Orderliness, De Morgan, Texas and Common Sense

24 02 2013

OK, so if this is your first foray into Quieter Elephant territory, you might want to politely smile, avoid eye contact and slowly back out – being careful not to make any sudden movements or trip over your laces, or that sleeping aardvark you didn’t notice on the way in. Once you’re safely around the corner, run. Don’t look back, just keep going – especially if you hear the familiar sound of a shopping bag full of dragon fruit. (Because let’s face it –  if it’s familiar, you’re just weird, and even we have limits!)

This is going to be one of those tortured, frayed, twisted postings. You’ve been warned. Perhaps come back when the rainbows and unicorns are here. (You’ll see the full-spectrum manure on the street).

Source: Instructables: Unicorn poop

I’ve got a few things on my mind and a keyboard in front of me. Again – you have been warned.

They say dreaming is the mind’s mechanism to clear things out a bit. Do the Spring cleaning, as it were. The theory goes that while you’re sleeping, the hind mind goes to work and does a bit of cross-indexing in the old noggin. I guess that means your hind mind might be one of those sultry librarians with unnecessary glasses, a contrived expression of demurity, and the ability to do the Times crossword in an infeasibly short time.

Called Eric.

Oh I’m sorry – were you filling your mind’s eye with feminine wiles and breathy vixens? My bad. Carry on… we’ll just slowly continue until you catch us up.

Anyway, while we sleep our brain is busy using the otherwise spare processing power sorting, sifting, and generally making future retrievals more efficient by looking for connections and similarities – out-googling Google, as it were. According to Scientific American, some nifty evolutionary architecture gives the average human brain about 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes) of storage. “For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows” it goes on. According to WorldWideWebSize.com there are around 50 billion webpages in the web at the moment, just for comparison.

OK, so interesting though that rat hole might have been to some – I was actually just trying to say that my mind has been feeling particularly in need of a good rinsing of late. A mental enema you might say.

If you were particularly odd.

Which those frequenting these pages are wont to be!

Writing seems to work in my case, so I beg your indulgence and ask you to strap in, sit back and join me on this cathartic (to me at least) ride into Ged knows where. (Ged was a colleague in my very first job. A very smart Liverpudlian with an unfortunate – though at the time fashionable – haircut not unreminiscent of Phil Oakey of Human League).

Human League’s Phil Oakey Source: Anna Greenwood – fellow WordPresser

So anyway, to help give us a little more focus, I want to concentrate on three things – the book I’m reading at the moment, a casual conversation I had with a most excellent friend and a news article I recently commented on. In no particular order. Actually, particularly in no order – or more likely still: in all orders at the same time.

I recently completed a particularly tough read – it was Black Swan by Nassim Taleb. It was barely worth the pain. I did learn some stuff… it was just a long slog. If you’ve followed the hyperlink and read the Wikipedia explanation of Black Swans… don’t bother buying the book. You’ve already read the nub of it. The rest of the book is lots of unnecessarily long words, pokes at the French (which though I usually applaud in the general case, cease to be funny when used with meanness), and self-congratulatory waffle.

To try and mix up my reading material I usually oscillate between fiction and non-fiction. A bit like cleaning the palette between courses of a meal, I suppose. So my current read is Snuff by the indomitable Terry Pratchett.

Terry Pratchett. Source – Wikipedia.org

He is now allegedly suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, which I have to admit is not in the slightest noticeable in his recent writing. It remains full of excellent wit and observation of the peculiarities of the human condition – as seen through very English eyes.

My favourite observation so far is when one character describes a woman as having a face like a bulldog sucking vinegar off a thistle. Now come on – tell me that doesn’t conjure up an image!

The main character, one Sam Vimes is a policeman to his very core. He instinctively knows right from wrong… as well as lawful from unlawful. Occasionally they even line up. This humorous murder mystery, set in the Discworld genius of Pratchett, kept tugging at my memories of the story I read about the Texan law enforcers shooting illegal immigrants from a helicopter. I’m quite sure it was a lawful act. But was it “right”?

I was discussing the matter with a retired Vancouver policeman on Saturday. He was explaining that in the US (thankfully not in Canada), merely fleeing an attempted arrest was a felony, and felons could be brought down with deadly force. So a not-known-to-be-definitely-armed person running AWAY from an armed officer, and therefore placing him or her in no direct danger could quite legally be shot dead, it seems. Now this was only my understanding from the conversation I had… but it certainly agrees with plenty of exciting cop’n’robbers TV show I’ve watched. In contrast I recently watched some vintage “Sweeney” where London’s Flying Squad of the 70’s were occasionally forced to let fleeing criminals get away, despite both the criminals and the police being armed (they’re a special squad who are unusual in that they are regularly armed), rather than fire their weapons.

