Sunlit Water

June 26, 2010

I Probably Shouldn’t Be Amused By This, But I Am

Filed under: Crime — by teofilo @ 1:31 pm

The Rutgers e-mail crime alerts are sent by Captain Kenneth B. Cop of the Rutgers Police.

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December 13, 2008

Fifty Billion Dollars

Filed under: Crime — by teofilo @ 10:37 pm

For some reason I’m finding this Bernie Madoff business riveting.  Even aside from the scale of the alleged fraud, the fact that it apparently went undetected for so long is fascinating and disturbing.  In some ways it’s a perfect illustration of the extent to which trust is a key and essential underpinning of our (and probably any other) society.  Trust is so important to the basic functioning of pretty much every major societal institution that if someone can figure out a way to maintain it while building up an elaborate fraud that fraud can work spectacularly well as long as nothing happens to undermine the misplaced trust.  In Madoff’s case, it seems that he was able to keep his Ponzi scheme going by building up such a reservoir of trust and confidence that he could keep getting enough new money coming in to cover the promised payouts to existing investors for years or even decades.  (It seems to be unclear at this point exactly how long he kept this up and whether his firm was a fraud from the very beginning, which would be truly impressive.)  He also seems to have mastered the art of faking his paperwork so well that his firm even survived an SEC investigation without taking a hit to its reputation.  Once the economy fell apart, though, it seems the jig was up and he could no longer keep up the appearance of propriety.  It’s unclear, at least to me, how exactly it all came undone, but that will presumably be revealed in the course of legal proceedings.

I find frauds like this (and this smaller-scale one also revealed recently) fascinating for what they reveal about the fragility of societal institutions.  The spectacularly rapid collapse of the world financial system shows just how vulnerable institutions, even enormous ones, are to sudden losses of confidence.  It’s almost as if everything we do is based on a tacit understanding that everything will work out if no one looks too closely at what anyone else is doing.  Almost.

January 2, 2008

The Horror

Filed under: Crime,Culture,Politics — by teofilo @ 3:36 pm

I finished King Leopold’s Ghost last night.  I hadn’t intended to finish it so fast, but without internet access I’ve had a lot of time on my hands.  It’s a fascinating story of how one man, Kind Leopold II of Belgium, managed to single-handedly take over a huge chunk of central Africa and squeeze every last drop of profit from its resources using horrifying brutality and forced labor.  It’s also the story of the international movement to end the abusive regime in the Congo, the first great human rights movement of the twentieth century and the only major one between the abolitionism of the early nineteenth century and the anti-apartheid movement of the late twentieth.  The story as Hochschild tells it is full of fascinating characters who do larger-than-life things, both good and bad, in a way that seems strikingly modern, right down to both sides’ shrewd utilization of public relations and communications networks.

Hochschild’s focus is primarily on the anti-Leopold movement, once it arises around the turn of the century, and he clearly intends for his readers to sympathize primarily with the brave crusaders against the colonial regime.  And they are indeed easy for a modern reader of the sort inclined to read books like this to sympathize with.  The major voice and organizer of the Congo Reform movement was a young Englishman named E. D. Morel, who first realized that the profits of the Congo were the result of slave labor when, as an employee of the Liverpool-based shipping company that had the monopoly on shipping to and from the colony, he noticed that nothing was going in to pay for the massive quantities of ivory and (especially) rubber that were coming out.  He was joined by a British diplomat named Roger Casement who happened to be British consul to the Congo right when protests in Britain against Leopold’s regime began to gather steam and was commissioned to conduct an investigation and write a report, which ended up being extremely damning of the Congo regime and quite useful to the protest movement.  There are other figures who play important roles in the movement, including missionaries who witness atrocities firsthand and come back to Britain and America to report on them.

The thing about this hugely sympathetic movement on which Hochschild focuses, however, (as he, to his great credit, admits freely) is that it was not ultimately successful.  Reports of the most blatant abuses slowed to a trickle around the time that Leopold sold his colony to the Belgian state and then died, and Morel’s Congo Reform Association declared victory and disbanded soon after, but this was more a result of the declining price of rubber than of anything Morel or his supporters did, and forced labor and other harsh practices continued for decades in the extraction of other lucrative resources in the Congo and surrounding areas under the colonial regimes of Belgium and other countries.  Hochschild concludes that the movement was useful nevertheless for its role in preserving the spirit of abolitionism and passing it on to subsequent human rights organizations such as Amnesty International.  There’s something to this, I suppose, but it’s not really obvious that that spirit wouldn’t have continued anyway without being channeled into Congo agitation.  I suspect that Hochschild’s emphasis on these protesters is more the result of their undeniable attractiveness to a modern audience and the need to have some good guys in the story.

