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Archive for April 24th, 2017

Body Double: What Medieval Executive Theory Tells Us About Trump’s Twitter Accounts

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Quinta Jurecic writes at Lawfare:

In 1571, an English jurist named Edmund Plowden, trying to make sense of cases involving the sale and purchase of land owned by various monarchs, argued:

[T]he King has in him two Bodies, viz., a Body natural, and a Body politic. His Body natural (if it be considered in itself) is a Body mortal …  But his Body politic is a Body that cannot be seen or handled, consisting of Policy and Government, and constituted for the Direction of the People. . . .

Plowden’s evocative phrasing would become famous in modern times because of the work of one Ernst Kantorowicz, a mid-twentieth-century medieval historian who named a seminal study of the medieval attitude toward the person of the monarch after the concept of “The King’s Two Bodies.” Kantorowicz’s book, a sprawling and ambitious text chronicling the developing “medieval political theology” of monarchical succession and the creation of the modern state, takes as its starting point Plowden’s distinction between the king’s mortal “body Natural” and his eternal “body Politic.” The former is human; the latter is an immortal entity constituting the quasi-spiritual essence of monarchical authority and the state itself. While the king’s body natural ages and dies, the body politic continues onward as the doubled self of his successors.

Among other sources, Kantorowicz draws heavily on Shakespeare, whose Richard II and Henry V dramatize each monarch’s struggle with his human fragility in the face of a divine task. The night before the battle of Agincourt, Henry V ponders that, “all [of the King’s] senses have but human conditions: his ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man; and though his affections are higher mounted than ours, yet, when they stoop, they stoop with the like wing.”

The astute reader will instinctively see what I’m driving at here: President Trump’s two Twitter accounts. Indeed, I want to propose here almost entirely with a straight face that the relationship between the @POTUS and @realDonaldTrump accounts is the new manifestation of a very old dynamic. That is, the distinction between @POTUS and @realDonaldTrump is the distinction between the office and the person who fills it, what we might call the President’s “Twitter politic” and his “Twitter natural.”

Because in the moment that Donald Trump stood before the nation and swore the oath of office on January 20th, he quietly gained control not merely of the nuclear football but of that other most crucial of tools in the presidential arsenal: the @POTUS Twitter account. Under the terms of the Obama administration’s “Digital Transition” plan—yes, there really was a Digital Transition plan—President Obama’s official tweets migrated to @POTUS44, while @POTUS itself was wiped clean for the next administration’s use. And it is also a matter of public record that the President of the United States—an aggressive and insatiable Twitter user—has continued to post from his preexisting personal account: the @realDonaldTrump feed.

We live in strange times.

We don’t normally conceptualize of the President as having two bodies, as medieval thinkers once did of the English king, but constitutional democracy’s emphasis on institutional over individual power and legitimacy still echoes Kantorowicz’s description. This is what undergirds the distinction between suing a government officer in his or her personal, versus official, capacity. And with respect to the President, in particular, it is what undergirds the Supreme Court’s decision in Clinton v. Jones denying the President immunity for, as the Court puts it, “the unofficial conduct of the individual who happens to be the President.”

In this sense, the concept of “the president’s two bodies” is by no means specific to the Trump administration. But President Trump’s two Twitter accounts provide an ongoing, real-time dramatization of the idea. @POTUS is a digital metonym for the office of the Presidency: a vessel filled in turn by each new occupant. The account came to be Trump’s on his assumption of the office. And it will presumably not follow him when he leaves it. @realDonaldTrump, by contrast, is an unusually intimate look into the very personal preoccupations and anxieties of the man who sits behind the desk, many (if not most) of them disconnected from the work of governing and official business in any sense that we would have previously understood. His possession of this account long predates his presidency, and he uses it for everything from official statements to television reviews, media criticism, and overly-capitalized intensifiers. SAD!

Trump has, in his brief 95 days in office, succeeded in blurring the distinction between the office of the Presidency in general and the fact of his presidency in particular. But ironically, his pattern of behaving in a manner inconsistent with the dignity of the office—recall that at his first public appearance following his inauguration, he stood in front of the CIA’s Memorial Wall, lied about the number of people who had attended the previous day’s inaugural ceremony, and whined about press coverage of the crowd—heightens the contrast between the weakness and humanity of the President’s body natural and the abstract majesty of the body politic. Hence the constant confusion over whether or not Trump is “acting presidential” and what that would mean.

The whiplash is visibly confusing other actors in their interaction with the presidency. The Supreme Court justices in the Youngstown steel seizure case faced the question of the emergency authority of the President of the United States, not of the person of Harry S. Truman. By contrast, the rulings of federal judges in the travel ban cases are inextricably tied to the person and personal behavior of Donald Trump.

The Twitter natural and the Twitter politic dramatize these tensions every day. How are we to understand the President’s tweets from his @realDonaldTrump account versus his @POTUS account? Is the dividing line as clean as I’ve portrayed it above, with tweets from the former being “unofficial” and from the latter being “official,” or is the reality more complex? Legally speaking, is a tweet from @realDonaldTrump, the personal account, covered by the presidential immunity articulated by the Supreme Court in Nixon v. Fitzgerald? Ought policymakers in the executive branch take tweets from both accounts seriously as guidance, or only from the one? Or, as they often seem to, from neither?