Now this gave me a bit of a sleepless night. Not, as you might assume because of some liberal do-gooder instinct (though I admit that the whole concept of officers of the law being armed as a matter of course with guns does not sit comfortably). No – what kept me awake was a matter of logic.

We in the West – and indeed many other nations in more far flung locales with infinitely more interesting cuisine – have a thing called “due process“. For most of us, this only relates to getting a polite call from the local library about books that they would be awfully grateful to see back on their shelf. If it’s not too much trouble. They’re past due, and this is the process.

Actually, though due process (intended to balance the law of the land and the rights of the individual) originated with the Magna Carta in 1215, the process of law in the UK no longer uses it in its strict form (though has equivalent balances).

To be fair, it’s actually the presumption of innocence that is my real point. As quoted from Wikipedia: Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (the burden of proof lies with who declares, not who denies), is the principle that one is considered innocent until proven guilty. The Romans document this going back to the 2nd Century. Been around a while, you might say.

And that’s what got my logic juices flowing. Politics and prejudices aside – the US does have a process of law not too far distant from the UK, Canada, and pretty well most of the democratic world (and even some of the undemocratic bits too!) So here it was… my unease.

If someone is presumed innocent until proven in a court of law to be otherwise, they can’t yet be technically guilty at the time they are evading capture by the long arm of the law (and an assault rifle in the hands of a helicopter-riding official has a pretty long reach these days!) So how can it be justified to shoot them dead for running away? Sure, they might actually be guilty… but it’s not yet proven, so we are to presume them innocent.

To be clear – I’m only struggling with the cases where the would-be arresting officer is not in any danger from the fleeing presumed-criminal.

On what grounds can it ever be right as opposed to legal to shoot a fleeing person who is not currently presenting a danger to either the officers or others? The shooter is no longer merely protecting the rule of law, but meting out judgement and punishment based only on their own un-proven “evidence”. It has not been tested in the court of law by a jury of the accused’s peers. It’s a paradox of logic. You are trying to apprehend them so their guilt can be tested and proven in a court of law. At such time as that becomes difficult due to their attempted escape, the whole process is discarded, guilt is assumed (though the law presumes them innocent as guilt is not proven in a court of law!), instantly judged and potentially terminal punishment carried out.

And De Morgan? Well, back in the early 1800’s the British mathematician Augustus De Morgan put forward a theorem:

\overline{A \cdot B} \equiv \overline {A} + \overline {B}

\overline{A + B} \equiv \overline {A} \cdot \overline {B}

It was one of the first things I got taught in Computer Science back in the early 80’s. (1980’s, I should clarify, perhaps! 🙂 ) It’s a core part of understanding binary logic… computing at its foundation.

A casual discussion with a more recently educated “Computer Scientist” illustrated that it is no longer taught (at least not well enough to last beyond an exam!  🙂 )

In context?

Well De Morgan’s theorem would give us:

If it’s “not right and legal”, it’s the same as it’s “not right or not legal”.


If it’s “not right or legal”, it’s the same as it’s “not right and it’s not legal”.

Apart from the rule itself, De Morgan taught me to make damned sure I used lots of brackets when I was writing software, to ensure the NOT went with the right clauses!

Just to close – with the demise of Amazon Reads in LinkedIn, I have moved over to goodreads.com (and I commend it to you.) It’s got a neat little quotation search engine, where I reacquainted myself with Ambrose Bierce, who wrote in his famous Devil’s Dictionary the following definition: “Lawyer – One skilled in the circumvention of the law.”

Well – that’s a lot better. I can once more feel the currents of a breeze meeting no resistance as it flows unhindered from one aural orifice to the opposing one. I can start cluttering up my mind all over again.

If you made it this far – thank-you! You have the patience of a saint, and as Alex Turner of The Arctic Monkeys wrote:  If you’re gonna try and walk on water make sure you wear your comfortable shoes




2 responses

25 02 2013

It’s a very good point you make there. Tranq darts? Wouldn’t that be fairer?

25 02 2013
Quieter Elephant

Interesting idea. Yeah, I struggle with “Presumed innocent until proven guilty”, then applying deadly force. It seems to imply legalising the killing of “presumed innocent” suspects. Does… not… compute…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: