Michael Drejka is a Political Prisoner

Just over a year ago, Michael Drejka fatally shot Markeis McGlockton in a Clearwater, Florida convenience store parking lot. On August 23, a jury found Drejka guilty of manslaughter.

Drejka should never have been charged with a crime.

Pinellas County sheriff Bob Gualtieri initially, and correctly, concluded that Drejka’s actions were protected under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law. The charge was only filed after a calculated public relations campaign to create a “public outcry” based on political issues of gun rights and racial injustice.

Let’s review the facts:

McGlockton physically attacked Drejka, blind-siding him and taking him by surprise, driving him to his knees in a parking lot with no plausible place to flee (even if Drejka had been obligated to attempt to do so), then loomed aggressively over him as a second potential assailant (McGlockton’s girlfriend) moved to Drejka’s right. Drejka drew his weapon and shot McGlockton. All of this transpired in a matter of about five seconds.

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law required a reasonable belief on Drejka’s part that firing his weapon was “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.”

Jury foreman Timothy Kleinman admits that “Markeis Mcglockton unnecessarily provoked Mr. Drejka by pushing him,” but claims that “[a]t the same time, using the gun wasn’t needed.  … He had time to think, ‘Do I really need to kill this man?’”

Forgive me if that statement causes me to doubt that Kleinman or any of the other jurors have ever found themselves in a situation where they were required to make “a kill or possibly be killed” decision over a of span of five seconds or less.

Speaking of doubt, let’s talk about the jury’s obligation. Their job was to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Drejka acted maliciously or negligently rather than in legitimate self-defense. Based on the key piece of evidence — surveillance video from the store — such a conclusion borders on the impossible.

Even Kleinman admits that Drejka was acting in self-defense up to the instant he pulled the trigger: “I think simply drawing the gun would have been enough.” Kleinman had as long to think about that as he cared to take in the comparative safety of the jury room. Drejka had seconds to think about it, on his knees, in a parking lot, during a violent physical assault that took him by surprise.

So why are we here? Because some politicians and political activists found a “lightning rod” case to push their agendas with. That’s a bad reason, an inherently corrupt purpose, for charging a man with a crime.

Yes, Drejka started an argument. But McGlockton started a fight. That bad decision cost Markeis McGlockton his life. It shouldn’t cost Michael Drejka his freedom.

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Sneering at “Conspiracy Theories” is a Lazy Substitute for Seeking the Truth

On the morning of August 10, a wealthy sex crimes defendant  was reportedly found dead in his cell at New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center.

“New York City’s chief medical examiner,” the New York Times reported on August 11, “is confident Jeffrey Epstein died by hanging himself in the jail cell where he was being held without bail on sex-trafficking charges, but is awaiting more information before releasing her determination …”

That same day, the Times published an op-ed by Charlie Warzel complaining that “[e]ven on an internet bursting at the seams with conspiracy theories and hyperpartisanship, Saturday marked a new chapter in our post-truth, ‘choose your own reality’ crisis story.”

After three years of continuously beating the drum for its own  now-discredited conspiracy theory —  that the President of the United States conspired with Vladimir Putin’s regime to rig the 2016 presidential election — the Times doesn’t have much standing to whine about, or sneer at, “conspiracy theories and hyperpartisanship.”

Is Jeffrey Epstein really dead? If so, did he kill himself or was he murdered? If he was murdered, whodunit and why?

Those are legitimate questions. Calling everyone who asks them, or proposes possible answers to them, a “conspiracy theorist” isn’t an argument, it’s intellectual laziness.

Yes, some theories fit the available evidence better than others. And yes, some theories just sound crazy. If someone says a UFO beamed Epstein up, or that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump posed as corrections officers and personally strangled him, I suggest setting those claims aside absent very strong evidence.

But there are plenty of good  reasons to question the “official account.”

Yes, prisoners have committed suicide at federal jails and prisons. But prisoners have also escaped from, and been killed at, such facilities. In fact, notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger was murdered in a federal prison just last year.

Given Epstein’s wealth and power, the wealth and power of persons accused of serious crimes in recently unsealed court documents, the claim of one of his prosecutors that Epstein “belonged to” the US intelligence community, the well-established inability of the federal government to secure its facilities or prevent criminal activity inside those facilities (including the corruption of its own personnel), the equally well-established unreliability of claims made by government agencies and officials in general, and the already flowing stream of admissions that the Metropolitan Correctional Center’s procedures weren’t followed where Jeffrey Epstein was concerned, the question is not why “conspiracy theories” are circulating — it’s why on earth they WOULDN’T be.

No, I’m not saying that Epstein is alive and living it up in “witness protection,” or that he was murdered by a hit team on behalf of one of his “Lolita Express” cronies. I just don’t know. Neither, probably, do you. Nor do those screaming “conspiracy theory!” at every musing contrary to the suicide theory.

