A few diversions for you

There’s a new Slant out today. Nothing from me this time, but I did get a promotion from Staff Writer to Doorstop. I’m hoping to make it to Chief Stapling Officer before I graduate in May.

In other news, today’s Hustler has an intriguing op-ed about anal sex. You may be asking if I mean the Larry Flynt Hustler or The Vanderbilt Hustler. I don’t even know anymore. The column is intriguing because 1) it’s in the Opinion section for some reason and 2) the logistics of the glue stick and the bathrobe defy the laws of physics. Accident? My ass!

Speaking of strange sexual fetishes, did you know Martha Stewart has a website up to defend herself from the charges brought against her by the SEC? It’s good, especially the links to articles explaining the injustice of the prosecution. The excellent Reason cover story is oddly missing, however.

Finally, to those of you who think I need to be more actively looking for a job, I think I may have found one. If Mystery can do it, surely I can. So watch out, Scott Baio and all you other washed-up 80s TV stars: all your babe are belong to me. [Link via MagicTalk]


More of yesterday’s news

Back in December I had an op-ed about the D. C. school voucher proposal in The Free Liberal, a new libertarian magazine that’s distributed on several college campuses in the D. C. area. It’s now available on the TFL weblog. (In a presumably unrelated development, the Senate passed the final version of the voucher bill just a few days ago).

Two of my fellow interns were also published in this issue. Court says “Mr. President, economics before politics, please” and California Tommy demands “Decentralize our forests!


I didn’t know Milkbone makes biscotti

Half of my posts since returning to Vanderbilt have been about coffee shops. This one is no exception.

My shop of choice tonight was Fido, which used to be a pet store but is now a part of the Bongo Java Roasting Co (home of the infamous NunBun, the cinnamon bun that looks likes Mother Teresa). The store kept the neon dog sign, has a dog in its logo, and names all of its specialty drinks with dog terms, like the Rollover or the Pink Dalmatian. This historical digression is relevant because it explains why Fido is the only coffee shop I know that also sells dog biscuits. Not just any dog biscuits, but really big dog biscuits, each half-covered with white icing and colorful sprinkles. I don’t know if this actually makes them more appealing to dogs, but they look pretty darn good to me.

As evidenced by tonight’s incident, I am not the only one who salivates at the sight of these tasty treats. While I was examining the menu, trying to decide what would go best with writing a paper on evolutionary theory, a young Asian man approached the counter to ask the barista a question. Gesturing toward the large glass jar of iced dog biscuits, he asked, “Are these for dogs or for people?”

“Those are for dogs,” answered the barista, a bit surprised by the question. “Ohhhh,” said the customer. It was at this point that the barista and I looked down to see in his other hand a fragment of dog biscuit. “Did you just… eat that?” I asked him. Indeed he had.

It turns out that he was not the sole biscuit eater that evening. Happening to sit down next to his table, I realized that he was with a date. They sat across from each other, each with a cup of coffee in front of them. In front of the coffees, two napkins. On each napkin, the remainder of a dog biscuit. Yes, he had not only eaten a dog biscuit, but he had fed one to his girlfriend as well. They made it through the iced portions, stopping several bites into the plain halves (for the record, the guy ate more of his than the girl did of hers).

All’s well that ends well, however. The girl got cheesecake, which the guy presumably recognized as fit for human consumption by its pie-like shape and the fact that it comes on a plate. The guy can now point to the brand new Post-It note on the biscuit jar that reads “Not for humans” and say, “You see that? That’s there for me!” And us? We learned that when you’re really hungry, frosted dog biscuits with sprinkles make a semi-delicious dessert.


Yesterday’s news

It’s a little late in coming, but the December issue of The Torch is now available online. The print edition had one of our most attention grabbing covers; you can see the photo that graced it on the front page of the website (some people say that’s W. Bush in the bottom right corner). My column was a pretty standard take on the CAN-SPAM Act and is dated now — the Act hadn’t been signed at the time of writing.

The January issue will be out in a couple weeks and the website will probably be in a new and improved format by then, too.


Earth Attacks!

