Monday, March 19, 2018


     Somebody just put a .38 slug into the back of Mr. Toad’s brain, and I’m investigating the murder.
     I have half a dozen suspects, all of whom had plenty of motive and the opportunity to deal Mr. Toad permanently out of the game. But only ONE of them had the means -- in this case, the .38 calibre firearm. But the weapon is not at the scene, and subsequent searches, properly conducted with a warrant based on probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation and describing the particular places to be searched and items to be seized, turn up zilch.
     Then along comes a source who says he has in his possession the murder weapon, and bestows upon me a handgun in a plastic bag.
     “Ratty killed Mr. Toad,” he tells me. “Here’s the murder weapon.”
     Case closed, right?
     But suppose this informant is a junkie, a career criminal with a long history of perjury. Should I tell him to stick that gun into the orifice of his choice and get out of my office?
      What if he’s a pimp or a child pornographer, or worse yet, a politician?
Suppose the informant is a “known” communist, or fascist, or a member of the local PTA. Would his belonging to such a despised group be a good reason for me to give him and his alleged evidence the boot?
     Suppose the informant wants a hundred bucks for the evidence. Or what if the informant is one of the suspects who clearly has a vested interest in casting suspicion on someone other than himself? Is that conflict of interest reason enough for me to shit-can the baggie?
     Don’t be a sap.
     No matter who brings me the evidence, no matter why they bring me the evidence, I’m going to take it, and I’m going to run a ballistics test and dust it for fingerprints, maybe look for DNA.
     Either the ballistics will match the murder weapon or the ballistics won’t match the murder weapon.
     Either we get fingerprints or we don’t, and those prints will either match one of the suspects or not.
     If the gun in the bag is the murder weapon, and it has Ratty’s prints all over it, I don’t care if Adolf Htler brought me that evidence; I’m going to have a little chat with the old rodent.   If the gun in the bag isn’t the murder weapon and/or doesn’t have Ratty’s prints on it, I don’t care if Mother Teresa brought me the evidence; it doesn’t support an arrest of Ratty for the crime. In short, I’m going to assess the evidence on its own merits and nothing else.
     If you summarily reject evidence because you don’t like the person who brought it to you, or if you automatically accept evidence because you like the person who brought it to you, you’re not a detective. You're a mark.

    If your theory of the crime is “Ratty Murdered Mr. Toad” then all the evidence must support that theory.
     If the gun in the baggie has Ratty’s prints all over it -- but it’s a .45 and not a .38, the evidence doesn’t support busting the old Rat. It isn’t the murder weapon.  “If he owns a .45 he probably ALSO owns a .38,” says my informant. 
     Yeah? Prove it. Bring me the .38.
     If the pistol in plastic is a .38 and the ballistics all match up  so we’re sure it’s the murder weapon, but the prints on the gun  -- all nice and clear -- don’t match Ratty’s, then the evidence  doesn’t support an arrest.
     You have to account for all the evidence. You can’t just cherry-pick the evidence that supports your theory while ignoring evidence that refutes your theory.  Cherry-picking is what puts innocent people on death row.

     Now, what about that ballistics report?
     The fingerprints?
     How “expert” is the expert running the tests? Did he/she get his training in a one-hour on-line course from Joe’s Investigative Academy and Taxidermy School?  Or does he have hundreds of hours of advanced training and a couple decades of experience? Regardless of his bona fides, what’s his batting average? Have 50% of his analyses later been proven to have been incorrect? What if he’s positively matched fingerprints to ALL suspects who were Black but NEVER to a suspect who was White?
     When you’re relying on an expert to determine the truth of a particular fact, NOW it’s perfectly acceptable -- in fact NECESSARY -- to be sure that your expert is really an expert and conducting his part of the investigation objectively, impartially and in accordance with the best scientific methods and procedures, and not tainted by other influence.

     Once you examine all the evidence, you can then piece it all together to formulate a theory of the crime. Your theory MUST be based on the evidence and nothing else, and you must include all the evidence without leaving anything out just because it doesn’t fit your theory.  If it isn’t Rat’s prints aren’t on the murder weapon, and a dozen eyewitness say that Rat was in custody for drunk driving a hundred miles away at the time of the murder, you don’t get to say, “I STILL think it was him. He’s a RAT.”   You let the evidence lead you to formulate a theory of the crime -- not the other way around.

