Monday, December 31, 2012

Sexual violence within the ranks - a military secret

While the brutal sexual assault that occurred in Delhi, India continues to be in the headlines we cannot remain in our glass houses. Arguably we have segments of our society that has a disdain for women. It is more than discrimination - it is violence and a culture that looks the other way.

According to the New York Times reporting on a recent Defense Department report "[s]exual assaults at the three military academies are at a record high:"  "80 reported assaults for the 2011-12 academic year, up from 65 the year before and the third straight year that the number has risen."

And it gets worse: "The report also found that 51 percent of academy women and 10 percent of men who answered a survey in the spring said they had been sexually harassed during the previous year."

Now this is occurring at our military academies that produces our military leaders and often our politicians. These individuals ought to represent the best of what we as a nation has to offer - but if this is our best . . . .

And from another report, unpublished, concerning troops in Afghanistan and Iraq:
"Nearly half of the women and 10 percent of the men said they had been sexually harassed at least once while they were deployed, and 23 percent of women reported at least one sexual assault. The report found that the offenders were nearly always other military personnel, often of a higher rank."
And in Okinawa, Japan there is what seems to be an ever told story of military personnel raping Japanese women. The latest incident resulted in a curfew of the military stationed there, but the New York Times article reminds us too that in 1995 there was a gang rape of a Japanese school girl by three service members.

There seems to be no other way of explaining the sexual violence against women, please don't try to water it down by claims of sexual violence against men too, except as a cultural disdain for women.

2011: 24,206 rapes in India, trending upwards

The authorities in New Delhi ("rape capital") represents a culture of depravity where the brutal gang rape and murder of 23 year old woman was met with a ho hum attitude. [In Indian student's gang rape, murder, two worlds collide].

Worse yet they thought they could ignore the initial outrage that grew into a national outrage that still continues. And bent on continuing to make it even worse still - they treated protesters as criminals.
Just how much did these politicians and civilian authorities believe the populace would bear? Reuters had this:
"Last year, a rape was reported on average every 20 minutes in India. Just 26 percent of the cases resulted in convictions, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, which registered 24,206 rapes in 2011, up from 22,141 the previous year."
And what kind of people, five men and a teenager from the city's slums, gang rape and torture a woman "to teach her a lesson?" What kind of lesson? Can this event be singled out as extra-ordinary and fault laid at the feet of slum culture?

It is ironic that the world's largest democracy has so much of its population wallowing in slums. And in some way they seem proud of it. Tours of the slums are a major tourist attraction. See this lead in paragraph from a travel site:
"Ever interested in how people survive and live their life in slums? Delhi has quite a few tours offering slum walk, though in different forms. The duration of these tours vary from 45 minutes to three hours and each one of them shows you Delhi's underbelly. The slum walk could be an eye opener for a western tourist."
But see this New York Times story In Indian Slum, Misery, Work, Politics and Hope.  The focus is on the slum, Dharavi, in Mumbai, India, and characterizes the slum as consisting of four layers: misery, work, politics, and hope. The point is that a slum environment doesn't necessarily produce the likes of those who gang-raped, tortured and murdered a 23 year old middle class professional.

Surely - it cannot be denied that those on the bottom layer of misery have their situation compounded by population density, lack of work, failure of politics and lost hope. But to sink to the depths of despair that unleashes such savagery cannot be said to result from slum living.

There is more to it.  It is a disdain for women that pervades Indian society. See this from BBC News - Women's tales from brutal Delhi where the author Soutik Biswas writes:
 "The mistreatment and abuse of women is a particular problem in Delhi and northern India. A stiflingly patriarchal social mindset, a brazen culture of political power, a general disdain for law, a largely insensitive police force and a rising population of rootless, lawless migrants are only some of the reasons. There must be many others."
"So if you are a woman - unless you are very rich and privileged - you are more likely to face indignity and humiliation here."
Sadly the truth is found at the beginning of his article:
"Another day, another rape, another round of outrage. Yet, more than 630 rapes later this year so far, nothing much will really change."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

How does one acquire such hate?

""I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers I've been beating them up," Menendez told police, according to the district attorney's office." [Woman charged with murder, hate crime in NY subway death].

She didn't know the man she pushed. Never had contact. He was from India, but his faith was unknown. He apparently looked to her as Muslim or Hindu. But Hindus were not connected to 911.

A 31 year old woman takes the life of a 46 year old man merely because, in her eyes, he looked Muslim. How senseless.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gang-rape in India reflects a deficient culture

The gang-rape that has galvanized protesters in India was not and is not some isolated incident. It apparently occurs all too often mostly because "the reality [is] that sexually assaulted women are often blamed for the crime, which forces them to keep quiet and not report it to authorities for fear of exposing their families to ridicule." [Gang-rape victim dies, India transfixed].

But this incident was a step into the realm of depravity and savagery fueled by an uncaring society preferring to look the other way. The brutal attacks on the woman  was also on her male companion. The attack took place on a public bus.
"The woman and a male friend, who have not been identified, were traveling in a public bus after watching a film on the evening of Dec. 16 when they were attacked by six men who took turns to rape her. They also beat the couple and inserted an iron rod into her body. Both of them were then stripped and thrown off the bus, according to police."
"Despite all efforts by a team of eight specialists in Mount Elizabeth Hospital to keep her stable, her condition continued to deteriorate over these two days. She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain. She was courageous in fighting for her life for so long against the odds but the trauma to her body was too severe for her to overcome."
"Indian attitudes toward rape are so entrenched that even politicians and opinion makers have often suggested that women should not go out at night or wear clothes that might be seen provocative."
When  segment of society is vulnerable and suffers attacks on it because of its vulnerability - that society is culturally deficient.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Wind energy industry - not sustainable

The Christian Science Monitor carries two stories that makes the failure of wind energy as a self-sustaining industry painfully obvious: Wind energy: Boom sputters as industry tax credit is set to expire and Five ways wind power can survive without tax credit extension.

