Posts Tagged ‘Crime and Punishment’

Book note: Crime and Punishment

June 24, 2022

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Feodor Dostoyevsky (1866) translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (1992) with an introduction by W.J. Leatherbarrow (1993)

Dostoyevsky’s great novel is about how a young man with basically decent and humane feeling puts himself into a psychological state in which he commits a cold-blooded murder.

When we meet the young man, Raskolnikov, he is hungry, exhausted, and in ill health.  He is full of guilt for sponging off his needy mother and sister.  He is deeply in debt to a pawnbroker, a greedy old woman who has an abused half-sister.

We later learn that he wasn’t always like this.  A fairly short time before the action of the novel begins, when he was solvent and healthy, he was compassionate and responsible, keeping his own life in order and going out of this way to constructively help others.

But now he is in a state where his mind is on automatic pilot—acting on impulse rather than conscious decision.  Some of his impulses are generous and kind, some are bad, but none are the result of conscious decision.

This state has been well described by 20th century psychologists, starting with Sigmund Freud.  The conscious mind is not necessarily master in its own house.  It thinks it is the CEO of the human personality, but often it is just the PR department.  

Dostoyevsky understood through introspection and observation what Freud and others later figured out through scientific study and clinical experience.

Raskonnikov’s main source of self-esteem is an article he wrote about how the end justifies the means, and how a truly great person, such as Napoleon, pursues his goal by all means necessary, without concern for moral rules.

Napoleon knowingly caused the deaths of many thousands of innocent people, but he was regarded as a great man because he was a force for progress, Raskolnikov wrote; a Napoleon on the individual level, who acquired money through a crime, but used the money to do good, would also be great.  In fact, it could be your duty to overcome qualms of conscience to accomplish a great goal.

He begins to fantasize about killing the pawnbroker and using her money to help his mother and sister, canceling out the criminal act by the good deed.  But there is no point in the narrative at which he comes to a conscious decision to commit the murder.

One day he overhears a student arguing with a military officer about that very thing.  The student says that killing and robbing the pawnbroker would be justified if the money was used to accomplish a greater good, because the pawnbroker contributes nothing to society.  Ah, replies the officer, but would you really do it?  No, the student admits.

This is what the experimental psychologist Daniel Kahneman called priming or anchoring—one of the subtle things that influence human action below the level of consciousness.

Raskolnikov goes ahead and commits the murder.  He kills the greedy pawnbroker and then her innocent half-sister.  All the while he acts more on impulse and instinct more than rational judgement.  It is as if he is a spectator to his own actions.

I myself have experienced being in such a mental state.  I have done things with my mind on automatic pilot, sometimes to my great regret, and then wonder why I did them.

Raskolnikov flees the murder scene and gets away with loot, but not as much as if he had been able to act calmly, rationally and decisively.  

Later he reproaches himself, not for committing the murder, but for not being Napoleon-like character he imagined himself to be.   But his sense of guilt is too great and he eventually confesses.  Even so, he is still tortured by the conflict between his conscience and his philosophy.

Raskolnikov’s inability to overcome his basic human decency is not, as he saw it, a fatal flaw, but a saving grace


ISIS law and Saudi law

November 21, 2015



The Shared History of Saudi Arabia and ISIS by Madawi Al-Rasheed for Hurst Publishers.

Crime and punishment: Islamic State vs. Saudi Arabia by Rori Donaghy and Mary Atkinson for Middle East Eye.

Inhuman Monsters: Islamic State vs. Saudi Arabia by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.


Racial profiling and the Trayvon Martin killing

June 9, 2012

Is George Zimmerman a racist?  In my opinion (1) probably not, and (2) it’s irrelevant to the question of his guilt or innocence.

Murdering someone because of their race is a hate crime.  But being racist is not in itself a crime.  In a free country, people are not put on trial for their attitudes, or for what people think about their attitudes, but when they are accused breaking laws on the statue books.  I can imagine someone being an avowed racist, yet having the good judgment not to go around with a loaded gun playing policeman.  The issue in the Trayvon Martin killing is whether George Zimmerman was legally justified in taking a human life.

