About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

November 29, 2011

Evanston Decriminalizes Marijuana

Evanston, Illinois, is where I'm from. Getting caught with less than 10 grams of weed will not be an arrestable offense and won't go on your criminal record.
"It does not say that it's okay to smoke pot, but it does say that they don't have to live in fear of having a record follow them the rest of their life if they are caught," [said] Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl.

"Beware of the Risen People"

In Dublin, these neighborhoods with their uniform rowhomes remind me of Baltimore.
The grittiness of Dublin was a bit of a refreshing shock after the pastoral beauty of rural Hampshire. Even though I have nothing but nice things to say about the English, in Ireland I felt like I was back on home ground. From where I'm from (Chicago, Boston...) England feels more like a foreign country.

My friend in Dublin lives next to Aubourn Prison.
"Holds pedophile priest," she assured me (but not, I should note, from the Greek church next door).

A short walk past leads to the old Kilmainham Jail. It closed in the 1920s and stands today as a museum, but less to prisons than to the "Heroes of 1918" and Irish independence. Suffice it to say my knowledge of Irish history is a bit thin up top. 1918? Revolution? Civil War? Indeeeeed...

But I was keen to go to this prison because it claims to feature a Panopticon.

Actually it's not a Panopticon because it's not, well, round with a centrally located guard post designed to provide constant potential surveillance inside each prison cell....

But Kilmainham Gaol was, with its multi-tiered layout, inspired by Bentham's evil concept. And the architecture is cool.
Typical of early prisons, starvation was used as a tool in place of corporal punishment. More humane, said the Progressive thinking of the time. In 1884 C.S. Parnell testified at the Royal Commission on Prisons in Ireland:
One thing that struck me in Kilmainham was the semi-starved aspect which all the convicted prisoners presented. They seemed to be utterly dejected and weak, and unable to undergo any amount of physical fatigue.... I do not think that we are entitled to enfeeble the bodies of prisoners in order to reform their minds, or with a view of maintaining discipline amongst them.
Unlike contemporaneous American penitentiaries like Auburn and Sing Sing (which, unlike Kilmainham, are still operational), Kilmainham's cells didn't have plumbing. So prisoners in Ireland had to "slop out." Even more amazing, today, in 2011, the practice of slopping out is still practiced in at least one Irish prison.

Meanwhile, from the museum at Kilmainham, I'm always a sucker for revolutionary propaganda.

Johnny-come-lately lately Republicans:
I didn't see ye out there fightin' in 1921, now did I?

And Irish Mothers, Do You Want Your Children Kidnapped?:
"Beware of the Police"The highlight of the trip, however, unrelated to prison, must have been hearing Travelers sing while we were "on the Batter."

November 22, 2011

What day is it?

"I don't think we have the right to Monday-morning quarterback the police," said Bill O'Reilly of Fox News.

OK. But can't we at least Saturday-evening quarterback the police? See, the problem is that these police did not make bad split-second decisions in the heat of the moment. Technically, tactically, and legally they did nothing wrong (which doesn't make it right). (Of course had students rioted and attacked them, maybe it wouldn't have been such a tactically harmless maneuver.)

Using force against passive-resisters is a logical decision based on their training. It can, will, and shouldn't happen again.


And, uh, also, anybody who dismisses pepper mace as a "food product" is an idiot.

November 19, 2011

Dumb-ass Training and the U.C. Davis Pepper Spray Incident:

I'm in Dublin. I love Ireland (though England was great, too).

I received an email from the Washington Monthly (you may remember them as one of the first magazines to publish a Flogging piece) asking my opinion about the UC Davis pepper-spray incident. I hadn't heard of it. But ignorance is not bliss.

So now I've watched the video. I wasn't there, but here are my thoughts (best read at the Washington Monthly):
This UC Davis pepper-spray incident from yesterday, in which campus police sprayed a group of protesting “Occupy” students who were sitting on the ground, was just brought to my attention. I don’t know all the facts, but as a former cop-turned-academic, there’s one thing I can say.

In the police academy, I was taught to pepper-spray people for non-compliance. Ie: “Put your hands behind your back or I’ll… mace you.” It’s crazy. Of course we didn’t do it this way, the way were taught. Baltimore police officers are too smart to start urban race riots based on some dumb-ass training. So what did we do to gain compliance? We grabbed people. Hands on. Like real police. And we were good at it.