President Bush announced today his plans for colonizing, I mean pre-emptively striking, our red neighbor Mars. “Once our troops have penetrated the Martian defense lines, it’s only a matter of time before we are able to penetrate Uranus,” said the Commander in Chief. Robert Saunders has the full story in the year’s first issue of The Slant.

Speaking of The Slant, writer and frequent commenter on this site Andrew Collazzi (a.k.a. my enemy Taco Boy) has begun his own weblog. His first post is entitled “I blame JaRo,” so I guess this travesty is my fault.


Back to Café-Philo

Some sad news this week for Nashville’s coffee scene: Joe’s Bean Central on West End has closed its doors. Bean Central was the first Net cafe in Nashville and the home of café-philo for the past year. Adam reports that Joe is focusing instead on the roasting side of his business. You can purchase his coffee here; I recommend the Ethiopian Yrgacheffe.

The first café-philo of 2004 will be held tomorrow night at 9:00 at J-J’s. After that we will probably go back to our old rotation of J-J’s and Fido unless we find another permanent home. If you’re in town, come check it out. To receive a weekly email announcing café-philo’s time and location, sign up here.


Live from J-J’s Market and Cafe

After a 12+ hour drive from Houston to Nashville, most people would want a good meal and a soft bed. Me, I just wanted an Internet connection. Unfortunately, an inactive Ethernet port is just one complication that has prevented me from updating these past few days. Now I’m back at Vanderbilt, mostly settled in, and ready to recommence the weblogging.

On the upside, my new dorm room is located close enough the lobby that I can tap into the wi-fi network. At this moment I’m enjoying my first coffee shop wi-fi experience at Nashville’s J-J’s Market and Café. I love having this capability.

I’m getting a lot of double takes when people see me on campus: casual hellos followed by excited surprise when it clicks that I haven’t been around for a long time. I’m not keeping count of how many people thought I’d graduated.

My response to being back at Vanderbilt is mixed. Yesterday I went out to the Lawn with Dr Pepper Man and Taco Boy for our first Aerobie tossing, which was great despite the fact that the astonishing flying ring broke and cut my arm. Less exciting are the flocks of VandyGirls.* Even off campus they’re easy to spot and when I see them I can’t help but cringe and wonder what I’m doing at this school. All in all, though, it’s good to be back and I think this will be a fun (final) semester.

*The girl pictured is Claire Suddath, who is definitley not a VandyGirl but was sporting enough to play one for this Torch back page article.


Not a sex symbol (yet)

Tallying up the web stats for jacobgrier.com in 2003 reveals the following numbers. People came to my website via these search phrases, among many others:

“jacob grier” — 67
“sabine herold” — 34

I suppose it’s encouraging that on my own website more people came looking for me than for the glamourous French libertarian, but then there’s this comparison:

“sabine herold picture” — 27
“sabine herold photos” — 12
“sabine herold photo” — 1
“jacob grier picture” — 0
“jacob grier photos” — 0
“jacob grier photo” — 0

Am I not also worthy of objectification? Must every visitor to my weblog come to read and not to look? Am I doomed by gender stereotypes to be judged always by my mind and never by superficial appearances? Damn it, is there no justice in the world?!

If this situation doesn’t improve, I may just have to pose in a Vanderbilt Torch thong.
Torch thong
And I know we don’t want that to happen.


Dawkins on trial by juries

I’ve been meaning to post for a while about an article from Richard Dawkins’ new book A Devil’s Chaplain. In it he disparages (and misunderstands the reasons for) trial by jury, but in the end he comes up with an intriguing suggestion for reform. An online version of the article is available here.

Dawkins assumes that the purpose of a jury is strictly to determine the factual issue of guilt or innocence by polling the decisions of its members. He compares the process to an esoteric scientific experiment to test innate color preference in herring gulls and asks what conditions need to be met to return valid results. Answer: there must be a large sample and each individual in it must be tested independently. Testing one bird doesn’t tell you anything meaningful about the species; testing a bunch of birds in a group introduces the possibility of imitative tendencies spoiling the data. Getting good results requires testing lots of birds individually.