George Zimmerman

There was a time within living memory when a black man in communities such as Sanford, Fla., could be killed with impunity for speaking disrespectfully to a white person.  I remember the case of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy who was killed in 1955 in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman, and how the all-white jury acquitted the killers because they thought that was justifiable grounds for homicide.

I don’t believe the killing of Trayvon Martin was anything like this.  But I do believe that if it had been me, a 75-year-old white man, wandering through a gated community in Sanford, Fla., on the night of Feb. 26, instead of a 17-year-old black youngster, I would still be alive.  And if by chance it was my life that had been taken, I believe the local police would have been quick to treat it as a crime.

There are statistical disparities between how the criminal justice system treats white and black people, but they aren’t always what I would think.   The law comes down much harder on black people for victimless crimes such as drug abuse.  Surveys indicate that black and white people use illegal drugs in roughly the same percentages, but the overwhelming majority of people in prison for using illegal drugs are black.  But when it comes to crimes of violence, the important variable is the race of the victim, not the accused.  Black murderers of black people are treated more leniently on average than white murderers of white people.  But the small number of black murderers of white people are treated more harshly on average than the smaller number of white murderers of black people.

Trayvon Martin

My guess is that this goes back to the days of slavery and segregation, when white law enforcement officers didn’t care whether black people killed each other, and in the deep South thought that it was justified to kill black people to keep them in line.  Old attitudes persist, even among people who’ve forgotten the reason for them.

It is all too easy to jump to conclusions about other people.  There is a young black man who was a member of my church, an “A” student and an outstanding athlete.  He went to State University College at Albany on a football scholarship.  He was young giant, and at SUNY Albany was given a special diet and body-building exercises to build him up further.  He was quiet and good-tempered, nicknamed the “gentle giant” by his high school classmates.  Yet if I had met him on the street in a bad section of town at night, and not known who he was, I don’t know what I would have felt.

Many black parents try to teach their children how to appear nonthreatening to white people.  They see every encounter with authority as a potential life-threatening situation.  And if you read about all the cases where black men are shot and killed by police by mistake, you see this is not an overreaction.  Not that George Zimmerman had the authority of a law enforcement officer.  He was just a guy with a gun.

I am fortunate to have had parents who taught me to judge people as individuals, not by race, religion and nationality.  Like most human beings, I have my biases, conscious and unconscious, but I try not to let my judgments and actions be controlled by these biases.

Click on George Zimmerman: Prelude to a shooting for a sympathetic portrait of George Zimmerman by Reuters news service.

Click on Are We Teaching Kids the Wrong Lesson About Trayvon? for an argument that what’s needed is not for black parents to talk to their children about how to navigate racial prejudice, but for white parents to have conversations with their children about why racism is morally wrong and intellectually untenable.   I count myself fortunate that my own parents brought me up to judge people as individuals, and not on the basis of race, religion or nationality.   That doesn’t make me free of prejudice, conscious and unconscious.  It means I’ve been taught to try to overcome prejudice.

Click on Race plays complex role in Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law for the Tampa Bay Times analysis of fatal shootings under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which says that people have a right to use deadly force to defend themselves even if they could have avoiding the confrontation by retreating.  The newspaper found that killers of black people were treated more leniently more often than killers of white people, but there are other factors that may have explained this.

Click on Trayvon Martin’s Death, and What It Says About Race, Privilege and Homicide for interesting statistics from the CrimeDime web log.  These figures do not, however, prove what CrimeDime thinks they prove.  The comment thread is as interesting as the post.

Click on Sanford, Florida’s Long Troubled History of Racism and Racial Injustice for background on hate crimes in that community, including running Jackie Robinson out of town.  I think many black people and few white people are familiar with this background, and this may explain why black and white people respond on average so differently.  Of course this is neither here nor there concerning George Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence.

Click on The Murder of Emmett Till for background on that case.  I don’t think this is something that could happen today.

Did Trayvon Martin stand his ground?

June 9, 2012

This chart is the result of an analysis by the Tampa Bay Times of recent killings in Florida in which the right to stand your ground was asserted as a defense.

The killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is in one respect typical of the cases in which the “stand your ground” defense is invoked.   Someone with a gun claimed the right of self-defense against someone who was unarmed.

An analysis of 192 Florida homicide cases in which the “stand your ground” defense was invoked indicates that in at least 135 cases, the victim was unarmed, and in at least 121 cases, the killer had a firearm.   But the killers did not have to prove they were in physical danger.  All they had to do was to make the case that they thought they were in physical danger.  Maybe the deceased also thought they were in danger.  But they’re dead.  They don’t get to give to give their side of it.

I don’t deny there is a right to self-defense, nor to know which of these cases really were self-defense.  But it is hard to believe that so many people with guns were put in fear of their lives by people who were unarmed.

George Zimmerman

George Zimmerman reportedly had a broken nose and abrasions on the back of his head and Martin reportedly had abrasions on his knuckles.  There must have been some struggle between the two, and it is possible that George Zimmerman thought that Trayvon Martin threatened his life.  But Ta-Nehisi Coates thinks it also is quite possible that Trayvon Martin thought he was threatened by a scary guy who’d been following him in a van and on foot, and decided to stand his ground.  I think so, too, although of course I have no way of knowing.  Only two people knew the full story, and only one survived to tell his version.

Click on Stand Your Ground and Trayvon Martin and Trayvon Martin Update for the thoughts of Ta-Nehisi Coates on his web log for The Atlantic.  The comment threads on these two posts are worth reading.  Here’s one comment.

I have two nephews, a little younger than Trayvon.  If they were walking home, by themselves, in the dark, I would have always counseled them to avoid strangers, to definitely avoid talking to, answering questions from, or engaging with strangers, to try to get away from any stranger who appears to be behaving in an odd or threatening manner, and, if all else fails, to fight that stranger like hell.

Almost every defense I’ve seen of Zimmerman talking about how he had a right to be in a public space, to walk where he wanted, and so on, is true, but it overlooks just how terrifying that behavior is, and how many of us have been trained ourselves and have trained others to fear confrontations with strangers and to assume the worst of anyone we don’t know who would approach us in the dark (and for good reasons).

Even if Zimmerman’s account is fairly accurate, it sounds like it would be terrifying to be in Martin’s position. I don’t see how people can’t see how scary Zimmerman’s behavior was BY HIS OWN ACCOUNT.  Even if he had a legal right to do it, I’m baffled that people don’t see how terrifying and threatening it was.  It is literally the nightmare stranger-danger scenario we warn kids about.

What advice should I give my nephews about avoiding a situation like this?  Cooperate with the stranger?  That seems even worse. I don’t know.  The whole thing just leaves me distraught.

via Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Click on Stand your ground law, Trayvon Martin and a shocking legacy for an analysis by the Tampa Bay Times of homicides in which the “stand your ground” defense was invoked.

Click on Florida’s ‘stand your ground law yields some shocking outcomes depending on how the law is applied for more analysis by the Tampa Bay Times.

The coverup of the BP coverup

May 21, 2012

In September, 2008, a BP oil rig in the Caspian Sea had a blowout and oil spill, caused by exactly the same kind of failure as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a year and a half later.  Yet BP executives before and after the Deepwater Horizon spill maintained that BP had a perfect safety record, and the oil spill could not have been predicted.

BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast, whose interview by Paul Jay of the Real News Network is shown above, said he got a tip about the BP spill in the Caspian Sea, and flew incognito to Azerbaijan to interview eyewitnesses.  He said he was arrested on arrival, and the eyewitnesses were scared of being interviewed on camera, but the facts were later confirmed by a State Department cable which was revealed by Wikileaks.  This was part of the batch of cables that Bradley Manning is being prosecuted for allegedly revealing.

Palast’s story was aired by the BBC and other European TV networks.  He said he provided his information to American TV networks, but they never responded.  It is interesting to speculate why.

Click on BP Covered Up Blowout and Cables Reveal BP Coverup for Greg Palast’s full report.

Click on BP Coverup, Coverup for the transcript of his Real News Network interview.

