The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strained, But It May Have A Litmus Test

Back in January I wrote about the indictment of Dinesh D'Souza and how difficult it would be for him to defend himself based on his assertion that he was selectively prosecuted based on his political views.

D'Souza did eventually file a motion seeking discovery into the government's reasons for charging him. The government opposed the motion and the court denied it. That result is not surprising — it's incredibly difficult to make a showing that specific "similarly situated" people not sharing your protected characteristics have not been prosecuted.1

So D'Souza pled guilty, and now faces sentencing. The felony conviction itself is the harshest consequence he faces. The recommended sentencing range under the United States Sentencing Guidelines is between 10 and 16 months, and is in a "zone" of the sentencing chart explicitly allowing the court to split that sentence in half and make him serve half in custody and half in home detention. That's based on a very straightforward application of the Guidelines that both the government and the defense agree upon.

D'Souza's attorneys are asking the court to exercise its discretion to go below the Guidelines and impose a non-custodial sentence — not to send him to jail, in other words. That's not even a little surprising. I would do the same thing. So would any competent defense attorney. Given D'Souza's lack of record and his background, it's a reasonable and achievable goal. It's no sure thing, but many judges would do it. (If anything D'Souza's privileges work against him on this issue — the "rich and famous people shouldn't get special treatment" narrative will be powerful. With some judges he'd have a better shot at the break if he were an obscure middle manager.) The government is opposing that request and suggesting that the court should sentence D'Souza within the guideline range — in part because of things he's been saying in the media that, in the government's mind, show lack of remorse.2

As is standard with federal sentencing issues, some wrong things are being written about this. (Example: Salon says prosecutors "rejected" D'Souza's plea for lenience, which makes it sound like it's their call. They argued against his request, and the judge will decide the matter.) I'm used to that. What bothers me is the reaction to a letter written to the judge in D'Souza's favor by Michael Shermer, a prominent skeptic.

Shermer, who has debated D'Souza, says he has known him for twenty years and finds him forthright, honest, polite, and courteous. Shermer expresses his admiration and respect for D'Souza. To anyone who practices federal law, there's nothing at all remarkable about the letter. It's concise (which is good), specific about how the writer knows the defendant (also good), and combines general statements with at least one specific example (also good). It's not perfect — it's a touch too general for my armchair-quarterback tastes — but it's a fine letter, and the type of one I submit for clients all the time.

But the mild letter has provoked outrage, because of Shermer's and D'Souza's opposite ideological positions. This blogger screams "TRAITOR." Ophelia Benson characterizes it as "Important Guys gotta stick together." ""WTF?" asks P.Z. Myers. "Let D'Souza's fellow Christians and conservatives defend him. Shermer by doing this has betrayed most of the skeptical community," says someone on Twitter. "No one deserving of the title 'skeptic' could possibly believe that D'Souza is forthright and honest, or that he is an 'important voice in our national conversation,'" says skeptic Ed Brayton. I'll spare you the quotes from Twitter.

I don't know Dinesh D'Souza personally. In his public persona I find him to be totalitarian, polemical, occasionally (and probably deliberately) offensive, and frequently ridiculous. But in my experience, people are not the sum of their public statements. People who are nice in public can be awful in private, and some people who are terrifying in public can be incredibly gracious in private. It's entirely plausible to me that, despite his rather trollish stage persona, D'Souza can be kind, decent, and charitable in person. It certainly doesn't surprise me that two people of very different ideologies can respect each other. I cherish friendships with people significantly to my left and right, and have learned from them.

The reaction to Shermer's letter disappoints me. It depresses me. It doesn't make me feel that way because of how I feel about D'Souza. It makes me feel that way as a defense lawyer, and as a citizen. This scorn for appeals for mercy is an old story; I've condemned it before when someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum was sentenced. But it troubles me every time it repeats. It would be a better nation if people could recognize the good qualities of people they vehemently oppose. It would be a better nation if we were wary of the justice system no matter what the ideology of today's defendant. It would be a better nation if we didn't promote the narrative that wrongthinkers get what they deserve. Ultimately, what these critics have done is lend credence — perhaps unjustified credence — to D'Souza's claim that his prosecution is political.

  1. This discussion could easily take up its own post. Let's agree that I'll spare you that.  
  2. [Sweary all-caps boldfaced rant about shutting up goes here.]  

Last 5 posts by Ken White

Comments

  1. says

    It's comforting, in a way, given my extreme cynicism about everything, to have ample evidence that you don't need to be a bible-thumping fire&brimstone fundie to be a narrow-minded jerk. (Sure, it helps, but it's not necessary.) Despite my well-established, strong, and unwavering atheism, I do not see any reason to believe that removing religion from personal or public life makes people any less prone to tribalism and the curse of Dunbar's Number[1]. Even if all religions were gone tomorrow, we would, as South Park so wisely predicted, end up divided into warring factions just the same. I'm voting for the otters.

    [1]Of course, this applies to Shermer, too. D'Souza is within Shermer's monkeysphere. He thinks of D'Souza as a person, not as a vaguely-human shaped embodiment of the Other. Those who thought Shermer was One Of The People Like Us have discovered he's One Of The Not Quite People, who had somehow changed his scent and snuck into the tribe's good graces and stole their bananas. Naturally, they're pissed. I would be, if I had any bananas in this fight.. as it were. I have been pissed, seriously so, at similar things in the past. There is something primally offensive about finding out someone you trusted, someone you thought was one of The People Who Are Real People, was actually one of Them. The reaction tends to be anger because the alternative is questioning your own judgment, and the brain reacts violently to that. It put a lot of work into that judgment, dammit, and it refuses to accept it might have been wasted effort. (This is why studies show that the more facts you give someone that oppose their position, the more they double down on their beliefs.)

  2. Aelfric says

    Full disclosure: total atheist, occasional jerk here. For what it's worth, I quite agree that mercy is undervalued at this point in time. Also, yes, he really should have shut up–I do get an extra tinge of schadenfreude from that detail, I have to admit. I would also note that Mr. Shermer is, when last I checked (this was a few years ago) a dedicated supporter of the Republican party. That was my first thought, not so much outreach to an ideological opponent, but aid to a political ally. I think many of the atheistic bent are simply galled because they can't imagine the reverse situation ever happening–Mr. D'Souza or someone of his ilk doing the same for an atheist. But, as you note, it's impossible to know someone's character from afar much less the content of his heart. Even if it's true that Mr. D'Souza would not stick up for an atheist, I never believed in sinking to the other guy's level. Good piece.

  3. Edward says

    Good stuff. From the title, I thought you were going to write about Ray Rice, a situation that has some similarities.

  4. sorrykb says

    Somehow I'd missed this latest part of the story. I'm a fan of Shermer (not sure "fan" is the right word, but I like what he has to say, and how he says it), and definitely not a fan of D'Souza. Not not not a fan.

    I'll admit to a bit of a "what?!? really???" reaction to hearing that Shermer wrote a letter in D'Souza's defense. But given what I know about Shermer, I'm inclined to think he had good and fair reasons to write the letter. It's a shame about the very negative reaction, but there is a positive aspect of this: He did write the letter, after all. Despite ideological differences.

    So (mostly because everything else is so awful) I'm going to cling to that one bit of good. And you can pry that one bit of good from my cold, dead hands. (Or at least my cold hands. Stupid office air conditioning overreacting just a bit to the heat wave…)

  5. AlphaCentauri says

    I'm not surprised that atheists are developing a set of orthodox beliefs and practices or that they are demanding other atheists adhere to them. That's what humans do.

    But I always find it amusing to watch them argue among themselves with no apparent self-awareness that they are doing it.

  6. Joe Schmoe says

    When I was in College Republicans many years ago we sponsored Dinesh to speak on his book "illiberal education". We were broke and instead of taking him out to eat made him dinner in our dorm.

    I am no longer a Republican and I disagree with Dinesh on most things, but I have to say that he is a nice, warm, human being. There is nothing wrong with saying that despite political differences.

  7. sorrykb says

    @AlphaCentauri: I think the problem is in looking at atheists as a homogeneous group. Or even a group at all, except in a loose sense. Disbelief is not all that strong a unifying principle.

    It's not like I get together with my atheist buddies and talk about all the other things we don't believe in.

  8. says

    Well, I'm an atheist, and I'll freely admit I'm no fan of D'Souza's. As it happens, I believe that he should serve an appropriate sentence for the crime he pled guilty to, and that there's no reason for special leniency in this case.

