damnum absque injuria

August 30, 2008

Fools and Children Tell the Truth

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 3:38 pm

Recent conversation between my eldest and me, while Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” played in the background:

Me (in my best distorted Ozzy voice): “I am Iron Man!”

Xrlq 2.0: “No, you’re not.”

He’s right. I know.

Time to Place Your Bets

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 12:45 pm

Which of the following songs will be played the most at campaign events featuring Gov. Palin?

  1. “Barracuda,” by Heart.
  2. “Sarah,” by Starplane, Jefferson Airship, or whatever the hell else they were calling themselves that week.
  3. “Barracuda,” by Heart.
  4. Anything from Miss Congeniality.
  5. “Barracuda,” by Heart.
  6. Any Monty Python song sung by Sarah’s long lost brother in law, Michael.
  7. Not “Barracuda,” but only because the Wilson sisters take a cue from Boston and Petty Tom and get pissy.
  8. “Baby’s On Fire,” by Sammy Hagar, because (1) she is and (2) no one else will let Republicans use their songs.
  9. “‘Barracuda,’ and if the Wilson bitches don’t like it, they can sue my near-perfect ass.”

August 29, 2008

Change We Can Should Believe In

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 12:53 pm

Excellent pick. What better way to bolster his conservative credentials and his reputation as a reformer than than to choose a running mate who is both. Now we can actually vote for the Republican ticket rather than just against the Democrat one. Now we just have to convince the PUMAs that all they really cared about all along was getting a woman in office…

UPDATE: Looks like someone was ahead of the news cycle.

August 27, 2008

Question for Carly and John

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 7:19 am

Dear John McCain and Carly Fiorina. Both of your names appear on the letter, so I’m not sure which one of you to address this to. If you’re not the person who did it, kindly forward it to the person who did.

Q: When is it appropriate to send someone a fundraising letter by certified mail?
A (pick one):

  1. To a reluctant supporter who has vigorously disagreed with you on many issues, possibly even enough to make him “certifiable” in the minds of your more longstanding supporters.
  2. On a Thursday, so the recipient can get a little sticky from the Post Office while he’s at work on Friday and spend all weekend wondering who is suing him, whether he’s just been laid off, whether his life insurance policy was canceled, or why the hell else anyone would be sending him something by certified mail.
  3. After your advisors have warned you that you’ll need to keep the U.S. Postal Service fat and happy if you want to secure that all-important Postal Worker vote.
  4. When your advisors warn you that your “maverick” image is fading, and the only way to get it back is to find a new and exciting way to piss off the base.
  5. To someone who has donated to your campaign, so he can see how efficiently you are spending the money he’s already given you even while you ask for more.
  6. NEVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

August 24, 2008

Answer to Thursday’s Poll

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 5:30 pm

In Thursday’s straw poll, I asked what the odds of a hypothetical perp being guilty vs. innocent, based on DNA evidence alone, where a partial match at 5 1/1 loci had placed the odds of an individual random match at 1.1 million to 1, and where this figure had translated into 9 potential perps in your relevant region who might have committed the crime. The correct answer is #10, or 8 to 1 in favor of innocence, as 9 potential perps translates into 1 actual perp, vs. 8 innocents. My original hypothesis was the readers would do a lot worse than they did. I expected far more moron answers like Jeff Barea’s:

Put down the bong everyone, you are way too paranoid and adding in all kinds of weird things.

The science alone says #2 – It’s actually stated in the question.

BONUS: #13 1:1

People who sit on juries are either too stupid to get out of doing or want to see criminals get justice.

OK, I half-lied. While I did expect more readers to be as clueless as Jeff Barea was, I didn’t actually expect them to be dicks about it. And I didn’t expect them to be quite that dumb, as the expected answer was #1 (1.1 million to 1 in favor of guilt), not #2 (1.1 million to 1 in favor of innocence), but I’m more inclined to chalk that up to carelessness and not anyone actually thinking that 1.1 million to 1 odds against a person being innocent translate into 1.1 million to 1 odds in favor of the same.

Those who have been following the DNA discussions (probably almost all of the respondents, since Patterico was the only major blogger who linked here) may have recognized some close parallels to the Puckett case. There, the defendant was indeed found by a trawl that stood a 1.1 million to 1 chance of randomly matching to any particular person, but a 1 in 3 chance of matching to somebody due to the sheer size of the database (338,000). The prosecutor, David Merin, did indeed instruct the jury that based on a population of 18 million people in California at the time of the murder (1972), half of them women, there were roughly 9 million men, leaving “eight or nine Caucasian men in the state that look like that crime-scene profile.” By omitting the perp himself (we know that he matches to his own DNA), the prosecutor made a boo-boo. He should have said there was a perp, and there were roughly 9 million other men in California in 1972, 8 or 9 of whom should be expected to match to him, bringing the total of potential perps to either 9 or 10. I split the difference by using 9 in my problem, as 9 was the higher number that David Merin actually gave the jury, and was also the lower number that he should have given them.

