Buy your swag from Amazon through this link and I get a small piece of their profit.

Its like a tip jar, but you get something you want!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

GOOD COP/BAD COP

"A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader."
-Samuel Adams

Let's play a game!  Its called Good Cop/Bad Cop.  You see if you can identify the good and bad cops from these pictures!  Well no, not really, but take a look at a few images with me.
First, a more recent one, which should be familiar.  This is used as an image of a brutal mean cop abusing power:
Aside from his holding the gun sideways, this guy is doing everything right.  He's protecting his partner from a mob, his finger is off the trigger.  He was undercover in a "rally" and got identified, so the guy on the ground started attacking him.  He and his partner took down the guy and the crowd got ugly, so this guy is ordering them back.  The gun is sideways probably not out of habit but because gangsta rap-riddled street people probably identify that with danger more than handling the pistol correctly.  Good Cop.
Lets look at another cop:
Here we have a police officer kicking a restrained person in the head.  Maybe she's mouthing off but she's sitting and has already been cuffed.  That's a bad cop.  There's nothing she could have done to justify a boot to the head, as satisfying as it might have been, depending on how she's talking.  Bad cop.
This one?  A cop shutting down a national park walkway during the "government shutdown" last year.  He's a Forest Service officer, putting up a barrier.  Here's another:
 And another:
Each of these law enforcement officials are following orders to close off open areas not due to a lack of funds - they're being paid and working - and not because the areas are unsafe without police.  They're being told to do it because it was meant to generate negative publicity and help the press portray the government shut down as awful, painful and an act of depraved evil by Ted Cruz.
It worked with some people - to this day I know leftists that call him 'crazy' and so on.  But it wasn't being done for any valid law enforcement purpose.  Blocking off the completely open WW2 memorial to vets in wheelchairs was an act of a jerk, not reasonable law enforcement.  And the cops that carried this out?  Bad cops.
Here's an older pic.  Its a police officer who ordered a large group of people to leave, and they refused.  They resisted being picked up.  He was outnumbered and surrounded by others.  So he pulled out the pepper spray as per training and police procedure to subdue them and take them in.  It looked bad on camera to have the fascist pig hosing down beloved peaceful Occupy members who didn't resist, but the fact was, they were breaking the law, resisting arrest, and refusing to cooperate.  So they got the spray.  Good Cop.
And one last one.  This 400 pound giant refused to be arrested.  He simply defied the cops and said he wasn't going in.  How much he was influenced by the news full of riots and protests against cops is unclear but he was resisting arrest, even if not violently.  When you're that big you don't have to be tough.  
 In the ensuing struggle, he died of a heart attack - not due to a choke hold, but as you can see, the hold is called a "seatbelt hold" and is permitted by the NYPD; its supposedly less dangerous to employ.  This guy was in awful shape, so how long he had without the struggle is unclear.  If he'd lived, nobody would even know about the arrest.  So good cop?

