Category Archives: Crime

Charlie Hebdo Remembered

Terrorists attacked the Paris headquarters of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo earlier today.  12 people are known dead with a few more currently in critical condition.  While details are sketchy and the attackers are still on the loose, it seems certain that this was in retaliation for the paper mocking Islam and printing multiple Mohammad cartoons.  This is tragic and incredibly stupid.  How anyone thinks that someone putting pen and pencil to paper should be met with violence is beyond me.

How does one respond to such inanity?  To me, a perfect response would be for every newspaper in the free world to pick a day and, as a sign of unity, print one of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.  This one is my favorite:

“Love is stronger than hate”


Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife, It’s Heartbleed!

Another day, another massive security breach on the Interwebs.  This time it’s a bug in the SSL software that only most of the entire Internet uses to ensure secure transactions.  And it’s only been like this for two years or so.  There is a handy list of the most common websites and whether or not they were affected over at Mashable.  This is a pretty serious bug and you should follow the advice an change your passwords ASAP.

I have developed a very simple quiz for you to determine if your data has at all been compromised.  Just answer these simple questions.  Do you own a device that connects to the internet?  If you answered either yes or no to that question, your data has been compromised and you should take immediate action to remedy this.  I recommend a nice glass of scotch.

Seriously, it’s that bad.  Take that in.  Experian, one of only three of the credit bureaus in the U.S., had 200 million identities stolen.  And not really even stolen, but bought.  No bugs in software, no hacking effort, just some shady dude asking Experian for data and Experian saying, “My you look like a fine upstanding citizen, here you go!” But don’t worry, 200 million is only almost the entire adult population of the country.  So the odds are not 100% that your identity is among them.

So yes, the only real viable solution to our data driven world is to drink a little.  There is good news, though.  Given the enormity of the data that has been stolen and the, thankfully, small number of criminals in the world, there is a very good chance that your stolen data will never actually be used by anyone and it will just end up languishing on a hard drive in Russia for all of eternity.  Horray?

This Is Why I Hate St. Patrick’s Day

Stupid people are stupid.  The link goes to a blog that follows crime reports in Boystown.  It’s a special St. Patrick’s edition of all the crime from the Saturday into Sunday that is St. Patrick’s Day Weekend.  It is both comedic and sad.

There is no better way to see the true character of a person than to see that person drunk.  “In vino veritas” as the Italians say.  If a person acts like an asshole when they are drunk, you can be pretty sure that person is an asshole when they are sober but better able to hide it.  And, boy, do the assholes come out of the woodwork this weekend.  There’s nothing wrong with getting drunk.  There’s plenty wrong with using your drunkeness as an excuse to act stupid.

St. Patrick’s Day weekend must be one of the worst to work as a first responder.  Every dispatch message reads like this: Disturbance in progress, white male, 20s, wearing green.  Fun.

Oh Noes! The Slippery Slope!

A Federal judge in Utah ruled recently that bigamy is totally legal and everyone can have as many wives or husbands as they want.  That’s been the talk all around the conservative twitterverse.  And, to be fair, some liberals, but guess which one is more santorum-y (look it up on Urban Dictionary).

There’s only one problem.  The judge didn’t rule any such thing.  The only thing that was struck down was a tiny provision of the anti-bigamy law that said co-habitation was also illegal.  So, basically, Jack Tripper is no longer breaking the law in Utah.  Yeah, that’s it.  If you are a married couple, you can now legally have someone else who is not your family live with you and not be breaking the law.  What that extra person is doing there is none of the government’s business.

There are all sorts of complaints, mostly from Christians, of the slippery slope being in full effect and this is the logical next step after gay marriage gets legalized.  It doesn’t matter to them that bigamy is actually still illegal.  Of course, they may not even realize that bigamy is still illegal because they don’t know how to read past crappy headlines.

