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Evolution at work: ivory poaching and tuskless elephants

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2016

Tuskless Elephants

Poachers in Africa in search of the biggest ivory tusks have altered the gene pool of African elephants in the process.

In Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, 90 per cent of elephants were slaughtered between 1977 and 1992, during the country’s civil war. Dr Poole said that because poachers disproportionately targeted tusked animals, almost half the females over 35 years of age have no tusks, and although poaching is now under control and the population is recovering well, they are passing the tuskless gene down to their daughters: 30 per cent of female elephants born since the end of the war also do not have tusks.

“Females who are tuskless are more likely to produce tuskless offspring,” she said.

(via mr)

We Work Remotely

Voting under the influence of celebrity

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2016

Dave Pell from Nextdraft on the connection between OJ Simpson and Donald Trump and how celebrity warps American minds.

By the time OJ Simpson was arrested after the infamous ride in the White Ford Bronco, it was totally impossible to imagine he’d be found not guilty.

By the time Trump reached election day, he had broken every rule of politics. He committed more campaign-ending gaffes in a week than most losing presidential campaigns during an entire run.

Both men had a fame that completely cut across all American demographics.

I thought I’d mentioned this somewhere at the time — Twitter? kottke.org? Can’t find it… — but when I watched the excellent OJ: Made in America documentary this summer, the parallels between the OJ story and Trump made me feel very uneasy. Two men, both broadly famous, both wealthy, both charming, both outcasts from their respective social groups, both misogynist abusers, both committed crimes, both gamed the American political and legal systems to get away with something that they shouldn’t have. OJ eventually got his but will Trump? Are Americans doomed to keep repeating these mistakes when it comes to celebrity?

Advice from burglars to homeowners

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2016

Burglar Letter

A local TV station in Portland, OR wrote letters to dozens of convicted burglars and asked them for details about how they broke in, what they were looking for, etc. in order to give homeowners some suggestions on how avoid being robbed.

7. Did you typically knock on the front door before breaking into a home?

Yes. All of the inmates who responded said they would knock on the front door before breaking in.

8. If someone answered the door, what would you do or say?

“Act like I was lost or looking for a friend.”

“I would approach the resident as though they had posted an ad on Craigslist.”

“Say wrong house, sorry and thank you.”

“Ask if they’d seen my dog and leave.”

“Sometimes I would wear nice clothing and print a questionnaire off the Internet and carry a clipboard and see if they could spare a moment for an anonymous survey.”

Possibly relevant note: all this information is from people who got caught burgling, so, you know, grain of salt.

The serial killer who won The Dating Game

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 03, 2016

Rodney Alcala, who was convicted of killing seven women between 1971 and 1979 and possibly murdered many more, took time out during his killing spree to appear on The Dating Game. At the time, he was a convicted child molestor. The Bachelorette picked him over the other two contestants.

The Bachelorette, Cheryl, doesn’t pick up on any of this. In fact, she ends up choosing Alcala over the other two contestants despite his lackluster answers like, “Nighttime is the best time,” and “I’m a banana… peel me.” However, she cut things off immediately after their one date, claiming that she found him “creepy.”

Imagine if that happened today…the lawsuits and outcry would have shut the show down immediately.

The Central Park Five

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2016

In the late 1980s, five black and Latino teenagers were wrongly convicted of raping a woman jogging in Central Park. The Central Park Five is a documentary film directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon which tells the story from the perspective of the those five teens. I’ve seen the film, it’s excellent, and it’s currently available to watch for free on the PBS website.

The five men and this terrific miscarriage of justice are back in the news because of Donald Trump. In 1989, just a few weeks after the attack in Central Park, Trump took out a full-page ad in the Daily News denouncing the crime and the teens in which he calls for bringing back the death penalty.

Perhaps he thought it gave him gravitas, that spring, to weigh in on the character of the teen-agers in the park: “How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!”

When NYC finally settled with the wrongly convicted men in 2014, Trump denounced the settlement, joining a police detective in calling it “the heist of the century.” And just before Trump’s crowing about sexual assault of women broke over the weekend, Trump reaffirmed that despite all evidence to the contrary, he believes that the five men are still guilty.

The forger who saved 1000s of Jews from the Nazis

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2016

During the German occupation of France, teenager Adolfo Kaminsky forged thousands of documents for Jews about to be deported to concentration camps. He worked at a shop that dyed clothes and a Jewish resistance cell recruited him because he knew how to remove ink stains, a skill that served him well in altering documents.

