Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

Blissfully unaware of the Streisand Effect, A thin-skinned Illinois mayor chose to sic his city’s police force on some local citizens last week over a parody account that poked fun at him on Twitter.  The mayor was apparently upset that someone had created what was obviously a fake twitter persona, @Peoriamayor, and was tweeting about drug use and infidelity, and otherwise making stupid comments that anyone with an ounce of common sense would recognize as political satire. The mayor himself reportedly contacted his chief of police to report the situation, and, as you might expect, the chief was convinced that a crime had occurred.

Despite the the fact that the account’s creator had added a statement indicating the account was satirical, the chief reportedly said, “I don’t agree it was obvious [that the account was fake], and in fact it appears that someone went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor.” A warrant was requested, a judge signed off on it, and a raid of the account creator’s home ensued. Three people were taken into custody, and a small quantity of marijuana was found at the house.

Charges of impersonating a public official are pending.

In the wake of all this, a hilarious stream of fake Twitter accounts has been created, including @NotPeoriaMayor:

Not Jim Ardis (NotPeoriaMayor) on Twitter 2014-04-20 10-30-06

Aside from the First Amendment implications (satire is generally considered protected speech)–and the fact that Peoria’s mayor has made himself look like a petty, vindictive, bully (which he may well be)–the police have been drawn into what is arguably a political matter.  The mayor had other remedies he could have pursued, including just ignoring the inanity of it all, but instead chose to bring the power of the state, via law enforcement, against his political enemies. That’s hardly the ethos of a free and vibrant democracy.

Even outrageous speech by Larry Flynt, the pornography purveyor who famously lampooned Jerry Falwell by distributing a fake liquor ad implying that Falwell had a sexual encounter with his own mother in an outhouse, was deemed to be protected.

Falwellhustler

Short of libel or slander, parodies of public figures have long enjoyed free-speech protections. According to the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University:

Satire is a centuries-old type of literature that uses humor and imitation to attack and ridicule individuals’ moral and character flaws, such as vice, unfairness, stupidity or vanity. A parody is also an attack on folly, but it takes the form of a contemptuous imitation of an existing artistic production — usually a serious work of literature, music, artwork or film — for satirical or humorous purposes. Satire and parody have served for generations as a means of criticizing public figures, exposing political injustice, communicating social ideologies, and pursuing such artistic ends as literary criticism. Satirists usually find themselves subjected in turn to criticism, contempt and, sometimes, lawsuits. The First Amendment protects satire and parody as a form of free speech and expression.

And, according to the Supreme Court’s decision in Hustler Magazine versus Falwell, Justice Rehnquist wrote that:

The sort of robust political debate encouraged by the First Amendment is bound to produce speech that is critical of those who hold public office or those public figures who are “intimately involved in the resolution of important public questions or, by reason of their fame, shape events in areas of concern to society at large.” Associated Press v. Walker, decided with Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130, 164 (1967) (Warren, C. J., concurring in result). Justice Frankfurter put it succinctly in Baumgartner v. United States, 322 U.S. 665, 673 -674 (1944), when he said that “[o]ne of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures.” Such criticism, inevitably, will not always be reasoned or moderate; public figures as well as public officials will be subject to “vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks,” New York Times, supra, at 270. “[T]he candidate who vaunts his spotless record and sterling integrity cannot convincingly cry `Foul!’ when an opponent or an industrious reporter attempts [485 U.S. 46, 52]   to demonstrate the contrary.” Monitor Patriot Co. v. Roy, 401 U.S. 265, 274 (1971).

Public officials definitely don’t have to like what other people say, but they have to allow it. When the government starts picking and choosing what speech it finds acceptable, and what it doesn’t, and then using force to squelch what it deems unacceptable, we’ve got a start on becoming just a more well-resourced version of North Korea.

Update (4/21/14): Popehat posted a very funny (and satirical, just to be clear) guest post from the Honorable Jim Ardis, mayor of Peoria, Illinois, that I just had to share.

Update (4/23/14): Well, the mayor came out swinging at a city council meeting Tuesday evening, accusing the press of “spinning” their coverage of what he insists was a legitimate attempt to “protect his identity.”  Meanwhile, members of the city council questioned the mayor’s actions and bemoaned the negative national attention they’ve brought to Peoria. You just can’t make this stuff up.

