Don’t use Facebook Messenger if you’re a criminal

I’m reading The Last Stone, by the journalist behind Blackhawk Down.

The book concerns an extended family of degenerates and criminals and their involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Katherine and Sheila Lyon back in 1975. This was a cold case that was reopened in 2013.

[one suspect] would often hitchhike out to Hyattsville, another edge city northeast of Washington, in the district’s other Maryland suburban county, Prince Georges. His father, Lee, and stepmother, Edna, and many other members of Lloyd’s large extended family lived there, clustered around his grandmother’s house. They were part of what has become known as the Hillbilly Highway, the migration of largely Scotch Irish Appalachian families to northern cities after World War II. Many of these families retained the insularity, habits, and dialect of their native region.

Parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins of the suspect were all themselves suspected. Few of them were upstanding citizens:

Teddy Welch made little sense as the kidnapper, but his story afforded a glimpse into the curious Welch family. What the detectives found shocked them. The abuse that Lloyd had suffered in his father’s house and Teddy had suffered in his was not an aberration. It was the norm. Few family members had escaped it. Fathers beat and raped their children, brothers terrorized and raped their sisters and cousins. Alcohol, drugs, and violence colored every relationship. It was not much of a stretch to see teenage Lloyd and perhaps even Teddy as pawns enlisted by the older, more practiced predators in their family. The clan had two branches, one in Hyattsville, Maryland, and the other five hours south on a secluded hilltop in Thaxton, Virginia, a place the locals called Taylor’s Mountain. Here the family’s Appalachian roots were extant, even though some of its members had gradually moved into more modern communities in and around Bedford, the nearest town.

The Welch family, with its country ways, lived shoulder to shoulder with city dwellers seeking affordable housing close to jobs inside the beltway. The clan had sunk its roots here wide and deep, with enough Welches, Overstreets, Dooleys, Esteps, and Parkers to fill Magruder Park when they gathered for a reunion. If they had a look, it was generally pale and blue-eyed, with small pinched features in a broad face. Their men were scrawny and their women wide.

Taylor’s Mountain and Hyattsville may have been radically different places, but the family was the same in both. Its mountain-hollow ways—suspicion of outsiders, an unruly contempt for authority of any kind, stubborn poverty, a knee-jerk resort to violence—set it perpetually at odds with mainstream suburbia. Most shocking were its sexual practices. Incest was notorious in the families of the hollers (hollows) of Appalachia, where social isolation and privation eroded social taboos. The practice came north with the family to Hyattsville. Here, where suburban families had turned child-rearing into a fetish, some adults in Lloyd’s immediate family exploited their offspring and ignored barriers to incest. It was not uncommon for Welch children to experiment sexually with siblings and cousins.

Criminal behavior rarely warranted family censure, much less a report to the police. Indeed, the more shocking the conduct, the stronger the impulse to hide it. Protecting the family from outsiders was more important than protecting its members, including children, from each other. And the Welch women, often victims, were its fiercest guardians.

The police used phone taps, but also got into Facebook Messenger.

Otherwise, Connie seemed uninterested. She offered this single memory and that was it. She repeated that she had little or nothing to do with Lloyd or any of the other members of his immediate family. But the squad found something different on her Facebook account. Connie was conferring frequently with her Maryland cousins about the case. Soon after she was questioned, she wrote to Teddy’s wife, Stacy, about what she had been asked and what she had said. She also phoned Pat and Dick’s daughter Patricia Ann. She later wrote on Facebook to another cousin, Patricia Ann’s daughter, Amy Johnson, and explained that her story was, in part, meant to absolve her uncle Dick. “I called Pat last night to let her know I talked to police,” she wrote. “I know Dick did not bring him [Lloyd] down. He walked down with his pregnant girlfriend. That’s for having our back.”

In one of her Facebook exchanges with her cousin Amy, Connie confided, “My biggest fear is that my last family member Henry was part of it on the mountain.” She had told the grand jury that her brother often hung out with Lloyd when the latter visited. When asked how Henry might have been involved, she said, “Henry wouldn’t murder the child. He wasn’t in Maryland. I meant help bury it. If he helped bury the bodies on the mountain.” “Why do you think Henry would bury the bodies on the mountain?” “Because his momma would tell him to do it. We always did what Momma told us to do.”

If the family had used an encrypted messaging system, they might have escaped justice!

[Separately, the book provides support for the idea that criminality is heritable. It didn’t matter that this family ended up in the D.C. suburbs, surrounded by good-hearted social welfare policies and a fountain of tax dollars collected from folks in the Midwest, Florida, Texas, and California. If this family is anything to go by, the 3rd and 4th generation descendants of the Central Americans who come to the U.S. because of their involvement in violent criminal gangs will themselves be involved in violent criminal gangs.]

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Less than a month to go before Google breaks hundreds of thousands of links all over the Internet

Google purchased Picasa, a super efficient photo editor that offered seamless integration with online publishing (e.g., you add a photo to an album on your desktop computer and it automatically gets pushed to the online version of the album). When they were pushing their Facebook competitor, Google+, they set it up so that Picasa created Google+ albums.

They wasted a huge amount of humanity’s time and effort by shutting down Picasa (previous post on the subject).

Now they’re going to waste millions of additional hours worldwide by breaking links to all of the Google+ albums that they had Picasa create. People will either have to edit a ton of links and/or, having arrived at a broken link, will have to start searching to see if they can find the content elsewhere.

Example: my review of an Antarctica cruise on the Ocean Diamond. It was so easy to publish the photos via Picasa that I just linked to the photo album from the HTML page. Now I will have to move the photos somewhere else, edit the HTML file, git push, git pull, etc. Then repeat for every other blog posting and web page that links to a Picasa-created album.

