Farmer In Trouble For Building Gallows

Via the BBC. Although Framer David Lucas, of Mildenhall, Suffolk doesn’t see anything wrong with it, he’s managed to get himself in trouble with Amnesty International for building execution equipment and selling it to African countries with poor human rights records.

You just have to wonder what kind of guy sits around his house thinking… “Hey, you know what it is the world needs that nobody is producing enough of? Execution equipment!” I can just seem him talking with his friends about what a killing (no pun intended) he could make by filling the third world’s untapped market for gallows.

You have to wonder though how much luck he would have trying to get a business loan from the bank. What kinds of euphemisms would he have to use on his business plan to get the loan officer to go along with it… Maybe he could call his gallows criminal justice systems… His business cards could read “Eye For an Eye Inc. The world’s leading producer of first class Criminal Justice Systems.”

The execution equipment he says he sells ranges from single gallows, at about £12,000 each, to “Multi-hanging Execution Systems” mounted on lorry trailers, costing about £100,000.

“Business is business, and some people deserved the death penalty,” said Lucas, defending his gallows sales. However, it looks like his niche market is on borrowed time because the new European Commission Trade Regulation, which comes into force on 31 July 2006 will make it unlawful to export gallows.

Sorry Mr. Lucas, it just looks like you’ll have to find another £100,000 piece of bling to spice up your lorry. Hopefully this time it won’t be used to for killing people.

MIT Guide to Lock Picking – Appendix B

Contrary to widespread myth, it is not a felony to possess lockpicks. Each state has its own laws with respect to such burglarious instruments. Here is the Massacusetts version quoted in entirety from the massachusetts general code:

Chapter 266 (crimes against property)
Section 49. Burglarious instruments; making; possession; use.

Whoever makes or mends, or begins to make or mend, or
knowingly has in his possession, an engine, machine, tool or
implement adapted and designed for cutting through, forcing or
breaking open a building, room, vault, safe or other depository,
IN ORDER TO STEAL THEREFROM money or other property, or to commit
any other crime, knowing the same to be adapted and designed for
the purpose aforesaid, WITH INTENT TO USE OR EMPLOY OR ALLOW the
same to be used or employed for such purpose, or whoever
knowingly has in his possession a master key designed to fit more
than one motor vehicle, WITH INTENT, TO USE OR EMPLOY THE SAME to
steal a motor vehicle or other property therefrom, shall be
punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than
ten years or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars and
imprisonment in jail for not more than two and one half years.

Emphasis added.

In other words, mere possession means nothing. If they stop you for speeding or something, and find a pick set, they can’t do much. On the other hand, if they catch you picking the lock on a Money machine they get to draw and quarter you.

States with similar wording include ME, NH, NY. One place that DOES NOT have similar wording, and does make possession illegal, is Washington, DC. These are the only other places I have checked. I would imagine that most states are similar to Massachusetts, but I would not bet anything substantial (say, more than a slice of pizza) on it.

It may be a good idea to carry around a xeroxed copy of the appropriate page from your state’s criminal code.

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Appendix A >

MIT Guide to Lock Picking – Chapter 10

Lock picking is a craft, not a science. This document presents the knowledge and skills that are essential to lock picking, but more importantly it provides you with models and exercises that will help you study locks on your own. To excel at lock picking, You must practice and develop a style which fits you personally. Remember that the best technique is the one that works best for you.

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Chapter 9 >
Appendix A >

MIT Guide to Lock Picking – Chapter 7

Simple lock picking is a trade that anyone can learn. However, advanced lock picking is a craft that requires mechanical sensitivity, physical dexterity, visual concentration and analytic thinking. If you strive to excel at lock picking, you will grow in many ways.