Click on Greg Palast – Investigative Reporter for Palast’s home page and continuing reporting.

[Added 6/1/12]  If Greg Palast is right, and the two BP oil spills were due solely to that company’s negligence, that means deep ocean drilling may be safe, if it is done with proper safety procedures.

The profitable business of immigration detention

April 17, 2012

This documentary by Al Jazeera English shows how the growing crackdown on unauthorized immigration generates profits for the growing U.S. private prison industry.   The state and federal prison population doubled in the past 20 years, but the number of prisoners in private prisons increased 17-fold.  Prison industry is a profitable business, and includes contracting for the U.S. military.

Immigration detention is a growing part of this.  The American Civil Liberties Union reported that, according to one report, nearly half of immigration detainees are held in private prisons,  versus 6 percent of state convicts and 16 percent of federal convicts.  The Corrections Corporation of America, the largest U.S. private prison corporation in the United States, helped the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) draft Arizona’s 2009 law allowing police to lock up anyone who is without documentation to show they are a citizen or a legal immigrant, and lobbied for it, along with other private prison corporations.

The documentary shows people being held in detention centers for up to a year without a hearing.  I guess the idea is that if they were given a prompt hearing and deported, there would be nothing to discourage them from trying again right away.

I admit I don’t have a good answer to the question of unauthorized immigration.   I think it is intolerable to have a underclass within U.S. borders who are outside the protection of U.S. law, who are at the mercy of unscrupulous employers and government officials.  I don’t think it is feasible to hunt down and deport millions of unauthorized immigrants who are integrated into American society, even if the U.S. were turned into even more of a police state than it now is.   I doubt that the American economic and social structure could handle completely unrestricted immigration.  I don’t think repeated amnesties are the answer.

The implied answer of the champions of immigration rights quoted in the video is a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  I don’t think that is a good answer, but I don’t have a better one.   All I can say is that I think it is a bad idea to create a powerful vested economic interest whose profits are tied to maintaining the present bad situation.

Click on Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration for an executive summary of the ACLU report.

Click on Immigration is a moral issue and The least bad option on immigration for earlier posts of mine on the unauthorized immigration question.


As usual, it is the victim that is on trial

March 27, 2012

Back in the 1960s, I covered murder trials as a reporter for The Daily Mail in Hagerstown, Md.   In none of this trials was there any question of who the killer was.   The argument for the defense was that the deceased brought his fate on himself, for being an abusive husband,  an abusive parent or something else intolerable.  The juries were almost always sympathetic, and the killer usually was either acquitted or treated with extreme leniency.  I thought the result was probably right, but I would have liked to have heard the victim’s side of the story.  That is one of the disadvantages of being dead.  You don’t get to tell your side of the story.

That is what is happening in the Trayvon Martin case.  The victim is being put on trial.  And he doesn’t get to tell his side of the story.

Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old boy who lived in a gated community in Sanford, Florida.  One night he went out on an errand.  On the way home he was seen by an armed Neighborhood Watch volunteer named George Zimmerman, who thought his behavior was suspicious.  He called 911 and, despite explicitly being told not to do so, started stalking Martin in his van.  Martin at the time was talking to his girlfriend on a cell phone about some strange character following him.  Zimmerman got out of his van, there was some sort of confrontation, Zimmerman was seen holding Martin down on the ground, and Martin was shot dead.  Martin himself was unarmed.

The significance of Martin being black is that this happens so often to black people, including teenagers and young children.  Because it is a pattern, black people across the United States are naturally up in arms about the case.  But to many white people, the greater issue and the greater injustice is white people being accused of racism.

As always happens in such cases, there has been a concerted effort to dig up dirt on Martin.  The worst thing that has surfaced is that Martin was suspended from school, reportedly for being in possession of an empty marijuana baggy.   If true, this does not, alas, make him different from other teenagers these days.

Click on What Everyone Needs to Know About the Smear Campaign Against Trayvon Martin for more about this.