If you’re doubting whether you’ve done enough with your life, don’t compare yourself to Mr. Kaminsky. By his 19th birthday, he had helped save the lives of thousands of people by making false documents to get them into hiding or out of the country. He went on to forge papers for people in practically every major conflict of the mid-20th century.

Now 91, Mr. Kaminsky is a small man with a long white beard and tweed jacket, who shuffles around his neighborhood with a cane. He lives in a modest apartment for people with low incomes, not far from his former laboratory.

When I followed him around with a film crew one day, neighbors kept asking me who he was. I told them he was a hero of World War II, though his story goes on long after that.

A remarkable story and a remarkable gentleman. The video above is based on a book Kaminsky’s daughter wrote about him.

How the Mona Lisa became so overrated

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2016

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is overrated. Why? For starters, the director of the Louvre said that 80% of the museum’s visitors are there just to see the Mona Lisa. 80%! We’re talking about one of the finest museums in the world, overflowing with some of the world’s greatest artworks, and people come to only see one thing. Overrated. The story of how that happened involves a passionate art critic and a crime.

Pardon Edward Snowden

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2016

The ACLU, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch are calling for the pardon of Edward Snowden. The ACLU:

The government has charged Snowden under the Espionage Act, a World War One-era law that doesn’t distinguish between selling secrets to foreign governments and giving them to journalists working in the public interest. If Snowden were to be tried under the charges he faces, any argument that his actions benefited the public would be inadmissible in court.

The Pardon Snowden campaign will work through the end of Obama’s administration to make the case that Snowden’s act of whistleblowing benefited the United States and enriched democratic debate worldwide, and we’re asking citizens to write to the president via our website.

Human Rights Watch:

Though some government officials claimed that irreversible harm had been done to US national security, little evidence has been aired publicly. Snowden entrusted the release of information to seasoned journalists and made them promise to inform the government and consider any claim of harm to national security in advance of publication. Adm. Michael Rogers, on taking the helm of the NSA a year into the revelations, told the New York Times he couldn’t say “the sky is falling.” Even Attorney General Eric Holder, who still advocated Snowden’s prosecution as he left office, conceded he performed “a public service.”

Amnesty International:

“Edward Snowden clearly acted in the public interest. He sparked one of the most important debates about government surveillance in decades, and brought about a global movement in defence of privacy in the digital age. Punishing him for this sends out the dangerous message that those who witness human rights violations behind closed doors should not speak out,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“It is ironic that it is Snowden who is being treated like a spy when his act of courage drew attention to the fact that the US and UK governments were illegally spying on millions of people without their consent.

“The mass surveillance exposed by Snowden impacts the human rights of people around the world. Our new campaign gives the public a chance to call for his pardon and thank him for triggering action by concerned individuals around the world to take back their privacy.”

Several prominent individuals have lent their support to the effort as well, including Steve Wozniak, Eve Ensler, Daniel Ellsberg, and Teju Cole. Bernie Sanders is also urging some form of clemency fror Snowden.

Why this push now? Obama is leaving office (typically a good time for pardons) and Oliver Stone’s Snowden is due out in theaters tomorrow. The reviews aren’t bad and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s impersonation of Snowden is uncanny (see the trailer).

Our tiny autonomous killer drone future

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2016

The very beginning of Attack of the Killer Robots by Sarah Topol features this quote by Stuart Russell, a Berkeley computer science professor. It is terrifying:

A very, very small quadcopter, one inch in diameter can carry a one- or two-gram shaped charge. You can order them from a drone manufacturer in China. You can program the code to say: “Here are thousands of photographs of the kinds of things I want to target.” A one-gram shaped charge can punch a hole in nine millimeters of steel, so presumably you can also punch a hole in someone’s head. You can fit about three million of those in a semi-tractor-trailer. You can drive up I-95 with three trucks and have 10 million weapons attacking New York City. They don’t have to be very effective, only 5 or 10% of them have to find the target.

There will be manufacturers producing millions of these weapons that people will be able to buy just like you can buy guns now, except millions of guns don’t matter unless you have a million soldiers. You need only three guys to write the program and launch them. So you can just imagine that in many parts of the world humans will be hunted. They will be cowering underground in shelters and devising techniques so that they don’t get detected. This is the ever-present cloud of lethal autonomous weapons.

