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by Peter Moskos

January 30, 2011

1871: Two classes of police officer

This is from an 1871 newspaper article. It seems as if times never change.
The average police officer may be divided into two classes, the honest and untiring patrolman, constantly on post when duty calls, alert in performing his rounds, and courageous when confronted by sudden peril or danger, and the one who shirks his duty and skulks at every opportunity. To walk the deserted streets of a great city at the dead hour of the night, requires more courage than the policeman usually gets credit for. He must keep a sharp lookout for suspicious persons, test the fastening of every door on his route, listen for unusual noises in the houses, alleys, or yards, be ready to detect fires at the earliest possible moment, and render assistance on occasions where the lives or persons of individual are in peril.

The lazy or inefficient policeman is a most deplorable follow. He is always grumbling, now at one thing, now at another. Nothing suits him. If it rains, he is out of temper because he cannot find convenient shelters under awnings. Should it be a fine night, he is dissatisfied because there are so many people out. In warm weather he is too hot to do duty, and in Winter he finds it too cold. You always hear that his captain or the sergeants are hard upon him, and object to his loitering on post or unaccountably disappearing occasionally when in the vicinity of a dram-shop. Averse to honest labor of any kind, the lazy policeman endeavors to cheat his superiors in evading his duties, and invariably finds himself detected and dismissed. From that time forth he predicts the seedy downfall of the system, and secretly wonders how so many men continue to remain in service so long.

A Sociologist's Response To Anthropology

I have a short article in the journal PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review. "Policing: A Sociologist's Response to an Anthropological Account." You can read the PDF here.

I love reading other people's summary of my work. This is from the issue's introduction:
In his commentary on Karpiak’s article, sociologist and criminologist Peter Moskos praises Karpiak for presenting an (in his view) unusually lucid example of anthropological writing. Moskos takes particular aim at the pressure in some sociological writing to conform to natural science models for research method and writing, which he feels take the enterprise off course. Instead, he advocates an interdisciplinary and combined-method approach in which qualitative and quantitative approaches can be brought together, in an effort to check the admittedly partial character of the knowledge produced by each method.
Is that what I'm saying?

My favorite part (and what will undoubtedly bring me into the glamorous party circuit of the high-rolling world of international poetry) is my haiku version of "Casey at the Bat." It goes like this:
mighty casey swings
oh two two on down by two
no joy in Mudville
All kidding aside (not that I was kidding), I do believe that almost everything can (and should) be summarized in 17 syllables. Talk about cutting to the chase; it's a useful skill. Recently, for my next book, I took my hand at Foucault. I was going to omit Foucault from the book on principle. But then I realized I couldn't figure out what that principle was (except for me not liking Foucault's writing). I also didn't want people to think I didn't read Foucault. Oh, no. I read Foucault. I thought about him long and hard. I just don't like Foucault. And every time I read, "As Foucault said," I reach for my gun. So to help make my point about the Frenchman's needless verbosity, I attempted to summarize Discipline & Punish in 17 syllables.

I couldn't do it.

It turns out that Foulcault's classic treatise needs two haikus:
society's norms
more like prisons every day
resistance is futile

from body to mind
a new system of control
the Panopticon
Speaking of my next book, here's my 17-syllable summary of In Defense of Flogging:
punish with the lash
it's much better than prison
why not give the choice?
That's all you really need to know, but read the book anyway.

Success is Not an Option

From the BBC: "Mrs Clinton said there was 'no alternative' to confronting the cartels, despite rising violence that left more than 15,000 dead last year."

Actually, there is an excellent alternative. The US government just won't consider it.

"Under a security cooperation programme called the Merida Initiative the US is spending around $1.7bn (£1bn) on helping Mexico and Central America tackle drug-trafficking."

