Culture of Fear

May 27, 2014 at 9:40 pm (Politics) (, , , , )

Friday, one Elliot Rodgers decided to go shoot up innocent people at a school; in this case, UC Santa Barbara.  Unlike most of his fellow former oxygen burners, there’s not really too much question about “why” this time.  He left behind a 140 page manifesto explaining why for those who might have that question.

Not that it prevented certain individuals from speculating that maybe there was another reason, like this expert who provided the worst psychological diagnosis since Francis Tumblty was accused of being Jack the Ripper.

Short version:  After a lifetime of being rejected by women he never asked out, Elliot Rodgers got told to move out by his mother and decided that the only logical response was to take a gun and go ventilate a sorority house and anybody who might happen to be nearby.

Now, you may be thinking of several other logical responses to his situation.  Say, actually asking a girl out, or maybe trying to find a new place to live.  But then, you’re not inside the head of Elliot Rodgers, who in the opinion of this commentator was a textbook case of an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic.

Of course, this commentator is not an expert.  So for a moment, let’s refer to a true expert, Dr. Kathleen Ramsland. As you might notice, in addition to being an expert on profiling, she can also tell the difference between “homosexual impulses” and a man saying “I wish girls would be attracted to me,” clearly marking her as one of the top in her class.  While she doesn’t provide a diagnosis (doing so would be highly unprofessional in such a case, which is why I did it), she does discuss the ability of the police to assess the risk that Elliot posed a month before his attack.

Her professional assessment?  Nobody could have predicted it that far in advance.

So, if nobody could have predicted it, what else could have prevented this tragedy?  And so the usual suspects come out….

Stricter gun control laws?

Restricting any weapons at all?

More people with guns on the UCSB campus?

Striking down the patriarchy and eliminating rape culture?

These are all things that have been seriously advocated to deal with tragedies like this, the Milwaukee day-spa shooting, and the recent senseless murder of a girl for refusing a prom date.

Christ, I’m getting really, really sick of always having new examples of senseless, violent tragedies to cite.

At any rate, the last of those comments came up in particular related to this case, because of Rodgers’ manifesto blaming his rampage on rejection by women.  Women who, I point out again, he never even bothered to ask out.  Shortly after this dangerous lunatic’s motivations were revealed, a hashtag was born, #YesAllWomen, trying to draw attention to the widespread cultural and societal flaws that encourage men to view women as property, trophies, and prizes instead of humans.  Others lashed out in response, pointing out things like that if a woman had just slept with Rodgers, he wouldn’t have done this.

That guy?  The guy who said that?  He should shut the fuck up, he’s not helping anybody.

As for the justifiably upset women who are blaming this on societal flaws… I’m sorry.  I really am sorry that there are so many assholes out there who have serious mental disorders.  So sorry that we, men and women, black and white, queer and straight, have been raised to live in fear.  And we have, on both sides of any divide.  Women fear, not without justification, that they might be raped.  Men fear, not without justification, of being falsely accused of rape, maced, or ending up on a sex offender registry because they unknowingly made somebody uncomfortable in the wrong way.

If a little old white woman crosses to the other side of the street when she sees a large black man coming down the street towards her, is she being racist?  Or is she afraid of him the way she’s been taught to be afraid of men who could easily overpower, rape, and kill her?

If a cop is on patrol and a black kid takes off running away from him, reaching into a pocket, is he justified in suspecting that the boy is reaching for a weapon and opening fire?

Or, when it turns out that the kid was unarmed and making sure he hadn’t dropped his wallet when he started running from a cop he thought was going to harass him, was the cop racial profiling?

Fear is a powerful emotion.  It motivates people to act, and it literally impairs decision making ability.  Fear results in quick, hastily thought out decisions made with a minimum level of data.  It encourages tribalism, banding together into like groups to stand against those who are less like you.  We’ve evolved to be really, really good at making snap decisions based on a minimum amount of information, which works really, really well when you live in a tribalistic society faced with enemies who are the dreaded other.

It doesn’t work so well when you live in what is supposed to be a civilized society that embraces the differences between people.  Society, civilized or not, always presents threats.  Those threats are harder and harder to recognize, but our primitive, hard-wired brains try to pick up on the patterns the same way they’ve always done it, and they look for differences.

He had a gun, he was dangerous.  That guy has a gun, he might be dangerous.  People without guns aren’t as dangerous.  We need to prevent people from having guns.

He hated women, he was dangerous.  Men who view women as less than them are dangerous.  These men are not being punished.  Society must secretly agree with these men and we need to stop that to make our lives safer.

The majority of violent crimes are committed by poor people.  Poor people are dangerous.  Most people of other races I see are poor people.  Poor people are dangerous, and need to be kept away from good people who aren’t poor, especially poor people who don’t look like me.  There’s a poor person who doesn’t look like me; he could be a threat to me, I should be on alert.

You see how that can all go horribly, horribly wrong?

But here’s the problem.  We’re all reacting on instinct.  Largely obsolete instinct.  That instinct may be right sometimes, but a lot of the time it’s going to be wrong.  Occasionally, it’s going to be tragically wrong, as in the Trayvon Martin case.  Occasionally, it’s going to be manipulated, as in the case of the Iraq War.  Occasionally, it’s going to be partially right… but not really get at the problem.

Because here’s the thing – none of those cases are looking at the root cause.  They’re looking for early warning signs, and picking them out on the basis of fear.  In the middle ages, it wasn’t blonde guys with blue eyes you had to be afraid of, it was raiders who wanted to raid your village and take your stuff, and were willing to leave you a corpse to do it.  If the raider was a brunette, he’d kill you just as dead.  If the merchants coming to town were blonde, all they cared about was selling you things.  Of course, the next blondes to show up might want to kill you and take that stuff, but that was what happened living in a raiding zone.

Ultimately, is it blondes who are dangerous?  Or is it people who want to kill you for your stuff?  Maybe if there was some other way for them to get that stuff, they wouldn’t want to kill you for it.  But, when the other guy has a sword and is trying to stick it in you, there’s not much time for rational discourse.  These days, there’s more time for rational thought, rational response to threats, but we’re still reacting with instincts that were fairly useful up until just an eyeblink ago in the grand picture of things.

We need to get beyond the culture of fear.  We need to stop reacting on gut instinct, and look at the actual root causes.  Why?

We’re living in a world with thousands, even millions of bombs just floating around the streets, looking for something to detonate with.  Some of them are time bombs, and they’ll go off eventually no matter what.  Some of them have fuses and are looking for matches.  Others will be set off by being tipped, or by a radio signal, or a cell phone, or a code word, or what the Hell ever.  Most of them have multiple detonators they could use, they’ll just go off when they find the first one that’ll work.  Some of the bombs are just packed with blasting powder, won’t do too much damage unless you’re right there.  Others are packed with nails, screws, radioactive isotopes – something that makes them more damaging than normal.

