Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Death Traps: Stolen Manhole Covers

Manhole covers are being stolen for scrap metal all over the world. The problem is especially bad in India and China. It is still considered just a prank or an act of petty vandalism in the United States.

Over 10,000 manhole covers were stolen in two months in Calcutta, India. The replaced manhole covers, made of concrete, were also stolen for the iron rods inside them.

According to China's Xinhua news agency: "Approximately 240,000 manhole and street- drain covers were stolen in Beijing in 2004."

The BBC reported that authorities in the Chinese city of Shanghai have called for greater punishment for manhole cover thieves, after eight people had fallen down uncovered manholes and died between June 2003 to January 2004.

10,000 manhole covers vanish [TelegraphIndia.com, Sep. 7, 2004]
Putting a lid on rampant manhole theft [money.cnn.com, Mar. 15, 2005]
China manhole thefts prove deadly [bbc, Jan. 29, 2004]
Manhole cover theft [wikipedia.org]

Friday, March 25, 2005

Juice Justice: Penalties for Steroid Use

Why were professional baseball players letting their lawyers run the show at the recent Congressional hearings on steroid abuse? As the WSJ reported:

Turns out the legal penalties for steroid use can be pretty stiff. In 1990 Congress amended the Controlled Substances Act, making the possession or use of anabolic steroids a federal crime. In fact, under federal law steroids are grouped with opium, morphine and amphetamines as "Schedule III" substances. Even first time offenders with a clean record caught with small amounts of steroids for their own use face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. If you have any prior convictions for drug possession, your sentence can go up to two years. Selling or distributing steroids (even giving them away) is a felony under the Act and can draw up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Any prior drug convictions can bump the sentence to 10 years.

States have gotten into the steroid regulation act as well, but the penalties vary greatly. For example, in Alabama simple possession of steroids can put you away for 10 years, while in Alaska steroids aren't even classified as a controlled substance. Adding to the confusion is just what qualifies as a "steroid." Some states classify HGH - human growth hormone - as a steroid while others specifically exclude it. Last year Congress tried to clarify matters by amending the Anabolic Steroid Control Act to make a laundry list of prohormone and prosteroid substances illegal. But, as the government's ongoing investigation into Balco Labs has demonstrated, the capacity to engineer new kinds of steroids is practically infinite.

So why criminalize steriod use at all? Baseball's new steriod policy calls for a 10-day suspension of a player who tests positive for steroids. Compare and contrast that to the 365 days of jail time a first time offender faces under federal law if caught using steroids. Lumping the athletic steroid user into the same category as the heroin or cocaine user seems a little severe. Something is very distorted about the public policies regarding steriod use.

Juice-Head Justice (sub. req.) [WSJ.com, Mar. 25, 2005]
The Anabolic Steroid Control Act: The Wrong Prescription?
Legal Muscle: Anabolics in America [book by Rick Collins]
Controlled Substances Act [wikipedia.org]
Steroids (Anabolic-Androgenic) [Nat. Institute of Drug Abuse]
Anabolic steroids [ESPN.com]

Monday, March 21, 2005

Left-Handers: Natural Born Killers

Collision Detection said:

Evolutionary theory has long been puzzled by left-handedness. Southpaws are in the minority, and they get into many more accidents than do the right-handed; in the modern context, this is partly because so many quasi-lethal tools are engineered primarily for right-handed use. So the question is, given that left-handedness is so dangerous to one's health, why haven't southpaws evolutionarily vanished?

Possibly because southpaws are extremely good at one thing: Killin' people.

The Economist adds:
While there is no suggestion that left-handed people are more violent than the right-handed, it looks as though they are more successfully violent.

Natural born killers [Collision Detection, Dec. 26, 2004]
Handedness, homicide and negative frequency-dependent selection [Charlotte Faurie and Michel Raymond, Proceedings of the Royal Society]
A sinister advantage [The Economist, Dec. 9, 2005]

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Do-It-Yourself: The Home Funeral

Prior to the 20th century, most Americans prepared their dead for burial with the help of family and friends, but today most funerals are part of a multi-billion dollar industry run by professionals. There is a growing home-funeral movement that would like to see more people forgo the typical mortuary funeral and take care of their loved ones funeral at home.

It was the Civil War slaughter that led to the relatively recent tradition of using morticians to administer to the dead. War dead had to be embalmed in order to make the long trip home. Until then, caring for and preparing the dead for burial on family farms or in local cemeteries was both a domestic skill and a family responsibility.

The reality today is that death can be very expensive. The funeral business has become a blood sucking monopolistic enterprise in more ways than one. As The Sacramento Bee reported in 1999:

Start with a $1,595 non-declinable fee, which is supposed to help pay for everything from a mortician's advice to the cost of his parking lot. Add a Cashmere Beige copper casket with Champagne Velvet interior ($4,305); a standard cemetery plot ($3,300); embalming, dressing, fixing the hair and "casketing" the departed ($460); grave digging ($475); gloves for the pallbearers ($120), and underwear for the deceased ($20).

Throw in a few dozen other items, from a casket crucifix ($25) to a tree for the grave site ($225), and you have an idea why the $20-billion-a-year American funeral business is generally prospering.

But its customers may not be feeling so well. Consumers face a former mom-and-pop industry that is being steadily devoured by a handful of major corporations and has a pricing structure that even confuses people in the industry.

"I don't have anything I can give you," replied a cemetery sales manager recently when asked for a price list. "It's just too confusing. It's like your taxes. It gets very confusing."

It does indeed. A Bee survey of 56 funeral homes in seven Northern California counties found a staggering range of prices for what in many cases are essentially the same goods and services: Embalming charges from $140 to $500; no-service cremations from $250 to $1,635; hearse rentals from $50 to $225, and caskets from $263 to $24,000.

These prices have certainly gone much higher in the last five years. So why take your dearly departed to a cold unfamiliar funeral home that will try and rip you off?

Elizabeth Westrate's film, A Family Undertaking, uncovers a growing social trend: the home funeral movement. More often, Americans are choosing to do it themselves when it comes to burying loved ones and easing their own grief. Far from being a radical innovation, however, keeping funeral rites in the family or among friends is exactly how death was handled for most of pre-twentieth century America.

A Family Undertaking [pbs.org]
The Funeral Business [npr.org]

Resources for Planning a Home Funeral:

Japan's Dark Hole: 10 Year Anniversary of Doomsday Cult Sarin Gas Attack

Sunday will mark the ten year anniversary (Mar. 20, 1995) of the Aum (pronounced "ohm") cult's sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

David Kaplan and Andrew Marshall did an investigation of the Aum religious cult and wrote a book entitled The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia.

The Aum had learned how to make sarin nerve agent. This is a very lethal nerve gas invented by German scientists in the 1930's. According to the Kaplan and Marshall book the Aum had come up with a song to celebrate the discovery. One verse went:

It came from Nazi Germany, a dangerous little chemical weapon, Sarin
Sarin. If you inhale the mysterious vapor, you will fall with bloody vomit from your mouth, Sarin! Sarin! Sarin! - the chemical weapon.

Excerpts from FT.com story about attack:
The Tokyo subway was the perfect terrorist target. Efficient, clean, safe, its tunnels were, and still are, the veins and nervous system of the world’s biggest metropolis.

One of the Aum members who carried out the Sarin Attack was Yasuo Hayashi. He was a high-ranking member of Aum. The cult had 10,000 Japanese members who had been busily preparing for Armageddon. Shortly before 8am, Monday, March 20, 1995, he had boarded a Hibiya line train. At roughly the same time, four fellow “monks” - all armed with cheap umbrellas and carrying plastic bags filled with colorless sarin liquid - were boarding separate trains rattling towards Kasumigaseki train station.