This just in:  The Orlando Sentinel reported this morning that Zimmerman told police that Martin jumped up, cold-cocked him with one blow and started hammering his head against the ground before he pulled his gun and shot him.   I will be interested to see if any eyewitnesses confirm this.   It seems improbable that a teenager, with no history of violence, would jump a man 10 years older and 10050 pounds heavier for no real reason.  It seems more likely that the chaser, rather than the chase-ee, would be the aggressor.  As I said, Trayvon Martin isn’t around to give his version of the story.

Click on Zimmerman says Travon decked him with one blow, then began hammering his head for a  report on what Zimmerman reportedly told police.

[Afterthought]  Even if the facts were partly or wholly as Zimmerman reportedly said, that does not close the case, in my opinion.  As Ta-nehisi Coates said, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law allows a person who feels threatened to shoot without waiting for the other person to shoot first.  Trayvon Martin had good reason to feel threatened.  Should he have waited for the other person to throw the first punch?  But of course there is no way to ask him what he was thinking.

[Update 3/29/12]  The police video of George Zimmerman appears to contradict the account he allegedly gave to police.  Click on New Video of George Zimmerman at the Police Station for details.

The facts of the case would be better determined in a court of law than by me and others publishing dueling sets of leaked information.  My excuse for doing this is that the case may well never reach a court of law.

[Update 3/31/12]  Forget what I wrote above about the police video.   Click on Who Needs Journalism: MSNBC Broadcasts a New Clearer Tape for the reason.

Click on The Danger of Rushing to Judgment on George Zimmerman for some words of wisdom.

Florida law and George Zimmerman’s impunity

March 24, 2012

The Trayvon Martin case involves the shooting of a young black man by a young white man, and the failure of the white-run Southern police department to take any action against the killer.  The more evidence comes out, the less defensible and more bigoted the police department’s attitude seems. … …  My feeling is the same as when I wrote about the Troy Davis execution last fall: this case is obviously about race, and is important on those grounds.  Race relations are after all the original and ongoing tension in U.S. history.  But it is also about self-government, rule of law, equality before the law, accountability of power, and every other value that we contend is integral to the American ideal … …

via James Fallows.

George Zimmerman

Many commentators and bloggers speculate that George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch guy in Florida who killed the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, will claim justification under Florida’s new expansive self-defense law.

Historically the right to claim self-defense as a basis for justifiable homicide required you to show that you had taken other reasonable actions, including backing way from the situation, to protect your life.  Florida’s expanded law, according to various bloggers and commentators, expands that right.  You have the right to stand your ground, and still use deadly force if you feel in danger.

In Florida you may kill anyone who’s not in an iron lung machine, or comatose, at will, as long as you do it with no-one else around and you are willing to say you were scared of your victim at the time.  Really.  You can probably shoot him in the back if you say you thought he was going for a piece tucked in his belt. … … George Zimmerman, who apparently spent night after night out and about with his 9mm burning a hole in his pocket, finally got to use it for what it’s supposed to do.  I’m aware of no statement of regret from Zimmerman, and it appears that he’s in good shape legally, at least for now.

via The Reality-Based Community.

The thing about this right is that it can be claimed only by the shooter, never by the victim.   George Zimmerman, the gun-toting Neighborhood Watch volunteer, who killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager did not grant Martin any right to stand his ground.  Neither did he grant him any right to retreat from the situation, nor to move forward.   Any of these actions could be been deemed evidence of guilt.

Martin would have been better off if he had carried a concealed weapon, and shot Zimmerman before Zimmerman shot him. He undoubtedly would have been put on trial (whether Zimmerman will be is doubtful), but he would at least have been able to tell his side of the story.   That is one of the legal disadvantages of being a homicide victim.  Your killer gets to tell his side of the story, but you do not.

I have read comment on the Internet pointing out that there is no proof that Zimmerman acted out of racial prejudice, or arguing that since he is of Hispanic heritage, he can’t be racist.  The issue becomes not whether there was any reason to shoot an unarmed 17-year-old boy, but whether he would have been as prone to shoot a white boy as a black boy.

I never heard of a Neighborhood Watch volunteer carrying a concealed weapon.  None of the Neighborhood Watch in my own neighborhood do, and, even though I am white, I would feel uneasy if they did.  I believe there is a Second Amendment individual right to keep and bear arms, and an inherent right to self-defense, but with those rights go responsibilities.