Maybe we’ll find out the truth someday. Maybe we won’t. Pretending we already have, and shouting down those who suggest we haven’t, isn’t a method of seeking knowledge. It’s a method of avoiding knowledge.

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Questioning the Back-To-School Default

Back-to-school time is upon us. My Instagram feed is starting to fill with first-day photos as a new school year begins this week in some parts of the country. For those of us who homeschool, we often get asked, “So, why did you decide to homeschool?” We respond with various personal and educational reasons, including the top motivator for homeschoolers on national surveys: “concern about the school environment.” What always strikes me, though, is that parents who send their kids to school never get asked this question. When was the last time someone asked a parent, “So, why did you decide to send your child to school?”

Societal Expectations and Defaults

Schooling is the default. It’s the societally expected thing to do. It’s also mandated of parents under a legal threat of force, so they may not think much of it. The trouble is that schooling is beginning to take on a much larger role in a child’s life, disconnecting children from family at much earlier ages and for longer portions of a child’s day and year. Even compulsory schooling laws are expanding in many states, to begin at age five and extend to age 18.

I wrote an op-ed about this trend in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, arguing that there are benefits to delaying early schooling for most children and potential harms with sending children to school early, such as increased ADHD diagnosis rates. It can be worthwhile to question the default.

In his book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant writes that a hallmark of originals and change-makers is their tendency to question, and often reject, societal defaults. Grant writes:

Justifying the default system serves a soothing function. It’s an emotional painkiller: If the world is supposed to be this way, we don’t need to be dissatisfied with it. But acquiescence also robs us of the moral outrage to stand against injustice and the creative will to consider alternative ways that the world could work. The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists. (p. 7)

Better options than compulsory mass schooling do exist, and many more would be created if more parents challenged the default. We should be outraged that schooling has seized so much of childhood and adolescence, particularly when the results of all this schooling are lackluster at best and concerning at worst. We should be outraged that government schools increasingly look like prisons and that students are being schooled for jobs that no longer exist. We should question whether a system in which only one-quarter of high school seniors are proficient in math, and only a bit over one-third of them are proficient readers, should be given greater influence and authority over young people’s lives. We should really wonder if it makes sense to place our children in this swelling system, whether they are toddlers or teens. Surely, we should “consider alternative ways that the world could work.”

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Alternative Options

What are these alternative ways? Jessica Koehler has a great article this month at Psychology Today where she lists some of these alternatives and also explains her own journey of shifting from schooling to homeschooling for her children. In addition to homeschooling/unschooling, parents can delay preschool and kindergarten, explore various co-ops and learning centers, take advantage of one of the many micro-schools that are sprouting nationwide, and explore alternative programs for teens, like community college enrollment, travel, or apprenticeships. Or they can build their own alternative to school with other like-minded parents. Other options are virtual learning programs, including public ones, and nearby public charter schools or private schools that can sometimes offer flexible learning and attendance options.

Questioning the schooling default, and acting upon that doubt, can be difficult. It is much easier to put a child on a school bus and be just like everyone else. It is easier to go along. But it may not be better—for you, your child, or the world you could help to create. As Adam Grant says, it’s the non-conformists who move the world. These originals are the ones who question the status quo, refuse to tolerate discontent, and imagine new possibilities. Grant writes:

Ultimately, the people who choose to champion originality are the ones who propel us forward….They feel the same fear, the same doubt, as the rest of us. What sets them apart is that they take action anyway. (p. 28)

We all care deeply about educating children to be literate, competent, inventive, compassionate, and thoughtful. It’s time we question if compulsory mass schooling really has the ability to facilitate these outcomes, for our children and others, or whether alternatives to school might do the job better. It’s time to challenge defaults.

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The Anti-Gun Bigots’ Silly Strawman

Anti-gun bigots have a “new” favorite strawman. They demand to know why the right to own and carry weapons (they’ll sometimes mischaracterize this as “Second Amendment rights”) is more important than the right to not be murdered.

The dishonesty– or ignorance– displayed by such a question is absolutely stunning.

You and I have the natural human right to own and to carry weapons. No one has the right to use those weapons to harm someone who isn’t currently violating the life, liberty, or property of another. There is no conflict, and at least some of those anti-gun bigots know it.

You also have no right to make up “laws” which violate anyone’s rights in any way. And since that’s what all the harmful “laws” do, those who support these “laws” are currently violating life, liberty, and property. Not smart.

You have no right to make up anti-gun “laws”. You can’t delegate a right you don’t have (because it can’t exist) to someone else. If you try to do either of those things YOU are the bad guy. Just as bad as the evil losers who inspire your calls to action.

Anti-gun bigots would have us live (and die) in a failed society where only the government goons and freelance thugs are adequately armed. That’s not civilized. It’s prison.

Burn their strawman to the ground and leave them exposed as the bad guys they are.

