Sunday, October 01, 2006

Page 123

Zheon challenges. Turn to page 123 of the book nearest cheating...and write the sentence and a few following...

"Carpet-bag n. travelling-bag, orig. made of carpet-like material.
Carpet-bagger n. colloq. 1. esp. US political candidate etc. without local connections. 2. Unscrupulous opportunist.
-The Oxford Dictionary of Current English

It is nearly always the book nearest me when I write. My spelling is atrocious and here at "classic blogger" spell check was designed by a defective droid.

The cover is black, with white font and red and green diagonal slashes. "The biggest paperback dictionary of its kind."

On the edge of the pages, in ballpoint pen, in my handwriting, is the name of an inmate on Death Row in Illinois and his prison number. He'd asked for one with "lots of words." I sent it and months later, beat up, with torn wrapping, it came back to me with a letter stating it was contraband. Television is not "contraband" in prison. Neither is most pornography. You can let an inmate watch game-shows or stare at naked women in lurid positions but you don't want him knowing how to spell a word or improving his mind.

Thinking about the Kafkaesque "rules" of most prisons leads me to thinking about the prison population in the US. Last time I checked, over the population of some states. Our current prime minister is now trying to get a "three strikes" law passed. Even though the Attorney General of the US has responded by saying Canada is ten years behind the time. The US tried it, he says, and it didn't work. Didn't deter crime. Swelled the prison population beyond imagination.

Carpet-baggers make laws. Unscrupulous (or possibly simply stupid, uniformed) politicians campaign on "three strikes" and "truth in sentencing" or "tough on crime" platforms. They play on fear, and use statistics to fuel it.

The most often used is the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), tabulated by the FBI. According to The Real War on Crime : The Report of the National Criminal Justice Commission, most criminologists deem this report to be inaccurate. Why? In 1973, while citizens reported 861,000 aggravated assaults, the police recorded only 421,000. By 1988, record keeping improved and 910,000 were recorded out of the 940,000 reported. The crime rate had risen very little in actuality, but the statistics made it look like a catastophic rise.

Secondly, if a crime is committed and two people are arrested, many police departments record it as two crimes. Police department budgets are allocated on this type of information.

Third - there is a distinct difference between crimes of violence and crimes against property and no distinction is made. At the time The Real War on Crime was published, only one in ten crimes in America was violent. Only three in a hundred resulted in injury.

Page 123 of The Real War on Crime, now the closest book to me, sentence five:

"All other things being equal, minority youths faced criminal charges more often than white youths for the same offenses. Also, African-American youths are charged more often than whites with a felony when the offense could be considered a misdemeanor."

And I'm thinking about how many of our fears are based on ignorance and how eager we are to let officials think for us. And about how our uninformed fears, be they of crime or other cultures or religions, motivate us to approve laws and policies that actually create or increase the very things we fear.

Page 123. Pretty interesting reading. I wonder how we're all going to feel when we see watch towers in the hundreds built along the US/Mexico and US/Canada border. Safe? Will we feel safe then?

Me? I've visited prisons and seen watch towers and electric fencing razor-wired at the top - and I can tell you that personally, I can't think of anything more terrifying than physical representations of that kind of fear.