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by Peter Moskos

April 28, 2011

Grad School Advice

I always feel like who am I to talk about grad school? I didn't follow any of the standards Rules to Successful Completion. I liked school, but I wasn't hanging around the department and I took nine years to finish. I might have been the only Harvard sociology student history to fail the "oral exam" (go ahead and snicker, I would. I know it sounds dirty, but it's not). Most of my close friends, almost all of my employment (I was the sole worker in a very small library and was a TA to just one class during those nine years), and all of my social life were outside the sociology department. That's how I stayed calm and sane. I also became a police officer. I recommend that for all grad students (kidding... sort of).

I just came across this in a comment to this article. It's damn good advice if you're in graduate school and anything like me. It's also contrary to almost all "normal" advice you'll hear. And don' forget, "Friend, I don't know what the hell you do for a living, but damn!" It's the one time in your life you can spend all day in the library and reading books and consider it work:
7 Golden Rules for Grad School:

1. Never agree to live with someone in your program. Go home to someone who is either in a different program or who is a citizen of the "Real World."

2. Always try and remember that MANY of your colleagues have the minimal level of social skills required for functioning outside of academia and many of them are feeling, after being star pupils and overachievers for most of their lives, deeply insecure. Knowing this will help alleviate a lot of your stress. So when they say something to you like, "You only got to teach X class because so-and-so/that professor/the department ________________." Just quote Oprah and what one of my older colleagues said: "Don't let them steal your joy!"

3. "Invest your ego somewhere else and find some support system that's separate from this program—your family, your lover, or whoever." Truer words were never spoken. Your friends and family are your reality check, your cheerleaders, and they're the ones who are going to throw you a party post-defense. My best friend is always saying to me, "Friend, I don't know what the hell you do for a living, but damn!" That's all I need sometimes to get through a tough day.

4. "Be kind to yourself." - one of my professors who I taught for last year.

5. A little anxiety never hurt anyone, but just be aware of that fine line between knowing that you're just anxious and knowing that the lines on the bus's brakes were cut and the bus is barreling towards you.

6. In the words of Baz Luhrmann: "Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself."

7. You're there because someone, somewhere, on some admissions committee put all the pieces of you together and wanted you to come and earn a graduate degree with them. If you couldn't do it, you never would've been recommended for admission by either your old professors or a bunch of professors who you've never even met before you set-foot in the door in August. You CAN do it.

Flogging Momentum

My piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education seemed to make a splash. There's also a piece out in the Washington Monthly (not yet available online... but why not subscribe?). I haven't seen it yet. I mean, I've seen it. I wrote it.... But I haven't seen it in print.

Most people seem to be responding to the book correctly: with thoughtful discussion. That's a great sign! Also a good sign is the I went up the Amazon sales rank today, which isn't bad for a book that isn't out yet. On the subject, my editor at Basic Books said she was holding a copy of the real deal in her hands. So it is starting to come off the presses.

It almost seems as if if flogging has already gotten more press than Cop in the Hood ever got. That's good, but also a bit bittersweet.

April 27, 2011

Good Shooting

Video of police-involved shooting. Cops 1. Robber 0.

Sitting at the Schadenfreude Cafe

I don't quite know how else to describe my perusal of right-wing blogs responding to the shocker than Obama was born in Hawaii.

What's funny, though not surprising, is I haven't heard a single person say, "gosh, I guess... I was wrong." I guess it's all about that "conviction" thing.

"Why does it say Barrack and not Barry," is a good one. And "Why does it say 'African' for his father? The term back then was black." Of course the term back then wasn't black (the race would have been "colored" or "negro"). And his father was African.

And "Why did he wait so long," is being said a lot. I don't know, maybe because stupid fridge groups often show their true colors and discredit their cause. And there's something undignified about the President (seems like "respect the office" only applies when Republicans are in power) getting down in the fray. I mean, it's like if they said he wasn't a man, would he have to whip out his presidential schlong?

Now Trump taking credit? That's silly. I mean, Trump did push the issue and it may have pushed Obama to say enough is enough. But it's hardly something to brag about, especially if you were wrong.

