Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Understanding Criminal Justice in the United States

2/1/16 Justin Arn

Although Americans may have little contact with the criminal justice system on a day-to day day basis, I suspect that, deep down, most of us know there is something terribly amiss about the apprehension of "Justice" here in the United States. It is unavoidable, despite how deeply we attempt to bury our heads in the sand. After all, when was the last time you heard a happy story coming out of the United States criminal justice system?

Alright, so not too many happy tales coming our of the prison systems these days. Do you remember a few of the abuses that made headlines in recent years, though? 
Here's the clickable shortlist:
Abuse in the Criminal Justice System

Of course, abuses like that are just  scratching the surface. Yet unmentioned are how ineffective our Justice system has been at combating white collar crime, corporate abuse, and government corruption.  

It is difficult to be aware of all of this without concluding that our system does indeed seem rife with incompetent, immoral, and reckless individuals bent by every form human deviosity towards goals of personal gain, contrary to the very notion of "Justice." 

What is to be made of all of this? 
Photo: Courthouse steps.   

 I know some Police Officers. They are honorable men and women. A few of the Police Officers that I have known are could be considered racist, but not in the way that is portrayed on television.

They have friends and partners that are African-American and they treat them with the same respect and honor that they would treat a member of their own family.  You wouldn't know they were racist at all, until you heard them talk about "the black community." Then the racism comes out: the pre-judgement, the assumption of guilt, the lack of respect. These are good men, even if some of their opinions belie ignorance.  I assume their experiences have colored their worldview, and wonder if I wouldn't fall into the same trap given those experiences. 

I'm a Salesman.
Some Salesmen are ass-holes.  
Picture: The Scales of Justice are weighted against you. They'll sell you defective products and steal your money while lying to your face the entire time. If you define Sales by your experience with one of these gents, however, you will limit your understanding of the sales process and it will be you who suffers. 

   To scrap our entire Justice system because of the actions of a few cops, or guards, or lawyers may be just as foolish and ignorant. I have never personally met a Police Officer that I didn't believe genuinely wanted to chase bad guys and help people. The real problem is that when Salesmen are caught being unethical, other Salesmen are not in a position to protect them from the consequences the way that those in the business of Justice can.  Clearly individuals who work in the criminal justice system have more power than most in that way

It is important to remember that we empower these people to "maintain" our society for us. We must understand the incredibly large number of often conflicting, expectations we have of them. 

They are only men and deserve the right not to be stereotyped. In the instances where power is abused however, those offending public servants should be prosecuted with, to be euphemistic about it, "extreme prejudice." Power is as much a gift as a responsibility, and if not checked at every instance power will beget more power until violent revolt becomes inevitable. Mistrust of public institutions caused by the actions of a few can be dangerous for everyone as we saw last year with the attacks on Police throughout the nation.

If any of the things I have mentioned come as a shock to you then I recommend you expand your view on this particular topic, by researching the abuses I listed above. Perhaps you have trouble imagining yourself being the victim of treatment, since your lifestyle does not expose you to such a world.  Perhaps you are incapable of compassion.  Should any of these be the case, I would ask you only to take a long moment and consider, if not yourself then your spouse or child at the mercy of the criminal justice system.  It is tough to imagine ourselves in danger, but far easier to imagine our loved ones. Can you feel the sweat on your palms as you envision your impotence to stop any abuses that might befall people you actually care about. How wise is it not to educate yourself to the many problems that plague our system? 

I don't advise you become an advocate for criminal justice reform, immediately. That is for you to decide, after thoughtful deliberation.  Do some research.  Find out if any of the things I have said are true. Check out alternative news sites, perhaps. 

The first step towards solving these problems is educating ourselves to the extent of the situation.  I invite you to explore the Marshall Project, a non-profit organization exploring criminal justice through journalism. Here's a recent piece that just won the Pulitzer Prize.  

Below, I have links for some websites whose work helps inform us all on the plight of Criminal Justice.