The problem with how our society handles things right now is that every time one of these ‘bombs’ goes off, people try to find ways to stop the explosions… but they try to do it by banning matches, or by regulating radio signals, or by banning timers, by getting rid of the detonators.  Or they try to ban nails and screws and PVC pipe, try to reduce the damage that they’ll do when they go off.

But nobody seems to want to stop wasting time playing whack-a-mole with detonators and shrapnel long enough to find the goddamn bombs, defuse them so that nothing else is going to set them off, and then stop the person making them.

There are people who are really sick.  Some of them are violent.  Those who are, can be just one little trigger away from blowing up and hurting somebody.  Maybe that trigger’s going to be reading through Catcher in the Rye.  Maybe it’s going to be watching Natural Born Killers.  Maybe it’s going to be playing Manhunt 2.  Maybe it’s going to be a lifetime of being too scared of rejection to actually try and get a date.  Maybe it’s going to be finally working up the courage to ask a girl out, and getting shot down.  Maybe it’s going to be a fight with his sister, or violent political rhetoric.  Maybe it’s going to be a brain tumor, or the fear of crippling poverty, or the whisperings of an angry God into the ear.  Maybe it’s getting turned down for a promotion.

My point is that people who have violent tendencies are always going to be out there.  They’re always going to be dangerous.  Maybe Elliot Rodgers wouldn’t have mailed a 140 page manifesto about his feelings of rejection out if he didn’t feel that his value as a man was based on his ability to fuck or fight.  Maybe he came to that conclusion because of deeply ingrained fucked up values in society, maybe he came to it because he was a deeply disturbed individual who took the wrong message out of society.

But something else still could have set him off.  Maybe a breakup.  Maybe losing a job.  Maybe getting kicked out of school.  Maybe watching a movie that he thought glorified violence.  He would still have been a threat to society for his entire life, if he had the sort of underlying mental disorder that seems to have been there.

We can keep playing whack-a-mole with the things that could set off people like Elliot Rodgers, Ted Bundy, Albert Fish, Andrew Cunanan, Harris and Klebold.  We can keep trying to disarm them, to make it so that when they do go off, they don’t do as much damage.

Or we can devote those resources to finding out what is wrong with these people.  Finding out how to detect the dangerously violent more quickly, how to improve threat assessments.  How to improve a mental health system that literally turned away Jeffrey Dahmer as “just having fantasies,” rather than treating him.  How to improve a legal system that handed an escaped victim back to him to be butchered.  How to get people to seek the help that they desperately need, or improve treatments so that they benefit more from that help.

How many tragedies does it take for us to ask what’s really causing them?

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Probably gonna get yelled at for this

April 23, 2014 at 4:20 pm (Particle Physics)

I’m probably gonna get in trouble with some people for this.  But frankly… I can’t just let my thoughts go unsaid.  I can’t confine them to Twitter either, because there’s a lot more than 140 characters I want to say.

This post is in direct reply to a number of other posts… that are, sadly, on another blogging service, so I couldn’t exactly use a standard comment.  But, for ease of reference, allow me to provide the needed linkage:

http://brigidkeely.tumblr.com/post/83523795392/a-word-about-bronies-massive-content-notice-for

Here’s the basic summary of events:

Original Poster (SaintCheshire, henceforth referred to as OP) discusses a disturbing event at the recent Babscon event in San Francisco.  At this event a little girl called “Babby,” age 11, befriends the OP and (presumably) her fellow vendors at the convention.  The next day, a terrified Babby asks about hiding under their table for a few minutes.  It turns out that Babby has been followed around for most of the day, and he even tried to get her to follow him up to his hotel room.  When she refused to go with him, at one point he grabbed her arm in the elevator and tried to get her to follow him.

Understandably, and commendably, OP and her colleagues do what any decent people would do.  They invite Babby behind their table and station themselves around her because she’s an 11 year old girl who’s been assaulted by an adult who gives off sixteen different kinds of signals that he dearly needs a visit with Chris Hansen.  They’re all ready and willing to lunge across the table at this asshole and teach him a lesson or three.  Eventually, he comes nosing around the table multiple times, and Babby points him out.  to directly quote the OP:

At this point I’m ready to set him on fire, but when I ask if she needs me to go report him, she shakes her head. She doesn’t want to get in trouble, or make anyone mad.

Well, again understandably, they follow her wishes.  They send one of their number to serve as Babby’s escort when she wants to go around the con, knowing that she isn’t safe while this guy (heretofore referred to as Nitwit McPedo) is at the convention.  When Nitwit comes to nose around the booth, they give him the stinkeye and send him on his way.  They don’t report him though, because Babby doesn’t want them to.

There is followup about how they should’ve reported him, should’ve gotten the police involved, etc.  There is backlash to that because the people who are saying that they should’ve reported him are “policing the decisions of assault victims and survivors.”  All of this goes on in the Tumblr post that I link to, which IS NOT the original blog post.  That said, OP’s blog appears to have been yoinked out from under them, which is why I used that link.  But there’s one big problem here.  Understandably, people are kind of upset about the enivronment that the OP says was there.  Hard to blame her – I’m quoting it below for reference.

My point here: this is why I fucking hate “bronies.” Because grown-ass men are flooding into a space carved out for children—often little girls—and are making it unsafe for them.

I met a lot of non-awful people there, of course. I met a lot of parents and older siblings. A lot of adorable little boys who were happy to empathize with female characters, and a lot of little kids who wanted a picture with cosplays of their favorite pony. I met a lot of people who were cool and nice and just liked cartoons. I met a male Pinkie Pie cosplayer with a Fluttershy lady-friend who juggled and spun plates and was happy to entertain kids, and were generally just really cool people.

But I also met a lot of skeevy dudebros. A lot of guys in fedoras loudly discussing sexual shit in a room with children. Guys who drew/sold/displayed really fucking inappropriate “fanart,” including gross bodypillows that had no purpose in a little kids’ toy convention. I met a guy who gushed with absoluteglee about the pleasure he derives from “corrupting innocence.” I met a lot of people who wanted to take something sweet and nice for children and make it about THEM. A lot of guys who wanted to make it about their dicks. People who made it UNSAFE for the intended audience to even be in attendance.

So yeah. If you call yourself a brony, I’m prolly not gonna trust you. Because I’ve seen y’all in action, and I am not impressed. Frankly I’m infuriated. This is like a bunch of gross neckbeards swarming Disneyland and shoving kids out of the way so they can grope Cinderella, and finding nothing wrong with it because they think they’re entitled to it.

My Little Pony is a really cute show with a lot of nice messages for kids, and gross brony shitweasels are trying to fucking take it from them by force. And I will fight them.

That’s a pretty nasty, ugly con she’s described there.  Here’s the problem.  It didn’t exist.