The grandmother video wasn't convincing. What grandmother wouldn't remember when her grandson was born, here, where she was when she heard the news? What quashed my doubts was the birth announcement in the local paper. What kind of parents would put a false birth announcement in the papers, in 1961, to help their black son because President of the United States one day?

Now of course we still can't know for sure. I mean, we didn't see the birth ourselves. As a Twitter feed said, "Yeah, but where's the placenta?!"

April 26, 2011

Don’t Get a Crime Scene Tattooed on Your Chest

A former student sent me this link. Good stuff! And good work by LAPD homicide Lt. Dave Dolson. The LA Times story is here.

We need higher taxes...

...to pay for police.

Newark laid off police and murders are up 71 percent this year. That's penny wise and pound foolish. The Newark Star-Ledger reports.

NYPD Stop and Frisks and Marijuana Arrests

WNYC reporter Ailsa Chang reports on the curious link between stop and frisks and marijuana arrests in New York City. It's curious because small-scale possession of marijuana in New York State isn't a crime (it is a non-arrestable ticketable "violation"). Nor do drugs that are "immediately apparent" based on "plain-feel" during a "Terry Frisk" (for weapons) give police justification to search (this is unique to New York State based on People v. Diaz).

I also did a little research based on the nifty map provided at the above link. There are 76 precincts in New York City. In 2010, 19 police precincts with the highest arrest rates for the lowest level marijuana-possession had 48 percent of the city's murders and 39 percent of city's robberies. But I'm not certain what percent of the NYC's population lives in those 19 precincts. Anybody have data for population by precinct?

I'm briefly quoted in the story. And you can read what I've already written about stop and frisks by clicking on the "stop and frisk" tag below. This story is a bit different because it focuses on illegal searches, which are never OK. Police are given so much leeway within the law that I can't help but think that cops who conduct illegal searches are, at best, lazy and stupid.

April 25, 2011

April 24, 2011

An Easter Flogging

The first article to come from my new book is out in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
A crazy idea came from a dinner in New Orleans. I had cold-called (or whatever the e-mail equivalent is) a writer and his wife because I was a fan of his work and thought we had much in common. They were gracious enough to arrange a meal and treat me, without much justification, as a professional equal more than a stalker. The conversation turned to corporal punishment in public schools. They were amazed not that such a peculiarity existed in a city ripe with oddities, but that such illegal punishments were administered at the urging of and with the full consent of the students' parents.

"Fascinating," I drolly replied, but I wasn't shocked. If I'd learned one thing as a police officer patrolling a poor neighborhood, it was the working- and lower-class populations' great fondness for corporal punishment. No punishment is as easy or seemingly satisfying as a physical beating. I learned this not because I beat people, but because the good citizens I swore to serve and protect often urged me to do so. It wasn't hard for me to resist (I liked my job, and besides, I wasn't raised that way), but I agreed that many of the disrespectful hoodlums deserved a beating. Why? Because, as the old-school thinking goes, when people do wrong, they deserve to be punished.
Read the rest here.

Happy Easter and Χριστὸς Ἀνέστη. Crack a red egg and eat some lamb. (Rita Wilson, just FYI, was the producer of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and is Tom Hank's wife.)

April 23, 2011

Mexican Poet Against the Drug War

I'm back from Mexico City, happy to have been there. No, I didn't get sick (or mugged). Yes, I ate everything (including grasshopper quesadillas, which I can say are tasty, but it's still best not to lift the tortilla and look at the critters melted in with the cheese). But I'm also happy to be back at low altitude. Seriously, it's strange and disconcerting to feel out of breath while doing nothing. Also of note: it's the first trip I've ever taken where I didn't, not even once, hear "Hotel California."

Back home, I'm greeting with this BBC headline: "Mexico poet Javier Sicilia leads anger at drug violence." No, I've never heard of him, but he's taken up the cause following his son's murder:
His harsh criticism of what he calls President Felipe Calderon's "stupid strategy" to fight drug cartels has resounded with large sections of Mexican society who are increasingly frustrated by the rising violence in many parts of the country.
More and more innocent civilians like his son are being killed as "collateral damage of the drugs war", Mr Sicilia believes. So he focuses his criticism on President Calderon's strategy.

"I think Felipe Calderon is responsible for launching a war in a stupid way," he says, combining rage with frustration.

