One percent of the population commits 63 percent of all violent crimes

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

One percent of the population commits 63 percent of all violent crimes — at least in Sweden, based on convictions:

A total of 93,642 individuals (3.9 %) had at least one violent conviction. The distribution of convictions was highly skewed; 24,342 persistent violent offenders (1.0 % of the total population) accounted for 63.2 % of all convictions. Persistence in violence was associated with male sex (OR 2.5), personality disorder (OR 2.3), violent crime conviction before age 19 (OR 2.0), drug-related offenses (OR 1.9), nonviolent criminality (OR 1.9), substance use disorder (OR 1.9), and major mental disorder (OR 1.3).

The majority of violent crimes are perpetrated by a small number of persistent violent offenders, typically males, characterized by early onset of violent criminality, substance abuse, personality disorders, and nonviolent criminality.

Number of Convictions by Percentile

If all violent crime careers could come to a stop after a third conviction (which would require interventions directed at 1 % of the total population), more than 50 % of all convictions for violent crime in the total population would be prevented.

[...]

First offenses are particularly difficult to predict, especially due to the low base rates of violent crime overall. By contrast, the majority of violent crimes are committed by a group of offenders who may be identified by rather easily observable features, such as having already been convicted of violent crimes several times already in adolescence, and having problems with substance abuse.

These statistics seemingly support the catchphrase and model employed in California and several other states in the USA, “three strikes and you’re out.”

They really, really didn’t seem prepared for crime

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Something kept seeming off about all the legal systems mentioned in Legal Systems Very Different From Ours, which only clicked into place for Scott Alexander about halfway through — they really, really didn’t seem prepared for crime:

A lot of them worked on a principle like: “If there’s a crime, we’ll call together a court made of all the town elders, plus at least three different religious leaders, plus the heads of the families of everybody involved, plus a representative of the Great King, plus nine different jurists from nine different universities, and all of them will meet on the Field Of Meeting, and a great tent will be erected, and…” The whole thing sounded like it might work as long as there was like one crime a year. Any more than that and none of the society’s officials would ever have time for anything else.

As weird as it is to punish murder with a fine, the fines these societies levied for murder sounded really high: the Islamic price was a hundred camels, the Irish price was seven female slaves. The average person wouldn’t have that many slaves or camels, so people in Arabia or Ireland would band together into clan/family-based blood-money-paying-groups that acted kind of like insurance companies. If a member got convicted of a crime, everyone else would come together to help them pony up the money. I assume this helped incentivize people’s families to discourage them from committing crimes. But it has the same feeling of nobody expecting very many crimes to be committed. How much of medieval Arabia’s GDP consisted of transfers of 100 camels from murderers to victims’ families?

One little-admitted but much-worried-about justification for mass incarceration in our society is the concern that some people are just so naturally violent that, left in the outside world, they would offend again and again until they died. The societies in this book didn’t seem to worry about this. If someone killed, their family would give up the relevant number of camels, and then everyone would be on their way. As far as I can tell, the Amish have no idea what to do about any crime more dire than using a telephone. Nobody used anything at all like incarceration. 18th century England occasionally sent prisoners somewhere horrible like America, but once the colonies revolted they experimented with jails, found them too expensive, and just sort of flailed around punishment-less until they finally discovered Australia.

There’s a lot of concern about police brutality, police racism, police failure-to-actually-control crime, et cetera. A few far-leftists have flirted with the idea of abolishing police, and the only way I can make sense of this is by analogy to something like Somali or Icelandic law. These were genuine community-based non-hierarchical legal systems. And, for the place and the time, they seem to have worked really well (Somaliland, which uses traditional Somali law, is doing way better than Somalia proper, whose law system is somewhat westernized). But I also know that it’s weirdly hard to get a good picture of how modern crime rates compare to ancient ones. On the one hand are statistics like the ones saying crime has increased by an order of magnitude since 1900 or so; on the other are findings like Steven Pinker’s that violence is constantly declining. Apply the “court made of town elders plus at least three different religious leaders plus…” to Baltimore, and the Field Of Meeting is going to get pretty crowded. On the other hand, in my past work with criminals I’ve been constantly surprised by how much role their families and their communities still play in their lives, and maybe a system that left legal enforcement up to them would do better than the overstretched and underperforming police.

