No, you don’t get to conflate correlation and causation because it fits the narrative you want

Racists of a handful of varieties (neo-Nazis, white supremacists, white nationalists, etc) descended upon Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend. They quickly clashed with counter-protesters, resulting in their previously-legal parade being declared unlawful. Soon after this declaration, one of the racists got in his car and attempted an act of terroristic mass murder that resulted in one death and at least a dozen and a half injuries. This horror was, ultimately, spurred by the racist hatred and ignorance of the racist marchers, but the ostensible reason for the protest was the proposed removal of a Confederate statue. This faux excuse to promote racist views has, thankfully, caused a number of Confederate statues and memorials to either be removed or be proposed for removal. Unfortunately, this faux excuse has also caused some bad science. Take this MotherJones article:

Most of these monuments were not erected right after the Civil War. In fact, all the way to 1890 there were very few statues or monuments dedicated to Confederate leaders. Most of them were built much later. And since I’m not an academic, I feel comfortable squeezing this history into a very short, oversimplified summary:

1861-1865: Civil War.

1865-1875: Reconstruction Era.

1875-1895: Reconstruction Era ends. Blacks are steadily disenfranchised, allowing Southern whites to enact Jim Crow laws. In 1896, Jim Crow is cemented into place when the Supreme Court rules it constitutional.

1895-1915: With blacks disenfranchised and Jim Crow laws safely in place, Southern whites begin a campaign of terror against blacks. Lynchings skyrocket, the KKK becomes resurgent, and whites begin building Confederate statues and monuments in large numbers.

1915-1955: Jim Crow reigns safely throughout the South.

1955-1970: The civil rights era starts after the Supreme Court rules in Brown v. Board of Education that Jim Crow laws are unconstitutional. Southern whites mount massive and violent resistance, and start putting up Confederate monuments again.

Yes, these monuments were put up to honor Confederate leaders. But the timing of the monument building makes it pretty clear what the real motivation was: to physically symbolize white terror against blacks.

Oversimplified, indeed.

The case being made by MotherJones is right there in the last paragraph: due to timing, we know these statues were built to symbolize white terror against blacks. That is, they were specifically built to first and foremost scare black people into submission and to remind them of their place in this country. Unfortunately for MotherJones, the facts don’t support this argument.

First, let’s look at the MotherJones chart and another, more comprehensive chart (both from the Southern Poverty Law Center):

Confederate monument chart

Confederate monuments.jpg

Look at two of the more notable spikes on the chart: around 1911 and around 1961. What could possibly make those dates special? They’re the 50th and 100th anniversaries for the Civil War. It should surprise absolutely no one that we would also see a spike in memorial dedications around those times. Furthermore, consider the common timings of when war memorials are built in general. It can happen any time, but it certainly would seem to accelerate as veterans get into their old age. This could be due to a combination of factors, such as a younger generation being prepared to romanticize their elders, and older people generally having a disproportionate amount of political power (not to mention the personal time and means to take on memorial efforts). Just think to the period of time you recall hearing about ‘The Greatest Generation’ the most. It wasn’t in the 1950s, was it? No. It was into the 90s and early 2000s.

Let’s also look at the rise of the KKK. As the second chart notes, the organization was founded in 1866. What the chart doesn’t note, however, is that the KKK was at its most powerful around 1924. The economy was roaring, as they say, racists were more than plentiful, and the desire to instill fear in minorities was higher than ever. Yet memorials fell. This could be due to a host of reasons. Most Civil War veterans would have been dead (if the mean age of a soldier was 26 in 1865, then the mean age of veterans (dead and alive) would be 85 in 1924), so the push for memorials would be pushed into the backs of people’s mind. We also just finished an even larger war (albeit with fewer deaths), so our most pressing veteran’s issues were much more current. And, of course, we just had a period of time where we built and dedicated quite a few memorials. Whatever the reasons, the evidence points to the timing of these memorials having little to do with racist flare-ups.

Now, looking at the first chart, we see an attempt to correlate monument building with the lynching era. Except the greatest number of lynchings actually occurred in the decade prior. Forget about arguing causation. The chart hasn’t even successfully argued for correlation on this point.

I’ve been making these basic points across various social media platforms for the past day or two because I find this abuse of statistics 101 to be offensive. As a result, I’ve been called a Nazi sympathizer and/or had my motivations questioned. It doesn’t matter if I give a plain objection using the dry facts or if I preface my position by pointing out that, yes, of course these statues and memorials are racist monuments* to the losing side of a racist war. We now live in a culture where even the slightest bit of nuance that disagrees with side A means you must fully agree with side B. It’s utter horseshit. We have good reason to believe Civil War memorials and dedications spiked due to mundane factors such as veterans aging and anniversary dates. That does abso-fucking-lultey nothing to take away from the narrative that the Confederacy and memorials to it were and are racist. It does nothing to disparage efforts to remove statues. It simply demands that we rely on basic facts to make our points and arguments.

