Quotulatiousness

August 21, 2014

Ferguson authorities issue an average of “about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household”

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:45

The relationship between the Ferguson police and the residents of the municipality seem to have been on a weird footing long before the current face-off, as Walter Olson points out:

Reading through this Newsweek article on the troubled relations between police and residents in Ferguson, Mo. before this month’s blowup, this passage jumped out at me:

    “Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of 2,635,400,” according to the ArchCity Defenders report. And in 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court issued 24,532 arrest warrants and 12,018 cases, “or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household.”

My first reaction – maybe yours too – was “is that a misprint?” Three arrest warrants per household in Ferguson last year?

Now let’s stipulate that some of those warrants were written against out-of-towners, especially in matters arising from traffic offenses, tickets being a key revenue source for many municipalities in St. Louis’s North County. Yet here’s a second statistic some will find surprising: while reported property-crime rates in Ferguson have run well above the national average for years, violent-crime rates have not. After a high period that lasted through 2008, they have declined steadily to a point where last year Ferguson had about the same rate of violent crime as the nation generally.

What seems clear at this point is that Ferguson – while in some ways a nicer and safer town than some have imagined – does suffer from a unusual degree of antagonism between police and residents, an antagonism that crucially involves race (the town is an extreme outlier in its now-famous extent of black underrepresentation in elected office) and yet has other vital dimensions as well.

Update: Alex Tabarrok says this is an example of the return of debtor’s prisons in modern America.

How does a stop for jaywalking turn into a homicide and how does that turn into an American town essentially coming under military control with snipers, tear gas, and a no-fly zone? We don’t yet know exactly what happened between the two individuals on the day in question but events like this don’t happen without a deeper context. Part of the context is the return of debtor’s prisons that I wrote about in 2012:

    Debtor’s prisons are supposed to be illegal in the United States but today poor people who fail to pay even small criminal justice fees are routinely being imprisoned. The problem has gotten worse recently because strapped states have dramatically increased the number of criminal justice fees….Failure to pay criminal justice fees can result in revocation of an individual’s drivers license, arrest and imprisonment. Individuals with revoked licenses who drive (say to work to earn money to pay their fees) and are apprehended can be further fined and imprisoned. Unpaid criminal justice debt also results in damaged credit reports and reduced housing and employment prospects. Furthermore, failure to pay fees can mean a violation of probation and parole terms which makes an individual ineligible for Federal programs such as food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Family funds and Social Security Income for the elderly and disabled.

[...]

You don’t get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate. You get numbers like this from bullshit arrests for jaywalking and constant “low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay.”

If you have money, for example, you can easily get a speeding ticket converted to a non-moving violation. But if you don’t have money it’s often the start of a downward spiral that is hard to pull out of

August 19, 2014

Barack Obama’s clemency deficit

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:31

I’ve posted items like this before, showing that President Obama is the least merciful president of modern times (and the only presidents less clement were Washington, Harrison, and Garfield). Now the New York Times editorial board joins the chorus:

On Jan. 20, 2009, in his last moments as president, George W. Bush gave Barack Obama a hard-earned bit of wisdom: whatever you do, he said, pick a pardon policy and stick with it.

It was sage advice, yet, more than five years later, President Obama has not heeded it. As a result, as one former pardon attorney has said, the clemency power is “the least respected and most misunderstood” power a president has. Yet it is granted explicitly by the Constitution as a crucial backstop to undo an unjust conviction or to temper unreasonably harsh punishments approved by lawmakers. It also can restore basic rights, like the right to vote, that many people lose upon being convicted.

In the past, presidents made good use of it, but as tough-on-crime policies became more popular, the number of grants fell dramatically. Judging by the numbers, Mr. Obama, who has, so far, granted just 62 clemency petitions, is the least merciful president in modern history.

[...]

Mr. Obama’s failure to wield the pardon power more forcefully is all the more frustrating when considered against the backdrop of endless accusations that he is exercising too much executive authority, sometimes — his critics say — arbitrarily if not illegally. In this case, he should take advantage of a crucial power that the Constitution unreservedly grants him.

