The Math of Dunn: One

Wading into a political, legal, and racial issue isn't usually my speed. But I wanted to write something briefly about the Michael Dunn trial because I feel like I'm seeing bad information and logic spread across the twittersphere.

Let's start with the obvious: African Americans have a hell of a time receiving proportionate justice when they are defendants, and non-blacks accused of crimes against black people have a vastly easier time avoiding proportionate punishment or any punishment at all. I am in full agreement, and the statistics back up the anecdotes. Black people are convicted and pled at higher rates under more severity than white defendants for the same crimes. Drug charges for urban drugs more likely to be used by blacks have much higher penalties than those more typically used by middle-class whites.

And the use of "loud music" in all the headlines about this case? Jordan Davis and his friends may have been playing music loudly. That is what teenagers do. The issue was about one man's simmering violence in which he coolly loaded a gun and shot repeatedly at a vehicle as it drove away full of unarmed children.

"Loud music"? Please. I've seen tweets about the loud music indicating "disrespect" towards Dunn. This isn't about loud music just like the movie theater texting shooting isn't about cell phones. This is about a violent person who is willing to commit murder because he cannot control his own impulses.

Now, having stated that, I want to look at what precisely happened in the trial, to my understanding from the news accounts.

The jurors: I already saw a prominent person say that "eight white people" refused to convict Dunn of the most serious of five charges against him. That is incorrect.

The jury comprised 12 people: four white men, four white women, two black women, one Asian-American woman, and one man who identified as Hispanic. (Hispanic is a designation that can apply to any race.)

The charges: Florida requires unanimous decisions for criminal charges for conviction or acquittal. Dunn was found guilty of four charges (one for each of the kids he shot at and didn't kill in the departing car and one weapons charge).

On the murder charge, jurors could not reach unanimity on first-degree murder or second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter charges, which must be considered if they reject the murder charges. He was not acquitted.

From my reading of the trial, the defense did a remarkable job in causing doubt in at least a single juror's mind about Dunn acting in self-defense. Dunn didn't need to act reasonably in self-defense; only believe that he was so doing!

Only one juror had to disagree. Given that they found him guilty unanimously of four other charges, I can imagine a scenario in which the recalcitrant juror says, "He's going to jail for life, anyway. I think he had reason to act in self-defense in his mind, and I'm not going to vote in favor of any murder or manslaughter charges." The ways juries work, one or more jurors could have "traded" their votes on the other four charges to avoid deadlocking on all.

The mistrial: The judge declared a mistrial on the murder charge. The state attorney has said he will stage a new trial on that charge, even though Dunn will almost certainly spend the rest of his life in jail.

It's completely clear to me that the defense painted the situation in terms in which Jordan and his friends were guilty of being "menacing because black teenagers." That's the crux of the injustice. The jury outcome may have been based on a single juror or 11 of the 12; we won't know unless they decide to talk later.

But the doubt in one or more jurors' minds that let them deadlock (not acquit) on one charge yet reach unanimity on four others is where justice wasn't served.

 

Making Lemonade out of #cancerlemons: Bid on a Drawing

Update! The auction is over. One fine person bid $150, and Matt Bors offered to donate the artwork. That $150 is now in Sloane-Kettering's hands, and I matched that with $150 of my own money.

You can still and always donate in many places to help fund cancer research. I'm donating to Sloan-Kettering right now through Lisa Adams fundraising page as a mark of respect to her.

Original post:

This last week, Emma and Bill Keller separately wrote horrible Op-Ed essays in the Guardian and New York Times, respectively, shaming cancer patient Lisa Adams about her openness in documenting her progress and about her medical decisions. The pieces were also riddled with factual errors, and the Guardian has retracted Emma Keller's article. I'm not even going to link to them.

To make delicious cancer-research fund lemonade out of these two lemons, I have purchased the original artwork from Matt Bors of his editorial cartoon about Bill Keller, shown below. I am auctioning off a set of the original, signed black-and-white ink artwork (8 1/2 by 11 on Bristol board) and a color print also signed by Matt, and 100% of the auction price will be donated to Sloan-Kettering, where Lisa is receiving care, through her fundraising page for the institution. (You can either donate directly and send me the receipt, or you can pay me directly, and I will donate and send you the receipt.)

