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Things that are more heavily regulated in the US than buying a gun

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2017

For McSweeney’s, Sarah Hutto offers up a list of things that are more heavily regulated in the United States than buying a gun.

Building a fucking shed in your own backyard
Disposing of fucking batteries
Cutting fucking hair for a living
Watching a fucking DVD
Importing foreign fucking cheese
Transporting a bottle of opened fucking wine home from a restaurant

Discussing the Las Vegas massacre yesterday on Fox Business, commentator Kennedy said:

If that psychopath had…driven a truck into that crowd and killed 100 people would we be talking about truck control?

Many quickly found the flaw in this “argument”, including @zeddrebel:

WE HAVE TRUCK CONTROL. Special licenses. Insurance. Regulations. Weigh stations. UNIONS. Bollards. GPS tracking…

(And btw, yes, it’s that Kennedy, the former MTV VJ and host of Alternative Nation.)

Trump is terrorizing America and should be removed from office

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2017

Poet and English professor Seth Abramson recently published a Twitter thread about his current understanding of Donald Trump: his deliberate terrorization of the American public, lack of policy positions, corruption, and keen understanding of America as “a chaos machine” that “spits out attention, headlines, sometimes money” when you feed it. I think Abramson is right about Trump in many respects and I’ve included a few excerpts below…it was difficult to pick out what to highlight.

We need to never again discuss this man with respect to policy — it’s become more than clear in 9 months that he holds no policy positions.

So if you support Donald Trump because of any view you claim he holds, I don’t ever want to hear from you again. The man holds no views.

There is no position Donald Trump has ever taken that he has not, at some point in the past or present, taken the opposite position to.

But the most important thing is this: this is the first U.S. president to systematically and willfully terrorize his own populace daily.

His changeability is intended to keep us anxious and on guard. In fact, he’s admitted publicly, many times, that this is a tactic of his.

His corruption is equally studied: his business model has always been “get away with what you can,” and that’s exactly how he’s governed.

It’s *more* than that he’ll go down in our history as the worst president we’ll ever have — he’ll go down as one of our greatest villains.

Benedict Arnold tried to betray America for a prior sovereign — Trump is trying to *torture* a nation that was good to him his whole life.

Have you noticed a change in your mood since January? I mean a change you can’t seem to escape? Anxiety, anger, fear, confusion, doubt?

The most ubiquitous man in your nation is trying to poison you daily — because it gives him power — and no one’s stopping him from doing it.

I’m not using hyperbole: you’re under attack. A deliberate, unprovoked, systematic, and — yes — evil attack. And it’s working. We’re losing.

Because the last thing — of the three I mentioned — humans look for in a crisis is hope, and he’s systematically taking *that* away as well.

We don’t have hope future elections will be fair. We don’t have hope our government is working in our interests. We don’t have hope we can trust and love our neighbors and they’ll trust and love us back. And we don’t have hope things will start to make sense again.

Abramson finishes by saying that we need to focus on “legally, peacefully and transparently” removing Trump from power. I’m probably going to get some email about this post,1 so I might as well go all in here with a ludicrous-sounding hunch2 I’ve had about Trump since before the election: not only will he not resign or be impeached (for Russia ties or otherwise), he will refuse to leave office under any circumstances. He will attempt, with a non-zero chance of success, to stay in power even if he’s not re-elected in 2020.

Obviously, this is ridiculous and will not happen. What about laws and precedence and democracy and social mores, you’ll say! And you’d be correct. But Trump’s got more than 3 years to lay the groundwork to make it seem normal for him to do this…and Fox News and the Republicans will let him and aid him if they can. (I mean, if you’re America’s increasingly authoritarian & extremist minority party struggling to stay in power, making the sitting Republican President not subject to an election is far more effective than suppressing the votes of likely Democratic voters through gerrymandering and voter ID laws.) Sure, we’ll be outraged about it, but we’re outraged about him anyway and that hasn’t seemed to matter in a significant way yet.