7.1 Mechanical Skills

Learning how to pull the pick over the pins is surprisingly difficult. The problem is that the mechanical skills you learned early in life involved maintaining a fixed position or fixed path for your hands independent of the amount of force required. In lock picking, you must learn how to apply a fixed force independent of the position of your hand. As you pull the pick out of the lock you want to apply a fixed pressure on the pins. The pick should bounce up and down in the keyway according to the resistance offered by each pin.

To pick a lock you need feedback about the effects of your manipulations. To get the feedback, you must train yourself to be sensitive to the sound and feel of the pick passing over the pins. This is a mechanical skill that can only be learned with practice. The exercises will help yo recognize the important information coming from your fingers.

7.2 Zen and the Art of Lock Picking

In order to excel at lock picking, you must train yourself to have a visually reconstructive imagination. The idea is to use information from all your senses to build a picture of what is happening inside the lock as you pick it. Basically, you want to project your sense into the lock to receive a full picture of how it is responding to your manipulations. Once you have learned how to build this picture, it is easy to choose manipulations that will open the lock.

All your senses provide information about the lock. Touch and sound provide the most information, but the other senses can reveal critical information. For example, your nose can tell you whether a lock has been lubricated recently. As a beginner, you will need to use your eyes for hand-eye coordination, but as you improve you will find it unnecessary to look at the lock. In fact, it is better to ignore you eyes and use your sight to build an image of the lock based on the information you receive from your fingers and ears.

The goal of this mental skill is to acquire a relaxed concentration on the lock. Don’t force the concentration. Try to ignore the sensations and thoughts that are not related to the lock. Don’t try to focus on the lock.

7.3 Analytic Thinking

Each lock has its own special characteristics which make picking harder or easier. If you learn to recognize and exploit the “personality traits” of locks, picking will go much faster. Basically, you want to analyze the feedback you get from a lock to diagnose its personality traits and then use your experience to decide on an approach to open the lock. Chapter 9 discusses a large number of common traits and ways to exploit o overcome them.

People underestimate the analytic skills involved in lock picking. They think that the picking tool opens the lock. To them the torque wrench is a passive tool that just puts the lock under the desired stress. Let me propose another way to view the situation. The pick is just running over the pins to get information about the lock. Based on an analysis that information the torque is adjusted to make the pins set at the sheer line. It’s the torque wrench that opens the lock.

Varying the torque as the pick moves in and out of the keyway is general trick that can be used to get around several picking problems. For example, if the middle pins are set, but the end pins are not, you can increase the torque as the pick moves over the middle pins. This will reduce the chances of disturbing the correctly set pins. If some pin doesn’t seem to lift up far enough as the pick passes over it, then try reducing the torque on the next pass.

The skill of adjusting the torque while the pick is moving requires careful coordination between your hands, but as you become better at visualizing the process of picking a lock, you will become better at this important skill.

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Chapter 6 >
Chapter 8 >

Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings – Part 6

Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings
A series by on social deviance and punishment in the United States and Europe

Going into this study, it was my expectation that That non deviant citizens of other Western, industrialized countries would take on more personal responsibility for deviants, and prove more willing to make accommodations for them than Americans. Given this, Americans would, without exception, be more likely than Europeans to label deviant any person addressed by the five social policies in my survey. This is to say that whether a person is on death row for homicide, or poverty stricken and in need of shelter, food, clothing, medical attention or treatment for drug addiction, that person would acquire a label of deviance more quickly in the United States than in Europe.

In two ways, this turned out to be the case. As expected, when it came to sentencing a person to death Americans were decidedly more likely to agree, than Europeans, effectively applying the label of criminal with indelible ink. This label cannot be removed, since the person is to be executed, which tells us that, while not given out lightly, it is applied by Americans with extreme confidence.

Similarly, Americans seem more reluctant than Europeans to remove the label of drug user. This is not to suggest that they to not favor programs designed to help in addiction recovery (55% in fact believed America should have such a nationally funded policy), but to note that far more (76%) of Europeans agreed with this policy and were less likely to be skeptical about the addict’s actual motivation to recover.