It is about government subsidizing an industry that might offer potential as a self-sustaining industry. There are those that question any government subsidies for private for-profit companies, and rightfully so. But the need for alternative energy sources has caused the government to throw money against the wall to see what sticks. It isn't sticking for wind.

"The federal tax credit has helped to buoy American wind energy since 1992 and, more recently, to spawn a small but growing manufacturing sector." But it has spawned a sector that can't exist without continuing the federal tax credit. It has been 20 years - when is enough enough?

And it isn't just the federal tax credit - town, cities and states have fallen all over themselves to compete by offering local tax and other incentives if the company will just locate there. Jobs, jobs is the rallying call, but it comes at a price shouldered by tax payers at all levels of government and across the country.

The federal tax credit (PTC) is about to expire again. And the rally call can be heard. And there are those that point to a growing industry as the rationale to renew the tax credits while ignoring that it is a growing industry solely because of tax credits and incentives.

The Monitor notes that "[m]any projects simply won’t meet the fundamental hurdle of profitability without the PTC, especially in a market where natural gas fired electricity is so cheap." In the second Monitor article much good advice is given on building to sustainability, but still the questions remains whether taxpayers ought to be building an industry that may (I say will) never be profitable without taxpayer dollars. And even if it becomes sustainable - will the taxpayers receive any ROI?

Should any industries be created with tax credits and the like yet provide no return on that investment. In the capitalist system isn't capital invested to obtain a return on the investment? Isn't profit, or not, the risk that the capital investor takes? Should it be any different for government (taxpayers) investment? Should taxpayers bear the risk of losses without the profits or other return for their investment of tax dollars?

Arguably the return of the investment of government dollars is the jobs created. But that return still demands that the incentives continue because the return (jobs) remains dependent on the incentives. Interesting too is that the return on investment will not be made up of tax revenue. Granted some of the tax incentives are limited in time, but they have a way of being extended indefinitely when the capitalist whines and moans about moving to a better business environment.

The wind power industry seeks to leave the risks of investment to the taxpayer while it sucks out their return on investment without any risk. It becomes in effect a cost plus contract arrangement whereby the government guarantees the operating costs and level of profit. In certain situations such an arrangement makes sense because the government lacks the expertise. An example might be the post office. But subsidizing an innovative industry like wind power is an artificial means of generating profit where profit could not otherwise be generated.

Wind power investment by the various levels of government in innovative industries like wind is more the situation of state capitalism as referred to in the Business Week article The Rise of Innovative State Capitalism:
"Across much of the developing world, state capitalism—in which the state either owns companies or plays a major role in supporting or directing them—is replacing the free market. By 2015 state-owned wealth funds will control some $12 trillion in assets, far outpacing private investors."
The question is really who is it that should be determining innovation - the government (the state) or the market? There might be good argument that not only government investment but actual ownership in certain areas like energy is demanded. Thus there may be certain situations where innovation is not best served by a competitive marketplace, and, as a corollary, the public, e.g., its energy needs, is best served by state capitalism in the Marxist sense, e.g., Amtak.

Our economic system has been well served by a competition construct that fosters innovation. Doesn't the trend to state capitalism eliminates innovation arising from within society to be replaced by ideas and concepts generated by government bureaucrats and politicos?

Isn't innovation best left to competition among those willing to take the risk for success or failure?

Government program to track everyone's internet and mobile phone use

It is not Iran, China or Russia or any country that might more resemble a dictatorship by one or a few - it is the United Kingdom. A country hardly get anymore democratic. But their home secretary had proposed a 1.8 billion pound program to 'track everybody's internet and mobile phone use." [Guardian UK].

Of course there is a good reason to collect the data -  "so the police and security services can use it to tackle serious crime." And of course they will only keep the data for 12 months. Trust us.

The proposal has failed, not because of some outrage over privacy rights - but costs. And, oh yes - there are those petty civil liberty objections.

How can any politician living in a country that reeks of democracy proposed a program that so infringes on the privacy and speech rights as to eliminate those rights?

It is a cautionary tale. Sleep with one eye open when the government is proposing programs to protect the citizenry. E.g., Senate approves measure to renew controversial surveillance authority.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

American arrogance leads to tit for tat

American legislators passed legislation, with Obama signing, determined to punish those in Russia that they deem violators of human rights. In response Russia passes legislation, apparently Putin will sign, that denies adoption rights to US citizens. [Defiant Putin to sign anti-US adoption bill].

The US law called the Magnitsky Act "is directed specifically at Russian officials suspected of being responsible for the prison death of the financier Sergei Magnitsky in 2009, but it also contains US visa and financial sanctions against all Russian officials allegedly guilty of 'gross violations of human rights.' " [Magnitsky Act: Another US provocation against Russia].

And who is it in Russia to be punished? Well it comes from a list submitted by the Secretary of State of persons  that it determines "is responsible for the detention, abuse, or death of Sergei Magnitsky"  or "is responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals . . . ." [See full text at Full Text of S. 1039: Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012.]

The Russian law in retaliation bans adoption of Russian children by US citizens and "impose[s] sanctions on American judges and others accused of violating the rights of adopted Russian children in the United States." [Russian Measure Banning Adoptions by American Citizens Is Sent to Putin -].

Nothing good can come from the US attempts to interfere in the affairs of the Russian government, and vice versa. Moreover, the US hasn't clean hands on the issue of torture and violation of human rights. This from Russian President Putin:
“At Guantanamo, they keep people in prison for years without any charges. People there go around in shackles, like in medieval times”.
One wonders why there is such a need to adopt Russian children. The US has "more than 100,000 children and youth [that] are in need of permanent adoptive families." This doesn't include all children in foster care. [I Care About Orphans]. The New York Times alleges that child advocates have estimates in Russia of  "120,000 children eligible for adoption."