Interesting. That's in the same ballpark as what it costs to prop up the Egyptian government. I guess the going cost of buying-off a government is about $16 per person per year. Not a bad price, when you think about it. Of course it's not like that $16 goes to every person, which might actually help the country. It goes to guns, police cars (Mexico has very nice police cars--and you can't drink the water) and into the pockets of corrupt leaders.

And the ever immoral 1984 perpetual war equals peace kicker: "authorities argue that the rising violence shows that the gangs are being weakened and turning increasingly on each other."

Ignorance is strength.

There's a nice interactive chart on the BBC page where you can click to look at deaths by region in 2009 and 2010. You can see how the "success" is spreading state by state.

Here's the general trend:

My prediction: soon murders in Mexico will fall (eventually, they have to, right?). Maybe they maxed out in December, 2010. From that point on, the authorities that be will forget their bullshit about murder being a sign of success and instead talk about how their policies are reducing murders. What they will fail to mention is that these numbers will only be down from the absurdly high level they themselves helped create with their futile war on drugs.

January 28, 2011

Do you know where your comments are?

Some of you may have posted comments and wondered why they didn't appear (or think I deleted them). Turns out blogger/google automatically sorts out the spam comments. Problem is all the comments it thinks are spam, aren't (including some of my own). I'll try and check that "spam" folder more often, now that I know it exists.

Revolution in Egypt

Inshallah, Hosni Mubarak, the latest in a long line of Egyptian Pharaohs, will soon be history.

I think about Egypt more than most people. My wife studied in Cairo and speaks Arabic, I've visited Egypt three times, and one of my best friends here in New York is Egyptian-American, from Alexandria. He hates Mubarak, of course, and what Egyptian wouldn't? He's a bastard dictator and has been for decades.

How has Mubarak remained in power for so long? In large part because we give him billions of dollars a year. It started as a bribe to make peace with Israel. Do most Americans even think about the consequences of supporting bad rulers? Egyptians and Arabs don't hate our freedom. But perhaps they should hate us for preventing them from having freedom. Egypt has been under "emergency rule" since 1981. It's amazing they don't hate us more.

Dictators can fall regardless of what the US knows or does. After supporting Saddam Hussein for so long, the US invaded Iraq. And for what? He would have fallen eventually, too. We just made the country worse.

In terms of foreign policy, this is yet another strong case for us doing less, not more. We get a lot wrong. And since we as a country don't have as much control as we like to think we do, we might as well support democracy. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but at least we would be on the moral high ground.

Also, watching pictures of riot police shoot at people and also get routed is a good time to be remember and be thankful that police in the US are civilians--city workers and not soldiers or government agents--even if sometimes everybody forgets this important fact.

And assuming Mubarak falls (which is a wonderful assumption), will Obama get credit for change in the Middle-East just like Reagan gets credit for the fall of Communism? They're both equally deserving. Did not Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo spark the whole democratic movement? I doubt it. But then neither did Reagan. (And did Obama really just say that Mubarak is not a dictator? Of course he's a dictator. The only question is how bad of dictator he is.)

If the US doesn't know which side to be on, why not be on the side against corrupt dictators? Who will replace Mubarak? Who knows. Will the next leader be better or worse than Mubarak? Who knows. But that's no reason not to wish for Mubarak's fall. And shame on us for supporting Mubarak for so long, pretending he wasn't a bad man.

Mubarak is speaking right now and doesn't seem to be saying much at all. But he's not stepping down. And he looks healthier than I expected.

The man of the year, perhaps the decade, could be a humble unemployed university graduate, Mohammed Bouazizi.

January 26, 2011

Thailand Pictures

I'm back in New York. Twenty-one hours of flight back was not nearly as bad as it should have been. And now it's good to be home, but strange to see snow after a few weeks in Bangkok.

Here are some pics from our trip. Mostly of our day trip to the Maeklong market, which features a train running through it. There are lot market shots. We like markets. But also, Thailand is almost one big market. In Bangkok alone, there are an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 food carts. It's hard to comprehend what this means till you see (and eat) it.