I was originally going to go off on a rant about the way that folks went and assumed that horrible, horrible things had happened and that the bronies knew about them, and allowed it to go on.  But I’ve just finished an email exchange with some of the Babscon staff.  They had a definite “no adult material” policy for the vendor’s room, and people who were at the con have stated that there weren’t any of those bodypillows (sic) or anything else described there.  10 seconds of internet research turns up the code of conduct of the convention, including their non-harrassment policy.

So at the very least, the environment described… wasn’t real.  This is based on a “she said, she said” situation, but taken with a couple of other elements of the con, it makes that sudden disappearance of the original blog very interesting.

Because there were some people removed from the convention for breaking that non-harassment policy I mentioned.  Some of those people have a well-known disdain for the fact that there are bronies who aren’t puritanical pricks.  I don’t know for certain that there was any connection between these people and the appearance of a blog that describes a den of debauchery at a convention run by numerous people who have run perfectly clean cons in the past, who were running a convention that featured VA’s!  In case you’re wondering, in order to get Hasbro to approve the VA’s for a convention?  You need to keep it clean, for the precise reason that is described there – Hasbro doesn’t want to be connected with anything adult.

I don’t know this for certain.  But I sure as schnitzel suspect it, especially now that the original Tumblr seems to have disappeared.

And if that’s the case, then those Certain People should be frickin’ ashamed of themselves.  Again.

If it’s not the case, then that’s a rant for another night.

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Dear Libertarians

March 22, 2014 at 6:51 pm (Politics) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Dear Libertarians,

It seems it’s that time again.  That time when I have to say it’s over.  I’d say that it’s not you, that it’s me… but I think we both know that it’s actually you.

We got together because we shared something special.  We both believed that the government needed to back down, that it needed to reduce its interference in people’s lives.  That personal responsibility should take precedence over laws and regulations.  That there was obvious evidence on the record of gross negligence and disregard for civilian life by the government that wasn’t even being covered up, just ignored by society at large.  We’d spend hours debating the best way to gradually work in a wedge of sensible third party candidates to break the two-party stranglehold on our country’s government.  The nights spent going over plans to gradually reduce government interference in daily life will always be fondly remembered.

I suppose this was also when I started to realize there would be problems.  I’d quote Andrew Carnegie, and you’d quote Ayn Rand.  I’d suggest the government should redirect sources where they were a better investment, you’d insist that going cold turkey was the right approach.  You’d propose the immediate repeal of all gun laws once a Libertarian was in the White House, I’d point out that the Constitution you wanted to protect didn’t give the President that power.  I’d advocate for improving the rights of minorities, and you’d insist that doing so was actually harming them by giving the government more power.

That was the moment when we started having real problems, I understand that now.  I agreed with your general suggestion; the government shouldn’t be involved in the marriage business at all.  Marriage licenses could be replaced with civil contracts to achieve the same legal protections, there could even be a standard template, but anybody could enter into those contracts, and marriage would simply be a socio-religious affair, and excuse to have a party.  It all made sense, until you said that we shouldn’t make gay marriage legal because it would reduce the pressure to eliminate marriage as a legal construct.  It was our first fight, but it would hardly be the last.  To be honest, I’m not even sure it ever stopped so we could have a second one.

Maybe I was just blind at the time, ignoring your more extreme elements in the search for something new.  I had questions about some of your ideas early on, about the fact that the President couldn’t just say “these laws don’t exist anymore,” but you explained that as something that would be proposed, not just done unilaterally.  I had questions about some of your roommates, the ones who were more socially conservative.  They reminded me a lot of the people who’d just thrown me out of my last relationship, with Christianity.  But you explained that they were disgruntled Republicans who were squatting, and you were trying to get them to leave.

So I put up with it, and dealt with the raving and the questionable decisions and the arguments.  You got the roomies to move out, told me they’d gone back to live with their parents, and I thought things were going to get better.

But then I found out that you were cheating on me, not just with your old “roomies,” but with some people who seem to be even crazier.  I hadn’t thought that was possible at first, but this Sovereign Citizens guy you’re seeing?  Honestly, I thought he was a nuisance at first, but the more he says the more he scares me.  Not just for what he might do to me, but for what he’s doing to you.

In trying to impress your old roomies and your new partner, you’ve been straying further and further into crazy land yourself.  You’ve started calling me, me of all people, a leftist, a liberal, a fascist apologist, and for what?  For suggesting that maybe, just maybe, the ideas you’ve started promoting are a little… well, insane.

Just in case this whole thing is one great big misunderstanding, I’m going to take this one last chance to make myself perfectly clear.  I don’t have a problem with your idea that the government really needs to pull back.  I agree with you that the police in large parts of this country are dangerously over-armed and over-militarized.  I agree with you that the prisons are overcrowded with people who don’t really deserve to be there.  I agree with you that we need to stop spending useless money.  I agree with you that corporate special interests wield far too much power in this day and age, that the plutocrats are taking over and not even bothering to hide it anymore.  And I agree with you that we need to really stop and think about if we’re going to be the land of the free, or the home of the terminally paranoid.

What I don’t agree with you on is how we’re supposed to accomplish that.

This Sovereign Citizens guy has been telling you that government, as an institution, is inherently evil and tyrannical.  Not just federal government, but local government, even a city council.  He’s been telling you that any legal system whatsoever is an infringement on the freedom of the people, a false contract established by force and intimidation without the consent of the people.  And he’s been telling you that what we really need to do is get rid of it, and shift to… what?  Rule by the free market, where people’s will and ability to acquire and apply force is what enables them to protect themselves from their fellow men.

What I can’t believe is that you’re buying this line, and that you’re not seeing the problems with it.

The government we have now is flawed, yes.  Don’t get me wrong, I do not like our government.  The tirades I’ve made about the NSA, drone strikes, and our country’s… how to put this delicately… utterly fucked up sense of entitlement to the world’s resource should prove this.  But when you look around you, how can you not see the terrible, terrible flaws we have with the free market, with complete deregulation?

Earlier this year, 300,000 people in West Virginia had their waterways poisoned by private industry.  A year or two ago, a private chemical plant in Texas exploded.  Not too long before that, a major (private) oil well exploded, pumping unknown amounts of oil and God alone knows what else into the Gulf Stream.  All three of these events were due to lax oversight and lack of regulations, and not even the companies responsible have argued otherwise.  We still haven’t figured out how much damage the Fukushima Reactor meltdown has caused, because private industry hasn’t cleaned it all up yet.  New reports of preventable tragedies are coming out of one private company after another every day.  Every.  Single.  Day.  And that’s not even counting the number of people whose lives are gradually ruined by the working conditions that they’re told to put up with or quit and find a new job… where the conditions will probably be just as bad, if not worse, especially in this job market.  Productivity in this country has increased drastically, but the only people who are seeing any real economic benefits from that are the super-rich.

And this is under what you’re calling a dictatorial, regulation-happy, practically-communist regime.