They could be here in two to three years.

Who needs a hug?

Brendan Dassey’s conviction has been overturned by a federal judge

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2016

Brendan Dassey, who was one of two men convicted for the murder of Theresa Halbach, may be released from prison soon. A federal judge issued a ruling overturning his conviction today:

Concluding the 91-page decision, Duffin found that investigators made false promises to Dassey during multiple interrogations.

“These repeated false promises, when considered in conjunction with all relevant factors, most especially Dassey’s age, intellectual deficits, and the absence of a supportive adult, rendered Dassey’s confession involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals’ decision to the contrary was an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law,” Duffin wrote.

Prosecutors have 90 days to decide to retry Dassey or release him. It was fairly clear to me, having watched Making a Murderer, that Dassey was innocent (or at the very least, was not given a fair trial).

OJ: Made in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2016

OJ Simpson Trial

Last night, I finished OJ: Made in America, ESPN’s 8-hour documentary series about OJ Simpson. Prior to starting the series, I would rather have poked an eye out than spend another second of my life thinking about OJ Simpson; I’d gotten my fill back in the 90s. But I’d heard so many good things about it that I gave it a shot. Pretty quickly, you realize this is not just the biography of a man or the story of a trial but is a deep look at racism, policing, and celebrity in the US. OJ: Made in America is excellent and I recommend it unreservedly. From Brian Tallerico’s review:

Ezra Edelman’s stunningly ambitious, eight-hour documentary is a masterpiece, a refined piece of investigative journalism that places the subject it illuminates into the broader context of the end of the 20th century. You may think you know everything about The Trial of the Century, especially if you watched FX’s excellent “The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story,” but “OJ: Made in America” not only fills in details about the case but offers background and commentary that you’ve never heard before. It is an examination of race, domestic abuse, celebrity, civil rights, the LAPD, the legal process and murder over the last fifty years, using the OJ Simpson story as a way to refract society. Its length may seem daunting, but I would have watched it for another eight hours and will almost certainly watch it again before the summer is over. It’s that good.

The only real criticism I have of the series is that the treatment of women in America should have been explored more, on the same level as racism and celebrity. A.O. Scott picked up on this in his NY Times review:

It is hard not to notice the predominance of male voices among the interview subjects, and the narrowness of the film’s discussion of domestic violence. This is not to say that the issue is ignored: Mr. Simpson’s history of abusing Nicole is extensively and graphically documented, as is the fact that most of his friends ignored what was going on at their Rockingham estate. But the film, which so persuasively treats law enforcement racism as a systemic problem, can’t figure out how to treat violence against women with the same kind of rigor or nuance.

A fuller discussion of domestic violence in the US and misogyny in sports would have provided another powerful, reinforcing aspect of the story.

We’re getting six new episodes of Making a Murderer from Netflix

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2016

Well! Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, directors of Making a Murderer, are working on six more episodes of the series for Netflix.

The new episodes of Making A Murderer will provide an in-depth look at the post-conviction process of convicted murderer Steven Avery, and his co-defendant, Brendan Dassey, as their respective investigative and legal teams challenge their convictions and the State fights to have their life sentences upheld.

They will also offer access to Avery’s new lawyer Kathleen Zellner and Dassey’s legal team, led by Laura Nirider and Steve Drizin, as well as the families and characters close to the case.

I thought Making a Murderer was excellent, one of the best things I watched last year. Reminder: the entire first episode of the show is on YouTube for free. (via @beaucolburn)

Police racism: a tale of two justice systems

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2016

In 1974, Studs Terkel published a book called Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. One of the people he talked to for the book was Chicago police officer Renault Robinson. Robinson is African American and offered up his views to Terkel on how blacks are policed differently…here are the relevant bits of the interview. On traffic stops:

“About sixty percent of police-citizen conflict starts in a traffic situation. It’s easier to stop a person on the pretext of a traffic violation than to stop him on the street. It’s a lot easier to say, “Your tail light’s out.” “Your plate is dented.” “You didn’t make that turn right.” You can then search his automobile, hoping you can find some contraband or a weapon. If he becomes irritated, with very little pushing on your part, you can make an arrest for disorderly conduct. These are all statistics which help your records.