All legal systems need a punishment of last resort

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

One of the most interesting things Scott Alexander got from Legal Systems Very Different From Ours is that all legal systems need a punishment of last resort — one that can be enforced whether or not the offender agrees with it — but these punishments practically never happen in real life:

The Gypsies and Amish will ostracize members who defy the court — but since everyone lives in fear of ostracization, in real life they’ll just pay the fine or make their public confession or whatever. The English will hang criminals at the drop of a hat — but since the threat of hanging incentivizes them to bribe prosecutors, in reality few people will need to be hanged. The Icelandic courts could declare offenders outlaws who can be killed without repercussion — but the threat encourages Icelanders to pay the wergeld, and nobody has to get outlawed. The Somalis are ready to have murderous family feuds — but the possibility of such a feud keeps people willing to go to arbitration. Even our own legal system works like this. The police can physically drag you to jail, kicking and screaming. But more likely you’re going to plea bargain, or agree to community service, or at least be cooperative and polite while the police take you away. Plea bargains — which are easier for prosecutors, easier for defendants, and easier for taxpayers — seem like a good example of cultural evolution in action; once someone thought them up, there was no way they weren’t going to take over everything despite their very serious costs.

He will break up the fight before they kill more men than they can afford

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

Iceland, from the 10th through 13th Centuries, had a legislature (the Althing) and courts, but no executive branch:

Unlike the Rom, the Icelanders’ problem wasn’t foreign oppressors — it was that they were the Viking equivalent of those hard-core libertarians who live in compounds in Montana where the Feds can’t reach them. In this case “the Feds” were the forces of King Harald Fairhair, who had just taken over and centralized power in Norway. Some Norwegians decided they would rather live on a remote and frequently-exploding piece of rock on the edge of the world than be anyone’s subject: thus, medieval Iceland.

If an Icelander thought a crime had happened, they would go to court and plead the case themselves. If the court pronounced a guilty verdict, it would demand a penalty from the criminal. Usually this was a fine paid to the victim; even murders were punished with wergeld. If the criminal paid the fine voluntarily, all was well. If they refused — or didn’t even come to court — then the court could declare the criminal an outlaw, meaning it was legal to kill him and take his stuff. And:

One obvious objection to a system of private enforcement is that the poor (or weak) would be defenseless. The Icelandic system dealt with this problem by giving the victim a property right — the right to be reimbursed by the criminal — and making that right transferable. The victim could turn over his case to someone else, either gratis or in return for a consideration. A man who did not have sufficient resources to prosecute a case or enforce a verdict could sell it to another who did and who expected to make a profit in both money and reputation by winning the case and collecting the fine. This meant that an attack on even the poorest victim could lead to eventual punishment.

A second objection is that the rich (or powerful) could commit crimes with impunity, since nobody would be able to enforce judgment against them. Where power is sufficiently concentrated this might be true; this was one of the problems which led to the eventual breakdown of the Icelandic legal system in the thirteenth century. But so long as power was reasonably dispersed, as it seems to have been for the first two centuries after the system was established, this was a less serious problem. A man who refused to pay his fines was outlawed and would probably not be supported by as many of his friends as the plaintiff seeking to enforce judgment, since in case of violent conflict his defenders would find themselves legally in the wrong. If the lawbreaker defended himself by force, every injury inflicted on the partisans of the other side would result in another suit, and every refusal to pay another fine would pull more people into the coalition against him.

There is a scene in Njal’s Saga that provides striking evidence of the stability of this system. Conflict between two groups has become so intense that open fighting threatens to break out in the middle of the court. A leader of one faction asks a benevolent neutral what he will do for them in case of a fight. He replies that if they are losing he will help them, and if they are winning he will break up the fight before they kill more men than they can afford! Even when the system seems so near to breaking down, it is still assumed that every enemy killed must eventually be paid for. The reason is obvious enough; each man killed will have friends and relations who are still neutral — and will remain neutral if and only if the killing is made up for by an appropriate wergeld.