The man who would later be dubbed Killer Hayashi by a frenzied Japanese press stood in the packed carriage and quietly let his plastic packets slip to the floor. He jabbed the tip of his umbrella - carefully sharpened the night before - into the polythene and elbowed his way on to the platform. In the carriage, the doors closed and the train moved on. Passengers started to splutter and groan as noxious fumes spread. At 8.02am, the train pulled into Kodemmacho. The doors opened and one of the choking commuters kicked the package on to the platform. There, unnoticed, it would poison dozens.

Similar scenes of horror were unfolding elsewhere. Hastily handwritten signs were posted outside the metro explaining that service had been suspended. Some bore a word so unfamiliar it was rendered in the katakana alphabet reserved for foreign concepts. That word was “terror”.

By the end of the day, more than 5,500 people had been struck down, some with agonising symptoms. One woman’s contact lenses fused to her pupils. Doctors surgically removed both her eyes. Twelve people, including station attendants, died. A number were left in vegetative states.

It is natural to dismiss Aum’s rise as freakish. After all, there are deranged lunatics in all societies. Yet a surprising number of Japanese intellectuals, Haruki Murakami (Japan’s best-known novelist) among them, have sought to link the cult’s emergence with a crisis in Japanese society. In Underground, Murakami’s book of interviews with victims and perpetrators of the gassing, he writes: “I can’t simply file away the gas attack, saying: ‘After all, this was merely an extreme and exceptional crime committed by an isolated lunatic fringe.’” Rather than seeing the event as “Evil Them” versus “Innocent Us”, he rakes over mainstream society for clues. “Wasn’t the real key,” he writes, “more likely to be found hidden under ‘our’ territory?”

Murakami also appears to identify with the motives of those who tried to escape their ranks. “The cult people got out of that system and they entered the right system, a system they thought was right at least. They were very pure and they decided to live for themselves, for something good, for something immortal. Of course, they committed a crime, and they should not have done that.”

Back in the 19990's Aum attempted to get Russian nuclear weapons and prospected for uranium in Australia's outback. In 2000, the organization changed its name to Aleph - the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. They are still very active today.

Doomsday and after [FT.com, Mar. 18, 2005]
Aum Shinrikyo Doomsday Cult & Terrorist Organization [TJN, Feb. 3, 2005]
Aleph [The organization's official website - English section]
Aum Shinrikyo (also spelled Om Shin Rikyo) [Wikipedia.org]

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Democratic Dictionary

A glossary of historical classifications of Democrats:

  • Yellow Dogs: Term of diehard Democrats began in the 1928 election. Outraged that some Democrats were supporting Republican Herbert Hoover, Alabama Democrats rallied around the slogan: "I'd vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket."

  • Boll Weevils: Term used in the mid- and late-20th century to describe conservative Southern Democrats. Pejorative used by liberals in the 1980's to describe a bloc of largely conservative Southern Democrats who supported President Ronald Reagan.

  • Blue Dogs: Descended from the Boll Weevils, group formed in 1995 when about thirty moderate to conservative House Democrats joined to counter the parties leftward leanings. Democrat and former Rep. Pete Geren of Texas said the party was being "choked blue" by liberals.

  • Dixiecrat: A group of Southern Democrats who opposed racial integration and wanted to retain Jim Crow laws and racial segregation. After President Harry Truman's endorsement of the civil rights plank at the 1948 Democratic National Convention the Dixiecrat delegates walked out. Strom Thurmond, governor of South Carolina, helped organize them into a separate party.

History of the Yellow Dog Democrat
Blue Dog Coalition [wikipedia.com]
Blue Dog Coalition 109th Congress [Rep. John Tanner]
Segregationist 1948 Platform adopted by States Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrats) [SmokingGun.com]
Dixiecrat [Britannica.com]

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Zip code 09360: Guantanamo Bay, Cuba aka "Gitmo"

Jeannie Ralston of National Geographic recently visted Gitmo:

The night before I left for one of the most controversial spots on the planet, the movie A Few Good Men was on television. "I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4,000 Cubans who are trained to kill me," Jack Nicholson's Marine colonel snarled at Demi Moore. The chilling monologue underscored how very much has changed at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. When the movie came out in 1992, Guantanamo was famous as the only American base in a communist country. Today, with no threat from the Red Menace, Guantanamo gets its notoriety from 550 detainees—allegedly members of al Qaeda or the Taliban—who arrived in early 2002. The original plan was to interrogate the men and prosecute the worst before military tribunals, yet three years later few have been brought to trial. Critics question the decision to classify the detainees as enemy combatants rather than prisoners of war, which exempts them from the provisions of the Geneva Conventions—allowing for more coercive interrogations and indefinite detention. Once a relic of the Cold War, Guantanamo has suddenly become, in the words of its commander, Capt. Les McCoy, "the most highly visible U.S. base in the world."

Facts about U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay:

  • Established in 1898, when the U.S. obtained control of Cuba from Spain at the end of the Spanish-American War.

  • Size of Naval Base: 45 sq. miles of land and water

  • Operating Cost: $162 million per year

  • Base Population in 2000: 2,800 -- 2004: 9,500

  • Detention Capacity: 1,200 inmates

  • Total Number of Detainees Held Since January 11, 2002: 750

  • Date Camp Delta first occupied: April 28, 2002

  • Date Camp X-Ray closed: April 29, 2002

  • Date of first Red Cross visit: January 17, 2004

  • Current Number of Detainees Held: about 540

  • Nationalities Among Detainees: 41

  • Interrogation Hours: Around the clock

  • Reported Suicide Attempts: 34

ZipUSA: 09360 - Serving time at Guantanamo Bay. [National Geographic, April 2005]
Guantanamo Bay [wikipedia.org]
Camp X-Ray (temporary detention facility) [wikipedia.org]
Guantanamo Bay - Camp X-Ray [GlobalSecurity.org]
Guantanamo Bay - Camp Delta [GlobalSecurity.org]

CBS News reported on March 11, 2005:
the military has released 211 detainees from Guantanamo, including 146 who were freed outright plus the 62 who were transferred to the control of their home government.

In making these transfers, the U.S. government sets conditions, sometimes requiring that the detainee be held by their home country, and, in some cases, seeking protections regarding their treatment while in prison there.

Not all detainees at Guantanamo are eligible for transfer, officials said. Some, if freed, would remain a threat to U.S. interests, and several already freed from Guantanamo have returned to terrorist groups, officials said.

Some are also still supplying useful intelligence to interrogators, officials said.

Abdul Ghaffar, captured in Afghanistan in December 2001, was one of twenty-three prisoners released from Camp Delta in late January of 2004. After his release, he rejoined the remnants of the Taliban in Afghanistan and was killed in a gunfight in late September of 2004.

Articles regarding the identity, interrogation and treatment of detainees:

Names of the Detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba [Washington Post]
U.S. Wants Fewer Gitmo Detainees [CBSNews.com, March 11, 2005]
3-Star General To Lead Gitmo Probe [CBSNews.com, Feb. 28, 2005]
Detainees Accuse Female Interrogators [Washington Post, Feb. 10, 2005]
Et Tu, Gitmo? [Worldpress.org, Jan. 10, 2005]
Taleban Leader Killed in Afghanistan was in Guantanamo Bay Prison [voanews.com, Sept. 27, 2004]
Waiting for Gitmo [MotherJones.com, Jan/Feb 2004]

Mohammed Bijeh: "Vampire of the Desert" publicly flogged, stabbed, and hanged in Iran

-----Mohammed Bijeh: Vampire of the Desert publicly flogged, stabbed, and hanged in Iran------
BBC reported:
"Again! Kill him again!" people shouted as Mohammad Bijeh's body swayed above the main square of the town of Pakdasht.

