Category Archives: crime

Space piracy

In this second part of our series on warfare in space we will turn our attention to the threat posed by non-state actors, in particular to pirates. For the purpose of our discussion we will define pirates as those criminals who operate outside the territory of any state, i.e. in international space. Further we distinguish pirates from terrorists, in that the former are primarily motivated by non-political motives, while the latter resort to (threatening with) violence in order to accomplish certain political aims.

Two main questions have to be considered: first, whether the emergence of space piracy is actually a realistic possibility. And second, why we should bother with space piracy. Subsequently we will discuss how to combat space pirates.

Is space piracy indeed a realistic possibility? When the colonization of interplanetary space becomes a reality, and the number of space settlements is increasing, there will be more interplanetary trade. Resources and manufactured goods will be transported throughout the (inner) Solar System. The presence of valuable transport flows, will attract criminals. And if interplanetary trade is feasible, than also interplanetary piracy is feasible.

Since space colonization will not bring dramatic changes in human nature, space pirates will have the same motivations as terrestrial criminals: greed, the need for adventure and so on. This combined with the availability of interplanetary space ships, makes space piracy to a realistic possibility.

Why should the governments of space settlements bother with interplanetary pirates? The existence of space pirates could probably be a greater risk for the security of a space settlement than an inter-settlement war. Since pirates act to their own account, they are also less restrained by public scrutiny as governments are. Also pirates have less alternatives than states, as states go to war to meet certain objectives after other methods have failed. Consequently pirates will be more eager to attack than states.

The damage pirates can cause can be enormous, as interplanetary transport flows provide space settlements with vital supplies such as food, medicine and fertilizers. And due to the distances in interplanetary space, it can take months if not years to deliver goods at their destination. If vital supplies are stolen by pirates, it will lead to huge delays as replacements have to be shipped.

Since interplanetary pirates can disrupt life in space settlements, space governments have to take them seriously. In order to combat space pirates, the establishment of anti-piracy forces seems to be inevitable. Recall that, for instance, the US Navy has been established for purpose of fighting pirates rather than other nations.

But fighting pirates might not be as easy as it appears to be. Though it’s virtually impossible to hide in space, pirate spacecrafts are hard to distinguish from innocent ones. Disguise is after all the art of hiding in plain sight. It is far from difficult to detect a space ship at large distance, but the real challenge is determine whether it’s a pirate or a civilian ship. For most of the time a pirate ship will not behave in a significantly different fashion than any other spaceship.

For interplanetary pirates the strategy to follow is simple: pretending to be a normal spaceship as long as possible in order to approach a potential target as close as possible. When the pirates are close, they can either attempt to hack into the target’s control system or to destroy the ship’s thrust engines.

Most cargo spacecraft will most likely be unmanned, in order to save an expensive life support system. Additionally there is not much work on a cargo ship, which cannot be automated.

Though the actual act of piracy can be seen at distance, the pirates can leave the crime scene before any space force division will be able to get there. At least if the authorities are lucky to look at the right time at the right place. Though it would only take a few hours to scan the entire Solar System, it takes much more time to analyse the collected information.

This does not mean, however, that nothing can be done against interplanetary pirates. By analyzing data, a pirate hunter should consider that pirates will make maneuvers: they need to approach and flee a target, and by doing so they will need to run their engines. The exhausts of these maneuvers will be detectable, as they are hot and hence emitting  infra-red radiation.

Those who send cargo ships, now what routes their ships use. This would enable pirate hunters to monitor potential targets, instead of randomly searching the sky for pirates. But due to distances in our Solar System, it should be taken that there will be a time lag. The distance between the Earth and the Sun is about 8 light-minutes, i.e. it takes 8 minutes for light from the Sun to reach the Earth. Hence when we observe the Sun, we see the Sun as it was 8 minutes ago.

Interplanetary pirates can exploit this time lag to their advantage. If the leave the pirate hunters’ view of sight, they can go into any direction before the hunters can redirect their view.