Some people, perhaps those who design training programs, think policing should be a hands-off job. It can’t be and shouldn’t be. And trying to make policing too hands-off means people get Tased and maced for non-compliance. It’s not right. But this is the way many police are trained. That’s a shame. (Mind you, I have no problem using such less-lethal weapons on actual physical threats, but peaceful non-compliance is different.)

When police need to remove protesters—whether that’s even the case here I don’t know—it needs to be crystal clear who gives the order, be it the president of the university or the ranking officer on scene. Officers on the scene shouldn’t be thrown under the bus because their superiors gave stupid (albeit lawful) orders. Accountability matters.

And if police need to remove these students, then the police can go in four officers to one protester and remove them. Lift them up and take them away. Maybe you need one or two more officers with a threatening baton to keep others from getting involved. It really can be that simple.

People don’t hate the police for fighting off aggressors or arresting law breakers. They do hate police for causing pain—be it by dog, fire house, Taser, or mace—to those who passively resist. And that’s what happened yesterday at U.C. Davis.

Right Wing Lies (V)

From the Washington Monthly (called out by them... not their lie):
President Obama told business leaders at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that U.S. policymakers have been “a little bit lazy” when it comes to attracting businesses to American soil. Republicans have taken this line and said the president called Americans “lazy.”

The GOP attack is an unambiguous lie. It’s been independently fact checked repeatedly and exposed as a complete sham, caused by taking a comment completely out of context to change its meaning.

But the point behind the dishonest smear is important. What Republicans are desperate for voters to believe is that President Obama, put simply, doesn’t even like Americans.
...
Mitt Romney, who’s only too pleased to exploit the borderline-racism behind these attacks, went so far as to argue this week that Obama called Americans “lazy” — even though he didn’t — because the president “doesn’t understand Americans.”

There’s us, then there’s him.

The “lazy” smear matters because it’s a lie.

November 15, 2011

Occupy Updates

The best current/live account of what's going on is from a UK paper. (Why is that?) The Guardian.

Also, I wrote an update to my Slate article.

Egypt pics

I just added some picture from Egypt (to a previous post). Scroll down if you care.

November 14, 2011

Police vs. Occupy Wall Street

Turns out I do have a few thoughts about police and Occupy Wall Street. Read all about it on Slate.com:
If cops could wave a magic wand, the protesters would simply go away. But if cops could wave a magic wand, the whole damned city would probably disappear. Police relate to the demoralized employees in the film Clerks: “This job would be great if it wasn’t for the fucking customers.” Occupy protests are certainly seen as a nuisance, but this is more work-related than deep-rooted ideology.
I'm also quite pleased to get Lucky Pierre in the lede.

November 10, 2011

The Revolution Will Return After This Commercial Break

I'm back from a few days in Cairo. I'm not an Egypt expert. But I probably follow the country more than most people because I have Egyptian friends, my wife has spent a lot of time there, and I've been there a bunch of times.

First the good news: Egyptians are still friendly, holding up well, and there are taxis that actually run their meters and don't rip you off. Huzzah!

Now to the troublesome issues:

Cairo is a very dirty city (except for the metro, which is still clean and efficient). I knew this from previous visits, but it's worse now. Being surrounded by a desert probably doesn't help. But a big part of the problem is that a few years ago a surprisingly effective ancient (and green) system of trash-pickers and pigs and recycling was replaced with foreign companies and big trucks (read: corruption). To undercut the old system (or just because of ignorant fear and anti-Christian bias), they killed off all the pigs.

Evidently there were a few days after the revolution when everybody went out and scrubbed the streets. Those days are gone. I mean, I know they've got bigger things to worry about, but I've never a city with so much trash. And I've seen a lot of trashy cities.

Egypt is also unhygienic. This is also nothing new. But what good is a dictator is he doesn’t even teach basic concepts like germ theory? Even the commies were good with that. And I wouldn’t even mind everybody touching my food with their hands if there was a more steady supply of toilet paper and soap. And is it really too much to ask the popcorn vendors to use something other their hands to shovel popcorn in bags? Evidently, yes (though it didn’t stop me from eating popcorn).

Downtown Cairo is kind of beautiful, if your glasses are rose-tinted enough. But it's sad because what used to be a modern and progressive 2nd-world city in the 1950s is now a third-world mess. Don't get me wrong, there are still cultured and modern Egyptians. But to some extent, they’ve lost the good fight. Many of those with the means have fled to satellite suburbs. And because traffic is such a mess, you can’t get from here to there.

