What is “Tough” on Crime

What is a “tough” criminal sentence? How do you measure “tough”?

Of course, it’s easy to know what “tougher” is– that’s more than we have now. But how do you measure the toughness of now? What factors go into it? How do you calculate it?

It’s all just feeling, isn’t it?

Even judges — who should be experts on what “tough” is– admit that they simply sentence convicted criminals to a time that is longer or shorter than something else. But I doubt they could make a case for any particular time being “fair” or “just”.

Why not? Why is there no work being done in this area? Have you ever seen a study, based on real research, of what an optimal sentence is for a convicted criminal?

How things have changed: General Eisenhower, according to Andy Rooney, refused to censor the official magazine of the armed forces, “Stars and Stripes”.

And More Wrongful Convictions


This is unbelievable:

When Lou Tessmann retired from the Waukegan police in 2005, the Illinois House of Representatives passed a resolution praising his two decades of service. The resolution noted that Tessmann, a former Marine, is “well known for his interrogation techniques on suspects of crimes.”… Mr. Tessmann has obtained over 80 homicide confessions during his career with only three instances where he was unable to obtain a confession from a homicide suspect” — a 96 percent success rate — according to the Web site of his employer, Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates. NY Times, 2011-11-26

For a better understanding of what Tessmann is really up to, check out someone with similar or identical skills: Darren Brown.

So what we have here is an interrogator who, if you put him in a room with somebody, will be able to persuade this person to confess to a serious felony 96% of the time.

Which means that 96% of the time, the police have guessed right: the first guy they hand over to Tessmann is the “right” suspect.

Do you believe that there is a 96% probability of this happening? I don’t. I don’t believe the real number is even close to that. In fact, I believe that 96% is a preposterous number.

Unfortunately, I have no doubt that a lot of people will believe that, indeed, the police have the right suspect almost 100% of the time.

I firmly believe that if you chose someone at random, off the streets, and put Lou Tessemann in the room with him, you would have a confession 96% of the time. To what? What would you like him to confess to? Name it.

In fact, Tessemann has been sued successfully more than once for precisely that.

It gets worse: in at least one case, he blatantly lied that a mother had told him that “six children were enough” and, therefore, she killed her own seventh child. (DNA testing later proved the dead child could not have been hers.)

I don’t think it would be enough to make sure this guy never participates in another interrogation. I believe he should be charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and sent to prison for 20 years or more: he is a criminal in the precise sense of the word.

Peter Pumpkinhead

“Peter Pumpkinhead” was recorded in 1992 by British group XTC, and was a #1 hit in Britain. In 1995, the Crash Test Dummies recorded a new version for the movie “Dumb and Dumber”. These lyrics were excised:

Peter Pumpkinhead pulled them all
Emptied churches and shopping malls
Where he spoke it would raise the roof
Peter Pumpkinhead told the truth

The song uncannily predates “Take Back Wall Street” by 20 years.  But America is not ready, apparently, to empty churches and shopping malls.  Especially, those places where the devout truly worship the things they crave more badly and urgently than anything else in the universe: shopping malls.

But he made too many enemies…

Governments would slur his name
Plots and sex scandals failed outright
Peter merely said
Any kind of love is alright
But he made too many enemies
Of the people who would keep us on our knees
Hooray for Peter Pumpkin…

Do you believe that was written before the Clinton sex scandal?

The writer of the song, Andy Partridge, has stated that he didn’t have any particular individual in mind when he wrote the song.

So there.

The Ethical Culture Fieldston School of Hysterical Over-Reaction

Barry Sirmon was a history teacher at Ethical Culture Fieldston School.

On the third day of school this fall, he joked about two black students, “I hope I will be able to tell you apart.” Mr. Sirmon, reasonably, insists that he was not making a racist joke– he was making a joke about racism.

Damian Fernandez, head of the school, panicked. Obviously, a terrible, terrible blow to the school’s reputation had been inflicted by Mr. Sirmon’s cruel remark. He had to be fired, immediately!

Damian Fernandez is Latino, and openly gay. He is obviously very sensitive to the potentially oppressive culture of abuse in Mr. Sirmon’s classroom.

All right — sarcasm doesn’t work here. Sirmon had worked at the school for ten years. Not everyone liked him because he tended to speak his mind and he was often sarcastic. The truth is, Fernandez was afraid of him and used the incident as an excuse to get rid of him and to intimidate the rest of the staff. In my opinion.