Gun Control? "Your Side Won"

Tom Tomorrow, one of my favorite cartoonists, summarizes gun control and killings quite well. Click through to read.
"Barring some seismic realignment in this country, the gun control debate is all but settled--and your side won. The occasional horrific civilian massacre is just the price the rest of us have to pay."
As if we need it, the horrible shooting in a police station in Detroit is yet more proof that guns are not a good defense against guns. The gunman shot four before being killed by the police.

"But relax," as the penguin says, "Your paranoid political fantasies notwithstanding, no one's going to take your guns away!"

January 25, 2011

Then and Now: Pittsburg


[I'm on vacation; life is good. While I'm gone, I've scheduled some non-timely non-police filler posts. Regular posts should resume soon.]

January 21, 2011

Bangkok Police Rackets

If you open a bar or restaurant in Bangkok, you can expect for the local police commander asking for $500/month.

"Why?" a business owner asked.

"In case you do something illegal."

"What if I'm not doing anything illegal?"

"Better to pay."

"I'm not paying."

We'll see how this plays itself out.

Should you want to stay open late, the first hour would cost $500/month. Each additional hour costs $300. One time party? Just hire two cops for $50 to sit outside your place. They'll proceed to get drunk in uniform. But you won't get shut down.

Sounds corrupt. And it is. But then in New York City restaurants and bars pay a lot more to the city in the form of licenses and inspections, which is just a form of legal shakedown.

Keep in mind this is a city with some very rich people, but a cleaning woman earns about $200 a month. A police office, officially (before the bribes begin), makes maybe twice that.

Should you be a foreigner caught with drugs, the police will happily take you to an ATM to make a cash withdrawal.

January 20, 2011

Lakewood Coffee-Shop Ambush

The good people at policeone.com have posted a, in-depth video about last year’s Lakewood Four coffee-shop ambush. The video tells the story from the perspective of the responding officers.

BLUtube is powered by PoliceOne.com

[I'm on vacation; life is good. While I'm gone, I've pre-scheduled a few posts.]

January 19, 2011

RIP William H. Torbit Jr.

Officer Torbit's funeral was yesterday. It must have been painful.

Meanwhile on Tuesday night, another officer, a homicide detective, was shot. What a friggin' job.

I'll be back in the U.S. in a week. Everything seems very distant from here in Bangkok.

January 18, 2011

Happy MLK Jr. Day!

I guess I'm a day late and a dollar short. I didn't actually know it was MLK Day (but hell, I'm in Thailand). But happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day to everybody. Seriously.

Some mock this holiday, but not me. Not only is it good to have more holidays in general and particularly in the dark days of January and February, but Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man. Perhaps the best American of the past half century. I truly believe that.

But maybe I'm biased. I spent the first nine years of my school life, K through 8, at King Lab school in Evanston, Illinois. The school is formally known as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Experimental Laboratory School. It even has its own Facebook fan page.

Anyway, it was a great school. And I'm sure it influenced me in ways I probably will never truly understand. And I also suppose I got more MLK indoctrination than your average white kid (I thought everybody knew the Stevie Wonder Happy Birthday song).

And let's not forget how radical King was. There was nothing passive about non-violence. And King, as some hipsters like to forget, unlike Malcolm X, got sh*t done.

Too many Americans think it's natural that we don't have legal racial segregation. But it's not. Who knows what side I would have been on back then. I'd like to think I would be on the winning team, but who knows? It's easy to pick the winning team in hindsight. But it's not so easy at the time. It's too easy to forget how many good Americans were against King.

People fought and even died for Civil Rights. King was subversive. King was watched by the FBI. At the time, King was considered by many to be a criminal. He was a criminal. Police arrested King for violating the law.

King was also assaulted. And of course he was killed.

But Martin Luther King Jr. was right. Because of all that, King's national holiday may be the best (though I'm also partial to Thanksgiving). I mean, George Washington is a no-brainer for a holiday. Lincoln, well, he should have his own, too. But King... well, I don't know what else to say except: "Happy birthday to ya, happy birthday!"