If anyone you know ever uses the slippery slope argument, just laugh in their face.  If you have every used the slippery slope argument, you should stop immediately.  Why?  Because the slippery slope argument is horrible and reflects more on your own sloppy thinking than it does whatever argument you are actually trying to make.  You may be on the right side of an argument and still look like an idiot if you use the slippery slope argument.

Here is why you should laugh in the face of anyone who uses the slippery slope argument.  If you are unable to articulate how going from A to B can lead you to eventually going C, let alone all the way to Z, you should just stop there and try to articulate to the best of your abilities why going from A to B is good or bad.  If every argument that you can make about going from A to B is shot down, you should really consider changing your mind about that particular topic.

Two Big Wins For Criminal Justice

It’s been a good week for minorities in particular and criminal justice in general so far.  Minorities are being attacked on so many sides these days, it’s good to get a few wins in.

First, a judge has put an end to the abhorrently racist Stop And Frisk laws that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has imposed on the city.  What purports to allow police to frisk anyone they stop unshockingly ended up being a reason to harass mostly law abiding black people.  I’m sure Bloomberg will appeal, but I’m guessing Stop And Frisk is gone for good.  Good riddance!

Second, Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that they will greatly restrict their pursuit of non-violent Mandatory Minimum drug cases.  This one’s a bit more mealy mouthed, but still important.  Basically, the way I understand it is they will still prosecute offenders (which is bad in many cases) but will not present evidence that would require judges to enact Mandatory Minimum sentences on those convicted.  As with Stop And Frisk, Mandatory Minimum laws are blatantly racist.  They impose harsher minimums for smaller quantities of drugs more likely to be used by minorities while allowing lighter minimums for larger quantities of drugs more likely to be used by non-minorities.  This is more a step in the right direction than a win.  Mandatory sentencing laws are ridiculous and will still be law.  What Holder is proposing is kind of a trap door work around than a solution.  I’ll take it, though.

But The City Is So Unsafe

If you know people who live in the burbs or the more rural areas of our fine country, chances are you’ve had a discussion about if it’s safe to go to the city.  There is this widely held belief that large cities are areas of barely controlled anarchy, that you’re taking your life in your hands just by going there.  Actually, it’s likely more dangerous where you live than in the big city.

I know someone who lives way out in the boonies and has worked in downtown Chicago every day for years.  The amount of crime that has occurred to his person while in Chicago can be counted on zero hands.  And yet, we had a conversation where he had to ask me if it was safe for his teenage daughter to come to Chicago with her friends.  I answered his inquiry the way I always answer it, “Are they coming to buy drugs?  No?  Then they’re as safe here as they are in their home town.”

Unsurprisingly, a lot of the problem is the news, or more to the point, what makes the news.  News organizations tend to be in big cities and big city stories tend to get covered more as a result.  Gang shootings on the South or West Side and “black thug flash mobs” get much more play than the meth lab bust in Kankakee.

The other problem is what we subconsciously choose to remember from the news we ingest.  There is a tinge of soft racism to this with most people.  It is amazing to me the amount of people who think that there are roving bands of black youth prowling the city of Chicago.  All because there are a couple of high profile instances of it a year.  But out of a million plus people that visit downtown Chicago every day, there are very few instances of actual violence.

And that brings us to the biggest factor in people thinking cities are more dangerous than the burbs: statistics.  Or, more accurately, a gross lack of understanding of basic statistics.  “But we’ve only had one murder in 10 years!”  Yeah, but you live in a city of 1000 people.  Guess what, your murder rate is the same as Chicago’s.

None of this is to say that Chicago is safe.  It’s just likely safer than wherever you’re from.  It doesn’t exactly make a great motto.  Chicago, you’re less likely to get killed here than whatever backwater you came from.

Life As Seen Through A PRISM

By now, you’re probably aware of the super secret PRISM program that collects towering amounts of metadata from phone companies.  Some people are blase about the revelation and some people are apoplectic about it.  Most, it appears, fall into the blase category.

