explaining my rationale.
    I was trying to stimulate discussion with people that chose not to impose the death penalty on purely moralistic grounds. To kill someone is immoral; to let them live is moral.

    I was wondering what was their moral take on life in prison. Could it be considered immoral to take all hope away from someone and wait out their death? Even if they reformed in prison; they would never be able to exercise this new found personal growth in the community at large. Could one consider it tantamount to mental torture?

    Now, I'm not saying that this is how I personally feel; rather, it's just an exercise in thought.

    I see that you allow the freedom within your convictions to go all Titus on someone's a$$. You do accept the legal ramifications. But, doesn't this cause two victims to befall your family or friends rather then the initial one? Could you swallow your anger to benefit your remaining family and friends? Should you have to? Shouldn't the community give you satisfaction as the aggrieved party without threat to your own freedoms? Again just an exercise... I am not trying to sway you one way or the other. I'm just interested in the process of thought and rationalization.

    Possibility of an irreversible miscarriage of judgement

    I do agree with you and others that have responded earlier. The possibility of the innocent being wrongly convicted is a fear. I would then only recommend the death penalty when there is incontrovertible proof. This Norwegian massacre being of that sort.

    Giving the state power over live and death is something of a bad precedent.

    Doesn't the state already have the powers over life and death that you mentioned? Here in my area of the US; they limit my speed, limit my access to drugs ( both pharmacological and narcotic), limit my smoking in areas, and even limit my choice to commit suicide. They force me to live. By the opposite token if I threaten someone with a weapon; can't the police execute me without trial? To protect someone don't we, as normal citizens, even have the power to inflict death?

    235:

    By the opposite token if I threaten someone with a weapon; can't the police execute me without trial?

    Ah, the Judge Dredd option. And the answer is that if you allow the police to execute members of the public just because they want to, then you're in a very bad place indeed.

    What? You think that wouldn't happen? You think that there wouldn't be occasions when a corrupt policeman carries out an execution of a monster's rival, and then *gasp* lies about the dead person? You think there wouldn't be cases where the dead person isn't even a rival mobster, but is someone who tried to stand up against the mobster?

    There are reasons why even in those jurisdictions that permit the killing of their citizens by their government, the process requires court trials. Well, those jurisdictions that pay more than mere lip service to human rights and democracy and so on.

    236:

    What? You think that wouldn't happen? You think that there wouldn't be occasions when a corrupt policeman carries out an execution of a monster's rival, and then *gasp* lies about the dead person? You think there wouldn't be cases where the dead person isn't even a rival monster, but is someone who tried to stand up against the mobster?

    I don't think that I implied that I thought any of that.

    237:

    So you don't want the police to have the legal ability to execute without trial? Thank goodness for that - I thought from what you said that you wanted it.

    238:

    Ahhh... no. I was just saying that under certain circumstances the police were given the latitude to use deadly force. This came about from the following comment by another poster. "Giving the state power over live and death is something of a bad precedent."

    I do feel that if the police exercise this option they will and should be investigated to determine if the actions they took were justified.

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