Twelve Absent Men: Rebuilding the American Jury

Albert W. Dzur in the Boston Review:

Dzur_featureLay citizens no longer have opportunities to play decisive roles in our justice system. Judicial business is handled every day in most courthouses, but weeks can pass without a jury being empanelled.

And though consistently given high approval ratings as an institution in public opinion surveys, the jury feels dead to many who do serve. When it does actually take to court, the jury often seems an appendage of the criminal justice administrative complex, netted in formalities, rules, and procedures. The legal action, at least up to the time of deliberation, is elsewhere. Writing about an impressive federal courthouse in Boston that opened in 1998, legal scholar Judith Resnik notes that only seven or eight trials were held in each of the building’s courts in its inaugural year, and the number has since declined. The lights are off as much as they are on in trial courts across the country.

Until the early 20th century, the jury was the standard way Americans handled criminal cases, but today we operate largely without it. It has been supplanted by plea agreements, settlements, summary judgments, and other non-trial forums that are usually more efficient and cost-effective in the short term. In addition to cost and efficiency, justice officials worry about juror competence in the face of scientific and technical evidence and expert testimony, further diminishing the opportunity for everyday people to serve.

The result is that juries in the United States today hear a small fraction of cases. In 2005 the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that juries heard 4 percent of all alleged criminal offenses brought before federal courts. State courts match this trend.

More here.

How shipping containers made distance irrelevant

Andrew Curry in Nautilus:

032More than any other single innovation, the shipping container—there are millions out there, all just like the ones stacked on the Hong Kong Express but for a coat of paint and a serial number—epitomizes the enormity, sophistication, and importance of our modern transportation system. Invisible to most people, they’re fundamental to how practically everything in our consumer-driven lives works.

Think of the shipping container as the Internet of things. Just as your email is disassembled into discrete bundles of data the minute you hit send, then re-assembled in your recipient’s inbox later, the uniform, ubiquitous boxes are designed to be interchangeable, their contents irrelevant.

Once they enter the stream of global shipping, the boxes are shifted and routed by sophisticated computer systems that determine their arrangement on board and plot the most efficient route to get them from point to point. The exact placement of each box is a critical part of the equation: Ships make many stops, and a box scheduled to be unloaded late in the journey can’t be placed above one slated for offloading early. Imagine a block of 14,000 interlocked Lego bricks—now imagine trying to pull one out from the middle.

The container’s efficiency has proven to be an irresistible economic force.

More here.

Ditching the leap second would mean decoupling clock time from the Earth’s rotation – from day and night itself

Dava Sobel in Aeon:

ScreenHunter_249 Jul. 27 21.58In 2015, leap seconds will come up for international review. Four decades of use have allowed time for certain factions to find fault with the leap second, and to question whether periodically resetting all the clocks in the world is actually worth the bother.

I can certainly sympathise with that sentiment. The semi-annual switch between standard time and summer time all but undoes me. Only one of my clocks picks up the radio signal telling its hands when to ‘spring forward’ or ‘fall behind’, and I resent having to fiddle with all the others. Then, too, I find the single hour’s time difference more disturbing to my equilibrium than a multi-time-zone dose of travel-induced jet lag, probably because the seasonal change is imposed upon me. Nothing would please me more than to see my government abolish daylight-saving time, which is already widely ignored by other countries. It is ignored with impunity even by individual states and counties within the continental United States. Ending it at a stroke would not cause the slightest wrinkle in time.

The leap second, on the other hand, though only one-60th of one-60th of one hour, is not so easily dispatched. Neither the US Congress nor the British Parliament wields the clout to topple it. A leap second doesn’t just reset the clock; it changes the length of a minute. Leap seconds are persistent, too. Eliminating future ones will not expunge the 25 already in existence. Embedded in a wealth of time-stamped data sets, their presence will be felt indefinitely, like 25 peas under the mattress of history.

More here.



T here is a famous photograph taken in 1972 at a lunch given by George Cukor in his Los Angeles home to introduce fellow directors, all elderly and distinguished, to Luis Buñuel. It’s like an informal meeting of the Hollywood pantheon and would have been even more impressive had not Fritz Lang and John Ford been forced by frailty to leave early. Most of them smile cheerfully or at least manage some sociable expression. But two of them don’t. One is Buñuel, who’s sitting to the right of Alfred Hitchcock, his eyes firmly directed towards George Stevens on his other side in a manner that suggests suspicion and bewilderment. Even more expressionless is Rouben Mamoulian. He is on Hitchcock’s left, but a little apart from everyone else and slightly in front of them. His presence as one of the great American directors is appropriate, as is his position slightly separate from, and ahead of, these peers. And there is a certain mystery about him that he seems aware of in this photograph. His place in the history books as a major figure in the development of the cinema is assured – as a master stylist, a metteur en scène perhaps, rather than an auteur.

more from Philip French at the TLS here.

children of the days


For all of Galeano’s appreciation of history’s absurdities, he has chosen a format that leads to an ahistoric, almost medieval experience of time, a liturgical calendar in which the days don’t move forward into the future but rather pile up into an eternal present. He celebrates non-­Western peoples who experience history as repetition (“In the Quechua language,” he writes, “naupa means ‘was,’ but it also means ‘will be’ ”) while reminding readers that moderns are stuck in their own kind of regression: genocide in the 16th century looks a lot like genocide in the 20th. Thus “Children of the Days” commemorates insurgents so audacious they thought they could stop time, like the Parisian revolutionaries who on July 29, 1830, took stones to the city’s clocks, or the Mayan peons in Mexico who on July 31, 1847, rose up and seized both the plantations and the local archives, eventually burning the “documents that legalized their enslavement and the enslavement of their children and the enslavement of their children’s children.”

more from Greg Grandin at the NY Times here.

laid low by luminosity


It is apposite, and more than a little sad, that one of the greatest directors of them all saved his most eloquent remarks for describing his routine confrontations with all those demons. Orson Welles was stymied at virtually every stage of his career by those whom he believed to be inferior and, in consequence, terminally unsympathetic to him. Welles wrote the template for the way in which arrogance and insecurity fuel each other to produce breakdown. There was the stellar ambition of Citizen Kane (1941), and then immediate and lengthy decline. His physique swelled, his patience shortened, his friends, or “friends”, scarpered. He ended his days at his regular hang-out, Hollywood’s Ma Maison restaurant, draping himself, as Gore Vidal once described, in “bifurcated tents to which, rather idly, lapels, pocket flaps, buttons were attached in order to suggest a conventional suit”. Which is where we find him in My Lunches With Orson, Peter Biskind’s sensitively edited account of Welles’s conversations with Henry Jaglom. The British-born actor and director became Welles’s regular lunch partner and confidante, and taped their dialogues over a couple of years before Welles’s death in 1985. This is Welles riffing uninhibitedly on his life and times, lurching from mischief to melancholy, and it is riveting.

more from Peter Aspden at the FT here.

Understanding Huma

Emily Greenhouse in The New Yorker:

Huma-abedin-580“Huma for Mayor,” many tweeted on Tuesday. Others, fancying themselves funny: “Free Huma.” Huma Abedin, a close aide to Hillary Clinton, and more important for now, wife to Anthony Weiner, is certainly an object of some interest; Mark Jacobson, in a recent New York magazine cover story about Weiner, described a bird of a beauty heretofore unknown. (“Her brown eyes,” he wrote, “were pools of empathy evolved through a thousand generations of what was good and decent in the history of the human race.”) When Weiner resigned from Congress two summers ago, after being outed as a distributor of below-the-waist selfies, people flocked to Abedin, promising her solace and options. She received hardly a negative word in the press. When she stood by her man—“for me, for our son, for our family”—many of us told ourselves it was her life, her choice, and a brave one at that. She seemed the bearer of a wisdom that the masses could not know. And then Tuesday, at the press conference following the revelation of Weiner’s post-resignation online tryst as Carlos Danger, Abedin took a turn at the microphone after her husband, who hadn’t quite offered a satisfying mea culpa. She didn’t look happy up there, exactly, but she couldn’t manage to pull off gravitas, either. Neither showed much energy or punch until afterward, at a forum hosted by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, where Weiner worked the room with panache, winning “rapturous applause” from activists in attendance. He’s a gifted politician, don’t forget.

The fallout from the story has been about Weiner’s mayoral prospects, about whether or not his sexts were disgusting or disappointingly dull, and also about Abedin. This country can understand a redemption story: man screws up, talks endlessly to a therapist about family narratives and feedback loops, offers himself up, gets forgiven by loyal wife. Such tales form the highest peak on the great American mountain. But Weiner screwed up again. And, as he admitted this, Huma kept on standing by his side. What can we make of that? The feminist and activist Gloria Steinem postulated that “the Stockholm syndrome” might be responsible. The New York Posts cover cried, “Señora Danger … WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?” as though a woman should be held responsible for sexual misdeeds one just expects from a man. (“Sure, Carlos Danger is a sleaze,” it noted in smaller print, “but his señora is no saint either. Huma Abedin happily lied to a public that had been nothing but sympathetic to her as she inexplicably stood by—and colluded with—Anthony Weiner.”)

More here.