The NY Times also notes, without specifically so stating, that Russian law has some merit in that "[a] number of cases involving the abuse or even deaths of adopted Russian children in recent years have generated publicity and outrage in Russia, including a case in which a 7-year-old boy was sent on a flight back to Russia alone by his adoptive mother in Tennessee."  See too Russian Orphans in U.S.: When Adopted Kids Can't Adapt.

So what was gained by the US's attempt to interfere in Russian affairs? Legislation that sounds good on paper. Ironically the Russian people may have gained by the US misguided interference in that it may result in making it easier for Russian citizens to adopt.

Tit for tat - is this anyway to solve problems? There are too many global issues of import that need the cooperation of the US with the large nations like Russia and China. Like or not the US cannot go it alone.

In Israel women are not permitted to pray at Western Wall

The New York Times article Israel to Review Curbs on Women’s Prayer at Western Wall makes me wonder how any religion, and most do, treat women less than men. I realize that it is historical in nature, but in this century where it is so very clear that women are every bit the equal of men, it is difficult to believe that rational, reasonable and intelligent people still set women not just apart but unequally separate.

God loves men better than women? Really?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Difficulty in drafting gun and ammunition laws and regulations

Apparently NBC's David Gregory, in violation of the District of Columbia's laws displayed a high capacity magazine clip on his TV show. "The District’s code says that “No person in the District shall possess, sell, or transfer any large capacity ammunition feeding device” whether or not it is attached to a firearm." [Police: NBC asked to use high-capacity clip].

When the ordinance was drafted it is unlikely that Mr. Gregory's action would have been thought to be within the proscribed conduct. The D.C. police are investigating - but an arrest or prosecution could likely void the whole ordinance as unconstitutional as applied.

Obvious mental health issues?

Webster, NY Police Chief speaking about the person who killed two firefighters responding to a fire he set: "Spengler obviously had mental health issues." [Gunman Who Killed Two Firefighters Left Chilling Note].

Just what is encompassed by "mental health issues?" What makes this guy any different from any other criminal that kills? He had been convicted of beating his grandmother to death in 1980.

It seems just too easy to label conduct as the result of mental health issues. The mental health advocates appear to deny that there is a line to be drawn between those who like Spengler who wrote that what he likes doing best is killing people and those who kill without understanding the morality or the consequences of their actions. Thus awareness of the right or wrong of any action is the simple line.

It seems fair to say that Spengler knew that beating his grandmother to death and killing of the two firefighters was wrong. He may also have killed his sister in the fire he set.

Caution needs to be applied before labeling actions that are abnormal and extreme by any community standards.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Oh my: "Swazi police ban 'rape-provoking' miniskirts"

"[Wendy] Hleta [police spokesperson] said women wearing revealing clothing were responsible for assaults or rapes committed against them. I have read from the social networks that men and even other women have a tendency of 'undressing people with their eyes'. That becomes easier when the clothes are hugging or are more revealing." [Swazi police ban 'rape-provoking' miniskirts].

Occupy Portland movement incredibily naive or ignorant

It is interesting that there are those that see anarchy as a path to a better society. The local band of malcontents leeching onto the Occupy movement did their best to get arrested; and when they did they were not ready for the consequences, whining and moaning because the society they railed against didn't cut them enough slack.

At a recent court hearing - one demanded by protesters - the judge fined one protester $220, after reducing the amount "by a few hundred dollars" from the prosecutor request. The court cut them a break, but that wasn't enough. [Occupy Portland movement losing steam -- at least in court].

The court didn't convict them of every charge. It meant nothing to this defendant and others that the court had "spent many hours poring over the details of their cases and dismissed charges she thinks weren't proven."

Apparently the protester expected to get off scot-free, he explained ("shouted") to the judge "that he works only part time and he's barely getting by as is. 'I don't have the means to pay this!'"  And a supporter "angrily chimed in: 'Don't do this to people!'"

Exercising what one considers a constitutional right of free speech comes at a price when that exercise is outside the well-established parameters. When pushing it pass the legally acceptable bounds one has to be prepared to pay for that risk.

As long as the protests are non-violent, the risk is to be arrested and cited for minor violation typically the worse case is community service. But when the protest is confrontational and violent - one should expect to suffer the risk of fines as well as the jail time that might come.

This protester and others like him could have admitted guilt resulting in community service. No - they determined to drag it out expecting the legal system to tire of them and dismiss their cases. One protester: "We were thinking they would get tired of wasting time." What many fail to realize is that the legal system is all about unending patience.

They had already made their point in the original protests. Dragging out their cases not  only taxed the legal system but also prevented them from doing something  possibly constructive. And they could have contributed to a better society with community service.

One of the attorneys representing the protesters had the balls to compare these protesters with "suffragettes who marched the streets of Washington, D.C., a century ago and of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, when protesters organized sit-ins in businesses." Oh please.

Suffragettes demonstrated for women's right to vote, a right that one suspects many protesters don't exercise. And the civil rights advocates used peaceful sit-ins to protest against those businesses that, among other things, denied service to black people. The Portland protesters had none of the legitimate goals of these two movements.

The odd thing about the local 'movement' is that it apparently had no goal except to disrupt. Goals attributed to them came not from the protesters themselves but from the media and others taking from Occupy Wall Street.

And it wasn't really much of a movement. It attracted few, other than the disaffected. Their protests were more about attacking the police. Their only goal was to taunt the police into using their batons, pepper spray, etc. Spitting on the police never got the response I would have gladly sanctioned.

But come spring will we see these perennials?

American Red Cross

The American Red Cross is one of those unappreciated entities unless you have been in situations like the house fire in Northeast Portland. They "provided lodging, food, clothing and other amenities to two adults and five dogs displaced by a house fire."