As Jacob Sullum said, “Obama deserves credit for this amazing accomplishment: He has made Richard Nixon look like a softie.”

August 18, 2014

QotD: Police militarization was a response to a problem that never happened

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:14

Two decades ago violent crime really was out of control, and it seemed reasonable to a lot of people that police needed to respond in a much more forceful way. We can argue forever about whether militarizing our police forces was an appropriate response to higher crime rates, but at least it was an understandable motivation. Later, police militarization got a further boost from 9/11, and again, that was at least an understandable response.

But at the same time the trend toward militarization started in the early 90s, the crime wave of the 70s and 80s finally crested and then began to ebb. Likewise, Al Qaeda terrorism never evolved into a serious local problem. We’ve spent the past two decades militarizing our police forces to respond to problems that never materialized, and now we’re stuck with them. We don’t need commando teams and SWAT units in every town in America to deal with either terrorism or an epidemic of crime, so they get used for other things instead. And that’s how we end up with debacles like Ferguson.

Police militarization was a mistake. You can argue that perhaps we didn’t know that at the time. No one knew in 1990 that crime was about to begin a dramatic long-term decline, and no one knew in 2001 that domestic terrorism would never become a serious threat. But we know now. There’s no longer even a thin excuse for arming our police forces this way.

Kevin Drum, “We Created a Policing Monster By Mistake”, Mother Jones, 2014-08-16.

August 16, 2014

ESR on demilitarizing the police

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:32

Eric S. Raymond is with most other libertarians about the problems with having your police become more like an occupying army:

I join my voice to those of Rand Paul and other prominent libertarians who are reacting to the violence in Ferguson, Mo. by calling for the demilitarization of the U.S.’s police. Beyond question, the local civil police in the U.S. are too heavily armed and in many places have developed an adversarial attitude towards the civilians they serve, one that makes police overreactions and civil violence almost inevitable.

But I publish this blog in part because I think it is my duty to speak taboo and unspeakable truths. And there’s another injustice being done here: the specific assumption, common among civil libertarians, that police overreactions are being driven by institutional racism. I believe this is dangerously untrue and actually impedes effective thinking about how to prevent future outrages.

There are some unwelcome statistics which at least partly explain why young black men are more likely to be stopped by the police:

… the percentage of black males 15-24 in the general population is about 1%. If you add “mixed”, which is reasonable in order to correspond to a policeman’s category of “nonwhite”, it goes to about 2%.

That 2% is responsible for almost all of 52% of U.S. homicides. Or, to put it differently, by these figures a young black or “mixed” male is roughly 26 times more likely to be a homicidal threat than a random person outside that category – older or younger blacks, whites, hispanics, females, whatever. If the young male is unambiguously black that figure goes up, about doubling.

26 times more likely. That’s a lot. It means that even given very forgiving assumptions about differential rates of conviction and other factors we probably still have a difference in propensity to homicide (and other violent crimes for which its rates are an index, including rape, armed robbery, and hot burglary) of around 20:1. That’s being very generous, assuming that cumulative errors have thrown my calculations are off by up to a factor of 6 in the direction unfavorable to my argument.

[...]

Yeah, by all means let’s demilitarize the police. But let’s also stop screaming “racism” when, by the numbers, the bad shit that goes down with black male youths reflects a cop’s rational fear of that particular demographic – and not racism against blacks in general. Often the cops in these incidents are themselves black, a fact that media accounts tend to suppress.

What we can actually do about the implied problem is a larger question. (Decriminalizing drugs would be a good start.) But it’s one we can’t even begin to address rationally without seeing past the accusation of racism.

August 12, 2014

“Ayn Rand-obsessed pot smokers who want to hide their money from the tax man”

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:06

J.D. Tuccille on five libertarian issues that should matter just as much to non-libertarians:

Are libertarians just Ayn Rand-obsessed pot smokers who want to hide their money from the tax man? That’s what many critics of the libertarian movement, and its seemingly looming moment in American history (as reported by the New York Times) would have you believe. But maybe we’re smoking that grass because we’re all too aware of what government officials do with that money (and to us all) when they get their hands on it (Ayn Rand did provide some cautionary tales, if you care to read her books).