*There are a narrow band of monuments and memorials that should not be controversial because they honor and remember conscripted soldiers who often fought for reasons very different from the wealthy slave owners (who, of course, hired poor people to take their place on the battlefield). The band is very narrow, but it exists.

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A third-party vote is not a vote for Clinton or Trump

I’m no libertarian by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s zero chance I’m going to vote for either Clinton or Trump. A vote for either of them is a vote for the NSA, and (aside from global warming) there is no current bigger threat to democracy itself than the utter destruction of privacy. (And to think, people used to be upset about the idea of the government looking at their library history.)

On the other hand, a vote for Gary Johnson is simply a vote for Gary Johnson. I may not like all his stands, but there isn’t a single viable candidate who will protect basic liberty like he will.

gj

Gary Johnson is on all 50 ballots

You don’t have to vote for Clinton or Trump. The former is a criminal who risks national security and is likely in ill-health. The latter is a tax-dodging scammer. Both of them will promote what is literally the greatest government-created threat to democracy – the NSA – since Adolf Hitler. You will never have any privacy ever again if either of them wins.

Fortunately, there is a viable third choice: Gary Johnson. I don’t agree with him on everything, but he is by far the most sane, most reasonable, and most honest candidate we have. (And, yes, he did know what Aleppo was. Once he realized what they were talking about, he gave a nuanced answer where he suggested that the US and Russia broker a cease-fire. That’s exactly what happened within weeks.)

Don’t let the libertarian title scare you from voting for Gary Johnson. The overwhelming majority of what people will tell you he believes is flat out lies based on nothing more than his political affiliation. In the past 24 hours, I’ve had people either wonder if or outright say that he’s a creationist (no), he rejects global warming (no), and he’s against environmental regulation (no).

Thought of the day

Whenever I see an article telling me I need to vote for Clinton in order to prevent a Trump presidency, all I read is, “If you don’t vote for someone who will continue to strengthen the greatest threat to democracy since Adolf Hitler – that is, the NSA – then someone else who will continue to strengthen the greatest threat to democracy since Adolf Hitler might win.”

A bad rebuttal

If there’s anything that annoys me more than bad arguments, it’s people circlejerking in support of bad arguments. I was just reading up on a recent (though, as yet, undecided) Supreme Court case where the analysis did just that. (Update: The case has been ruled on. It was 6-2 in favor of the government.) The case itself isn’t overly interesting, but it gained some attention this past winter because Justice Thomas broke his rather lengthy silence to ask a few questions. To give a brief summary of the case itself: Two men were convicted of domestic assault misdemeanors that, by state law, would not preclude them from owning firearms. However, federal law says if those misdemeanors are domestic assault crimes which meet particular, limited criteria, then they can’t own guns. The men are arguing that the state law allows for broad criteria in obtaining a conviction. Essentially, federal law requires the use or attempted use of force. State law allows for recklessly injuring or physically contacting a person. It seems open and shut to me: federal law requires a particular fact, but state law allows for different facts. This means that it is possible that the federally required facts were never established, so the government ought to lose this one. It looks like things aren’t going to go that way, but then I’ve yet to get Obama’s nomination to fill Scalia’s seat.

In reading about the case, I came across this little tidbit about Justice Ginsburg:

One last notable point: anyone who suggests that Justice Ginsburg may be slowing down, should read the last two pages of Villa’s argument. Villa suggested what seemed like a difficult hypothetical: what if she “came up to somebody who I thought was my husband and I patted him on the back and said ‘hi, honey,’” but it wasn’t him? Could that be a reckless offensive touching? But when Justice Sotomayor appeared momentarily slowed by this example, Justice Ginsburg incisively noted that “there isn’t a [domestic] relationship [as] the statute requires.” “That is true,” conceded Villa, and she quickly reserved the remainder of her time.

What a hugely irrelevant rebuttal. It doesn’t matter if the statute requires pigs to fly out of someone’s butt. The issue at hand is what defines “reckless offensive touching”. In this case, it was asked if a mistaken pat on the back would meet the definition. That question went unanswered due to a red herring: Ginsburg insisted on defining “reckless offensive touching” within a particular context despite the phrasing existing independent of said context. Moreover, the question can easily be changed to fit Ginsburg’s illegitimate objection: What if someone accidentally pats their son on the back because he looks so much like her husband? That would satisfy the domestic relationship required of the statute. (I emphasize statute here because no relationship is required of the argument.) Could we answer the question then? According to Ginsburg, the answer is yes, though, how the domestic relationship would play any role in such an answer is unclear.

