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by Peter Moskos

August 31, 2011

What a sucker a guy is to be a crook!

Flogging image of the day:

The Right to Film Police

A US Court of Appeals in Massachusetts has said that arresting someone for filming the police is a constitutional violation.

A guy, after we answered in the affirmative as to whether his phone was recording audio, was charged with violation of the wiretap statute, disturbing the peace, and aiding in the escape of a prisoner. The last charge was particularly absurd. But more importantly the court said that it's not a wiretap if it's not secret . The court also said the arrest violated the fourth amendment and did not give the officers qualified immunity.

People still get arrested for taking pictures and videos of police. But I suspect this will happen less and less, especially when cops lose their immunity after making bad arrests (of the guy taking pictures). Besides, given advances in technology, attempts to prevent people from taking pictures and videos is becoming more and more a Sisyphean task.

As a police officer, I did no not love being filmed. It's not that I had something to hide, it's that I don't want a video taken out of context. And sometimes police officers do have to use ugly force. Sometimes the public and the media really does not understand.

A lot of "brutality" videos you can see on youtube show completely justified force (especially when trying to get somebody's hands from under them to behind their back). So if I'm using justified force, I'd prefer not to see my tough arrest on the evening news used as an "example" of brutality.

I understand and even agree with all the reasons you don't want to be recorded. But... you can't always get what you want. I do not want a society in which unaccountable police arrest people for taking their picture. Recording police (if you're not interfering) should be considered a constitutional right.

Of course phones and cameras, especially when somebody is resisting arrest, can still be seized as evidence. If somebody is resisting arrest, a recording is good evidence. And having to say goodbye to your phone for months might serve as a bit of a deterrent to whipping it out and pressing record. But potential police use of this trick will be tempered by a natural desire to avoid extra paperwork.

What's interesting is that this debate makes some peoples' head explode as it highlights the conservative divide between lip-service to small government and an authoritarian impulse. It makes me think once again of George Orwell's precient line that the "real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians."

August 30, 2011

Galileo was Wrong

Since we all know that the Bible is the literal word of God (I'm not certain which version, but certainly one of the English-language ones, since it would make no sense for God to speak a language other than American), it turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, that there are people out there who insist the sun revolves around the earth:
"Heliocentrism becomes dangerous if it is being propped up as the true system when, in fact, it is a false system," said Robert Sungenis, leader of a budding movement to get scientists to reconsider. "False information leads to false ideas, and false ideas lead to illicit and immoral actions — thus the state of the world today.... Prior to Galileo, the church was in full command of the world, and governments and academia were subservient to her."
It is in the Bible, after all (Joshua 10:12-14), so it must be true.

Newtown Crab

In the most polluted waterway in America, Newtown Creek, which divides Brooklyn and Queens, I found this blue crab. Now I wouldn't eat anything from this waterway, but I was surprised by 1) how large this was NYC crab is, and 2) birds know right where to go to get that good lump crab meat! Who teaches them that? It's not like they're from Baltimore or anything.

August 29, 2011

Our taxes. Their Police.

Speaking of rich people buying the services of the state, it seems the Justice Department is now doing the dirty work of pharmaceutical companies by cracking down on Google which got paid to run ads for Canadian drug companies. That's not free speech. That's illegal because Congress says it is.

So the Justice Department is going to enforce a law (which, granted, is part of their job description--but the Justice Department has a lot of discretion as to which laws they want to enforce) passed on behalf of rich companies.

Remember, our Congress prohibited the government from negotiating drug prices on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries. If that's not a giveaway to rich pharmaceutical companies, I don't know what is! And it weren't legal, it would be called bribery. Wes Metheny, a senior vice president for public affairs at PhRMA, the main lobby for the pharmaceutical industry, said:
The industry still opposes allowing the government to negotiate drug prices and letting people import drugs from abroad. He said there is "no guarantee" that either would lower costs.
It's so shameless.