The exotic anarcho-capitalist part comes in later

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

Eighteenth-Century England had a government, a court system, and some minimal law enforcement, but the system seems ludicrously backward at first glance:

There were no public prosecutors; anyone who felt like it could bring a criminal to court and start prosecuting him, but if nobody felt like it then the crime remained unpunished. Prosecuting took a lot of time and money and was generally a thankless task. And the government didn’t want to go to the expense of imprisoning people, so they usually just hanged convicted offenders (if the crime seemed really bad) or pardoned them (if it didn’t seem to merit hanging). The exotic anarcho-capitalist part comes in as English civil society creates its own structures to work around these limitations.

Merchants, landowners, and other people with wealth banded together in mutual-protection-insurance-groups. Everyone in the group would pay a fixed amount yearly, and if one of them got robbed the group would use the money to hire a prosecutor to try the criminal. Group members would publish their names in the newspaper to help inform thieves whom it was a bad idea to rob. But this wasn’t about leaving poor people out to dry. The groups would also help indigents who couldn’t afford their own prosecutors, partly out of a desire to crack down on crime before it reached the point where it could inconvenience them. They wouldn’t help people who could have afforded insurance but declined anyway, though — otherwise there would be no incentive to buy in.

What about the lack of good punishments? Once a trial was underway, prosecutors would usually cut a deal: the offender would bribe the prosecutor with a certain amount, and the prosecutor would drop the case. The size of the bribe would vary based on how much the offender could pay, the extent of their crime, and the facts of the case (and therefore the likelihood of the magistrate choosing hanging vs. pardon). This not only helped tailor the punishment more precisely to the crime, but helped defer the cost of prosecution: victims (or their mutual-protection-insurance-groups) were incentivized to press charges because they could recoup their costs through the bribes paid to drop them:

What both modern and contemporary commentators seem to have missed is that, however corrupt such arrangements might be from a legal standpoint, they helped solve the fundamental problem of private prosecution. The possibility of compounding provided an incentive to prosecute — it converted the system into something more like a civil system, where a victim sues in the hope of collecting money damages. And while compounding might save the criminal from the noose, he did not get off scott free. He ended up paying, to the prosecutor, what was in effect a fine.

Whenever I read a book by anyone other than David Friedman about a foreign culture

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

Scott Alexander reviews David Friedman’s Legal Systems Very Different From Ours and really nails it:

Whenever I read a book by anyone other than David Friedman about a foreign culture, it sounds like “The X’wunda give their mother-in-law three cows every monsoon season, then pluck out their own eyes as a sacrifice to Humunga, the Volcano God”.

And whenever I read David Friedman, it sounds like “The X’wunda ensure positive-sum intergenerational trade by a market system in which everyone pays the efficient price for continued economic relationships with their spouse’s clan; they demonstrate their honesty with a costly signal of self-mutilation that creates common knowledge of belief in a faith whose priests are able to arbitrate financial disputes.”

Friedman’s perhaps best know for his anarcho-capitalist manifesto, The Machinery of Freedom, but I was more impressed by Law’s Order: What Economics Has to Do with Law and Why It Matters, which ties in to this topic even more tightly.

An important tradition for Gotham’s inner city in these hard times

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

The Wayne Manor Holiday Food Drive has become an important tradition for Gotham’s inner city in these hard times:

Good guys with guns saving lives

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

John R. Lott shares some recent stories of good guys with guns saving lives:

It is only too bad that someone with a concealed handgun permit wasn’t already at the [First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas]. We may never have heard of the shooting — national news stories are virtually never done on permit holders stopping mass public shootings.

An article at Fox News this past week mentions four such cases. It talks about a 1997 shooting at a high school in Pearl, Mississippi; a 2007 church attack in Colorado Springs; and a Chicago Uber driver who in 2015 shot and wounded a man who opened fire on a crowd. The most recent case was a 2017 church shooting in Antioch, Tennessee. But those cases just skim the surface.

[...]

There are countless examples of people using guns in self-defense at their homes or workplaces. But I want to focus on a much narrower set of cases where permit holders stopped public shootings. Here are 10 additional recent cases.

Arlington, Texas, May 3, 2017: A police spokesman stated that the concealed handgun permit holder “prevented further loss of life.” A Dallas Morning News headline read: “‘Hero’ stopped mass murder by crazed bar patron who was armed to the teeth, police say.”