Also, Talaat Harb Street is filled with street vendors. Lot’s of them. Especially at night. This is new and not sustainable. But how it will work it remains to be seen.

Walking around Cairo is like being in New York at 3:30 pm on a weekday. School just got out, but in Cairo it’s all the time. Too many young kids (male kids) goofing off and hitting each other and holding hands and shouting and otherwise letting out their repressed frustrations. At least they’re not drunk.

Post-revolution (which is a misnomer, as I’ll explain) crime is a big problem. Well, at least they say it's a big problem. But honestly, Cairo is still a pretty safe city. And this says something good about a people living in a place without police patrol or even basic rule of law.

Despite the supposed breakdown in law and order, it’s actually easier than it used to be for a foreigner like me to walk around in peace. This is a strange problem somewhat unique to Egypt. The people are too friendly.

Despite being a major international world metropolis for going on three millennia 3,000 years, many Cairenes act like they’ve seen a foreigner. This can be charming, as when a gaggle of 10-year-old girls, each in turn, practices their English and asks my wife “What’s your name?!” It can all be very charming. (Alas, the “Welcome in Cairo!” generation seems to have passed and a new generation has better learned English prepositions). 95% percent of it honestly good natured. People are hospitable. But such friendliness can be very tiring if you just want to walk down the street in peace. But interestingly, as a man, the touting harassment is actually less than it used to be.

On my first trip to Egypt I remember amazing one-sided haggling as taxi drivers would lower their fare when I declined their services because I was already at my destination. Now there are fewer tourists (by far). And people still ask if you want to a taxi or to buy perfume. But by and large, and this is new, they take no for an answer! Perhaps, as my Egyptian suggested, with freedom comes dignity.

The revolution (referred to as "The 18 Days") is not finished. The details of the battles are amazing to here. And yes, it was a big deal to throw off a corrupt US-backed dictator. It’s hard to understand the level of theft and corruption that exists. We’re not talking millions. We’re talking billions. We're not talking baksheesh. We're talking institutionalized massive corruption right from the top on down. Perhaps one-quarter to one-half of the entire economy simply siphoned off. Mubarak’s sons alone have $340 million in Swiss bank accounts. Their top associate? $4 billion. And yes, this is literally the tip of the iceberg. I mean really, isn't there some point when you say, "I've stolen enough money"? But part of what makes the corruption so endemic is that most of this money was probably stolen “legally,” through government contracts in accordance with the rule of (bad ) law.

Also keep in mind this happened not just with US knowledge but with actual billions in US aid to keep this guy in power and reward him for keeping peace with Israel. I’m always amazed people are so nice to Americans after we’ve done so much to screw up their countries. I wish we could be so forgiving of others.

There’s also the minor problem of a potential impending pogrom against the Coptics. Don't know who the Copts are? Well, neither does your average Egyptian. Ten percent of the country is Coptic Christian and much of the other 90 percent has no clue who they are or where they're from--which is kind of ironic since they were there first. It’s as if schools in America never taught white Americans anything about the presence of blacks in America. Or Native Americans.

Ignorance is a big problem.

A few weeks ago a couple dozen Coptics were killed by the army and then, as my Egyptian friend so eloquently put it, “bearded motherfuckers” went on TV urging the people to save the army from the unbelievers. Thousands of sexual repressed young men, idiots all, converged on the main square, and beat the crap out of whomever they could find (they also attacked liquor stores, since they’re all Christian run). And in response the military leaders arrested some bloggers and extended decades of “emergency rule.”

Earlier the military shut down, by force, TV stations (including local Al Jazeera), for reporting the news.

It’s semi-controlled thuggery. The message--not just to the Christians minority but to everybody--is “don’t get uppity. Maybe Mubarak was too much of a pussy to use force—but we will have no such qualms.”

Maybe the military will turn over power after free and fair elections. But seeing how military leaders live isolated and pampered lives, are very conservative, and make millions from the status quo, why would they really want change?

In the end there are only two questions that matter:

1) Will ignorant Islamists win a majority in an election?

And 2) will the military give up power?

If I were a bookie, I’d place even odds on both. But if I were a betting man, I’d bet on a double ‘no.’ And I also would not be surprised if the military uses the Brotherhood--just like Mubarak did--as an excuse to refuse to cede power. But then what's the best we can hope for? A benevolent dictator and another revolution? Can we at least get the trash collected?