@POTUS is clearly an official government account. It mostly tweets out press releases, links to speeches and press conferences, and photographs of the President meeting with dignitaries or otherwise at work in the Oval Office. The account description also indicates that the bulk of the tweets are sent by Dan Scavino, Trump’s Director of Social Media; tweets written by the President are signed with his initials and are relatively far and few between.

In contrast, Trump registered @realDonaldTrump in March 2009 and began using it to tweet in his capacity as a private citizen starting that May. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2017 at 6:39 pm

Do not deep-fry gnocchi

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Watch with sound turned on. Probably NSFW (since sound is on). Via Kottke.org.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2017 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Why more falsely accused people are being exonerated today than ever before

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Emily Barone reports in Time:

For the third year in a row the number of exonerations in the United States has hit a record high. A total of 166 wrongly convicted people whose convictions date as far back as 1964 were declared innocent in 2016, according to a report from the National Registry of Exonerations released Tuesday. On average, there are now over three exonerations per week—more than double the rate in 2011.

The number of exonerations has generally increased since 1989, the first year in the National Registry’s database. There are 2,000 individual exonerations listed in the registry as of March 6.

Experts say the increase in rate of exonerations can be explained, in part, by a growing trend of accountability in prosecutorial offices around the country. Twenty-nine counties, including Chicago’s Cook County, Dallas County and Brooklyn’s Kings County have adopted second-look procedures and special review units that are tasked with looking into questionable convictions.

Historically, the convictions with the best chances of being overturned were those that got repeatedly reviewed on appeal or those chosen by legal institutions such as the Innocence Project and the Center on Wrongful Convictions. These cases tended to be high profile cases with defendants who received severe sentences.

The recently established conviction review units, on the other hand, designate resources to both violent and nonviolent crimes like drug offenses. These offices have been involved in 225 exonerations, 70 of which were last year. Thanks largely to these cases, nonviolent crimes accounted for more exonerations (44%) than murder and manslaughter exonerations (33%) in 2016.

The review units “reflect a growing recognition of the importance of the problem,” says Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan who is co-founder and senior editor of the National Registry. “Many prosecutors, police officers and judges have learned that sending innocent people to prison is a constant risk—not a once-in-a-lifetime novelty.”

Many point to changes in places like Harris County, Texas, home to the city of Houston, where the county’s conviction review unit has totaled 128 exonerations, or 15% of all exonerations in the U.S., since 2010, the first full year it was in operation. Harris County identified a problem that is likely systemic across the U.S. and has actively spent the last two years trying to right its wrongs.

It started in 2014, when a reporter from the Austin American-Statesman reached out to the district attorney’s office to ask about something he had noticed: a steady stream of years-old drug convictions were being overturned. In many of these cases, the so-called drugs were actually legal substances like over the counter medications that had been initially misidentified by faulty field test kits.

The field tests, which have been around since the 1970s and cost $2, are simple chemical cocktails that change color when illegal drugs like cocaine are added. But the color also changes when exposed to dozens of other compounds, yielding a false positive.

The district attorney’s office ascertained that there was a backlog of these drug cases in which the defendant had pleaded guilty. As ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine reported in great detail last year, the county worked to streamline the process of reexamining these cases, kicking off a mass reversal of convictions over the next two years. In addition, Harris County now no longer accepts guilty pleas in drug cases until the substance has been tested in a lab.

What’s remarkable about Harris County is that the crime labs there have tested suspected drugs even after a guilty plea. According to Gross, this is not done in many other major counties. And in many jurisdictions, evidence is destroyed once a defendant pleads guilty.

“If other labs did what they do in Houston, we’d see thousands of similar cases across the country,” he says.

Kim Ogg, who was sworn in as Harris County’s District Attorney in January, says that she plans to keep the conviction review unit open in order to make the judicial system more trustworthy. In total, she says, the office has alerted 317 individuals in drug cases where no controlled substance was found and 148 cases are still pending.

“We take every case of wrongful conviction seriously,” Ogg says. “It’s a threat to the public trust.”

Now other counties are reacting. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2017 at 11:59 am

When unarmed men reach for their waistbands

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A good post by Radley Balko from a few years back, cited by Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Monday in her dissent to the court’s refusal to hear a police misconduct case. Balko writes:

A panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has reinstated a lawsuit filed by the family of Caesar Cruz, who was shot and killed by Anaheim, California, police in 2009 in the parking lot of a Walmart. Judge Alex Kozinski has written some biting opinions on police and prosecutor abuses lately, and his opinion in this case is no exception.

Nobody likes a game of “he said, she said,” but far worse is the game of “we said, he’s dead.” Sadly, this is too often what we face in police shooting cases like this one . . .