Certain units in the task force have developed a science around stopping your automobile. These men know it’s impossible to drive three blocks without committing a traffic violation. We’ve got so many rules on the books. These police officers use these things to get points and also hustle for money. The traffic law is a fat book. He knows if you don’t have two lights on your license plate, that’s a violation. If you have a crack in your windshield, that’s a violation. If your muffler’s dragging, that’s a violation. He knows all these little things….

So if they stop the average black driver, in their mind the likelihood of finding five or six violations out of a hundred cars is highly possible…. After you’ve stopped a thousand, you’ve got 950 people who are very pissed off, 950 who might have been just average citizens, not doing anything wrong - teachers, doctors, lawyers, working people. The police don’t care. Black folks don’t have a voice to complain. Consequently, they continue to be victims of shadowy, improper, overburdened police service. Traffic is the big entree.”

And on the type of young white male that the job was attracting at the time:

A large amount of young white officers are gung ho. It’s an opportunity to make a lot of arrests, make money, and do a lot of other things. In their opinion, black people are all criminals, no morals, dirty and nasty. So the black people don’t cooperate with the police and they have good cause not to. On the other hand, they’re begging for more police service. They’re over-patrolled and under-protected.

The young white guys turn out to be actually worse than their predecessors. They’re more vicious. The average young white policeman comes from a working-class family, sometimes with less than a high-school education. He comes with built-in prejudices. The average young white cop is in bad shape. I think he can be saved if a change came from the top. If it could be for just eight hours a day. They may still hate niggers when they got off duty. They may still belong to the John Birch Society or the Ku Klux Klan. So what? They could be forced to perform better during the eight hours of work.”

Reading about this stuff, I keep going back to the 9 principles of policing drawn up by London’s Metropolitan Police in the 1820s in which the power of the police comes from the people, force is to be used minimally, and the efficacy of policing is judged on the absence of crime, not on the number of arrests or people sent to jail.

Redditt Hudson served as a police officer in St. Louis during the 1990s. He shared his perspective on race and policing with Vox last year: I’m a black ex-cop, and this is the real truth about race and policing.

It is not only white officers who abuse their authority. The effect of institutional racism is such that no matter what color the officer abusing the citizen is, in the vast majority of those cases of abuse that citizen will be black or brown. That is what is allowed.

And no matter what an officer has done to a black person, that officer can always cover himself in the running narrative of heroism, risk, and sacrifice that is available to a uniformed police officer by virtue of simply reporting for duty.

(via @tonyszhou)

A look inside America’s assembly line prison system

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2016

Reporter Shane Bauer went undercover as a guard in a Louisiana private prison for four months. Mother Jones devoted their entire recent issue to the story.

In class that day, we learn about the use of force. A middle-aged black instructor I’ll call Mr. Tucker comes into the classroom, his black fatigues tucked into shiny black boots. He’s the head of Winn’s Special Operations Response Team, or SORT, the prison’s SWAT-like tactical unit. “If an inmate was to spit in your face, what would you do?” he asks. Some cadets say they would write him up. One woman, who has worked here for 13 years and is doing her annual retraining, says, “I would want to hit him. Depending on where the camera is, he might would get hit.”

Mr. Tucker pauses to see if anyone else has a response. “If your personality if somebody spit on you is to knock the fuck out of him, you gonna knock the fuck out of him,” he says, pacing slowly. “If a inmate hit me, I’m go’ hit his ass right back. I don’t care if the camera’s rolling. If a inmate spit on me, he’s gonna have a very bad day.” Mr. Tucker says we should call for backup in any confrontation. “If a midget spit on you, guess what? You still supposed to call for backup. You don’t supposed to ever get into a one-on-one encounter with anybody. Period. Whether you can take him or not. Hell, if you got a problem with a midget, call me. I’ll help you. Me and you can whup the hell out of him.”

He asks us what we should do if we see two inmates stabbing each other.

“I’d probably call somebody,” a cadet offers.

“I’d sit there and holler ‘stop,’” says a veteran guard.

Mr. Tucker points at her. “Damn right. That’s it. If they don’t pay attention to you, hey, there ain’t nothing else you can do.”

He cups his hands around his mouth. “Stop fighting,” he says to some invisible prisoners. “I said, ‘Stop fighting.’” His voice is nonchalant. “Y’all ain’t go’ to stop, huh?” He makes like he’s backing out of a door and slams it shut. “Leave your ass in there!”