A more effective strategy would be to install defensive weapons on space ships. These weapons would be used once a pirate attack is detected. The primary objective of such defense system would be to paralyze the pirate ship, either by destroying the engines through kinetic impactors or missiles, or to damage the ship’s electronics through directed electromagnetic radiation.

Of course, interplanetary pirates might use similar weapons to destroy their victim’s defense system. But we should make the threshold as high as possible to deter pirates.

Voluntary castration for sexual offenders?

In the comment section of our last post on indefinite sentencing, a few regular our commenters made several suggestions for the penal system of space settlements. One suggested that criminals serving an indefinite sentence should be given the opportunity to volunteer for medical experiments, another person argued for the reintroduction of exile. Fortunately for him, we have discussed the concept of penal transportation earlier on this site.

Penal transportation is a kind of exile, and the system of penal transportation we have proposed we combine the idea of indefinite sentencing with exile. In that post we also argued that certain sexual offenders are among the persons who need to be isolated from society.

The primary reason for sending sexual offenders to a penal colony is to prevent them from re-offending, but in case of these category of criminals there might be an alternative: voluntary castration. With castration we mean surgical castration. In countries as Germany and the Czech Republic it is a common practice to offer sexual offenders to undergo surgical castration in return of a reduce sentence. According to Czech authorities this practice is quite effective as almost none of the castrated convicts committed further crimes.

Our proposal is simple: if someone is convicted of a serious sexual crime and therefore sentenced to penal transportation, the convict is offered the choice between either surgical castration or serving an indefinite sentence in a penal colony, with the latter option being the default choice. Just as in the case of using prisoners as medical test subjects, no criminal will be forced to get castrated. Of course, proper regulations have to be devised to ensure the voluntariness of this choice.

A common objection to the idea of voluntary castration is that it’s unfair to female sex offenders. However, we can easily rebut this particular objection. First, most sexual offenders are male. Second there’s a female equivalence of castration, it’s called oophorectomy, the removal of a female’s ovaries.

According to Wikipedia oophorectomies have a multiple negative effects upon a women’s overall physiology. This includes the increased risk of osteoporosis, reduced life expectancy and an adverse effect on sexuality. Of these effects only the last is desirable. However, hormone-replacement therapy improves all of these effects, except sexuality. This because sexual desires in both male and female humans is triggered by testosterone, which is not included in a hormone-replacement therapy. Or more accurately for our purpose, it’s possible to exclude testosterone.

A more fundamental objection to castration as a method to prevent of sexual offenders to repeat their crimes, is that castration is only helpful for those sex offenders whose actions are sexually motivated. However, some sexual offenders aren’t motivated by sexual desires, but by other factors such as sadism. For those criminals castration is not an option, hence they will be transported to a penal colony.

NB. Our series on Education has been delayed due to the need for some more research and personal reasons.

A Reply to A. L. Humanist on Crime and Punishment

On the blog The Modest Blog Of A Liberal Humanist we found this interesting article. In this article the author argues that two teenagers who severely attacked an elderly homeless person, should be locked up for life either in a mental hospital or in prison, depending on the psychological condition of the perpetrators rather than a six or seven-year sentence as was actually the case here.

The author argues that these two persons are an eminent danger for society, and that it’s unlikely that they can be reformed within six or seven years. Hence a life sentence is therefore justified in this case. We agree with the analysis that this two young criminals are dangerous and have to be isolated from society. However, we would prefer an indefinite sentence rather than a life sentence.

Though the difference between a life and an indefinite sentence is subtle, it’s nevertheless of great importance. A life sentence means that a person is put in prison for the remainder of his life, save the possibility of parole or clemency. An indefinite sentence on the other hand, lasts as long as is necessary to protect society from the condemned. As long as a criminal remains a threat to society he will remain behind bars, if he however ceases to be a danger he can be released. Of course we recommend he will be supervised after his release.