The officers noticed that Cruz’s vehicle had a broken tail light, so they executed a traffic stop. After Cruz pulled into a Walmart parking lot, the police surrounded him with their vehicles. But Cruz attempted to escape, backing his SUV into one of the marked patrol cars in the process. Cruz eventually stopped, and the officers got out of their vehicles with weapons drawn.

Cruz opened his door, and the police shouted at him to get on the ground as he was emerging from the vehicle. According to four of the officers, he ignored their commands and instead reached for the waistband of his pants. Fearing that he was reaching for a gun, all five officers opened fire. They fired about twenty shots in two to three seconds . . .

To decide this case a jury would have to answer just one simple question: Did the police see Cruz reach for his waistband? If they did, they were entitled to shoot; if they didn’t, they weren’t. But for a judge ruling on the officers’ motion for summary judgment, this translates to a different question: Could any reasonable jury find it more likely than not that Cruz didn’t reach for his waistband? In ruling for the officers, the district court answered this question “No.” The evidence it relied on in reaching this conclusion—indeed, the only evidence that suggests this is what happened—is the testimony of the officers, four of whom say they saw Cruz make the fateful reach.

In this case, there’s circumstantial evidence that could give a reasonable jury pause. Most obvious is the fact that Cruz didn’t have a gun on him, so why would he have reached for his waistband? Cruz probably saw that he was surrounded by officers with guns drawn. In that circumstance, it would have been foolish—but not wholly implausible—for him to have tried to fast-draw his weapon
in an attempt to shoot his way out. But for him to make such a gesture when no gun is there makes no sense whatsoever.

A jury may doubt that Cruz did this. Of course, a jury could reach the opposite conclusion. It might believe that Cruz thought he had the gun there, or maybe he had a death wish, or perhaps his pants were falling down at the worst possible moment. But the jury could also reasonably conclude that the officers lied. In reaching that conclusion, the jury might find relevant the uncontroverted evidence that Officer Linn, one of Cruz’s shooters, recited the exact same explanation when he shot and killed another unarmed man, David Raya, two years later under very similar circumstances.

Perhaps the most curious similarity: According to the officers who shot the two unarmed men, both reached for their waistbands while the police had their guns trained on them. (One noteworthy difference: Raya was shot in the back because he was running away from Officer Linn when Linn saw him reach for his waistband.) “They both reached for the gun” might be a plausible defense from officers in the line of duty. “They both reached for no gun” sounds more like a song-and-dance.

Back in March I noted a recent series of police shootings in the San Diego area in which the cops also claimed an unarmed man was reaching for his waistband. A September 2011 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that in half the cases in which police shot at someone they claimed was reaching for his waistband, the suspect was unarmed. (There was another incident in Long Beach, California, in April.) A 2013 Houston Chronicle investigation found multiple incidents there. There have been other recent “unarmed man reaches for his waistband” shootings in Pierce County, Washington; Pasadena, California; and Portland, Oregon. It’s also the story we heard from BART Officer Johannes Mehserle after he shot and killed Oscar Grant in an Oakland subway station.

I doubt that these cops are gunning people down in cold blood, then using the waistband excuse to justify their bloodlust. It’s likely more a product of inappropriate training. A few years ago, a guy who trains police in the use of lethal force told me that he had grown quite concerned about the direction that training has taken in recent years. He said that police departments are increasingly eschewing training that emphasizes deescalation and conflict resolution for classes that overly emphasize the dangers of the job, teach cops to view every citizen as a potential threat, and focus most of the training on how to justify their actions after the fact to avoid disciplinary action and lawsuits. Other police officials have since expressed similar concerns. This boilerplate language we sometimes see in police reports about unarmed suspects reaching for their waistbands or making “furtive gestures” suggests that this sort of training is having an impact.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2017 at 11:32 am

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

iKon S3S up for auction (and also a Vie-Long horsehair brush with olivewood handle)

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My iKon S3S with the iKon “wave” handle is up for auction. This is really an excellent razor. The photo shows the bar-guard side. The other side has a comb guard, but the gap and angle are such that I use the razor exactly as I use a symmetric DE razor: use one side until it fills with lather, then switch to the other side. As I note in the listing, the heavy head (60g) drives the blade’s edge for a smooth efficiency in cutting. The razor is well balanced since the stainless handle is also fairly heavy (65g).

I’m also selling a Vie-Long horsehair brush:

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2017 at 9:52 am

Posted in Shaving

Copper Hat silvertip brush, D.R. Harris Rose shaving cream, and the iKon 102

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I enjoyed the D.R. Harris Rose shaving cream as a change of pace. I squeeze out a little on my fingertip, smear it on my (washed, wet) stubble, then use a damp brush—in this case, my Copper Hat silvertip with the Delrin® handle—to work up the lather. It was a very nice lather, and the 102 with a newish blade did a flawless job. This really is a superb razor for me: extremely comfortable, highly efficient, and never producing razor burn and very rarely even a tiny nick. A splash of D.R. Harris Pink After Shave finished the job.

Possibly due to the two-day stubble, the result this morning was extremely smooth. What a great way to start the week!

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2017 at 9:21 am

Posted in Shaving

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