We'll use the hashtag on Twitter #cancerlemons for the auction. You can bid just by stating an amount, and I will follow up with the winner. The auction will run 24 hours, ending at noon Pacific January 14th. If you don't use Twitter, you can still search on its site for the hashtag and email me or post a bid here, and I'll count it.

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Every Book Is Its Own Hardware

After reading about an ebook-only library, the only branch in the county system that serves San Antonio, Texas, I wrote a long essay that reflects a couple of decades of thinking about books, libraries, and going digital. Right now, the copyright and licensing regime for ebooks is very poor for libraries, and thus for their patrons, even though the utility and ease are extremely. People are reading more than ever and more unique books are being published than at any time in human history by probably a factor of three or four, if not a full order of magnitude.

And yet—publishing clinging to physical models in a digital world is holding back readers as buyers and readers as library patrons. Established publishers have every reason to fear the creative destruction underway. But they have to embrace it. They have no alternative. And the current model doesn't work well at all for libraries.

When you have a library full of printed books, every book is a self-contained apparatus: every printed book contains the hardware and data necessary to allow human wetware and our operating system to interact with it. One needs no intermediary for the contents of the book. Each book stands alone.

Read the whole thing.

 

2013 in Review

Last year, inspired by Joe Kissell, I wrote a summary of the enormity of what 2012 had encompassed. It was freaking huge. Joe enumerated for years all the words, books, articles, and such like he worked on. This year, I'm inspired again by Joe: he decided to stop the extensive documentation of his year, having felt he'd proven his productivity. I'm somewhere in between: less documentation than last year, but still quite a bit to share.

In June, I bought The Magazine from Marco Arment. It's been one of the greatest things I've worked on in my life, and it's a constant joy of collaboration with contributors both before and after the purchase. We just put out Issue #33 — we produced 26 issues during 2013, and now have some subscribers who are paid up though the end of 2015. We'd better deliver.

I launched the weekly podcast The New Disruptors in December 2012. With the help first of Mule Radio, and then my brother in law, Michael, we put out 51 episodes in 2013. (We skipped a New Year's episode last year, but had one for 2014, so we'll probably hit 52.)

I've been writing for the Economist since 2005, but 2013 was probably one of my biggest years as a contributor:

  • I crossed 300 blog posts for Economist.com, most of them, but not all, for the Babbage blog.
  • I had my first cover story (cover of the American edition, and the inside Technology Quarterly section) about the sharing economy.
  • While I often have one or two TQ articles a year in the print edition, this year I not only had the three-page sharing economy article in first quarter, but a long piece on keeping probes and landers working throughout the solar system and beyond (co-written with my long-time editor and friend Tom Standage), and then a two-page look at Bitcoin's technological pressures in the fourth quarter.

I wrote fewer articles in 2013 for other publications between my devotion to The Magazine and my gig at the Economist's blogs, but I did write a few long items for Boing Boing, my home away from home:

As has been true for a few years, one of the most fun things I do during the year is be a panelist on The Incomparable, a geeky radio show developed by friend Jason Snell. This year, I wasn't able to be on as many episodes, but I did make sure to be part of two very special ones. Friend of the podcast (and now regular panelist) and playwright David Loehr wrote radio plays we performed—two of them—as The Incomparable Radio Theater of the Air! The first aired April 1 and the second over the December holidays. (Then we spent almost two hours talking about how we made the Christmas spectacular!)

David combined a true love and deep knowledge of old-timey radio theater and serials (shared by many of us in our 20s, 30s, and 40s, surprisingly, on the podcast!) with mild parody and great writing. Jason did most of the editing, with an assist from David in the latest production. Serenity Caldwell, who studied radio-play directing in college (!!), did a fabulous job directing us mostly amateur actors. I played Tesla in a sort of Doctor Who tribute/parody in both shows, and did a plummy New England stuffed shirt as a minor character in the first one. (What's that?)