The moral relevant difference between these two different sentences, is that a life sentence precludes any possibility of rehabilitation whilst an indefinite sentence still has this opportunity without compromising the protection of society.

Numbers vs. Mars One

A day has  24 times 60 equals 1440 minutes, which means that you have to watch 200,000 videos each of 1 minute, it will take you 138.8888… days (about 4.67 months) to do this. At least if you are watching non stop. But since a human has to sleep around 8 hours a day, one should be able to watch for up to 16 hours a day. Under this assumption you will need 208.333… days (about 7 months) to complete the task.

Of course, even 16 hours a day non stop watching videos, is a very unrealistic scenario. A more realistic scenario would be watching videos for about 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, which would allow you to watch 50×60=3000 videos a week. An in order to see all 200,000 videos would take you 66.67 weeks.

Question: who would actually do such task in the first place? The answer: the people behind Mars One. On September 9th, 2013, they claimed to have received 200,000 applications for a one-way trip to Mars. As part of the application procedure, people had to submit a one-minute video. According to September press release, these 200,000 applicants were to be screened by the Mars One Selection Committee, and that the procedure would be finished by the end of 2013.

But as we have seen, it’s very unlikely that the committee could have watched all 200,000 videos within a year. Of course, the committee does not exist of one person, but even if they had three members, who would each watch a third of the videos, it would take them 22 weeks to complete their job. But given the importance of the selection, would you base your decision to select (or not) one for a Mars mission on the judgement of a single individual? No serious space agency would base any decision of importance on a single judgement, at least two persons should be involved.

Yesterday Mars One has announced to have selected 1058 candidates for the next selection round. According to the Dutch Public Broadcast, Mars One has not revealed any details about the selection procedure. So we cannot verify whether they have watched all application videos, but we expect they have not done so, given the very unlikelihood of this. Personally I believe the people of Mars One have simply taken a random sample of all applications, and have based their selection upon the sample.

The fact that they keep their selection procedure secret, might be an indication that something is stinking at Mars One. I rest my case.

Life insurance policies

Unfortunately it’s a common trope for people to kill their relatives or spouses, just in order to collect the insurance policy. In this post we will propose some rules aimed to deter people from killing people for the reason mentioned above.

1. Only the person whose death is covered by the policy is allowed to purchase a life insurance policy, provided that this person is an adult and mentally competent.

2. The maximum benefit which the insurance company is allowed to pay is equal to five times the annual income of the person who purchased the policy, at the time of purchase.

3. All life insurance policies have to be registered by the national financial authorities, in order to prevent people from buying multiple life insurance policies.

Ad 1. Too often someone purchase a life insurance policy on another person, possibly without the knowledge of this individual, only with the intent of of killing the insured. Since a life insurance policy is typically purchased to compensate the next of kin for the loss of income as a result of the death of the insured, there’s no reason to insure those who are not economically active.

Ad 2. Even if a life insurance policy is purchased in good faith, a beneficiary might be tempted to kill the insured for financial gain. By putting a limit on the benefits to be paid, the incentive to kill someone for financial gain is reduced.

Ad 3. In order to prevent people from circumvented rule 2 by purchasing multiple life insurance policies, it’s necessary that there’s a central registry of such policies. When a person wants to purchase a life insurance policy, the insurance company is obliged to check whether the applicant has already purchased such policy, if so the new application has to be refused.

The death penalty on death row?

It seems that capital punishment in the USA has had its longest time. According to The Guardian this is not due to any significant change of mind, but because the, mainly European, suppliers of the drugs used in lethal injection refuses to supply these drugs to prisons. Pharmaceutical corporations don’t want to be associated with executions, of course for reasons of public relations.

Though lethal injection has championed as being the most humane way executing people, it’s not without controversy. Opponents of lethal injection claim that lethal in injection only masked the suffering of the condemned by paralysing him or her, but does not really render him or her unconscious. Hence lethal injection does cause agonizing pain to executed.