The results become more ambiguous however when it comes to questions about nationalized health care and welfare. America and Europe ran pretty much dead even in the statistics here, which, at least initially, suggests that being poor and in need of health care is not thought of as particularly deviant in either culture. Like drug addiction, however, there does seem to be more of a tendency amongst Americans to look at these program’s beneficiaries with distrust, and thus less societal responsibility is accepted by the American individual. This again suggests a willingness but strong reluctance amongst Americans to remove a deviant label.

Finally, there is the question that broke all the rules. Given the fact that United States tends to be more conservative sexually than many European nations, I would have thought, that if anything was to be labeled more deviant in the United States it would be sexuality. Perhaps this is the case, and a willingness to provide nationally funded birth control is not a valid measurement, or perhaps I simply had it wrong. Whatever the case, it would appear, since more Americans than Europeans favor such a program, that sexuality is more likely to receive a deviant label in Europe.

Ultimately, while it does seem that these findings support my original hypothesis, they do so in a slightly different way than I had anticipated. It appears that neither culture is decidedly more or less likely to apply a label of deviance to the acts in question, but rather that Europeans tend to be more willing than Americans to remove a deviant label.

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Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings – Part 5

Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings
A series by on social deviance and punishment in the United States and Europe

So, having examined the overall purpose of this project, the research design and its limitations, the time has come to look at the data, and to see if the findings support my original hypothesis that non deviant citizens of other Western, industrialized countries take on more personal responsibility for deviants, and are more willing than Americans to make accommodations for them. In the first part of this section, I will present a basic overview of the survey results, beginning with the quantitative percentages, then moving on to the qualitative comments for elaboration. In the second part, I will take a moment for the discussion of labeling theory, then move on to discuss the conclusions which can be drawn from this research.

Taking a quick glance at the initial quantitative results, it is unclear if the data supports this study’s hypothesis. See the following table:

Sex Drugs and Public Hangings Table 3

Sex Drugs and Public Hangings Table 3

There exists some supporting evidence when we see that Europeans were far less likely to favor the death penalty, and far more likely to support nationality funded treatment for drug abusers than Americans. These findings come as no surprise because of policies which already exist in our two European countries. Germany has no death penalty what- so-ever, and the United Kingdom abolished this punishment for all ordinary (non-military) offenses in1973. (Heiner p. 221) On a similar note, the United Kingdom tried out “hard line” methods to control drug abuse in the ’70s and ’80s, but only found themselves with “more drugs, more crime and more addicts, so they went back to their way, letting doctors prescribe whatever drug a particular addict was hooked on.” (Heiner p. 190)

Surprisingly, however, the other issues were much closer in the percentages. Americans proved only slightly less likely to support nationality funded health care, and much to my surprise, they were actually more likely to favor financial support for publicly funded birth control and those living in poverty. While these returns are interesting from the standpoint of changing American viewpoints, they hardly support my hypothesis. Even given the likelihood that I had reached a more liberal subset of the American public, these results were far from what I had expected to find. I would clearly have to dig deeper into qualitative meaning behind these answers if I was to have any hope of proving my hypothesis.

Looking through the comments the research subjects made, two things become clear. First, the explanations given by Europeans for supporting social policy designed to aid deviants are filled with decidedly fewer limitations, ifs’, ands’ or buts’ than those given by American subjects. This provides evidence that the tendency to submit a “Yes” answer, simply so that a comment could be given, was indeed artificially inflated by the design of the survey. Secondly, certain national trends seem to emerge with respect to each question, leading to the conclusion that there is at least some homogeny amongst those surveyed. Let us now take the time to view each question individually, comparing the comments made by American respondents with their European counterparts.