     The world is full of people who want you believe all kinds of things. Some are definitely true. Some are probably true. Some might be true. Some are pure bullshit.
If you’re not going to be an easy mark for every grifter, hustler and political hack who has a nice smile and a good suit, “common sense” ain’t gonna cut it.” You’d better learn how to act rationally and not emotionally. 
     "Rationally" means you believe what is supported by good evidence and ONLY what is supported by good evidence.
     "Emotonally" -- or "Irrationally" --  means you believe what is not supported by evidence, or even what is contradicted by good evidence.
     The rubs lies in the fact that human beings (except for psychopaths) are hard-wired with emotions, installed at the factory. Emotions are universal, instinctive, automatic and effortless.
     Critical thinking is not. It’s an acquired skill, like playing the cello. It is rare, counter-intuitive, and requires conscious effort and regular practice.
     But it’s worth your time.
     Consider it intellectual self-defense.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Government of Laws, Not of Men

   You can’t uphold the law, or enforce the law, or even abide by the law if you don’t know the law. While I am the first to declare that foolish rules, like unjust laws, demand to be broken, there are some rules that exist for a very good reason and make very good sense. For example, the rules against assault, murder, robbery, rape and kidnapping seem like very reasonable rules to me. The rule against parking on the left-hand side of the street on Tuesdays, not so much.
    Likewise the rules of fencing. They exist for good reason, whether or not you have the nimbleness of wit to understand the reason.
    Neither fencers nor officials are permitted by the rules to violate the rules. Violations stem from one or both of two things: 1) ignorance of the rule or 2) An intent to cheat. There is no third option.
     Personally, I never ascribe to mere ignorance that which can be adequately explained by malevolence. In my experience ignorance is the fall-back defense of those who get caught in acts of malevolence.
    Thus let it be with Caesar.
    The following excerpts from the fencing rules, are essential for every fencer and, of course, every fencing official to know and understand, both in what they say and in what they do NOT say, also WHY they say what they say.  (The Devil will win the Heisman Trophy before I ever advocate mindless obedience to any rule!)  Indeed, one cannot possibly fence properly and well without knowing, understanding and complying with the rules. All added emphases are my own.
(*Excerpts from the Fencing Rules 2011 translated from French)

t.87-1            The competitors must fence faithfully and strictly according to the rules laid down in these Rules. All breaches of these rules will incur the penalties laid down hereinafter (cf. t.114-t.120).
        2) All bouts must preserve the character of a courteous and frank encounter. All irregular actions (fleche attack which finishes with a collision jostling the opponent, disorderly fencing, irregular movements on the strip, touches achieved with violence, touches made during or after a fall) are strictly forbidden (cf. t.114-t.120).

t.7-1   The offensive actions are the attack, the riposte and the counter-riposte.
The attack is the initial offensive action made by extending the arm and continuously threatening the opponent’s target, preceding the launching of the lunge or fleche (cf. t.56ss, t.75ss).

t.10     The point in line position is a specific position in which the fencer’s sword arm is kept straight and the point of his weapon continually threatens his opponent’s valid target (cf. t.56.3.a/b/c, t.60.4.e, t.60.5.a, t.76, t.80.3.e, t.80.4.a/b).

t16-1.   With all three weapons, defense must be effected exclusively with the guard and the blade used either separately or together.

T16-2.   The weapon must not be – either permanently or temporarily, in an open or disguised manner – transformed into a throwing weapon; it must be used without the hand leaving the grip and without the hand slipping along the grip from front to back during an offensive action.

T18-5    The order “Halt” is also given if the fencing of the competitors is dangerous, confused, or contrary to the Rules, if one of the competitors is disarmed or leaves the strip, or if, while retreating, he approaches too near the spectators or the Referee (cf. t.26, t.54.5 and t.73.4.j).

t.19       Fencing at close quarters is allowed so long as the competitors can wield their weapons correctly and the Referee can, in foil and sabre, follow the phrase.

t.34-1.   By accepting a position as Referee or judge, the person so designated pledges his honor to respect the Rules and to cause them to be respected, and to carry out his duties with the strictest impartiality and absolute concentration.

t.46-1.   The foil is a thrusting weapon only. Offensive actions with this weapon are made therefore with the point and with the point only.

t.61 The Epee is a thrusting weapon only. Attacks with this weapon are therefore made with the point and with the point only.
t.52  When using the apparatus it should be noted that: b) the apparatus does not indicate whether there is any priority in time between two or more touches which it registers simultaneously.

t.55  The Referee alone decides as to the validity or the priority of the touch by applying the following basic rules which are the conventions applicable to foil fencing.