Lyman, South Carolina, June 30, 2016: Just a couple of weeks after the Orlando massacre, 32-year-old Jody Ray Thompson opened fire on another nightclub. Fortunately, permitted concealed handguns were allowed in South Carolina bars. Thompson was able to shoot three people before the permit holder fired back and wounded Thompson in the leg. Fox 5 in Atlanta reports: “At least one South Carolina sheriff are crediting a man with a concealed carry permit with preventing further violence at a nightclub this past Sunday.”

Winton, Ohio, July 26, 2015: A man started shooting at four people who were walking outside on a summer’s evening. Fortunately, a concealed handgun permit holder fired at the attacker, giving the four people a chance to escape into their home.

Conyers, Georgia, May 31, 2015: A man killed two people at a liquor store and continued shooting at others until a permit holder ran inside and exchanged fire. The killer then fled the store. “I believe that if Mr. Scott did not return fire at the suspect then more of those customers would have [been] hit by a gun,” said Rockdale County Sheriff Eric Levett. “So in my opinion he saved other lives in that store.”

New Holland, South Carolina, May 5, 2015: New Holland Fire Department volunteers were hosting a children’s day event with ice cream and fire truck rides, when a man started shooting. Fortunately, two firemen were permit holders and were able to stop the attack.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 22, 2015: A 40-year-old man started shooting at people in a barber shop. A permit holder who heard the gunfire ran inside and shot the attacker. “The person who responded was a legal gun permit carrier. He responded and I guess he saved a lot of people in there,” said Philadelphia Police Captain Frank Llewellyn.

Darby, Pennsylvania, July 24, 2014: Convicted felon Richard Plotts killed a caseworker at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital and started shooting at Dr. Lee Silverman. Fortunately, the doctor had his own gun and returned fire, critically wounding Plotts, who still had 39 bullets on him. “Without a doubt, I believe the doctor saved lives,” said Yeadon police chief Donald Molineux.

Chicago, Illinois, July 7, 2014: Gang members started firing at four people who had just left a party. The attack started because one of the four people removed a cup of liquor that had been placed on top of her vehicle. Luckily, one of the four people — a military member — had a permitted concealed handgun and was able to wound the primary attacker.

Portland, Oregon, January 11, 2014: Convicted criminal Thomas Eliot Hjelmeland was ejected from a nightclub but returned 30 minutes later wearing a mask and carrying a gun. He shot the bouncer who had ejected him, and shot at others. Two others were wounded, and Hjelmeland was shooting all around the club. A concealed handgun permit holder who worked at the nightclub then fatally shot Hjelmeland.

And here are just two more cases from 2000 to 2013 — the same period that the FBI claims only had one instance of a permit holder stopping a public shooting. Again, law enforcement say that permit holders saved lives in both of these cases.

Plymouth, Pennsylvania, September 9, 2012: William Allabaugh shot at people as he walked down the street in Plymouth, Pennsylvania. He wounded one and killed another. Permit holder Mark Ktytor fatally shot Allabaugh. “Mr. [Ktytor] then acted, taking him [Allabaugh] down. We believe that it could have been much worse that night,” said Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Jarrett Ferentino.

Spartanburg, South Carolina, March 2012: Jesse Gates kicked open a door to a church and pointed a shotgun at the pastor and congregation. Parishioner Aaron Guyton, a concealed weapons permit holder, got the drop on Gates and held him at gunpoint. Sheriff Chuck Wright called Aaron and others at the church “everyday heroes.”

Permit holders haven’t just stopped public shootings. They have stopped everything from public knife attacks to vehicle attacks.

I haven’t found a single case where gun control advocates’ fears were borne out by the facts. In not one of these cases did a permit holder accidentally shoot a bystander, or a police officer accidentally harm a permit holder.

There are many more of these cases.

Mass shootings are a bad way to understand gun violence

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

Mass shootings are a bad way to understand gun violence:

First, they’re rare, and the people doing the shooting are different. The majority of gun deaths in America aren’t even homicides, let alone caused by mass shootings. Two-thirds of the more than 33,000 gun deaths that take place in the U.S. every year are suicides.

And while people who commit suicide and people who commit mass shootings both tend to be white and male, suicide victims tend to be older. The median age of a mass shooter, according to one report, is 34, with very few over 50. Suicide, however, plagues the elderly as much as it does the middle-aged.

