A Positive Step

The Justice Department has announced that they are putting an end to their practice of using private companies to operate some of their prisons.


Private prisons are an abomination. The idea that such a place of human misery should be run as a for profit venture is mind boggling. They’re dangerous, they’re wasteful, and they’re simply immoral.

I want the state to pay to have to run our prisons, and I want them to have to pay a fair amount do so. Maybe then, we’ll stop building so many, and maybe then, we’ll stop throwing so many people into them.


So the other day, a black man selling CDs was wrestled to the ground by a pair of cops. They had him basically prone, and shot and killed him. The governor of Louisiana, where this took place, has sensibly realized that the fed need to handle the investigation, and has turned it over to the Justice Department.

Meantime, in Minnesota, which one hardly thinks of as a hotbed of racism, police pulled over an armed black man. He told them he had a gun, asked if it was ok to get his ID, and was shot as he tried to do so. He died, though not before his girlfriend live-streamed the aftermath of the shooting.

Does it need to be said-wait, yes, of course it needs to be said. The police have way too much power and discretion in this country. They’re allowed to kill pretty much anyone with very few consequences. Police departments in general have an “us vs them” mentality that’s made worse by militant images and military styles of law enforcement (though to be fair, the military usually has more stringent rules of engagement).

Yes, #notallcops, but also, yes, #adisturbinglylargenumberofcops. This shit needs to stop, and it needs to stop now.

I think the best way is to go back to what I’ve said before; disarm the police. The vast majority do not need their guns. The few situations where they do can, in general, be resolved by special armed response units, similar to what other countries have. Yes, this will likely result in more cops being shot and killed. That sucks. But the safety of the public, including the safety of suspects, must take priority over the safety of the police.

Oh, and on a final note to the #alllivesmatter crowd: grow the fuck up. Black people face special circumstances in this country that make it more likely they’ll be killed by a police office than a white person would be.

Several months ago, I was watching a TV show where someone offered the following example, which I think is informative. He basically said that suppose you to go a doctor’s office with a broken leg. You tell the doctor it hurts, and that you need your leg; your leg matters. The doctor says, “Well, yes, your leg matters. All bones matter.” That’s technically accurate, but the one bone that’s having the issue is the one that needs to be addressed.

And so it is with this.


Another Fire Fail

So it looks as though faulty arson science resulted in yet another likely innocent person spending almost three decades behind bars. At least in this case, unlike in the Willingham case, the person in question wasn’t murdered by a state more obsessed with revenge than justice.

I’m to the point now where I think the government should have to go back to every arson conviction that was issued prior to 2000 and review them; possibly with new trials for all. Yes, this would be expensive, but so what? We know that much of the evidence used to convict people of arson prior to about 2000 or so was extremely faulty and not worthy of being called “science-based” in any way. It is therefore worth it to go back and look at every case.

There’s really no down side here. If the new science upholds convictions then great; we know we got it right despite the faulty science that existed before. But if even only a handful of convictions turn out to be wrong, well, at least we’ve done what we can to fix the situation and can hopefully make it up to the victims.

A Terrorist Attack You Didn’t Hear About

There was a terrorist attack in Israel the other day. You didn’t likely hear about it for two reasons: first off, because it was in Israel, and we kind of regard these things as “normal” there, unless it’s a really large attack. Second, the terrorist wasn’t a Muslim; he was a Jew.

Now to be quite honest, I won’t say that this was terrorism, though I can’t figure out why not. You have a man motivated by religious belief to stab six innocent people because of their homosexuality (real or perceived). If this happened in the USA against, say, a group of Christians and was done by a Muslim, well, do you think the media would call it anything other than terrorism?

This gets to something I said two years ago. “Terrorism” is basically a useless word that can mean whatever the media and government decides it means at any given point. It is, therefore, in society’s best interest to stop using it as soon as possible and simply stick with other words, like “criminal”.

The Joys of Incarceration

Check out this chart I lifted from the Dish.