Respect of the fencing phrase

1.     Every attack, that is every initial offensive action, which is correctly executed must be parried or completely avoided and the phrase must be followed through – that is to say, coordinated (cf. t.7.1).

2.  In order to judge the correctness of an attack the following points must be considered:
            a) The simple attack, direct or indirect (cf. t.8.1), is correctly executed when the extending of the arm, the point threatening the valid target, precedes the initiation of the lunge or the fléche.
            b) The compound attack (cf. t.8.1) is correctly executed when the arm is extending in the presentation of the first feint, with the point threatening the valid target, and the arm is not bent between the successive actions of the attack and the initiation of the lunge or the fléche.
            c) The attack with an advance-lunge or an advance-fléche is correctly executed when the extending of the arm precedes the end of the advance and the initiation of the lunge or the fléche. 

         d)    Actions, simple or compound, steps or feints which are executed with a bent arm, are not considered as attacks but as preparations, laying themselves open to the initiation of the offensive or defensive/offensive action of the opponent (cf.t.8.1/3).

3. To judge the priority of an attack when analyzing the fencing phrase, it should be noted that:
            a) If the attack is initiated when the opponent is not in the point in line position (cf. t.10), it may be executed either with a direct thrust, or by disengage, or by a cut-over, or may even be preceded by a beat or successful feints obliging the opponent to parry.
            b) If the attack is initiated when the opponent is in the point in line position (cf. t.10), the attacker must, first, deflect the opponent’s blade. Referees must ensure that a mere grazing of the blades is not considered as sufficient to deflect the opponent’s blade (cf. t.60.5a).
            c) If the attacker, when attempting to deflect the opponent’s blade, fails to find it (dérobement), the right of attack passes to the opponent.
            d) Continuous steps forward, with the legs crossing one another, constitute a preparation and on this preparation any simple attack has priority.

t.57    The parry gives the right to riposte: the simple riposte may be direct or indirect, but to annul any subsequent action by the attacker, it must be executed immediately, without indecision or delay.

t.58    When a compound attack is made, if the opponent finds the blade during one of the feints, he has the right to riposte.

t.59    When compound attacks are made, the opponent has the right to stop hit; but to be valid, the stop hit must precede the conclusion of the attack by an interval of fencing time; that is to say that the stop hit must arrive before the attacker has begun the final movement of the attack.  


Judging of touches

t.60 The Referee should apply the following basic conventions of foil fencing:
1) When during a phrase, both fencers touch at the same time, there is either a simultaneous action or a double touch.
2) The simultaneous action is due to simultaneous conception and execution of an attack by both fencers; in this case the touches exchanged are annulled for both fencers even if one of them has been touched off the target.
3) The double touch, on the other hand, is the result of a faulty action on the part of one of the fencers. Therefore, when there is not a period of fencing time between the touches:
4) Only the fencer who is attacked is counted as touched:
            a)   if he makes a stop hit on his opponent’s simple attack;
            b)   if, instead of parrying, he attempts to avoid the touch and does not succeed in so doing;
            c)   if, after making a successful parry, he makes a momentary pause which gives his opponent the right to renew the attack (redoublement, remise or reprise);
            d)   if, during a compound attack, he makes a stop hit without being in time;
            e)   if, having his point in line (cf.t.10) and being subjected to a beat or a taking of the blade (prise defer) which deflects his blade, he attacks or places his point in line again instead of parrying a direct attack made by his opponent.
5. Only the fencer who attacks is counted as touched:
            a)   if he initiates his attack when his opponent has his point in line (cf.t.10) without deflecting the opponent’s weapon. Referees must ensure that a mere grazing of the blades is not considered as sufficient to deflect the opponent’s blade;
            b)   if he attempts to find the blade, does not succeed (is the object of a dérobement) and continues the attack;
            c)   if, during a compound attack, his opponent finds the blade, but he continues the attack and his opponent ripostes immediately;
            d)   if, during a compound attack, he makes a momentary pause, during which time the opponent makes a stop hit, after which the attacker continues his attack;
            e)   if, during a compound attack, he is stop hit in time before his final movement;
            f) if he makes a touch by a remise, redoublement or reprise when his original attack has been parried and his opponent has made a riposte which is immediate, simple, and executed in one period of fencing time without withdrawing the arm.
6. The Referee must replace the competitors on guard each time that there is a double touch and he is unable to judge clearly on which side the fault lies.