War Torn

Jacob Heilbrun in The New York Times:

WarIn July 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt met with senators from both political parties at the White House in a final effort to persuade them to amend the Neutrality Act preventing America from aiding other countries. After drinks were poured, Roosevelt and his secretary of state, Cordell Hull, argued that the world was approaching a catastrophic war. The 74-year-old Republican senator William Borah, who had led the fight against Woodrow Wilson and American entry into the League of Nations in 1919, shook his head in disgust. “There is not going to be any war in Europe this year,” he said. “All this hysteria is manufactured and artificial.” Two months later Hitler invaded Poland, and England and France declared war on Germany.

Now that it has become the good war fought by the greatest generation, the ferocity of the disputes over entering World War II has largely been forgotten. But the story of America’s anti-­interventionist lobby is not only historically fascinating, it also echoes in debates today over whether America should engage abroad or hold back. The historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. — whose memoir, Philip Roth said, inspired his novel “The Plot Against America,” about an alternative reality where the isolationists, led by Charles Lindbergh, defeat Roose­velt for the presidency — recalled the dispute as the “most savage political debate in my lifetime,” eclipsing those over McCarthyism and Vietnam in its intensity.

More here.

Saturday Poem

Shakespeare and U Punnya

Shakespeare and U Punnya.
Not enough chanting and singing.
Learn at school and read at home.
Know all the texts.

Once put to memory, in the crowd
drop references boastfully.
Articulate but cannot plough.
Go hungry
when the pitaka pot breaks.

by Tin Moe
from Anya lann ka tamah dann (Rows of Tamah Trees in Upper Burma)
publisher: Shwe Thingaha Myanmar Association Library, Korea, Bucheon City, 2006
translation: Violet Cho and David Gilbert

Translator's Note: U Punnya was a late nineteenth century Burmese poet. The pitaka pot is a Buddhist metaphor for a container of knowledge.

Temple of Womb


Kartik Nair in New Inquiry:

In the summer of 1975, faced with intensifying opposition from trade, student, and government unions—and the stench of a court conviction over electoral ­misconduct—Gandhi had a state of “internal emergency” declared. In middle-class memory, the next 21 months are recalled as that rare time in postcolonial India when the streets stayed clean and trains ran on time. It was the last gasp of truly centralized state control, the climax of Big Government, the paroxysm of the plan—with the poor at the receiving end.

Among the many technologies unveiled during the Emergency were “family planning camps” across India. Here, citizens (mostly lower class, mostly male) were encouraged, pressured, and often forced to undergo vasectomies. This coercion—the preferred term was “motivation”—occurred in more than one way: Sometimes whole villages were rounded up and hauled to these camps; other times, men were offered “gifts” in exchange for sterilization.

In cities, family planning dovetailed with slum demolition. The poor were promised plots of land if they agreed to move out of the slum and submit to “voluntary” sterilization. In the paper trail of official documents left behind by this black market, Emma Tarlo, in her Unsettling Memories: Narratives of the Emergency in Delhi, finds “documents in which ‘family planning’ is defined as ‘sterilization’ and ‘sterilization’ is defined as voluntary even before the person has begun to fill out the form. What we find in this small piece of paper is a fragment of the dominant Emergency narrative—a token of official family-planning euphemisms in action at a local level.”

Surfacing Impunity


Emma Myers interviews Joshua Oppenheimer in Guernica:

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers to the sound of trumpets.” No one captures the problematic pretense of impunity better than Voltaire—except perhaps documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer. The director’s new and profoundly disturbing film, The Act of Killing, opens with a direct nod to the philosopher, if only to one-up him. In an effort to expose the moral murkiness behind Indonesia’s 1965 and 1966 government sponsored purges, Oppenheimer gets up close and personal with a group of perpetrators whose attempts at self-glorification are enough to make a full brass band seem understated.

Documenting a fictive take on reality rather than reality per se, The Act of Killing unfolds in an unnerving aesthetic overlap between the surreal and the hyperreal. The subjects of the film, former members of the country’s vigilante military Pancasila Youth Party, go to theatrical extremes to reenact the atrocities they committed. In addition to recruiting women and children to act out large-scale massacres, the men stage interrogations, beatings, and executions, as well as costumed and almost hallucinogenic musical numbers in which dancers emerge from the mouth of a gargantuan metal fish.

Despite the overall effect of visceral and ethical nausea, moments of uncomfortable humor arise out of the disjunction between what we know about the subjects’ past and the way we see them behave in the present. When they drunkenly belt out Bob Dylan lyrics or stop filming because the call to prayer demands a moment of spiritual reverence, the viewer is forced into a state of cognitive dissonance. But as the Oppenheimer observes, the Manichean divide of good guys and bad guys can “only exist in movies.”