"What this war has done is allow the corruption of institutions which had been taking place for years to emerge, but leaving those institutions completely defenceless to face organised crime."
President Calderon - who received Mr Sicilia at the presidential palace after the murders - made an overt reference to the issue in the wake of the demonstrations.

"Let us not be confused," said Mr Calderon at a lunch with business leaders earlier this month.

"We should say 'Enough!' to the criminals who kidnap and murder. They are the enemy, not those who fight against them," he added.
At what point do people in power ever admit: "Maybe, just maybe, what we're doing isn't working." Remember, when Calderon took office, there were about two deaths each day related to the drug war. Now, after five years of "getting tough" and ramping up the drug war, there are more than 40 drug-war deaths each day.

Riot Police Drinking on the Job...

...isn't such a big deal in France. Or maybe now it is. Either way, seems like the French attitude (the Italians do pretty much the same) is much healthier than our own American attitude toward alcohol.

April 20, 2011

Union Power (II)

Two unions I support, simply because they have kick-ass logos (on par with my local International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers)! I particularly admire the telephone operators union logo and the fact that there was a vendor outside the building selling t-shirts and coffee mugs with their logo. I bought one of each.

Mexico City and Five Other Safe Places in Mexico

Just FYI, since I'm down in Mexico City right now: Despite all the drug chaos in the north of Mexico--the state of Chihuahua has a homicide rate of 300 per 100,000 (compared to 36 in Baltimore City and 6.5 in New York City)--most of Mexico is much safer than most of America. Here's an article about the five safest places in Mexico to travel.

Even I was a little apprehensive to travel to Mexico City for vacation (mind you, just a little, as we did want to come here). It's strange, because where else in the world will you be told by various sources to 1) not take cabs, 2) not take the metro, 3) not walk, and 4) not drive? We've done the first three and have felt safer than, say, taking the subway at night in Philly or the Light Rail in Baltimore.

I can't tell just how normal and functioning this city is. You walk around, take the metro, get things to eat, look at pretty buildings, go to markets and museums, walk around random neighborhoods, eat street food... it's all very normal. Now don't get me wrong, there are stories of crime. And though we don't stick to the "safe" parts of town, we haven't walked around the supposedly bad parts of town at night while flashing dollars and taking pictures. But then why should we?

Maybe crime is more of an issue in Mexico because they have higher standards of a crime-free society. In America, it's as if we've written off huge segments of society and cities and think that it's normal to do so. What guide book would even mention East Baltimore or West Chicago or East New York, much less warn you not to go there?

The only thing here in Mexico City that isn't normal is the lack of horrible traffic and air pollution. But this week is a big holiday week (Santa Semana) and things are a bit quieter than normal as a lot of people go back to their home towns and villages to celebrate.

April 19, 2011

Meet me at the corner...

My wife and I were strolling through a deserted (and safe) Mexico City late last night when we stumbled across this doozy of an intersection.

William Schaefer (1921-2011)

He was as through-back to another time, a less politically correct time. I liked his moxie, even if I have mixed feelings about his urban vision. He was a one-man political institution, and certainly Baltimore would have been worse off without him.

His obit in the Baltimore Sun and the New York Times.

April 16, 2011

In Defense of Flogging, the Website

Just what you've been waiting for, I'm sure! But seriously, the good people at Basic Books were kind enough to make me a website. Here it is, live and online.

I'm sitting in Newark Airport, heading to Mexico City for a week's vacation. Don't expect much here till I'm back.

April 15, 2011

It ain't easy...

"Freeway Rick" talks about the trials and tribulations of being a big-time crack dealer.

Specifically, this podcast from NPR: Planet Money tests various economic theories about crack dealing. But it's a shame the economists have to "discover" this when better sociological and ethnographic work said this a long time ago. The drug stuff starts a minute into the podcast.

And lest how we forget, "Freeway Rick" Ross--along with being a violent drug dealer destroying lives and communities--also contributed to a patriotic cause. He was buying drugs from the CIA, and what could be more patriotic than that? And his money was then used to buy guns for the Contras. And the Contras, as Ronald Reagan told us, were great freedom fighters!

Also, to my surprise, I didn't realize that crack might have been invented as early as 1974, and in San Francisco. See page 33 of this book and the research of Ronald Siegel.