    As the prosecutors have pointed out, D'Souza has been going around saying that he was only charged because Obama was out to get him (or something), which strongly suggests a lack of contrition, his statements to the court notwithstanding. I think what Shermer did was wrong not because he showed mercy to an ideological enemy, but because he seems to be suggesting that D'Souza deserves some consideration that wouldn't be shown to other people in these circumstances.

    @Lizard:

    Those who thought Shermer was One Of The People Like Us have discovered he's One Of The Not Quite People, who had somehow changed his scent and snuck into the tribe's good graces and stole their bananas.

    I disagree. I think many of us atheists decided some time ago that Shermer wasn't the kind of person we want on our side, for far more consequential reasons than this. If you don't know what I'm referring to, I suggest Googling around a bit…

  9. Chuck says

    @Adam Lee

    I think what Shermer did was wrong not because he showed mercy to an ideological enemy, but because he seems to be suggesting that D'Souza deserves some consideration that wouldn't be shown to other people in these circumstances.

    But isn't that what every person writing a pre-sentencing letter asking for leniency for the defendant is saying? "I've known X personally and professionally for years, and I do not believe this is a fair representation of who he is as a person," or "I am a friend of X, and I have had the occasion to speak with him after his conviction, and I personally believe he is truly contrite for his wrongdoing," or whatever else you usually see in pre-sentencing letters (NB: I'm not a criminal lawyer, so I'm just speculating here) are exactly requests to treat the defendant differently from the "usual guy convicted of this crime."

  10. Edward says

    @ Adam Lee

    I think what Shermer did was wrong not because he showed mercy to an ideological enemy, but because he seems to be suggesting that D'Souza deserves some consideration that wouldn't be shown to other people in these circumstances.

    Hence, this post. You think pleas for mercy are wrong. No matter what good this person has done, no matter what he like outside of this particular crime, separating him from any other person who commits this crime is wrong. There is no place for judgment or comparison where a crime has occurred.

    The Marissa Alexander case has similarities here. By your standards, she should receive the same punishment anyone else should get, a minimum of twenty years. The circumstances that could allow a judge to give mercy should not be considered, and indeed are not, by law. This is why minimum sentences exist – to prevent judges from considering anything but the crime and perhaps aggravating factors.

  11. says

    I don't think pleas for mercy are wrong (another atheist here, if it matters). I think pleas for mercy based on "He was always nice to me" are…well, irrelevant. Horrible people have friends. Horrible people are nice to their friends. It detracts from their horribleness not at all.

    And yes, the matter of a person's horrible political beliefs are– and should be– distinct from the content of their crime, and the punishment for such. However, it doesn't amount to conflating the two to react badly to Shermer's letter. If D'Souza is not forthright and honest (and I agree with Ed that he is not), then it's laughable to call him such in a plea for mercy.

    So yes…plead for mercy, fine. But don't base it on "He was nice to me" or outright falsehoods. Base it on facts about the person's character which contradict his or her actual crime, or at least the nature of a person presumably disposed to commit it.

  12. says

    @Edward:

    You think pleas for mercy are wrong.

    Nice straw man you built. I'll be over here while you busy yourself thrashing away at it.

    For those who aren't terminally oblivious to context, I think, it's obvious I was saying that some cases may possess special circumstances that merit leniency, but this case isn't one of them. "Dinesh D'Souza is capable of ordinary human civility" isn't an argument for why he should receive a lighter sentence than anyone else, and Shermer should have known that and refrained from writing a letter that makes such a risible assertion.

    What does this argument imply? If D'Souza were rude and surly, would that mean he deserved a longer jail term? I'm sure our esteemed host here at Popehat would be the first to argue that being a jerk isn't an offense worthy of the slammer. The converse applies as well.

  13. Chris says

    I'll spare you the quotes from Twitter.

    Except for the unlinked, uncredited one two sentences above.

    Neither Shermer nor PZMeyers I like, but PZM hates Shermer for some anonymous sexual harassment brouhaha from a couple years ago, and would hate blog regardless of what Shermer did. I'm not particularly familiar with Benson and Brayton, but they're part of the same freethoughtblogs/A+ crowd as Myers. So you've quoted 3 people from the same site, which has been a fount of Shermer hate for some time, and 'someone' on twitter. I'm not saying the phenomenon you decry isn't real, but if this is your evidence, I remain skeptical.

    EDIT: I screwed up the blockquote.

  14. KR says

    @sorrykb:

    I think the problem is in looking at atheists as a homogeneous group. Or even a group at all, except in a loose sense. Disbelief is not all that strong a unifying principle.

    While I know these definitions are somewhat subjective (so this may be like arguing about true Scotsmen), I would call a non-grouping disbeliever an "agnostic". "Atheist" connotates something more, which really does involve a group that likes to talk about the things they don't believe in. As Adam Lee goes on to demonstrate in the post right after yours ("many of us atheists decided some time ago that Shermer wasn't the kind of person we want on our side").

  15. sorrykb says

    @KR: No, I'm atheist. I was agnostic for a while, then realized that, for me, it was a copout.

    Although I tend to identify as atheist without the indefinite article, mostly because of the "non-group" thing. (Although attacks on atheists or atheism do tend to unite us, though, if only briefly. Attack is a unifying factor.)

  16. PonyAdvocate says

    In his public persona I find [D'Souza] to be totalitarian, polemical, occasionally (and probably deliberately) offensive, and frequently ridiculous. But in my experience, people are not the sum of their public statements. People who are nice in public can be awful in private, and some people who are terrifying in public can be incredibly gracious in private. It's entirely plausible to me that, despite his rather trollish stage persona, D'Souza can be kind, decent, and charitable in person.

    I, too, have found that some people who are nice in public are awful in private, but I have virtually never observed the reverse. In my experience, when people who are awful in public act nicely in private, such private niceness is a ruse to cover up the genuine awfulness on display in public. D'Souza voluntarily assumed the public persona of a despicable little turd; and research into what has become public about his private life reinforces, rather than contradicts, the notion that D'Souza is a DLT. I don't know D'Souza, but I will pay him the compliment of believing he genuinely is a DLT, consistent with the image of himself he so assiduously has constructed over the past few decades.

    I suspect that (at least some) people who object to Michael Shermer's writing on D'Souza's behalf really object because they suspect that D'Souza's contrition in this case, such as it is, is insincere and self-serving, that he is a DLT who deserves richly to suffer, and they don't want anything possibly getting in the way of that. This is unworthy, perhaps, but it is a natural feeling for D'Souza's enemies to have. Certainly, it would be better for them to have a more mature attitude about the situation. Should D'Souza be denied mercy simply because he's a DLT? No, not if it's unrelated to the crime to which he has pleaded guilty; but being a DLT doesn't, and shouldn't, help his case, either. Those who ask for mercy ought first to show that they are worthy of mercy.

  17. Edward says

    @ Adam Lee

    "Dinesh D'Souza is capable of ordinary human civility" isn't an argument for why he should receive a lighter sentence than anyone else, and Shermer should have known that and refrained from writing a letter that makes such a risible assertion.

    What does this argument imply? If D'Souza were rude and surly, would that mean he deserved a longer jail term?

    By what standards should someone support a criminal defendant? Of "he is otherwise a good person" is totally off the table, then what is the point of writing a letter in support of someone? If "he is otherwise a great person" is just as relevant as "he's a total douchebag" then again, you are in the same spot. You don't support pleas for mercy. You can't say you support pleas for mercy but exclude all pleas for mercy as being risible.

  18. says

    Maybe some of the problem is with fundamental differences of opinion about what sentencing is about.

    My job is to get the judge (and sometimes even the prosecutor) to see my client as a human being — not just as a statistic and not just as the sum or his or her crimes. It's to make the judge get that this is a person with a life — some good, some bad — who did a bad thing that is not the sum total of their life.

    Suggesting there's something wrong about humanizing them, and seeking leniency that's within the court's discretion to give, is effectively saying that judges should just do what prosecutors ask them to do.

  19. says

    A few points:

    1. Saying "WTF?" is not an expression of outrage. It's bafflement.

    2. I am not opposed to appropriate levels of leniency, and I was not making any comment at all on whether D'Souza should be thrown in an oubliette for life or released with an apology and a bucket of money for his trouble. He is convicted of a white-collar crime. I presume the judge will give him an appropriate sentence.