January 15, 2011

Then and Now: Detroit

Amazingly for Detroit, this building is stills standing:

Mind you, nothing around it is.

[I'm on vacation; life is good. While I'm gone, I've scheduled some non-timely non-police filler posts.]

January 10, 2011

Tragedy in Baltimore

Plain clothed friendly fire police shooting.

[please don't post stupid or disrespectful comments, or respond to those who do.]

Then and Now: Fall River (II)

Another one from Fall River. This one isn't so bad. At least the bank building is still standing.

Of course pretty much everything that has changed is not a change for the better.

Notice, if you zoom on the old picture (best to go to the Shorpy site for this), you can see in front of the Fall River Electric Light Company a cop walking the beat, holding his night stick in his right hand (at least I think it's a cop swinging his stick). They didn't have no wimpy-ass baton rings in those days! Though honestly, as fond as I was of the straight baton, which really is better than an expandable asp (I was trained in using both), I never understood the old-school idea that a cop is always supposed to have his nightstick in his hand. What if you need to use your hand?)

Breakfast in Bangkok

So off the main road you make a right at the train track next to the highway and walk down the tracks a short distance to the first food stand and get a papaya salad.

There's a bunch of cops sitting at one table eating and drinking. I befriend them and ask for a picture with them. They happily agree but also hide their beer and refuse to pose. But they do poor me a beer on ice.

They also offer us their food, which best I can tell is heavily marinated raw beef (or pork?) and some delicious greens.

You can see some of their empties off to the side. It's 9AM. A breakfast of champions.

January 9, 2011

Less Prison, Less Crime

Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan in the Washington Post on the need for less prison.
We urge conservative legislators to lead the way in addressing an issue often considered off-limits to reform: prisons.

January 6, 2011


It's my nameday, school is out, and my wife and I are whizzing through the air in an amazing flying machine that but 110 years ago, was an unimaginable fantasy. (When this post comes out, we'll be on our way to Dubai, en-route to Bangkok.)

My second book, In Defense of Flogging, is all-but done. It's been a slog. Last night I added 500 words on the subject of private prisons (when I noticed rather late in the process that I somehow failed to even mention the subject). Those 500 words took 10 hours. That's less than a word a minute. Which is, unfortunately, par for the course. For the past few months, I feel like I've done nothing else, because, basically, I haven't.

The good news is you can already pre-order a copy of In Defense of Flogging on Amazon (which is actually a bit disconcerting to the author, to see your book for sale before you're done writing it--maybe I should have bought a copy to see how it turns out...). And I doubt the price is going to be much lower than super-cheap price of $13.60 they're currently hawking it for.

As to vacation, I have two book reviews to write. But I'm healthy, I'm alive, I can't complain. Bangkok, in case you're wondering, is a city crazy about food. We will do our best to eat as much as possible, but even then we will barely scratch the surface of all the possibilities.

And though, as interesting as it is, I doubt I'll be making a return to the Corrections Museum.

I have a few "Then and Now" posts lined up as fillers while I'm gone. I'm not certain if I'll be posting much else until the end of the month.

Be good. Stay safe. Happy New Year!

January 2, 2011

Then and Now: Fall River

This one is almost too much to believe. And not for the normal reasons of becoming abandoned. Fall River, Mass, is still doing OK, I think. But not what used to be the heart of downtown.

And now.

It doesn't look like the same place. But it is.

Where's that beautiful building on the right I take to be City Hall? Those things usually last. Not in Fall River. Look at what I assume is the new City Hall.

Grim. Brutalist and grim. Vintage 1975, I'm guessing.

Why were those beautiful buildings torn down, including the whole block on the left? To build a road, naturally. A freeway now runs under there.

Such is progress. And you can't stop progress. But of course you could stop dumb destruction.

As always, the old picture is from Shorpy.