There's more to this story: these cops were only doing this (and there were quite a few of them, including a black woman supervising officer) because of a crackdown related to a recent ordinance passed by the New York City government.  This guy was guilty of the horrific crime of selling single cigarettes on the street.  
And when you sell them that way - usually obtained from highjacked/stolen cigs or from Indian reservation stores - the NYC government doesn't get their several dollar-a-pack tax.  This arrest only took place because the city wanted its blood, and they got it in this man's life.
WHAT WE WANT TO IGNORE
See, there's something going on behind the scenes here that isn't being discussed in the news or many places.  Its an important something, too.  Its one of those things that is the root cause but is uncomfortable or unwelcome to think about.  We all know it, but since it gets in the way of a political position or ideal, then we pretend to ignore it or think otherwise.
Its like during the bailouts of huge banks and corporations in 2008.  TARP, we were told by pundit after news anchor, after talking head, after politician, that we couldn't simply let CITI and BankAmerica dangle, that they had to be protected.  When the banks die and you're left without your retirement, well tough.  But these megacorporations have to survive, they are "too big to fail."
Why?  Well the argument went like this: they're so rich and hire so many people, and are such a significant portion of the US economy that if JP Morgan Chase folds, that would collapse the economy.  This, we were told, by many people who at the same time would insist that "trickle down" is a lie, that the Laffer Curve is trash, and that rich people can be taxed massively without harming jobs or the economy.
They understand the problem with their arguments, they know better, but they argue against it anyway because they hold to a certain economic ideal that appeal to them emotionally and all their friends agree, so it must be true.
THE BOOT
In the same way, everyone knows something basic about government: if it gets too powerful, too big, and too all-encompassing, it becomes tyrannical and destructive.  Everyone knows this, even the biggest big-government socialist.  They draw the line different places but we all know it.
And we also all know, deep down, that every incremental step of power, regulation, and law that the government encroaches upon our liberties and lives, the more power law enforcement must necessarily have to impose that power upon us.
Government only exists as an exercise of power.  It is force, it is out of the barrel of the gun, ultimately.  Government can be a tremendous force for good and productivity, progress and benefit.  But it only does so if it has the power to do so, if it has the money and the means to engage its power toward these ends.  And every single dollar and bullet of that power the government has means less power to the individual person, the community, the local people.
Law enforcement is carrying out the will of an ever-increasing monster with billions of tentacles reaching out further and further.  If they go too far, often if not most of the time, its because they're being pressured and directed to by their bosses.  
For every "free speech zone" there's a cop arresting people for expressing their freedom of speech in the "wrong place."  For every city ordinance against smoking, there's a cop writing someone up for smoking in the wrong place.  For every regulation against trans fats, there's a law enforcement official reporting on a restaurant serving the wrong food.
Each new law that passes, each regulation, each rule, each executive order, each new court ruling represents a restriction of your liberty, its true.  But it also represents another bullet in the magazine of the police officer who is just out there to enforce the law.  And sometimes that means they're directed to go out and enforce bad laws in bad ways.  Like "shutting down" an open public space, or choking out a guy for selling cigarettes.
When you read about some little kid being shut down for not having a license to sell lemonade, that law enforcement individual is being a jerk, but he's being a jerk because he's being forced or at least told to by someone higher in authority.
And that power we've incrementally given more and more and more and more of to the government, centralizing it increasingly away from us, our input, and our ability to act to restrain it by accountability, votes, and pressure, inevitably and absolutely results in more abuse by law enforcement officials.
There's a reason cops were given military surplus starting with the Clinton administration.  There's a reason they're getting more and more tools to limit our freedom and make their lives easier to "catch the bad guys."  Its because there are more, and more, and more bad guys every day added to the rolls simply by doing what they've always done.  Every new law means one more thing we can't do that the cops have to stop us from doing.
So bad cops?  Yeah.  There are bad cops out there.  But too often, they're bad because they're directed to be by who we put in power with our votes, hoping for more goodies and more things to be "fixed" by the right law, the right guy in power, and the right regulation.  For our own good.  And people don't really seem to want to think about that.

Friday, December 12, 2014

THE ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS

"The end justifies the means only when the means used are such as actually bring about the desired and desirable end."
-John Dewey

There's been a lot in the news lately that makes me scratch my head at how bold people are getting about their ethical system.  Here are just a handful:
  • A journalist writes an article about a girl who said she was raped, and when called on its falsehood, the author and editors claim what really matters really important thing is how the University responded to the charge, not the truth or faleshood of the story.
  • Eco activists put a huge sign in a sacred area, violating it and possibly damaging it forever.
  • A pundit claims that the approach he recommends is lying and deception but its fine because people are stupid and it will accomplish his goals.
  • Multiple child molesters and rapists force their victims to get abortions yet even after having been told by children that they are being abused, the abortionists do nothing, report nothing, and return the children in the care of their predators.
There are three kinds of ethical approaches, I believe: opportunism, pragmatism, and idealism:
Ethical Opportunism is a system by which you decide right and wrong by how well it serves you at the moment.  Did you succeed, did that help you?  Then it must have been right.   One's goals may be long term, or short, lofty or mean, but what decides right and wrong is how well each decision pleases and benefits you.

Ethical Pragmatism decides right and wrong by how well an action taken succeeds in achieving one's goals.  For the Ethical Pragmatist, right and wrong are decided by the end result: did it work? Then it must have been the right thing to do. The steps taken along the path toward the fulfillment of the goal are sanctified by the end results.