Maybe this is why Google has a corporate mission of making the world’s information accessible? They’re the primary force now in making information inaccessible?

Related:

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How to Get Rich from Online Personals?

One of the pleasures of being an old lazy person is helping young energetic people achieve their dreams.  I’ve been working with a young very capable guy since around 1997.  He sold his last company, traveled a bit, and is now starting up a business centered around online personal ads.  I’m supposed to be helping him but of course being old and lazy it would be much easier to harvest good ideas from the comments section of this blog.  So let’s hear your creative ideas for some new business that is somehow related to online personals….


To frame the discussion a bit, a bit of background (but not so much that ideas will be constrained):


1) in a world where people won’t pay for online subscriptions, they seem to be happy to pay for online personal sites (a plus for a new business)


2) more or less everything that can be monopolized on the Internet has been monopolized, i.e., assume that Amazon owns retail, eBay owns classifieds, match.com owns the underlying personals database, etc.  This means that you can’t start a business whose objective is to unseat or even compete with any of the established monopolies.  One’s goal must be to work within the environment that the monopolies have established.  (And possibly to get acquired by one in the long run.)


Thoughts?

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Wireless Internet in the US = Neo-Feudalism?

After two days of touring Wales, a country that apparently has yet to discover the mixing faucet, it has become apparent that there is better mobile phone coverage in the remotest sheep pasture or coastal outcrop than in downtown Boston. How can such an otherwise backward place be so far ahead of the U.S. technologically?

Most folks are familiar with the story: in Europe the governments mandated that all cell phone systems be built using the GSM standard. Thus you can make or receive a call any time that you’re within range of any antenna from any provider In practice this means nearly 100 percent coverage of the land area of Europe.

One of the advantages that the U.S. had over Europe in the days prior to European Union was an absence of trade barriers. In feudal times every local duke or prince was able to levy tariffs on goods traveling through his town. Thus it became cheaper to undertake the hazardous sea voyage round the horn of Africa rather than pay all the toll collectors on the land route. Pre-Union Europe retained some of the vestiges of that feudalism and her economic growth was inhibited.

The U.S. by contrast was a model of efficiency. The government built roads from coast to coast and you could drive a truckload of goods from Virginia to California without paying a toll. True free marketeers will argue that it is better to charge road users every time they set their tires on pavement and this may indeed be the case in our congested cities. But most of the time the cost to society of an additional car on the road is too small to bother collecting and the road generates economic growth for all, thus justifying the role of government in paying for it.

Let’s look at wireless Internet for a moment. The ability to send a few packets of information from Point A to Point B without laying expensive cables can spawn a tremendous variety of new computer applications. Using computers intelligently saves energy, cuts pollution, increases security, and generates wealth. What do we see when we open the newspaper? Our politicians trying to figure out how to ameliorate the pernicious effects of feudalism in the Arab world. Occasionally there will be an article about T-Mobile or some other company building an 802.11 network in the U.S. There are going to be lots of competing networks apparently. For any given network you’ll pay $30/month for spotty coverage. While our politicians fret about old-style feudalism in the Muslim world they ignore neo-feudalism springing up in their midst.

Per capita, American citizens pay some of the highest taxes on the planet. 802.11 infrastructure is ridiculously cheap (e.g., $50 base stations). The public is allegedly the owner of the electromagnetic spectrum. Why can’t we combine these facts to conclude that every U.S. citizen ought to be entitled to transmit and receive a certain number of bits per year? Perhaps one’s free entitlement wouldn’t be enough to watch streaming video 24/7. But it would certainly be enough that your car could receive a text message from your wife while you were halfway to the grocery store: “The smoke alarm needs a 9V battery; add it to the list.” It would be enough that your car could notify your apartment that you were on your way home and to turn the heat up. It would be enough that your car could notify your palmtop or wristtop that it was being attacked by thieves. It would be enough that a medical monitor attached to your grandparent at home could transmit measurements and alerts to a doctor.

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Outlining and the presidential campaign

We’re about to roll into another U.S. Presidential campaign.  The mass media tends to cover such events in an “issue of the week” style.  Thus one can read a newspaper and learn a candidate’s position on the current hot issue but it is very difficult to form a comprehensive picture of what a politician has said and done on the campaign trail (note the avoidance of the phrase “what the politician stands for” because this presumably shifts with opinion poll results).


Could the Internet be usefully applied to the challenge of informing voters?


Idea 1 (not mine):  every resident of New Hampshire sets up a blog and, if he or she encounters a Presidential candidate, writes down what happened.  Aggregation tools enable those of us who don’t live in New Hampshire, and whose vote is not therefore worth personal attention, to get glimpses of the real men and women running for office (imagine if Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones had been running blogs back when Bill Clinton was on the campaign trail; that would have been all-too-real :-)).


This idea, powerful though it might be, would not seem to help voters grapple with the challenge of forming a comprehensive picture of any one candidate.


Idea 2:  Build a dynamic outline of all the political issues that are on citizens’ minds in 2004.  Have people in New Hampshire and other campaign-heavy states augment this outline with real-time reports of personal interactions with politicians.  By November 2004 this outline should be filled with information, presented in a way that is useful for making decisions, all stuff that voters could never get from the mass media.


What would it take to make this happen?  A bit of database programming for a Web server and a small team of part-time editors whose job would be to remove/suppress duplicate reports and off-topic postings, i.e., ones that go beyond a factual report of “Jane Candidate said X on Date Y”.

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