I have been in the situation where fire destroyed my residence and that of many others. The Red Cross provided necessary assistance, including money, to all who needed it. It is nearly impossible to convey the gratitude for their assistance. They do a difficult but needed job well.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Federal court judge abandoning his role

Court decisions are not to be determined by the then extant pubic opinion. But this Federal court judge wants public input on the negotiated Portland-federal justice agreement on police reforms. This apparently came about because the Portland police union aims to block excessive force agreement.

Granted that the lawsuit filed by the feds was only to provide the basis for providing a legal basis for the feds to enforce the settlement agreement with the city, but still like any other lawsuit the union, and possibly others, has the legal right to intervene to protects its previously established rights.

It raises serious questions about the ability of these two parties to change or modify another agreement between the city and its police union. Think what you want about the collective bargaining process - the agreement that comes from that process is not subject to modification or change by another agreement in which the union had no part or voice.

Lawsuits, whether intended as a formality or not, are not to be determined by public opinion, especially when that public opinion will be represented by a minority influence.

The NRA’s school safety plan - unfathomable

"[H]arness a vast reserve of “qualified active and retired police; active, reserve and retired military; security professionals; certified firefighters, … rescue personnel; and an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained qualified citizens” to be trained, armed and stationed on playgrounds and in classrooms across America." [The NRA’s school safety plan: Round up the sick and arm the children].

It is unlikely that I would respect the thinking ability of those who see this as a viable, reasonable and rational plan. It is not a civilized society where children are deemed in need of gun toting adults not just on school grounds but in the classrooms.

It will be necessary to remind too many that those chosen by the NRA are not necessarily the good guys. In the local Portland area a person with a concealed gun permit lost his gun in a movie theater while watching the Hobbit  The 7th grader that found it was taught (we are fortunate) not to pick it up. [License revoked for man who left gun in Tillamook theater].

Again in Portland a "[f]ormer Portland gang member, licensed to carry concealed weapon, sues police sergeant for seizing his handgun." The gun was 'concealed' in his car where an officer saw it and therein lies the lawsuit.

In Seattle,  a man "who had a history of mental and behavioral problems, was asked by a barista to leave a coffee shop before he stood up and opened fire. He fled and killed himself as police closed in hours later. The guns were purchased legally and Stawicki had a concealed weapons permit." [U.S. mass shootings in 2012].

The Washington Post's U.S. mass shootings in 2012 demonstrates that it is the availability of firearms that was the causal factor in these 2012 shootings.  In most of the incidents the guns had been purchased legally and some were stolen (apparently from legal owners).

One cannot deny that firearms of nearly every sort are easily obtainable. If one cannot obtain the weapons through legal channels there is the option of illegal channels (that used by ordinary criminals) or merely take the firearms from those who have purchased them legally (Adam Lanza).

Given that guns are in the hands of the wrong people - the homicide rate and the use of guns in commission of crimes tells us that - one must assume that the NRA sees their plan as a deterrence (or maybe a war pitting the 'good guys' against the 'bad guys') to those who might determine to shoot children.

What kind of future is envision by the gun toters - a vision promulgated by their unwillingness to put the days of the old west behind them and possibly save a life or two? Will a TSA fear based inspection of each and every child, teacher, parent, visitor be next? Can barbed wire fencing be coming soon to the school near you?

Of course one of the big mistakes is the failure to realize in the case of those who are characterized, only after the fact, as being mentally ill that there is no litmus paper test. The armed school guard is not going to be able to recognize the mentally ill person bent on shooting school children, as apparently was the Connecticut shooter.

There is no rational basis to assume that an armed guard at the Connecticut school would have done anything other than got himself shot as well as others. It is not reasonable to assume that a Connecticut shooter would think twice about the possibility of an armed guard. He had already shot his mother four times, once in the head, and came better prepared to do battle than any mythical armed guard.

Just how many guards are necessary and will they be armed sufficiently to counter a Connecticut shooter? A pistol would have been little use against a body armored Connecticut shooter.

There is a big mistake being made when there is an assumption that the 'bad guys' act as we might act. Thus, just how will the armed guard recognize and distinguish among those that are permitted to be on school grounds? Will the permitted wear badges?

Will the armed guards be badged or otherwise 'marked?' Will they be wearing body armor? Will parents be carrying guns to school to pick their children or attend school activities? Will the armed guard be able to shoot first? Or will he or she be the obvious target of someone bent on attacking a school?

The legal ramifications are immense. Even the police are highly restrained in their use of firearms. A wrongful shooting, a child or teacher killed or wounded in gun fire will subject the armed guard and school to expensive and time consuming lawsuits.

Prevention, prevention, . . . .

Dogs in Pearl

There are a surprising large number of dogs that can be observed especially in the morning where they can be seen walking their owners (not masters). It is not surprising though that the number of trained or obedient dogs is minuscule.

Amusing, to say the least, the sight of these dog owners being pulled down the street in the direction of the dog's whim. One see the same behavior too in the Pearl parents that are subordinated to their children's whims.

At least the children don't poop and pee on the sidewalks.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Duh! "Report finds harsh CIA interrogations ineffective."

A 6,000 page report from the Senate Intelligence Committee reached the conclusion "that harsh interrogation measures used by the CIA did not produce significant intelligence breakthroughs." Not surprising - Republicans on the committee refused to participate in the investigation leading to the report. Although, it would appear Sen. John McCain did participate.

"Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, issued a statement saying that the committee’s work shows that “cruel” treatment of prisoners 'is not only wrong in principle and a stain on our country’s conscience, but also an ineffective and unreliable means of gathering intelligence.'” [Report finds harsh CIA interrogations ineffective].

It is difficult to grasp that reasonable and rational people could conclude that torture and interrogation techniques just this side of torture could produce reliable information.

But don't ever expect to read any significant portion of the report. Procedures requires the opportunity for the administration and the CIA to review and comment. The Washington Post notes that "[i]t could be months, if not years, before the public gets even a partial glimpse of the report or its 20 findings and conclusions."

Democracy at work.

'Did We Just Kill A Kid?' Drones dehumanizing war from afar.