“Somebody’s go’ win. Somebody’s go’ lose. They both might lose, but hey, did you do your job? Hell yeah!” The classroom erupts in laughter.

Fusion has a summary of Bauer’s reporting, which you really should actually read in its entirety. America’s prison system is shameful; its reform is one of the biggest issues facing our nation in the future.

Prison Ramen

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2016

Prison Ramen

Prison Ramen is a cookbook of instant ramen recipes from prison inmates and celebrities (Samuel L. Jackson wrote the foreword).

Instant ramen is a ubiquitous food, beloved by anyone looking for a cheap, tasty bite-including prisoners, who buy it at the commissary and use it as the building block for all sorts of meals. Think of this as a unique cookbook of ramen hacks. Here’s Ramen Goulash. Black Bean Ramen. Onion Tortilla Ramen Soup. The Jailhouse Hole Burrito. Orange Porkies — chili ramen plus white rice plus 1/2 bag of pork skins plus orange-flavored punch. Ramen Nuggets. Slash’s J-Walking Ramen (with scallions, Sriracha hot sauce, and minced pork).

(via @marcprecipice)

Why the War on Drugs Is a Huge Failure

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2016

In their latest video, Kurzgesagt tackles the War on Drugs. The Stop the Harm website, which they mention at the end of the video, says this about the failed efforts to curb drug use:

The global drug policy system is well and truly broken. Despite aiming to ‘protect’ people from drugs, its punitive approach has instead increased the harms of these substances, punishing and demonizing the people and communities most impacted by them. This punishment has disproportionately impacted people and communities of color, indigenous peoples, and the economically marginalized, while stoking public health crises by restricting access to essential medicines and exacerbating the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood borne viruses.

The backstory of Spotlight

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 23, 2016

In the latest issue of Nextdraft, Dave Pell points to an episode of the Reveal podcast that goes behind the scenes of the investigation into the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal depicted in Spotlight.

Spotlight (one of the key contenders in the Oscar race) is an excellent movie that tells the story of an endangered species in American life: a well-funded, local, investigative reporting team. My friends at Reveal go behind the scenes to provide the backstory on how Boston Globe reporters broke the story of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, and provide a look into the latest developments in what is, sadly, an ongoing story.

Spotlight was one of my favorite 2015 movies.

Woman escapes hired killers, shows up at own funeral

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2016

Noela Rukundo, whose husband had only recently paid to have killed, showed up at her own funeral.

Finally, she spotted the man she’d been waiting for. She stepped out of her car, and her husband put his hands on his head in horror.

“Is it my eyes?” she recalled him saying. “Is it a ghost?”

“Surprise! I’m still alive!” she replied.

Far from being elated, the man looked terrified. Five days earlier, he had ordered a team of hit men to kill Rukundo, his partner of 10 years. And they did - well, they told him they did. They even got him to pay an extra few thousand dollars for carrying out the crime.

Now here was his wife, standing before him. In an interview with the BBC on Thursday, Rukundo recalled how he touched her shoulder to find it unnervingly solid. He jumped. Then he started screaming.

What a story. As @tcarmody says, “I like to imagine Bezos grinning and salivating over this story like Charles Foster Kane”.

An Unbelievable Story of Rape

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2015

The Marshall Project has published An Unbelievable Story of Rape, a story of two rape investigations in different parts of the country.

An 18-year-old said she was attacked at knifepoint. Then she said she made it up. That’s where our story begins.

Read this. It’s a powerful story.

Making a Murderer

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2015

Steven Avery spent 12 years in prison for rape before being exonerated by DNA evidence. After his release, he was charged with murder. Making a Murderer, a new 10-show Netflix series premiering on December 18, will examine Avery’s crimes, a la Serial and The Jinx.

Super recognizers

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2015

Gary Collins, a London police constable, is extraordinarily gifted at recalling people’s faces. He’s a super recognizer.

Friends call Constable Collins Rain Man or Yoda or simply The Oracle. But to Scotland Yard, London’s metropolitan police force, he is known as a “super recognizer.” He has a special gift of facial recall powers that enables him to match even low-quality and partial imagery to a face he has seen before, on the street or in a database and possibly years earlier. The last time he had come face to face with Mr. Prince was during a fleeting encounter in 2005.