An Iranian serial killer convicted of kidnapping and murdering 21 children was publicly flogged [100 lashes] and hanged on Wednesday before thousands of spectators in this small Iranian town, 40km (25 miles) south-east of the capital, Tehran.

From the early morning police cars drove through the streets announcing the location and the time of the execution.

"At nine in the main square," they yelled into loudspeakers and thousands responded to these calls. Soon the square was full of people.

Between 3,000 and 5,000 spectators — including women and children — gathered to watch the flogging and hanging. Riot police circled the area.

Mohammad Bijeh was branded “the vampire of the desert” in the Iranian press.

When Bijeh was placed in a position to be hanged, a young 17-year-old boy -- the brother of victim Rahim Younessi -- managed to break through the police barrier and stab a knife in the killer's back.

A blue nylon rope was placed around Bijeh's neck by the mother of another murdered child.

The killings began more than two years ago but did not come to light for a long time because most of the victims came from families of illegal Afghan refugees who were afraid to report their children were missing.

Bijeh and his accomplice, Ali Baghi, were arrested in September 2004. Both were initially sentenced to hang, but in January the Supreme Court ruled that Baghi should instead serve 15 years behind bars.

The crowd on Wednesday also called for Baghi to be hanged.

Convicts are hanged in public in Iran only if a court deems that their offenses deeply affected public sentiment.

Crowd Sees Rapist Hanged In Iran [CBS, Mar. 16, 2005]
Iranian serial killer lashed and hanged in public [IranMania.com, Mar. 16, 2005, more pictures]
Iran town rejoices at public hanging [BBC, Mar. 16, 2005]
Iran's 'desert vampire' executed [BBC, Mar. 16, 2005]
'Vampire' flogged, stabbed and hanged in public [Ths Australian, Mar. 17, 2005]
Iranian child serial killer to be hanged [IranMania.com, Jan. 19, 2005]

Monday, March 14, 2005

Applications of Islamic Law or Shariah

Islamic law based on the Koran is applied in broadly different ways across the Islamic world. Sharia (also Shari'a, Shariah or Syariah) is traditional Islamic law. Like most religious cultures, Islam classically drew no distinction between religious and secular life. A sampling:

Religious States or Moslem Regions Within States

  • IRAN

    Legal Codes

    Stoning to death is prescribed for offenses (including adultery and prostitution). The penal code includes these specifications: "The stones should not be too large so that the person dies on being hit by one or two of them; they should not be so small either that they could not be defined as stones."

    Regulations updated in 2003 specify that flogging is to be carried out with leather cords 1.5 cm. thick and 1 meter long.

    Enforcement/How it works

    Sentences of death by stoning may include a prison term first, or lashings, or both. A moratorium on stoning was issued in 2002, but sentences continued to be handed out.

    Recent Cases

    2001: Two women were known to have been stoned to death, including one after serving eight years in prison who was convicted of adultery and "corruption on earth." Two others were reportedly sentenced to death by stoning; it is not known if the sentences were carried out. At least 285 people were flogged, many in public.

    2002: At least three were reported sentenced to death by stoning. Amnesty International recorded 9 amputations as punishments, including one cross amputation (for example, a right hand and left foot).

    2003: At least four were reported sentenced to death by stoning, at least 197 were sentenced to be flogged and 11 were sentenced to amputations.

    2004: An Iranian newspaper reported the sentencing of a man to 80 lashes and 10 years imprisonment, to be followed by execution by stoning for running a brothel. Another man was flogged with 80 lashes and died 4 days later after conviction on charges including possession of a medicine containing alcohol, consuming alcohol in the early 1980's, possession of a satellite dish and aiding his sister's "corruption" in having boyfriends.


    Legal Codes

    The 1959 code allowed for limited Shariah law in northern Muslim areas but prohibited sentences of stoning and amputation. After civilian rule resumed in 1999, 12 states adopted new Shariah codes, resuming those punishments.

    How It Works

    The new codes added specific punishments: for theft, amputation of the hand; for drinking alcohol, flogging; for adultery, death by stoning.

    Recent Cases

    2001: Bariya Ibrahima Magazu, a street hawker believed to be 17 or younger, received 100 lashes in January at the Higher Shariah Court in Tsafe in front of dozens of her neighbors. She had been sentenced to 100 lashes for having sexual relations outside marriage and 80 lashes for falsely accusing three men of coercing her into having sex.

    Safiya Yakubu Hussaini Tunga-Tudu, a 35-year-old mother of five, was sentenced to death in Sokoto on charges of adultery. The case provoked international outrage; she was acquitted in 2002.

    2002: Dozens were sentenced to have their hands amputated for theft or armed robbery and to flogging for fornication, consumption of alcohol and other crimes.

    Amina Lawal, 35, was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, after bearing a child outside marriage, which was sufficient evidence for her to be convicted under new Shariah penal laws in Katsina state. She appealed, and won in 2003.

    2003: Jibrin Babaji was sentenced to death by stoning by a Shariah court after being convicted of sodomy involving three minors.


    Legal Codes: Flogging is mandatory for sexual offenses and other crimes, and can be used as an alternative or addition to other punishments. Sentences can range from dozens to thousands of lashes.

    Amputation of the hand or foot is imposed for theft and burglary; highway robbery is punished by cross amputation.

    How It Works

    Amputations are imposed after what Amnesty International calls "grossly unfair trials." Floggings may be given by police immediately after catching offenders; they are often public.

    Recent Cases

    1981-1999: Amnesty International reports at least 90 cases of amputations. Mohammad 'Ali al-Sayyid, an Egyptian national working in Saudi Arabia, was serving a sentence of 4,000 lashes in addition to seven years' imprisonment, for burglary. Every two weeks he was taken, with his legs shackled, to the market-place where a policeman administered 50 lashes. Each flogging session was said to have left him with bruised or bleeding buttocks and unable to sleep or sit for three or four days.

    2000: There were 34 reported cases of amputations, including seven cross amputations (right hand and left foot). Two teachers, arrested following demonstrations, were reported to have been sentenced to 1,500 lashes each to be carried out in front of their families, students and other teachers.

    2001: Hundreds of teenagers were flogged where alleged offenses had taken place, some in a shopping mall. A military officer was given 20 lashes for using a mobile phone while on a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight. Three men were sentenced to 1,500 lashes each, in addition to 15 years' imprisonment on drug charges. Four others tried with them were sentenced to death and executed.

    2002: Scores of teenage boys were reported flogged during the year. A woman was sentenced to 65 lashes and six months' imprisonment for committing adultery with her sister's husband, even though she reportedly claimed that he had raped her. The man was sentenced to 4,700 lashes and six years' imprisonment. At least seven people, all foreign nationals, had their right hands amputated.

  • Moderate States


    Legal Codes: This culturally diverse archipelago, 88 percent Muslim, guarantees freedom of religion and recognizes five religions. It also allows some localities to carry out Shariah.

    How It Works

    The first Shariah court was established in Aceh province, applicable only to Muslims. Women there were lectured on inappropriate dress and briefly detained. In other places, civil servants have been required to wear Islamic clothing on Fridays and attend noon prayers. Other areas forbade alcohol, but the ban applied only to Muslims and was not strictly enforced. Some political parties have advocated Shariah nationwide; they remain in the minority.


