“And it goes without saying, what we do is always about justice”

I’m so glad we have people to help bring things like this to light. Remember, these are your tax dollars at work.

Mark Bennett recently blogged about an email he received from a source he identifies only as Mr. X. In it, several “competitions” for the assistant district attorneys are announced. I’ll quote just one of them here so you can get an idea what I’m talking about (I’ve left typos/spacing/punctuation errors intact):

Trial Court Award
If a court tries and completes THREE jury trials in a single week, the prosecutors in that court can comp. out by lunch time the following Friday. It is encouraged that the members of the court do something together….lunch, movie, bowling. Who will cover their court in their absence…keep reading. The court (that has a 2 and a 3) that does not try any cases the same week the winning court(s) tries three cases, will have to cover the duties for the winning court. If all courts , that have a 2 and a 3, try cases it will be up to Justin, Rachel, and I to cover. We have excluded five courts from this competition for equity purposes.

The email concludes with a paragraph starting with the quotation I chose for the title:

And it goes without saying, what we do is always about justice. Hopefully this will allow us to have some fun while we strive to achieve it…..

I don’t know how getting the most trials done inside of a week is about justice. Mark is right on when he rips the DA’s office for what he calls “summer-camp contests” and a “fratboy game.” I concur with Mark’s opinion here, and hope that we can shine more light on what is at best a dubious “contest” among attorneys we pay with our tax dollars to achieve justice. And justice is not always about getting the most convictions, or getting through the most trials in a week.

Mark also links to a post from 2009 March about trying “whales” or cases the prosecution thinks are sure wins (“Whales are cases that the State thinks it couldn’t possibly lose–like shooting whales in a barrel.”). Seriously, if the assistant DAs need to take cases like this to trial (especially if a defendant is willing to plead guilty) then I’m uncomfortable with such assistant DAs practicing with real cases. They need to go back to law school and get their practice in moot court.

“Library of future” initiative becomes corporate battleground

Wired reports on Sony’s decision to side with Google in a highly contentious lawsuit between Google and rivals Microsoft, Yahoo, and Amazon.

The lawsuit centers around privacy concerns and the fact it would give Google monopoly-like status on book rights that would be impossible for other companies to acquire without their own lawsuit.

Worse for Google, the Department of Justice is also investigating the settlement–a rather ominous and foreboding development.

I have never been all that positiviely impressed with Sony; they are probably the only company with a hand in consumer electronics and entertainment (the latter through their acquisition of Columbia Tri-Star in 1989 and CBS Records in 1987). The second DVD player my mom ever bought was a Sony, and it was the first to fail; the RCA player purchased a few months before still works today as far as I know. It has always seemed to me that Sony built up a good reputation in its early days, and somehow managed to keep it afloat enough to justify some kind of premium pricing even though the reputation it has is probably less deserved today.

Still, today, I’d really like to give Sony the benefit of the doubt. Yes, even though this is the same Sony known for the doomed Betamax and Digital 8 videotape formats, and the XCP and MediaMax copy protection scandal of 2005.

I don’t know much of the details and motivation behind why Sony would back Google. I do know that it’s Very Bad to let any one company grow to an effective monopoly; there is a reason we have the Sherman Anti-Trust act in the US and why similar legislation and oversight exists in the EU and elsewhere. And this does smell like something Sony would do not out of concern for its customers, but for its own corporate interests. I also believe we, as a society, should not reward a company that puts shareholders above customers when filing amicus briefs in these legal chess games.

Maybe my instinct is off the mark yet again, but it is what it is.

Internet addiction rehab

Ars Technica reports on a rather bizarre and dubious new development: the first US rehab for Internet addiction disorder (IAD). The Heavensfield Retreat Center’s reSTART program in Fall City, Washington, is offering a 45-day treatment program for US$14,500 and has already begun enrollment.

It’s a great deal, I suppose, if one believes IAD is a legitimate diagnosis to begin with. Previous Ars Technica articles show the American Medial Association (AMA) recommending to include IAD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) V only to reverse its position later.

And I think the AMA was right to reverse its position. The opening of reSTART definitely arouses my skeptical side. My instinct and my personal experience tells me that what doctors are diagnosing as IAD is not the illness itself, but more likely just one symptom of something else; that “something else” of course will vary from patient to patient.

Maybe reSTART will help someone, and that’s great. But I have to at least put the question to its founders: if the AMA doesn’t think IAD is a legitimate mental illness in and of itself, how do you justify treating it as one?

Take the money and, er, investigate

Is it really illegal to carry around large amounts of money in Canada?

CBC reports on the story of CA$29,000 and a man who claims he raised that money collecting cans in the town of New Westminster, British Columbia (a suburb of Vancouver). According to the story:

The car smelled of marijuana, according to the release, so the officers searched the vehicle looking for drugs. Instead, they found $29,000 in two plastic Baggies, which they seized as they investigate where the money came from.

I personally do not think the presence of a large amount of cash is prima facie evidence that a crime has been committed. And the same goes for the mere smell of marijuana smoke, or even both put together. I will conede that it is not exactly intelligent to be carrying that kind of cash around. But, at least as far as I know, it’s not unlawful.

I hope this guy gets his money back. The cops are sworn to uphold the law, not use it as an excuse to commit larceny. And without proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the money is tied to a crime, for the crown (government) to keep the money does amount to larceny.

(Note: I’m assuming the amount is in Canadian dollars, given this is a Canadian news article.)

AP sticks their nose in reporters’ Facebook profiles

Wired.com’s Threat Level reports on a new Associated Press policy aimed at reporters. The intent of the policy is “to make sure material posted by others doesn’t violate AP standards.”

That would be all well and good. Except this is for employees’ personal Facebook profiles–and that is where I think this policy goes over the line. The policy is also vague, quoting from further down in the article:

It’s a good idea to monitor your profile page to make sure material posted by others doesn’t violate AP standards: any such material should be deleted.

This is in addition to these ominous and censorious directives:

[E]mployees also should avoid including political affiliations in their profiles and steer clear of making any postings that express political views or take stands on contentious issues.

Further down, in the Twitter-specific section:

Also, when tweeting, remember that’s there a big difference between providing an observation (“I nearly bumped into Chris Matthews outside Penn Station”) and an opinion (“I nearly bumped into the loudmouthed and obnoxious Chris Matthews”).

And it gets even worse:

Do these guidelines apply just to AP employees who are journalists?

They apply to all employees, just as the Statement of News Values and Principles does. We cannot expect people outside the AP to know whether a posting on Facebook was made by someone who takes pictures, processes payroll checks or fixes satellite dishes. We all represent the AP, and we all must protect its reputation.

This edict is most troubling when combined with the fact that the Facebook terms of service only allow one account per user. If you maintain two identities, you run the risk of losing both of them. So it’s not like AP employees can make a “work account” and a “non-work account.” Facebook has this as a term of service for several reasons, the first being that it provides one easy way to clamp down on flagrant dishonesty.

I can see an issue if one heavily advertises that one works for the AP right before launching into a heavily political tirade, but this is different than expressing one’s political views outside of working hours under one’s own name.

To draw an analog, I avoid wearing my work uniform outside of work; I made it a point to bring a change of clothes when I played in my bar poker league after work, and would change out long before the game began. (I will concede that comfort was a contributing factor, but I probably would still have changed clothes even if it were not.)

It’s the same with the AP. There’s a difference between “on the clock” and “off the clock.” Within reason, “off the clock” conduct should be “off-limits” for company policies.