All this makes me say that “The 18 Days” was not the revolution but just Day One. So here’s to the good guys, those who want a modern and tolerant and civil and free Egypt: fight the good fight. It won't be easy.

Update: A few added pics now that my wife is back with my camera:The view from our hotel. And we like this hotel. But also notice how clean and tidy one woman keeps her balcony.

"What's your name?!" (times 12) At the Coptic Monistary

At the "eco lodg" [sic] near the monistaries. Since it wouldn't pass western standards of ecological, I figured it stood for "economy lodge." This was a very sweet dog I named, "gimpy whimper wags," for reasons that were all too obvious. He was very sweet, even I didn't want to pet him too much, also for obvious reasons. But at times, who could resist his debonaire charms and he politely limped after us, eager for a head scratch?

Manning the police barricade at the Giza train station.

Downtown Cairo, on a surprisingly clean and beautiful morning.

Anti-colonial leaflets to terrorize the British. From the early 1950s, I presume.

in the coming election, who could be against freedom and justice? Except this is propaganda for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Patrolman Kelly

Has Ray Kelly ever fixed a ticket? I'll take him at his word that he hasn't. But has Ray Kelly ever written a ticket? I mean, how long was Kelly on patrol?

What the F*ck?!

I'm just catching up on the news. Those riots at Penn State? Really?

There has been lots of intelligent discussion on this matter elsewhere. So I won't add to that. But I do feel the need to say what's on my mind: It's absolutely f*cking amazing what white people can sometimes get away with!

Or put it this way: Just imagine if this had happened at an H.B.C. like Howard University. The president himself would be blamed and asked to explain and apologize and condemn.

Or instead of race, think of religion: What if Catholics rioted in defense of priests covering up rape? Hard to imagine.

Drunk and entitled frat-boy college-sports culture is perhaps the worst strain of mainstream American society that isn't just tolerated but actually encouraged by otherwise intelligent people.

But what do I know? I never cared about my school's teams (except when I was playing).

How many strikes do you need?

You know, I'm against "three strikes and you're out." It's too expensive and doesn't deter. But the case could be made for "20 strikes and we'll lock you up till you're 50" (admittedly, it lacks a certain jingoistic ring). But seriously, at some point you do have to keep "them" (people certain to offend) away from "us" (everybody else).


The Times reports on a robbery and attempted murder: "Mr. Milton and Mr. Louree are both from Brooklyn and have previously been arrested more than 20 times each." They don't really need another chance.

Too Gentle a Slap

I've said before that Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna should be in trouble (but not fired). But this seems like too gentle a slap on the wrist. What worries me isn't his career (I couldn't care less), but the message it sends.

Clearly transferring this man to a precinct closer to home is a case of rewarding an officer for 30 years of (what I assume to be) dedicated service. But it also says that misuse of force (and to the detriment of other police officers, I want to point out) isn't a big deal, at least not when done to a ranking officer. That's not right. I think he should have been forced, by risk of server sanction, to retire.

Macing somebody is a bigger deal than fixing tickets. Because the officers in the latter situation are being criminally charged, the practice will change. But misuse of force against a screaming liberal woman protester is somehow OK? It's not right. And it sends a dangerous message to officers dealing with an ongoing delicate situation.

November 4, 2011

Cario?!

Somehow my wife convinced me to join her on her latest trip to Cairo. How did that happen? Regardless, here I am for a few days. A bit of culture shock, coming from rural England. And at first glance Cairo looks surprisingly the same as the last time I was here (which isn't really a compliment).

November 2, 2011

Five-oh on bike

What could be more fun than spending a few nights biking around the back alleys, roundabouts, and estates of Basingstoke with a bunch of cops? (One of whom tweets)


Seriously. This is my idea of a good time.


Word on the street (or at least in the station) is that I'm the first observer to ever go on bike patrol in these parts.

Actual word on the street, however, is more the sound of pesky youth laughing at my folding bike. Whatever. It did the job.

And to answer the first question US cops will have: 1) No, (most) police do not carry guns; 2) Most do not want to be. More than one has told me they'd consider quitting if they were ever ordered to patrol armed with a gun.

There are 140,000 British police officer. Not one has been killed on duty since 2007. That level of officer safety is kind of hard for me to fathom.