Our system is a reflection of our values. As long as we view criminality the way that we do, which is inherently disingenuously,  so will our system execute Justice the way it does.


THE CRIME REPORT - Your Complete Criminal Justice Resource

Picture Icon;  NECIR Webpage
New England Center for
 Investigative reporting
Picture Icon; Injustice Watch Website.
Injustice Watch
Picture JJIE webpage
Juvenile Justice IE
Picture Icon: Public Source Website
Public Source


American Bar Association ABA
American Bar Association

Medill Justice Project
Medill Justice Project

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ulterior Information and Google News Walkthrough.

1/1/16 Justin Arn

Newspaper heap
Who provides our information?
Anyone who has performed a cursory web search for “Ulterior News,” -that is information that is hidden outside the mainstream- will know the amount of information available today is beyond awesome; it is overwhelming. Every imaginable perspective is just a click away. Staggeringly,  it seems that each of those perspectives comes with mythos and ideology far beyond what most people would expect.

We have access to so much raw data, analysis and perspective, personal information, opinutainment, propaganda and every other form of information under the sun, it is a wonder we have any sense of what is happening in the world at all (that is, if you believe that you actually do).  So while may textbooks still insist that we live in the “Information Age,” it might be more accurate to describe this as the “Disinformation Age," as it appears the bulk of this information is nickel-analysis, state-sponsored argumentation, or just outright troll-ery.

The headline from a 1900s Independent Newspaper.
Independent You Say?

 Perspective : An Apology for Old Media

 Have you ever had personal knowledge of a topic that or been involved in an event that was covered by local or national press (a strike, protest, victimization, political action, e.g.)? When you watched or read how the subject or event was portrayed to the public, did your intimate perspective of the event affect your evaluation of the coverage? Did the media portrayal differ greatly from how you understood the situation? 

 You do not have to be a conspiracy buff to admit that news necessarily misses all the facts. Descriptions are generalizations, and generalizations are always inaccurate to a certain degree. No journalist covers a story with the depth they may be inclined to, and no news organization can break down all of the world's most complex problems in a matter of minutes for a public that remains barely aware at best, and highly apathetic at worst. The reality is that in a complex world, the News Media must simplify, generalize, condense, and skew coverage for the sake of brevity and universality of understanding. Even if the Media attempts to be fair and profound, they rarely approach the "truth," of any situation. In the instances they do however, the stories are mostly buried in publications most Americans do not know exist, and frankly, may not care. 

 Paraphrasing Francis Bacon in his Essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope tells us A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and he is not wrong. Thoughtful individuals give themselves the advantage of studying a thing from as many angles as possible before claiming to understand or know anything about it. But we have trained a population of citizens on to think that they can become experts on just about anything in mere minutes. Those who rush to judgement and claim absolute certainty in their opinions do the most harm. They become slaves to that certainty, and in almost every instance, have a deeply flawed understanding. There are two types of individuals: those who are uncertain and outright frauds or idiots. Believe me I say that with the humility of being damned certain that I am wrong. 

At some point a thoughtful individual must begin to ask themselves: exactly how much inaccuracy are we as individuals and as a society willing to tolerate? That question becomes more important when we consider that those inaccuracies may have little to do with time and or budget constraints and more to do with systemic propagandizing. We accept the news that our understanding allows us to. 

 Portrayal and Expanding our Information

 If we understand more about a particular issue, general news coverage and opinion appears as a gross oversimplification. In fact, it often appears downright misleading. If you read Business Insider, Bloomberg, and the New York Times, then you probably think that CNN coverage of most topics is complete garbage. But when was the last time you tried to go even deeper than what is considered “intelligent” news reading? If you are objective, you must admit that intelligent publications may have you just has enraptured in illusion as FOX News has enraptured the perhaps less informed.