Ok, that’s nuts, right? Could never happen in America, yes? But watching Trump as President over the past few months, is it really that difficult to imagine him going full OJ here when confronted with losing his powerful position? Instead of Simpson being driven around LA in the white Bronco by Al Cowlings followed by a phalanx of police cruisers, on January 20, 2021, it’ll be Trump locked in the White House with Senator Kid Rock, taunting the military via Twitter to come in and get him.3 That sounds more plausible than Trump genteelly hosting the incoming Democratic President for tea in what USA Today calls “the 220-year-old ritual that has become a hallmark of American democracy: The orderly transition of power that comes at the appointed hour when one president takes the oath of office and his predecessor recedes into history”. Aside from “power”, not a single other word in that sentence even remotely describes anything Trump has ever cared about.

  1. I always get email about my Trump posts. Political posts on kottke.org are pretty unpopular and lose me readers every single time. Stay in your lane, Kottke!

  2. Or perhaps “speculative fiction” is a better descriptor? I’m way too level-headed to actually believe this. Aren’t I?!

  3. Seriously though, what is the enforcement mechanism surrounding the transfer of power here? The 20th Amendment covers the beginnings and ends of terms and what happens when there’s no president-elect. But what about if a sitting President refuses to leave office? A lot of this stuff is ritual, presumably because of course (of course!!!!) the President is supposed to be a decent person who will honor tradition and democracy. Does Congress decide what to do? Does the Secret Service? The Supreme Court? The military? Can you imagine the cries of “coup” from Trump and his supporters if a bunch of Marines storm the White House? OMG, he’d love it.

Photos documenting unusual laws across all 50 US states

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2017

Olivia Locher Law

Olivia Locher Law

Olivia Locher Law

When a normal person finds out that it’s illegal in Alabama to carry an ice cream cone in your back pocket, they might say, huh, that’s interesting. But photographer Olivia Locher took that strange fact and turned it into a project documenting the weirdest laws across all 50 US states (aided by a 70s children’s book called Crazy Laws). Locher has collected the photos into a book, I Fought the Law, which is out in September. Laws depicted in the photos above:

In Alabama, it is illegal to have an ice-cream cone in your back pocket.

In Ohio, it’s illegal to disrobe in front of a man’s portrait.

In Pennsylvania, it’s illegal to tie a dollar bill to a string and pull it away when someone tries to pick it up.

See also you commit three felonies a day.

Impeachment and its misconceptions explained

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2017

At the recent Aspen Ideas Festival, legal scholar and former Obama advisor Cass Sunstein shared some views on his understanding of and some misconceptions about impeachment, namely that it doesn’t need to involve an actual crime and “is primarily about gross neglect or abuse of power”. Or as he put it more formally in a 1998 essay in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review:

The simplest is that, with respect to the President, the principal goal of the Impeachment Clause is to allow impeachment for a narrow category of egregious or large-scale abuses of authority that comes from the exercise of distinctly presidential powers. On this view, a criminal violation is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for impeaching the President. What is generally necessary is an egregious abuse of power that the President has by virtue of being President. Outside of this category of cases, impeachment is generally foreign to our traditions and is prohibited by the Constitution.

The “distinctly presidential powers” bit is a high bar to clear. Examining the case for Nixon on that basis, and only some of the reasons for wanting to impeach him hold up.

Richard Nixon nearly faced four counts. One failed count, for tax evasion, was completely inappropriate, Sunstein argued: Though an obvious violation of law, it had no bearing on Nixon’s conduct of the presidency. A second charge, for resisting subpoena, is possibly but not necessarily valid, since a president could have good reasons to resisting a subpoena. A third is more debatable: Nixon was charged with covering up the Watergate break-in. Nixon might have been more fairly prosecuted for overseeing the burglary, Sunstein argued, but nabbing him for trying to use the federal government to commit the cover-up was “probably good enough.” Only the fourth charge, of using the federal government’s muscle to prosecute political enemies, is a clear slam-dunk under the Founders’ principles.

Clinton’s impeachment, argued Sunstein in that same Penn Law Review essay, was less well-supported:

I suggest that the impeachment of President Clinton was unconstitutional, because the two articles of impeachment identified no legitimate ground for impeaching the President.

Sunstein explained the intent of the members of the Constitutional Convention in a Bloomberg article back in February. It’s interesting in the light of the Russian collusion investigation that the debate about impeachment at the convention centered around treason.