Puckett wasn’t convinced on DNA alone, of course, but was convicted on other evidence far to thin to have ever made him a suspect in the first place, and the L.A. Times story suggests that the jury relied heavily on the 1.1 million to 1 figure. The question is how heavily. Did they interpret the 1.1 million figure to mean that there were indeed 8-9 potential perps, but the odds were 1.1 million to 1 that the actual perp was Puckett rather than one of the other 8-9 (or, applying Merin-math, the other 7-8)? Or did they correctly interpret it to mean simply that there were only 8-9 perps (give or take a few to account for relatives and the standard error), and that based on DNA evidence alone, we haven’t a f’ing clue which, but they found the remaining evidence overwhelming enough to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the perp was Puckett, and not one of the other 8-9 people they knew nothing about? We don’t know for sure, but here’s a brief summary of that other Really Overwhelming Evidence presented at trial:

  1. Puckett was on trial for a rape-murder. Puckett was a known serial rapist himself. What are the odds of that?
  2. Puckett had a clear M.O., which consisted of posing as a cop to gain his victims’ trust, placing a knife or ice pick to their throats, commandeering their cars, telling them he wanted to “make love” to them, raping them, and attempting to befriend them afterward (apologizing to one, and offering to try to help find another a job).
  3. Diana Sylvester’s killer supposedly matched that M.O. by murdering his victim with a knife, leaving no evidence of forced entry, and telling the sole eyewitness to “Go away! We’re making love!”
  4. No one could place Puckett in the right neighborhood on the right day, but they did find evidence he was somewhere in the right city (San Francisco) at some point during the right year (1972).
  5. The original suspect, Robert Baker, was never charged because his fingerprints didn’t match the ones found at the scene of the crime (neither did Puckett’s). He had been placed in the neighborhood and booked for another rape four blocks away, and had harassed a woman and a young girl and followed them to their home a few doors down from Sylvester’s apartment four days after the murder. Cops found a parking ticket in Baker’s van with unexplained blood drops on it, Type O, matching Sylvester’s. But the jury carefully weighed the evidence against Baker against the evidence against Puckett, and concluded that the perp was definitely Puckett, not Bak…. ha, ha, just kidding. Actually, the jury was never told about Baker at all.

Your read may be different, but mine is that none of this “other evidence” is conclusive enough to bridge the gap between “either Puckett did it, or one of those other 8 did” to proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Puckett was the one who did it. The most likely explanation is that the jury (and, in all likelihood, the judge) was just as innumerate as Jeff Barea, and believed that the 1.1 million to 1 figure meant Puckett was more likely to be guilty than the other 8, not equally likely. The second most likely explanation is that they relied on #1, figuring that eight guys pulled at random probably would not be sex offenders, but Puckett was, so it’s more likely that the sex offender in this case was Puckett, as well. That’s a rational inference to make, but an illegal one of questionable validity, as past or subsequent crimes are not generally admissible to prove guilt, nor does “we know nothing about those 8 or 9 others, so probably none are sex offenders” translate into proof beyond reasonable doubt that none of them are.

UPDATE: Daryl and Patterico point me to Section 1108 of the California Evidence Code, which creates a gaping exception for sex crimes, which apparently are admissible to prove guilt in the charged offense unless they violate Section 352. That statute, in turn, merely provides that a judge may (not shall) exclude evidence whose probative value is outweighed by its potential to unduly prejudice or mislead the jury, or to confuse the issues. So apparently, under what passes for due process in California it is not illegal for a jury to reason that the guy committed these other sex offenses, and he’s charged with a sex offense now, so screw it, the bugger must be guilty. [Section 1109 creates a similar exception for domestic violence.] So if someone can provide a coherent explanation for why Puckett’s lawyer should not have been allowed to present evidence that Baker did it rather than Puckett, maybe Puckett received a “fair” (under California’s Kafkaesque definition of “fair”) trial after all.

UPDATE x2: Whoops, make that federal courts, too. Rule 413, to be exact. I want my law school tuition money back.

August 22, 2008

Memo to ICE

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 5:18 pm

Experience may be the best teacher, but I could have told you all along that as a rule, telling someone to go _________ himself is unlikely to result in that person actually going out and _________ing himself.

August 21, 2008

DNA Straw Poll

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 8:38 pm

Suppose you are on a jury in a murder trial, and the case depends entirely on DNA evidence. A sample of the perp’s DNA was found at the scene, but was severely degraded and could only be matched at only 5 1/2 loci rather than 13. Expert witnesses advise you that the odds of someone who isn’t the perp or a blood relative matching at 5 1/2 loci are 1.1 million to one, meaning that there are about 9 people in your state or area who could have done it. You are not told how the police came across this guy or identified him as a potential suspect, and are forbidden to speculate on it.

Based on this evidence alone, what are the odds that this guy is guilty?

  1. 1.1 million to 1, in favor of guilt.
  2. 1.1 million to 1, in favor of innocence.
  3. 1.1 million to 9, in favor of guilt.
  4. 1.1 million to 9, in favor of innocence.
  5. 1.1 million to 8, in favor of guilt.
  6. 1.1 million to 8, in favor of innocence.
  7. 9 to 1, in favor of guilt.
  8. 9 to 1, in favor of innocence.
  9. 8 to 1, in favor of guilt.
  10. 8 to 1, in favor of innocence.
  11. 3 to 1, in favor of guilt.
  12. 3 to 1, in favor of innocence.
  13. Other (specify)

BONUS ROUND: Having given me your best shot at the answer, which of the above 13 do you think your fellow jurors are most likely to believe? If it’s a different answer from yours, why?

August 11, 2008

Her Love, It’s Like, Bad Energy, Bad Energy is What I Read

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 6:12 pm

Some people really don’t know when to leave bad enough alone.

Itchy and Scratch Dollars Euros Accepted Here?

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 7:33 am


August 10, 2008

So Long, Children

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 9:19 pm

R.I.P., Isaac Hayes.


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