    3. I was solely commenting on the surprising fact that Shermer would defend D'Souza. I can't imagine him providing testimonials for the character of John Edward or James Van Praagh, but apparently political violations by dumb & offensive far right-wing kook are perfectly OK.

    4. In reply to some of your commenters, I neither hate Shermer nor have I even expressed any degree of hatred for him.

  20. says

    I'm certainly not opposed to leniency in sentencing, when appropriate (contra the confused individual upthread who's still presuming to speak for me), but I think it comes down to what makes leniency appropriate.

    So the recommended sentence for this type of crime is between 10 and 16 months; fine. If D'Souza is an average offender, then I would think he should serve something in the middle of that range. On the other hand, I grant that if he were an extraordinarily virtuous individual, for whom this crime represented a sad and inexplicable lapse – I don't know, maybe if he normally spent his debate honorariums to buy sweaters for homeless puppies, or something – then the judge could consider that a reason to go easy on him. But as we skeptics say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    From where I stand, it seems like Shermer is offering thoroughly cursory, generic praise ("he was nice to me in the green room"), but putting that forth as a reason to give D'Souza the most lenient sentence possible. That doesn't add up. D'Souza's capacity for basic politeness can't possibly be a reason to treat him differently than any other person convicted of this crime. For that, you should have to offer something that sets him apart.

    Shermer doesn't do that, which I think makes his letter an example of poor reasoning and unbefitting of a self-described skeptic, and that's why us fellow skeptics are dinging him for it. (This is a different question than asking what D'Souza's lawyers should do; obviously, they have a duty to seek the lightest possible sentence for their client. But Shermer has no such obligation.)

  21. En Passant says

    Since I fundamentally disagree with any law limiting individual campaign contributions, I would support any plea for mercy in sentencing, by anyone of any political stripe. The marketplace of ideas is not free if government price controls are imposed on it.

    On the other hand, I fully support laws requiring complete and candid disclosure of the source of any campaign contribution.

    D'Souza appears to have violated both. But he only violated the latter because he was prohibited from doing the former.

    On balance, I fully support any plea for mercy in sentencing, even though D'Souza could do 16 months in Club Fed standing on his head. Because I simply do not trust any prosecutor or judge to act honestly or without bias in prosecuting such inherently political cases. So, I support any plea from any quarter that will possibly reduce a criminal sentence.

  22. Wesley says

    @Adam Lee

    So the recommended sentence for this type of crime is between 10 and 16 months; fine. If D'Souza is an average offender, then I would think he should serve something in the middle of that range.

    This assumes that the federal sentencing guidelines are themselves reasonable and roughly proportional to the crime. Given that until only relatively recently, the guidelines for crack cocaine sentences far exceeded powder cocaine sentences, basically just because it was the scary black dealers who used crack, then I think we have identified an error in your thinking.

    I am an atheist as well. I care not one lick for D'Souza, and think he's a political hack. But as Ken says, it's important to realize that everyone is a human being with much more to them then the soundbites we hear about. People don't deserve harsh treatment from the criminal justice system merely because of stupid — even offensive — beliefs contrary to what I think. I am skeptical that he deserves prison time for the offense, and I am not at all surprised that someone from a different ideological background to D'Souza thinks so as well.

  23. says

    A call for mercy for Dinesh D'Souza would be more powerful if it cited some examples of his own calling for mercy. Surely a Christian leader of Mr. D'Souza's prominence has a long record of forgiveness of his enemies. It might be helpful for someone to forward that list to the judge. Of, if it's too long to fit in a letter to a judge, it could be abridged to only the most significant examples of his forbearance.

  24. Chris says

    PZ Myers says

    4. In reply to some of your commenters, I neither hate Shermer nor have I even expressed any degree of hatred for him.

    No, you just published anonymous accusations that he was a rapist, and vouched for his accuser as honest. Then published more anonymous griping that he poured a differenet woman drinks at a drinks party, and referred to that as "further corroboration".
    I imagine your not currently expressing hatred for him is on advice of counsel. Disingenuous doesn't start to describe your trying to pass yourself off as a disinterested party re: Shermer. You started a smear campaign designed to destroy his professional life out of love.
    Puh-fucking-lease.

  25. Dan says

    That is the main reason I no longer peruse the atheosphere. It has become too tribalistic, controlled by a clique of like-minded busybodies who do not tolerate much dissent and diversity. Even Ed Brayton, the champion of moderate libertarianism ten years ago, has become a full-on leftist. Yikes!

  26. Sad Panda says

    @AlphaCentauri: People have significantly differing definitions of the words atheist and agnostic*, but to suggest that under any definition atheists are in some way homogeneous is just as silly as suggesting that all theists exist on the political right. Are you surprised to see theists argue among themselves? Or that some theists want to tell other people how to think? Believing or disbelieving god-claims changes nothing in human nature.
    * Personally, I prefer these definitions at the Iron Chariots wiki.

  27. Boyd says

    Your comments on public vs private personas brought to mind my experience with Mark Levin, conservative radio talk show host. While we tend toward the same end of the spectrum in our political outlook, Mr Levin's specific rants are very…off-putting to me. But I've had the good fortune to spend a noteworthy amount of time with Mr Levin where we dealt with each other as individuals. He is a gracious, thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable gentleman in person. I regard him as an intelligent version of Sean Hannity on the radio, unfortunately.

    So yes, I identify with that distinction very well.

  28. Stephen H says

    As an atheist, I think I can safely say that "some of my best friends are Christians". Having got that cliché out of the way, I am also a sceptic who recognises Shermer's name but has no idea who D'Souza is. I would be disgusted if people who held the same ideological position as me criticised me for saying "well, that Christian chiropractor is actually quite a nice person – they just have bad hobbies".

    I will choose my own friends and my own moral values, and if one of those moral values required that I publicly defend George W Bush (as unlikely as it might seem) then I would have to stand by those values rather than "speak for a broader community of specific beliefs". Who knows – I might even find the former president to be a charming individual with whom I shared many interests and concerns (again, unlikely – but…).

    What Mr Shermer chooses to do in his private life is for him to choose. Unless it directly contradicts his public statements and actions (and defending a friend does not, in itself, do so) there is no reason not to write a letter to the court defending a personal friend who has different political/philosophical views. In fact having such friends is very valuable – it means you are not operating in an echo chamber and hearing only what you want to hear. My wife hates the heated arguments I have with my mother about politics (religious discussion has been banned as just too heated), but I find them useful in making sure I understand my own beliefs.

  29. Sheriff Fathead says

    @KR:

    While I know these definitions are somewhat subjective (so this may be like arguing about true Scotsmen), I would call a non-grouping disbeliever an "agnostic". "Atheist" connotates something more, which really does involve a group that likes to talk about the things they don't believe in. As Adam Lee goes on to demonstrate in the post right after yours ("many of us atheists decided some time ago that Shermer wasn't the kind of person we want on our side").

    Some atheists may want to define the term like that, but I would argue it's not theirs to redefine.

    I'm a dictionary-definition atheist: I don't believe in God (or gods). Any additional moral, philosophical, or intellectual positions I hold may derive from that, but are just as likely to derive from my attempts to be a decent human being.

  30. Anonymous says

    "Atheist" connotates something more, which really does involve a group that likes to talk about the things they don't believe in.

    nope@nope.com

    You don't get to co-opt my theological identity just because a bunch of angry nerds started blogging about how bad religion is.

    As Adam Lee goes on to demonstrate in the post right after yours ("many of us atheists decided some time ago that Shermer wasn't the kind of person we want on our side").

    I would suggest Adam Lee is wrong as a matter of fact – while he may not be intentionally lying, claiming "many" suggests he knows something. When you do not have the knowledge to back up claims about knowledge, you're being deceptive.

  31. Edward says

    @ Adam Lee,

    That sounds more like criticism of the type of support he is offering, which is fine. However, I would add that the state is more or less presenting D'Souza as a slimy rich guy who isn't genuine about his remorse. Therefore, letters that present him as a genuine, nice human being, especially offered by someone who doesn't support D'Souza's politics, do present a different side of him. A brick is not a wall – this letter is just one bit of I imagine lots of evidence that will be presented, and Shermer is only speaking to what he knows of D'Souza.