James Madison concurred, pointing to cases in which a president “might betray his trust to foreign powers.” Gouverneur Morris added that the president “may be bribed by a greater interest to betray his trust; and no one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first Magistrate in foreign pay without being able to guard against it by displacing him.”

So what about Trump? Sunstein doesn’t offer much (no apparent mention of collusion with Russia):

Sunstein, having scolded legal colleagues for playing pundit, was reluctant to address the question directly. Setting aside the impossibility of impeaching Trump under the present circumstances of GOP control of Congress, Sunstein said he was wary of trying to remove the president simply for being bad at his job. Nonetheless, he said Trump’s prolific dishonesty might form a basis for trying to remove him.

“If a president lies on some occasions or is fairly accused of lying, it’s not impeachable — but if you have a systematic liar who is lying all the time, then we’re in the ballpark of misdemeanor, meaning bad action,” he said.

If I were a betting person, I would wager that Donald Trump has a better chance of getting reelected in 2020 than he does of being impeached (and a much better chance than actually being removed from office through impeachment) if the Republicans retain their majority in Congress. Although their healthcare bill has hit a hiccup due to public outcry (and it’s only a hiccup…it will almost surely pass), Congressional Republicans have shown absolutely no willingness to do anything not in the interest of their agenda…so why would they impeach a Republican President who is ticking all of the far right’s action items thus far?

Gender inequality and the Supreme Court

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2017

Tonja Jacobi and Dylan Schweers have published the results of a study they’ve done related to the role of gender in the workings of the Supreme Court. They found that female justices are interrupted much more often by male justices and advocates than male justices are.

Our empirical study examines interruptions among justices, and between the justices and the advocates, during Supreme Court oral arguments. It shows that women still do not have an equal opportunity to be heard on the highest court in the land. In fact, as more women join the court, the reaction of the male justices and the male advocates has been to increase their interruptions of the female justices.

Even in the most powerful courtroom in the world, the women are being verbally dominated.

Even without adjusting for the low representation of women, the effect is stark. On average, women constituted 22 percent of the court, yet 52 percent of interruptions were directed at them. Overwhelmingly, it was men doing the interrupting: Women interrupted only 15 percent of the time and men interrupted 85 percent of the time, more than their 78 percent representation on the court.

Their study shows that seniority can’t explain this effect — “gender is approximately 30 times more influential than seniority” — but some of it can be explained in terms of political ideology: conservative justices interrupt more than liberal justices do.

We found that the power dynamic does not only affect women: In a court that has been dominated by Republican appointees for over half a century, conservative justices have also dominated liberal justices by interrupting them. We expected cross-ideological interruptions to occur more often than interruptions within ideological camps, and this is true: 62 percent of interruptions cross ideological lines, compared to 38 percent within an ideological camp. However, the effect does not go in both directions: 70 percent of interruptions were of liberals, and only 30 percent of conservatives. Once again, advocates display the same tendency. Advocates interrupting the liberal justices account for over ten percent of interruptions, yet advocate interruptions of the conservative justices account for less than three percent of interruptions.

I wonder what the results would look like if Clarence Thomas ever talked in court? (via @caitlin__kelly)

The NYPD’s doppelganger problem and racially unfair policing

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2017

Lisa Davis Lisa Davis

For years, a white woman named Lisa Davis was paying the price (sometimes literally) for tickets issued to other women named Lisa Davis living in NYC.

Finally, the DMV told me that I wasn’t the victim of identity theft; there was simply another Lisa S Davis with the same birthday in New York City. Our records were crossed. When cops run a license, they don’t check the person’s address, signature, or social security numbers. They check the name and the birthday, and both the other Lisa S Davis’s and mine were the same. We were, in the eyes of the law, one person, caught in a perfect storm of DMV and NYPD idiocy.

In fighting all of these improperly filed tickets, Davis learned that most of them issued for bullshit “broken windows” misdemeanors in predominately minority neighborhoods.

It was then that it became clear to me: the reason for the tickets wasn’t that these Lisa Davises were petty criminals. The reason was likely that they lived in highly policed areas where even the smallest infractions are ticketed, the sites of “Broken Windows” policing. The reason, I thought, was that they weren’t white.