Second, the people killed in mass shootings are different from the majority of homicides. Most gun murder victims are men between the ages of 15 and 34. Sixty-six percent are black. Women — of any race and any age — are far less likely to be murdered by a gun. Unless that gun is part of a mass shooting. There, 50 percent of the people who die are women. And at least 54 percent of mass shootings involve domestic or family violence — with the perpetrator shooting a current or former partner or a relative.

The historical trends for different kinds of gun deaths don’t all follow the same course. While data suggests that the number of mass shootings similar to the Las Vegas event has gone up, particularly since 2000, homicide rates have fallen significantly from their 1980 peak and continued on a generally downward trajectory for most of the 21st century. Meanwhile, suicides are way up, with the biggest increases among women. The trends are different because the situations are different and the people are different. Maybe different solutions are warranted, as well.

Yet crime went up, not down

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

The history of academic criminology is one of grand pronouncements that don’t prove out in the real world:

In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, criminologists demanded that public policy attack the “root causes” of crime, such as poverty and racism. Without solving these problems, they argued, we could not expect to fight crime effectively. On this thinking, billions of taxpayer dollars poured into ambitious social programs — yet crime went up, not down. In the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s, as crime rates continued to spike, criminologists proceeded to tell us that the police could do little to cut crime, and that locking up the felons, drug dealers, and gang leaders who committed much of the nation’s criminal violence wouldn’t work, either.

These views were shown to be false, too, but they were held so pervasively across the profession that, when political scientist James Q. Wilson called for selective incapacitation of violent repeat offenders, he found himself ostracized by his peers, who resorted to ad hominem attacks on his character and motivations. Wilson’s work was ignored by awards committees, and criminological reviews of his books, especially Thinking About Crime and Crime and Human Nature, were almost universally negative.

[...]

Evidence of the liberal tilt in criminology is widespread. Surveys show a 30:1 ratio of liberals to conservatives within the field, a spread comparable with that in other social sciences. The largest group of criminologists self-identify as radical or “critical.” These designations include many leftist intellectual orientations, from radical feminism to Marxism to postmodernism. Themes of injustice, oppression, disparity, marginalization, economic and social justice, racial discrimination, and state-sanctioned violence dominate criminological teaching and scholarship, as represented in books with titles like Search and Destroy: African American Males in the Criminal Justice System, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse.

A quick perusal of Presidential Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Justice, bestowed by the American Society of Criminology (ASC), shows that the winners were primarily rewarded for their left-wing advocacy. They included a judge in Massachusetts who advocated abolishing the state’s death penalty, an FBI agent who successfully sued the organization for ethnic discrimination, and a former director of juvenile corrections in Massachusetts who closed the state’s juvenile reformatories and wrote a book alleging that the system hunted down black men for sport. The society also honored Zaki Baruti, a radical black activist in St. Louis known for his hatred of police and support for leftist causes.

[...]

Liberal criminologists avoid discussing the lifestyles that criminal offenders typically lead. Almost all serious offenders are men, and they usually come from families with long histories of criminal involvement, often spanning generations. They show temperamental differences early in life, begin offending in childhood or early adolescence, and rack up dozens of arrests. Their lives are chaotic and hedonistic, including the constant pursuit of drugs and sex. They produce many children with different women and rarely have the means — or inclination — to support them. Active offenders exploit others for their own benefit, including women, children, churches, and the social-welfare system. They commit many crimes before getting arrested, and they move in and out of the criminal-justice system for decades. Many also report enjoying acts of violence; the social-media accounts of martyred gangsters shot by police often illuminate this subculture. Perhaps not surprisingly, they see the police as another competing tribe that has to be manipulated, controlled, and sometimes confronted. In sum, the lives of persistent criminal offenders are often shockingly pathological. The nature of this world is hard to grasp without witnessing it firsthand.

[...]

When it comes to disciplinary biases, however, none is so strong or as corrupting as liberal views on race. Disproportionate black involvement in violent crime represents the elephant in the room amid the current controversy over policing in the United States. Homicide numbers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Supplementary Homicide Reports, 1976–2005 indicate that young African-American males account for homicide victims at levels that are ten to 20 times greater than their proportion of the population and account for homicide offenders at levels that are 15 to 35 times greater than their proportion of the population. The black-white gap in armed-robbery offending has historically ranged between ten to one and 15 to one. Even in forms of crime that are allegedly the province of white males — such as serial murder — blacks are overrepresented as offenders by a factor of two. For all racial groups, violent crime is strongly intraracial, and the intraracial dynamic is most pronounced among blacks. In more than 90 percent of cases, the killer of a black victim is a black perpetrator.