  32. BruceB says

    Given that Shermer previously wrote a blurb for D'Souza's book (as he mentions in his letter) and given that Shermer is somewhat libertarian, no one should be surprised, especially after last year's sexual harassment allegations, that Shermer "strayed off the reservation" since he clearly wasn't a "true believer" anyhow. I'm not a Shermer fan, but this just seems like an excuse to initiate another round of "Shermer is bad" in one corner of the blogosphere.

    And @Tmitsss@gmail.com above, who says:
    "I'm a skeptic, Penn Jillettte is a skeptic, Shermer is a gullible global warmist"
    Thanks for illustrating another aspect of tribalism, where if a putative ally is found to disagree on one issue, he must be pilloried, and off-topic blog posts must be made. And the tribalists wonder why they can't actually accomplish much of anything or sway public opinion…

  33. Panzersage says

    I used to read PZmeyers blog in the past. Unfortunately the sheer amount of vitriol he spews turned me off of reading him.

    As a libertarian there are quite a few things I side with him on, but also posts that I disagree with. Unfortunately he seems physically incapable of understanding that a person who feels differently from him might have looked at the same evidence and come to a different conclusion. Instead he vehemently attacks their character, ethics, morals, and reasoning along with their argument.

    A good example of double think on his part is when it comes to condemning Christian extremists. He holds a few wackos up as the problem with the entire religion, but then completely fails to comment when insane atheists do the same activity.

    A good example would be what Chris above says. A quick search of pharyngula shows just how much in contempt and hatred PZ Meyers has for him and yet in the comment he made above he tries to deny that.

    I am glad that Shermer wrote the letter, it is always nice when people on opposite sides of the spectrum can reach offer a hand in support.

  34. Frank the Wanderer says

    In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm a follower of Jesus Christ.
    I'm not sure I can name a more hypocritical lot than Meyers, Benson, et al. Having watched them beat their fellow atheists down on Youtube and other places, I'll give them little credit for being even remotely honorable.Their hatred for other atheists that don't agree fully with their particular way of thinking prevents me from taking them seriously. Mr. Shermer is better off without them.

  35. David W says

    I'm surprised. I see a number of comments saying something like 'He doesn't deserve mercy.' That strikes to the heart of the definition, though! No one ever deserves mercy. If they deserve the treatment, we call it justice. We choose to grant mercy in the recognition that it's a poor world where everyone gets only what they deserve.

  36. says

    Ken White wrote:

    Maybe some of the problem is with fundamental differences of opinion about what sentencing is about.

    My job is to get the judge (and sometimes even the prosecutor) to see my client as a human being

    I, for one, was unaware that Michael Shermer was D'Souza's defense lawyer in this matter.

    The "outrage" isn't prompted by tribalistic atheism or political ideology. Shermer is a leader within the modern skeptic movement, publishes a magazine called Skeptic and books on skepticism, all geared towards helping people root out dishonesty in others and themselves. So when he characterized D'Souza (who seems to have told some whoppers, even by conservative standards) as "honest," it was baffling.

    Of course, Shermer seems to think that libertarianism isn't based on completely unrealistic notions of how humans behave, so perhaps he hasn't read enough of his own work.

  37. says

    Chris wrote (to PZ Myers):

    You started a smear campaign designed to destroy his professional life…

    And how'd that work out? The only person whose career has been threatened in all the goings-on over the last three years has been that of a woman who claimed that Shermer tried to grope her.

  38. says

    Cassius Dre (and MLK) asked a good question: "Why can't we all just get along?" A big part of the answer is embodied in the concept known as statism: some us of will (somehow) make 'rules' that all must obey. There is no attempt (and no motive) for The State to "get along".

    As an atheist and libertarian, I have little in common with D'Souza. That doesn't prevent me from recognizing that the made-up "crime" that he is charged with (and now convicted of) is bullshit. The State gives its permission for some dispositions of funds and not others. How very statist of it.

  39. Joel says

    @Anonymous

    And to that same effect, plenty of Muslims would likely say "You don't get to co-opt my theological identity just because a bunch of angry radicals started blowing up people." Plenty of Christians would likely say "You don't get to co-opt my theological identity just because a bunch of angry 'morality control freaks' started petitioning about how bad homosexuality is."

    Every theological identity ends up getting generalized by its most vocal "members". It's a side effect of that tribalism Lizard was talking about earlier. It's easier for our brains to create shortcuts for understanding people because they can't seem to handle treating every single person we meet as a unique individual. I agree with you, we shouldn't dismiss all atheists as insufferably smug anti-religion preachers. But people do. KR is right, for many people, the word "atheist" does have that connotation. It's not fair, but it does happen. You can't really do much to change that, any more than Christians can do anything to dissociate from the ultra-conservative bible-thumper image, beyond setting an example by your own behavior.

  40. GuestPoster says

    Hmmm. On the one hand: if he goes to prison, it MIGHT serve as a warning to others engaged in the same sort of activity to not do it. On the other hand: it's a mild offense, honestly, his wrist has been slapped, confinement to home isn't freedom, and our prisons are overcrowded and really should be more reserved for the sort of criminal who actually needs to be in prison to prevent further offenses.

    D'Souza is a jerk and an idiot. And sure, he's unrepentant, and will probably spend time talking about how what he did SHOULD be legal, and he SHOULD be elected God for having done it. But none of those are offenses worthy of jail time. Frankly, people who did 'worse' things shouldn't be in prison – he really shouldn't be either. Failing all else: putting him there will just get the prison dirty, and bother the inmates whose rehabilitation probably won't be helped by setting a partisan ideologue right in their midst.

  41. ShelbyC says

    "Can we all just get along? " attributed to MLK. Is this a joke I'm not getting? Y'all know you got the wrong King, right?

  42. machintelligence says

    If ya wanna play the game, ya gotta play by the rules.
    That said, since there are now so many ways to donate money to political campaigns that are perfectly legal, using one that is not is really ignorant or stupid. While ignorance or stupidity should not be rewarded, they should not be punished harshly either. I don't think jail time is appropriate in this case.
    OTOH if he insists that he has done nothing wrong, the penalty should sting a bit.

  43. mud man says

    Many of the public New Atheists play metaphysics as if it were politics, same as the right-wing fundamentalists do. Same winner-take-all replaces listening to what people are trying to work with. Death to Intolerance, I say.

  44. Mu says

    In reply to some of your commenters, I neither hate Shermer nor have I even expressed any degree of hatred for him.

    Makes you wonder what PZ would have to write about someone to admit he truly hates him (he'd never hate a woman, that would by misogynistic).
    And you forgot to link to skepchick.org in this obvious attempt to troll the pharyngulists, they love Shermer.

  45. JR in WV says

    Dinesh is a despicable little turd, who showed up at a Christian event with his new girlfriend, before even filing for divorce from his current wife. The GF was also currently married to someone else. I'm not a Christian, but I grew up in the Bible Belt, and I know not to show up at a prayer meeting with my married-to-someone-else girlfriend.

    Dinesh acted surprised that anyone thought this was questionable… "I'm not from around here!" is the name of that defense… then he went away. I'm not sure if he kept the money he was paid to show up or not. I may have dates mixed up too.

    But this is one tiny example of a whole lifestyle of being despicable for Dinesh. Hypocritical doesn't begin to cover his political activities. He rubs up against immorality as if it were his favorite perfume.

    And to spend speaking tours to conservative groups calling out the legal system for selectively prosecuting a guy who committed one of the most common campaign law violations, then to call yourself contrite… this is a guy who mostly acts as if he doesn't speak the same English language the rest of us do.

    Words have common meanings, that is what allows us to understand each other. Dinesh needs to learn the standard definitions of the words he uses if he intends to be understood properly. But I think he prefers the uncertainty he creates by not quite knowing what is proper and what isn't. Things that are improper, against the law, against obvious religious mores, they are just improper. If he wants to be a Christian, he need to understand Christian mores and follow them.

    I'm not a Christian. I don't have an expectation of following peculiar religious rules. I DO have the expectation of following cultural standards of behavior, not drinking to excess and puking into expensive Coach luggage, and the like.

    Dinesh should go to jail for his obviously illegal campaign work. After he gets out, he should get a job doing something for a paycheck that isn't political, like sales work or insurance work, or painting Corvettes. Somethingconstructive and worthwhile, as opposed to being a despicable little toad for money.

    Maybe the court could give him a choice: 16 months in the slam, or 6 months in the slam and he agrees not to have anything to do with paid political discourse for – what? 20 years or so?
    Around here the standard plea agreement for elected officials caught toying around with the election laws always includes a bar on future political behavior.