I just have to ask… how is this going to change, if we don’t have anybody holding them back?  If the only way we have to punish these companies is to not buy from them, how do we, the people, hold responsible companies that produce industrial solvents that are used for coal production?  We don’t buy their products ourselves, and the only way to stop patronizing their customers in protest would be to shift to solar and wind (which you argue are unsustainable) or nuclear.  And while I’m all for a well-regulated nuclear industry with high safety standards, do you seriously, sincerely believe we’ll have the incredibly safe reactors of today without somebody to tell the people building these multi-billion dollar facilities that, no, they can’t cheap out on the reactor shielding?

After all, it costs money to build the sort of redundancies that actually prevented Three Mile Island from being a hideous disaster with fatalities.  Without that money, you get Chernobyl.  It works!  Kind of.  Until it doesn’t.  Then you end up with… well, Chernobyl.

Do you really think that the unfettered free market would have prevented the economic disasters caused by the Enron, Worldcom, and our recent megabanking collapses?  Because as an accountant, I’m here to tell you that’s a load of grade-A manure.  Fraud and economic disaster thrives in an environment without regulation, far more than it does in an environment with too much regulation.  And I’m not in auditing; I’m in the field that usually complains about more rules coming down the pike to force me to add another layer of checks to my numbers.

Do you really think that a lower tax rate and fewer regulations will keep companies from outsourcing jobs overseas?  That they’ll bring jobs back to the States if they just don’t owe as much in taxes?  That’s bullshit, and if you don’t know it, it’s because you’re willfully ignoring the facts.  Look at their tax expenses.  Then look at their labor expenses.  That’s the line item that has them shipping jobs to places like China or India.  Apple could build the iPhone stateside without any problems; there are enough people to do the jobs, there are enough resources to build the factory, there are cities that would get on their knees and BEG for a FoxConn-like plant and that sort of industry!

But in China, they can do it at pennies on the dollar for the labor, and with working conditions that drive people to kill themselves.  You can’t do that in the USA.  In the USA, you have to pay a minimum wage that still isn’t enough to keep somebody out of poverty, and you have restrictions on the hours you can make people work.  You have minimum standards that the plants have to be kept up to.

Of course, you don’t like minimum wage laws either, but I fail to see how leaving us competing on the same wage scale as the Chinese is supposed to actually make life over here any better.  And when I ask you about that sort of thing… you don’t like to answer.

Frankly, there are a lot of questions you don’t like to answer.

You throw around words like “plutocrats” and “corporatists” as much as you throw around words like “statists,” but then you say that we need to give these people and their money more influence… and you really don’t like to be asked how that’s supposed to fix anything.

I’ve asked you how corporations are supposed to be kept in check without any sort of effective regulation, and the closest you come to answering the question is to say that we haven’t seen a country where the corporations haven’t been able to buy the government, so we can’t say what would happen.  And when I point out Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and any of a dozen other nations where corporations have had unfettered freedom to do what they want, the abuse of natural resources, the rampant human rights violations, the rape and enslavement of nations… you don’t like to answer any questions about that sort of thing.

I just can’t stand by and ignore it any more.

When we met, I could suggest smarter ways for the government to use its resources, and you thought those were good ideas.  Now, you tell me that I’m trying to socialize medicine when I suggest that making birth control freely available is a smart investment.  Because, you know, daily pills or annual shots are much cheaper than either helping to make sure that a kid grows up to not be a felon, or the costs of imprisonment.

Of course, your solution is that the private market should handle all that stuff.  Because the problem they’re having at food pantries is that not enough people show up who actually need help.  Because the private prison system has been proven to be so free of fraud and abuse, and get such better results than government-funded prisons.

What you are currently advocating isn’t a democracy.  You’ve actually gone and actively said that democracy is a tyranny of the majority.  I’d ask what sort of government you want, but I know that the answer these days is ‘none’ more and more often.

By the way, we actually have tried that governmental system before.  It’s called the feudal system, or a dictatorship.  He who can afford and wield the most intimidating force makes all the rules.  The reason the government is working with the corporations in those nations is because the corporations buy the government and make it take the rules away.  It wouldn’t matter if there wasn’t a government – they’d still rule through force of arms.  They’d make the rules.  And those rules would be to their advantage, while abusing the people and land as much as they can get away with.

The unfettered free market runs on money.  Ergo, the people who have all the money… have the power of the unfettered free market.

I’m sorry, I suppose I’m starting to ramble.  I really do wish that I didn’t have to write this letter, but here I am.  Maybe there’s still a chance… one of these days, maybe you’ll realize what you’re doing wrong and straighten things out.  It wouldn’t take much… just loose the lunatic fringe jacket, actually quit seeing your scary friends, and maybe we can make this work.  But until then…

Not yours anymore,

The Wolfemann

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Justice

July 14, 2013 at 4:50 pm (Politics) (, , , , , , , , )

I’m not going to bother to recap the events of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case at this point in time.  CNN, MSNBC, and Fox have all been doing that ad nauseum lately.  What I am going to do is just to express my thoughts on the case, something I’ve been reluctant to do thus far because….

Well, let’s face it.  Because I know that any time a case like this comes up, I tend to end up looking and/or sounding like a heartless SOB.

First, please let me be clear about something.  I agree that what happened in February of 2012 was a tragedy.  I agree that it didn’t have to happen.  I agree that it was a senseless mistake on everybody’s part.

But it wasn’t a crime that could ever be brought successfully to trial under the standards set forth by the U.S. justice system.  Not because the system is flawed, but because it is a system that is ultimately based on the precept that people should not be convicted of crimes they haven’t committed.  For such a system to work, it requires a handful of basic assumptions:

  1. You are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
  2. Such proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt.
  3. The Blackstone Principle, which states that “It is better that ten guilty men go free than that one innocent man be convicted.”

What this all means, lest I be written off as using cliches to make my argument, is that regardless of what the media tells us, regardless of what we read on blogs, or see in the paper, or read in petitions to see George Zimmerman tried for X charge, when the trial starts… it’s supposed to be a blank slate.

That is the requirement of our legal system.

From that blank slate, the prosecution is allowed to lay out evidence of its course of events.

Then, the defense is allowed to lay out evidence of its course of events, or at least contradicting the prosecution’s.

Finally, if they want, the prosecution is allowed to try and shoot down the defense’s case.  At this point, based solely on the massive amounts of information that have been thrown at them, the jury (or judge, if the right to a jury trial is waived) retire to discuss the evidence and try to come to a consensus on what the truth is.

But, here’s the thing.  There’s a bias there.  They must assume that the defendant is innocent unless they believe that the evidence they have seen proves that the defendant is guilty to the point that no reasonable person would doubt it.  That’s how our system is supposed to work.  Does it always work that way?  Nope.  Does it usually work that way?  Eh, that’s debatable, and unrelated to this case.  Unfortunately, there’s that whole “human fallibility” thing going on that muddies the waters.

And the Zimmerman case was not proven to that level.  Hell, from the evidence that was presented, I literally do not believe it could have been presented to that level, which is why the police didn’t press charges at the start.