It is of course impossible to know what Zimmerman thinks or feels in his heart.  All we can know is what he did.  You can’t change the hatred and prejudice that people feel in their hearts.  You can change the law that says, basically, that you can kill somebody with impunity if there are no witnesses and you are willing to say you are scared.

People who endanger or take innocent life should face consequences.  I believe that anybody who takes a human life with a firearm, intentionally or accidentally, whether wearing a badge or not, should forfeit the right to ever touch a firearm again, unless they were defending themselves or someone else against an actual clear and present danger.

Click on Suspicion.  Paranoia.  Murder. for an excellent summary of the case on the Psychopolitick web log.

Click on Stand Your Ground and Vigilante Justice for comment on the Florida law by Ta-nehisi Coates.

Click on The Trayvon Martin Case for the full comment by James Fallows.

Click on A gun is to shoot and, in Florida, “the rules are different here” for the full comment by Michael O’Hare on The Reality-Based Community web log.

Trayvon Martin: the perils of being black

March 24, 2012

Years ago I had a conversation with a black guy who worked in Democrat and Chronicle news library about all the forethought he gave to what he would do when encountering a police officer, so that the officer would not become nervous and kill him.  The situation of greatest peril, he said, was when he happened to be in an all-white suburb, where the presence of a black person was automatically regarded with suspicion.

Trayvon Martin

I recalled that conversation when I read about the killing of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who was peaceably walking in his own neighborhood, by George Zimmerman, an armed Neighborhood Watch volunteer, apparently for no reason except Zimmerman’s unfounded suspicions.

A black man who lives in the same gated community said he never walks around in his own neighborhood, precisely for fear of meeting up with somebody like Zimmerman.  He told an interviewer he takes all his walks downtown.

Geraldo Rivera wrote a column saying that Travyon Martin brought his killing on himself for wearing a hooded garment, because so many black criminals wear hooded garments.  He said Zimmerman is to blame for being reckless, but Martin also is to blame for being unwise in his choice of outerwear.

Think about this.  You have equal blame for a trigger-happy guy who kills a decent young teenager for no apparent reason, and the teenager for failing to read the trigger-happy guy’s mind and acting accordingly.

I don’t like the expression “white privilege,” because I think being able to peaceably go about your business is a right, not a privilege, but, being white, I’ve never thought my life was in peril every time I had an encounter with police authority.

A blogger named Matt Johnsen put it this way

The Thinking Viking is a taller than average, usually well-groomed white man of 40, weighing in at 175 lbs.   About as far as you can get from a slender 17-year-old black teenage boy, 140 pound 6’3″ Trayvon Martin, aside from our gender and being tall.   I’m wearing a freaking hoodie as I type, I own four of them, three black, one grey.   I wear one almost daily as I walk to the store a couple blocks away.  The rent-a-cops in my neighborhood are all – so far as I have seen – Hispanic or Black.  If one of them had shot and killed me while I was walking home, talking to my girlfriend on the phone, I can assure you, they’d be in jail – or at least charged formally – by now. The man – George Zimmerman – who stalked and murdered Trayvon Martin has not been charged, and is walking around a free man.

Anyone who thinks this isn’t racially motivated isn’t seeing things clearly.  As for the Stand Your Ground law he is using as his defense?  You cannot claim self-defense if you follow a total stranger in your car and then confront them after being told by 911 dispatch to stand down, wait for the real cops. Would he have done this if a 40-year-old white man had been with Trayvon? I doubt it.

But I will tell you this.

If I had been followed by an unmarked car with some strange dude in it, clearly watching me, I would have run or at least hurried, as Trayvon did.  And if that car had followed me all the way home, and the driver confronted me, he would have been met by a few things a lot more dangerous to him than than a bag of Skittles.

A camera, a gun, and my phone dialing 911.

via The Thinking Viking.

Click on Toward justice for Trayvon Martin—and for all children for reactions of parents of black children, including President Obama.