When he was fired, one parent said, “it wasn’t just one thing– it was a pattern of behavior“.  That is the last refuge of accusatory scoundrel’s:  a “pattern” of behavior.

What absolute horseshit! Either he was fired for the other things or he wasn’t. A “pattern of behavior” is the pathetic excuse you offer when you have failed to make your case and you don’t have any actual facts or information to support your view. It is a contemptible comment unworthy of an institution with a name that becomes more ridiculous by the second: Ethical Culture Fieldston School.

If Fernandez had a real case, he would have documented every incident and his response to the incident and his directions to Mr. Sirmon to alter his behavior to be in compliance with school policies and directives. He didn’t do that. He was new to the job and he wanted to show his balls.

I feel like I know this head, this Fernandez. I’ll bet he’s had leadership training. I’ll bet he has absolutely no clue about anything to do with the issues he is judging. He’s making an appearance about an appearance and instead of dealing rationally with a behavior he wants to change, he chose to bray and screech to demonstrate his authority. A lot of newly hired managers do that– seize the first opportunity to prove that he or she is tough enough for the job, and throw a little fear out there. They don’t bring anyone else into the process. They don’t follow a refined process or carefully consider all sides.

I’ll bet Mr. Fernandez is an asshole or a whiney, timid little wuss. He has no real understanding of what Mr. Sirmon said, what it means, how much it weighs, whether it is insulting or not, whether it is racist or not, or whether it was a joke. Or not.

It’s this kind of crap that gives cover to the hysterics on the right who decry political correctness. The only thing we can trust them to do is to avoid any actual facts and information.

The world is full of people with small minds blindly stumbling around trying very hard to look tough and inflicting damage wherever they go.

The New York Times reported that a teacher at one of the public schools in the city was still on the job even though he had told a student, while handing back an assignment, that she did such a good job he could kiss her.

He didn’t actually kiss her.

Nevertheless, three men in long scarlet robes appeared and shrieked and lamented and, at last report, the teacher was still hanging from his thumbs and the student was being medicated and the rest of the class were having their brains scoured with steel wool.

They will all shortly return home to play video games in which they dismember each other.

Invaluable Intelligence

The first development concerned the alleged plot by Iran to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States. American officials disclosed that “several hours after his arrest” they had advised the Iranian-American defendant, Mansour J. Arbabsiar, of his Miranda rights. He waived those rights, as well as a right to be quickly presented to a judge, and spent nearly two weeks providing “extremely valuable intelligence,” officials said. New York Times, 2011-10-13.

Wow. Mr. Arbabsiar, you will know, has been widely reported to be kind of a nut case. His neighbors and friends say he is basically incapable of organizing his way out of a paper bag. And be it noted that he was caught by the usual American strategy now that the constitution doesn’t apply to anything: an FBI informant led him on for two months. Hey, do you hate America? I hate America. Hey, Mansour– you know what I’d really like to do? Kill the Saudi ambassador. I hate him. What do you think, Mansour? Do you hate the Saudi ambassador? What’d’ya’say?

But you can’t tell Americans the truth about all this for obvious reasons. So you talk about this “invaluable intelligence” you are getting. From someone who, I take it, has been talking and talking and talking. Because he’s not very smart. But when your intelligence agencies fervently believe that there are an infinite number of conspiracies out there but you just don’t know about them all yet, you will have invaluable intelligence.

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation

Americans put on a fabulous show. They LOVE their constitution and their flag and freedom and liberty and they love proclaiming that they would die for their freedoms and no government is ever going to deprive them of their glorious rights as citizens of the greatest country in the history of the universe.

Truly one of the great disappointments of my life is how little the Americans really value their constitution and freedoms. All it takes to get them to give up those rights is a little fear. You would almost think they can’t possibly believe in it themselves, but they do.

Some conservatives are arguing that terror suspects need not be advised of their Miranda Rights.

Until the 1930’s, some states routinely tortured prisoners to obtain a confession (yes indeed– you can look it up). After courts began rejecting these confessions, the police resorted to more subtle techniques, like questioning a suspect for 36 hours straight without allowing him any contact with anyone outside of the police. Courts ruled that these actions amounted to a denial of a citizen’s right to not incriminate himself. So these conservatives are essentially arguing that the a key element of the constitution simply be ignored.