Here’s the thing.  At least in my opinion (and I’m not a lawyer, though from what I’ve found out from friends who are, a disgusting amount of being a lawyer is how to break the rules without getting called on it), in order to establish a conviction, you have to build a foundation of facts that support the case.  Not opinions.

I hate eyewitness testimony for this precise reason.  Eyewitness accounts are inherently subjective and based on opinion; they’re based on snap judgments made in the heat of seeing something unusual, and often in non-ideal conditions (adrenaline, the subjects moving rapidly, lots of distractions, etc.)  Studies have shown that eyewitness testimony is only somewhere around 60% at best.  Why does this matter?

We’ve got three eyewitnesses, four if you count Zimmerman.  Two of the eyewitnesses are actually audio (ear-witnesses?).  One was a lady who lived nearby.  She claims she saw heard two men fighting on the ground; a young man, and an angry older man.  When she went to call 911, she heard one of them screaming for help.  She believed it was “the young man’s voice.”

Now, I’ve actually seen and conducted experiments where people asked to identify a voice, only by voice, can only do so about 20% of the time.  And that’s when they’re just talking, not screaming, which tends to change your tone of voice from whatever it was when you were shouting at somebody, to something more scared and pleading.

There is also the very important element of context.  If you hear two voices, one higher pitched and not shouting, and the other deeper and shouting angrily, and then you hear a scream for help… your brain tends to fill in the gaps.  You’ll be more inclined to think “that must be the not-angry voice, because angry-voice is the one they need help against.  Angry voice wouldn’t be screaming for help, he started it.”

Then we have Trayvon’s friend, who was talking to him on the phone.  We’ll get to her later.

Our actual eye-witness saw two men fighting; one of them was straddling the other, and looked to be punching him in the face.  He believed that it was the dark-skinned man who was on top.

Trayvon’s friend gives us the following information:  Trayvon thought Zimmerman was a creepy pervert who was following him around.  When they hung up, Trayvon was supposedly in front of his house, which she told him to go into and call the cops on the creepy pervert.  Four minutes later, Trayvon calls her again, about to be confronted by Zimmerman several blocks from his home,  There’s an altercation, during which we hear… well, frankly, what we hear isn’t very clear.  That’s why the prosecution wasn’t allowed to bring in their audio experts; the experts couldn’t isolate a long enough segment to meet the court’s standards for scientific evidence.  There are all sorts of opinions about who was screaming for help on that call, but no expert evidence… associates of Martin say it was him, and associates of Zimmerman say it was him.  The problem is that several of these witnesses are on shaky grounds, and all are being asked to identify cries of help in a situation where one of their loved ones would either end up dead, or end up beaten.

In addition, there was a lot of debate about whether or not Zimmerman was an MMA expert or not, and other related issues.  All things that were argued back and forth.  I’m more interested in what wasn’t argued.

The scientific evidence in this case is a bit more revealing, potentially.  I wasn’t in the courtroom, so I did not see all of the evidence.  Neither did I see all of the people testifying.  However, here are the facts that neither side disputed and, so, I see them as being the fact that are the most ‘solid,’ since if either side felt they could be successfully disputed, they probably would be.  Therefore, these aren’t matters of opinion, and if you believe the person or not.  They’re matters of “this happened, this didn’t.”

  1. Trayvon Martin was shot, front-to-back, at a 90 degree angle.  The gun was far enough away that there were no powder burns on him, but there were on his clothing. This means he was shot at, probably, somewhere between 2-6 inches from the barrel of the gun.
  2. Martin’s body was found face down at the scene; there was no evidence that his body was moved or turned over.
  3. There were no significant injuries to Martin’s body besides the gun shot.
  4. There was no evidence that the bullet, on passing through Martin’s body, struck anything like the pavement.
  5. Zimmerman’s DNA was not identified on Martin’s hands.
  6. Zimmerman’s face had been bludgeoned multiple times.  There were lacerations on the top and back of his head as well, which were consistent with striking the concrete.
  7. Zimmerman’s injuries were not consistent with being “slammed” into the concrete WWE style or anything like that, but they were consistent with blows to the head that resulted from, say, being punched in the face and his head swinging back.  (Whatever laws Zimmerman may have broken, Newton’s weren’t among them.)
  8. Zimmerman’s version of events is deeply flawed, and has changed multiple times.  In particular, his version of how the fight started is at odds with what’s on the phone call.

I like undisputed facts.  They’re the sort of thing you ought to be basing a conviction off of, because they’re things that you don’t have to worry as much about the human fallibility factor with.  There weren’t a huge number of them, but I think the ones that we have are critical to this case, and how it resolves.

Zimmerman’s version of events, at the beginning, is deeply flawed.  However, this is irrelevant to the legal matter at hand.  The legal matter at hand is whether or not, when he pulled the trigger, Zimmerman reasonably feared for his life.

Here’s the problem.  What happens up to the point when the gun is drawn and the trigger pulled doesn’t matter for this case, because the question of self-defense is whether or not drawing that gun and pulling the trigger was justified.  Which begs the question of whether or not Zimmerman was being punched in the face and suffering subsequent blows to the back of his head from the concrete.

The smoking gun, pun not intended, for those who argue that this was murder is ultimately that there was no DNA on Martin’s hands.  If Martin had been punching Zimmerman in the face, then there would have been blood on his hands if he’d broken Zimmerman’s nose.  There was no DNA or blood.  Ipso facto, Martin wasn’t punching Zimmerman in the face, and Zimmerman must have suffered those injures in some other way.

The problem is that the physics don’t necessarily work that way.  Particularly if the blow that broke Zimmerman’s nose was nearly the last one, not the first, the blood may well not have been where Martin was punching.  I don’t know how many of you have had bad nosebleeds before, but I have.  When your head is tipped back – say, when you’re laying flat on your back – the blood tends to drain back through your sinuses and down your throat.  That would contain most of it, and the rest would be around Zimmerman’s mouth, while most of the injuries were around the upper portions of his face.

Also, bear in mind that Zimmerman was the one who was injured, not Martin.  This supports our eye-witness from before, not in that “the dark skinned guy” was on top, but in that somebody had facial injuries.  Whoever was on top, according to him, was punching the other guy in the face repeatedly.  That would have left injuries on Martin that didn’t exist if Zimmerman had been the one on top.

Therefore, the evidence supports that Zimmerman was the one on the bottom, and there is a reasonable explanation for why Martin wouldn’t have had blood on his fists.

This also explains the lacerations on the back and top of Zimmerman’s head.

Given these facts, the prosecution actually had to change their story mid-trial.  Now, Zimmerman wasn’t beating Martin until he, in a rage, pulled his gun and shot the kid.  Now, Martin was finished beating Zimmerman and getting off of him when Zimmerman pulled his gun and fired.  Let’s leave aside the fact that Zimmerman’s changing stories – stories that changed, probably, because he honestly didn’t know what the Hell was happening while he was being beaten – prove his guilt, while apparently the prosecution’s changing stories – that changed because the evidence blatantly didn’t support them – is perfectly acceptable to those who believe Zimmerman guilty of murder.