That could have been the “proof” I offered to the judge. Brownsville’s population is less than 1% white. It almost couldn’t have been me. My neighborhood, though fairly diverse (and cheap) when I moved there in the early 90s, is now 76% white. I have never heard of anyone getting tickets in my neighborhood for any of the infractions committed by the Lisa Davises in neighborhoods of color.

I felt there was only one thing to do. I had to find the Lisa Davises, to untangle myself from them, to talk to them about being Lisa Davises, and to see if they agreed with my supposition: that the real “crime” they had committed was being non-white.

See also Pro Publica’s report published today, Minority Neighborhoods Pay Higher Car Insurance Premiums Than White Areas With the Same Risk.

Green Angels: the NYC drug ring run by former models

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2017

The Green Angels is a group of pot dealers that was started by a former fashion model named Honey (not her real name). Many of the dealers and dispatchers are also former models…or at least possess enough good looks and easy charm to talk their way out of trouble with NYPD officers.

Honey is clear-eyed about the nature of her operation: “I tell the girls, it’s not a club; it’s a drug ring.” The whole business is run via text messages between her, the dispatchers in her headquarters, the runners who do the deliveries, and the customers. “I have carpal tunnel in my thumb from all the texting,” Honey says. Dispatchers get 10 percent of each sale; the runners get 20 percent, which averages out to $300 or $400 a day. Several of them, according to Honey, “are paying off their NYU student loans.”

Just like any other business, there are tricks of the trade and protocols to follow:

One of the Angels suggests using a tote bag instead of a backpack to carry the box. She generally uses a WNYC tote bag, which is given out to donors to the public-radio station. The other day, an old lady gave her a high five after seeing her tote. “I thought, If you only knew what I have in this bag,” she says.

Honey tells the girls to get a work phone from MetroPCS, which costs $100. When buying it, they should pay in cash and have a name in mind to put down on the form, in case the police check. “I like to use the names of girls who were my enemies growing up,” Honey says.

The business is organized and disciplined, which I suspect it needs to be if you don’t want to get tossed in jail:

The Green Angels average around 150 orders a day, which is about a fourth of what the busiest services handle. When a customer texts, it goes to one of the cell phones on the table in the living room. There’s a hierarchy: The phones with the pink covers are the lowest; they contain the numbers of the flakes, cheapskates, or people who live in Bed-Stuy. The purple phones contain the good, solid customers. Blue is for the VIPs. There are over a thousand customers on Honey’s master list.

To place an order, a customer is supposed to text “Can we hang out?” and a runner is sent to his apartment. No calling, no other codes or requests. Delivery is guaranteed within an hour and a half. If the customer isn’t home, he gets a strike. Three strikes and he’s 86’d. If he yells at the runner, he’s 86’d immediately.

The Angels work only by referral. The customers should refer people they really know and trust, not strangers, and no one they’ve met in a bar. If you refer someone who becomes a problem, Charley says, you lose your membership.

Really interesting throughout.

Black parents talk to their kids about the police

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2017

Not going to say much about this one. Just watch it…especially if somehow, as a curious, thoughtful person who reads this site regularly, you are unaware of how many in the black community feel about the police and that they have conversations like this with their children about those who are supposed to protect and serve people.

The truth about the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2016

You may have heard about the dumb old lady who was driving with a cup of McDonald’s coffee in her lap, spilled it, and then greedily sued McDonald’s, winning millions of dollars and setting off an epidemic of frivolous personal injury lawsuits that’s still alive and well today. Well, that’s not really what happened. Adam Conover explains what actually went down in this entertaining short video.

P.S. If you’re following along, what we have here is a video by CollegeHumor of a comedian debunking misinformation deliberately spread by a large multinational corporation (with publicly available sources!), packaged as a comedy bit but is every bit as informational as a piece in the Times or on Vox. If you’re being disingenuous, you might call this fake news. (See also Last Week Tonight, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, etc.) (via subtraction)

Update: Hot Coffee is a feature-length documentary about the McDonald’s coffee case and tort reform in America. (via @aabhowell)

Update: Retro Report has a piece on the suit as well. (via @DavidGrann)

Important victory for the kids suing the US over climate change

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2016

A group of children and young adults are suing the United States over climate change.