    Get a real job, dork, in other words!

  46. I Was Anonymous says

    @ShelbyC, thank you. I was about to post the same thing.

    "Why can't we all get along?" is by RODNEY King.

  47. says

    @David W:

    I'm surprised. I see a number of comments saying something like 'He doesn't deserve mercy.' That strikes to the heart of the definition, though! No one ever deserves mercy. If they deserve the treatment, we call it justice. We choose to grant mercy in the recognition that it's a poor world where everyone gets only what they deserve.

    Yes, I thought that was exactly Ken's point here.

    Glass houses and stones, those without sin, etc.

  48. SirWired says

    On another note, do defense attorneys not counsel their clients to shut up about the conspiracy and persecution theories between pleading and sentencing? (Whether or not the client believes them, and whether or not they are true.) Does that EVER end well?

  49. says

    By the way, I think the PZ-bashing in this thread is really funny, considering that Ken White is the guy PZ turned to for legal assistance when Shermer threatened to sue PZ. And don't look in the comments, or you might discover how many Pharyngulites think Ken is one super-cool dude.

    How's that lawsuit coming, anyway? I heard, second-hand, that there's often a one-year limit (now passed) for a person to file suit for defamation. Ken? Any truth to that?

  50. GlennH says

    @Chris to PZ:

    4. In reply to some of your commenters, I neither hate Shermer nor have I even expressed any degree of hatred for him.

    No, you just published anonymous accusations that he was a rapist, and vouched for his accuser as honest. Then published more anonymous griping that he poured a differenet woman drinks at a drinks party, and referred to that as "further corroboration".
    I imagine your not currently expressing hatred for him is on advice of counsel. Disingenuous doesn't start to describe your trying to pass yourself off as a disinterested party re: Shermer. You started a smear campaign designed to destroy his professional life out of love.
    Puh-fucking-lease.

    The accusations were not anonymous to PZ – and now they're now anonymous at all:
    Will Misogyny Bring Down The Atheist Movement?

    Come on back after reading the article above and lecture us some more on "smear campaigns".

  51. Jacob Schmidt says

    Makes you wonder what PZ would have to write about someone to admit he truly hates him (he'd never hate a woman, that would by misogynistic).

    It's amusing to read this and consider the shear contempt Myers has expressed for TERFs: you know, that noxious group of women feminists.

    Shermer supporting D'Souza is bizarre, especially describing D'Souza as honest. As far as I can tell, it's indicative of some tribalism on Shermer's part in setting aside ostensible ideals of the sceptic community to support a member of the conservative community (of which Shermer is part).

  52. En Passant says

    Dave W. September 12, 2014 at 10:16 am:

    I heard, second-hand, that there's often a one-year limit (now passed) for a person to file suit for defamation. Ken? Any truth to that?

    I'm not Ken and I don't play him on TV.

    Yes, one year is a common s/l for defamation. The general reasoning is that defamation and its damaging effects are fairly immediately recognizable; and long running feuds are a waste of court time. If it takes you more than a year to figure out whether some statement was defamatory, it probably wasn't; and if it was defamatory, what took you so long to notice?

  53. says

    This post is about Shermer's letter on behalf of Dinesh D'Souza and the reactions to it. I'd prefer that it not be used to internet-litigate other controversies, please.

  54. Castaigne says

    @Adam Lee:

    I disagree. I think many of us atheists decided some time ago that Shermer wasn't the kind of person we want on our side, for far more consequential reasons than this. If you don't know what I'm referring to, I suggest Googling around a bit…

    This is true. Shermer uses bullshit pop evolutionary psychology to rationalize his libertarianism. His book "The Mind of Market" is just as wooey as the New Age crap he believed in before he supposedly converted to skepticism. He is not a very savory person at all.

    @Edward:

    You think pleas for mercy are wrong. No matter what good this person has done, no matter what he like outside of this particular crime, separating him from any other person who commits this crime is wrong.

    No, I say that Shermer's assertions are not supported by the evidence of D'Souza's shenanigans and constant dishonesty, especially proved by what got him into this mess in the first place. He was shopped to the feds by his wife after he decided to ditch her and climb on the bang bus with a hotter and younger upgrade…without getting divorced, because that would lose him his hotshot position at an evangelical college.

    So as far as I see it, Shermer has lied in his letter about a confirmed adulterer and "Liar For Jesus".

    @Barry Parr:

    Surely a Christian leader of Mr. D'Souza's prominence has a long record of forgiveness of his enemies.

    Strangely (to my great lack of surprise), these acts of forgiveness are not in evidence of Herr D'Souza. At least, he's never evidenced them previous to this.

  55. Dan says

    @Mu

    he'd never hate a woman, that would by misogynistic

    Oh he is an equal opportunity hater. He and his FTB-clique launched a hate campaign against Abbie Smith of ERV blog, which included underhanded tricks to have her blog censored and to boycott all of her public speaking talks. Truly disgusting behavior by PZ and company.

  56. Mikee says

    I'm socially liberal/fiscally conservative, and I don't think there's a single thing I would ever agree with D'Souza on, except his prosecution being a clear case of the government trying to silence a critic. Of all the nonsense batshit insanery surrounding our elections, they go after an alleged 'film-maker' that is highly critical of our leader? I have to wonder if it's out of pure irony that the government, after being accused publicly of being rotten, corrupt, and dishonest then prosecutes said accuser with selective prosecution based on activities that are fairly common in America.

    Maybe after he gets out of prison he can get together with Valerie Plame and they can make a movie about how both sides of our political spectrum could use a good flushing.

  57. says

    I'll gladly stand by my comments. Dinesh D'Souza is one of the most dishonest human beings I have ever encountered (and I have met him personally and witnessed his dishonesty first hand). And Shermer's claim that he is "forthright and honest" only served to lower my opinion of him even more (which I hardly thought was possible). Let me also say that I think whoever it was who called Shermer a "traitor" for the letter is being ridiculous and needlessly inflammatory.

    And I certainly do not oppose the act of writing to a judge to urge leniency for someone during the sentencing phase. It's a very useful practice and leniency is often strongly warranted. I just think this letter sent on his behalf is laughably ridiculous and I think the evidence bears that out.

    And for the record, I do not think D'Souza should 16 months in prison, which I believe is the maximum he faces. I think 30-60 days in a local jail is a perfectly reasonable sentence for the crime he committed, which he admits not only to doing but to knowing it was illegal when he did it. 16 months seems quite excessive to me in this case.

  58. AlphaCentauri says

    For the record, I don't think atheists are a homogenous group. That's why I get a kick out seeing some of them admonishing one another as if they ought to be.

  59. Mike says

    Free speech creates odd bed fellows!

    I think anyone who has practiced criminal defense and understands election law sees the selective prosecution angle.

    How is it that legal assistants at Trial Lawyer Firm Of Your Choice can afford to make campaign contributions to Democratic candidates? Yet they do, year after year. Go to Open Secrets and look up law firms and campaign contributions. Where's that money coming from?

    Heck, as a law student I was used as a shell donor by a plaintiffs firm. Long story short: I was a valet as a plaintiffs firm as a law clerk. It was communicated that tips given to me would be donated, because I was such a good Democrat. No one was prosecuted. (And the statute of limitations has run, so come at me, bro!)

    The shell game is played by all. Why was D'Souza singled out?

    I think D'Souza has horrible views and am no fan of his. I also think the prosecution was unjust because he was almost certainly singled out for his criticism of the Administration.

    I also think that Popehat has been a good friend to PZ Myers, Ed Brayton, and even me. In fact, Ed Brayton and I shared a lawyer! (Not Popehat, another lawyer.)

    Ed Brayton previously claimed that War Machine, a "man" who beat his girlfriend, was a men's rights activist, a clearly intellectually dishonest argument. War Machine had made some of the same points that MRAs had made. By Brayton's logic, War Machine was a feminist because he dated a porn star, and that would thus make him a sex positive feminist.

    Also, to violate Godwin's law. Hitler. Vegetarian. Therefore, Nazis.

    It's thus clear that Brayton will engage in intellectual dishonesty to score points. However, unlike Mr. Brayton, I do not believe people should be imprisoned for thought crime. I hope Mr. Brayton remains a free man.

    So this thread cracks me up. Ken disagrees with me on many issues. But Ken is able to separate the person from the ideas. Ken also has intellectual integrity.