So how do our human juries stack up against the herring gulls? Twelve people evaluating the evidence is better than relying on a single judge, but the evaluations aren’t truly independent. As Dawkins notes:

…juries are massively swayed by one or two vocal individuals. There is also strong pressure to conform to a unanimous verdict, which further undermines the principle of independent data. Increasing the number of jurors doesn’t help, or not much (and not at all in strict principle). What you have to increase is the number of independent verdict-reaching units.

What to do? Having multiple twelve person juries would be prohibitively expensive and complete isolation for each juror would remove the benefits that arise from group deliberation. Dawkins suggests that the system could be improved by having two juries of six people, or three of four, at every trial. They would be completely sequestered and would all have to reach the same verdict for an outcome to be valid. He calls this the Two Verdict Concordance Test and it would allow us to say with more confidence that cases that pass it have truly been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Up to this point I agree with Dawkins (more on that in a minute), but at the next step his view of trial by jury as strictly a fact finding tool takes his argument in a bad direction. He proposes testing trial by two juries against trial by two judges. Whichever system yields the higher concordance must be the more reliable system and, therefore, the one we should adopt. Dawkins places his bet with the judges:

Would you bet on two independent juries reaching the same verdict in the Louise Woodward case? Could you imagine even one other jury reaching the same verdict in the O.J.Simpson case? Two judges, on the other hand, seem to me rather likely to score well on the concordance test. And should I be charged with a serious crime here’s how I want to be tried. If I know myself to be guilty, I’ll go with the loose cannon of a jury, the more ignorant, prejudiced and capricious the better. But if I am innocent, and the ideal of multiple independent decision-takers is unavailable, please give me a judge.

But what if he was factually guilty of breaking an unjust law (say, one that prohibits teaching evolution in school)? That Dawkins does not say, and therein lies the problem.

Dawkins writes that, “Twelve jurors are preferred to one judge only because they are more numerous.” Not so. Jurors are also preferred to judges because they represent the community, not the state. Statistical validity was not the concern of religious and political dissidents suppressed by the Court of Star Chamber, or pamphleteers charged with sedition in Colonial America, or abolitionists illegally aiding escaped slaves after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. Though underappreciated today, the power and right of juries to refuse to convict in unjust circumstances was vital for winning some of our most cherished freedoms.

There is still a role for jury nullification in modern life, such as in trials dealing with medical marijuana, euthanasia, regulation, taxation, or just cases where a law that’s good in general is bad in a particular case. Juries might not score as well as judges on the Two Verdict Concordance Test, especially in these kinds examples, but that is a feature of the system, not a defect.

Granting that Dawkins misses this point, does the rest of his analysis hold up? I think it does. Fact finding isn’t the only function of a jury, but it is one function. Even when the less objective, “conscience of the communityďż˝” role of the jury is taken into account a representative verdict is more likely to come about with multiple juries than it is with just one. The only downside I can see is that the smaller juries would be less likely to include members with relevant expertise (for instance, a psychiatrist in a case involving prescription drug use), but with the way juries are dumbed down with peremptory strikes these days that’s not likely a relevant concern.

From a libertarian point of view, multiple juries would likely have the additional benefit of increasing the prevalence of nullification. As in the present system, any one juror would still have the power to prevent conviction. However, he would face less pressure to go along with a unanimous or guilty verdict since no one in the room would know what the other juries on the case are going to decide. [Afterthought 1/5/04: Or might he be less inclined to nullify, mentally shifting responsibility to the members of the other juries?]

I don’t know if it would be constitutional for a state to amend its jury system in this way and it’s probably best not to mess unnecessarily with something as important as trial by jury. Nonetheless, if the opportunity to institute trial by multiple juries arises (the first Moon colony? Iraq?), it looks like a sound option for reform.

The rest of A Devil’s Chaplain is up to Dawkins’ usual high standard. It’s an eclectic assortment of his shorter writings, with everything from reviews of Stephen Jay Gould’s books to a letter he wrote to his then ten year old daughter on good and bad reasons for believing things to remembrances of Douglas Adams. Recommended for its elegant writing, clear thoughts about evolution, and refreshingly candid attacks on religion.

For more on jury nullification, see the excellent book Jury Nullification by Clay Conrad or, for a shorter presentation, read this paper I wrote on the subject.