Ethical Idealism decides right and wrong by an objective, absolute system of ethics.  Each decision is based on how closely it adheres to this concept of right and wrong regardless of its success or personal benefit.
Each of these changes how one reacts to or chooses a course of action.  Was what I did wrong or right?  Is what I am planning good or ill?  If you believe that the ends justify the means, that will make your actions considerably different than someone who believes they must adhere to a standard of right and wrong for each decision.
Now, people will often slip into one of these when caught up doing wrong or when accused of ill doing, to justify and defend themselves, even when they may not philosophically hold to that position.  "Everyone else was doing it" is a fine Ethical Opportunist's answer - I gained peer approval and felt part of a group - and "well it got the job done" is something the Ethical Pragmatist would appreciate, but neither is necessarily what you really believe.  We don't like being wrong, and we feel weak and endangered when justly accused of doing wrong, so we try to find a way to argue that it wasn't really all that bad.
And certainly none of us are perfectly consistent.  We'll never be one perfectly exact way in our thinking and deeds, because we're affected by far too many outside influences and inside changes and tendencies to be the same each time.
But all of us choose one of these to follow, most of the time, even if we've not thought it through very clearly.  And what we're seeing more and more in popular culture is example after example of people for whom Ethical Pragmatism is a way of life.
Sure, we may have lied, but our lie was for a good cause - a "deeper truth" as CBS claimed when confronted with the blatant falsehood of their anti-Bush memo report.
Sure, we could have destroyed something precious and ancient, but it was to get the word out, and you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, you know?
Sure, technically rioting and burning is bad, but sometimes the only way to bring change is to shock people and get their attention!
And this isn't in any way surprising.  When Nicolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince he was poking fun - carefully - at the soulless cruelty and unethical activities of the rulers he knew.  It was a satirical book meant to get people to think twice, and maybe even rulers to think twice, about their governments.  So he wrote a book as if it was a primer in being a horrible heartless tyrant that cared nothing but for power and control, and it was very good.
He didn't mean "the ends justify the means" as a way of life, he meant it as a criticism and a condemnation. But in that, he demonstrated the end result of someone for whom right and wrong are a matter of results and personal preference rather than objective, absolute standards.  The only way someone could be so heartless, evil, and oppressive as the rulers he satirized was if they had abandoned all good and evil entirely.
And this is what we have today: people for whom the idea of right and wrong is almost alien, beyond "what hurts me directly and immediately." They have a vague concept of Republicans being evil and a list of sins like Nazis, not liking bacon, and racism but its entirely gut instinct and emotion, not rational and examined.
What else could people end up with, after jettisoning the basic ethical foundations of a society?  They can't appeal to for others or check their own behavior by appealing to what we all agree to and know.  There's nothing we all agree to and know any more.  So all that's left is what achieves goals; what brings power.
So we ought not be surprised to see people violating their very own stated standards of right and wrong or behavior.  To them it makes sense, if it achieves their goals.  Because if it works, it must have been right... right?

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

THE BESTIARY RISES

I've been hard at work for a while now getting one final product on the shelf for this year.  The last one I finally put out was the Jolrhos Bestiary (volume one).  Its a big book like my Fantasy Codex this last summer.
At just under 400 pages, the Bestiary is mostly monsters - 277 pages worth of more than 300 varieties - and the illustrations and checking the math took quite a while to finish.  Its a beauty:
I'm proud of how this book turned out, and with the Codex forms two volumes of a planned series outlining my game world and setting so people can just pick it up and play straight out of the book.  Fantasy Hero is a wonderful system but it takes a lot of work to set up and detail everything - it doesn't have a pre-built world like D&D does - so I'm doing all that work for others.
The Jolrhos Bestiary has tons of other materials in it, not just monsters.  There's a section on running 'pets' in a game like the ones featured in MMOGs.  I have details on running and owning mounts, and sections on training both mounts and pets, including specific unique skills and talents they can learn.
One part I particularly like was inspired by the game Aces & Eights.  A nearly unplayable Western RPG, it had a great section on horses and giving them quirks that set them apart.  So I put that together for mounts and pets in a fantasy game; your griffon mount may be brave, but it likes flying so much its hard to keep on the ground, for example.
And also included is "body loot," a concept familiar to computer gamers: what is on the creature or can be harvested off of it.  Eggs, leather, scales, alchemical compounds, and much more.  How hard are they to recover?  How long does it take?  How heavy is a dragon's hide?  How much is it worth?  All of that is covered.
Packed with art, information, indexes, and hundreds of monsters, the Jolrhos Bestiary isn't like the usual Monster Manual type.  This book doesnt have yet another set of goblins and dragons.  Its full of unique, strange, and fascinating unusual creatures for the Jolrhos world setting.
My theory was that if I have this book out, I can reference any number of monsters in a module I write for Fantasy RPGs without needing to write them up.  People can just buy the book and have all the info they need.
The Bestiary is available several places and in different formats:
In hardbound print ($30.00): at Lulu
In softcover print ($20.00): at Createspace
In pdf e-book download ($12.99): At Hero Games!
ON the horizon for 2015 are at least 4 more books, including 1-2 large sourcebooks, such as a Treasury full of loot and a Field Guide that you'll have to see to believe, nothing else has been put out like it for gaming, that I'm aware of.
And, of course, more adventures like The Lost Castle and Elenthar's Tower.  Right now this stuff is selling better than my novels.