Many people seem to laugh at people being concerned about the government collecting so much data about its citizens when companies like Google and Facebook and every place with a rewards card collects this same data all the time.  Those people are missing the point.  Google has zero authority in limiting your autonomy.  Facebook can’t detain you.  The Federal Government can.  This is the difference.

Another canard that I’ve been reading is that law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear from this data collection.  This is true.  But guess how many law-abiding citizens there are?  Zero.  (Well, maybe babies.)  There are so many Federal laws that it guarantees you break unknown laws with some regularity.  Think you haven’t unknowingly cheated on your taxes?

And that’s the problem.  You’re a law abiding citizen until your neighbor who you’ve had over to your house or is in the same dojo as you or has a kid on the same soccer team as your kid commits a Federal crime.  Then, suddenly, you’re being shown in the exact same place as him when he made a phone call to set off a bomb and all those meaningless pieces of data are no longer so meaningless to the FBI as they rip your life apart trying to tie you to the criminal to coerce you to cooperate with them.  This has been a common occurrence in the Muslim community.  But no one cares when it happens to Muslims.

All of that is really besides the point, though.  PRISM is wrong because no matter how minor the violation of our privacy, the raison d’etre for the program is a completely misguided endeavor.

Terrorism.  We spend billions of dollars a month to protect ourselves from terrorism.  Let’s be generous and say that we have lost 4,000 Americans to terrorism since 9/11.  To date, we have lost over 6,000 servicemen to the fight against terror.  This number pales in comparison to the amount of lost limbs and lost minds, not to mention the number of suicides.  And don’t forget the countless and forgotten innocents who were casualties of our wars.  We are spending billions of dollars a month to sacrifice more lives than we would if terrorism just occurred every once in a while as it will no matter how much we spend.  This is an absolutely bizarre state of affairs.

Why do we spend so much money and effort protecting ourselves from death by terrorism when that money could be spent much more wisely against things that cause countless more American deaths?  Over 500,000 people die from cancer every year.  Over 32,000 traffic deaths happen every year.  Both would likely shrink greatly if we were willing to put even a sliver of the billions of dollars a month into basic R&D or even subsidized treatments.  There are plenty of other examples that I can cite as I’m sure you could as well.

We have much less to fear from terrorism than we do from getting in our car every day and yet the former causes us to throw away our soldiers’ lives and our fortunes away while the latter is just accepted as a thing that may happen to us.  Our citizens care so much about freedom until it’s threatened by a terrorist and then they’re willing to throw away the freedom away to protect themselves from terrorists.  Alanis Morrisette would actually be correct about irony if she sung about this.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do anything to protect ourselves from terrorism, but we had a pretty good mechanism in place prior to the Patriot Act and other laws that erode our autonomy.  The only thing that 9/11 actually changed is America’s psyche.  We suffer from a national PTSD as a result.  Instead of the therapy that we so desperately needed, we were fed a constant diet of fear from our President and our Congress and our media and PRISM is the result.

All of this needs to stop.  We need to accept that, sometimes, terrorism will happen just like we accept that a car accident may happen every time we get behind the wheel.  The sole purpose of terrorism is to cause fear, to bypass our logical brains and force us to react emotionally.  In that, the terrorists have succeeded far better than they could possibly have imagined.  We have the ability to change that.  Now, all we need is the will.

Doing Science While Black

Most of you are probably familiar with driving while black; being pulled over not because you did something wrong but because of the color of your skin.  Here may be the first case of doing science while black.

A 16 year old black girl, Kiera Wilmot,  performed a simple science experiment (mixing toilet bowl cleaner with strips of aluminum foil) that caused a small noise and a bit of smoke and was expelled from school.  School administrators issued a statement saying that Kiera needed to learn that actions have consequences.  Not only that, she has been charged by the district attorney with a felony as an adult for performing this incredibly common experiment.  Talk about a gross overreaction!

