Longreads For the Holidays

The holidays is a perfect time to indulge in a book or a longread. In Twitter nomenclature, a longread is an online article which will typically take longer than the usual five minutes or less one might spend reading a web page. There is a good reason searching the internet is called "surfing": one doesn't want to spend too much time on that big wave. It will either peter out and disappoint or it will come crashing down and inundate us.

In any event, the following is a list of 5 longreads I found:

1.Karyn McCluskey: the woman who took on Glasgow's gangsThis is an article of one person's fight to find peace in a turbulent City. Karyn McCluskey, a former nurse, forensic psychologist, and head of intelligence analysis for Glasgow, turned the City's gang mentality around by understanding how violence worked "like an infectious disease" and beget "recreational violence," which in turn created the City's gang mentality. Through the use of a Boston-based initiative called "focused deterrence strategy," the scheme couples zero tolerance with, what I can only describe as, an intense collective "scared straight" program. 

2. Sleep Disorders Common Among Cops: Study Fascinating longread of a study which indicates 40% of police officers in North America suffer from sleep disorders, which may impair their judgment and reaction time. The actual journal article from JAMA is for purchase only but the Abstract is here. There is also a companion author video here.

3. A Guide to the Occupy Wall Street API There is so much out there on the Occupy movement but this longread puts an apt API spin on it. 

4. Armenian Genocide Articles: I have connected some short read articles on the Armenian genocide issue, which has been re-ignited by the recent French Bill criminalizing denial of the World War I massacre. The incredible reach of this issue makes these connections even more fascinating but the real issue of the massacre is what makes world politics disturbing. Read the articles here, here, here, here, and finally for an article on how art connects to life: here.

5. Who Owns The Words? This is from 2010 but a very relevant longread, Texts Without Context. This is a book review of Reality Hunger, a "book" by David Sheilds. The book is a compilation of excerpts of other writer's works, which are at times manipulated or micro-managed to suit Sheilds's intent. Many of the quotes are taken out of context and as such, become, through a fresh reading of the words, imbued with a new meaning. In this way, Sheilds makes these words his own. Two connections come to mind for me: Stanley Fish's Is There A Text In This Class? and the use of music sampling and remixing in hip-hop and dubstep.

So kick back and relax this weekend with some #longreads or better yet, find some for yourself! As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote as Sherlock Holmes: "What one man can invent, another can discover."


The Legal Language Explorer

Through RSS feeds and a well-organized iGoogle Home Page, I have learned about the coolest web based search tool: The Legal Language Explorer. This tool, in beta release, searches U.S. Supreme Court decisions from 1791 to 2005 for key words and phrases and then plots graphically the frequency of the word or phrase usage. It also provides a list of the cases, which can be easily and quickly accessed through hyperlinks. Although, any database search tool can provide a search list, a frequency graph is not a usual search engine tool. 

Why is this so interesting and exciting? This kind of visual graphing of results gives the researcher, or really anybody interested, another layer of meaning to case law. The frequency of word/phrase usage can provide much different information than a traditional word search. Generally, it can highlight a case which may be most relevant to your interest or research as typically if the word/phrase is used frequently, the case will revolve around that issue. Specifically, if you are searching for frequency of a "turn of phrase" like the "living tree" doctrine, which has been used to describe American constitutional law interpretation, this kind of search will provide those cases or even the case, in which the term was most used and when.

What may this tell us? This may tell us that during a particular time period the Court relied heavily on this term to determine constitutional cases. It may tell us, which Justice most frequently uses the term to interpret and decide cases. It will allow us to compare why the Court does not use the term in other cases. Or why it does not use this term at all. This kind of legal research, using statistical methodology and practices in legal theory, is called Empirical Legal Theory, a fairly recent legal theory/research area. I find this a most welcome and intriguing area of legal research as it can provide a deeper meaning to legal constructs through analyses of legal bias, judicial decision making, and public opinion. The possibilities of such research touches all areas of justice and enriches our understanding of the law through different perspectives. For more information, I recommend starting with the blog I subscribe to: Empirical Legal Studies, administered by a group of academics, who write and research in the area. 

Back to the Legal language Explorer. I searched for "living tree" and "living tree doctrine" and received no results, yet it is a recognized legal doctrine. However, when I searched for "living constitution", another phrase used for the same doctrine, I did receive some very interesting results. The graph produced three spikes: one case from 1963, one case from 1976, and one case from 1980.

The 1963 case, Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Committee involved the Florida Legislature investigation of the N.A.A.C.P. or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for membership connections to "Communists." In some sense this case is the "perfect storm" of civil rights, involving discrimination of belief, race, and association. The ultimate decision in this case, reversing a lower Court decision, found such legislative intrusion was a violation of freedom of speech and association.

True, a fascinating case, but what is the significance of the search term, "living constitution"? It appears only once in the case, as a footnote referencing an academic article from the Harvard Law Review entitled Mr. Justice Black and The Living Constitution. Mr. Justice Black writes a brief concurring decision in this case and states:

In my view the constitutional right of association includes the privilege of any person to associate with Communists or anti-Communists, Socialists or anti-Socialists, or, for that matter, with people of all kinds of beliefs, popular or unpopular. I have expressed these views in many other cases and I adhere to them now.