The whole thing is kind of horrible and illustrates how much we love punishment and revenge in this country. But I want to focus mostly on the “local jails” part of the chart. Those are usually county lock-ups where, in most states, people with a year or less on their sentences go (helpful hint: if you’re ever offered a year in jail or a year-and-a-day in state prison, take the extra day. You’ll be treated way better), and where people awaiting trial are warehoused. All the people on this chart are important (and don’t forget each number is, in fact a person), but it’s the people who are awaiting trial who got my attention.

These people outnumber the others (actual convicts), in the local jails by a two-to-one margin. These are people who are being held for trial; usually because they can’t afford bail (a problem I’ve written about before). They are, under the law, not guilty of whatever crime they are being accused of. But here they are, being treated basically the same as people who have been convicted. They suffer the same punishments doled-out by local law enforcement types like Maricopa County’s own Sheriff Joe, who brags about feeding his inmates on less than a dollar a day, and makes male inmates wear pink underwear. He, and others like him, do this as part of a “tough on crime” stance, but why are he and his kind being tough on people who are merely charged with a crime?

Now it is worth noting that people have a right to a speedy trial, and as such, shouldn’t be in a jail, even without bail, for more than a few weeks before they are tried. The problem with this is that defense attorneys will often convince their clients, correctly, that waiving their right to a speedy trial is smart. It gives the defense more time to prepare, gives the prosecution more motivation for a plea bargain, and generally makes everyone better off. Unless, of course, you’re in jail during this time. You might waive your rights for a couple of years, and while it increases the chance of you doing less time, or even no time, down the line, getting to that point is a major bitch.

But as with virtually all criminal justice issues, this one won’t be fixed by our lawmakers. It will take the courts to eventually step in and change the rules regarding these sorts of things. Our lawmakers are elected, and pretty much no-one ever gets elected by taking a stance their opponent will paint as “soft on crime”. In the meantime, I guess the best we can do is continue to make people aware of the problem. So consider yourself more aware.

A Total Bastard Gets Convicted of Fraud

So, you know dowsing, right? That’s where you use a stick to detect water. I’m not talking about, say, looking for a green tree in an area of brown grass and concluding there must be water at that location. No, I’m talking about using a stick to point at things until the stick, somehow, tells you that it found water. Because sticks can totally do that.

Good for stickin' it to the Man, but not for bomb detection.

Good for stickin’ it to the Man, but not for bomb detection.

Actually, they can’t. They also can’t detect oil. You know what else they’re useless for? Detecting bombs. Yet somehow some total bastard of a man managed to convince various governments to buy his magic sticks and use them to “detect” explosives. I’m sure this would work if someone poked an explosive with the stick and it went off, but otherwise, not so much. And even that outcome would be of limited use.

People occasionally ask about the kind of harm that belief in the occult, and a wider belief in religion, as well as other things that can’t be scientifically prove, might cause. They say there’s no harm, really, that it’s just a cute, charming little pass time. Well, no, it isn’t. At best they’re fooling themselves into believing something that’s not true. At worse, they’re buying into crap like this. Crap that could get someone killed.

So at least one total bastard is now in all sorts of trouble. Good. That’s one down, with an unknown number to go.

Lead and Crime, or The Trouble with Pb(CH2CH3)4

I’m currently in the midst of reading a fascinating article in Mother Jones. It’s talking about a possible connection with lead and crime, or more specifically, with leaded gasoline, which began to be used heavily in the 1940s and decreased considerably by the 1970s, and the crime wave that began in the 1960s and largely ended in the 1990s.

Basically the logic goes something like this: we know that lead exposure causes all sorts of mental and physical issues. We know that lead was added to gasoline and that about twenty years later, crime rates shot up big time. We know that about twenty years after we lead stopped having a widespread use in gasoline, the crime rates dropped.

The theory explains a number of things, like why big cities had massively larger crime rates than small ones (something that has since basically equalized), and why crime rates dropped significantly in big cities everywhere in the USA, not just in places like New York city.

It’s a really fascinating article, and while I think the theory needs more study, it also shows quite a bit of promise.