I, however, think the real value of the story lies elsewhere.  Despite Hochschild’s attention to the protesters, the real main character of this book is Leopold.  I actually found it disturbingly easy to sympathize with the king, despite his rampant greed and near-total venality.  I see the story of how he was able to realize his dream of a massively lucrative colony, and how his enormously cruel and sadistic local subordinates could enrich themselves and express their bloodlust totally unchecked, as a cautionary tale of how easy it is for ordinary people to commit the most evil deeds given the right circumstances.  The stories of how Congo station chiefs, prototypes for Conrad’s Kurtz, murdered local villagers for amusement while at the same time amassing insect collections and writing books about the area are chilling.  Kurtz isn’t just an archetype of cruelty against whom people like us write petitions and organize lecture series; he’s also a symbol of the darkest possibilities lurking within each of us.

May 23, 2007

Including Scientific Theories!

Filed under: Crime,Culture,Publishing — by teofilo @ 8:36 pm

At the risk of pissing off my readership (such as it is) with even more low-value-added linking to Gawker, I just couldn’t resist drawing everyone’s attention to recently incarcerated racist lunatic Kenneth Eng’s book proposal and resume.  Some highlights:

Chapter 2, Why I Hate Whites – This will be a 30-page doctrine of documented evidence and a few anecdotes that delineates why white people, to put it bluntly, suck. Reasons include the fact that they are obsessed with conformity, their women are sluts, they are physically smaller than Asians, and they take abuse very easily. It will include anecdotes about my fistfights with white students at NYU.

This paragraph speaks for itself, I think.

Chapter 3, Why I Hate Italians – This will be another 30-page section in which I show why Italians are enemies of the Asian race. Reasons include Sofia Coppola, Quentin Tarantino, Jon Favreau, Jay Leno, and a number of other “big name celebrities”. It will also describe why Italians are an inferior race despite their technological achievements, and include personal recollections about my encounters with Italians (I did grow up in an Italian neighborhood).

Yes, for Eng Italians are apparently not white.  I’m also not really sure what “technological achievements” he’s talking about.  Radio?

Chapter 7, Why I Hate Asians And Yes I Am Being Sarcastic – As the title of this chapter implies, I do not really hate Asians. Nonetheless, this chapter will point out the silliness of civil protest and why whites, blacks and Italians should not be treated with any kindness. It will include anecdotes of my attempts to use peaceful protest in NYU.

Note that, as the chapter title indicates and he helpfully reiterates, Eng does not actually hate Asians, which leads me at least to wonder what the hell his article “Why I Hate Asians” (mentioned in his resume) was all about.

Epilogue – This will summarize the fact that I am not a sexist, homophobic lunatic. It will also be a preemptive strike against expected criticisms.

Good to see he’s thinking ahead.  Note, however, that he apparently makes no effort to deny charges of racism.

The “Marketability” section contains more gems:

1. To my knowledge, there is only one existing book about anti-Asian discrimination. This book will be the second, and believe me, it will be more extreme than its predecessor.

Oh, we believe you.

2. You may be thinking this is too controversial and will turn off all white and black audience members. Here are a few words to remember – CHINA. 1 BILLION PEOPLE. 60% ATHEIST.

All of them fluent English speakers, of course, and intensely interested in Eng’s fistfights at NYU.

5. Bill Maher and Ann Coulter are very hated. That does not stop them from being bestselling authors.

Hmmm, he may actually have a point here.  Score one for Eng!

The resume is somewhat less entertaining than the proposal, but the “Notable Attributes” section is worth quoting in full:

Fastest novelist in America (Dragons: Lexicon Triumvirate finished in a month and a week)
Youngest SF novelist in America (contracted at age 20)
Extensive knowledge in quantum physics, metaphysics, mathematics, evolutionary biology and genetic engineering
23 years old
Hardest working guy on the planet
Completed 20 feature-length screenplays and 8 novels (not first drafts, but COMPLETED SCREENPLAYS)

Young, fast, and the hardest working guy on the planet? Sounds like he has a great future ahead of him.  Or would, at least, if he would just stop threatening to kill people and stuff.

October 20, 2006

Beyond Creepy

Filed under: Crime — by teofilo @ 5:59 pm

From a crime alert e-mail I just received, describing two incidents this past week:

An unknown subject knocked on a resident’s door, once the resident opened the door, several masked intruders forced their way into the apartment and demanded money and marijuana. One of the intruders was armed with what appeared to be a rifle or shotgun. The resident reportedly surrendered money and marijuana to the intruders, who then fled.

A female resident reported that she was awakened by a subject who reportedly was removing her bedroom covers from her. The subject reportedly fled the room when the resident was awakened. The resident fell back asleep. A few minutes later, the female resident was again awakened, by the same subject turning a light on in her room. The intruder again fled when the resident was awakened this second time. The victim described the intruder as an Asian male, in his 20s, wearing a light colored shirt and blue jeans.

That first one happened literally around the corner from where I live.

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