Eric Nelson had the right strategy for Chauvin

For any readers from planet Mars (hello, Perseverence!) a quick summary: On 25th of May 2020, a gentleman named George Floyd, who was black, was arrested by several Minneapolis police officers for passing an apparently fake $20 bill in a convenience store. Floyd was a habitual drug user, and had recently ingested both meth and Fentanyl. Officer Derek Chauvin and others tried to put him in a police car; the 220-pound Floyd resisted. The police officers instead put him on the ground and pinned him there for 9 mins and 29 seconds - apparently increasingly fearful that he was undergoing "excited delirium" from the drugs ingested. He protested saying "I can't breathe" several times, including when he was still standing. Officers called EMS for urgent medical help. A couple of minutes before EMS arrived, an officer noticed Floyd was no longer moving, and couldn't find a pulse. EMS rolled up, loaded Floyd, moved to a safe location and commenced resuscitation. Floyd died.

Officer Derek Chauvin's trial for murder ran over this past 3 weeks. The state-funded prosecution came mob-handed: 12-15 prosecutors including a number volunteering their time "for the public good". Chauvin had a single defence laywer, Eric Nelson, paid for mainly out of police union funds. Nelson and Chauvin lost, as you may have heard, and now Chauvin is looking at 20+ years behind bars unless an appeal about trial location and prejudicial comments, plus some sharp practice by the prosecution, works out. For the record, I think he'd have to be very lucky for the appeal to get traction; but not because it's wrong.

I know quite a lot about this trial's events. I've followed the day-by-day liveblog at Legal Insurrection, principally by self-defence lawyer Andrew Branca. Now, Branca comes at this with his own prejudices, as we all do, and gives his own read on the trial, but overall it's a fairly low-bias account. I read through it all and thought that Eric Nelson had got over the line on "reasonable doubt": I thought he could secure a few jurors to accept that there would be reasonable doubt that Chauvin's leaning-on-back-and-neck pin was what materially killed Floyd, compared to the known ingestion of various drugs, enlarged heart, 90%-occluded arteries, etc. Branca was down on Nelson's use-of-force witness, and I'd agree, but on the medical front - and indeed, narrating the arrest from Chauvin's point of view during closing - I think his conclusion of "reasonable doubt" was indeed reasonable.

The jury took just over a day to return a unanimous verdict on all charges, starting with Minnesota 2nd degree murder. They were not hung, they had no questions for the judge. They stayed out for the shortest decent time decent, and came back with a predetermined result. They knew what they were voting before they were sent out.

I'm sure a lot of opprobrium will be heaped on Nelson by people sympathetic to Chauvin. Honestly, it's misplaced. He was David in front of Goliath, but in this case Goliath knew the shot was coming and had a plan to duck. The jury looked at what would happen with any "not guilty" verdict and decided "I don't want any part of that!". It's rational, although a dereliction of public duty. Nelson just needed 1-2 people to say "wait, no, we can't railroad this guy - reasonable doubt!" but the fact that there was no hung jury and not even a question to the judge tells you where the jury felt their interest lay.

Still, all the people bleating about "racial healing!" have it exactly the wrong way around. In today's environment, real racial healing would be a white and black jury not convicting a white man accused of killing a black man, because of the reasonable doubt standard that is still supposed to underpin justice. Weaken that standard because of race, and you make race relations worse.

Incidentally, I hope that the big American blue cities (Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, San Francisco, ...) really enjoy the future lack of policing now that it's clear politicians will crush police officers like a bug if they do anything to affect race relations. Informal stock tip: buy ammunition and guns (directly or via companies) as the populace realizes that they're on their own for self defence.


Lemon Socialism - California style

What would happen if the Communists occupied the Sahara?
Answer: Nothing—for 50 years. Then there would be a shortage of sand
There's a significant squeeze (pun totally intended) on California citrus fruits recently. Per the Produce Blue Book:
Throughout the analyzed period, lemon prices for product coming from South & Central California, have been increasing which is in contrast with to stable pricing of the 2019 season, said Miguel Montero, executive vice president of strategy and revenue with Agtools Inc.
Anecdotally, I can confirm. Supermarket lemon and lime prices in particular are significantly up compared to last year.

OK, so what? Pandemic drives increased demand, there's inelastic supply, prices rise.

Problem is, supply is very elastic. In California, fruits are weeds. When you move to California from Wisconsin, Maine or wherever, if you have a garden of any size then you'll have citrus trees: orange, lemon, grapefruit; also non-citrus pomegranate, apricot, asian pear, Japanese plum, persimmons. Even bitter orange, if you like a mouth-wrenching sour taste and vicious thorns.

It's not like this has been a citrus-hostile recent climate. The neighbourhood orange and lemon trees are very fruitful this year. They grow everywhere, and without any particular gardening care other than a bit of water now and again.