Below are just five of the many issues on which libertarian journalists, independent think-tankers, state-challenging politicians, and freedom-loving litigators, among others, have worked to preserve and extend our liberty over the years. These are issues that matter to us. We think they should matter to you too — and they already may.

America’s Insane Incarceration Rate

“Every ten or eleven people that you meet, someone is going to either know someone in prison, has been in prison with a record, or you met them and they are going off to prison,” Michael Stoll, co-author of Why Are So Many Americans in Prison?, told Reason last year.

Those who now fill the nation’s jails, prisons, and detention centers, says the Prison Policy Initiative, number about 2.4 million people.

[...]

The Insane War on Drugs

The easiest way to get thrown behind bars in recent years has been by using, buying, selling, or merely possessing an intoxicant that doesn’t meet politicians’ approval. Prohibition of alcohol may have failed, but the impulse to prohibit — and to penalize those who don’t or won’t get with the program, continues in laws against marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and myriad other substances.

[...]

Whatever the Hell Happened to Police in This Country

You can’t have prisons groaning full of people busted for drug violations without somebody to put them there. That somebody is inevitably law enforcement in all its various permutations—though you might be forgiven for thinking it’s an occupying army, given the military tactics, equipment, and mindset that so many police departments have adopted.

[...]

Small Business-Killing Meddling

Government officials don’t have to unleash uniformed minions on you to make your life miserable — they can do the same thing with a web of red tape and a plague of inspectors. The challenge of making an honest living can become almost impossible when burdened with bureaucracy.

[...]

Peace

You can’t enjoy life, liberty, and prosperity if your ass has been shot off in some politician’s bloody military adventure. And libertarian-oriented lawmakers feature prominently among the “wacko-birds” denounced by uber-hawk, Sen. John McCain (R-Az.). Specifically, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) ranked proudly among those called out for opposing drone assassinations and unprovoked interventions in other countries’ affairs.

August 11, 2014

Questions from Ferguson, Missouri after police kill unarmed teenager

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:00

Scott Greenfield has some questions about the official account of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri:

There may be a good explanation for why Ferguson, Missouri, a mostly black working-class suburb of St. Louis, had a white mayor and police force. There might be a good explanation for why an unarmed, 18-year-old high school graduate, Michael Brown, was shot down in the street. But if so, nobody has said so yet. The only thing for which there is a good explanation is why Brown won’t be starting technical school today. That’s because he’s dead.

From the New York Times:

    The fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager Saturday by a police officer in a St. Louis suburb came after a struggle for the officer’s gun, police officials said Sunday, in an explanation that met with outrage and skepticism in the largely African-American community.

The cop isn’t named. The story makes little sense.

    At a news conference on Sunday morning, the St. Louis County police chief, Jon Belmar, said that a man had been shot and killed after he had assaulted a police officer and the two had struggled over the officer’s gun inside his patrol car. At least one shot was fired from inside the car, Chief Belmar said.

    “The genesis of this was a physical confrontation,” Chief Belmar told reporters.

Good use of the word “genesis,” but it’s a lie.

    Just after noon on Saturday, the police said, an officer in a patrol car approached Mr. Brown and another man. As the officer began to leave his vehicle, one of the men pushed the officer back into the car and “physically assaulted” him, according to the police department’s account.

The genesis was when the shooter approached Michael Brown. Why? Then he “began to leave his vehicle.” Why? Then, according to the police account, “one of the men” pushed the cop back into the car and “physically assaulted” him. Why? Who? But mostly why would a kid who just graduated high school do this?

August 9, 2014

Faking fine old wines for fun and profit

Filed under: Wine — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

A couple of years ago, I posted an item about a wine collector who got into the business of “creating” expensive old wines. BBC News talks about how this worked and how he was caught:

Rudy Kurniawan was sentenced to 10 years in jail for committing wine fraud. But just how easy is it to fake a fancy bottle of Burgundy?

Wine fraud was a problem in classical Rome and it continues to be one now. Some estimate that over 5% of wine consigned and sold at auction is fake.