The young plaintiffs, who range in age from 9 to 20, allege that climate change violates their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property by causing direct harm and destroying so-called public trust assets such as coastlines. The case argues that climate change is worsened by the aggregated actions of the federal government in permitting fossil fuel development, subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, and many other such actions. Further, the children and their lawyers say these government actions are willfully prioritizing short-term profit, convenience, and the concerns of current generations over those of future generations. The plaintiffs state that the government and these companies have continued to prioritize these short-term gains for more than five decades with full knowledge of the extreme dangers they posed.

Last week, federal district court judge Ann Aiken in Oregon ruled against the federal government’s motion to dismiss, an important hurdle to clear for the lawsuit to move forward. Aiken wrote:

I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society. Just as marriage is the foundation of the family, a stable climate system is quite literally the foundation of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress. … To hold otherwise would be to say that the Constitution affords no protection against a government’s knowing decision to poison the air its citizens breathe or the water its citizens drink.

You can donate to their effort on their website.

The Voter Suppression Trail

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2016

Voter Supression Trail

Voter Supression Trail

The NY Times has released their first video game editorial in the form of an Oregon Trail spin-off by GOP Arcade highlighting how the Republican Party engages in voter suppression tactics, especially in areas with many voters of color. In the game, you can play as a white programmer from California, a Latina nurse from Texas, or a black salesman from Wisconsin. As might expect, it takes somewhat longer to finish the game as some of these players versus others.

On Nov. 8, a new generation of Americans will make their own heroic journeys — to the polls. Some paths will be more intrepid than others, particularly for blacks, Latinos and pretty much anyone who brings the kind of diversity to our polling places that they have historically lacked. Thanks to laws passed by Republicans to fight the nonexistent threat of voter fraud, the perils will be great. Long lines and voter ID laws, not to mention pro-Trump election observers, will try to keep these voters from the polls.

More on voter suppression at Vox.

Walter Cronkite Spit In My Food

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2016

Today’s Google Doodle honors the 100th anniversary of the birth of legendary newsman Walter Cronkite.

Today would be the 100th birthday of the man known widely throughout the ’60s and ’70s as “the most trusted man in America.” Walter Cronkite, the legendary broadcast journalist reported, served, and comforted a nation during its most trying times, including World War II, Watergate, the Vietnam War, and the assassination of JFK, to name a few.

Walter perpetuated an objective reporting style rooted in justice and integrity: “Press freedom is essential to our democracy, but the press must not abuse this license. We must be careful with our power. The free press, after all, is the central nervous system of a democratic society.”

Since I missed most of Cronkite’s career as a TV news anchor (I was 7 when he retired), I mostly associate him with the coverage of the Apollo 11 Moon landing and the early web meme Walter Cronkite Spit In My Food.

It was an unbelievable account of a drunken Walter Cronkite raging at a honeymooning couple in a restaurant. It included an obviously faked video clip of Walter Cronkite spitting and a fuzzy photograph of a man who looked vaguely like Cronkite.

Google’s honor is a bit ironic given that Cronkite favored tougher libel and slander laws for “would-be writers and reporters on the Internet”:

I am dumbfounded that there hasn’t been a crackdown with the libel and slander laws on some of these would-be writers and reporters on the Internet. I expect that to develop in the fairly near future.

as well as legislation against anonymous expression online:

I favor legislation that requires people to stand by their words by identifying themselves on the Internet. They should not be permitted to operate anonymously.

He was clear that he was not after censorship:

I hope to make it clear that I did say that I am opposed to any form of censorship. This is identification… forced identification by those who use the Internet. Not censorship. It is simply requiring them to take the same responsibility that people in print and in broadcasting have to take.

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.

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)

The world’s first chatbot lawyer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2016

AI chatbot lawyer sounds like a SNL skit, but the DoNotPay chatbot has successfully contested 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York.

Dubbed as “the world’s first robot lawyer” by its 19-year-old creator, London-born second-year Stanford University student Joshua Browder, DoNotPay helps users contest parking tickets in an easy to use chat-like interface.

The program first works out whether an appeal is possible through a series of simple questions, such as were there clearly visible parking signs, and then guides users through the appeals process.