[...]

Reliable evidence tells us that the most effective strategies to reduce crime involve police focusing on crime hot spots, targeting active offenders for arrest, and helping to solve local problems surrounding disorder and incivility. Putting predatory, recidivistic offenders in jail or in prison remains the best way to protect the public — especially those who live in high-crime neighborhoods. Lower-level offenders can often be supervised in the community, and many benefit from programs that seek to modify drug and alcohol addictions that contribute to their criminal behavior. Despite our best efforts, though, most will re-offend and reenter the system at some point.

Arnold Kling notes that it was Robert Nozick who coined the term “normative sociology” as the study of what the causes of problems ought to be:

My fear about academic economics is that it will evolve in the direction of criminology. I foresee ever-increasing social pressure within the community of academic economists to undertake research that confirms left-wing biases.

Just 2 Seconds

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

Gavin de Becker’s Just 2 Seconds looks at assassinations — “attacks, near attacks, and incidents against at-risk persons all over the world from 1960-2007″ — and includes an appendix for bodyguards to provide their clients:

Just 2 Seconds Appendix 1.1

Just 2 Seconds Appendix 1.2

Just 2 Seconds Appendix 1.3

Just 2 Seconds Appendix 1.4

I may be screwing this person over

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

A recent Freakonomics podcast looks at civic-minded Harvard physician Richard Clarke Cabot’s long-running Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study, which matched troubled boys with mentors — versus a matched control group who received no mentoring:

They found a null effect. They found there were no differences between the treatment and control boys on offending.

When computers came on the scene and they could analyze the data in finer detail, they made an interesting discovery:

On all seven measures — we’re talking, how long did you live? Were you a criminal? Were you mentally healthy, physically healthy, alcoholic, satisfied with your job; satisfied with your marriage? On all seven measures, the treatment group did statistically, significantly worse off than the control group.

The lesson:

And that’s one of the important things people who are engaged in social interventions really don’t spend much time thinking, “I may be screwing this person over.” They are self-conscious about, “Maybe this won’t work, but I’ve got to try!”

Why has Italy been spared mass terror attacks in recent years?

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

Why has Italy been spared mass terror attacks in recent years?

Some experts say Italy has been able to combat the threat of Isis domestically by mastering legal and policing tools developed through years of experience in mafia investigations, which in turn were born out of the so-called “years of lead” — the period between the late 1960s and early 1980s marked by acts of political terrorism by left- and right-wing militants.

He fought the mafia and won. Now this mayor is taking on Europe over migrants

According to figures released by the Italian interior ministry, counter-terrorism authorities stopped and questioned 160,593 people between March 2016 to March 2017. They stopped and interrogated about 34,000 at airports and arrested about 550 suspected terrorists, and 38 have been sentenced on terrorism charges. More than 500 websites have been shut down and nearly half a million have been monitored.

Giampiero Massolo, who served as the director of Italian intelligence from 2012 to 2016, said there was not a particular “Italian way” to combat terrorism.

“We learned a very harsh lesson during our terrorism years,” he said. “From that we drew the experience of how important it is to maintain a constant dialogue at the operating level between intelligence and law enforcement forces. In fact, prevention is key to try to be effective in counter-terrorism.”

He added: “Another feature is to have a good control of the territory. From this point of view, the absence of [French] banlieues-like spots in Italian major cities, and …[the predominance] of small and medium towns makes it easier to monitor the situation.”

There are also more specific practices. Arturo Varvelli, a senior research fellow and terrorism expert at the thinktank Ispi, said the lack of second- and third-generation Italians who might be susceptible to Isis propaganda meant authorities instead focused on non-citizens, who could be deported at the first signs of concern. Since January, 135 individuals had been expelled, he said.

Italian authorities also rely on intercepted phone calls, which unlike the UK can be used in evidence in court and — in cases related to mafia and terrorism — can be obtained on the basis of suspicious activity and not solid evidence.

Much like the fight against Italian organised crime — the Camorra around Naples, the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, and the ’Ndràngheta in the south — infiltrating and disrupting terror networks requires breaking close social and even family relationships.