    When Ken calls attention to people he is friendly with, you'd think they might think, "Maybe he has a point." (When he calls me out, I admit he has a point. I go "too far" on purpose, to counter-balance the extremism on the other side. In a perfect world, I'd be more reasonable. But you can't be reasonable with feminists and fellows like Mr. Brayton. In a Platonic world, however, I am wrong. In the real world, well, it's bare knuckles.)

    Anyhow, I love this comment thread and post. Free speech really does bring the SOBs together in one space.

  60. says

    I certainly hesitate to challenge Mike, a self-declared "alpha male" who "holds grudges forever" and thinks "you're fat" is a rational argument, but his obvious mischaracterization of my position is patently ridiculous and irrational. He offers not a shred of evidence that D'Souza's prosecution was selective, presuming that the mere declaration that he believes it to be so proves that it is. But even if it was, it would not logically follow that because I think D'Souza should receive a small punishment (a fraction of the maximum penalty available) for a crime he admits to committing and to knowing that he was doing so at the time I therefore believe "people should be imprisoned for thought crimes." He has not been charged with any "thought crime," he's been charged with a real crime and he has pleaded guilty to that crime. He has now repeated his claim several times here and on Twitter, but it's still an incredibly bad argument (the only kind, it seems, he is capable of).

    And yes, Ken has been very kind to me and I have a great deal of respect for him. I only came here to defend my position (which is that Dinesh D'Souza is incredibly dishonest, which he is, and that Shermer's letter in his defense was thus absurd and false). I don't think D'Souza should be thrown in prison for a long period of time, I think he should get a short sentence in a county jail. That seems a reasonable punishment to me. But it has nothing at all to do with D'Souza's position. Like Ken, I am a virtual free speech absolutist with a long history of defending the right of people to say even the most heinous of things. I have written for more than a decade of the need for an all-out legal assault on campus hate speech codes, for instance, and defended the free speech rights of everyone from the Westboro Baptist Church to the KKK. So Mike's false representation of my position is pretty clearly false. There is much more to be said, but in the interests of not alienating Ken, I'll leave the real mockery for my own blog.

  61. says

    One other thing that should be pointed out is that the judge considered the question of selective prosecution during a pretrial hearing and both sides had a chance to brief the matter. After reading those briefs and hearing oral argument, the judge pointed out that the DOJ, the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District as well had prosecuted both Democrats and Republicans for exactly the same type of conduit contributions since Obama took office. He cited four separate cases that had been filed in similar situations, three of them involving contributions to Democrats and one involving Republicans. He also notes that D'Souza was flagged in a routine audit of contributions made in the 2012 campaigns in New York by the FBI.

    The judge then concluded that "the defense, respectfully, has presented no evidence that he was selectively prosecuted. The burden, at this motion stage, is some evidence. I determine that there is no evidence. There is no evidence of discriminatory effect nor of discriminatory purpose. The defendant is, for example, unable to say what classification he is in and whom, if anyone, is similarly situated in a different classification that has not been prosecuted. That the case is interesting or high profile is insufficient to constitute some evidence of selective prosecution."

    There simply is zero evidence of selective prosecution. To boldly proclaim that it is or must be a selective prosecution with no evidence at all and then to conclude that anyone who disagrees with this and thinks there is good cause for some punishment, even minimal punishment as I have called for, "thinks those who disagree with him should be put in prison" is utterly irrational and unsupported by the facts.

  62. Mike says

    Ed, was your claim that War Machine was an mens' rights activist honest? Or did you capitalize on a brutal beating to smear your ideological adversaries in an unfair way?

    You claimed War Machine was an MRA because he made some of the same statement that MRAs have made. Let's run with that.

    I have said that eating factory farmed meat is immoral. Know who else says that? Vegans. Therefore, I'm a vegan.

    War Machine said that Christy Mack had a right to be in adult entertainment. Know who else says that? Feminists. Therefore, War Machine is a sex positive feminist.

    I never knew anything about you until you made a clearly dishonest argument (do you stand by it?) in an attempt to made you ideological adversaries look bad.

    It was dealing from the bottom of the deck to spin that story in a way to make Paul Elam and those guys look bad. No leader in the MRA community would have had anything to do with War Machine and none supported his conduct.

    You have no moral authority to judge me, D'Souza, or anyone else.

  63. Mike says

    As for the selective prosecution argument, you are correct that I can't prove a negative. I can't prove D'Souza was singled out because prosecutorial decision making is generally off limits as a matter of separation of powers.

    That's why I noted my personal experience in this matter. Talk to some trial lawyers about campaign contributions. Look into $3,000 donations being made by legal assistants.

    Using shell donors is common. So why go after D'Souza?

    I'd sure like to be a fly on the wall or see the emails. Unfortunately separation of powers (as it's understood by courts) prevents judges from going into those details.

    It's thus not my fault that I can't prove D'Souza was singled out.

    Given what I (and anyone who has worked in the federal system or even followed it) know about federal prosecutors, I feel comfortable in my belief that D'Souza was singled out for his views.

    Unlike the War Machine dispute, this is one where reasonable minds can differ. You have your views and biases and expertise and I have mind.

    (That said, given your tactics and thinking displayed during the War Machine exchange, I'm unwilling to concede that your mind is reasonable.)

  64. Grifter says

    @Mike:

    Proving he was selectively prosecuted is not proving a negative. The claim is a positive claim.

  65. AlphaCentauri says

    I'm sure a lot of corporate donations do get laundered that way. But who is going to complain? It's a difficult crime to investigate. As I recall, D'Souza was only found out because he had the chutzpah to launder a donation in the name of someone he was not on good terms with, so that when she tried to make her own donation, it put her over the limit, and so she complained. That's hardly grounds for the accusation of selective prosecution.

  66. AlphaCentauri says

    I checked and couldn't find a citation that one of the straw donors tried to make her own donation. But he donated in the names of his estranged wife, his mistress, and his mistress' husband. And all that information gets posted on the internet. So it was stupidity in the 1st degree.

  67. says

    I find it highly amusing Mr. Cernovich thinks I need to make Paul Elam look bad. Paul Elam is a woman-hating, misogynist scumbag. War Machine is also a woman-hating, misogynist scumbag. War Machine said some unbelievably stupid and vile things, every single one of which could have been taken practically verbatim from any MRA website or forum on the internet. The only difference between War Machine and Paul Elam is that War Machine actually commits violence against women, while Elam only encourages it and excuses it. Paul Elam says things like this:

    I have ideas about women who spend evenings in bars hustling men for drinks, playing on their sexual desires … And the women who drink and make out, doing everything short of sex with men all evening, and then go to his apartment at 2:00 a.m.. Sometimes both of these women end up being the “victims” of rape.

    But are these women asking to get raped?

    In the most severe and emphatic terms possible the answer is NO, THEY ARE NOT ASKING TO GET RAPED.

    They are freaking begging for it.

    Damn near demanding it.

    And all the outraged PC demands to get huffy and point out how nothing justifies or excuses rape won’t change the fact that there are a lot of women who get pummeled and pumped because they are stupid (and often arrogant) enough to walk though life with the equivalent of a I’M A STUPID, CONNIVING BITCH – PLEASE RAPE ME neon sign glowing above their empty little narcissistic heads.

    And this:

    Now, let me ask you something. Do you think I am going to stop?

    It’s a serious question, because the answer to that question, again if you are not too stupid to grasp the impact of it, should inform you of what will work for you or not work for you in dealing with me.

    And the answer is, of course, no, I am not going to stop. You see, I find you, as a feminist, to be a loathsome, vile piece of human garbage. I find you so pernicious and repugnant that the idea of fucking your shit up gives me an erection.

    Elam certainly doesn't need any help from me to look like the sexist asshole that he is.

  68. says

    Mike wrote:

    As for the selective prosecution argument, you are correct that I can't prove a negative.

    The claim of selective persecution is a positive claim, not a negative one. Thinking isn't your strong suit, is it?

    I can't prove D'Souza was singled out because prosecutorial decision making is generally off limits as a matter of separation of powers.

    That's why I noted my personal experience in this matter. Talk to some trial lawyers about campaign contributions. Look into $3,000 donations being made by legal assistants.

    Using shell donors is common. So why go after D'Souza?