And now, let’s sing that national anthem again, with our hands over our hearts and our teary eyes fixed upon Mitch McConnell’s unblinking oblivious vacant eyes.


The Seven Dwarves: Republican Primaries

Of course I wouldn’t have liked any of the Republican candidates anyway, but I doubt that there has ever been a more mediocre group of presidential candidates than Romney, Perry, Bachman, Huntsman, Cain, Santorum, and Gingrich. And never a group of candidates more desperate to say anything they think the audience– the Tea Party– wants to hear. Anything. Anything at all.

It’s not that all Republican leaders are always idiots. John McCain sounded interesting before Bush blind-sided him in North Carolina in 2000. Chris Christie actually sounds pretty interesting now. Patrick Moynihan, who claimed to be a Democrat, could occasionally be interesting, if not tiresome.

Christie believes in Global Warming, thinks there is no such thing as an “illegal” alien, supports some form of gun control, and thought the opponents of the “ground zero mosque” should get a grip. One of the things that most makes him interesting is the kind of sensible attitude that has led him to decide not to run.

Rick Perry is just not very bright. You actually feel bad for him standing up there with no one to help him think of intelligent things to say. Just when I thought he was going to have the courage to stand up for the idea of vaccinating young girls against HPV he turned out to only have to courage to whine about how he would never do it again. I also admire his stand on college tuition for children of illegal immigrants but he’s not only in the wrong party for that one– he’s on the wrong planet.

Herman Cain is clearly only interested in selling his books and his services as a speaker on leader-shit– that’s what it is– this culture of useless and vague aphorisms and “wit” that passes for leadership seminars– , for which he receives $25,000, presumably to explain why he is so brilliant he will be president except that even he would probably giggle at the thought that he was ever in it for anything but the free publicity. He has one good idea: the U.S. should have a goods and services tax– it makes a lot of sense economically. But then, that’s just science and facts and information.

He’s rather run ads like this.  (Has been removed.)

Michelle Bachman? Who on earth ever thought she would be a good candidate for president? Whoever convinced her of it should be arrested and charged with fraud. Even most hard core conservatives will have more than a little trouble electing someone this clueless.

Santorum is a psycho. The man is clearly mentally unbalanced. Prompted to explain his position on homosexuals in the military– he wants to repeal something but he’s not sure what– he suddenly ejaculated “there should be no sex in the military– no sex at all!” He has that nasty, bitter, self-righteousness doesn’t play well outside of church.

Gingrich really wants to be pope. He’s smart to get enraged whenever anyone raises the question of hypocrisy: he was cheating on his wife, who was dying of cancer, at the very moment he was demanding that Bill Clinton be impeached for groping an intern. He also seems to suddenly believe that the separation of Church and State is a myth. He’s very family oriented and expect to see his wife co-governing if he gets elected, the possibility of which seems dazzlingly remote.

And then you have the Mitt. Romney– who is surprisingly similar to Obama in a lot of ways– he even enacted a health care plan in Massachusetts that is very similar to Obamacare– a cold-blooded technocrat– might be better off selling nuance. The more he tries to scoop up those extremist Republicans, the more he diminishes his one asset: the sense of reasonableness and rationality he used to represent. He’s eating away at his own virtues by repudiating all of his moderate positions. He is now uncompromisingly pro-life, uncompromisingly against taxes, uncompromisingly against illegal immigrants, uncompromisingly against the HPV vaccine…. is there anyone in the room who doubts that once he wins the Republican nomination he will announce “just kidding” and go back to those sensible ideas that appeal to independent voters?


Tuvalu: A Land Soon to be Down Under

George Wright, the fugitive murderer and bank robber recently found, after 41 years, in Portugal, might have been better off had he chose Tuvalu to hide in. It’s way out there in the middle of the Pacific, half-way between Hawaii and Australia, about as remote as you can get. I don’t believe they require your fingerprints on an id card for citizenship.

But then again, he might have been noticed. Tuvalu, with a population of about 30,000 and a gross land area of about 8 square miles, is the second smallest nation in the United Nations. Only Vatican City is smaller.

There may not be much of a future in Tuvalu. The highest elevation of the land in Tuvalu is about 15 feet above sea-level. During a good storm, you have to be careful where you park your car.