The fact is that you’re asking a jury to decide if they can say, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a reasonable individual who has just been punched in the face repeatedly and had his nose broken would not believe his life was in danger.  Even if Martin were getting off of him (a movement that is also, by the way, consistent with the ‘oh shit, he’s got a gun!’ reaction, not just with getting off of Zimmerman because he was satisfied that the fight was over), would the reasonable response be to think “oh, he’s done punching me, yay! I can go put some ice on this!”

Or to think “oh shit, what’s he going to do to me now?”

At this point, the gun is drawn, and the trigger pulled.  And, were I on that jury, I would need a Hell of a lot of *good* evidence to prove that Zimmerman wasn’t thinking “oh shit, what now?” rather than “I’m gonna kill that punk!”

In order to convict Zimmerman, that is what you have to believe.  That no reasonable person would have thought they were about to be killed in that situation, intentionally or otherwise.

It doesn’t matter if Zimmerman followed Martin; he had just as much right to be walking around that neighborhood as Martin did.  If he’d stayed in his car, like the operator told him to, it wouldn’t have happened.  But by the same token, if Martin had gone into his house, like his friend told him to… it wouldn’t have happened.

Zimmerman believed that Martin might have been one of the people conducting a rash of B&E’s lately.  Martin believed that Zimmerman was a creepy pervert who wanted to kidnap him.  On the second call we hear Zimmerman (presumably) belligerently asking Martin “what are you doing around here?”  Martin doesn’t respond with “My Dad lives down the street, I’m walking home.”  We can’t really tell what his response is.  If Zimmerman threw the first punch, then there’s a possible case for manslaughter.  But then, why weren’t there signs that Martin had been struck?

Maybe Zimmerman threw the first punch and missed?

But now you’re doing something that jurors are not allowed to do; you’re making the facts fit the case, not the case fit the facts.

The undisputed evidence supports both men ignoring good advice that would have avoided a confrontation.  A fight started, and absent strong evidence of who started it, we have to dismiss that question.  During the course of that fight, the evidence supports Martin getting the upper hand, and beginning to beat Zimmerman’s face, consequently making his head strike the cement sidewalk.  Zimmerman, for whatever reason, pulls his gun and shoots Martin, fatally.  Absent strong evidence that such a belief would be ridiculous, the jury has to assume that Zimmerman’s stated fear that his life was in danger was fundamentally true.

Because in our system of justice, Zimmerman is innocent until the prosecution proves otherwise.  Not until the media proves it.  Not until Martin’s grieving family stops believing it.  But until the prosecution proves what was in his heart.

In order to argue that this was murder, you have to argue that Zimmerman killed Martin out of spite, hatred, or anger, rather than a reasonable fear for his life.  Which means that you have to argue that Martin was not the one who was on top of Zimmerman and beating his face at the moment Zimmerman pulled his gun.

Nobody saw that happen, and there is no conclusive evidence to the contrary.  As a matter of fact, all the evidence except for one piece supports Zimmerman’s story, and that one piece does not conclusively disprove the rest.

Ergo, this wasn’t murder.

In order to argue that this was even manslaughter, I believe that you would have to prove that Zimmerman threw the first punch.  And, again, there is nothing that conclusively proves that.

Ergo… legally, this wasn’t manslaughter.

Do I believe it may have been?

Yes, it may have been.  But I don’t have enough proof of who threw that first punch to say that there is no reasonable doubt.  And there isn’t enough evidence to say that the first punch wasn’t thrown justifiably.  Given how most fistfights start, it was a rapid escalation of force from the point where Zimmerman shouts, to one of them pushes the other, to one of them punching the other.  With no proof of who it was that did anything except shouting.

When somebody’s shouting at you, there is a perfectly reasonable response to that.  You answer them.  If somebody comes up, screaming “what are you doing around here,” you tell them.  That ends the confrontation without a fight.  It makes them look like an idiot, and maybe it escalates because they don’t let it drop back down.

But how can you say that there is no reasonable doubt that that is what happened?

And, in order to convict Zimmerman of even the mildest charge leveled against him… that’s what you have to prove happened.

No matter if Zimmerman was 29, 19, or 9.  No matter if he was hispanic, white, asian, or black himself.  No matter if Martin was black, white, or another hispanic.  No matter if he was 17, 7, or 27.

If Martin had been the one carrying a legal firearm, who pulled it and fired in the course of a fistfight with somebody he believed was a potential kidnapper, I would say the verdict should have come out the same way.  Would it have?

That’s a question about the other flaws in our legal system, and for another post.

But this isn’t a travesty of justice.  It’s not proof that our legal system is broken.  It’s not proof of deeply ingrained racism in America that makes it okay to gun down an unarmed black child if you’re an armed white man.  It’s not sending a message that you can stalk and murder black children and just call it self-defense.

These are all things that I’ve heard this verdict called, and it’s not any of them.

It’s proof that, sometimes, the jury can come to the only verdict that makes logical sense when held to the incredibly high standards of a criminal conviction.

This was a tragedy, no argument there.  One person already paid for it with his life.  George Zimmerman has paid for it with the fact that he’s going to have to spend the rest of his life worrying about whether or not somebody might decide that they need to “self-defend” against him.

Did this have to happen?  No.  Whose fault was it that it happened?  Zimmerman’s fault for not staying in his car?  Martin’s fault for not getting in his house?  Zimmerman’s fault for bringing his gun?  Martin’s fault for not attempting to de-escalate the confrontation?

Maybe it was the fault of both.  Maybe it was the fault of a society that needs to have somebody to blame for anything that goes wrong.  Maybe it was the fault of whoever conducted those B&E’s for creating an atmosphere where Zimmerman was looking for anybody who had the least sign of maybe being a criminal.  Maybe it was the fault of a society that stratifies itself in such a way that people feel the desire to commit crimes to get ahead, rather than to acknowledge that their victims are just as human as they are.

Maybe it was nobody’s fault; random chance and statistics combining to create a perfect storm of events that resulted in a senseless, meaningless tragedy.  B&E’s here that put Zimmerman on edge, horror stories about kidnappers there that put Martin on edge.

Chaos and butterflies, cooking up another way to polarize our society, to inject a little more entropy into the human condition.

We have laws in an attempt to hold back chaos and butterflies.  And our society decided long ago that, in order to inflict the least harm to the innocent, it was best to set high standards that justice demands must be met in order to mete out punishment.

This was a tragedy.

But tragedy isn’t against the law.

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I don’t see what’s so surprising about this….