Aside from Collins, Scotland Yard now employs more than 150 super recognizers who scan the streets and crowds for known criminals.

Eye in the sky: a “pre-crime” surveillance system

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2015

A company called Persistent Surveillance Systems has built a “pre-crime” surveillance system. The idea is that you fly a cluster of video cameras over an area that can be the size of a small city — using an airplane or even a drone — and you transmit the day’s activities of the entire city to a computer on the ground. When a crime is committed, a system analyst can scrub the video forward and backward in time to find out where the perpetrator came from and where they go after. Ideally, this happens minutes after the crime is committed so the perps can be apprehended. Radiolab recently had a great piece on this technology and its privacy implications.

The system also has other uses — like tracking traffic patterns — but yaaawn. In one of the trials of the technology described in the show, the surveillance video of a hit on a police officer in Juarez, Mexico by members of a drug cartel showed them driving back to what turned out to be the cartel’s headquarters. Another trial, in Dayton, OH, resulted in the capture of a burglar only a few blocks from where the crime was committed. Radiolab called this technology a superpower, like Batman hacking into all of the world’s cellphones or Superman hovering above the Earth listening to everyone’s conversations. Less imaginary comparisons would be to London’s network of CCTV cameras or the NSA’s recording of a large amount of the world’s electronic communications. Fascinating and terrifying all at once.

A Woman in Uniform

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2015

An NYPD officer anonymously shares what it’s like to be a cop in NYC.

I’m walking in Boerum Hill on one of the first really good days of summer. It’s been a long week but I’m feeling good in a flowing sundress and sandals, relieved to be freed from what I’ve begun to think of as my blue polyester prison. I look up and realize with amusement that I’m walking by an actual prison, or, to be precise, a jail: Brooklyn Central Booking.

The doors to the courtroom lobby open and a man emerges, pausing to survey the street. He’s a little scruffy but then the newly arraigned usually are — there aren’t many opportunities to freshen up in the holding cells. He has an open, pleasant face, and the recognition on my part is immediate. My heart sinks as I see him cross the street and make a beeline for me.

“Miss? Miss?” He doesn’t sound particularly confrontational and I give him my best blank smile, hoping he has some kind of mundane procedural question.

“I don’t mean to like bother you or anything, but if you’re not busy, and a beautiful lady such as yourself is probably busy, but if you’re not busy I’d love to buy you a cup of coffee.”

Now I have to grin. This is my new favorite person in the world. What chutzpah! I’m so delighted by this guy that I almost chuck him on the shoulder. Then it hits me. He doesn’t recognize me, at all. He has no idea that I’m the person who arrested him two nights before.

(via @choire, who called it “BY FAR the most interesting thing i read all week”)

How New Orleans drastically reduced their inmate population

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2015

About the time Katrina struck, New Orleans was the jail capital of America, incarcerating people at four times the national average. Since that time, the city has reduced its local inmate population by 67%. What was the trick? First, they stopped treating jailing like a business. And second, they built a smaller jail. No really. That was a key factor. And get this; during the period New Orleans stopped jailing so many people, there has been an overall reduction in crime. Smaller jails. Less crime. Jazz hands.

[This item is syndicated from Nextdraft, but I had to add a little something about induced demand. Like building bigger roads resulting in more traffic (not less), building bigger jails means you want to fill them with criminals. Kudos to New Orleans for building a smaller jail and finding ways to adjust to the reduced supply of jail cells. -jkottke]

Cooling the mark out

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2015

Earlier this month, the NY Times ran a piece about a NYC psychic who bilked a man out of more than $700,000. But, says Louis Menand, aren’t psychics always ripping people off?

But was there any point at which Ms. Delmaro’s services were legit? Is the distinction between crooked and uncrooked psychics meant to turn on the eye-poppingness of the sums involved? If I told you I was going to build a gold bridge to the other realm and charged you fifty bucks, would that not constitute fraud? There are no bridges to the other realm. If you charge a man to build him one, you’re taking money under false pretenses.

Where the psychic went wrong though was in failing “to cool the mark out”, aka insure that he accepted his loss so he didn’t run to the police.