Reading Hegel in a Tehran Prison


Ramin Jahanbegloo in the LA Review of Books:

[I]n a solitary jail cell, books simply help one to survive; one can never underestimate their power and importance in such a place. For prisoners in solitary confinement, reading books can guarantee their mental sanity. Strangely enough, the abstract philosophy of Hegel proved beneficial in pulling my mind out of the horrible dungeon in which I was living. Throughout the many years that I had read and taught Hegel’s Phenomenology, I had never had such an intimate relation with a philosophy in the making. In my cell I would read out loud each paragraph of the book in order to fully hear the sound of the abstract Hegelian concepts. I felt as if I was part of Hegel’s epic voyage of philosophical discovery; I was myself a stage of the process of spiritual history which the philosopher reproduces in his book.

The Phenomenology became an inseparable companion of the long hours of solitude that I spent in my cell, especially during the nights when my inquisitors did not poison my fragile existence, and the prison was haunted by a terrifying silence. While sitting on my blanket on the cold cement and leaning against the wall of my cell, I would take this huge book in my hands and start reading it slowly, in such a manner that only I could hear it. Phrases such as: “Universal freedom can […] produce neither a positive achievement nor a deed; there is left for it only negative action; it is merely the rage and fury of destruction” made my suffering soul tremble with excitement. Wasn’t I myself a victim of this tendency towards destruction, combined with an unyielding and constant suspicion, which leads inevitably, after each revolution in history, to the killing of innocent individuals? I was sharing the same space of death where many had agonized until the last moment before their execution.

This prison has the task not only of extinguishing life, but also of wiping out the individuality that threatens the whole that the revolution espouses. Thus every act, necessarily enacted from the standpoint of individuality, is treated as guilty — a guilt that only confession followed by death can absolve. And the lesson that I could see in all this was simple: a revolution is capable only of condemnation, and the guilty party, like me, must either negate the revolution or be negated by it.

From my house to U2 with some of Beethoven’s Pathetique

I made a video of a bike ride from my house to a bar called U2 in the parking lot of the Aquarena. I like this place because while every other place around here has some oppressively beautiful view from its outdoor seating area, U2 opens out onto the expansive asphalt of the Aquarena Parkplatz. Makes me feel like I am still a part of civilization, not some mountain man like Ötzi. The whole ride is only about a kilometer. Happy Friday night!

Rape Joke: A Poem By Patricia Lockwood

In The Awl [h/t: Susan Svatek]:

The rape joke is that you were 19 years old.

The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend.

The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee.

Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. “Ahhhh,” it thinks. “Yes. A goatee.”

No offense.

The rape joke is that he was seven years older. The rape joke is that you had known him for years, since you were too young to be interesting to him. You liked that use of the word interesting, as if you were a piece of knowledge that someone could be desperate to acquire, to assimilate, and to spit back out in different form through his goateed mouth.

Then suddenly you were older, but not very old at all.

The whole poem can be found here.

It’s Easier for Aliens to Visit Us Than Previously Thought

K-bigpic (2)

George Dvorsky in io9:

A new study suggests that by using the slingshot effect to propel self-replicating probes through interstellar space, an advanced extraterrestrial civilization should be able to visit every corner of the galaxy in a startlingly short amount of time. The Fermi Paradox, it would seem, is alive and well.

Before we get to the new study, let’s quickly review what we mean by self-replicating probes and their relation to the Fermi Paradox.

The hypothetical self-replicating probe (SRP) is an idea that’s been around since the 1940s. Devised by the brilliant mathematician John von Neumann (which is why they’re also called Von Neumann probes), it’s a non-biological system that can replicate itself. Von Neumann wasn’t thinking of space exploration and colonization at the time, but other thinkers, like Freeman Dyson, Eric Drexler, and Robert Freitas, have since extended his idea to exactly that.

Once launched into space, an SRP could travel to a neighboring star system, and through the application of robotics, molecular assembly, and AI, seek out resources to build an exact replica of itself. Really, all it would need to do is find an asteroid with the right material components.

clive’s dante


There are at least two dozen English translations of parts or the whole of The Divine Comedy in print today, their number suggesting there is something symbolic about the enterprise itself. James’s introduction tells us that, for him, an important part of this symbolic value is in paying tribute to his wife, the Dante scholar Prue Shaw, from whom he has been publicly estranged. Yet he also advances another reason for publishing this version. According to James, most English translations fail to bring across the assonant and alliterative interplay of Dante’s original, because they are busy with the almost impossible task of reproducing its terza rima, the chain-link rhyme scheme. He is right: the strengths of polyglot English are also its weakness when it comes to rhyme. The kind of music that is almost automatic in Italian is achieved only with invention – and sometimes evident strain – in English.

more from Fiona Sampson at the New Statesman here.