Turns out Medicaid gets the cheapest deals on drugs the prices are, get this, government regulated. Maybe we should increase regulation. Or maybe we should let the unencumbered free market lower prices.

I mean, anything would be better than a crazy cycle where:

1) Corporations give money to politicians to pass laws to ensure price fixing so we all pay more for each and every prescription drug sold in America.

2) Any monopoly-breaking anti-trust effort is attacked by taxpayer funded law enforcement agencies--the long arm of the Department of Justice, no less! The government cracked down on Google because Google has the audacity to run ads for Canadian drug companies. Seems the law trumps free speech when corporate profits are at stake. I guess Google isn't paying them enough. Besides these ads are chump change to Google. But keeping drug prices artificially high is big buck to Big Pharma.

3) The pharmaceutical corporations, in turn, funnel their government enforced profit (but just some of it) back to politicians. After all, corporate donations are constitutionally protected free speech.

But how could that ever happen here? It would be so blatantly corrupt and unfair for all of us to be forced to give our money so the rich can make more. This is America.

August 28, 2011

Little Hurricane Crime in New York City

The mayor says there were 45 arrests in New York City last night compared to 345 arrests on a normal August Saturday night. Mayor Bloomberg said, “If that doesn’t tell you about New Yorkers, I don’t know what does.” That's sweet. Now don't get me wrong, it's good there wasn't massive looting, and New York is a pretty great place. But I'd bet that the low arrest total says a lot more about bad weather in general and in particular police being told not to arrest people unless absolutely necessary (to keep officers on the street).

Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment!

Rarely to get exciting reading articles in academic journals (whether that says bad thing about me or the journals I leave to you), but this is exciting: "The Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment: A Randomized Controlled Trial Of Police Patrol Effectiveness In Violent Crime Hotspots." It's in the current issue of Criminology (like most academic journals, unavailable to the general public).

The Newark Foot Patrol Experiment was researched in the 1970s. And though it showed foot patrol in a more positive light than many people remember it for, it was hardly the unequivocal support for foot patrol I would have expected.

Now I know foot patrol works, but get a bunch of academics in a room and ask a simple question like, "Does foot patrol work?" and you'll get a lot of "we don't know" and "no" and "more research is needed." Even in the police world, opinion is split.

Well finally somebody has done a proper study of foot patrol. The bottom line? In high-crime areas, foot patrol decreased serious violent crime by 23 percent. This happened just after three months of foot patrol. No big difference was found in lower-crime areas, but then we fall back on the Newark Experiment and reduced public fear.

I bet you'll never hear of a study showing the crime-reduction benefits of officers remaining "in service" to answer radio calls.

August 27, 2011

The Storm II

I love that on our block, storm preparations included harvesting all grapes, pears, and figs--and distributing the extras to us!

The dark grapes are ours (they're tastier than our neighbors--not that it is a competition, of course). But we don't have any figs, and these figs are some of the best I've ever had! Thank you, Italian neighbor!

Notice too, the hurricane box of wine.

It's raining and the air smells really clean. But nothing of note, yet.

Afternoon Update: Well that was a letdown. Very uneventful here in my part of Queens, best I can tell. Though I am very thankful my basement didn't flood, like many events in life, I slept through it (except for that goddamn car alarm at 6am).

Of course the corner 24-hour fruit and vegetable store was open when I went to take a stroll and buy eggs at 3am. It was spooky quiet last night, with no subway trains rolling by and almost no traffic.

Mike Bloomberg on the potential for looting

"This is New York, we don't have that sort of thing."

August 26, 2011

The Storm

Interesting I haven't heard any fear of civil disorder after the storm hits NYC. I hope that's just a sign of how things are not.

I went back and read 1938 New York Times accounts of the hurricane that slammed New York. It was pretty devastating. And at least two people were arrested for robbing 20 stores in Harlem.

Meanwhile I've battened down the hatches and taken things off the roof and rugs off the basement floor. By NYC standards, we're on relatively high ground.