    Because he was flagged in a routine audit. And as I and the judge in the case noted, and you conveniently ignored, this same prosecutor's office has, since the Obama administration began, prosecuted both Democrats and Republicans for the same exact crime. Which means not only is there no evidence for selective prosecution, there is positive evidence against it. All of which you ignore to make this false equivalence between the cases for and against selective prosecution so that you can leap to the completely unjustified conclusion you've repeated several times, that it's so obviously selective persecution that anyone who disagrees with that and thinks D'Souza should be punished must just want everyone who disagrees with them put in prison. But you've already admitted that you have no evidence at all for your premise, which makes such a conclusion even more stupid and irrational.

    And no, the fact that others have not been caught doing it is not evidence of selective prosecution in this particular case. Almost everyone who gets pulled over for speeding says, "No fair! I saw a guy going way faster than me just a few minutes ago!" Is that evidence of selective prosecution? Of course not. It's evidence that a police officer was there with a radar gun when he sped, but not when the other guy did.

    Your premise is totally unsupported and your conclusion, that I just want my political opponents thrown in prison, is presumptuous, offensive and just plain moronic.

  69. GuestPoster says

    Also, as I think more about this…

    Whether D'Souza was 'targeted' or simply a noticeable person for whom punishment might act as a warning to others is, obviously, very debatable. The former is a bad thing – government should NOT use its power to silence critics. On the other hand, the latter is arguably a good idea – there's only so much time and money to spend reducing the crime rate, so when you've got a very visible person against whom a very strong case can be made, you might be effectively stopping multiple criminals at once.

    That being said, I can't count (mostly, I freely admit, due to the incidents having not been worth keeping strict track of) the sheer number of times, while proctoring a test and walking circles around the room, that I would call 'Time!' and begin picking up papers. Inevitably, there would be a student working furiously to finish something, incensed that I would DARE to take his or her paper before, say, that of Susie in row 2. I would then patiently explain that I would take Susie's paper just as soon as I got that far, this paper was closest to where I happened to be standing when the allotted time elapsed, and that the student had exactly 3 seconds to hand me the paper before I wrote a big '0' on top during grading.

    Because, really, there's ALWAYS going to be somebody being dealt with 'right now'. They're often going to feel unfairly targeted. And while, in court, the defendant needs, and absolutely deserves, a vigorous defense, that doesn't change that the prosecutor can't move on to the next suspected criminal until the first in line has been dealt with. That's not vengeance, or political targeting – that's simple temporal mechanics. Only 24 hours in a day (or 96 if you buy into Time Cube, but even that only gets you so far).

  70. Mike says

    Ed, your logic is weak. War Machine said some of the same crap Paul Elam and MRAs have said. OK, big deal.

    I've said some of the same things feminists have said. I'm not a feminist.

    I've said some of the same things vegans have said. I'm not a vegan.

    Does simply saying something that group x says make that person part of group x?

    Heck, I am not an MRA. I think they are pathetic betas males who cry about life rather than take charge. But I bet you can find me saying some of the same things MRAs have said. That does not make me an MRA.

    You keep dodging that issue. What is your principle? If I say things that you and PZ say, am I a member of the ironically named Free Thought community?

    Come on, be a bit more honest than D'Sousa!

    Ed, your post on War Machine is instructive and supports my earlier claim that you support thoughtcrime. I'll include the full paragraph for context:


    "You may have heard about the MMA fighter who calls himself War Machine brutally beating his ex-girlfriend, porn star Christy Mac, last week after coming to her house and finding her with another man. There have been many disturbing things about the story, especially those who somehow thought the fact that she’s a porn star somehow makes the situation less appalling or more understandable. Even more disturbing are the views this asshole expressed, which put him right in the mainstream of the MRA movement."

    Do you believe it's "even more disturbing" to express words and thoughts than it is to physically beat a woman nearly to death?

    Are words and thoughts *worse* than rupturing someone's spleen?

    Maybe we just have different views on the world.

    I don't care what you say. I would never beat you up for it.

    Nothing you have said to me or anyone else is more disturbing than what War Machine did to Christy Mack.

    Why do you believe otherwise? Are speech and thought "even more disturbing" than attempted murder?

  71. Mike says

    If it wasn't an issue of selective prosecution, then the prosecutors would have opened up their files and turned over emails and notes regarding their decision to prosecution D'Souza.

    After all, privacy is only for people who have something to hide.

    When prosecutors refuse to abide by the standard they set for others, then one can only presume that prosecutors are indeed hiding something.

    That or they are repugnant hypocrites – in which case I feel comfortable in my belief that this was a case of selective prosecution.

  72. Castaigne says

    @Mike Cernovich: Even though this War Machine bullshit has absolutely nothing to do with the Distort D'Newza nonsense, let's quickly and succinctly lay out a few things here.

    War Machine said some of the same crap Paul Elam and MRAs have said. OK, big deal.

    You mean quoted Elam and participated in MRA forums.

    Heck, I am not an MRA.

    *checks your blogs* Nah, you just say the same things they do, act the same way they do, support the same guys they do (especially Roosh), and in all other ways emulate the ducks they are. Well, you're quacking. Guess what it makes you. The only difference between you and the average MRA is that you promote broscience, which just makes you an MRA woo-meister.

    If it wasn't an issue of selective prosecution, then the prosecutors would have opened up their files and turned over emails and notes regarding their decision to prosecution D'Souza.

    The decision is known. Perhaps if you weren't spending all your time pumping iron and exercising the little grey cells, you would have read other articles on the subject.

    D'Souza's estranged wife dumped the whole case on the prosecutors. She shopped him for committing adultery on her with his mistress, Denise Joseph. When she found out about his adultery, she wasn't fucking happy – not surprising – and dropped the case on the feds.

    If you are any type of legal expert that you claim to be, explain to me how prosecutors can ignore evidence of a crime when handed to them, lock, stock, and smoking barrel. It really is just that simple.

    Let's get to the heart of the matter: You actually know why D'Souza was prosecuted, but you're just ignoring it, because you have a beef with Brayton for condemning War Machine, one of your work-out broheim idols. Just confess it, be honest with it, and be done.

  73. Mike says

    "Perhaps if you weren't spending all your time pumping iron and exercising the little grey cells, you would have read other articles on the subject."

    How is this morally or intellectually different from fat jokes?

    By the way, do a better job stalking me. Run my name through Google Scholar. And be sure to look up my *other* blog on Google Scholar and Google generally.

    You may disagree with me, but good luck finding support for the proposition that I'm a dummy.

    Since you don't want to seriously discuss the issues but want to resort to, "You have muscles," the equivalent of a fat joke, there's nothing for us to discuss.

    Step up your game if you want to spar with the people's champ.

    But again, feel free to stalk me. You'll feel narcissistic rage when you realize I have better credentials, a better body, better blood work (fasting glucose, insulin, cholesterol, lipids, etc.) and a better life than you.

    Enjoy your Sunday.

  74. Mike says

    "If you are any type of legal expert that you claim to be, explain to me how prosecutors can ignore evidence of a crime when handed to them, lock, stock, and smoking barrel. It really is just that simple."

    Did you know that prosecutors have the discretion to charge someone with offenses that overstate the seriousness of the underlying conduct (this is called "overcharging"), to charge someone properly, or to not charge someone at all?

    Did you know that a judge has virtually no legal authority to second-guess a prosecutor's decision to charge someone with a crime? (Judges have other ways of getting their way, but they don't have the legal power to second-guess prosecutors.)

    Did you know that you have no due process right to have someone prosecuted for a crime? That is, if no one prosecutes someone who harms you, you can't sue them for a civil rights violation under 42 U.S.C. 1983?

    Did you know that if you're being prosecuted unjustly in state court, you can't sue in federal court (Younger abstention)?

    Prosecutorial discretion. Google it maybe?

    P.S. Did you know that some of us might say that prosecuting someone after a scorned spouse turns them in is a poor exercise of prosecutorial discretion, as it turns petty squabbles better suited for the civil system into criminal matters? Not everyone would agree, but may would, with the argument that prosecutors should "stay out" of this kind of nonsense and not set a precedent. Others would say it's great for spouses to snitch one another.

    Law….It's freaking nuanced, I tell ya!

  75. says

    For the record, my wording of saying that what War Machine said was "even worse" than what he did was very poor wording. No, of course I don't believe that saying horrible things is worse or even as bad as committing violence. But such violence does not happen in a vacuum. It is encouraged and justified by people like Paul Elam and MRAs all over the world. Every single word he spoke could have come verbatim from an MRA website. The only difference between him and MRAs is that most MRAs, as far as I know, don't actually commit violence. But they certainly justify and excuse it away constantly. That was the point of my post and it remains absolutely true.