Any way, the number of executions in the US is steadily in decline. Both opponents of the death penalty should not cheer to early. It’s possible that states might switch other possible methods of execution. Though it take a long time to change the death penalty statues, a process that inevitable will ignite the discussion about capital punishment itself.

Opponents of the death penalty often argue that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is sufficient to protect society from dangerous criminals. With the additional benefit of being able to release those who are wrongly convicted. However it’s far from certain that such a life sentence is actually a more humane punishment than death. Long term prison sentences have severe effects on human psychology, and some researchers even consider imprisonment as a kind of torture.

But there might be a third alternative besides capital punishment and life without the possibility of parole: voluntary execution by nitrogen asphyxiation. Voluntary execution means that a convicted criminal has to decide whether (s)he will spend the remainder of his/her life in prison or that (s)he will be executed. Nitrogen asphyxiation is a cheap, reliable and painless method of execution, originally investigated in animal slaughter.

Space colonization and slavery

Last week the world was shocked when it learned about the enslavement of three women by a couple in London. Unfortunately this case is far from unique, but the London Slave Women case is a good example to study the phenomenon of modern slavery. In this post we’ll use this case to analyse how slavery can (re-)emerge in space settlements.

We should start with a short description of this bizarre case. A married couple, Mr. A. Balakrishnan (73) and Mrs. C. Balakrishnan (67), are accused of having hold three women in captivity for three decades. The women are identified as a 69-year-old Malaysian woman, a 57-year-old Irishwoman and a 30-year-old Briton. The youngest is probably the daughter of the Irishwoman and Mr. Balakrishnan. Though other sources suggest that the youngest woman is the daughter of another victim, who died in 1997.

As far as we have understood the Malaysian and the Irishwoman met the Balakrishnans some 35 years ago. The two women and the Balakrishnans shared a common political ideology, back in the 1970s. This ideology has now been revealed as an extreme splinter group of Maoism, extreme even for far left standards. The group led by Mr. Balakrishnan (AB), was in fact more like a religious cult. They worshipped Mao as their god, and AB was something like their pope. This British Mao worshipping group, had even their own version of the rapture: they really believed that the Chinese Red Army would liberate England.

At a certain moment the Malaysian woman and the Irishwoman started to live with the Balakrishnans, forming a collective. Collectives were a common arrangement for leftist people in those days. But whereas most leftist collectives broke up, this one has gradually evolved into a state of domestic servitude. The enslaved women were physically and mentally abused, but apparently not sexually. And the youngest woman is said to have been in servitude.

What does this case tells us? As we have said above this case is hardly unique. In Western Europe tens of thousands of people are believed to be held as slaves. And around the world, at least 28 million are kept in slavery. The irony is that while nowadays slavery is outlawed in every country, there are now more slaves than ever before. Partially this due to the fact that there are also more people than ever in history these days.

The London slave case clearly shows how people can get enslaved, even in Western societies and that such cases can last for decades. Another common method of becoming enslaved is in case of migrant workers. People from poor countries are often lured with great job opportunities abroad, they are usually promised high salaries (compared to the standards of the home country). But once these migrant workers arrive in the country of destination, their papers are confiscated by those who have lured them. And subsequently the migrants are forced to work for their con men, or they might even sold to third parties.

Given these facts, it becomes quite easy to understand how slavery might emerge in space settlements. Like in the London case people might join a space collective for ideological reasons, only to find out they are enslaved in the end. It might also happen that wealthy space settlers will offer good-paying jobs to poor terrestrials, but in fact they are enslaved once they arrive in the space settlement. The London case also shows, that once people get enslaved such condition easily becomes hereditary.

