aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Three-strike laws make criminals more violent
Ray Fisman, a professor at the Columbia Business School, says it’s tempting to invoke the law of unintended consequences in thinking about what was a well-intentioned but flawed piece of legislation:
“Three-strikes" laws have now been enacted in 26 states, often with the stated purpose of keeping society safe from violent criminals like Richard Davis. But a new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that three-strikes laws like California’s, while discouraging criminals from doing things like smoking pot or shoplifting, may push those who do continue in a life of crime to commit more violent offenses. The study’s author, Radha Iyengar, argues that this is because under such laws, felons with a pair of strikes against them have little to lose (and often much to gain) by committing serious crimes rather than minor offenses.
Why would stiffer penalties increase violent crime? To understand this seeming paradox, you first need to understand the nature of California’s three-strikes law. Not just any offense gets you a first strike. It must be a so-called “record-aggravating” offense, which includes violent crimes like assault and rape as well as serious nonviolent crimes such as burglary or drug sales to minors. But after strike one, strikes two and three can come from any felony, including minor offenses like possession of marijuana or even stealing golf clubs or videotapes. A third strike carries with it a mandatory sentence of at least 25 years in prison.
Now, put yourself in the shoes of a two-strike criminal. The prospect of 25 years behind bars for a third offense is likely to give even a hardened criminal pause before he or she crosses the street against the lights. So we’d expect two-strike felons to commit fewer crimes. But suppose you’ve already decided to break the law-maybe you need to make a quick buck. Are you going to lift a few golf clubs from the local pro shop? Or are you going to hold up a bank? The potential haul from a bank robbery is obviously much greater, and the penalty is the same: Bank robbery will get you decades in the slammer, but if it’s your third offense, so will shoplifting.
AlterNet on Troy Anthony Davis
In a 4-3 decision, the court decided that not even the seven recanted testimonies were enough to merit a new trial. “We simply cannot disregard the jury’s verdict in this case,” wrote Justice Harold Melton. Never mind that the jury was working with hopelessly tainted evidence—and that two of the jurors have declared that if they knew then what they know now, they would never have voted to convict Troy Davis. As Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears wrote in her dissent: “If recantation testimony â€¦ shows convincingly that prior trial testimony was false, it simply defies all logic and morality to hold that it must be disregarded categorically.” But logic and morality have little say in a system that straps people to a gurney, outfits them with intravenous lines and murders them with a lethal cocktail. Once again, Troy Davis confronts this fate.
Even the most hardbitten death penalty lawyers and activists were stunned by the court ruling. Georgia defense attorney Chris Adams, a member of Davis’ defense team, called it “a heartbreaking day.” “I was very surprised by the decision on Monday,” he said over the phone on Tuesday morning. “We felt that the proper course was to hear all the witnesses â€¦ and then to make a judgment call.” Instead, the ruling means that new evidence that could clear Davis will likely never make it into the courtroom. To Adams, this is a travesty. This case, an “actual innocence case,” is “the kind of case you go to law school for,” he said. “You would hope all your cases would have this kind of significance—or that none of them would.” [...]
Barring a successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Davis will once again find himself at the mercy of the state parole board. Asked if there is reason to be optimistic given the board’s past attention to the revelations in his case, Adams said, “Boy, you know, it’s really hard to feel optimistic about it today.” But when it comes to fighting for the life of an innocent man, there’s not much choice. “You’ve got to be optimistic.”
I look at our criminal justice system in this country and I ache. When I see that 1 in 100 Americans are in prison I ache. And that ache is related to the ache I felt as I watched Obama’s speech on race. But with Obama’s speech it was an aching hope. With this, it’s an aching hopelessness. Along with Obama, I see the need to bridge the two.
reCAPTCHA: Digitizing Books one word at a time
Luis von Ahn is an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University who developed the CAPTCHA - those squiggly series of letters which help us prove we are human when leaving comments or performing other internet chores that require authentication.
I know this because I listened to him speak with Dr. Moira Gunn in a Tech Nation interview available via IT Conversations. The whole tales worth the telling but the part that merits even more attention is this notion of the reCAPTCHA:
About 60 million CAPTCHAs are solved by humans around the world every day. In each case, roughly ten seconds of human time are being spent.
Individually, that’s not a lot of time, but in aggregate these little puzzles consume more than 150,000 hours of work each day. What if we could make positive use of this human effort? reCAPTCHA does exactly that by channeling the effort spent solving CAPTCHAs online into “reading” books.
To archive human knowledge and to make information more accessible to the world, multiple projects are currently digitizing physical books that were written before the computer age. The book pages are being photographically scanned, and then, to make them searchable, transformed into text using “Optical Character Recognition” (OCR). The transformation into text is useful because scanning a book produces images, which are difficult tostore on small devices, expensive to download, and cannot be searched. The problem is that OCR is not perfect.
reCAPTCHA improves the process of digitizing books by sending words that cannot be read by computers to the Web in the form ofCAPTCHAs for humans to decipher. More specifically, each word that cannot be read correctly by OCR is placed on an image and used as a CAPTCHA. This is possible because most OCR programs alert you when a word cannot be read correctly.
Easter eggs at our house (again)
Doug’s decorating Easter Eggs agin. He attaches herbs with string and boils them in natural blueberry, onion skin and cabbage dyes. The house is odiferous, but the eggs are… wondiferous?
The photos are from last year…