An Air Force crew in New Mexico directing drones over Afghanistan resulted in the death of a child who walked into view too late. The missile had already been fired. A 2 to 5 second normal communication delay sealed the child's fate - too late to stop. ['Did We Just Kill A Kid?' — The Six Words That Ended A US Drone Pilot's Career].

We have gone from waging war face-to-face to thousands of miles separation in a video game arcade environment where decisions to kill are made remotely. Attacking and killing the enemy is no longer a matter of personal confrontation and decision making.

Checkout the image in the story showing the "windowless container" from where the drone operators conduct their military operations. One suspect that just out of range of their comfortable chairs is the canteen. And, after their shift is over - the on base clubs stand-by with the cold brews. Another day of comfortable and depersonalized killing. Possibly too their spouses and kids are waiting at home. How was your day dear?

The use of drones may turn out to be a two-edged sword. The technology is not that sophisticated that it can't be readily engineered. One wonders just how impervious our airspace is to drones operated from afar. With the proliferation of drone technology - can we be assured that they they always be used for good. Surely killing children is not good.

Proliferation? Drones in Portland? Oh yes. Spying the Friendly Skies: Drone aircraft used for recon in Afghanistan are now in Portland. And in the US, "American police officers may soon be able to use unmanned aircraft not only for surveillance, but also for offensive action. The drones may be equipped to fire rubber rounds and tear gas." [Drones over US to get weaponized – so far, non-lethally].

And you think traffic cameras are an invasion.

Children touted as most loved, too often most neglected.

Two daycare workers at a military base charged with assaulting children. But it gets worse. "Leaders at the Fort Myer, Va. daycare facilities hired at least 31 civilian workers who had criminal records on charges ranging from assault to sexual offenses." [31 at Base Daycare Center Had Criminal Records].

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Obama Finding Gun Control Voice? We will see.

Obama Finding Gun Control Voice, Which Had Gone Quiet In White House : It's All Politics : NPR

Thoughts of expulsion - why?

Why would a 12 year old, a sixth grader one assumes, be expelled for bringing a pellet gun to school? If there is fault it lies with the parents. [Girl brings pellet gun to Longview middle school].

New Jersey's Booker caught up in his own self-importance.

Report: Booker will likely run for Senate.

What a dolt.

After Sandy Hook, teachers should be armed, says Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Why not terminate gun sales rather than suspend?

Dick's Sporting Goods suspends rifle sales nationwide.

Aren't educated in Oregon

"Aren't educated in Oregon" is the catch phrase that underlines Oregon's failure in economic growth. I lifted it from the Oregonian's Betsy Hammond's recent article Wilsonville, Lake Oswego tech jobs wow education leaders, prompt talk of more engineering lessons in schools.

Ms Hammond noted that although there are tech firms locally "[m]ost of the people who hold those engaging, largely tech-related jobs -- and earn the big bucks doing so -- aren't educated in Oregon, however."

It seemed odd to me that these education leaders apparently just had an aha moment. Tech jobs have been important since the 1960s - why are Oregon educators just now talking of more engineering related school lessons?

It would have seemed that given the success of NASA and the growth in the various technology centers in the years subsequent to the 60s moon landing would have led educators to focus on science, technology, engineering and math. Why are we lagging?

And, it is one thing to 'land' tech companies, e.g., Intel, via tax incentives and the like, but it is a failure of the education system that "too few students emerge from local high schools and colleges with the necessary skills and orientation" to be employed in these companies.

The state and cities like Portland like to tout jobs created, except they fail to recognize or mention that many, if not most, of these jobs are filled by non-Oregonians.

Moreover, students should not be educated only to fill local jobs, but they should be educated to become self-sufficient wherever they might live. It shouldn't take the efforts of local tech companies to educate the educators about career paths.

But, these education professionals are apparently ignorant about career paths available in the local tech companies. Eye-opening according to the educators. One wonders how professional educators could be unaware of these career paths which are not peculiar to the local companies. Isn't there career counseling in high school?

What is education for if not to position students to be self-sufficient? But, there seems to be no coordination between education provided and the job market. Teaching the traditional core subjects is no longer sufficient. The push now is found in the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).

This excerpt from Wikipedia entry STEM fields:
"STEM fields is an acronym for the fields of study in the categories of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The acronym has been used regarding access to United States work visas for immigrants who are skilled in these fields. It has also become commonplace in education discussions as a reference to the shortage of skilled workers and inadequate education in these areas. The initiative began to address the perceived lack of qualified candidates for high-tech jobs. It also addresses concern that the subjects are often taught in isolation, instead of as an integrated curriculum. Maintaining a citizenry that is well versed in the STEM fields is a key portion of the public education agenda of the United States."
It is a nicely formed paragraph that places everything into perspective. Immigration is a means of filling skilled work positions because of the lack of qualified US applicants. That lack can be laid at the foot of the educational system.

Maybe 'better late than never' is appropriate attitude now, but it is odd that other countries seeing the lead of the United States in technology and science fashioned their education systems in a STEM orientation while the US languished.

But there is a danger in any rush to push only the tech related jobs. While technology covers a wide variety of careers, e.g., even an auto mechanic needs technology skills, there are many well paying skill jobs in other fields not thought to be technology (or hi-tech) related, e.g., welding.

I remember not too many years ago attending a PDC meeting where industry representatives were making a point and seeking PDC assistance in filing welding jobs. Welders are not only highly skilled but they are well paid. These employers were offering good pay, benefits and training. They were begging for qualified applicants.

High schools may no be able to graduate students job ready. But, it is high school where students can grasp the idea that education has value. "If students have an idea of what could be, then they'll strive to get there." [Maryalice Russell, superintendent of McMinnville schools].

Monday, December 17, 2012

Price paid is too much

One wonders where is the tipping point? Have we reached it? 20 first graders shot, not once, but multiple times (some of them as many as 11 times) by what can only be explained, at the moment, as the acts of a deranged person. The public looks for a reason and mental illness satisfies their immediate need for an answer.