Question #1: Do you believe your country should have a death penalty?
From the American perspective the majority (59%) of those surveyed did not believe that there should be a death penalty in the United States. However, particularly when compared with the much lower European return of 9%, there remains a significant percentage of American subjects who favor capital punishment. What were their reasons? Of those nine Americans who answered “Yes” the most common circumstance given under which a death sentence would be acceptable was murder. Some respondents elaborated further, stating, for instance that such a punishment would only be appropriate in the event of the most “heinous” murder, serial killings, or a crime where the victim was “tortured either before or after being killed”, but In short, every American who favored the death penalty cited the killing of another human being as an act under which capital punishment would be acceptable.

In Europe, however, the overwhelming majority of respondents did not believe that their country should have a death penalty. Only two of the twenty-one European subjects answered “Yes” to this question, and of these, only one provided an explanation, stating that execution should only be carried out in the event of first degree murder or rape.

Interestingly, the American legal system does not treat rape as seriously as murder. Certainly this is because the life of the victim is not terminated in the criminal act. I mention this because in addition to murder, (and treason, cited only once) rape was named by three Americans and one European as a reason for the use of capital punishment. Two conclusions can be drawn from this. First, it would seem that the general public of America, and Europe is taking the issue of rape much more seriously than they had in the past, and secondly, since neither Americans or Europeans seem to favor using the death penalty lightly, it would appear that whatever mental condition it is that causes a person to commit rape is being thought of as not only despicable, but untreatable as well.

Question #2: Do you feel health care should be provided by your government?
Generally, those surveyed in the united States and in Europe agreed that there should be some kind of nationalized health care system, which makes it curious that no such program exists in the US. When asked to elaborate on their answers, statements like “Free for all, period.” and ” I think there should be national health care for every citizen of our country – regardless of economic status, race, age, etc.” were quite common throughout both American and European survey returns.

While it seems that many of those favoring nationalized health care from both sides of the Atlantic feel that everyone should receive government health care, Europeans seemed less worried about the prospect of a person receiving free health care without first having paid into the system. Out of the eighteen Europeans and the Nineteen Americans who answered in favor of a nationalized health care plan, five Americans and only one European suggested that treatment should be provided only to those who have paid into the system. Similarly, Six Europeans and only two Americans specifically named the poor as a group who should receive treatment.

In part, since the US does not as of yet have a national health care system, and because of books such as Malcolm K. Sparrow’s “License to Steel”, which discusses the highly automated, easy to take advantage of systems entrusted with processing claims and issuing checks (Sparrow pp. 162 163), it makes sense why Americans tend to be a bit more worried about where the funding for such a program will come from. In general, both groups seem to believe first that their country should provide at least essential health care services, and secondly, that most, if not all citizens should have access to it.

Question #3: Do you believe your country should provide financial support for those living in poverty?
Like socialized medicine, welfare is a social program funded by the public, and as such has the potential of being abused. In other words, it is possible that people may use the service without contributing to the pool of money which funds it. For this reason it makes sense that the answers from this question would be similar to those on nationality funded health care. Indeed this is the case. Seventeen Europeans and twenty-three Americans answered that their respective countries should provide financial support to those living in poverty, and when asked to qualify their answers, most subjects from both Europe and the United States agreed that this program should not be a way of life, but rather a service to those trying to find a job or better their situation.

Americans did however, tend to be a bit more concerned with the possibility of people getting something for nothing. The most common statements amongst US subjects who believe financial aid to the poor should be offered was that this service should provide the basic costs of living such as food, clothing and housing only to those trying to find a job, or unable to work because of disability. One subject wrote for example that “People should receive welfare only for a short time, and during that time, the person should have to prove they are looking for a job by meeting with a counselor twice a week. Welfare needs strict regulations, but in a way that still helps the person receiving it”.

Like the Americans, European respondents believed that welfare should provide for the basic necessities of life. However, statements like, “welfare should be provided under all circumstances, so that people do not die from starvation, and have basic clothing and basic housing” were far more common. Furthermore, the idea that welfare should help the underemployed and working poor was commonly addressed among European respondents, and only twice was it explicitly suggested that this service should be limited to those actively seeking employment. In short, Europeans seemed a good deal more trusting that the welfare system would not be abused.