    Legal Codes

    A constitutional monarchy ruled by King Abdullah II bin Hussein, it incorporates Shariah law into many aspects of private life.

    How It Works

    Shariah applies to Muslim marriage and divorce; Christians have separate courts for these but are subject to Islamic law for inheritances. Non-Shariah judiciaries consider the testimony of of men and women equal, but Islamic courts mostly hold that the testimony of two women is equal to one man.

    According to the State Department, violence against women is common. "Honor crimes" - assaults against women intended to kill, made by relatives to avenge perceived immodest behavior or sexual misconduct - may be treated leniently under the criminal code.

  • Secular State


    Legal Codes: The constitution protects freedom of religion. The government oversees the country's 75,000 mosques and other religious facilities.

    How It Works: The military, judiciary and other branches of govern.ment discriminate against those they consider proponents of Islamic funda-men.talism and Shariah. Observant Muslims in the military are reported to be expelled as threats to secularism; civil servants suspected of Islamist activities are not promoted or are fired. Bans on Islamic head scarves at universities and among civil servants are enforced.

Sources: Amnesty International, U.S. State Department
Applications of Islamic Law [NY Times, March 12, 2005]

Fact Sheet: Women's Rights Under Sharia in Northern Nigeria [NOW.org, Aug. 22, 2002]
Sharia law [Guardian, Aug. 20, 2002]
Two lovers to die by stoning in Nigeria [iol.co.za, Aug. 29, 2002]

Saturday, March 12, 2005

2005 Dirty Dozen Tax Scams

The IRS urges people to avoid these common tax scam schemes:

  1. Trust Misuse. Unscrupulous promoters for years have urged taxpayers to transfer assets into trusts.

  2. Frivolous Arguments. Promoters have been known to make the following outlandish claims: that the Sixteenth Amendment concerning congressional power to lay and collect income taxes was never ratified; that wages are not income; that filing a return and paying taxes are merely voluntary.

  3. Return Preparer Fraud. Dishonest return preparers can cause many headaches for taxpayers who fall victim to their ploys.

  4. Credit Counseling Agencies. Taxpayers should be careful with credit counseling organizations that claim they can fix credit ratings, push debt payment agreements or charge high fees.

  5. "Claim of Right" Doctrine. In this scheme, a taxpayer files a return and attempts to take a deduction equal to the entire amount of his or her wages.

  6. “No Gain” Deduction. Similar to “Claim of Right,” filers attempt to eliminate their entire adjusted gross income (AGI) by deducting it on Schedule A.

  7. Corporation Sole. Since September 2004, the Department of Justice has obtained six injunctions against promoters of this scheme and filed complaints against 11 others. Participants apply for incorporation under the pretext of being a “bishop” or “overseer” of a one-person, phony religious organization or society.

  8. Identity Theft. It pays to be choosy when it comes to disclosing personal information.

  9. Abuse of Charitable Organizations and Deductions. The IRS has observed an increase in the use of tax-exempt organizations to improperly shield income or assets from taxation.

  10. Offshore Transactions. Despite a crackdown on the practice by the IRS and state tax agencies, individuals continue to try to avoid U.S. taxes by illegally hiding income in offshore bank and brokerage accounts or using offshore credit cards, wire transfers, foreign trusts, employee leasing schemes, private annuities or life insurance to do so.

  11. Zero Return. Promoters instruct taxpayers to enter all zeros on their federal income tax filings.

  12. Employment Tax Evasion. The IRS has seen a number of illegal schemes that instruct employers not to withhold federal income tax or other employment taxes from wages paid to their employees.

IRS Announces the 2005 Dirty Dozen Tax Scams
[IRS.gov, Feb. 28, 2005]

Friday, March 11, 2005

Beware the truck driver who prepares tax returns

WASHINGTON D.C. - The Justice Department announced today that a federal court has permanently barred a St. Louis truck driver, Charles B. Eden, from preparing federal income tax returns for customers. In entering the civil injunction order, Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri found that Eden “continually and repeatedly” understated customers’ tax liabilities on their returns “by fabricating or grossly inflating their tax deductions.” The order describes Eden’s conduct as “fraudulent and deceptive.” The order stated that the IRS estimates that Eden’s activities over the last five years have cost the government nearly $3.5 million.

In addition to permanently barring him from preparing tax returns for others, the court ordered Eden to notify his customers of the injunction and directed him to provide the Justice Department his customers’ names, mailing and e-mail addresses, and phone and Social Security numbers.

Court bars St. Louis truck driver from preparing tax returns for others [DOJ, Mar. 3, 2005]
Justice Dept. Sues to stop St. Louis man's tax return preparation service [DOJ, Dec. 8, 2004]

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Hugo Chavez: Al-Qaeda supporter and enemy of U.S.?

The war in Iraq is drawing most of the media attention. But, what is going on in Venezuela in particular and Latin America in general? The main stream media doesn't seem to be paying much attention. Hugo Chávez is a leftist former paratroop commander who governs Venezuela as a populist hero. He is an outspoken critic of the Bush administration and of U.S. involvement in Iraq. He also looks like he is starting to spin out of control. First, is he paranoid? Venezuela News reports:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has repeatedly claimed that the U.S. government has plans to assassinate him and thus trigger chaos that would allow it to intervene militarily and take control of the South American country's huge oil reserves.

Should Chávez be worried? Is this a case of "even paranoids have enemies?" Does the U.S. have plans for regime change in Venezuela? The U.S. would certainly prefer that Chávez not be running Venezuela. Chávez, who has made no secret of his admiration for Cuban President Fidel Castro. He has praised "Cuba's attempts to establish an alternative economic model," which stands opposed to "free market neo-liberalism." Chávez also lauded Cuba's "example of courage and dignity in the face of international social and economic pressure."

Reuters reported yesterday:
The United States on Wednesday warned that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's policies could leave his country "poorer, less free and hopeless," and set a bad example for Latin American countries.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Roger Noriega told a congressional committee that Chávez's "efforts to concentrate power at home, his suspect relationship with destabilizing forces in the region, and his plans for arms purchases are causes of major concern."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday: The United States "was not involved in any way" in a short-lived coup against him.

However, reports from 2002 about Chávez's relationship with Al Queda have not been fully investigated:
High-level military defectors reveal new terrorist links between Al Qaeda and Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez. The man who controls the largest oil reserves in the Western hemisphere gave $1 million to the world's most wanted terrorist right after the 9/11 attacks.

Hugo Chávez would not admit it publicly, but in private, he was very impressed with Osama Bin Laden's work. The Venezuelan strongman publicly rails against the United States and "neo-liberal capitalism" which, according to him, represents "hell on earth". He has never visited the White House, but has instead been to China, Libya, Iraq, and Havana, Cuba.

The doublespeak of Hugo Chávez served him particularly well in the aftermath of 9/11. In the 48 hours following the terrorist attack he vanished from sight.But when he finally did speak, he first assured the foreign press that he was against terrorism. However, locally, in his first TV broadcast, he then stated that "The United States brought the attacks upon itself, for their arrogant imperialist foreign policy."

And in private, he went further still; proclaiming admiration for the terrorist attacks.

" - With 9/11, Bin Laden showed the whole world that he was a force to be reckoned with. This impressed Hugo to no end," remembers General Pedro Pereira, the highest-ranking general in the Venezuelan airforce, who was still a Chávez loyalist in 2001.

While the U.S. worrys about Iraq, Latin America looks like it is moving away from the United States. Washington Times reported:
The inauguration March 1 of Tabare Vazquez as president of Uruguay was the latest in a string of electoral victories for leftist and populist candidates. One of the first acts of Mr. Vazquez, a doctor and former mayor of Montevideo, upon taking office was to restore diplomatic ties with Fidel Castro's Cuba.