As has been noted - the shooter fits the mass murderer profile, and the school had protective security arrangements, more than any school should ever need. The shooter wasn't deterred - he shot his way in.

The shooter also appears to have obtained the guns from his mother's collection, legally possessed. It is safe to say that he stole his weapons without the need of background checks or a period of waiting time, but that would not have made any difference.

The shooter was just another person who was not on any person's watch list.  Nothing to indicate that he could not have obtained the weapons himself. These were inexplicable acts that defy attempts to find social, political or personal causation factors. There is simply no better way to characterize his actions except as those of a deranged person.

Was he wired wrong? Was there some event that tipped him over the line? The search for answers, especially the easy ones, is on the way. It is always better for the public to be fed answers that intuitively makes sense yet unprovable.

To that end, we will most likely hear from the 'ours is a violent society' group that seeks to connect anything they see as violent as a catalyst for further violence, video games the obvious culprit.

And there are those that accept, inexplicably, that since we live in a violent society, we, therefore, just have to live with it. Of course that is circuitous reasoning.  Once violence is acceptable, the more violence there will be. Violent society is made not born.

One also has to keep in mind that despite what seems to be the constant daily reports of gun violence, used in crimes and between gangs, never results in the intentional murder of children.

But the anti-gun advocates will be doing their best to blame all ills of our society on guns, and they may have a point. But it is irrational and unlikely that guns can be banned in their entirety. Oddly, the fear of a ban increases the sales. [Interesting is that an Oregon background check normally only takes 15 minutes with no other delay in acquisition.]

And to make it worse to find acceptable and reasonable solutions that benefit a civilized society, the gun lobby will be out in force with the 'guns don't kill people, people kill people' banner. Frankly there is a lot of truth to that - but that doesn't mean we need to arm everyone or that the second amendment guarantees an absolute right to arms without regulation.

And there are those that stand at the ready to let the children of others be the price paid to defend a 1791 amendment to the constitution: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." [Second Amendment | U.S. Constitution | LII / Legal Information Institute].
Analysis from the Congressional Research Service [excerpt]: "In spite of extensive recent discussion and much legislative action with respect to regulation of the purchase, possession, and transportation of firearms, as well as proposals to substantially curtail ownership of firearms, there is no definitive resolution by the courts of just what right the Second Amendment protects. The opposing theories, perhaps oversimplified, are an “individual rights” thesis whereby individuals are protected in ownership, possession, and transportation, and a “states’ rights” thesis whereby it is said the purpose of the clause is to protect the States in their authority to maintain formal, organized militia units.  Whatever the Amendment may mean, it is a bar only to federal action, not extending to state  or private restraints."
Surely the United States Constitution doesn't permit mass shootings.

However, the easiest answer that satisfies most is mental illness. It is the go to cause of all things bad. Somehow mental illness evacuates all emotion and reasoning that should lead to outrage. The public seems quite ready to accept mental illness, even if it doesn't come within the legal definition, as a rational explanation.

One might noticed that adults being murdered in what might be called non-criminal situations, i.e., not crimes of passion, robbery, etc., doesn't seem to evoke much concern. Maybe it is because the these shootings can be ascribed to 'mental illness.'

Was this shooter tipped over in his thinking by some event - or had he been planning this for some time? Remember he first killed his mother. Even if so - could he have been stopped outside of a total confession of his intent? But consider that if the autopsy, or maybe later disclosed medical records, determine that he was mentally ill by anyone's definition, the conversation will change.

But - one still has to ask - what could have been in place to stop this shooter? It would appear (I am hoping for reasonable alternatives) that nothing short of a total ban on weapons, or at least those certain weapons like the semi-automatic that did the damage, would have sufficed.

There does though seem to be a connection between the automatic war-like weapons and mass shooters. Even locally in Portland, these automatics are common in the police reports on weapons used or possessed. The strength of the connection needs to be tested.

Isn't it reasonable to ban the domestic manufacture and sale of these weapons in ordinary commerce. And similarly ban the import of these assault weapons. Provisions for legitimate collectors could easily be included.

The sad truth is that after everybody from the president on down has made a pitch for some gun regulations aimed at preventing another Connecticut tragedy - nothing will be done. We can expect a replay along with the concomitant hand-wringing.

After an acceptable waiting period -it will be business as usual. Politicians know (or perceive) that campaign funding and support from the gun lobby is necessary to their political survival.  After all that is what politics is all about, not that the constituents count, it is the money.

In the balance, narrowing an individual's 'right' to own and possess assault weapons and ammunition (designed for maximum damage) like that used in Connecticut must be the price paid to prevent another mass shooting. It is a fair price - isn't it?

Fear defines us

9-11 accomplished more than Bin Laden probably thought possible. The fear of the dreaded jihadists has driven the populace into accepting the narrowing of civil rights protected  by the constitution.

Fear of terrorism has led the nation to accept unreasonable and unjustified wars (undeclared), false imprisonment and torture, and limitations on travel. It has lead to the fear of anything Arab.

The FBI targets citizens and others that sound Muslim. City police departments, like New York, stop and frisk, a constitution violation, profiled residents.

Fear of going about one's daily business abounds. A backpack left unattended is more likely to result in the bomb squad than a transport to the loss and found. An unexpected 'package' left in a bank lobby will find itself in the hands of the bomb squad and SWAT.

Schools, even before Connecticut, have become fortresses. Never mind that these 'security' measure are relatively worthless, except to make certain parents feel good.

Even a routine trip to the mall is wrapped in fear of possibilities of violence even if unjustified. A walk downtown is not only hampered by the homeless, but by the street people who are threatening in their extortion attempts.

The fear of all things global warming raises concerns and fears of planet longevity. Climate change rhetoric raises the specter of coastal cities flooding, and storms like Sandy as a frequent event.