Ice blocks are in the freezer. I always have flashlights (for my bike) and we generally have a lot of food and booze. And I think all our wonderful spring water is gravity fed (the best of 19th century technology!).

I guess deep down I've been hoping for a power outage just so I can sit on our porch and play our Victrola. The neighbors will be in awe.

Let's hope it's fun, but not too fun.

Here's to all the police and city workers out there working, keeping all of us safe!

August 25, 2011

The problem that isn't (that big)

Ronald Weitzer tries to dispel the myths of human trafficking.

Wouldn't it be great...

If we were all rich enough to have our own private police force that did whatever we want?

Police have better things to do that act as private security for rich corporations. I wonder how much Coach and Rolex (and other big-name products) have to "donate" to New York's elected officials and police leaders to get them to care about such a pressing matter? If Coach doesn't like people selling knock-off bags, let them hire private security.

It reminds me of the days when the rich industrialist might "borrow" a few police officers to bust the heads of striking workers. For non-violent crimes, stores need to pay for private security (who, back in the days, were pretty good themselves at busting heads).

I can't for the life of me figure out why municipal tax-payer funded police waste any of their resources cracking down on copyright infringement. This all comes to mind because of the particular absurdity and stupidity of arresting a store worker at a legitimate store for selling paper replicas of luxury goods! Chinese funeral offerings.

From the Times:
A man in street clothes entered the store and seemed particularly interested in the handbags and loafers, obviously cardboard, that have print designs that vaguely resemble Louis Vuitton’s and Gucci’s.

“He asked me, ‘How much is this?’ ” recalled Mr. Mak, pointing to a handbag on display. “I said $20, and he pulled out his badge and said, ‘Are you selling this to me?’ And then he arrested me.”

He was held overnight in a local precinct house.
He was charged with two counts of copyright infringement in the third degree. Jonathan L. Stonbely, a lawyer from Legal Aid assigned to Mr. Mak, said that he was prepared to defend his client against the charges and that he had rejected an offer from prosecutors to allow Mr. Mak to plead guilty to disorderly conduct and pay a $100 fine.
Whatever it costs to get this kind of police service, I bet it's more than I'll ever make.

August 22, 2011

Life without Internet

My modem got fried by lighting during an amazing storm Friday night (deep down, I really didn't think this kind of thing could happen). Until a new modem arrives... life is very strange and definitely unsettled.

It's shocking how much of my day is internet related... from the obvious like email to the less obvious like blog posts and listening to Cubs' game and reading out-of-town papers. Now just what do I do all day?

Time to wind up the Victrola, I suppose, and listen to some tunes.

August 19, 2011

RIP Officer Henwood

Oh, jeeze, I wish it didn't have to end this way.

San Diego Police Officer Jeremy Henwood's last act before being ambushed and killed by a suicidal gunman was to buy a 13-year-old boy cookies.

For real.

August 18, 2011

Flash Mob Taos style, 1884

From the New York Times:
"The Feast of San Jeronimo: How it is observed by the Indians of Taos (from the Denver Tribune)

After the racing was over a gang of reckless fellows strolled around the plaza with apparently perfect license to do as they pleased. They walked along paying, seemingly, no attention to the hucksters who exhibited their wares upon the plaza, but suddenly they would turn upon some unfortunate huckster, and a few moments utterly waste and upset his entire store. This was the signal for a general desertion of the plaza by the hucksters, so far as they could do so without first being caught.

The whole story is worth a read. Poor sheep.

A little history of the courts and the plea bargain

From the NYT:
Conventional histories cite the mid-1700s as the turning point in the development of the modern adversarial system of justice in England and Colonial America, with defense lawyers and prosecutors facing off in court, Mr. Hitchcock and Mr. Turkel said. Their analysis tells a different story, however.