After years of not traveling much, I was on the road quite a bit for both personal and professional reasons in 2013. I went to Los Angeles in January to visit Jet Propulsion Lab for the Economist story and several Babbage posts, and dropped in to watch a taping of Jeopardy's Tournament of Champions in which two contestants were people I had met during my stint on the show in 2012.

In February, I flew to D.C. to help a friend move to New York, and we wound up driving a moving truck into the biggest blizzard of the year. It was very entertaining, the roads were fine, and we had quite a story to tell. I met up with three of my oldest friends there, too, for a mini-reunion, our second. In March, I was back in New York for a quick visit with a dear friend and some meetings.

I stayed home a bit, then our family, my brother-in-law's family, and my father- and mother-in-law all went to Kauai for nearly a week! Which was great, except I was feeling a bit crummy during the trip. We came back, I saw my doctor, he ordered some tests, and I wound up getting a stent put into one of my main arteries. Turns out the radiation therapy I had had in 1998 to help cure me of Hodgkin's Disease caused some early onset of cloggage. The stent took, I feel terrific, and my heart is in great shape.

I went to the XOXO festival in September, which was another wonderful meeting of so many creative people: finding old friends and online acquaintances, and making piles of new friends. November, I flew back to New York again to record a podcast live at a conference, and then to San Francisco and Los Angeles in December for meetings, meetups, and renewals of friendship.

The year ended with a bang. I had long planned to stage a Kickstarter campaign to underwrite production of a book drawn from The Magazine's first full year in publication (October 2012 to October 2013), and we raised over $56,000 in 29 days, with over 1,000 hardcover books and even more electronic versions that we'll be shipping off in the next two months.

I finally got a Fitbit in 2013, and have been quantifying myself. I started using a treadmill that fits under my standing desk in earnest, and spend about 3 hours a day walking and the rest standing. Fitbit's stats tell me that from May to December 2013, I walked 1,025 miles (2.4 million steps), and climbed the equivalent of 2,424 stairs. I lost about 25 pounds after my heart stent was put in place, and while I've gained a few back over the holidays, I'll be pushing for 50 more off  in 2014 and into 2015 to reach a goal weight my doctors are happy with.

I made a lot of new friends in 2013. Because of the travel many "Twitter buddies" became real buddies. (I may have tweeted 50,000 times in 2013. Sorry.) I turned some people from acquaintances into some of my closest friends, and encountered and gave a lot of love, which is what it's all about. I'm hoping for a little bit less of a hectic pace in 2014, but more fulfilling work, collaboration, love, and happiness, which I wish for you all as well.

Approaching Halfway with Kickstarter

The Magazine: The Book is nearly at 50% of the goal we need to make it happen.

Kickstarter campaigns can follow a few arcs.

They can flatline, which is about 20% of them, last time I was able to get statistics. 20% of all projects approved by the company get no bids. Another 20% get less than one-fifth of the way to their goal amount. 16% of all projects fail between about 20% and 50% of the total amount they plan to raise.

But at the halfway mark, when you raised 50% of your total, the odds are pretty dramatic: 97% of Kickstarter projects that fund halfway proceed to fund fully by the end of the campaign.

We're about 48% of the way to our total, and I'm confident that, as we hit our last 12 days, we'll start to see some steam as people both see that it's coming to a close and it's not fully funded. It's an exciting thing, and daunting, and nail-biting. But we'll get there.

The campaign is to make a hardcover book of some of the wonderful stories that reporters and essayists wrote between October 2012 and October 2013 (and an ebook as well). The reward for pledging is the book! (And more.)

The campaign covers all the costs of paying for design, printing, shipping, and contributors, and will leave us with some print books left to sell and the ebook to offer online. It's a great way to run a project like this: to scale production with actual demand.

I'll admit that it's scary to sit here with about 33% of the time and 50% of the money left to go — but I also feel strongly about the stories in the book, the design that's being created for it, and the interest in making something cool and new that people will enjoy. Thanks for those of you who have backed the project already, and I hope those who haven't will consider jumping in to get a copy as soon as it's hot off the presses!