Bottomline: What is Chávez's connection to Al-Qaeda? Has he crossed a political line and become an enemy of the United States? Does Washington have a coherent strategy to protect U.S. interests in Latin America?

Venezuela's Chavez may indeed be in somebody's crosshairs [Venezuela News, Mar. 9, 2005]
U.S. says Chavez's Venezuela bad example for Latam [Reuters, Mar. 9, 2005]
Rice denies U.S. involved in Chavez coup [Guardian, Mar. 9, 2005]
Latin America taking left turn [Washington Times, Mar. 10, 2005]
Another Castro in Latin America? [WorldNetDaily.com]
9/11: Chavez financed Al Qaeda, details of $1M donation emerge [MilitaresDemocraticos.com, Dec. 31, 2002]
Chavez Maintains Silence: Will Not Explain His $1M Al Qaeda Financing [MilitaresDemocraticos.com, Jan. 6, 2003]
Chavez Bombshell? [NationalReview.com, Jan. 8, 2003]

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

On EBay, E-Mail Phishers Find a Well-Stocked Pond

NY Times reported:

For eBay, phishers are more than just an expensive irritation. EBay is among the five companies most frequently targeted by phishers, according to David Jevans, chairman of the Anti-Phishing Working Group, an industry association that includes eBay. Like phishers who go after customers of credit card issuers, those who target eBay users sometimes try to capture credit card numbers as well as general personal information.

The company's domination of the online auction business and its heavy dependence on e-mail communication make its users particularly vulnerable to this kind of online scams.

"EBay is purely virtual," Mr. Jevans said. "They live or die by e-mail."

The proliferation of eBay and PayPal phishes means that the legitimate e-mail that powers eBay transactions are increasingly being eliminated by junk e-mail filters. At the same time, some sellers say that buyers are becoming wary because of the constant threats from phishing, which is straining eBay's relationship with customers and may be driving down auction prices.

"I don't think eBay has a good insight of what's happening on the grass-roots level to individual sellers," said Joe Cortese, the chairman of the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance.

EBay is reluctant to discuss its security measures, but the company has taken three steps recently. A few months ago, it began offering users of Windows-based computers a free toolbar that flashes a warning when a browser is pointed toward what it believes to be a fraudulent Web site. (J. Peter Selda, the chief executive of WholeSecurity, whose technology is used by eBay to detect phishing sites, estimates that only about 10 percent of eBay account holders have downloaded the toolbar.) Last month, eBay also joined an effort organized by WholeSecurity to block fraudulent Web sites.

On EBay, E-Mail Phishers Find a Well-Stocked Pond [NY Times, Mar. 7, 2005]

Phishing is now evolving into "pharming"...CNet reported:
Online thieves looking for personal data may be moving to more active measures by redirecting people from legitimate sites to malicious ones, security experts said this week.

The warning follows reports Friday that some people's computers were being redirected from sites such as eBay and Google to malicious Web servers that attempted to install spyware. The compromises affected 30 to 40 networks, according to Jason Lam, incident handler for the Internet Storm Center, which tracks network threats...

The attacks compromised servers that act as the white pages of the Internet--a key part of cyberspace that's known as the domain name system, or DNS--to replace the numeric addresses of popular Web sites with the addresses of malicious sites run by the attackers. Known as DNS poisoning, the scheme redirects Internet users to bogus sites where they may be asked for sensitive information or have spyware installed on their PCs...

Some security companies have called this technique pharming.

Phishers using DNS servers to lure victims? [CNET, Mar. 8, 2005]

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Profiling is Junk Science: There has to be something better.

  • Serial killer profiles have never led to the arrest of a single serial killer.

  • The FBI has never caught a serial killer.

  • Police need a new "open case" Internet model to enlist the public's help to find serial killers and murderers.

  • The arrest of Dennis L. Rader as the BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) serial killer ended a 31 year manhunt for the notorious Wichita Strangler. Looking back now on the many profiles and profiler opinions that were generated for this case by "professional" profilers makes you wonder why the police waste any time or energy on this junk science. The Wichita Eagle picked up on this lack of value in profiling in a recent article:
    The emerging details about Mr. Rader do underscore that those celebrated and oft-quoted "profilers" should be taken with a heavy dose of salt.

    As former Wichita Police Chief Richard LaMunyon said last week, much of the early analysis supplied by profilers doesn't match up with what we know of the suspect. According to them:

    BTK was antisocial.

    He couldn't maintain a relationship.

    He stood out in a crowd.

    Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

    Of course, profilers themselves would be the first to admit that what they do is more art than science. Their broad-brush psychological portraits are just another tool for shrinking the large pool of possible suspects to a manageable size, and for identifying characteristics and patterns of behavior that might lead to a suspect.

    But it's worth a reminder that, more often than not, they are wrong. That's not a condemnation; merely a call for humility.

    Calling profiling an "art" is kind. Calling it "forensic" profiling is an oxymoron. A better term is voodoo. It doesn't serve any practical police purpose and a "profile" never helped in making a single serial killer arrest. DNA leads to arrests, profiling leads to confusion. In fact, in some cases like the Washington, D.C., "Beltway Sniper" murders of October 2002 profiling hindered the investigation. Profilers and profiling do not add one penny of value to a police investigation - so why the fascination? Is it because Hollywood has bestowed some secret powers on these experts? The only value profilers seem to serve is in helping to sell the many pseudo-science books that they have written.

    Profiles also make very nice material for the talking heads to use when filling time on the 24 hour televsion news channels.

    For the record lets review some of the BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) profiles:

  • Dr. Harold Brodsky, Wichita Psychologist, consulted about the case during the 1970s-Part of his BTK profile:

    - He believes the killer has never been married and does not have any children.
    - He is a very intellectual clever man who's kept the city guessing for so long.
    - Brodsky says the BTK strangler is very unhappy. He kills to meet an unfulfilled need.
    - Brodsky says, "People who know him consider him a loner, aloof, stubborn, not an easy going guy at all."

  • Pat Brown, investigative Criminal Profiler and the founder of Sexual Homicide Exchange (SHE), Inc. Her website-link. Part of her profile:

    - Down time between crimes may indicate when BTK was experiencing a more stable period of his life, time in prison, time in a mental institution, time in the military, or time in another state or country.
    - He may also have a connection to Indiana where the author of the poem has been made a state poet and received his own holiday.
    - BTK is probably a Caucasian born in the Midwest but has a some familiarity or fluency in Spanish (through living overseas or associating with Hispanics in the United States) or the BTK is of Hispanic decent but has lived most or all of his life within the United States.
    - He may be inadequate with women or has a lifestyle devoid of female romantic involvement.

  • John Douglas, FBI Profiler, co-author book "Obsession-The FBI's Legendary Profiler Probes the Psyches of Killers, Rapists and Stalkers and Their Victims". He has a chapter on the BTK strangler. It is the chapter called "Motivation X". Web site -link. Some of his profile:

    - [BTK] may actually be a cop, or may impersonate a cop.
    - He would attempt to insert himself in the investigation.
    - [BTK] was in all probability a loner, inadequate, in his 20s or 30s, might possibly have an arrest record for break-ins or voyeurism.
    - [BTK] may have stopped killing because he is in jail for something else, or a mental hospital, may have died, or maybe he injected himself so closely into the investigation, he got scared.