The 4th Amendment doesn’t really matter

Mind you, I don’t believe in that title. It matters as much as any Amendment (and, in fact, much more so than many Amendments). The Supreme Court, however, thinks otherwise:

In a decision issued this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the police in a case arising from an officer’s “mistake of law.” At issue in Heien v. North Carolina was a 2009 traffic stop for a single busted brake light that led to the discovery of illegal drugs inside the vehicle. According to state law at the time, however, motor vehicles were required only to have “a stop lamp,” meaning that the officer did not have a lawful reason for the initial traffic stop because it was not a crime to drive around with a single busted brake light. Did that stop therefore violate the 4th Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure? Writing today for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts held that it did not. “Because the officer’s mistake about the brake-light law was reasonable,” Roberts declared, “the stop in this case was lawful under the Fourth Amendment.”

A man driving in North Carolina was stopped illegally due to a cop’s ignorance. Let’s presume that the cop was genuinely ignorant of the law. (I fully accept such a premise, actually.) That does not mean that this interaction between citizen and state was entered into justly. For that to be the case, there are only a few ways it can happen: 1) if the man was suspected of committing a crime or of being in the act of committing a crime or of imminently committing a crime; the basis here is reasonable suspicion (it’s a low bar); 2) if the man was suspected of committing a civil infraction (such as a traffic violation – which, except for things such as criminal speeding or DUI, generally are not crimes); or 3) if a cop just starts talking to him and he decides to engage with the him/her. In this case, while the man did consent to his vehicle being searched (ya know, like an idiot), he did not consent to the initial interaction with the ignorant cop. The beginning of the interaction was initiated illegally, so that should have invalidated everything thereafter. Of course, it didn’t. We have a very bad Supreme Court. And an often unjust world. True justice here would have not only seen this case thrown out, but the cop would have been fired and prosecuted under some sort of color of law statute. But this is America. The case was upheld and I’m sure the cop will get a promotion soon (presuming he hasn’t already).

Aside from the violation of the Fourth Amendment, the really scary thing here is the power it gives to an already powerful police state. Everyone knows if a cop wants to pull a person over, that person will be pulled over. (I have a one black friend who has been pulled over close to 30 times in about 2 years. I’ve been in his car; he isn’t a reckless driver. He has clearly been targeted, and his “infractions” have clearly been fabricated. Even as a white guy, I’ve been targeted (albeit for different reasons). It hasn’t happened since I went from a rusty 20 year old car to a 5-6 year old car, but I’ve been pulled over several times for my license plate lights being out. The cops were lying each time. I was stopped for driving a car common to a low socioeconomic class while looking younger than I am. It’s that simple.) But now the police don’t even need to worry about whether or not they have a legitimate reason. So long as they claim to have pulled someone over for what seems like it could be an infraction, the courts will uphold it. Just imagine this: A longtime resident of, say, California moves to, say, Maine and becomes a cop. In California it’s illegal to talk on a handheld device while driving whereas it’s legal in Maine. It’s plausible this new Maine cop might pull someone over for talking on the phone. And there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about this blatantly unconstitutional stop. Nothing.

Let’s extend this to Terry stops. These are stops where the police suspect a person of some sort of criminal activity (outside a moving vehicle, such as while walking), but they don’t have any probable cause to arrest. What stops the police from extending the principles they made up for this recent case to Terry stops? A person may be stopped by a cop for some completely legal action. The cop might then pat the person down ‘for officer safety’, soon discovering drugs or a gun. I know some statists will cheer and say that’s great, but fuck them. That’s terrible. A person should never be stopped for zero reason, much less searched. The government hasn’t the right; it’s a massive danger to the citizenry to give the government such rights. But will the courts throw out all charges? It’s doubtful. If they follow the logic made up here, there is absolutely nothing to stop them from allowing the police to make all sorts of ‘honest’ mistakes in order to stop and search people. It’s not as if the police won’t lie – hell, that’s part of the job description – but at least they needed to come up with a plausible lie. Before this ruling there were always those oddball cases were a cop locked himself into a description of events that might get a case tossed. Not anymore. Now his fuck-ups and/or lies just need to seem like genuine oopsie-daisies.

I can’t say I’m surprised at this, though. As soon as I read about this case a few months ago, I explicitly told a friend that the Court would rule this way. I didn’t think it would be quite this lopsided, but there was never any doubt. This Court hates the Fourth Amendment. They aren’t consistent with the Constitution, but at least they’re consistent with being shitbags.

Always ask: What did the police do to escalate the situation?

Whenever we hear of a police encounter, whether it be between two individuals or a crowd versus an entire department or a swat team raiding the wrong house or a cop shooting a dog (as they have a fetish to do), the first question we should ask ourselves is: What did the police do to escalate the situation? This isn’t the case with all police. Those of, say, Canada or France or Norway needn’t have this question follow them. But the police of places like Russia and Iran and the U.S. and China have earned it. It’s a question for police states.

Note that in addition to bringing in military toys, the police response here also included a violation of the guy’s Fourth Amendment rights.