t.75 (sabre)
3. An attack with a lunge is correctly carried out:
            a) in a simple attack (cf.t.8.1) when the beginning of the extending of the arm precedes the launching of the lunge and the touch arrives at the latest when the front foot touches the strip;

t.79 (sabre) b) When a parry is properly executed, the attack by the opponent must be declared parried and judged as such by the Referee, even if, as a result of its flexibility, the tip of the opponent’s weapon makes contact with the target.

t.82    Fencers must observe strictly and faithfully the Rules and the Statutes of the FIE, the particular rules for the competition in which they are engaged, the traditional customs of courtesy and integrity and the instructions of the officials.
            2. In particular they will subscribe, in an orderly, disciplined and sporting  manner, to the following provisions; all breaches of these rules may entail punishments by the competent disciplinary authorities after, or even without, prior warning, according to the facts and circumstances (cf. t.113-t.120).                     

t.821                               Fencing etiquette
t87-3) Before the beginning of each bout, the two fencers must perform a fencer’s salute to their opponent, to the Referee and to the spectators. Equally, when the final touch has been scored, the bout has not ended until the two fencers have saluted each other, the Referee and the spectators; to this end, they must remain still while the Referee is making his decision; when he has given his decision, they must return to their on guard line, perform a fencer’s salute and shake hands with their opponent. If either or both of the two fencers refuse to comply with these rules, the Referee will penalize him/them as specific for offenses of the 4 group (cf. t.114, t.119, t.120).
Protests and appeals

Against a decision of the Referee

1. No appeal can be made against the decision of the Referee regarding a point of fact (cf. t.95.1/2/4, t.96.2).
2. If a fencer infringes this principle, casting doubt on the decision of the Referee on a point of fact during the bout, he will be penalized according to the Rules (cf. t.114, t.116, t.120). But if the Referee is ignorant of or misunderstands a definite rule, or applies it in a manner contrary to the Rules, an appeal on this matter may be entertained.
3. This appeal must be made:
         a) in individual events, by the fencer;
         b) in team events, by the fencer or the team captain.
This appeal should be made courteously but without formality, and should be made verbally to the referee immediately and before and decision is made regarding a subsequent action
4. If the Referee maintains his opinion, the Head Referee has authority to settle an appeal (cf. t.97). If such an appeal is deemed to be unjustified, the fencer will be penalized in accordance with Articles t.114, t.116, t.120).

     Prior to around 1980, these rules were universally accepted. Those who fenced in any other manner were simply consider very poor fencers.  But there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth that fencing was not as popular (read that “profitable”), not a “spectator sport” as, say, football. Apparently, no one pointed out that the best fencing is  sly and subtle, and such nuances are difficult to observe and appreciate from 50 yards away, while drinking beer, eating a hot dog or performing a wave.
     So the gauntlet was cast: how can we make fencing more like football?
     Along came lights and whistles, and colored uniforms, and video re-play, and big, wild, loud “fencing.”  Farewell, Bach, hello Death metal.
     However, as more an more people were recruited into fencing (in the vain hope of finding a champion in the rough who would produce a gold medal for the good old USA), more and more very poor fencers were produced, accumulating at the bottom of the pyramid.  Not only unskillful, but with no particular affective loyalty to the long-established “code” of gentlemanly (or ladylike) conduct. 
     But, as they say in football, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the ONLY thing.” HOW you win isn’t part of the equation. If you can cheat and get away with it, well, then it isn’t really cheating. And especially not if everyone else does it, too.

     In time, those very poor fencers became very poor officials, who redefined fencing by a deadly combination of incompetence, negligence and arrogance.
     The inevitable result was the savage dumbing-down of fencing, until it bore utterly no resemblance to either a frank encounter or a courteous one.
     And that is where we are today.

Sometimes, when you change a thing enough from it's original conception and form, it ceases to be the thing. The above photo is a picture of my new guitar. I've customized it a little.

-- aac