  • Michael D. Kelleher, author/profiler. Web site-link. THE PROFILE - BTK:

    - BTK was probably born between 1946 and 1952, with a higher probability of 1949-1951. He is a baby-boomer.
    - He was probably the youngest child with at least one older, female sibling. There were possibly multiple older siblings. At least one older, female sibling proved quite successful and was recognized both inside and outside the family home as “special.”
    - He probably plays a stringed instrument, like a guitar, but not particularly well. This would have been of interest to him in his twenties but probably not long after that.
    - He probably has a decent collection of music that spans several decades. He is aware of music trends but not obsessed with them. He prefers simple, straight-forward musical genres.
    - Like his mother, he is also passive and a manipulator, but very good at presenting himself to others even though he shies away from social interaction for the most part.
    - His physical health has deteriorated in recent years, possibly to a dangerous level.
    - He would spend his life on the periphery of social engagements, perhaps lurking but rarely interacting with any enthusiasm.
    - He would have few, if any, friends and would have been virtually friendless his entire life.

  • Gregg O. McCrary, Retired FBI Special Agent (profiler) of serial killers. Web site-link. BOOK: The Unknown Darkness: Profiling the Predators Among Us. His thoughts:

    - "Where has he been?" [from 1979 to 2004] A good guess is prison, he said. Whatever his status, something has kept him from communicating, McCrary said.

  • John Philpin, a retired forensic psychologist in Vermont who has written seven books about serial killers. Web site-link. His expert insight:

    "It would be kind of hard to believe that he would be sitting right there in Wichita all that time."

  • Robert Ressler, a former FBI veteran who first applied the term "serial killer", Part of his BTK profile:

    - Ressler said [BTK] because his pattern of killings has not been seen in Wichita since the '70s, he has "left the area, died or is in a mental institution or prison."
    - "I've learned that if man gets the opportunity, he will do devious things," Ressler said.
    - "He has a dark side, whether it's poisoning his neighbor's roses or killing his neighbor."
    - "One has to consider the fact that this guy is a gamesman -- he likes to play with authorities."

  • Tony Ruark, psychologist at the Wichita Child Guidance Center who worked for two years on the case. Ruark, 61, helped craft the first police profile of the suspect in the 1970s. Some of his profiler insights:

    "He loves to play cat-and-mouse with the police. He wants his fame, but he doesn't want to give it to them. He wants them to work for it." "He's a very sick individual."

  • Dr. Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, President of the Violent Crimes Institute. Web site-link. Her BTK profile:

    - Divorced white male...
    - Drives a non-descript pickup truck or car most likely American made.
    - He prefers his own company because he feels superior to everyone
    - Does not like face to face confrontations.
    - He never rose to the level of employment that he sought.
    - He is a drinker, but I do not see him as being drunk when he committed his crimes.

  • Wrong - these profiles all missed the mark. At best you could say a wrong profile might have an obvious common sense observation or two correct. Dennis L. Rader did not really match any of the professional profiles made for BTK.

    The profilers should not feel too bad - even the psychic got it wrong. Dennis McKenzie, the British clairvoyant, age 50 from Cambridge, who flew in from England also made a prediction about BTK that was well off the mark:
    He sensed that BTK was self-employed, as either a maintenance man or plumber. "And I'm almost certain that he works for himself.

    He didn't even sense that he shared the same first name as the suspected killer. His three BTK sketches were not very good either. [sketch 1, sketch 2, sketch 3]

    If Dennis L. Rader, the BTK Strangler, had not gone on a "press release" rampage following the 30th anniversary of his first murders the Wichita police would never have caught him. Although police haven't confirmed how they finally identified Rader. It appears that his 11th communique (since his return) on Feb. 16, 2005 to KSAS-TV contributed to his final unmasking. The package included a 3.5" computer disk that contained the digital finger prints leading back to his church computer and ultimately to him.

    Using the BTK case as a benchmark to assess the "state-of-the-art" with regard to serial killer investigations is a disappointment. Granted Rader will probably go down in crime history as criminal anomaly. He is a serial killer who led an extraordinarily ordinary and public life. He was three persons: a good husband, father, and church member; a bad guy public compliance officer, and an evil mass murderer. But, there were numerous paths that led to him.

    The police had several firm links to Rader's BTK identity that were never connected. He worked for the The Coleman Company from June 1972 to July 1973, two of his victims (Julie Otero, and Kathryn Bright) worked there. He attended Wichita State University from fall of 1973 and graduated in the spring of 1979 with a bachelor of science degree in administration of justice. Several facts connected the BTK Strangler to WSU. One BTK survivor Kevin Bright (April 1974) reported the killer said: "Haven't I seen you at the University?" A BTK communique in October 1974 came from a copier at WSU. Additionally, a BTK poem was linked to the English class of a former WSU professor, Dr. P.J. Wyatt.

    Additionally, two of Dennis Rader's victims lived in Park City, Kansas, Rader's hometown. Rader had grown so confident that he was undetectable that he boldly killed Marine Hedge, 53, in 1985, who lived at 6254 N. Independence in Park City. She knew Rader and lived just a few doors from Rader's own home at 6220 N. Independence. He also killed Delores "Dee" Davis of Park City in 1991.

    Like the Unabomber, the Wichita BTK strangler could have been caught by someone who recognizing his writing. If only the police had provided better access to all of his communiques perhaps a citizen or city official in Park City, Kansas, might have made the connection. KWCH-TV reported on March 8, 2005:
    Misspellings. Incorrect verb tenses. Dropped suffixes. They’re grammatical mistakes you'll find throughout BTK's letters to the media. One expert says they're the same kinds of errors in documents written by BTK suspect Dennis Rader while he was Park City's compliance officer.

    Here's one example: BTK writes, “I’m sorry this happen to society.” Dennis Rader writes, “She report Walter’s dog running.” In both sentences, the verbs have the wrong tense.

    For example, the police in Tampa, Florida finally caught rapist and killer, Oba Chandler, when they ran a billboard campaign reproducing the killer's handwriting from a piece of evidence.

    Michael Newton, whose books include ``The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers'' and ``Still at Large,'' on at-large serial killers, said about one-fifth of the 20th century's roughly 1,500 serial killers were never caught.

    Is There A Better Way to Track Crimes, Catch Killers and Solve Cold Cases?

    Former FBI profiler Robert Ressler, creator of the serial killer term, admits that profiling is rapidly giving way to the use of linked DNA and crime databases.

    "Years ago, you solved the serial murder case strictly by luck," Ressler says. "Today it’s by technology."

    Given that serial killers are notoriously hard to catch why haven't advances in criminal science on how to track them, find them, and arrest them [T-F-A] reached local police departments. Police need to rethink their approach to hunting serial killers and solving cold case murders. Police need a new model or aid to capture serial killers - forget profiling. The police should utilize the internet to assemble and disseminate more detailed information about unsolved murder investigations. They need to reach out to the public and provoke more interest and more tips. Relying on "America's Most Wanted" to stir up the public about an open case only works for a handful of investigations.

    The format for the information would be something like a public law enforcement Wiki or crime database.

    Wiki for those unfamiliar with them
    are a growing form of Internet knowledge-sharing communities. Wikis, based on the Hawaiian word "wiki wiki" for "quick," grew out of programmer Ward Cunningham's desire for a new way to discuss software design. He launched the first Wiki in 1995. Thousands more followed, including Wikipedia in 2001. Wikipedia the internet encyclopedia is one example of a wiki.

    An "Official" Wiki Crime Database, would be updated and maintained by the police, FBI, other law enforcement agenices, and deputized citizens authorized to enter data for specific cases. The public would have full access to the "open case files," but would not be able to input any data. Cases would go into the Crime Wiki whenever police thought the case was cold or whenever they felt public dissemination of information would help the investigation. A national law enforcement agency like the FBI would be responsible for web hosting and general maintenance of the Crime Wiki.