Yes, the citizens of Tuvalu are concerned about Global Warming because one of the results of Global Warming will be a rise in sea levels. Just to understand this clearly– the sea levels don’t need to rise 15 feet to cause a problem for the Tuvaluans (if that’s what they call themselves). If it only rises a foot or two, they will be in deep trouble. If it rises much more than that, they will have to be evacuated to New Zealand or Australia.

The Universe is Expanding

The universe is expanding at an ever-increasing rate.

Yes, we’re all concerned about Greece defaulting on it’s debt, but the universe is expanding at an ever increasing rate.

My question is, is the earth at the center of the universe? If it was, it might seem reasonable to conclude that God created the earth and the universe and started it on it’s way. And we are indeed the center of the universe and Lady Gaga is the center of the world.

But it doesn’t solve the mystery of the fact that the universe is expanding at an ever increasing rate.

I stole the picture at right from the New York Times article as well. If they want it back, all they have to do is ask.

The picture above, by the way, is of my feet, taken in 1976 in Calgary, Alberta, on a beautiful day in June. I was reading Fydor Dostoevsky’s first novel, Netochka Nezvanova.

Haiti’s Reparations

I think most people will find this hard to believe. We all know about Haiti, right? One of the poorest, most backwards and unfortunate nations in the Western hemisphere, recently hammered by a massive earthquake, as if they didn’t have enough problems. And, come on, don’t you just know in your heart of hearts that it’s all their own fault?

There are scandals and then there are scandals.

Haiti was founded in the 17th century as a slave colony by the French, who rounded up Africans and hauled them over to this island to harvest the sugar cane, coffee, cocoa, cotton, and indigo, for their French masters. The French masters, out-numbered by the slaves by a factor of 10, use sheer brutality to keep them in line– the trade was very lucrative. This worked for a time. Conditions were so primitive that the slave population actually declined most years, and more slaves had to be imported from Africa or America.

The slaves themselves had classes: the mixed blood slaves, at the time of rebellion, may well have thrown their lot in with their masters, with whom they had more in common, than with the other slaves.

In 1791-93, the slaves revolted. The rebellions were complicated, with Britain and Spain joining in at times, but the result was supposed to be the end of slavery. After many diversions, on January 1, 1804, Haiti was declared a free republic.

Napoleon… gave up on his Western colonies but he sent warships to the harbour of Port au Prince and demanded that Haiti compensate France for the loss of it’s property– the slaves, and other properties– to the tune of 150 million gold francs. Excuse me? You kidnap us. You flog us and beat us. You murder our children. You make us slave away day after day in the sugar cane, back-breaking work. If we rebel, you torture and burn our leaders. We finally liberate ourselves… and then you demand that we pay you to not kill us with your warships.

It’s like the infamous burglar who injured himself when he stepped a child’s toy in the driveway and sued the family he had just robbed. And won. At least, according to urban myth.

Well, Haiti did not have any money. But here’s a lesson for the ages– pay attention, American consumers!– the French banks generously offered to lend the Haitians the money to pay back the French slave-owners. An incredibly generous gesture on the part of the former slave-masters!

As anyone with a credit card and low income knows, large personal debt is slavery by other means.

President Jean-Pierre Boyer signed this agreement, which ensured that one of the richest countries in the world now could now drain the poorest country in the world of whatever remained of it’s meager wealth… One question– why on earth should the future governments of Haiti have honored this agreement? Why didn’t they just say that Boyer did what any man with a gun to his head would do: say whatever he had to say to escape the threat of death. It should have been no more binding than a kidnapping victim’s pledge not to call the police after being released.

We know why: because the WTO and other international bodies of institutional economic power would have brought the hammer down and completely destroyed the remains Haiti’s economy, the way the U.S. threatened to destroy the economies of France and Britain during the Suez Crisis of 1956.

How long do you think this insanity would continue? How about from 1825 to 1947?

So here’s a new definition of chutzpah? You’re a slave owner and when your slaves finally rebel and obtain their freedom, you demand that they pay you for the expense of feeding and clothing them during all those years of enslavement.

Justice is a Hoax

There has been a movement– naturally– to persuade France to repay the approximately $21 billion it extorted from Haiti over more than 100 years, impoverishing the nation for– it seems– eternity.

President Clinton, apparently, did apologize for U.S. interference in Haitian affairs in 2004. The U.S. insisted that Haiti respect regional “free trade” agreements, which means, in practice, U.S. subsidized corn gets dumped on your market while we accept all the cars you can manufacture.