Click on On the Police ‘Investigating’ the Killing of Trayvon Martin for the source of the statement by the black man who takes all his walks downtown.

Click on Trayvon Martin Would Be Alive But For His Hoodie for Geraldo Rivera’s column.

Click on Walking While Black—On Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman for Matt Johnsen’s full post, including a picture of Johnsen in his hoodie.

Click on the Trymaine Lee and Ta-Nehisi Coates web logs for many good posts on the Trayvon Martin killing.

Victor Lustig’s 10 commandments for con men

March 6, 2012

Victor Lustig, born in 1890, was one of the world’s most renowned con men.  In 1925, he posed as a French government official, took five businessmen on a tour of the Eiffel Tower and sold it to one of them as scrap metal.  This scam worked so well he did it a second time.  He once tricked Al Capone out of $5,000.  He had 25 aliases, spoke five languages and, by the 1930s, was wanted by 45 law enforcement agencies worldwide.

The following was his advice to aspiring con men.

  • Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a con-man his coups).

    Victor Lustig

  • Never look bored.
  • Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions, then agree with them.
  • Let the other person reveal religious views, then have the same ones.
  • Hint at sex talk, but don’t follow it up unless the other fellow shows a strong interest.
  • Never discuss illness, unless some special concern is shown.
  • Never pry into a person’s personal circumstances (they’ll tell you all eventually).
  • Never boast. Just let your importance be quietly obvious.
  • Never be untidy.
  • Never get drunk.

Click on The World’s Greatest Con Artists: Victor Lustig for more about his career.

Click on Victor Lustig wiki for his Wikipedia biography.

Hat tip to Lists of Note.

Roundup: Fracking, rich people, Islam, etc.

March 3, 2012

Here are links to some interesting articles I read on-line during the week.

2012 or Never by Jonathan Chait in New York magazine is an argument that the Republican Party’s policies put it on the wrong side of ongoing demographic changes.  The future electorate is going to be more and more like Barack Obama—young, urban, hip and non-white.  I think the Democratic leaders are making a mistake if they rely on demographics and Republican self-destruction to win their elections for them.  The party that wins the support of a majority of the electorate will be the one that actually does something about unemployment, outsourcing, declining wages and financial abuses.

The Big Fracking Bubble by Jeff Goodall in Rolling Stone is a profile of Hugh McClendon, founder of Chesapeake Energy, which is possibly the largest company engaged in hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.  It reportedly owns drilling rights on 15 million acres of land, more than twice the area of Maryland.  One disappointed Pennsylvania farm owner who sold drilling rights to Chesapeake said that the United States is destroying its water resource in order to extract an energy resource.

Upper class people more likely to cheat on the Raw Story web site describes a study which indicated that rich people on average are more willing than poor people to break traffic laws, cheat for financial gain and even take candy from children.  The researchers concluded that wealth generates a sense of entitlement.

Are They Really Religious? by Alaa al Aswany, an Egyptian journalist, for Huffington Post says the form of Islam being imported into Eygpt from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States emphasizes form over substance.  Hospital staffs leave emergency rooms unattended while they participate in their daily prayer routine.  Members of Parliament grow beards in tribute to Mohammad but are unconcerned with torture and corruption in the Mubarrak regime.  True religion, he writes, emphasizes the human values of truth, justice and freedom, not the details of ritual observances.

Tunisia: Moderate Political Islam Eschews Violence is a profile by my friend Tom Riggins on his web log is a profile of Said Ferjani, a leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda Party, and his teacher, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, founder of the party. The Ennahda Party, which represents a more moderate and democratic form of Islam than the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, won the recent Tunisian elections in coalition with two smaller parties, and is now participating in the drafting of a new Tunisian constitution.

Bradley Manning’s quest for justice is a report by Logan Price in The Guardian newspaper in England.  Reporting on Manning’s arraignment in military court for allegedly providing secret information about U.S. war crimes to Wikileaks, Price says that Manning holds to a higher standard of truth than the court does.

Thirty More Years of Hell is a rant by Connor Kilpatrick in Jacobin magazine about the world the Baby Boomer generation has created for the Millennial generation.