Question #4: Do you believe your country should provide publicly funded birth control?
Amongst those from United States who responded “Yes” to this question, the almost universal answer was something like “to anyone and everyone who wants it.” Many subjects from Europe also answered this way, but added that birth control should also be provided to teenagers, suggesting, if nothing else, that Europeans are more comfortable with the idea of their children having sex than Americans.

The thing that most amazed me about the results from this question, however, was the number of people who said “No”. It was my original thought that anyone willing to support nationalized medicine or welfare would also support government funded birth control. The final tally did not prove this, showing that out of twenty-one Europeans and twenty-seven Americans surveyed, only nine and seventeen respondents supported such a program respectively. This suggests one of two possible conclusions. Either sex and childbearing are something that both cultures feel is a personal matter and don’t want to see the government getting involved with, or it was thought that by birth control I meant abortion, which is understandably a far more controversial topic than basic prevention methods. In any event, it would seem that Americans are a bit more comfortable with this issue than the Europeans.

Question #5: Do you feel your country should provide treatment for drug abusers?
This final question was inspired by the 60 Minutes episode entitled “Rx Drugs”, in which England’s approach to managing national drug problems was addressed. Unlike the United States, which has declared “war” on drugs, England has decided to fund a program which provides free, “clean” drugs to addicts by way of prescription, thus decriminalizing the act of use. (Heiner p. 189) Knowing about this program, I though it would be interesting to see how well supported public treatment for drug addicts was overseas, and moreover, if Americans were interested in paying the bill to help users overcome their addiction.

In the end, this question came back mostly as I expected. As can be seen by the returns, 76% of European subjects favored such a policy, compared to 55% of Americans. When asked to qualify a “Yes” answer, both groups agreed nearly across the board that anyone who wants help should receive it. One American respondent stated that “Our country should provide similar treatment to England’s program”, and several suggested that treatment should not continue if the patient is not doing his or her part to recover. It was, perhaps a bit surprising that so many Americans favored this type of program, but it seems most are beginning to conclude that the “war on drugs” is not working and have began to seek an alternative.

Because the following interpretation of this data is to be grounded in the school of symbolic interactionism, and labeling theory, it is important, before moving on, that I give a brief overview of of this theoretical framework. Taken from the writings of George Herbert Mead, symbolic interactionism asserts that people learn how to behave based on the subjective meanings of their social interaction “as perceived from the standpoint of the actor.” (Hagen p. 192) In other words, individuals watch how others react to their behavior and apply meaning to their actions based on what they see. Labeling theory, then, “says that individuals are deviant mainly because they have been labeled as deviant by social control agencies or others.” (Hagen p. 192) There is, based on this theory, nothing intrinsically deviant in the criminal act itself, only in the reaction of the audience and in the label that is applied to the actor; “that is, a crime is a label, not an act.” (Hagen p.192)

By this assertion, we are moving the focus of the study away from the deviant people of America and Europe and on to the “law abiding citizens” of these countries who react to and label deviance. The question now becomes not how deviant people are dealt with on both sides of the Atlantic, but exactly which acts cause each respective society to apply a label of deviance.

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Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings – Part 4

Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings
A series by on social deviance and punishment in the United States and Europe

Design Limitations:
No research project is without its limitations, and even before the original research strategy had to be changed this one was no exception. In the end, the limitations of this study can best be broken down to, and discussed in three separate sections: the the survey recipients, the newsgroups used to contact European subjects, and the survey itself. Allow me now to take a few moments to discuss each of these separately, before moving on to analyze the the data.

Ideally, I would have been able to obtain a totally random, reasonably large sample from each of the four countries. As I hinted at above, this may have been possible in the United States, but without either traveling to Europe, or having a very dedicated contact in each country, doing this in across the Atlantic would be nearly impossible. Thus, in order to be a t all practical, I would have to take what I could get in terms of survey respondents.