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Human Sacrifice: A Grand Old American Political Tradition

On July 25, US Attorney General William Barr ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to update its execution protocol and schedule five executions starting this December.

Whether you support the death penalty or not — I don’t because I prefer limited government and the power to kill disarmed prisoners in cold blood and with premeditation is by definition unlimited government — it’s worthwhile to ask:  Why? More to the point, why now?

Politics, that’s why.

There’s a presidential election next year. US president Donald Trump’s re-election strategy, for lack of ability to grow his electoral “base,” is to keep that base energized and enthused so that they’ll turn out to vote instead of sitting at home catching up on re-runs of their favorite TV shows. And that base overwhelmingly supports capital punishment.

With this move Trump is quite literally throwing his supporters some red meat.

There’s nothing new about the idea. Indeed, the history of public human sacrifice for political purposes runs all the way back to ancient history in the Americas.

The last large-scale pre-Columbian example of the practice, that of the Aztecs, involved removing the beating heart of the victim atop a pyramid temple before flinging his or her corpse down the steps to the approval of a roaring crowd.

In this way, Aztec kings not only maintained support from their own populace through religious appeals, but kept smaller tribes too busy raiding each other (for sacrificial captives to be given to the Aztecs in tribute) to ally with each other against the Aztecs themselves.

If these five executions occur, they will be the first federal executions since 2003. There have only been three since 1963.

So, again, why? And why now?

Deterrence isn’t an answer that fits. Overall, violent crime (including murder) in the US has trended downward, not upward in recent decades (from 758 per 100,000 population in 1992 to 383 per 100,000 in 2017).

Neither is reducing the costs of incarceration. Of the more than 200,000 federal prisoners, only 61 are on “death row.” It’s unlikely that killing every last one of them would make a big dent in the Bureau of Prisons’ $7.3 billion annual budget.

Speaking which, if money was the problem, all five of the prisoners to be killed could as easily have been left to the justice systems of the states in which their crimes were committed and would have likely been sentenced to either death or life imprisonment without involving federal tax dollars in the first place.

The same is true regarding any moral “eye for an eye” imperative.  Handling this kind of crime, and this kind of criminal, was never supposed to be the federal government’s job.

That leaves politics. Trump is playing Montezuma in hopes of holding on to his adoring crowd.

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The Bayesian Prisoners’ Dilemma

Suppose someone sends you a new article claiming X.  Intuitively, we think, “This will either make you more likely to believe X, or have no effect.”  Once you understand Bayesian reasoning, however, this makes no sense.  When someone sends you an article claiming X, you should ask yourself, “Is this evidence stronger or weaker than I would have expected?” If the answer is “stronger, ” then you should become more likely to believe X.  However, if the answer is “weaker,” then you should become less likely to believe X.

Thus, suppose you initially consider X absurd.  When someone sends you some evidence in favor of X, you should update in favor of X if the evidence is less awful than expected.  You should update against X, in contrast, only if the evidence is even more awful than expected.

Similarly, suppose you initially consider X absurd, but your brilliant friend nevertheless defends it.  The fact that a brilliant person believes X is evidence in its favor.  Given his brilliance, however, his arguments should only persuade you if they are even better than you would have expected from one so brilliant.  When a great mind offers mediocre arguments, you shouldn’t merely be unmoved; you should be actively repelled: “That’s the best you can do?!”

Example: One of the smartest people I know routinely sends me pro-“social justice” links on Twitter.  As a result, I think even less of the movement than I previously did.  If even he fails to defend his view effectively, the view is probably truly devoid of merit.

What, however, should I conclude if this mighty intellect simply stopped sending me links?  One possibility, of course, is that he’s given up on me.  Another possibility, though, is that he’s exhausted his supply of evidence.  At this point, he’s got nothing better than… nothing.

The strange upshot: While Bayesian reasoning seems to imply that persuasive efforts are, on average, ineffective, there is a reason to keep arguing.  Namely: Failure to argue is, on average, an admission of intellectual defeat.  And by basic Bayesian principles, this in turn implies that the continuation of argument is at least weak evidence in favor of whatever you’re arguing.

Stepping back, you can see a somewhat depressing conclusion.  When people are perfect Bayesians, argument is a kind of Prisoners’ Dilemma.

If your opponent keeps arguing, you want to keep arguing so it doesn’t look like you’ve run out of arguments.

If your opponent stops arguing, you want to keep arguing to emphasize that your opponent has run out of arguments.

As a result, both sides have an incentive to argue interminably.  Which, as you may have noticed, they usually do.

Is there any ejector seat out of this intellectual trap?  Yes.  You could build a credible reputation for talking only when you have something novel to add to the conversation.  Then instead of interpreting your silence as, “I’ve got nothing,” Bayesian listeners will interpret it as, “I’ve rested my case.”

[silence]

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