Thursday, September 16, 2004

 

Cannibal: The Musical (Revisited) and Parking Tickets

This story made me think of the grand adventure that in my opinion really started Matt Stone and Trey Parker's careers...Cannibal: The Musical, which was about this very guy. I liked this line from the story: "At his trial, Packer said he had gone out to look for food and when he returned to camp he found Bell "roasting a piece of meat which he had cut out of the leg of the German butcher," Frank Miller. " I don't know why, but there is something kinda funny about eating meat off a butcher. I'm really sick.

Anyway, Cannibal: The musical is a good time and is available through Troma videos on DVD. I would be marketing a rerelease with extra features regarding this new story if I had the rights to this film. Of course, I'm not so sure it would do particularly well as I'm still the only person I know who has seen either Cannibal or Orgazmo despite how everyone says they love "those South Park guys" as one friend so aptly put it. I'm also still waiting for Orgazmo to come out on DVD. Argh. How can we even call ourselves a civilized society when films like this aren't available on DVD? Of course Bikini Summer 2 only recently became available on DVD, so we are making progress. (For anyone curious, Bikini Summer 2 stars Avalon Anders and don't let anyone tell you she isn't the star because you won't remember anyone else in the film after watching it.)

In related news...I was driving home from an appointment today and heard a story about a college student who was making money by giving people parking tickets and having them send the fines to a PO Box he had. He was found out and is in serious trouble apparently. Here is where I am going to type some thoughts that I haven't thought through too well so I'm perfectly willing to be called out on this, but I'm not sure that he should be punished. To me, the question of whether or not he should be punished hinges upon whether or not the people he ticketed had actually broken parking laws. The story I heard on the radio didn't indicate whether or not they were actually innocent. I would have to guess that the ones that paid him at least were guilty of some parking offense or else they would have gone to the police to question the validity of the ticket. (Maybe I'm wrong...maybe people would pay the ticket assuming no one would believe they were innocent anyway). Let's assume for a second though that they were guilty. If the fine's being listed on the ticket were appropriate according to the law for the offenses, then why should the person who observed that they were breaking the law not get the money? It ultimately comes down to this question...are parking fines merely about generating revenue for the police department or are they about deterring behavior. In practice, they are probably more about the former and that is why the police would be upset even if someone were handing out legitimate tickets but they weren't getting the revenue. Of course this also implies that the laws regarding parking are more or less in existence only as a means of generating revenue for the police department. This would strike me as being morally wrong. We should not create laws in the hope that people break them...We make criminals of good men (and women) that way.

If we try to defend the laws as being necessary for the public good, then shouldn't we want deterrence? If we want deterrence, then having more people as enforcers without paying for extra police to enforce seems like a good thing and thus having private enforcement where individuals would keep the revenue from administering legitimate tickets would seem optimal.

That being said, I'm sure my more astute readers will have thought of at least one of the two problems I will now address (perhaps more, but I'm not necessarily as astute as some of my astute readers). The most obvious problem is that people might try to give tickets that are not legitimate. This seems simple to solve to me by having the person administering the ticket take a picture of the particular offense to be provided to the court should the violator challenge the ticket.

The second and less obvious problem is that the cost of a ticket would have to be adjusted. If we assume, and get ready for a big assumption here, that the cost of tickets are currently at optimal levels then we would be forced to assume that they are at optimal levels for the probability of being caught by the police. The chances of being caught by anyone are much greater than the chances of being caught by the police specifically. This means that the price of a ticket would have to go down. Where it would go down to would depend upon the chances that someone who is trying to make x number of dollars would catch the violation.

I'm not sure if I'm for privatization of this function of policing yet. This is one of those ideas that is going to struggle around in my brain for several days so be prepared to see this topic again.

Night.

Comments:
Third problem--setting the precident that it's OK for the citizenry to take the law into individual hands. Maybe that's fine for parking tickets (which I dispute), but it's going to be more problematic for things like murder.

Not to mention the lack of a due process when dealing with individual vigilantes.

Life without a social contract is, afterall, "nasty, brutish and short."

Oh, and a common misconception: Law doesn't provide deterrence. Laws provide boundaries and consequences. And while laws are sometimes crafted (mistakenly, IMO) to deter crime, "Deterrence" is a individual, psychological reaction. It cannot be legislated any more than can fear or hunger. But that's really neither here nor there in regards to you post. Just thought you'd want to know.

See you tonight,

Matt
 
Let me start by saying that the reason we create laws is not merely to have boundaries and consequences. If it is, then society is lost. We can create laws until every honest man is a criminal, but that would be wrong. No society should create laws merely for the sake of having boundaries. There must be a behavior that we wish to curtail when creating a law.