But even though it is a very big problem, it is a very difficult thing to do.

“There is a distinctive taste in aged wine,” says wine chemist Andrew Waterhouse, of the University of California, Davis.

That taste?

“Canned asparagus,” he says.

Old wines — mostly those from the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France — have lost the majority of their tannins, giving them a softer taste reminiscent of the spring vegetable.

Bu taste is only one part of the equation. “It is the experience of drinking something that’s quite rare that’s appealing,” explains Prof Waterhouse.

A few key ingredients to the fraud: corks, capsules, and soaked-off labels from the authentic wines, plus good but not expensive wine to use either to rejuvenate the older wine or to pass off as the real thing to a less-discriminating buyer.

And that’s exactly what Mr Kurniawan was doing in his kitchen in Arcadia, California — essentially creating a “better” vintage by mixing old, good-but-not-great wines with some newer, vibrant pinot noirs.

Give it a shake, put it in an old bottle, smack on a vintage label — say, one from 1985 instead of 1982 — and voila.

“He could take a $200 bottle and turn it into over a $1,000 bottle,” says Mr Troy.

Unless you are used regularly drinking fine vintages — which at thousands of dollars a bottle, is not that many people — the taste would not raise alarm bells.

“By blending the fruitiness of a new wine with the aged character of the old wine he would approximate in some manner a very, very good aged Burgundy,” explains Prof Waterhouse.

July 19, 2014

California moves to pressure universities over sexual assault numbers

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:04

Ben Boychuk explains how California legislators are using their financial muscle to force colleges and universities to crack down on the epidemic of sexual assault in the state’s institutions of higher education. As we’re often told, women in university are at great risk of sexual assault — figures from one in four to one in five are often quoted — yet the universities are not punishing anywhere near that proportion of male students. To lawmakers, this is proof positive that university administrations are not taking the dangers seriously enough and they’re going to use all the tools at hand to force that to change.

[...] at a June hearing of the California State Assembly Higher Education and Joint Legislative Audit committees, chairman Das Williams couldn’t understand why the number of students disciplined for sexual misconduct was so low. A University of California at Berkeley administrator, for example, reported just 10 suspensions or expulsions out of 43 cases involving non-consensual sex over the last six years. How could that possibly be?

Williams, a Santa Barbara Democrat, concluded that the number of suspensions and expulsions of these alleged perpetrators of sexual violence had to increase. The consequences for student assailants are “not significant enough to act as a deterrent,” he warned — failing to consider that perhaps the problem of campus sexual violence isn’t as widespread as he’d been led to believe. In any event, Williams’s point was unmistakable: California’s universities had better start punishing more alleged offenders, or there will be consequences for the universities. And if administrators need a lower standard of proof to boost punishments, he and his colleagues would be more than happy to give it to them.

Williams is promising a slate of bills early next year that would mandate training for all university employees to respond to, and intervene to prevent, sexual assault, and, more significantly, to beef up punishments for alleged assailants. “Rape is a very difficult thing to prosecute,” he told the Sacramento Bee. Because most college disciplinary boards already use the lower “preponderance of evidence” standard — as opposed to the more rigorous “reasonable doubt” standard that criminal courts apply — “there is a real role that schools can play that law enforcement can’t.”

The reigning assumption in Sacramento — and Washington, D.C., for that matter — is that universities aren’t taking the problem of campus sexual assault seriously enough. A state audit released in June drew precisely that conclusion, and recommended that California’s state universities “do more to appropriately educate students on sexual harassment and sexual violence.” Every campus has a rape crisis center of some kind, with counselors on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Every campus police department offers rape defense programs. “Take Back the Night” programs are ubiquitous. Is more training and “education” — meaning more bureaucracy — really the answer?

You can certainly understand the concern: with so many young women suffering (although not necessarily reporting the criminal acts), the universities must be literal predator paradises, as the sexual assault rate in the general population is so much lower than on campus (Heather Mac Donald noted that the sexual assault rate in New Orleans in 2012 was only .0234 percent, making it a far safer place for women than any Californian university).