But it is not Mr. Justice Black who refers to this Harvard review article but Mr. Justice Douglas, who writes a strongly worded concurring opinion. Although he does not directly quote from this article, he does say:

The need of a referee in our federal system has increased with the passage of time, not only in matters of commerce but in the field of civil rights as well. Today review of both federal and state action threatening individuals' rights is increasingly important if the Free Society envisioned by the Bill of Rights is to be our ideal. For in times of crisis, when ideologies clash, it is not easy to engender respect for the dignity of suspect minorities and for debate of unpopular issues. 

This decision is as old as I am, 48 years, and yet the words written are as relevant and as significant today as it was then. And all of this from a legal language search!

There are other significant ideas and learning possibilities from this search but I will leave you to speculate and connect. So try this new search tool, either for your next deep research analysis or just for pure curiosity and joy of learning a new connection. You just might learn something new and interesting or even inspiring.

P.S. We need this search tool in Canada!!!


Caring Communities, Crime, and Jane Jacobs

Yesterday, I discussed the new twist on Halloween manufactured by schools who view the holiday as sending the wrong message to impressionable children. Two schools in Calgary, in an effort to promote diversity and caring, prohibited violent or scary costumes and held "caring" assemblies. Parent council members applauded the emphasis on caring communities but were not as impressed by the promotion of Halloween as a symbol of that notion. I agree. The connection to Halloween seems forced and proffers an inconsistent message as opposed to a positive one.

However, the concept of teaching children the importance of a caring community should be embraced by the educational systems. For example, there is clear evidence that community based policing works to reduce crime, particularly in case of young offenders. But community caring can have even greater impact on crime reduction; just ask Jane Jacobs.

Jane Jacobs, in the early 60's wrote a book called The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In this book she outlined her theories on why so many American cities seemed to be faltering, both socially and structurally. Jacobs was not a city planner nor was she academically trained in the area. She did however have a keen eye for observation and an heightened awareness of urban issues. Her book was devastating. Full of common sense and anecdotal evidence, her views brought to light the serious misstep city planners were prone to make; permitting empty grey areas between public and private areas, which encouraged crime and discouraged community ownership.

Indeed, community caring is at the core of Jacobs's theories. In order to have a safe community we must all be community watchers, effectively the "eyes on the street." However, this will only naturally happen if, according to Jacobs, we have a vibrant and busy sidewalk life. This means people. This means strangers. But this also means watchful eyes directed at the community. In short, busy City life, as exemplified by busy sidewalks, creates a caring community, which has our "backs" so to speak. Thus, we can freely move about the City, without fear, without the use of the artificial eyes of security cameras, in a caring vibrant, diverse community. 

Recently, some fifty years after Jacobs's ground-breaking theories, there was an article in the Calgary Herald on the importance of reducing crime through proper city planning. Isn't it about time we listened?



There is No Road To Redemption?

Yesterday, I made a connection between fictionalized (or as in the example yesterday musicalized) revenge, redemption, and retribution and our real-life sentencing principles. These concepts of punishment are particularly relevant as the Canadian Criminal Code has gone through many changes in sentencing. We will, of course, be seeing even more changes when the Federal government passes, what we call the "omnibus crime bill" or  Bill C-10. I have discussed certain aspects of this Bill in a previous blog that can be found here.

To shed light on the issue, I referred to the UK's effort to reform sentencing in the consultation paper and in the Government's Response, which was tabled in June of 2011, with recommendations on sentencing reform. I ended the blog rather ominously, asking if redemption was, in fact, dead.

Why? The UK Government response is telling: most of the recommendations flow from the Government's first recommendation or promise to make punishment "demanding, robust, and credible." Indeed, the UK will accomplish this goal by transforming "prisons into places of hard work." Suddenly, we are transported to Dickensian England with penal work houses or even to the American dirty thirties with the ubiquitous chain gangs. 

But the road to no redemption does not end there. Another goal is to make offenders pay back to the victim. This is not a concept of restorative justice. No, this is retribution, as those same prisoners who will be put to "hard work" will have those earnings partially estreated in favour of victim services programs. This is much different than the victim surcharge program we have in our Criminal Code under s.737 or the restitution orders available under s.738.

There are more examples of how this reformation has gone retro; taking us back to the old theories of Herbert Packer's crime and control model and the notion of the "stick is better than the carrot" at deterring crime. Will this "reform" work? Only time will tell. In a country like the UK, where riots turn particularly nasty (although who are we to judge in light of Vancouver's riots), there is immense public pressure to "get tough on crime."

In the end, however, whichever road is taken will not provide the real answer to how a society can minimize crime without compromising the principles of fundamental justice. In the end, only time will tell.

The UK tabled, on June 22,2011, new sentencing legislation to reflect the proposed reforms. According, to a UK blog found here, the reforms are not as "ambitious" as first proposed.