Secondly, punishments (i.e. the consequences of breaking a law) are meant to deter. Punishments should be designed to deter crime otherwise they are simply malicious acts of vengeance.

Also, in the economic sense, deterrance is not necessarily a psychological phenomenon. Deterrance is anything that changes the incentive structure or the capability of the person from engaging in the action. There is quite a bit of literature on "direct deterrance" (sometimes referred to as proximate deterrance) which is fairly straightforward...putting someone in jail prevents them from comitting their crime again on the general population and thus that person is directly deterred. This relates to the economic usage however. Even by your definition it seems clear that legislation should be aimed at providing that fear which you might not be able to legislate directly.

As to the first point you raised...this is the equivalent of a citizen's arrest. They are not determining the punishment...it has already been set by law. The person being ticketed could still challenge the ticket and the ticketer would have to present the evidence, i.e. the photo. We depend upon the citizenry to notify the police of crimes all of the time, and theoretically the citizens should notify the police when they see someone violating a parking ordinance, however the police are unlikely to be able to respond to such a minor thing so it doesn't seem that absurd to let the ticketer pursue a legitimate ticket when the police refuse to enforce the law. If the person did call the police and they refused to come out then shouldn't the ticketer take the law into his own hands since the police are too apathetic to the problem? While I did not advocate this solution for murderers...if the police refused to come out and pick up a murderer when they were informed of where he was wouldn't you feel that they had failed to fullfill their duty and that law without enforcement is to live in a society devoid of rule and then would you not be justified in stopping the violator yourself? The police would not arrest Hitler because they worked for him, but a citizen who took the law into his own hands would be correct to enforce the laws. I know I'm taking things to extremes, but you jumped from ticketing people for parking violations to murder so I feel justified.
 
Josh,

I knew you'd key in on the "Deterrence is an emotional reaction" part of the post. I threw that is because I know it bothers you greatly whenever anything is beyond the reach of policy. But that wasn't the main point of my comment.

As for the other part of your post, I remind you, again, that life without a social contract is "nasty, brutish and short." If we're going to have a social contract, then we all have to live by it. Police and would-be vigilantes included. "Citizen's Arrest" is a relic from an era when there weren't police on every corner. It is an archaic tradition that was viewed as quaint and old-fashioned even when it was spoofed by The Andy Griffith Show. You didn't say anything of substance as to why we should abandon our social contract, or why we should outsource it to individual, non-regulated contractors, which was the main thrust of my point. So, in essence, I'm just reminding you that you're still wrong because an absurd argument written twice is still, at heart, an absurd argument.

And now I'm done debating this ridiculous hypothetical; I have better uses for my time and energy.

Matt
 
1) Calling an argument absurd doesn't make it absurd, even if you say it twice.

2) Despite the deeply insightful parodies of Andy Griffith (yes that was meant to be read sarcastically), Citizen's arrest is neither a relic nor unnecessary. Need I mention that there still aren't police on every corner and that the right of private citizen's to detain people for felonies is widely accepted...it is crucial in fact to store security and private security firms abilities to operate. Does anyone think that a private security firm should not be able to detain someone caught breaking and entering or otherwise comitting a felony? I might also add that bounty hunters and private detectives also depend upon this relic in many instances.

3) I don't know that I would even agree that there is a social contract, but let's assume that there is. There have been many incarnations of the social contract construct from Rousseau to Kant and beyond. I am no expert on the subject, but to the best of my recollection, there is nothing in the basics of the theory that would preclude private citizens being given enforcement power. In fact, if "citizen's arrest" were a relic it would make the case even stronger that it was part of the social contract. My main point here though is simply that if we decide to give the right of enforcement to private individuals (which ultimately all enforcement is done by--even the police are simply private individuals given enforcement ability) then it becomes a part of the social contract. Therefore I fail to see how the social contract argument has any relevance.

4) My thought regarding giving the ticketing ability to private individuals is a) not unprecedented. Bear in mind that on private grounds you can receive parking tickets by parking enforcement. B) It is meant among other things to remove the burden on private individuals in the event of real crime by allowing the police to respond to the real threat instead of wasting resources on parking tickets.

Those are just a few of many thoughts on the subject.

**As an afterthought I should mention that I am still not entirely sure about whether or not we should move to a system of private enforcement with ticket fines going to the individual who spots the offense and properly documents it, but what I am sure of is that the police should not be getting revenue from issuing parking tickets. This clearly distorts the relative value of enforcing tickets relative to enforcing laws on crimes that do not produce revenue for the police establishment.
 
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