July 16, 2014

New Zealand is considering breaking new legal ground in rape cases

Filed under: Law, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:36

And by “breaking new legal ground” I mean “beginning with a presumption of guilt” in all rape cases:

Fundamental pillars of the criminal justice system may be eroded whichever party wins the election this year, as both National’s and Labour’s proposals would look into changing the right to silence or the presumption of innocence in rape cases.

Both major parties claim the current system is not upholding justice for victims, and are looking at changes that would effectively make it easier for prosecutors to obtain convictions.

National wants to explore allowing a judge or jury to see an accused’s refusal to give evidence in a negative light, while Labour wants to shift the burden of proof of consent from the alleged victim to the accused.

Auckland University law professor Warren Brookbanks said both policies challenged two fundamental principles: the right to silence, and the presumption of innocence, which are both protected in the Bill of Rights Act.

New Zealand needs a third political alternative, as both of these parties are proposing to take away fundamental rights in pursuit of a higher conviction rate. Taking away the right to silence is bad, but getting rid of the presumption of innocence is equally bad:

Labour’s justice spokesman Andrew Little did not think the party’s proposal would lead to more innocent people being convicted.

“I don’t see why. You’re assuming that there is a propensity to lay false complaints. There is no evidence pointing to that.”

He said eroding the right to silence went too far, but Justice Minister Judith Collins said the same of Labour’s proposal.

“The presumption of innocence is fundamental to our justice system and our society. Requiring an accused person to prove their innocence would undoubtedly result in many injustices and wrongful convictions.”

A quick Google search for “false accusations in rape cases” turned up 4.3 million hits. Even the Wikipedia page on the subject (and Wikipedia editors tend to be pro-victim rather than pro-police) say that between 2% and 8% of all rape accusations are false. New Zealand’s “initiatives” in this area seem bound to create more injustice for the accused than improved justice for victims.

July 15, 2014

Reason.tv – Maggie McNeill on Why We Should Decriminalize Prostitution

Filed under: Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:43

Published on 14 Jul 2014

“There is a very common form of rhetoric that’s used against us … that sex work isn’t work. That it’s a dodge. That it’s a scam. That it’s a form of exploitation,” says Maggie McNeill, a former sex worker turned activist who blogs at The Honest Courtesan.

“We still pretend that there’s a magical mumbo jumbo taboo energy about sex that makes it different from all other human activities.”

McNeill sat down with Reason TV‘s Thaddeus Russell for a wide-ranging interview where she responds to the feminist critique of sex work, explains why research on trafficking may not be reliable, and says why prostitution should be decriminalized.

“The problem is that there are already laws for these things,” states McNeill. “We have a name for sex being inflicted on a woman against her will. We call it rape. We have a name for taking someone and holding them prisoner somewhere. We call that abduction. … Why do we need [prostitution] to be laid on top of all these other things that already are crimes?”

June 26, 2014

Domestic violence – it’s not as simple as you think

Filed under: Law, Media, Soccer, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:42

In Time, Cathy Young discusses Hope Solo’s alleged domestic violence this week:

The arrest of an Olympic gold medalist on charges of domestic violence would normally be an occasion for a soul-searching conversation about machismo in sports, toxic masculinity and violence against women. But not when the alleged offender is a woman: 32-year-old Hope Solo, goalkeeper of the U.S. women’s soccer team, who is facing charges of assaulting her sister and 17-year-old nephew in a drunken, violent outburst. While the outcome of the case is far from clear, this is an occasion for conversation about a rarely acknowledged fact: family violence is not necessarily a gender issue, and women — like singer Beyoncé Knowles’ sister Solange, who attacked her brother-in-law, the rapper Jay Z, in a notorious recent incident caught on video — are not always its innocent victims.

[...]

Research showing that women are often aggressors in domestic violence has been causing controversy for almost 40 years, ever since the 1975 National Family Violence Survey by sociologists Murray Straus and Richard Gelles of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire found that women were just as likely as men to report hitting a spouse and men were just as likely as women to report getting hit. The researchers initially assumed that, at least in cases of mutual violence, the women were defending themselves or retaliating. But when subsequent surveys asked who struck first, it turned out that women were as likely as men to initiate violence — a finding confirmed by more than 200 studies of intimate violence. In a 2010 review essay in the journal Partner Abuse, Straus concludes that women’s motives for domestic violence are often similar to men’s, ranging from anger to coercive control.