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Handcuffs are probably one of the most basic and ubiquitous pieces of police equipment around today. They’re carried used not only by thousands of police officers around the world, but by private security officers, correctional officers, magicians, teachers at some schools, and, yes, lovers.

Image courtesy of Praisaeng / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Praisaeng / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We apparently even have a National Handcuff Day, celebrated on February 20th each year to mark the issuance of the modern handcuff patent in 1912 (how’s that for a phony, made-up corporate holiday?).

Handcuffs are so common, in fact, that we normally pay little attention to them at all, unless perhaps you’re wearing a set for some reason. But, who invented them and why, and how have they evolved to become what we recognize today?

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It slices, it dices, and it even stuns suspects!

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Drones are everywhere these days, it seems. Hobbyists, researchers, photographers, students, and yes, the government, are all actively using drones for a wide range of purposes, both peaceful and violent.

From protecting wildlife and surveying damage in the aftermath of natural disasters, to killing people by remote control in foreign countries, drones are quickly becoming the platform of choice for a diverse array of activities.

Killing by drone is probably not going to fly here in the US anytime soon (we hope), but never fear; a less-than-lethal solution is close at hand.

Drones are now being developed than can deploy taser-like weapons to stun and temporarily disable interns and other suspicious characters.

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You’re being watched and recorded. Not necessarily by Big Brother or a store security camera either, but by your fellow citizens, armed with cell phones and an insatiable desire to capture something interesting on film.

The ubiquity of cell phones in modern society has put the power to record anything and everything into the hands of the masses. Assaults, shootings, police misconduct, and just about any other crime under the sun has likely been captured by the ever-present digital eye of the general public.

Some police departments have begun to harness the power of this social surveillance through programs, such as Eyewatch in Australia, that encourage citizens to upload crime videos to one of their 80 regional Facebook pages.

And it’s paying off. One suspect who saw his face on the Eyewatch page turned himself into police, rather than wait to be captured.

So, this week’s videos feature a roundup of cell phone vigilantes capturing all kinds of bad behavior on their cameras.

Click, kick back, and enjoy!

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Court

Presentence investigations have been an important aspect of the criminal sentencing process for many years. Listen to my audio post below to learn about who writes PSIs, what goes into a PSI, and how judges use that information.

Click the arrow on the player above to listen to the podcast.

For more information about PSIs and how they’re used, check out:

What is a presentence report?

Law and legal definition

Federal Probation Presentence Investigation Unit

American Probation and Parole Association Position Statement on the PSI

One state’s rules about PSIs

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This has literally been one of the worst weeks, ever. Not the worst, mind you, but bad enough to make it into my personal top five of all time. The specific reasons for that are going to have to remain a mystery for most of you, but trust me when I say I’m looking forward to a nice, quiet weekend.

Image courtesy of FelixCo, Inc. / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FelixCo, Inc. / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It wasn’t all bad, of course. I was reminded once again that I have a great family, wonderful friends, amazing students, and that I just have a lot of support overall. Thanks to all of you.

Another bright spot from the week was the short film below (NSFW – language), which I found incredibly funny and oddly uplifting somehow, despite the subject matter. It was produced by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and was an official selection at Sundance 2014.

It tells the tale of a Connecticut teacher’s battle to get the police interested in simply helping him recover his stolen car – even after he had located it.

The real heart of the story, though, is the indifferent attitude of some modern institutions to the very problems the institutions themselves were originally created to solve. That isn’t a very funny idea, but the film itself has a humorous take on it all.

CRIME: THE ANIMATED SERIES – MARCUS MCGHEE – MOCAtv

Have a safe weekend!

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Here’s a fun way to lighten things up as we start off the new year, and wind down from what seems to have been a surprisingly long holiday season: A look at Police Blotter Haiku.

haiku_k

This unusual idea is the brainchild of Jim Jones (no, not the founder of the People’s Temple), a talented writer and poet who is currently raising funds on Kickstarter for his book of haiku based on the content of local police blotter entries.

Essentially, he transforms the narrative of police reports into a 17 syllable poem that captures the offense much more artfully.

For example, he wrote this after reading about a jilted lover who took revenge on her ex:

With his new girlfriend,
Robert watched his old girlfriend
slash three of his tires.