In the United States, I can be certain that those who took the survey were either randomly selected Plymouth State College students, or college Information Technology Department staff. The first, and most obvious limitation of this group is the fact that they are associated with a college. Colleges and universities tend to be, almost by definition, more liberal than the median of American society, and as such, these subjects were no doubt more likely to answer in favor of social programs designed to aid deviants than a true cross-section of the American public. Also, we must consider the demographics of those associated with colleges and universities. This group is likely to be younger, more educated, and wealthier than the average, randomly selected person, which is almost certain to account for an increased tendency to answer in support of social programs. Secondly, the survey was only made available to those who used e-mail. While it is difficult to find a student or college staff member who does not use this technology, they certainly do exist, and as a result, the less tech-savvy would have been eliminated as a research subject. Finally, the issue of geography needs to be addressed. The survey was only distributed to those living, in the North Eastern United States. This is important to remember because this region (aside from New Hampshire) tends to be slightly more liberal than the rest of the United States, and many people at Plymouth State College originally come from surrounding states.

Overseas, some of the same problems were faced such as the non computer / Internet users being eliminated as a subject, but the most important limitations come from the way the respondents were contacted.

Since the bulk of my European respondents found the survey listed on one of the three Usenet newsgroups listed in the table above, it is absolutely critical that the limitations of this method be addressed. Newsgroups are organized in terms of subject, and as such a person subscribes to a newsgroup only if that person is interested in reading the discussions therein. Knowing this, it becomes clear that I have reached only a very limited audience. I chose the newsgroups I did, not because of their subject matter, but rather because of their large readership, and since the only requirement for completing the survey was that the person be from either Germany or England (I had, at this point, given up on France), I wished to reach as many people as possible. Thus, the most apparent limitation of news groups is the narrow scope of their readership. Since I posted to only three groups, it is easy to see that I did not reach a very diverse audience.

Another thing that is important to know about newsgroups is that they can be read by anyone, regardless of nationality. Just because a group is part of the “UK” or “DK” domain does not mean that someone from another country is eliminated from reading it, so there is the risk that a person who completed the German survey, for instance, was not, in fact German. In an attempt to control for this, I kept an eye on my UNIX server’s web access log, and ensured that the number of British or German surveys matched up with the number of British or German connections. Even with this control, however, I can only confirm that the page was accessed from a given country, and I have no way of verifying that the individual taking it was actually British or German. I had to depend on the honor system for this.

One final note about newsgroups: it is important to note that Usenet readers can, and do, become VERY hostile should they run across a posting which they don’t like. Survey postings on the newsgroups are very unpopular, and are thought of by most to be inappropriate. Knowing this. I realized that it would become necessary to keep a careful eye on the returns to ensure that no malicious subject would intentionally corrupt my data. Aside from receiving a few e-mail messages asking why I had not included certain questions, I only ended up having to throw out two responses. The first, clearly malicious, stated among other things that there should be a death penalty for “crosposting twits on newsgroups”, and that the state should provide free healthcare for people who have suffered mental trauma caused by “crosposting twits on newsgroups.” The second throw away was simply a religious rant.

The Survey:
While not perfect, I do feel that the actual construction of the survey was good, as it yielded some very useful results. I was approached by several people throughout the study who stated that it was “fun” to take, and that they had enjoyed putting in their own “two cents”. There are, however, three important ways I believe the survey could be improved. First, as I stated above, I believe the option for subjects to qualify a “No” answer should have been added. Secondly, I believe there should have been a mechanism built into the PHP database front end to ensure that the same person did not take the survey twice. Finally, I would have liked to employ a system by which I could verify that the person taking the survey was actually a citizen of the the country he or she claimed. Unfortunately, this would mean collecting personal data which may have prevented the study from passing the Human Subjects Committee.

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