[...]

But this woman-as-victim bias is at odds with the feminist emphasis on equality of the sexes. If we want our culture to recognize women’s capacity for leadership and competition, it is hypocritical to deny or downplay women’s capacity for aggression and even evil. We cannot argue that biology should not keep women from being soldiers while treating women as fragile and harmless in domestic battles. Traditional stereotypes both of female weakness and female innocence have led to double standards that often cause women’s violence — especially against men — to be trivialized, excused, or even (like Solange’s assault on Jay Z) treated as humorous. Today, simplistic feminist assumptions about male power and female oppression effectively perpetuate those stereotypes. It is time to see women as fully human — which includes the dark side of humanity.

June 14, 2014

George Will confesses to using dodgy statistics in last week’s column

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:39

In the Washington Post last week, columnist George Will wrote about sexual assault on college campuses. The piece was widely criticized, and even drew a formal complaint from U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.), which was published yesterday [PDF]. Today, he admits that he used a totally unreliable source for the statistics in the original article: President Barack Obama’s staff at the White House.

I have received your letter of June 12, and I am puzzled. You say my statistics “fly in the face of everything we know about this issue.” You do not mention which statistics, but those I used come from the Obama administration, and from simple arithmetic involving publicly available reports on campus sexual assaults.

The administration asserts that only 12 percent of college sexual assaults are reported. Note well: I did not question this statistic. Rather, I used it.

I cited one of the calculations based on it that Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute has performed {link}. So, I think your complaint is with the conclusion that arithmetic dictates, based on the administration’s statistic. The inescapable conclusion is that another administration statistic that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college is insupportable and might call for tempering your rhetoric about “the scourge of sexual assault.”

June 2, 2014

Still no answers in the Miriam Carey case

Filed under: Government, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:53

Scott Greenfield at the Simple Justice blog wonders why there are still no answers to the questions about what happened at the south gate to the White House that day in 2013. The lawyer for Miriam Carey’s family is exasperated with the delay:

“It’s just bizarre. What’s so complex about this incident? It’s a police shooting. You know who the parties are. You know who discharged their weapons. I mean, c’mon, it’s not complex. We should have known within in a week or two. I don’t understand what’s taking so long,”

DC Metro police say the incident is still under investigation, and won’t answer any questions about it. Why is the story being withheld from the public?

That’s an excellent question, as the answer appears to be that Carey, with her daughter in the back seat, made a wrong turn into the south gate of the White House, panicked, u-turned and drove away. And so the police started firing.

When Mike Paar sent me a link to this story, it was because this otherwise “insignificant” story was curious, as it was now eight months old and there were no answers. But for the World Net Daily article, which billed the killing as “fascinating,” it would have easily fallen into obscurity, a one-day wonder story.

When it was included in a post here, it didn’t warrant any particular scrutiny. The ramming of a barricade was still the explanation du jour, and its interest was found in the need to shoot the fleeing car. Because they need to shoot at fleeing cars, which the Supreme Court says is fine.

Once the story is stripped of its ramming the barricade myth, however, there is no justification under Tennessee v. Garner as there was no fleeing felon. There was only an embarrassed dental hygienist. With her one-year-old in the back seat.

Now knowing that there was no barricade ramming, no drugs, no mental illness, the story of Miriam Carey’s death becomes even less interesting, and yet more a story of importance. If, as believed, this was an overreaction by police to a woman who made a wrong turn, who then shot her to death and is now burying their mistake by invoking excuse number 4, and no one cares, we’ve got another problem.

May 31, 2014

Scott Feschuk: “How murdered might you get at the World Cup?”

Filed under: Americas, Humour, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:10

Worried about your personal safety at the World Cup in Brazil? Scott Feschuk helps you to be as worried as you should be:

Has there been much corruption?