“Mapping all trials suggests that the real moment of evolution was in the first half of the 19th century,” with the advent of plea bargains that resulted in many more convictions, Mr. Hitchcock said. “The defendant’s experience of the criminal justice system changed radically. You were much more likely to be found guilty.”
[In the late 1700s] prison began to be used as an alternative to exile or capital punishment.... As Mr. Hitchcock said, “It’s hard to have plea bargaining when all they are going to do is hang you.”

You know you've jumped the shark...

...when you post pictures of a slug. But I don't have a dog.

I found this little guy in my backyard trying to molest a grape. His two eyes stick out a lot further when I'm not trying to take a picture from inches away. Did you know this kind of slug can live 3 years, has a breathing hole, and mates while dangling from a thick stream of mucus? Me neither! He's about 4 inches long and would probably much rather be eating on my neighbor's fig tree or grape vines.

I think I'll name him Slithers.

Here he is, not at his longest:

August 17, 2011

Flash Mob steals from 7-11

In Germantown, Montgomery County, Maryland.

Anybody got any ideas how to prevent this?

Is it possible to lock everybody inside the store? Certainly if catch one of the kids, it would be pretty easy to get them to snitch. But then what? It would take a lot of police work simply to bring shoplifing charges against a lot of kids.

August 16, 2011

Sticks and Stones...

Hey Republicans... you know why "treason" matters more than other insults? Because the Constitution mentions treason seven times, you want every idiot to be able to carry a gun, and treason is usually punishable by execution. But what do I know? I'm just another "lib".

I wonder what Karl Rove would say? Oh... I guess Karl is getting soft. Uh, no, he's not. When Karl Rove is considered left wing, it's a sign of the coming apocalypse. God help us!

Speaking of God, I'd fully support Texas secession. And I hope they take Arizona with them. And then pray. I'm sure that's what your intolerant old-testament hate-filled Jesus would do. Right after pissing on all those illegal immigrants not raping your daughters.

[I know those last two lines don't make sense. That's my point. But when I'm in doubt, I just think: WWYIOTHFJD.]

We [heart] Syria

Here are some thoughts on Syria. Actually they're my wife's thoughts, but I second them.

I've never traveled in any country where the people have been as nice, hospitable, and honest as the average Syrian (and also not pushy or sleazy). It's also perhaps the cleanest country I've been in (I've never been to Japan). The food is delicious... as is the Arak.

So I'd like to add some of my pics to my wife's collection of "nice Syrians we've come across." Though it's not mentioned, the pic of us with the bike store man... after he shared his delicious lunch with us, he then offered us a free bike for our first-born child -- "blue for a boy, pink for a girl." I'm pretty sure he was serious... even though we have no plans on testing his generosity by having a kid. And it's a shame we don't have a picture of Mr. Coco, the sweet and misty-eyed Armenian tailor-extraordinaire in Aleppo. But I still have the shirt he made for me. Quality work.

The drink vendor below, the well dressed kid on the right, was very professional. After serving us, he politely inquired, "Do you have tamarind in America?" We told him no so much, but it is very popular with Mexicans (tamarind is also why your Thai pad thai tastes so good). Then he refused to accept our money when we tried to pay. That actually happened to us a lot.

That last picture is from the roof of our hotel in Latakia (we slept up there one pleasant night when the hotel was full). You can see the city's harbor from which ships have been assaulting parts of the city.

Homicide: Toronto vs. Chicago

I've written about this before, but it's worth a second telling. Besides, how many of you read footnote #14 to the Epilogue of Cop in the Hood?

Chicago and Toronto are similar sized cities. Chicago is having a record low number of murders; Toronto is having a record high number of murders. Chicago is patting itself on the back; Toronto is in crisis mode. And the numbers:

Chicago: 450 murders a year.

Toronto: 60 murders a year.

Here's The Crime Report's summary and the full report from Chicago's WBEZ.

And if you think Canada is some homogenous lily-white country, I'd like to point out--because once again it shows that immigrants do not equal crime--that Toronto is half the residents are half foreign-born. Bet you didn't know that. That has got to be the highest percentage in the world for any big city. And I would also guess that New York City, with about 30% of residents being from another country, is number two.