The classic exposition of the practice of helping victims of a con adapt to their loss is the sociologist Erving Goffman’s 1952 article “On Cooling the Mark Out.” Like everything by Goffman, it’s worth reading if you want to know what much of life is really all about. (If you don’t, you can skip it.) “After the blowoff has occurred,” Goffman explained, about the operation of a con, “one of the operators stays with the mark and makes an effort to keep the anger of the mark within manageable and sensible proportions. The operator stays behind his team-mates in the capacity of what might be called a cooler and exercises upon the mark the art of consolation. An attempt is made to define the situation for the mark in a way that makes it easy for him to accept the inevitable and quietly go home. The mark is given instruction in the philosophy of taking a loss.” What happened stays out of the paper.

Reasons people shoot other people

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2015

From Parents Against Gun Violence, a few of the reasons people shot people in May 2015.

My fiancee and I had an argument, so I open-carried my gun to a park and shot four random people.

The bartender put Clamato in my beer when I wanted tomato juice, so I shot him and his dog.

I found suspicious calls on my boyfriend’s phone, so I shot him. He was armed at the time too.

Rather than let my ex-wife win custody, I shot my own daughter to death.

Click through for the whole depressing list and links to news articles about each incident.

Freddie Gray and unrest in Baltimore

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2015

After a night of riots in Baltimore, schools are closed, games have been postponed, at least a thousand National Guard soldiers are roaming the streets, and America is left once again to ponder issues of race, inequality, law enforcement, and civic unrest.

InFocus: Images of unrest in Baltimore.

WaPo’s Michael A. Fletcher on the murder, drugs, and poverty that plague Freddie Gray’s Baltimore:

Most of these problems are confined to the pockmarked neighborhoods of narrow rowhomes and public housing projects on the city’s east and west sides. They exist in the lives of the other Baltimore of renovated waterfront homes, tree-lined streets, sparkling waterfront views, rollicking bars and ethnic restaurants mainly through news reports. The two worlds bump up against one another only on occasion.

Vox: In Freddie Gray’s Baltimore neighborhood, half of the residents don’t have jobs.

Last night my mom wondered aloud why we still don’t seem to know many of the details when it comes to Gray’s death. Well mom, the answer is LEOBoR, or the law enforcement officers bill of rights. From The Marshall Project: Blue Shield.

America’s 1.5 million missing black men

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2015

Missing Black Men

In Ferguson, for every 100 black women between the ages of 25 and 54, there are 60 black men. While Ferguson is extreme, it’s not exceptional. Across America, we see similar numbers. So the question arises: What happened to all the black men? The short answer to that question is incarceration and premature death. The longer answer is equally upsetting. From Upshot: 1.5 Million Missing Black Men.

The radical humaneness of Norway’s prison system

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2015

Norway Prison

Better out than in. That’s the unofficial motto of the Norwegian Correctional Service. And they seem to mean it. In Norway, there is no death penalty and there are no life sentences. NYT Magazine’s Jessica Benko visited Norway’s Halden Prison and experienced what she described as its radical humaneness:

Its modern, cheerful and well-appointed facilities, the relative freedom of movement it offers, its quiet and peaceful atmosphere — these qualities are so out of sync with the forms of imprisonment found in the United States that you could be forgiven for doubting whether Halden is a prison at all. It is, of course, but it is also something more: the physical expression of an entire national philosophy about the relative merits of punishment and forgiveness.

Even the food was good.

The best meal I had in Norway — spicy lasagna, garlic bread and a salad with sun-dried tomatoes — was made by an inmate who had spent almost half of his 40 years in prison.

Robert Durst arrested on eve of Jinx finale

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2015

Robert Durst

Whoa! Robert Durst has been arrested in New Orleans in connection with the killing of his friend Susan Berman in Los Angeles in 2000.

Robert A. Durst, the scion of a New York real estate family, was arrested on Saturday in New Orleans on a warrant issued in a homicide investigation by Los Angeles County, law enforcement officials said.

For years, questions have swirled around Mr. Durst about the unsolved killing of a close friend and confidante in Los Angeles 15 years ago, and about his first wife’s disappearance in 1982 and the shooting and dismemberment of a Texas neighbor in 2001.

Durst is the subject of the HBO series The Jinx, which I have been obsessed with over the past few weeks. The final episode airs tonight. Jinx director Andrew Jarecki must be freaking out…the arrest might be due to new evidence uncovered by Jarecki during the production of the show.

Update: On November 7, 2016, Durst pled not guilty to Berman’s murder.