Friday, December 05, 2014

PLEADING DOWN JUSTICE

"In asking Eric Holder to investigate Eric Holder, Obama illustrated the difficulty of adequately addressing prosecutorial misconduct as well as anyone possibly could"

I tried to watch a documentary on Netflix called Whitey recently.  It was supposedly the story of Whitey Bulger, who ran crime in Boston for about 30 years, but mostly it was the Defense team's case and lots of conspiracy theories about the FBI, so I gave up about halfway through.
But the story of Whitey Bulger is a disturbing and interesting one.  A rising thug in the Boston mob, he used informing on rivals and competitors in the criminal world to systematically destroy anything between him and absolute control.
He maintained his position by giving the FBI credible victories over organized crime that didn't hurt his earnings or mob, but took out trouble makers and rivals.  And from testimony and documentation at the trial it appears that the FBI protected him because he was a useful informant.
Further, he was given immunity repeatedly by the FBI in exchange for information leading to arrests, particularly of people in Bulger's way on the path to power.  And this brings up a problem that I think nearly everyone complains about in the modern justice system: the plea bargain.
Conrad Black writes in the National Review:
Eight to 10 percent of federal and state cases are dismissed because of a technical error or because a defendant chooses to cooperate, but of the rest, 97 percent of federal cases and about 95 percent of state cases are resolved by plea bargains, and, in practice, these are almost invariably dictated by the prosecutor.
The plea bargain is where someone is given a reduced or dropped charge for crimes by giving information on a target the prosecutor is much more interested in.  If you've seen any crime or police show on TV you've seen this happening. 
"Flip on Big Al and we'll give you a deal!"
"I want immunity or I'm sayin nothin!"
"OK pal, you got it, now give us the goods!"
This isn't new, its been done for centuries, but its gotten more and more common to give someone immunity or reduced sentencing in exchange for busting someone more important.  After all, the prosecutors argue, who's more dangerous to society, the small time crook or his big boss?  The dealer or the supplier?  The prostitute or the mobster in charge of prostitution on the whole West Side?
The arguments are moving, but there does come a point when you wonder if its worth letting all the lesser criminals go and clearing the way for them to become greater by jailing their bosses?  And did not Giuliani prove in NYC that clearing out little crimes made the bigger crimes go away, too?
What happens if you keep letting criminals go when they get caught because they have word about bigger fish?  It seems like the little fish get bigger, and have less and less regard for the law.  Where's the threat of arrest if all it does is waste a few days of their time with free room and board?
Black goes on:
The percentage of federal prosecutions tried by juries declined from 19 percent in 1980 to 3 percent today, as prosecutors have huge advantages over defense counsel and throw a great raft of counts against a defendant who declines to roll over. The prosecutor wins most of the cases that are tried and, as he can decide on the number and level of gravity of counts charged, defendants can face as much as ten times as heavy a sentence if they plead guilty as they would if they try the case and, as usually happens, lose.
Prosecutors love this because it makes them look effective.  If they never have to go to trial, its cheaper.  Get some small fry to plead to a few months of time and you get a conviction, so your stats look great.  Crime goes down, see the numbers of all these convictions?  The major is tough on crime!
The more convictions they get like this, the more effective they look, and the more hopeless fighting them in court seems.  I win 95% of the time, and all you get is some worthless PD. Plea down and you get a reduced sentence.  Don't plea down and I'll charge you with everything in the book, no matter how flimsy.  You'll never see the light of day until you're retirement age.  Do the smart thing.
Instead of being a "fair and reasonable bargain" between the accused and the prosecutor as the Supreme Court ruled, the system is so stacked its pretty much hopeless to try to fight it. 