    Police, of course, would reserve the right to withhold certain pieces of information that could be used to validate future suspects.

    The goal would be one common internet location for all U.S. open/cold case murder information. This means a permenant website address for every open murder case. A valuable source of information for the public to use in helping law enforcement investigate crimes.

    Yes - law enforcement agencies currently use the internet to post information about cold case investigations. The problem is that what they've done so far is very weak. Let's look at some examples:

  • The Wichita Police for the BTK investigation posted case information via press releases about the case in a list of (.pdf) files buried on their web site. [Link -screen shot]

  • The Orange County Sheriff's Department for the infamous "Original Night Stalker"/East Area Rapist, or Orange Coast Serial Killer have made an effort to put some informaton online. [link]

  • The Washington D.C. Police Department has a webpage for the Chandra Levy case as well as other cold case murders. One of the better looking cold case webpages, however, it took a few too many clicks to find it. [link]

  • The Las Vegas Police Department does not have any thing on their website about the murder investigation of Tupac Shakur the famous rap music artist on their website. He was shot four times on September 7, 1996 in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. He died of his wounds on September 13, 1996 in Las Vegas.

  • The New York Police Department does not have any thing on their website about the murder investigation of Jason Mizell aka: Jam Master Jay. Mizell (founder and DJ of Run-DMC) was shot in the head and killed in a Merrick Boulevard recording studio in Queens at 7:30 pm on October 30, 2002. The other person in the room, 25-year-old Urieco Rincon, was shot in the ankle.

  • If the police are too busy to post information regarding an open murder case they could probably find citizen volunteers (friends, family or fans of the victim) to assemble police information about a case and post it to a crime wiki.

    The current television show "Cold Case" opens and closes with a scene showing an investigator moving a dusty box representing the cold case files out of storage or back into storage. Why does murder case documentation have to sit in a dusty box on the shelf once a case has gone cold in the twenty-first century?

    BTK suspect doesn't fit many of the theories [Wichita Eagle, Mar. 6, 2005]
    BTK suspect shakes credibility of profiles [Columbia Tribune, Mar. 6, 2005]
    Ex-chief: Rader likely appeared on early lists [Wichita Eagle, Mar. 4, 2005]
    BTK (Bind, Torture, & Kill) Strangler Info & Voice Recording [TJN]

    Did Criminal Profilers Blow It in the Sniper Case? [Slate, Oct. 25, 2002]
    As with Beltway sniper, FBI profile "not working" in Anthrax query [GreatestJeneration.com]
    Cops 'wasted time' hunting white guy [WorldNetDaily.com]
    Criminal Profilers in the Media
    With the Sniper, TV Profilers Missed Their Mark [WashingtonPost.com]
    Profiling Not Always Model of Accuracy [LA Times, July 18, 2002]
    Career Guide to Criminal Profiling [Forensic Solutions, LLC]

    updated: March 19, 2005

    Sunday, March 6, 2005

    Fake-ID Business is Booming

    The New York Times highlights a serious problem. College kids have become very good at making fake-ID's like driver's licenses.

    Using Internet resources and sophisticated computer graphics software, college students are forging driver's licenses of startlingly good quality, complete with shimmering holograms, special inks and data encoding that can fool the police and even occasionally the latest generation of scanners. To hear law enforcement officers tell it, in the fake-ID arms race the kids are winning...

    "ID's made by students tend to be much better than ID's you buy in the Village or Times Square," said a 19 year-old Columbia sophomore who has a fake driver's license...

    For students who prefer to make their own ID's, the Web offers all the raw materials. High-quality graphics templates for most state drivers' licenses-with accurate renderings of intricate background patterns and color schemes-can be found online. High-tech driver's license plastics and laminates that were once available only to drivers' license bureaus are now easily available online as well at legitimate office supply sites and specialty sites.
    There are also numerous fake-ID mills offshore and they are offering their products and services online. Some of these offshore sites offering to sell fake-ID are also scams. Claiming to sell a perfect counterfeit drivers license for any one of the 50 states - just send them $120 cash in an un-marked envelope. Countless gullible kids do send cash overseas with the crazy belief that they will be receiving a fake ID. If a teenager loses their money what recourse to they have?

    Some bars and clubs have started using special ID scanners, like the Intelli-Check, to combat the fake-ID epidemic.
    Scanners, though are rare, and word quickly circulates when a bar gets one. Web sites like www.hotspotboston.com rate bars and clubs by the strictness of their ID policies, so under-age drinkers know which ones to avoid.
    However in the arms race between counterfeiters and the authorities the kids are already formulating strategies to defeat scanners.
    ...discriminating buyers of fake ID's want forged licenses that are properly encoded and can pass muster with a scanner.

    Licenses store information in two formats: magnetic stripes like those on credit cards, and two-dimensional bar codes, strips of small dots arranged to convey information in a kind of graphic Morse code. Magnetic stripes can be erased with a magnet and reprogrammed with, say, a new birth date, using basic ID-making equipment, and bar codes can be photocopied or transferred from a legitimate ID to a fake one.

    While a careful bouncer or police officer might figure out such ruses by comparing the information from the data strip to that on the front of the ID, most don't bother. Instead, scanners search the encoded strips for a birth date and issue a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down on whether the cardholder is the legal drinking age.

    "All it tells you is if the age is older than 21 or not," said the former ID maker at Columbia. "You just have them all programmed over 21."

    Fake ID's are Gaining [NY Times, Mar. 6, 2005]
    Fake Identification [Google Directory]
    Fake Identification [dmoz.org]
    Tech-savvy teens swamp police with fake IDs [USA Today, July 2, 2001]

    Don't Blink

    One of the risks of being a celebrity on television now is that someone will take a still photograph of you while you are in mid-blink. They will then post it on the internet with dozens of other celebrities caught with their eye lids in the full nappy time position. Therefore you should never ever let them see you sweat - or blink.

    Blink-O-Rama [Celebrity blink blog]

    Thursday, March 3, 2005

    Top Ten Modern Day Cold Case Murder Mysteries, version 2.0

    The arrest of the BTK Strangler suspect, Dennis Rader, changes the list of "Top Ten Modern Cold Case Murder Mysteries," that was first put together by The Johnsville News on May 13, 2004.

    Popularity on the internet, based on web pages counted by Google was used as the criteria to select cases for the list. The first version of the list was as follows:

    1. Jimmy Hoffa
    2. Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls
    3. JonBenet Ramsey
    4. Chandra Levy
    5. Tupac Shakur
    6. Anthrax Killer
    7. Zodiac Killer
    8. Rubin Hurricane Carter/Paterson, NJ triple slaying
    9. Wichita BTK ("Bind, Torture, & Kill") Strangler
    10. Olof Palme (Swedish Prime Minister)
    The current Top Ten Cold Case Murder Mysteries on the internet are:
    1. Tupac Shakur - case has become part of Gangsta Rap milieu.
    2. Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls - conspiracy theorists link this case to the the Tupac murder.
    3. JonBenet Ramsey - a case that still fascinates the public. More people have started to believe the intruder theory and that the parents are innocent.
    4. Anthrax Killer - a case with a terrorist angle that still haunts the public. The blueprint for these attacks could be re-opened and re-played at any time. Most potential to jump to top of list.
    5. Zodiac Killer - renewed interest due to similarities to the Wichita BTK Strangler case.
    6. Jimmy Hoffa -interest starting to fade as the 30th anniversary of his disappearance approaches (July 30, 1975)
    7. Jam Master Jay - new case on list. Hip-hop violence seems epidemic.
    8. Chandra Levy - this case is starting to fade - no new leads.
    9. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter - Paterson, NJ triple slaying - case is starting to fade from public consciousness as the 39th anniversary of the murders approaches (June 17, 1966). Carter has lived in Canada since 1988, and now makes his living as a motivational speaker.
    10. Olof Palme (Swedish Prime Minister). Interest in this case remains in Europe. It is almost bumped off the list by the Bob Crane murder mystery.
    The murders of rap stars Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie Smalls), and Jam Master Jay show the largest increase in notoriety - due in part to the continued popularity of their hip-hop music. It will be a long time before one of these cold cases gets resolved as dramatically as the the BTK Stangler.