The same district attorney recently declined to press charges against a white boy who deliberately pointed a BB gun at his brother and pulled the trigger killing his brother.  The boy thought the BB gun wasn’t loaded.  This, in the mind of the DA was just a tragic accident.  Which it certainly was.  That boy is going to have to live with the fact that he killed his brother for the rest of his life.  Not filing charges was absolutely the correct call.

But why the disparity?  Why charge a 16 year old black girl with a felony when no one was injured when a 13 year old white boy actually killed someone and was not charged?  Is a three years difference in age grounds for handling these two cases differently?  If he did the same thing when he was 16 would he have been charged with murder?

Was Kiera’s experiment dangerous?  Very mildly.  Should she have performed this experiment without supervision?  Definitely not.  But now she’s going to be scarred for life for the simple act of having a bit of inquisitiveness.

Lesson learned?  Experimenting bad!  Doing exactly as you’re told at all times and draconian results if you don’t, good!

Kids do stupid things.  This is a feature, not a bug.  Overreacting to their stupidness dulls their curiosity.  Show me a kid that isn’t allowed to do stupid things and I’ll show you a boring adult.

Two Terrorist Acts, One Prosecution

Nothing gets to the heart of the huge double standard in U.S. society between labor and business like the events of the past few weeks.  First we had the Boston Marathon bombings where three people were killed and over one hundred were injured.  This is obviously an act of terrorism.  Then we had the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion that killed at least 15 and also injured over one hundred and also leveled a town.  Was this an act of terrorism?  Turns out yes it was.

As Eric Loomis points out, anyone that is stockpiling more than 400 lbs of ammonium nitrate must report the stockpile to the federal government.  To not do so violates federal anti-terrorism laws.  How much was West Fertilizer stockpiling at their plant?  604,000 lbs!  West Fertilizer either willfully or ignorantly violated anti-terrorism laws.  Shouldn’t the owners of the company be charged with acts of terrorism?  They willfully stockpiled an incredibly dangerous component often used in bomb making in the middle of a small town.  They did so without notifying the federal government as required by law.  The ammonium nitrate blew up.  More people were killed and injured than the Boston Marathon bombing.  And nothing.

I guarantee you that if a farmer had 401 lbs of ammonium nitrate stockpiled in a barn for fertilizer and it accidentally blew up causing his cows to be killed, the farmer would be treated like a terrorist.  And if that farmer happened to look non-white, there would be calls by Republican lawmakers to ship him to Guantanamo.  Our society allows businesses to commit grave harm to society and simply pay a fine for the harm caused.  That fine is often less than the profits gained from causing said harm.  This has to stop.

Another lesson we should learn from this disaster is that the federal regulatory process is in complete disarray and needs to be fixed.  The West Fertilizer plant was last inspected in 1985.  In that inspection, many serious violations were found at the plant.  The fine for these violations?  $30 and no followup inspections.  Remember West, Texas the next time you complain about the federal government’s “strict” regulations against business.  Yes, there are regulations that seem ridiculous, but most are there to protect the people of West, Texas from companies like the West Fertilizer Company.

Why Are These Criminals Not In Jail?

Most of you have probably forgotten about the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 oil workers.  If you haven’t forgotten about it, you likely think that it’s a thing of the past.  The oil was cleaned up.  People were paid for their hardship.  The ecosystem has recovered.  Wipe off your hands, pat yourself on the back, get back to business.

Yeah, not so much.

Would it surprise you to know that BP executives lied to Congress about how much oil was spilled from the disaster?  Would it surprise you to know that BP plead guilty to lying to Congress?  Would it surprise you to learn that BP was warned that the dispersants used to hide the oil spill from the public was known to cause serious health issues in humans and BP ignored and hid those warnings?  Would it surprise you to learn that hundreds, if not thousands, of humans who helped in the clean up now suffer major health complications likely caused by the use of the dispersants?

Would it surprise you to learn that no one has gone to jail for these crimes?  Me either.