Maybe it's not such a crazy idea...

Here's me defending flogging for my favorite TV news show, the NewsHour.

It's very interesting that the option of flogging over prison currently registers over 70% support in their online poll. This mirrors the earlier newser survey in which 63% percent thought is was "brilliant" and another 13% found it "intriguing" (20% clicked in one of the negative categories).

Live Free

Presidential hopeful and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson calls (once again) for an end to the war on drugs.

August 9, 2011

What is wrong the C.J. system

There's very little that strikes me as more absurd than offering or accepting a guilty plea for time served. It represents so much about what's wrong with the criminal justice system. And that's a lot.

If you're guilty, then it's a travesty of justice because you get to go home.

If you're innocent, it's an even worse travesty. But you get to go home.

Snoop from "The Wire" just took such a plea. From the Sun:
She was sentenced to seven years in prison [for heroin dealing], with all of the time suspended except for the five months she has already served while awaiting trial, most of it spent at home, under electronic monitoring.
Pearson, 31, explaining her decision to take a deal. She repeatedly said she would have been found "not guilty" at trial, but that she couldn't wait for the proceeding, which could have been years in coming.
Now I don't think she innocent. But that doesn't matter. Why offer this plea? Because the Office of the State's Attorney has its own issues. And they want their caseload reduced. And they judge their own stats on guilty pleas.

What would it take to have a justice system where the accused actually had a timely trial and the guilty actually get punished? We'd need more courtrooms, judges, and lawyers on both sides. That would take money. Lot's of money. And that's not going to happen any time soon.

So we continue with a criminal justice that is dedicated to processing the maximum number of people with as little use of court resources as possible. Mostly it means thousand of people getting caught up in its slow wheels until they accept a plea. Call it what you will, it's not justice.

August 6, 2011

Twin Cities?

The current and first issue of the new food magazine Lucky Peach has an article about yakamee in New Orleans. This further supports my belief that Baltimore and New Orleans were siblings separated at birth.

Yakamee is a crappy Chinese take-out noodle dish. I ordered it once, to the amazement of the woman behind the plexiglas and pretty much every white cop I worked with. It happens to be very soupy, so not good for eating in a cop car. It also just happens to not be very good.

But yakamee is part of all the various foods in Baltimore that I had never heard of or eaten before I was a cop. In order of deliciousness.

1) Blue crabs, both steamed and as crab cakes. Now technically I had heard of crabs, but I'm still including they because they're so good in Baltimore and such a part of their culture.

2) Pit beef. Like roast beef, but smoked. If it's hinting of pink it's called "rare."

3) Lake trout. Famously neither lake nor trout. Also a bit ghetto, but I make no apologies for loving me some fried whiting with hot sauce on white bread.

4) Yakamee. It's not good, but interesting in that it can also be the generic name for Chinese take-out. Took me awhile to figure out what the hell the word was and a bit longer what it meant (and I spell it like it sounds, not like it's written).

All these go well with Boh.

And Bull and Oyster Roasts deserve very special mention.

And I should also point out that Lexington Market has the largest chicken wings I've every seen. I think they're all on steroids.

Can you tell the annual crab feast is coming up? Cause I'm thinking about food.

August 4, 2011

Sometimes there is a cop when you need one!

Suspect runs into police, gets arrested.

"I'm expressin' with my full capabilities..."

The Times and a grim read about a boy with mental problems, gone bad. It's interesting but in all-too-many ways nothing new.

But what struck me was this great example of doublespeak:
Mr. Clergeau was discharged ... with the expectation that he would be imprisoned. Hospital authorities told the state police that he was “not a psych patient,” which appears to reflect a medical opinion that he belonged in a correctional setting.
Okay... So once we give up on you, once we determine you are cannot be helped with treatment, when it's all over and we simply lock you up because we're afraid your going to hurt somebody... ... that's when we put you in a "correctional" setting. Got it? Now try explaining that to the Martians when they land.