    When the Wichita BTK (Bind, Torture, & Kill) Strangler started sending letters and packages to the police and media in March 2004 that case steadily started climbing up the list of infamy. By February 16, 2005, the Wichita BTK Strangler had send a total of eleven separate cards, letter, and packages to police and media outlets in the Wichita area.

    BTK Strangler Communiques:
    • March 19, 2004 -- BTK letter (#1)
    • May 5, 2004 -- BTK letter (#2)
    • June 17, 2004 -- BTK letter (#3)
    • July 17, 2004 -- BTK letter (#4)
    • October 21, 2004 -- BTK letter (#5)
    • Dec. 14, 2004 -- BTK package (#6)
    • Jan. 25, 2005 -- BTK package (#8)
    • Jan. 26, 2005 -- BTK package (#7)
    • Feb. 3, 2005 -- BTK postcard (#9)
    • Feb. 2005 -- BTK letter or package (#10)
    • Feb. 16, 2005 -- BTK package (#11)
    This barrage of "press releases" by the BTK Serial Killer created a huge wave of interest by bloggers, amateur cybersleuths, internet message board readers, and the professional news media. John Walsh and the television show, "America's Most Wanted" featured the BTK Strangler case in December 2004. Many people started following the BTK Strangler case on Web sites, message boards, and blogs such as:

    Web Sites:
    BTK Message Boards:
    Blogs:Interest in the BTK Strangler surged and this so called "cold case" was very hot. Many amateur sleuths attempted to ferret out clues to identity the serial killer who started in 1974 and was originally thought to stopped in 1979. His March 19th letter announcing his return indicated he murdered again in 1986. Clues like the May 5, 2004 letter with the "BTK Puzzle" (.pdf file) only added to the intrigue and mystery surrounding the case. A psychic, Dennis McKenzie, arrived in Wichita in September from England to film a documentary about BTK and render his opinion about the case.

    The internet creates an interesting dynamic in cold case murder mysteries.
    "Amateurs who care about things can now put their ideas into play or challenge the experts," said Lee Rainie, director of the Washington-based Pew Internet and American Life Project. "That's one of the biggest things the Internet has done."
    Everything written about a murder now goes into the internet mosh pit surrounding a case. Any new unsolved murder mystery has the potential to grab the collective consciousness of the public and get amplified by the internet if the case has the right mix of murder, mystery, and mass appeal.

    For example, the murders of Judge Joan Lefkow's husband and mother on Feb. 28, 2005 have created a great deal of interest. This case could possibly become one of the top "cold cases" if interest continues to build and it remains unsolved into next year. The fact that a white supremacist conspiracy may be involved adds a very interesting element to the case. This would not be the first time white supremacists have murdered someone that crossed them. Alan Berg was a liberal Jewish talk radio host in Denver, Colorado who was gunned down in the driveway of his home by three members of The Order, a white supremacist group on June 18, 1984. Ten men were convicted of involvement in the murder.

    By January of 2005 BTK was the most followed "modern day" murder mystery on the internet. "Modern day" again simply means that the killer or killers may still be alive. Cases like Jack the Ripper, the Cleveland Torso murderer case (worked by Eliot Ness), and the 1954 murder of Marilyn Sheppard (wife of Dr. Sam Sheppard), have passed into the realm of historical events. Cases that will forever remain mysteries.

    One other notable cold case that looks like it has left the "modern" crime scene is the 1947 slaying of 22-year-old aspiring starlet Elizabeth Short, dubbed the Black Dahlia. There is no suggestion in the coverage of this case that the perpetrator(s) are still alive.

    Several cases on the cold case list had news in 2004 and 2005:
    • The Jimmy Hoffa case had some new developments. Frank Sheeran's alleged confession about his knowledge of and role in Jimmy Hoffa's murder, and his death in December 2003, lead to renewed speculation about the case, but no clear resolution. The case remains one that could still lead to a grand jury investigation.

    • The Jon Benet Ramsey case had a significant break when the CBS 48 Hours television show reported in December 2004 that DNA testing had ruled out Ramsey's parents as suspects. The show reported that Michael Helgoth (who died in 1997) was believed by some investigators to be linked to the crime along with a second unknown perpetrator.

    • A documentary about Tupac Skakur, "Tupac: Resurrection," was nominated for an Academy Award/Oscar for best feature length documentary. Little known fact: Tupac Shakur idolized Tony Danza.

    • Gary Condit, a former democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives currently is preparing for his $11 million defamation lawsuit against Vanity Fair writer and crime book author Dominick Dunne. Many questions about Gary Condit's relationship with Chandra Levy still remain.
      The Gary Condit Tapes [cbs, Feb. 4, 2005]
      Condit's children give family update [Modesto Bee, Feb. 17, 2005]

    related links:
    BTK (Bind, Torture, & Kill) Strangler Info
    Extremists applaud murder of judge's relatives [cnn, Mar. 3, 2005]
    Despite Popularity, Psychic Detectives Fail to Perform [livescience.com, Feb. 4, 2005]
    Most Notorious Celebrity Murder Cold Cases [TJN]
    History’s greatest unsolved crimes [msnbc.com]

    update Mar. 10, 2005:
    Bart Ross, a 57-year-old electrician from Chicago, committed suicide Wednesday, Mar. 9, 2005, in West Allis, Wis. He left a suicide note claiming he killed the husband and mother of a Federal Judge Lefkow who ruled against him, police said Thursday.

    Man Claims to Have Slain Judge's Family [Guardian, Mar. 10, 2005]

    Wednesday, March 2, 2005

    Packing Heat: Good News or Bad News?

    Both anti-gun and pro-gun advocates say the Arroyo shooting spree case proves their point. Who is right? AP reported:

    When gunfire erupted in the Tyler town square, Mark Alan Wilson didn't hesitate: He grabbed a Colt .45 handgun and charged downstairs from his apartment to confront the shooter.

    David Hernandez Arroyo had just killed his ex-wife and was turning on his 21-year-old son when Wilson arrived and fired his weapon at Arroyo, saving the young man's life. But Arroyo's body armor deflected Wilson's bullets, and Arroyo fatally shot Wilson with an AK-47 semiautomatic weapon.

    Wilson's actions have drawn hearty praise from gun advocates who say he probably saved more lives than just Arroyo's son. But gun control groups say Wilson's death proves that carrying a gun increases a person's chances of getting killed.

    Police shot and killed Arroyo following a chase that lasted several miles.

    Gun-Law Questions Raised in Texas Shooting [Officer.com, Mar. 1, 2005]
    Video Shows Texas Courthouse Shooting [turnto10.com, Mar. 1, 2005]
    DA's Office Releases Courthouse Shooting Video [kltv, Feb. 28, 2005]
    VIDEO, TAPES TELL STORY OF TERROR [zwire.com, Feb. 28, 2005]

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