Fear of job loss, fear of the fiscal cliff (even if we  don't know what that is), fear of loss of one's house, fear of the inability to retire, fear of loss of social security, fear of catastrophic illnesses, fear of getting sick, and the list seems endless.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933 inaugural address, spoke about a time not that much different than ours today It is the famous "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" speech. An excerpt:
"This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days."
What we need is national and state leadership free from partisan constraints to exercise freedom of conscience without the fetters of campaign funding. Are Obama and congress up to it?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

22 children stabbed in attack at Chinese school

An Al Jazeera story (12/12/12) reminds us that it isn't just the US where children are victims of those with apparent mental illness. Additionally it is noted that:
"In March 2010, eight children were murdered in Nanping, Fujian province, by 41-year-old knifeman Zheng Minsheng. The attacker was executed a month later, hours before 33-year-old Chen Kangbing injured 16 students and a teacher at Hongfu Primary School in Leizhou, Guangdong.
In April 29 2010, 28 school children - mostly four-year-olds - were stabbed alongside two teachers and a security guard in Taixing, Jiangsu. On April 30, Wang Yonglai committed suicide after using a hammer to attack preschool children in Weifang, Shandong.
Further attacks in the months and years following have left 11 children and four adults dead, and several more injured."
It shouldn't go without notice that these murders of children were not with guns, but with knives and a hammer.

Maybe what we are seeing in the mass killings are the effects of an over-populated planet, not because of the numbers, there still seems to be room, but because of the increased likelihood that the mental wiring will be wrong.

Part of the problem - not part of the solution

KGW carries the story about another armed person at the Clackamas Mall. He had a concealed weapons permit, but knowing that a 22 year old was carrying a weapon in the Mall doesn't make me feel safe. Do we really need more people carrying guns? The self aggrandized report of his actions doesn't justify the carrying of the weapons.

The presence of another weapon only increases the likelihood of more deaths in these situations. The 22 year old could have easily became one of the targets. Based upon the stories - he was out-gunned. It isn't too difficult to imagine the consequences if the police or security came upon a 'second' shooter.

It doesn't make me comfortable to know that there are people carrying guns in the Mall, or any mall. Arguably there is not much difference between the 'bad' mall shooter and the 'good' mall (potential) shooter. The existence of a 'permit' doesn't prevent wrongful firearm use. The requirements for a concealed weapons permit isn't that stringent.

The apparent mental illness that triggers these mass attacks is not obvious. According to a July, 2012 Psychology Today article Mass Murders Are On The Rise "[s]evere mental illness in and of itself was not a predictor." And "the mass murderer is typically a white male, a loner, has a college degree or some college, from a relatively stable background and from an upper-middle to middle class family."

[See this story published after this post: Sandy Hook: Police say shooter forced his way into school. The shooter falls well within the profile above -  "the mass murderer is typically a white male, a loner, has a college degree or some college, from a relatively stable background and from an upper-middle to middle class family."]

Thus given what is known about the mass shooters, it is not likely that meaningful legislation can be devised to prevent mass shootings. And having that discussion post a mass shooting is irrational - because the causal connection between the shooter and the event is undetectable and, therefore, unpreventable.

That is not to say that efforts shouldn't be made to reduce the amount of weapons available to the public under the guise of constitutional rights. One doesn't need to have a mass shooting to be a catalyst for discussion about the availability of weapons in our society. Adults, and children too, are being killed daily by guns. That availability is difficult, if not impossible, to justify in a civilized society.

The vast majority of people go about their daily lives without the need for a gun. But I can see the desire of many to fire those types of weapons and even to collect them. These people are not the shooters that we need to worry about. But, surely there are legal means to reduce the availability of firearms while accommodating  those who find it entertaining to fire or collect firearms?

Maybe a place to start is to have that rational discussion about preventing the death of children from firearms. The statistics are alarming. According to the Center for Disease Control "in the latest reported year, 153 Canadian children were killed by guns while France had only 109 children killed. In Japan, the number was zero. The United States had 5,285 childhood gun deaths that same year." [Thousands of children are killed by guns in the U.S]. See too a 2012 Chicagoist article More Illinois Children Die From Firearms Than From Car Crashes.

Surely failure to protect children from firearm deaths cannot be justified by protecting constitutional rights of adults? 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Portland policing -WTF!

An "armed man hallucinating and that he'd fired a gun approximately 30 minutes prior to police being called by roommates. As officers were enroute, they received additional information that the 34-year-old man had a shotgun and possibly two handguns." [Eight Firearms Seized from Southeast Portland Man Struggling in a Mental Health Crisis].

Inexplicable. "Based on the man being alone in the residence and officers not having any contact with him, the decision was made to walk away from the residence and contact the man at a later time. One officer remained in the area to monitor the situation and over the next hour, several shots were heard from inside the house but none were fired outside the house."

Read the rest of the police report - it came to an acceptable result but thanks only to someone's lucky charm. But an arguably mentally ill person was found to have "five (5) rifles, two (2) handguns and one (1) shotgun [...] along with a significant quantity of ammunition."

One might want to question how a mentally ill person acquires this arsenal. It is doubtful that the news media will follow-up with any journalistic zeal.

"Why Amsterdam is banning marijuana use in schools"

That is a headline from the Christian Science Monitor. The irony in the subsequent lead-in is missed too: "The Dutch are getting tough on smoking pot: On Jan. 1, weed-smoking will be banned from schools and playgrounds in Amsterdam."

Amsterdam is the pot-head's mecca. Tolerance has led to the situation where "Amsterdam's mayor said Wednesday he would formally ban students from smoking marijuana at school, making the Dutch capital the first city in the Netherlands to do so."

Is this what the United States is trying to emulate?

Please - don't tell me the crime rates are lower in Amsterdam because of this tolerance. The use of coincidental crime statistics is invalid. And it may be risky path, e.g., the homicide rate (2009 data) in Amsterdam is 4.4 per 100,000 people. Moscow is 4.6, New York City is 5.6.  Maybe if we are going to emulate a country - why not Tokyo at .04.  [Where are world's deadliest major cities?].