Jones said he got the idea after reading the police blotter in a small town he was visiting. He said the blotter wasn’t just about crimes, it was also equally revealing of the town’s character – including people’s perceptions of crime there – sometimes in situations where no offense had actually occurred. According to Jones:

This got me interested in crime as it portrays human nature: not so much everyday property crime, theft, and muggings, but how the emotions and judgement of people who consider themselves normal can become clouded enough that they do things that get them into a world of cops and charges and mishaps that they didn’t expect to be in. Sometimes it’s a farce, sometimes it’s a tragedy, sometimes it’s just rumination on the consequences of poor impulse control (my personal favorite).

For Jones, haiku is a way to express the essence of troubling human acts in a poetic way that leaves room for interpretation and connection, which I think is just a fascinating idea.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out his blog here. Or, better yet, consider backing his Kickstarter project and getting a copy of his book for yourself.

Police Blotter Haiku Kickstarter Campaign Video

Have a safe holiday!

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Okay, it’s a bit macabre and probably a pretty strange gift suggestion, but if you just don’t have any clue what to buy this holiday season for that macabre, strange person in your life, consider gifting a donation to the Mutter Museum to help restore the Hyrtl skull collection.

The Hyrtl Skull Collection

The Hyrtl Skull Collection

These aren’t just any old skulls, of course; they were once used by Josef Hyrtl to debunk the pseudo-science of phrenology, which I’ve written about before in the context of Lombroso’s theories of criminality.

The museum is promoting their Save Our Skulls campaign in an effort to raise money for restoration of the 150-year-old collection.

Save Our Skulls Campaign Video

For a $200 annual subscription, you can have your macabre, strange friend’s name enshrined next to the skull of your choice.

And what says “Happy Holidays” more than that?

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I saw the below video for the first time last week and I have to admit, I had mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand, it’s definitely funny. I guess there’s just something inherently comedic about authority figures fumbling around to corral (or not) errant kids while the Benny Hill sound track plays in the background.

Broadway Bomb – Benny Hill Style – 2013

I wish real life was like that sometimes.

On the other hand, it feels like a cheap shot to laugh at cops who are just doing their jobs and – more importantly – acting with a lot of restraint. I can just imagine what the officers were actually thinking while impotently shifting that barrier from one end of the intersection to the other, while boarders streamed around them with impunity.

To their credit, in this video at least, they maintained their cool and just tried to make sure no one got hurt.

That’s what I like to see cops doing as a matter of routine. Instead of the stereotypical macho, ass-kicking, over-the-top parody of a police officer that some try so very hard to cultivate, I want to see cops being human, owning their frailties and mistakes, and doing whatever they can to serve the community.

Save the tough-guy BS for when, and only when, it’s really and truly necessary.

So, getting a cheap laugh out of the Broadway Bomb vid feels somehow disingenuous. I’m not anti-cop, but I’m also no fan of anything that smacks, even remotely, of a police state either. I want high-quality policing that recognizes the inherent right of citizens to be free from government abuse and tyranny, and that also appropriately bends to the will of the community.

I want to see cops, just like in this video, acting calmly and professionally, even if that makes them look a little foolish at times. 

Have a great weekend!

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I couldn’t come up with a theme to tie all three of these vids together, but I liked each of them enough to just drop them into one post and call it a roundup. Done and done.

Enjoy!

“Oh, and by the way, that’s a $500 ticket”

I don’t know exactly what set this first guy off, but he just can’t seem to spit the vitriol out fast enough to suit himself. Kudos to the CHP trooper, though, for keeping his cool and just walking away – after, that is, writing a $500 citation.

Nice Rant!

“Don’t anally probe me for 14 hours, bro”

I’ve written before about the government’s apparent proclivity for unwarranted rectal examinations, but this next vid about the poor sap in New Mexico allegedly subjected by police to eight unwanted, invasive rectal procedures in a failed search for drugs has to take the cake.

Apparently, when in certain parts of New Mexico, it is ill advised to run a stop sign, clench your butt cheeks in a “suspicious manner,” and then allow the cops to drive you around until they find a doctor willing to probe your nether regions mercilessly for the better part of a day.

And, to add insult to injury, the hospital billed the guy $6000 for the “procedure.” I’m not sure if Obamacare covers that or not, but come on.

Deming, NM Police “Probe”

“My mom’s gonna kill me!”

Thousands of people accidentally discharge firearms every year, but some are definitely more gratuitous than others. Here’s a poseur masquerading as a hardened thug who, as it turns out, is afraid his mommy is going to tan his hide for shooting a gun in the house.

And she should.

Thug Fail

Have a safe and pleasant weekend!

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