If we habitually read from the same sources time and again, how much have we stretched our understanding? I submit, that even the "educated" among us have a tendency to fall into confirmation bias and be roped into the same, (albeit better written) falsehoods as the mass of folks who watch FOX News. In fact I think that the intelligentsia is even more inclined to be deceived because they're dealing with better actors, and appeals to parochialism are rampant.

There answer is simple: We must increase our information intelligence, which starts with the act of  expanding our information gathering.  

 If you’ve gotten this far down the rabbit hole, and you’re looking to go further, you must necessarily begin to ask yourself questions that consider trust, credibility, and epistemological truth. One's fundamental understanding of reality is built upon such principles. They are fascinating, and, frankly, hugely important to any deep-dive analysis of alternative news and information on the web. However, our focus currently should be on finding the information that exists first, and examining the consequences of its veracity later.

How to Use Google News to aggregate content and expand your information sources:

Google News Front Page.JPG

  Ever worked with Google News? I have experimented with several news feed options but none have the level of sophistication, customization, and navigability offered by the search giant.  I’m not ashamed to admit I use it as my “primary” news delivery source. Until something better comes along (if you know of one feel free let me in on it) I recommend you take advantage of News’ algorithmic magic also.  Why? It’s the personalization.  Let me show you….

  1. Customize by Subject
          I like football. I’m a Ravens fan.  I want to know everything about the Baltimore Ravens,  I do. But I don’t want to see them on the front page of my newsfeed.  In fact, I don’t consider sports news and don’t particularly want to know about it when reading the news at all. Google news lets you easily adjust your feed to allow for more or less of a certain subject or focus…

 Google News Custom update.JPG

The toggles on the page’s right side adjust the quantity of content fetched on the related subject.  You can also eliminate subjects completely (using the trash can feature which pops up as you slide over  each subject) and add new ones.  Here’s what my feed looks like after subject customization:  

2) Narrowing, Sorting, Editions, Custom Sections.

 If you want more focused information, you can alter your newspaper in the custom sections directory where you can view all the sections in Google News, including sections submitted by users (click Advanced in the Personalize area of the homepage).  Browsing through these sections can lead to some humorous results. Here’s an example:

I was curious if the Death-Star showed up anywhere….

Sure enough it did (as it always does) thanks to a Mr. Vaughn Ramsey….


Checking out Mr. Ramsey’s “cool technology” custom section, here’s the top story:  


Thanks Vaughn!  

 Not only can you add sections to your feed, but you can create your own. Google tools let you narrow and parse down a news search by language, edition, and source location (key!) and finally publish your custom-made news section in the directory for others you might want to share with.


3. Editions

 I don’t assume you would read this blog if you weren’t at the very least aware that news is subjective, and the same event is covered with different viewpoints depending on your geographic location.  Sometimes it's not enough just to be aware of the geographic and nationalistic bias that is applied to news in a your country.  It can be highly educational to learn the how that bias works in other countries as well. Google News you allows you to introduce yourself to an extra-american perspective using the Editions feature at the top of the page. In tandem with Google Translate, Google News provides comprehensive mainstream news information for and about much of the as it’s presented in dozens of countries outside the U.S.  Before diving into Alternative news, as I intend to do in this blog it’s best to familiarize ourselves with how the rest of the world looks at news, at least from the mainstream point of view.  

Final Note:  Sources

 I saved the best part of this post until the end.  If you’ve perused Google News then you Adjust Sources option located at the bottom of the Personalize section probably did not escape your view.  This does exactly what you think it does.  You can adjust which sources Google relies upon when creating your feed.  As you can see, I’ve already reduced the number of stories coming from several sources, but in future as you become more and more adept at spotting sources, learning which ones are more credible in your opinion, you can truly begin the process of eliminating sources that more often oversimplify or deliver news you find less-trustworthy.   


Here are a few more pages that and functions that can do great work informing your worldview:

Receive Google Alerts regarding keywords that come up in newsfeeds around the world:  

The help page explaining how Google News operates and how to adjust it:

Good luck information seeking my friends,

- j