The results speak for themselves. In the 21 months since the free service was launched in London and now New York, Browder says DoNotPay has taken on 250,000 cases and won 160,000, giving it a success rate of 64% appealing over $4m of parking tickets.

Having spent a shitload of money on lawyering over the past few years, there is definitely an opportunity for some automation there.

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.

Live reading of the terms of service for apps

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2016

Live App Tos Reading

In the latest Slow TV experiment, the Norwegian Consumer Council is doing a live read of the terms of service for a number of different apps, including Instagram, YouTube, Kindle, Spotify, and Snapchat. It’s in Norwegian and it looks like they’re on the last app, but the total time elapsed so far is 1 day, 7 hours, 49 minutes. (via @Rudien)

Update: The live reading is over, and there was wide variation in reading times. The iTunes TOS took almost 200 minutes to read while those for an app called Vipps took only 3 minutes. The terms for Candy Crush, which is just a game, took more than an hour and a half to read aloud. Absurd.

Some prime numbers are illegal in the United States

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2016

The possession of certain prime numbers is illegal in the US. For instance, one of these primes can be used to break a DVD’s copyright encryption.

The inadvertent cinematography of police body cameras

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2016

Body cameras, dashboard cams, and bystander videos all offer different views of police officers doing their jobs, which underscores the importance of perspective in skewing our perceptions of what’s happening. For instance, body cams can tend to put you in the shoes of the wearer.

These details were not captured by the police body camera, though, revealing another important point: Body cameras prioritize the officer’s point of view.

“When video allows us to look through someone’s eyes, we tend to adopt an interpretation that favors that person,” Professor Stoughton said, explaining a psychological phenomenon known as “camera perspective bias.”

Thanks to Reed for sending me the link and pointing out the connection to how film directors use the camera to tell stories effectively:
The importance of composition in cinematic storytelling
and “What a film director really directs is the audience’s attention.” What are these law enforcement surveillance cameras inadvertently directing our attention to?

The Panama Papers

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2016

A huge cache of data has leaked from a Panama-based tax firm that shows how some of the world’s politicians and the rich hide their money in offshore tax havens. The video above, from the Guardian, is a quick 1:30 introduction on how these offshore havens work.

The documents show the myriad ways in which the rich can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.

A $2bn trail leads all the way to Vladimir Putin. The Russian president’s best friend — a cellist called Sergei Roldugin — is at the centre of a scheme in which money from Russian state banks is hidden offshore. Some of it ends up in a ski resort where in 2013 Putin’s daughter Katerina got married.

Among national leaders with offshore wealth are Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-president of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt’s former president; and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.

Here is an important bit:

Are all people who use offshore structures crooks?
No. Using offshore structures is entirely legal. There are many legitimate reasons for doing so. Business people in countries such as Russia and Ukraine typically put their assets offshore to defend them from “raids” by criminals, and to get around hard currency restrictions. Others use offshore for reasons of inheritance and estate planning.

Are some people who use offshore structures crooks?
Yes. In a speech last year in Singapore, David Cameron said “the corrupt, criminals and money launderers” take advantage of anonymous company structures. The government is trying to do something about this. It wants to set up a central register that will reveal the beneficial owners of offshore companies. From June, UK companies will have to reveal their “significant” owners for the first time.

There is much more here, including Lionel Messi’s involvement.

Update: The Panama Papers have claimed their first political victim. The now-former prime minister of Iceland has resigned because of his family’s offshore investments.

John Oliver takes on crazy US abortion laws

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2016

On the most recent episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver argues against many US states’ anti-abortion laws. This was super funny and also made me really angry.

Obama bans use of solitary confinement for juveniles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2016

President Obama announces a ban on the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons.

How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.

Here’s Obama’s Op-Ed on the topic.

“It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” That’s a quote on solitary from John McCain from an old New Yorker piece from Atul Gawande: Hellhole. (via nextdraft)

The Breakfast Jury

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2015

This account of serving on a jury during a murder trial is fascinating, from the racial issues of the jury selection to the social dynamics in the jury room during deliberations.

There’s a handwritten confession that the defendant claims he didn’t write. He says he signed a blank page that appeared later containing a confession. In the months since the arrest, changes have been made to local precincts that now allow them to record all interrogations on video. In this case, no video was taken.