Can one really use these statistics to prove a crime and pot usage connection? An attempt without more causation factors results in fallacious reasoning.  And should crime rate be the benchmark in any case? Does anyone really believe that drug use of any kind promotes good citizenship?

A Smart City? Apparently Portland isn't

The top ten in North America - that is the US and Canada, not Mexico.  But see What's the difference between North, Latin, Central, Middle, South, Spanish and Anglo America?  On the West Coast it is San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles (yes - Los Angeles), and Vancouver. 3 of the 10 are in Canada. [1 | The Top 10 Smartest Cities In North America | Co.Exist: World changing ideas and innovation].

It is another one of those polls, studies, reviews, etc. whose purpose is to make the world over in their image. They define a "smart city" and proceed very cleverly extol the virtues of being smart.   It is clever too how they present their position - a smart city is one that agrees with their values.

The article views "smart cities as a broad, integrated approach to improving the efficiency of city operations, the quality of life for its citizens, and growing the local economy." [What Exactly Is A Smart City? | Co.Exist: World changing ideas and innovation].

But it is't about government efficacy, quality of life or economics  Not surprisingly - it is proselytized that you are only smart if you are green and bicycle. Thus, one wonders how Portland missed out. In the three steps to smartness, Portland would seem to be the superficial winner:

CREATE A VISION WITH CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT. Isn't that Portland? Although, it isn't clear why cities were left out, arguably the chosen cities gave import to the vision constructed with resident participation. If you have had any experience with participation facade in Portland - one recognizes that it is the framework to convince the participants, hardly, if ever, a composite representation of the city or neighborhood, to see it their way.

DEVELOP BASELINES, SET TARGETS, AND CHOOSE INDICATORS. Portland doesn't evaluate where they are, but only where they, city planners, want to be without regard to realistic goals and metrics. It is also a step that is a measurement of the idiocy of using European cities as models.

In particular we are told that "Copenhagen has been measuring cycling and mixed modal use for decades. Now the city has a target indicator: to achieve 50% of all trips to work or school by bike by 2015."  This is what makes a smart city? How can one reasonably compare Copenhagen to any city in North America, especially Portland?

GO LEAN. This is not an economic caution, but more of a 'think big, but start small' approach. It is merely more of the sop, the opiate of sustainability denizens, that it used to convince themselves as to their righteousness. Of course,  without so stating, they are talking about the elimination of the automobile.

Look it doesn't take much of a read to determine that the prerequisites for a smart city is so much greenwashing as the result of greening out. Utopia is just around the corner.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Susan Rice withdraws nomination - flawed process

From the publicity surrounding her nomination - it is not that clear that she should have been nominated, but that isn't my call. And it should have not been the call of McCain. Rice said: “If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly  to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities,” [Susan Rice withdraws name to replace Clinton].

I noted in another post that she might have gotten her comeuppance. The picture painted of her wasn't that flattering. But unless there was something very wrong with her, like some criminal conduct or major breach of ethics, any president should be able to have, or at least nominate, who he or she feels is right for the job.

The secretary of state performance reflects on the president more than on the secretary. Sure the Senate ought to have a say - but McCain and friends want to speak for the Senate. [See Susan Rice, the Senate and Angry Mobs].

It is personal for McCain and friends, Libya was just an excuse. The Republicans are still upset that Obama was elected and re-elected. It is doubtful that any Obama's nominations will get far in his second term. More of the gridlock.

Democracy deconstruction - rendition

"The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of a German citizen, after finding he was an innocent victim of extraordinary rendition by the CIA. [...] El-Masri spent five months in secret CIA jails for suspected links to armed Islamist groups." [...] His ordeal ended when he was eventually dumped on a road in Albania after the US realised they had got the wrong man." [European court backs CIA rendition victim].

Can there be any doubt that the US activities outside US jurisdiction is the antithesis of a democracy?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Britain, and the world, continues its desceng into godlessness

So The Economist says. But it is an attention headline. The Economist presents charts demonstrating what is really a global trend - more and more people are dissociating themselves from organized religions. But, it doesn't necessarily follow that there are more atheists. See Growth in secularism.

The 11-year-old boy paying for the neglect of his parents and the legal system

Mayor Adams: "Adults keeping their weapons out of reach of children is not only basic common sense, in Portland, it is the law." [Dad, 11-year-old boy face gun charges linked to weekend armed robbery attempt].

The adult the mayor is talking about is the father of the "11-year-old Portland boy who police say tried to carjack and rob a woman at gunpoint last weekend."

This adult is a convicted felon who "has been the subject of at least two prior child neglect and abuse complaints last year, on Jan. 24 and July 2."

The adult father was arrested "accused of endangering a child by allowing access to a firearm, a city code violation. He's also accused of being a felon in possession of a firearm, unlawful possession of a firearm and endangering the welfare of a minor."

It is unlikely that this adult has common sense or cares whether there is a law that might prohibit his possession of a gun - convicted felon or not.

But the story isn't about gun laws - it is about the 11 year old, and possibly his siblings too, who through the neglect of his parents is charged with robbery and weapons violations. The boy has been the subject of neighborhood concern.

A security guard working nearby expressed what seems to be the neighborhood consensus: "It's about time they did something." The "they" is the police and the courts.

He was too I suspect talking about the state Department of Human Services that took someone "into state protective custody in July 2011. When the story is fleshed out - I will not be surprised to see the failures of the department to protect this 11 year old.

The system protects the parents. The child is not "protected" until he or she commits a crime, the more horrible the crime the more likely the child will get attention. Of course it is too late.

This 11 year is likely screwed for his life. One suspects that with the start he is getting that life will not likely be long.

Don't be surprised that he will be returned to his parents and the parents will receive little more than an admonishment.