But slavery in space settlements has another complicating factor. Given the huge distances in space, small groups can easily isolate themselves in the periphery of our Solar System. A small asteroid might provide enough mineral resources for such a group for a few generations. And with the absence of the Leviathan in large parts of our Solar System, such groups can easily get away with slavery. Further slaves in such communities can’t escape, since this would be equivalent to suicide.

What can space settlements do to fight slavery in space? Since terrestrial immigrants are the most likely victims of slavery, space authorities should check every person leaving Earth. In any suspicious case police should question the immigrants involve in order to verify whether they are possible victims of slavers. Further space governments should create a Space Patrol Force which will monitor all space ships travelling between Earth and the periphery. And suspicious transports should be intercepted by the SPF for further investigations.

An interesting question is whether advancements in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence would make the whole issue of human slavery is space settlements obsolete? Automation would probably a more efficient way of getting cheap labour. But robots might be an expensive investment, hence it might be more attractive to purchase human slaves instead. Hence it’s hard to tell whether advanced robotics might eliminate incentives for enslaving humans.

Spanking ban

As long as I can remember, at least since the late 1990s, I am a (moderate) opponent of corporal punishment of children. In the debate about prohibiting this kind of child discipline, both sides have made both good and bad arguments. My position is that corporal punishment is not necessary, but in general also not very harmful if done properly. Until I came along an interesting article on Science Daily: College students more likely to be law breakers if spanked as children.

A study by Murray Strauss shows that university students who have been spanked as kids, even if they were raised in loving families, have a greater inclination towards criminal behaviour. Though Strauss affirms that children need guidance and discipline, physical punishment are not the way to achieve this.

But since I like to be the devil’s advocate, I want to formulate a possible point of critique. Strauss suggests that spanking causes criminal behaviour, or at least reinforces such behaviour. However, could it be possible that spanking is not the cause but instead the effect? Generally children got punished for misbehaviour, and crime is a kind of misbehaviour but enshrined by public law. If a person has a general inclination to misbehaviour all his/her life, it wouldn’t be surprising if that person would be both punished as a child as well inclined to commit crimes as an adult.

If that assumption would be true, there would be a statistical relation between spanking as a child and criminal behaviour, but not a causal one. This because both variables are in fact caused by a third variable. Of course, this is a hypothetical alternative explanation, but nevertheless not one you could easily put away.

Penal transportation

Some criminals pose such a danger for society, that they need to be removed from society. By doing this citizens are protected from future crimes from said criminals. Such “punishments” are meant to deter or to rehabilitate criminals, the sole purpose of such treatment is incapacitation.

Nowadays prison sentences are often used to incapacitate dangerous criminals. In this post we will defend the “reintroduction” of the ancient penalty of penal transportation. First we will define penal transportation. Then we will analyse what kind of crimes should be punished by penal transportation. Thereafter we will discuss the practical aspects of this penalty.

What is penal transportation and what is the difference with prison? Penal transportation is the compulsory sending of people to a penal colony as punishment for a crime. Prison is any building used to lock people up as a punishment. In the case of penal transportation, the primary restriction is that the convicts remain in the colony. Further restrictions might be imposed upon them, but this not a prerequisite.

In our model the convicts are basically free to do whatever they want, except leaving the colony. Only communication with the outside world will be restricted, not to punish the convicts, but to protect civilized society from them.

This is a great difference with prison, where people are locked up in a small room for a large part of they day. We believe that long prison sentences are a kind of psychological torture, which only make people more dangerous than less.

Since incapacitation is the primary purpose of penal transportation, rather than rehabilitation, we should restrict this penalty to the really dangerous criminals, those who are likely to commit violent crimes again. Further this suggests that this penalty should be of indefinite duration. Under Napoleon’s Code Penal transportation was basically a life sentence, whilst under British law transportation was for time (although after completion this term, one had to pay for his own return).