[Though I'm still curious about an obscure 1908 reference to cocaine with a "small crystal 'rock-candy' form" (Cop in the Hood, p. 270, note 71)]

[thanks to Alan I.]

April 11, 2011

My head hurts

Talk about culture wars cognitive dissonance. No matter your political leanings, there's something in this story to make your head explode.

A man born a woman was fired for not being man from his $10/hour job at a drug treatment center watching people pee into cups for drug tests. He's suing his former employer on the grounds of “gender-identity discrimination," which is illegal in New Jersey.

Liking a Defense of Flogging

The first review of In Defense of Flogging is out today. It's always a bit nerve racking when you click on that first review. But it's favorable. Phew! Though I view descriptive/neutral-plus as favorable for a book like this. It's hard to gush over a book called In Defense of Flogging, lest others start wondering if you got "something you want tell me?" (Hell, I'm just happy it wasn't panned... but maybe I should set my sights a bit higher.)

From Publishers Weekly:
Moskos, an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who specializes in police and criminal science, debates with the utmost seriousness the merits of flogging as an alternative to incarceration. Whether it's called caning or lashing, he concludes flogging, which penetrates the flesh but is over quickly, is less cruel than depriving people of a chunk of their lives in "a barbaric, inhuman" institution where a record number of 2.3 million Americans endure insult and humiliation, with a high incidence of sexual aggression, rape, and a great risk of contracting a communicable disease. Moskos lists the long history of prison reforms in the U.S., but concludes that our penal system remains "an insidious marriage of entombment and torture." Presenting the Singapore and Malaysian models of flogging, the author draws on interviews and recommendations to boost his "thought experiment." Indeed, when Moskos mentions the possibility of electric shock as another option , readers will begin to wonder if the writer is poking outlandish fun and crafting a notion similar to Swift's 1729 classic "A Modest Proposal," using satire to call attention to the "shame" of our inhumane prison system.
Just for the record, I intend no satire. But any comparison to Swift's A Modest Proposal has got to be good.

The book will be out June 1. And it's up to #24 on the Vulture's Anticipation Index.

April 10, 2011

Hating the Lovers

Speaking of issues I thought we had long since decided (like slavery, segregation, suffrage, medicinal bleeding, etc.), a poll found a plurality of Mississippi Republicans believe interracial marriage should be illegal. Forty-six percent oppose, 40 percent support, and 14% are "undecided" (as if they've weighed the pros and cons of this timely issue, but still need a few more days to decide). Wow.

It's not just the shockingly retro racism of this (and I do wonder how Democrats would fair), it's the fact that the question asked whether inter-racial marriage should be legal or illegal. I mean, you might be a Small-Government racist who personally disapproves of kids these days who go about miscegenatin'. Okaaaay. Whatever, dude. To find racists Republicans (or in any political party) is about as noteworthy as finding out that NPR might have a liberal bias (not that "the tape" showed this).

But to want interracial marriage to be illegal, to want your supposedly small-government non-racist Tea-Party Republicans to tell Americans who they can and cannot marry is not just unpalatable and racist.... It just doesn't make sense.

Wouldn't it be nice if one of the Republican candidates for President did something as radical as come out unequivocally in favor of the legality of interracial marriage? I mean, even Clinton had his Sister Souljah moment. But who is daring enough to piss off the base? Of course the candidates could release a collective statement, if they didn't want to take the risk of, gasp, coming out individually for the right of interracial marriage.

You know, the Tea Party and Republicans spend a fair amount of time saying they aren't racist. And it's nice that they care. And maybe most of them aren't. But when your Republican party is 98 percent non-black and the majority of your voters in at least one state are racist... you've got to wonder.

Conservatives for Prison Reform

The United States has more more men & women in prison than any other nation including Russia and China.... The 95% conviction rate reached by threats of long sentences, intimidation, lies and prosecutorial abuse has got to be reckoned with now, not later.
So says Duke Cunningham, an imprisoned conservative Republican, in Slate.

April 1, 2011

Cycle Cops: 1918

Washington, D.C., 1918. "District of Columbia parks -- park policemen."

From Shorpy.

Happy Opening Day!