April 3, 2013 at 9:39 pm (Politics, Religion) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

The media’s all in a hubbub today about Rep. Louis Gohmert of (of course) Texas.  And it’s all about the following comment (all quotes sourced from CBS News, just so nobody accuses me of piracy!):

“Well, once you make it 10, then why would you draw the line at 10? What’s wrong with nine? Or 11?” he asked, referring to the possibility of banning high-capacity ammunition clips for non-military citizens. “And the problem is once you draw that limit; it’s kind of like marriage when you say it’s not a man and a woman anymore, then why not have three men and one woman, or four women and one man, or why not, you know, somebody has a love for an animal?”

“There is no clear place to draw the line once you eliminate the traditional marriage and it’s the same once you, you draw, you remove, the – or you start putting limits on what guns can be used, then it’s just really easy to have laws that make them all illegal,” he added.

I mean, really, I don’t see what everybody’s so confused about.  It’s very simple and straightforward.  I refer, of course, to Rep. Gohmert, rather than his tortured logic.  But, lest you assume that he was trying to bash homosexuals while making a poorly thought out argument against gun control, his spokesperson Kimberly Willingham reassures us:

“He was clearly making the slippery-slope argument that if the factual definition of marriage, that pre-exists governments instituted by men, is changed to suit the desires of the few, then there is no limit to where the lines are drawn,” she said.

Because, you know, there’s one universal definition of marriage out there, all across the vast history and cultures of mankind, and even beyond!  Marriage is factually defined, and predates governments, which were instituted by men.

And you know, she’s right!  Marriage does pre-exist governments, and other things instituted by men!  Just look at how common monogamous, heterosexual relationships are among God’s other creations!  Why, just the other day, I had to turn down an invitation to the wedding of two charming squirrels down the road.  You see, one of them was a grey squirrel, and the other one was a black squirrel.  Now, I’m not against the mixing of the blood, but it’s very clear in the Bible that marriage is supposed to be within your own tribe, not with outsiders.

That, and I was a little worried that I might run into Rep. Gohmert on the buffet table.

Now, after reading all of that, you might be joining some of my friends in being ashamed that you share the same species as good ol’ Louis.  Well, I’ve got a theory about that.

You see, I’ve got this idea that’s forming in my head.  Gohmert and his ilk are actually trying to become a separate species, homo phobiens!  Note, if you will, the common shared species traits that aren’t held in common with the more common, and typically more evolutionarily successful, homo sapiens!

  • Tend to gather in insular communities of their own kind
  • Interbreed almost exclusively within their own kind
    • This is a clear precursor to speciation, when they will lose the ability to interbreed with homo sapiens altogether.
    • Note, if you will, the photograph of Rep. Gohmert in the linked article; I’d say he’s pretty good evidence that this point may not be that far off now.
  • Successfully occupy a very specific, very narrow ecological  niche in which homo sapiens cannot or will not compete (every ecology needs its bottom feeders)
  • Random mutations become more pronounced in the biological community
    • Consider, if you will, the impressive ability to truly believe in an omnipotent creator who can be stopped cold by an 1/8th of an inch of latex, clear evidence that the portion of the cranium devoted to the brain has begun to shrink to accommodate the larger mouth typical of the ecological niche they are attempting to fill!
    • Another branch of this species is clearly developing a very peculiar evolutionary trait, born with a natural body configuration that puts their head in closer proximity to the source of that which they consume.  I dub this sub-species homo phobiens ouroborous.

I could go further, but really, the evidence speaks for itself.  Unfortunately, I doubt that this new species is long for this world.  Their natural environment is constantly being eroded away in the name of progress and, eventually, there simply won’t be enough left for them to eat without being forced beneath a sustainable population.  Like the dodo bird, homo phobiens will be wiped out by another species that fills their ecological niche, perhaps a resurgence in the population of hobo sapiens.  I like to think that, when it happens, they will have no more understanding of their fate than that last dodo, standing there vapidly staring at the onrushing destruction of its species, wondering if this new creature with the long stick that made booming noises was friendly.

But honestly, I think they know it.  Consider, if you will, the sheer amount of effort expended to avoid being taught about evolution.  Clearly, they simply cannot accept the inevitability of their own extinction.

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BSTS Doctrine

February 5, 2013 at 9:34 pm (Politics)

From the pages of Blatant Parody News:

In a 16-page document leaked to NBC, the Obama Administration has laid out new guidelines for self-defense.

These new standards, referred to as the BSTS Doctrine, are based off of standards established during the Bush Administration, and state that self-defense is justifiable under the following conditions:

  1. You have reason to believe the person is constantly planning to cause harm to you or people you are protecting.
  2. You don’t have any proof that they’re not trying to harm you or people you are protecting anymore.
  3. Non-violent means of preventing such harm isn’t feasible.
  4. You’re not mean about it, and you don’t try to catch anybody else in the crossfire.  But, hey, if it just so happens to happen… their fault for being near somebody who wanted to cause harm to you, right?

The Department of Justice would also like to make clear that, no, you don’t have to share your reasons for believing the target intends to harm you with anybody else, and nobody else has to agree with you.  And ‘isn’t feasible’ is legal speak for ‘I don’t like the odds.’  These new guidelines are expected to work in conjunction with new rules on publicly-available armaments to prevent future tragedies.

The administration also repeated its request that Congress ban assault-style semiautomatic weapons, on the grounds that such weapons have no legitimate lawful use. However, in order to ease gun owner’s concerns that their ability to defend themselves is at stake, controls for unmanned drone bombers will be made available to law-abiding consumers, without the need for background checks or waiting periods. After all, in cases like these, there’s simply no time or place for that sort of oversight.  The control kits will be available at Wal-Mart in the sporting goods section, right where you used to be able to purchase a ridiculously overpowered firearm like the Bushmaster.

On the off-chance that you haven’t figured it out by now… please get help if you believed that.  They make some really good drugs these days, though I’m not honestly sure if they have a cure for stupid yet.  If they do… could we start pumping that into the water supply along with the fluoride?  Y’know, just a thought?

The government would never let that sort of ridiculous laxity about self defense fly, and the firepower is way beyond what would be appropriate to protect yourself from an unarmed individual, especially on the grounds of “because we can’t prove they’re not trying to hurt us.”

Unless, of course, you’re the US government, in which case it’s obvious that national and international law allows this.

I’ve read the memo, all 16 pages of it, and… God almighty, people.

Y’know what really pisses me off about this?  This, and all the other bullshit that has been going on in the name of the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the War to Protect Americans from Scary Things They Can’t Point At On a Map, is basically being treated as business as usual.  The ACLU is bitching about it, but we’re too focused on the War on Gun Violence to really worry about this for more than one or two days, I’m sure.  Because, you know, guns are Scary Things that We Can’t Point To on a Map.  Besides, the government is doing this to protect us, it’s horrible, but how else are we going to stay safe?

How about a little history lesson, hmm?  Oh, and before you scream “CONSPIRACY NUT,” go look up the things I’m talking about here.  These are all matters of public record, undeniable fact that has been established for decades.