  76. Brian says

    I saw D'Souza debate Christopher Hitchens in New York City back in 2009 or 2010, in an event sponsored by The King's College, a Christian school. It was one of many "atheist v. theist" debates Hitchens took on after publication of his book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and having watched a lot of them online, I think D'Souza was the only debater to beat Hitchens on points. (I say this, even though as an atheist myself I'm confident there's no supernatural dimension.) D'Souza can be abrasive and deliberately provocative, but I really don't see why Popehat takes so much time making clear his disapproval of the guy.

    The online reaction to that sentencing letter does tell us something troubling about the "skeptical community," however. In a free country where we are not being oppressed by theocrats, those who spend so much time focusing on what they don't believe in suffer some kind of psychological defect, or at least many of them do. Hitchens is excluded from this group, because his focus was pro-liberty, expressed through decades of writing & activism. But simply dwelling on one's supposed superiority to religious believers seems to be an expression of malevolence. Richard Dawkins may be an example; he came up with the jerk-like idea of referring to himself & his fellow atheists as "the brights," as against, one presumes, those idiot religious believers.

  77. Castaigne says

    @Mike Cernovich:

    How is this morally or intellectually different from fat jokes?

    Who said it was? And what, what's good for the goose is NOT good for the gander? You can dish it, but you can't take it? That further cements my opinion of you. Man up, buttercup.

    I like fat jokes myself.

    By the way, do a better job stalking me.

    *dismisses* A Google search to find out who some schmoe is and why he has a beef with Ed Brayton is not stalking. Try again.

    Prosecutorial discretion. Google it maybe?

    I know all of the things that you have mentioned. They've come up here and elsewhere before. But when you take your evidence to a prosecutor who is known for prosecuting both Republicans and Democrats for this specific crime, then it's a fair and safe assumption that he'll not ignore this one either. Unless you have an explanation why they would suddenly change their modus operandi for no reason whatsoever?

    Did you know that some of us might say that prosecuting someone after a scorned spouse turns them in is a poor exercise of prosecutorial discretion, as it turns petty squabbles better suited for the civil system into criminal matters?

    Some might have that opinion, but not me. I wouldn't care why the evidence is being brought before me. Altruism or spite, it makes no difference. I don't care if a man was caught stealing bread to sell on the black market or to feed his family. Can I prove the crime was committed? TIME TO BRING THE HAMMER DOWN. It is for the judges to determine leniency and mercy.

    Not everyone would agree, but may would, with the argument that prosecutors should "stay out" of this kind of nonsense and not set a precedent.

    No, I disagree. I don't think many would agree with that argument.

    But I definitely think many MRAs would.

    —–

    @Grifter:

    Weren't the little grey cells Poirot's brains?

    Good reference catch.

    —–

    @Brian:

    Hitchens is excluded from this group, because his focus was pro-liberty, expressed through decades of writing & activism.

    Actually, Hitchens is regarded dubiously due to his severe Islamophobia and his fairly broad misogny. It's funny; his views on women were shared very much by Islamic clerics. He didn't like having it pointed out that he shared a lot of things in common on that.

  78. says

    I see a couple people above claiming that D'Souza's estranged wife turned him in. I've never seen any evidence of that. According to the court proceedings, he was caught by a routine audit of campaign contributions for candidates in New York in 2012 by the FBI. Can anyone actually support such a claim?

  79. Grifter says

    The government says it was part of a routine audit. It kinda looks like he just did a particularly bad job of hiding it which made it easier for them to bust him.

    Or a national conspiracy against political opponents, I guess. …Those are the only two options, right?

  80. AstroKid Nj says

    Ed Brayton says:

    Like Ken, I am a virtual free speech absolutist with a long history of defending the right of people to say even the most heinous of things. I have written for more than a decade of the need for an all-out legal assault on campus hate speech codes

    When FTB and YouTuber thunderf00t had their big fight, Ed Brayton says this:

    I want to do whatever it takes to make sure that he is essentially drummed out of this movement, never invited to speak anywhere again and is forever a pariah.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2012/08/10/thunderfoots-unethical-obsession/#ixzz3DRs7coxp

    Yep.. Ed Brayton is FOR free speech. LOL

    Ed.. I am an MRA. Its comical watching you folks call EVERYONE an MRA. I learnt about MRAs only after you folks started accusing any of your adversaries of being that. I spent some time.. a lot of time.. reading up.
    Its comical watching so many once-feminists in the Atheist/Skeptic community.. including leading figures Dawkins, Sam Harris.. figure out there is a lot rotten in feminism. Thats ok.. we MRAs will wait for them to catch up.. and just LOL from the sidelines.

  81. AstroKid Nj says

    It is so comical to hear Ed Brayton claim that he's a defender of free speech.
    Over the last couple of years, feminists have disrupted so many MRA events. Did any of the leading feminists (like NOW, National columnists, etc) call them out? Nope. What about bottom-tier feminists like those at FreeThoughtBlogs? Nope.
    Instead its YouTubers like TheAmazingAtheist, Thunderf00t who have helped spread the news that feminists are silencing us.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2KPeMcYsuc

    Hey Ed.. What Camille Paglia said to Dennis Prager (at 21:17) is absolutely true..
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xXThqohiZo
    The hate from the Feminist (and apparently the LGBT) Left FAR EXCEEDs the hate from the Religious Right.
    I am not the only Atheist community member who feels that way. I expect Dawkins et al to come out and say that soon.

  82. Castaigne says

    @AstroKid Nj:

    Yep.. Ed Brayton is FOR free speech. LOL

    Uh…being for free speech does not mean being for the concept that whatever you say should be free from consequence. I'm happy to have the Neo-Nazis proclaim their allegiance to the White Race and the 88 Words and so on. They can free speech that shit as much as they want. Doesn't mean I won't banhammer the shit out of them from a forum. Same concept, dude.

    If you don't understand that free speech =/= consequences of speaking it, you need to bone up on the subject.

    Ed.. I am an MRA.

    That's fantastic! I love to hear MRAs speak. So are you a Red Piller? An MGTOWer? One of Roosh's boys? A PUA? An incel/love-shy? Are you gearing up for Bash A Violent Bitch month this October?

    Instead its YouTubers like TheAmazingAtheist, Thunderf00t who have helped spread the news that feminists are silencing us.

    Ah, you're a follower of those guys! Fantastic! So, some questions for you, if you don't mind. Do you have "extreme pedophilic fantasies" about 13-14 year-olds, like The Amazing Atheist? I'm quoting his book, "Scumbag: Musings of a Subhuman" (2007). Do you advocate lowering the age of consent to 12, like TAA does?

    In reference to Thunderf00t, I would love it if you could provide a commentary on this breakdown of his Tropes Vs. Women comments. A rebuttal of the criticism would be most welcome.

  83. rmd says

    This thread is so far out in left field Sammy Sosa couldn't get there with a corked bat and a double ration of 'roids.

  84. Dictatortot says

    I certainly sympathize, but something about this train wreck seems related to the ungenerous reactions to Shermer's letter. One senses the same pathologies at work … or parallel ones at least.

  85. Castaigne says

    @Ken White: It appears, unsurprisingly, that some of the atheist/skeptical MRAs follow you and take exception to people taking an exception to Shermer's…position. I wouldn't worry much about it; there's a large overlap between libertarians and MRAs right now. And certainly, I'll stop poking the bears that show up. :)

  86. Brian says

    "Actually, Hitchens is regarded dubiously…"

    So says the guy who calls himself Castaigne.

    Note that Castaigne doesn't say WHO regards Christopher Hitchens dubiously, but he offers a tell when he starts in with talk about "severe Islamophobia."

    Islam is the religious ideology which has set the world aflame; not to likened to other religions, East or West. It is an unreformed, savage creed. Hitchens was against it – because he was against the murder and oppression of innocents – and human oddities such as Castaigne respond by…

    …regarding Hitchens dubiously.

  87. Patrick says

    I dunno. Whether someone is a good, honest, or fair person can't be isolated from their professional work. And if you believe, as many do, that D'Souza is obviously a professional troll who doesn't really believe what he says, then a letter claiming that on a personal level he's "forthright and honest" is making obviously false statements.

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