You'd expect that anyone with a reasonable-sized garden would be able to sell their lemons and oranges into the local market to take advantage of rising prices. You'd be wrong. Doing this is limited to road-side stalls outside the main Bay Area, where local law enforcement knows not to ask too many questions. Try this in San Jose and you'll be hit with citations for missing permits, causing a nuisance, and various public health violations.

Law enforcement carries out public policy. Public policy is to keep prices high for local major farmers, and allow indocumentados to earn a living without too many questions. Anyone else with citrus trees is shit-outta-luck.


Unionizing Amazon

Today Amazon managed to defeat a unionization effort at their Bessemer, Alabama warehouse, by a margin of 2 to 1. This has not gone down well with the pro-union folks:

Why are they so upset? Ah, pull up a chair and let's review the recent (and not so recent) history of unionization drives in tech.


You can't talk about Amazon without also talking about The Dread Pirate Bezos. Jeff Bezos is an unmitigated genius, but also not one to tolerate threats to his businesses. Any attempt at unionization of the workforce - yielding a significant amount of control from Bezos to union leads - is going to get shut down pretty damn quick.

Parenthetically, my favorite Bezos story came from ex-Amazon engineer Steve Yegge in a rant about the way that Amazon really got platforms (and Google didn't):

His [Bezos] Big Mandate went something along these lines:

1. All teams will henceforth expose their data and functionality through service interfaces.
[...various tech points elided...]
6. Anyone who doesn't do this will be fired.
7. Thank you; have a nice day!

Ha, ha! You 150-odd ex-Amazon folks here will of course realize immediately that #7 was a little joke I threw in, because Bezos most definitely does not give a shit about your day.
#6, however, was quite real, so people went to work.
Had Bessemer actually voted to unionize, I could well imagine Bezos closing down the facility in the not-too-distant future - I'm sure he'd have offered plausible reasons, but the real message would be to other Amazon workplaces. "We're quite happy to lose money in the short term to avoid having unions directing our business. Are you happy to lose your jobs?"

But why does Jeff care so much about unionization?


In the fascinating 1998 book "Inside Intel" there was a great case study of how a major tech company reacts to a unionization effort. If memory serves, this was in a chip fabrication plant ("fab") with hourly-paid workers - might have been in Oregon, I don't recall - and it was a push by a national union to get the local workforce unionized. The plant manager realized this was a big issue, contacted Intel senior management, and they pitched in a bunch of people and resources to counter the unionization campaign. The management's key objective was: "we need to do everything we can to prevent the plant unionizing, but we can't let them know how much we care about it. The vote was in Intel's favor, and the union moved on.

So why did Intel management care so much about unionization?


Last year the Alphabet Workers' Union spun up, which now has 800+ members across Google and the other companies in Alphabet (the parent firm). At the moment it's purely voluntary membership and doesn't - as far as I can tell - have any official status in work conditions/pay negotiation.

A clue to their motivations comes from their home page:

Our union of 800+ members strives to protect Alphabet workers, our global society, and our world. We promote solidarity, democracy, and social and economic justice.
This might hint at why Google/Alphabet is so wary of unionization.


Apple has maintained a very solid anti-union front. The one case I could find is where their shuttle bus drivers successfully unionized - no other instances I could locate had unions appearing at Apple stores or corporate workplaces.

So what does Tim Cook have against unionization?

Why does Big Tech hate unions?

It's quite simple at one level. The effect of unionization of your workforce is that you give up some amount of control, and bear some level of increased costs and lower efficiency. If you've got a large workforce of low-to-medium wage semi-skilled workers - e.g. Amazon warehouse staff, Intel fab plant staff - and you're constantly honing processes to improve your margin, the last thing you want is a union-imposed drag on your bang-per-buck.

The more interesting question comes when you're looking at a skilled, expensive workforce. Unionization isn't going to materially affect your wage bill for a highly technical workforce in an active competitive recruitment market. However, it will prove a distraction, and possibly a major one, because the union wants to tap into your workforce's salary - 1% union dues on an average wage of $100K turns out to be quite a lot of money for a 5,000-person company, let alone a 50,000 person company - and to justify this, they need to show that they're doing something.

So inevitably the union is going to be dragging your company's managerial layers into prolonged wage and conditions negotiations, pursuing pet causes, trying to eject people that they regard as "undesirable" - e.g. anti-union, pro-business - while trying to retain people that management regards as "undesirable" - e.g. ineffective, spending too much time on pet causes. They're going to seek "equity" of salaries - looking for differentials by gender, race and age and poking at anomalies. Their executive is looking for a steady income stream and an increasing amount of power, and they're not going to take "no" for an answer.

The unionization struggle, I think, is going to be over approximately 1-2 years after a union gains a significant foothold in a major tech company. The highly productive people are going to see the brake on company productivity in general, and their salaries in particular, and go looking for employment somewhere they don't have to carry as many passengers. In the mean time, the company is going to burn.

If you don't believe me, look at the car manufacturers in Detroit.