Defending Bradley Manning

March 2, 2012

Click on United States vs. Manning & Assange for a transcript of this interview on the Real News Network.

Is Bradley Manning the real criminal?

December 18, 2011

This program aired on the Real News Network last Wednesday, and is based on a documentary that was on German television about 10 months ago.

My morning newspaper carried an Associated Press dispatch saying that material in the video may not have been classified information.

During its cross-examination of [Special Agent Toni] Graham [an Army criminal investigator], Manning’s defense team … sought to convince the court that not all the material he is accused of leaking is classified.

Graham, who collected evidence from Manning’s living quarters and workplace, testified that among the items seized was a DVD marked “secret” that contained a military video showing the 2007 incident in which Apache attack helicopters gunned down unarmed men in Iraq.

[Major Matthew] Kemkes, one of Manning’s lawyers, asked Graham whether she knew the video was unclassified.  She said she didn’t.  “In fact, it was an unclassified video,” Kemkes said.

At the time the video was posted by WikiLeaks, the Pentagon called it a breach of national security and it was believed to be a secret.

There is nothing in the Apache helicopter video that was unknown to the people of Iraq and their neighbors.  They knew very well how war was waged in Iraq.  The people that the American government didn’t want to see the video were the people of the United States.  The secrecy was aimed at us.

Manning is accused of releasing a great deal of other material, some of which really is classified as confidential or secret.  An estimated 2.5 million personnel reportedly had access to that material.  If so, it can’t have been all that secret.

It should be noted that the program refers to conditions under which Manning was then being held at the Marine Corps station at Quantico.  Subsequently he was moved to Fort Leavenworth and held under more humane conditions.  And Manning is no longer in jeopardy of the death penalty, although if convicted he could be sentenced to life imprisonment.  So there has been some improvement in his situation since the program was made.

But meanwhile the soldiers who shot a wounded man and his rescuer, and the people who ordered them to do it, and the people who gave them orders, are in jeopardy of nothing at all.

Police confront demonstraters, then and now

December 15, 2011

Double click to enlarge

Hat tip to zunguzungu.

 Click on Riot Gear’s Evolution for the source of the chart.  [3/4/13]

Bradley Manning to get a day in court

December 14, 2011

After 17 months in prison, PFC Bradley Manning will get his day in court on charges that he leaked confidential government information to Wikileaks.  He faces the possibility of life in prison.

The U.S. Army will begin a pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade, Md., to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to bring him to trial.  This hearing is expected to last about a week.  Barring the unexpected, a date for his actual trial will then be set.

PFC Manning, a 23-year-old Army intelligence analyst (his 24th birthday is Saturday), is accused of making public the “Collateral Murder” video of a US helicopter attack that killed a dozen unarmed Iraqis, the “Iraq War Logs”, the “Afghan Diaries”, the “Gitmo Files”, and a trove of embarrassing US State Department cables by providing these files to the WikiLeaks website.

Like any other defendant, he is entitled to a legal presumption of innocence, but I have not heard any claim by his supporters or his lawyers that he is falsely accused of leaking the information.  Rather their claim is that he was justified.

Although he is charged with espionage, along with lesser charges of theft of property and he is not accused of working for a foreign power.  Rather he is accused of embarrassing the government by making the American people and the people of the world aware of things the government wants to cover up.

He had a legal obligation as a soldier to keep classified information secret.  If that legal obligation is to mean anything, a violation has to be punished.  But life imprisonment?   This is wildly disproportionate when you consider that government officials leak confidential information all the time, and suffer no punishment, because this advances some powerful person’s agenda.  If it were up to me, I would sentence PFC Manning to the time he has already served, and let it go at that.

Click on Bradley Manning deserves a medal for Glenn Greenwald’s comment in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper.  [Added 12/15/11]

Click on Accused Wikileaker defense argues Obama must testify for PFC Manning’s lawyers likely defense.

Click on Bradley Manning’s “no touch” torture for my earlier post on the conditions of his imprisonment.

Click on Manning Hearing Moves Forward Under a Cloud of Questions for a dispatch from Wired magazine.  [Added 12/17/11]