The suggestion of a police conspiracy is laughable to the prosecutor, and, I will learn, to many of my fellow jurors. I suppose this is why every black man was eliminated from the jury pool. If it’s biased to presuppose police officers are corrupt, it should be considered equally biased to presuppose that they always act lawfully. Instead, it’s considered ridiculous. The presumption of innocence is dangerously misplaced.

I keep thinking of Walter Scott, whose uniformed murderer is seen on camera shooting him while he runs away, and who plants a weapon on his freshly killed corpse. While doing all this, the officer reports over police radio that Scott attacked him.

(via @robinsloan)

Are we thinking about addiction all wrong?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2015

A group called Kurzgesagt, in collaboration with author Johann Hari, made this video about taking a new approach to understanding addiction. You’ve probably heard of the experiments where rats in cages were given access to drugs. The rats quickly became addicted to them and used them heavily until overdosing. But perhaps the problem is not the drugs but the cage. Later experiments showed that if rats were given plenty of alternate activities, freedom, and room to roam, they were not likely to become heavy drugs users or overdose.

Human studies are more difficult to come by, but it still appears that when available, living life, family, and friends are more addictive than heroin. And so, according to Hari, who wrote a book about all this, what we should be doing is not isolating those who become addicted to drugs, alcohol, and other things. Instead, we should build a society that reconnects people to each other so that the drugs become unnecessary.

In addition to the video and the book, there’s an interactive version of the video as well as an article by Hari on Huffington Post. (via @gavinpurcell)

Kingdom of books

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2015

Amazon has garnered an enormous share of the book market, and their “activities tend to reduce book prices, which is considered good for consumers.” But hundreds of writers (including Philip Roth and V. S. Naipaul) are trying to convince the Department of Justice that — regardless of the lower prices — Amazon’s monopoly is hurting consumers. From The New Yorker’s Vauhini Vara: Is Amazon creating a cultural monopoly?

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]

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.

The reimprisonment of homosexuals in Germany after WWII

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2015

After the end of World War II in Europe, homosexual prisoners of liberated concentration camps were refused reparations and some were even thrown into jail without credit for their time served in the camps. From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

After the war, homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution, and reparations were refused. Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time spent in concentration camps. The 1935 version of Paragraph 175 remained in effect in the Federal Republic (West Germany) until 1969, so that well after liberation, homosexuals continued to fear arrest and incarceration.

After 1945, it was no longer a crime to be Jewish in Germany, but homosexuality was another matter. Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code had been on the books since 1871. An English translation of the earliest version read simply:

Unnatural fornication, whether between persons of the male sex or of humans with beasts, is to be punished by imprisonment; a sentence of loss of civil rights may also be passed.

In Germany, homosexuality was considered a crime worthy of up to five years of imprisonment until Paragraph 175 was voided in 1994.

Update: I missed this while writing the post: Paragraph 175 was amended in 1969 to limit enforcement to engaging in homosexual acts with minors (under 21 years). (thx, eric)

Policing by consent

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2014

In light of the ongoing policing situation in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer and how the response to the community protests is highlighting the militarization of US police departments since 9/11, it’s instructive to look at one of the first and most successful attempts at the formation of a professional police force.

The UK Parliament passed the first Metropolitan Police Act in 1829. The act was introduced by Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel, who undertook a study of crime and policing, which resulted in his belief that the keys to building an effective police force were to 1) make it professional (most prior policing had been volunteer in nature); 2) organize as a civilian force, not as a paramilitary force; and 3) make the police accountable to the public. The Metropolitan Police, whose officers were referred to as “bobbies” after Peel, was extremely successful and became the model for the modern urban police force, both in the UK and around the world, including in the United States.

At the heart of the Metropolitan Police’s charter were a set of rules either written by Peel or drawn up at some later date by the two founding Commissioners: The Nine Principles of Policing. They are as follows:

1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.

2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.

5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.

9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

As police historian Charles Reith noted in 1956, this philosophy was radical when implemented in London in the 1830s and “unique in history and throughout the world because it derived not from fear but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police, induced by them designedly by behaviour which secures and maintains for them the approval, respect and affection of the public”. Apparently, it remains radical in the United States in 2014. (thx, peter)