The Laboratorium
February 2005

Full Hour Pun Alert


I’m not really sure how to set this one up, but when I polish up the wording, it’ll be about a surveyor who breaks up with her boyfriend and calls it “de-Mark-cation.”

Ironickal Error Messages


I went to check out Cannoli Gram, but the site told me, “Cookies Not Enabled.”

Best Clickwrap Evar?


Incoherence, a visualization plug-in for your favorite MP3 player, has what may be my favorite license agreement ever:

Incoherence Copyright (c) 2004-2005 Greg Hazel and Steven Hazel

All rights reserved.

http://www.omgaudio.com/incoherence/

By installing this software, you agree that you have seen this copyright notice.

And that’s it.

The Identity Theft Sector


I just heard on the radio two claims about identity theft. First, ten million people a year in the U.S. were victims of some form of identity theft last year. Second, the average loss before the theft was discovered was $93,000.

These two statements cannot both be true without some serious equivocation. Multiplying $93,000 by ten million gives $930 billion. Since the entire U.S. GDP is only around $11 trillion, this would make the identity theft sector one of the most important pieces of the entire economy. $930 billion is reasonably close to the amount of business that the entire construction sector does in a year — and it employs a lot more people than the identity theft sector does.

My guess is that these two statistics weren’t referring to the same population: that $93,000 figure must be calculated across a much smaller population than th whole ten million affected in some way by identity theft. But the radio announcer wasn’t drawing any such distinctions. The basic implausibility of the facts he was reciting ought to have raised alarm bells; it speaks poorly of American numeracy that they didn’t.

Life’s Little Victories


My inbox is empty. I think the last time I accomplished this feat was several years ago.

Getting Tudor on Their Asses


The military commissions reviewing the status of alleged al Qaeda members being held at Guantanamo Bay follow procedures that differ substantially from the procedures that would be used in a criminal trial in a standard civilian court. According to Senior Judge Green of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, those differences mean that the commissions fall short of the due process guarantees of the Constitution.

Compare some of the transcripts from Judge Green’s opinion (PDF) with the report of the trial of Nicholas Throckmorton from 1554, the first criminal trial in Anglo-American history for which we have anything approaching a full transcript.

1554:

Throckmorton: … both which Statutes I pray you my lords may be read here to the inquest.

[Commissioner] Bromley: No, for there shall be no books brought at your desire; we know the law sufficiently without book.

Throckmorton: Do you bring me hither to try me by the law and will not shew me the law?

2004:

Detainee: … This is something the interrogators told me a long while ago. I asked the interrogators to tell me who this person was. Then I could tell you if I might have known this person, but not if this person is a terrorist. Maybe I knew this person as a friend. Maybe it was a person that worked with me. Maybe it was a person that was on my team. But I do not know if this person is Bosnian, Indian or whatever. If you tell me the name, then I can respond and defend myself against this accusation.

Tribunal President: We are asking you the questions and we need you to respond to what is on the unclassified summary.

1554:

Throckmorton: … Almighty God provided that revelation for me this day since I came hither: for I have been in close prison these 58 days, where I heard nothing but what the birds told me, which did fly over my head.

2004:

[Everyone in the Tribunal room laughs.]

Tribunal President: We had to laugh, but it is okay.

Detainee: Why? Because these are accusations that I can’t even answer. I am not able to answer them. You tell me I am from Al Qaida, but I am not an Al Qaida. I don’t have any proof to give you except to ask you to catch Bin Laden and ask him if I am a part of Al Qaida. To tell me that I thought, I’ll just tell you that I did not. I don’t have proof regarding this. What should be done is you should give me evidence regarding these accusations because I am not able to give you any evidence. I can just tell you no, and that is it.

The most notable difference in procedure between the commission that tried Nicholas Throckmorton and the one that tried Mustafa Ait Idr is that Nicholas Throckmorton was tried before a jury. The second most notable difference is that Throckmorton was allowed to learn the names of his alleged co-conspirators. It does not speak well of the Guantanamo commissions that they come out on the losing side in a comparison with Bloody Mary’s treason trials.

What was wrong with the Tudor and Stuart treason trials was the utter imbalance of trying a man without telling him the details of the charges against him—and then putting him up in court against the full investigative and prosecutory power of the state. It took the British until the late 17th century to understand that a rough-and-ready criminal trial without defense counsel, disclosure of the charges, and full discovery of exculpatory evidence was woefully inadequate when the prosecution was able to plan and produce a massive spectacle of seemingly damning evidence.

Once they did understand, they reacted with a series of statutes that would become the basis for much of our Bill of Rights. Today, the name of the game is finding ways to avoid those defensive safeguards. But we have those safeguards for a very good reason. Without them, Bloody Jeffreys sells pardons to some while hanging other men for having Jewish first names. Without them, Stephen College is executed after his defense notes are seized from him and turned over to the prosecution. Without them, Alice Lisle, deaf and over seventy, is behaded after a trial in which she gives every sign of not understanding what is happening. And without them, Mustafa Ait Idr pleads vainly to be told whose company he shouldn’t have kept.

In 450 years, we have learned nothing.