People suspected of being jihadis are encouraged to break ranks and cooperate with Italian authorities, who use residency permits and other incentives, Galli said. There has been a recognition, too, of the dangers of keeping terror suspects in jail where, much like mafia bosses before them, prison is seen as a prime territory for recruiting and networking.

“I think we have developed experience in how to deal with a criminal network. We have lots of undercover agents who do a great job of intercepting communication,” she said.

While Italians authorities are seen as having broad powers, police do not have special powers to detain terror suspects without charge. Terror suspects may be held for up to four days without charge, just like any other suspect. However, Italy has been criticised by the European court of human rights for holding defendants too long once they have been charged and are awaiting trial.

Galli said there was no groundswell of concern about whether Italy’s tactics violated civil liberties. The broad use of surveillance — including intercepted communication — is seen as sufficiently targeted to terror and mafia suspects, unlike public criticism in Italy of sweeping data collection methods used in the US and UK.

Outer appearance simply can’t imply anything about inner character

Monday, June 26th, 2017

Blaise Aguera y Arcas leads Google’s Machine Intelligence group in Seattle, and he has written a remarkably unscientific piece decrying physiognomy’s new clothes:

The practice of using people’s outer appearance to infer inner character is called physiognomy. While today it is understood to be pseudoscience, the folk belief that there are inferior “types” of people, identifiable by their facial features and body measurements, has at various times been codified into country-wide law, providing a basis to acquire land, block immigration, justify slavery, and permit genocide. When put into practice, the pseudoscience of physiognomy becomes the pseudoscience of scientific racism.

Rapid developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning have enabled scientific racism to enter a new era, in which machine-learned models embed biases present in the human behavior used for model development. Whether intentional or not, this “laundering” of human prejudice through computer algorithms can make those biases appear to be justified objectively.

Outer appearance simply can’t imply anything about inner character. That would be wrong.

He goes on to cite a Chinese study that sounds (literally) incredible, but the case that machine-learning is being used to “launder” human biases is rather weak.

Wu and Zhang’s criminal images (top) and non-criminal images (bottom)

He has fangs and the capacity for violence

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Josh Eells has written a rather unflattering piece on Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, the “Killologist” training America’s cops, for Men’s Journal:

After his talk, Grossman and I went for dinner at a nearby sports bar, where he told me about his life. He lives with his wife, Jeanne — his high school sweetheart — and their two dogs in a small town outside St. Louis, Missouri (as it happens, 45 minutes from Ferguson). He spends almost 300 days a year on the road, usually coming home one night a week for what he jokingly calls “a conjugal visit and clean underwear” before heading out again. His oldest son, Jon, runs a family-owned gunsmithing company; his youngest, Joe, helps manage the speaking business. His middle son, Eric, is an Air Force combat controller with nine combat tours and three Bronze Stars.

[...]

It was at Arkansas State that Grossman published On Killing, in 1995, to much acclaim. The Washington Post called it “an illuminating account of how soldiers learn to kill and how they live with the experience of having killed”; the New York Times called it “powerfully argued” and “full of arresting observations and insights.” The book even made fans in Hollywood: While promoting his World War II movie Fury a few years back, Brad Pitt told an interviewer, “If you want to better understand the accumulative psychic trauma incurred by our soldiers, read On Killing by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.”

Though Grossman calls himself a behavioral scientist, he is not a researcher in the traditional academic sense. He wrote On Combat, a study on how soldiers and police officers cope with the stress associated with deadly conflict, using what he calls an “interactive feedback loop” — gathering stories from combat veterans, then presenting the information to people he trains. He’s more of a Malcolm Gladwell type, compiling anecdotes and fashioning them into a digestible narrative. As his chief qualifications, Grossman cites the “body of information I’ve crafted over the years” and his ability to “speak from the heart.” “I truly am one of the best people on the planet in a couple of areas,” he told me. “Whether it’s preparation for a life-or-death event or walking the sheepdog path, I really feel like I’m the preeminent authority.”

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In his famous sheepdog essay, Grossman talked about how sheepdogs can sometimes accidentally scare the sheep. The sheepdog “looks a lot like the wolf,” he wrote. “He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot, and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed.”