An indefinite sentence means that the duration of the sentence is not predefined. In practise the actual time served depends on the prisoner’s own conduct. This allows the periodic re-evaluation of one’s sentence. Those criminals who remain a serious threat to society might remain in the penal colony for the remainder of their lives. A minimum term to be served of fifteen years, is in our opinion reasonable.

Peter Moskos suggests that pedophiles, psychopathic killers and terrorists should be locked up for life. We would add (serial) rapists and violent repeat offenders to his list.  These are the types of criminals for whom we believe, penal transportation is appropriate.

The idea of a penal colony is to relocate criminals to a remote place, in order to isolate them from society. The remoteness of the penal colony serves a protection measure in case a convict would escape from the colony. The greater the distance between the colony and society, the more difficult it will be for the fugitive to return to the country.

Any space habitat can serve as a penal colony, no one can escape with out a space ship. The suicidal nature of escaping of a space based penal colony will refrain convicts from attempting escape. However, some might manage to escape by stealing or hiding in visiting space ships. In that case long distances will also mean long travel time, and this will allow authorities to recapture the escapees before their effective return.

What should deportees do in such a space penal colony? Rather than to lock those convicts up in a small cell, they will be encouraged to perform labour. But unlike traditional labour camps, employment will and should be voluntary. However, taking up a job would increase the convict’s prospects of an early release. Besides employment, the prisoners will receive opportunities for education.

What kind of work will those convicts do? First, they have to be fed. Hence farming would be a major source of employment in penal colonies, as would be the processing of agricultural products. Mining would be another possibility, especially if these penal colonies are located in the Asteroid belt. But also some of the supervising of the prisoners could be done by convicts. Of course, the higher levels of supervision will be carried out by non-convicts. But convicts with demonstrated good behaviour could be rewarded with lower level supervision tasks.

The Case for a National DNA Database

In this post I will present three arguments in favour of a national registration of everyone’s DNA.  Additionally we will try to refute some counter-arguments.

The first argument for a national DNA database is the identification of dead bodies. One problem after a (natural) disaster is identifying the victims. If anyone’s DNA is registered, than the identification of bodies would just be a matter of collecting tissue samples. Not only after a natural disaster there are unidentified bodies, but also in ordinary times the bodies of murder victims are found. Sometimes the identification of these bodies is easy, but often there are clues about the victims identity. This is particular the case when only body parts are found, or the body has already been severely decayed.

The second argument in favour of such a database, is solving crimes. Criminals, not only rapists and murders, but also burglars, leave often traces of body behind at the crime scene. Too often investigators are able to collect these DNA containing samples, but can’t do anything with it, because the donor is not in the database. With a national DNA database more crimes will be solved, and hence the chance of being caught will be increased.

Our third argument is the verification of paternity. Every year many women get pregnant and become of this in financial problems, because the father is not willing to share in the costs of raising his children. In western societies these mothers often became dependent of welfare. A better idea in my eyes, is Robin Baker’s proposal of a “child tax“, a system in which a tax is levied at the non-caring partner to support his or her children. The problem with this idea this is that men can easily deny that they the father of said children. Without a national database, paternity test depend on the voluntary participation of people.

The major objection against a mandatory national DNA database, is the violation of privacy. The collection of one’s DNA is only a very small infraction of one’s bodily integrity, it only involves sticking a cotton swab in your mouth which doesn’t cause any harm. More fundamentally, people are afraid of abuse of data by the government. The question is then, what can the government really do with your DNA? In fact not much, tough one’s DNA contains much information about you, but for identification purposes scientists do not use the parts containing genes, but the non-coding parts.

And the information one extract from your DNA is not of much interest. It’s much more attractive for the government to track your credit or debit card records, which do not only tell what you have bought, but also when and where. Also one’s tax returns are much more relevant and detailed than your genetic code, which only contains some 20,000 genes. and of which most are the same as those of tomato plants.

This does not mean we should blindly trust the government. Any national DNA database should be supervised by an independent body, to make sure the data will only be used for the purposes it has been created.