Define “much.” If you mean scattered incidents of price gouging to line the pockets of a few local firms and politicians, then yes. But if you mean a grandly orchestrated, systemic pilfering of hundreds of millions of dollars, then yes. Brazilian soccer legend Pelé describes it as a “disgrace.” (By the way, it is mandatory that Pelé be quoted in every World Cup article, no matter the topic: RAIN COMING WEDNESDAY ACCORDING TO ‘FEELING IN KNEE,’ LEGEND DECLARES.)

[...]

If I go to the World Cup, how murdered will I get?

British papers have been playing up the threat of violent crime, depicting the cities of Brazil as crime-infested hellscapes through which there is scant hope of safe passage. The way they tell it, Rio is like Gotham before Batman or Times Square before Applebee’s.

So concern is overblown?

Oh God, no. But listen: the people of Brazil are well aware of your fears. To their credit, they’ve taken substantive action to address the issue by, um, well … they published a brochure.

What — a guide on how to react when you’re mugged at gunpoint, haha?

Yep. Brazilians have a lot of interesting traditions. They speak directly. They touch one another lightly while talking. And their criminals like to kill people who make a fuss over getting robbed. They even have a word for a mugging that escalates into a murder: latrocinios. You know people are serious about something when they have a word or phrase for it. Just ask the people at McDonald’s about Kirstie Alley and second breakfast.

What does the brochure recommend?

Remain calm. Do your best not to cry out. If you stay largely motionless and don’t say a word, it will be over soon enough. Pretty much the same guidelines to follow when losing your virginity.

May 29, 2014

Mass murder as performance art

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:21

Kevin Williamson on the most recent mass killing:

Mass murders on the Elliot Rodger model are not a modern thing; we all know the story of Columbine, but the worst school slaughter in American history happened in 1927 in Michigan. Nor are they a gun thing; that Michigan massacre required no firearms, and neither did the crimes of Timothy McVeigh. They are not a “white privilege” thing, soiled as I feel for being obliged to write the words “white privilege”; the worst such massacre in recent U.S. history was carried out by a Korean-born American. They are not a male thing; Brenda Spencer’s explanation of her shooting spree in San Diego inspired the song “I Don’t Like Mondays.” They are not an American thing; Anders Breivik of Norway carried out the largest mass murder in modern history, though it is possible that Beijing’s Tian Mingjian killed more; Europe, the Americas, and Asia have experienced roughly comparable numbers of mass murders, with the Asian numbers slightly ahead of the rest. They are not an ideological thing; mass murders sometimes issue manifestos, but they are generally incoherent and shallow. The phenomenon of mass killings has little to do with race, sex, politics, economics, or the availability of legal firearms. Such episodes are primarily an act of theater.

[...]

Elliot Rodger’s family was in relatively difficult financial circumstances, though relatively must be emphasized. His father was the assistant director of The Hunger Games, and the young man was apparently proud of his BMW coupe, but his family’s financial position was modest by Hollywood standards. Through his family, Rodger enjoyed some enviable social connections, but could not achieve the connection he desired, a romantic one. His was an individualism suffered as a burden. In another century, his life might have been given some structure by the church or by his extended family, or simply by the fundamental struggle to feed and shelter himself, which was the organizing principle of the great majority of human lives for millennia. Modernity sets us free, but it does not offer any answer to the question, “Free to do what?”

Art, particularly theater, has for a long time helped to answer that question. What we see on stage, however far removed from our own experience, is an intensified version of our own lives. The Mass is, if nothing else, an act of theater, but it is also the case, as Mikhail Bakunin wrote, that “the passion for destruction is a creative passion.” It is not mere coincidence that so many mass murderers, from the Columbine killers to McVeigh, imagine themselves to be instigators of revolution, or that their serial-killer cousins so often think of themselves as artists. Their delusions are pathetic, but they are not at all alien to common human experience. That they so often end in suicide is not coincidence, either. Their rampages are at once a quest for significance and a final escape from significance and its burdens. Whatever particular motive such killers cite is secondary at best. The killing itself is the point — it is not a means to some other end.

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