Which brings up another major problem: if you're innocent but face the choice between a few months of time and some community service, or being charged with 18 counts and court fights for months, probably losing that anyway... which do you choose?  This isn't justice, its a machine that grinds everyone down for the prosecutors to look good.  How many have been crushed in this system how many innocents?  Nobody can really say, because these plea negotiations happen in private without oversight or examination.  But all the pressure and all the cards are on the prosecution's side, and they have no reason to not pressure and intimidate a suspect except presumably some sense of justice.  Once that person pleas guilty, the investigation stops.
This win at all costs approach is what gave us ABSCAM in the 80s; where guilty and corruptcongressmen such as Jack Murtha were let go because they were willing to give evidence against other congressmen.  Its what gave us Whitey Bulger, who continued a spree of murder, theft, drugs, prostitution, and worse without being stopped because he was too useful to the FBI (and probably giving away "gifts" to the right people).
And that same approach is what is causing cases to be overturned as federal prosecutors, driving to win and certain of intimidating their opponents, are being busted for breaking the rules and even laws.  The most common abuse is for prosecutors to not bother sharing all evidence and information with defense attorneys as the law requires.  They usually don't want to because it would hurt their case and I suppose they figure the defense won't be good enough to notice or have the courage to complain.  But again and again cases keep being thrown out for this lately.
I understand to some degree.  Prosecutors want to win, and more than that, winning means beating a bad guy.  They're on the side of the law, trying to catch and punish criminals.  Some killer or rapist or monster needs to be taken off the streets, needs to be punished.  So they cut corners.
But the corners are what makes the system just, and every time you shave away like that, everyone loses some liberty and justice is damaged.
Police are under the same pressure and will to win.  For decades, cases like Miranda and more forced cops to be able to do less and less, handcuffing them and helping the criminals.  The pendulum swung so badly that voters began pushing back with minimum sentencing laws and voting for people tougher on crime.
But the cops are still pushing and the pendulum is swinging back the other direction again.  With the overmilitarization of police, citizens are facing a law enforcement system that is ready to fight against an army, not keep the peace.  Tanks and bombs are part of the cops arsenal these days, and each time the police gains power like that, the balance shifts toward government.
Complicating matters is the desire to make the job easier for police, which is where cameras start sprouting all over.  Its easier for police if they film everyone all the time, but where does liberty and privacy go in this case?  Its easier for the police if they keep all fingerprints and DNA of everyone they check forever.  But again, privacy?
If a cop checks your finger prints "for elimination" in a case, to make sure they know whose prints are whose in a crime scene, they keep those.  Forever.  And share them with the entire nation, and even world on request.  If you are arrested mistakenly, they keep those prints.  Same with DNA.  Elimination samples are checked and put in a database.  Forever.
Yes, that makes the job easier for cops.  Yes it helps catch bad guys. But is it really a reasonable search and seizure?  Is it truly right that they keep intimate details of non criminals on record for all cops to pull from?
At a certain point, what makes a cop's job easier goes from reasonable power to enforce the law and becomes a tool of tyranny that intimidates citizens, eroding liberty.  When the law has become so broad in its application and the enforcement so powerful it is inevitable that the citizens begin to suffer and rebel.
The more capricious, excessive, or abusive the law becomes, the more resistance and rebellion will become visible.  And the more that takes place, the more violent, abusive, and power hungry law enforcement becomes.
Think about it.  If the taxes on cigarettes had not been so high in NYC, and the new law cracking down on illegal sales - followed up by a "crackdown" on the streets - then would we have this new case of a man dying while being arrested by cops?  If we demand police enforce more and more broad and extreme laws, the results are inevitably worse and more violent.
And in the end, we all lose in a society that lacks wisdom and has laws so overbroad you can't cross town without violating a book full.  Then its just a matter of when and who gets targeted by the government, not if.