August 3, 2011

"Outraging the Modesty"

From the Singapore Straits Times:
A Briton on a visit here was charged on Friday with outraging the modesty of a 30-year-old woman in a Clarke Quay club.

Austin Charles Arnold Cowburn, 34, is alleged to have grabbed her buttock in the China One pub at 4am on April 3 2011.
AOL Travel adds:
The maximum sentence for the crime is two years in prison coupled with a fine and a lashing across the bare butt with a rattan cane. The penalties can (and likely will) be changed if the judge feels like avoiding an international incident.

The groping occurred at the luxurious China One nightclub where Cowburn, a recruitment specialist currently working in Qatar, proved to not be so great at his job after all.
A notoriously rule-bound country, Singapore has the tendency to treat its citizens like unruly school kids. To wit, anyone convicted of littering three time is forced to clean the streets while wearing a bib saying: "I am a litterer."
Flogging for a minor offense. How barbaric! How un-American!!! I mean, here, when somebody grabs a girl's ass at a club, you start a fight and shoot and kill the guy. That's the American way. I love civilized progress.

Now excuse me while I go "outrage" my wife's modesty. Hmmm, that might just be a new catchphrase here at home.

August 2, 2011

In Defense of Tenure

Three cheers for actor Matt Damon!

You know, Matt and I have a lot in common.

Both our mothers are retired school teachers.

Both of us went to school in Cambridge, Mass.

And both of us are devilishly good looking!

But seriously, both of us know that the answer to bad teaching is not job insecurity.

You go, Matt! While you're watching the video, I'm going to be "assessing" papers from other people's classes according to a "grading rubric" in which I must judge each paper on 1) Responsiveness to instructions, 2) Use of terms and concepts, 3) Organization, 4) Integration of different sources, 5) Using appropriate reference and citation, and 6) Conclusion. This is the type of shit teachers do during their so-called "vacation" time.

I don't mention this to complain. I mention this to say that if you want me to teach well, let me teach. But pile on administrative B.S.? Give teachers make-work hoops to jump through? Take away time that could spend researching, writing, preparing for class, and grading papers? Analyze, assess, and prod me one too many times... and you'll get what what pay for. But no more.

I didn't go into this racket for the money. But without tenure, I never would have gone into teaching. Given my education, I could have made much more money as a consultant or investment banker or even a professor at a private university. But don't we want more overqualified teachers at public schools? Besides, I like my job.

Some want teachers to exchange job security for "incentive-based" pay. Well I don't know how you would "incentivise" me in my senior seminar. Some say pay should be based on student evaluations. Not a good idea. Granted I'd do OK because I get very good student evaluations. But it's still a bad idea. I do believe that bad evaluations are a sign of a bad teacher, I'm not so certain about the opposite. I like to think I get good student evaluations because I'm a good teacher. But I could also get good evaluations simply by being easy.

Pay me a fair wage (I make $74,000 a year in case you were wondering) and give me job security and enough time off, and I'll put my heart into the job. Make teaching a game--especially a game refereed by administrators and other non-teachers--and I'll play it like a game. Oh yes, I'd win that game! But my students wouldn't.

Trying to weed out bad teachers is like trying to weed out corruption. It's a noble goal and needs to be done, but you have to make sure the cure isn't worse than the disease. When you place rules and regulations on everybody in order to catch a few, you make things worse for everybody.

Teacher unions aren't perfect. But for teachers and students alike, they're more good than bad. They're also fighting on the front line against those who want to destroy unions and public education on ideological grounds.

Bad teachers need to be let go before they get tenure. And that would be easier if more good teachers were attracted to the profession. And that would be easier if there were not such teacher burnout, especially in schools most in need. Making the job less appealing is not the answer.

Matt Damon is right: Job insecurity would not make me work harder and MBA-style thinking is not the answer. A teacher wants to teach.