Here’s a secret that’s been kept from the U.S. public for a very, very long time.  The Cuban Missile Crisis was actually not caused by a rogue mutant mind-controlling individuals on both sides of the Iron Curtain, nor was it stopped by a group of other, spandex-clad mutants going in and doing so with reluctant government aid!  No, it was caused by folks at the CIA deciding that the appropriate way to fight the Scary Thing They Couldn’t Point To on a Map called Communism was to try ousting Castro by sending in Cuban expatriates with U.S. air and sea support.

The problem was, Kennedy didn’t particularly want to offer that sort of support, believing that doing so would be a blatant act of war.  Due to his shortsighted interpretations of national and international law, no doubt completely unsupported by DOJ memos, the coup (called the “Bay of Pigs,” in case you missed the day in history class they mentioned this) failed spectacularly.  Castro realized that the U.S. apparently wasn’t fond of him, and called the U.S.S.R. to ask if they could do anything.  The Soviets, with a resounding “da, comrade!” shipped over some nukes and parked them off the coast of Cuba, where the world proceeded to go nuts over whether or not we were going to find out how radiation-proof cockroaches really were.

In case you missed the news in the last decade or five, we didn’t.  The Mythbusters would have to come along later to test that theory.  Now, I’m no fan of Castro, but when you’ve just had the guns of one of the world’s top superpowers pointed at you, I can’t really blame you for asking the other top superpower to come in and point their guns at the one that’s aiming your way.

Of course, this wasn’t the CIA’s first time at the rodeo.  It’s understandable that they thought they could do this, really.  I mean… their predecessors had done it back before WWI, when the US Army pacified nations for the benefit of the United Fruit Company or Brown Brothers Banking firm, and the CIA had gotten into the act in Guatemala and Honduras.

They were so good at this that, in the 50’s, UK intelligence forces came over and asked our intelligence services for help with some problems they were having in this little country called Iran.  Y’see, they’d had one of those pesky ‘democratic elections’ that were all the rage back then, and elected somebody who didn’t much like British oil companies using Iranian oil reserves for their own purposes.  Instead, he nationalized the oil industry, and kicked the British petroleum companies (wonder what it was called?) to the curb.  The CIA helped the UK arrange Operation: Boot, which ousted the populist rulers of Iran and installed this fella called the Shah.  He made sure that Iranian oil companies were favorable to his backers in exchange for our ignoring the odd human rights violation.  Later on, for some reason, Iran had a revolution, took some hostages, and CIA operatives were forced to help embassy workers masquerade as a Canadian film crew in order to escape.  This served to create a Scary Thing That… Well, That We Actually Can Point to on a Map.  Relations between the US and Iran have basically been a few steps short of open warfare ever since, with minor points of dispute like the US selling weapons to some guy named Saddam Hussein helping to rattle the cage once in a while.

But frankly, it was only fair that we sold weapons to Saddam Hussein, right?  After all, we’d sold weapons to Iran during that whole ‘hostage crisis’ thing (where we negotiated for the safety of the embassy workers and students who weren’t lucky enough to escape the Revolution on their own).  This would eventually come to be known as the Iran-Contra scandal.  And, while the Iran part of it is pretty clear, the Contra part is a little trickier.

You see, it basically refers to when the the CIA created the modern drug war by going into business dealing cocaine on epic levels in order to fund a war against their favorite Scary Thing We Can’t Point To on a Map, Communism.  Though, again, they could point to it on a map in this case – it was in Nicaragua, where   The CIA didn’t sell the cocaine, of course, but they did train the Contras and help them to sell cocaine, which the CIA then turned into weapons for the Contras, and a few extra to be smuggled to Iran.

As for the Contras, they were just the latest in a long string of gross abusers of human rights who the US supported because they weren’t pinko Commie scum.  But, despite their best efforts, the Sandinista government’s horrific crimes of promoting mass literacy, social spending, and encouraging gender equality weren’t stopped  until the 90’s or so, when democratic elections led to a (brief) loss of the Presidency, though the FLSN remains one of the leading powers in the Nicaraguan legislature.

Of course, the number of lives ruined and lost because of the War on Drugs is astronomical, the bill runs up into the trillions, but at least we’ve managed to create a massive black market of vice crime that we’ll be fighting for eternity, guaranteeing a continuous stream of tax dollars to law enforcement, along with an almost limitless number of designer cars, yachts, high-power firearms, mansions, and other properties confiscated from drug dealers to be sold at auction.  Hasn’t done a damned thing to stop drug abuse, but hey, at least we’re doing something about it!

As for the War on Gun Violence, the jury’s still out on whether or not we’re going to have the FBI taking the tanks out again.  For the younguns in the audience, the end of this month marks the 20th anniversary of the raid in Waco, Texas, where the ATF decided to stage a raid on a facility where they believed automatic weapons were being illegally manufactured, rather than arresting the ringleader during his trip into town earlier in the week.  April 19th will be the 20th anniversary of the day the tanks rolled in, and 76 people (including women and children) were killed in a fire that was, officially, started by the people inside the compound, and totally not by the tanks firing toxic levels of flammable CS gas into a building where they knew open flames were being used for lighting.

The end result of that little incident involving our government was that, a couple of years later, a young man named Timothy McVeigh decided to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City as an act of vengeance.

What’s the point of all this, and what does it have to do with drone strikes?

No matter what you think of the people we’re opposing – whether you think they’re Commie scum, lunatic fringe menaces, or the Messiahs themselves, you can’t deny that the U.S. Government has a very bad track record of doing Bad Things for (hypothetically, if you agree with them) Good Reasons.  And when they do these things… mysteriously, they almost always blow up in our faces!  

Not that the U.S. is alone in this.  I’d kind of say that 9/11 is a really, really good example of somebody who isn’t the U.S. government doing this, and having it blow up in their faces spectacularly… and literally, in many cases.

But yet, the U.S. Government still does Bad Things for (hypothetically, if you agree with them) Good Reasons, expecting the best of results to come out of it.

Tell me… just what was that whole “definition of insanity” thing again?  Doing the same thing the same way multiple times and expecting… what now?

Whatever you think about the people who are being attacked, whatever you think about the DOJ explanation of the legal justification for unmanned drone strikes, here are the problems.

  1. There is no limitation on this power, except for the people who order the strikes themselves.  No trials, no warrants, no nothing.
  2. The conservative estimate is something like 25% collateral damage – that means that for every four people we kill with an unmanned drone strike, on average one of them will be a civilian who wasn’t a terrorist at all.  Which, when you think about it, might be one of the few recruiting tools that Al Qa’ida has left at this point in time!
  3. Even if those people don’t turn into motives to join Al Qa’ida… not even the “senior administration officials” who authorize these strikes believe that we have any justification to kill 25% of the people they’re killing beyond “whoops!”
  4. The last time I checked, “whoops” is considered a very poor justification to kill somebody.  Just sayin’.

And our government is justifying this by saying… what?  Read the memo again.

The “BSTS” doctrine that I mentioned in my introduction isn’t an actual acronym.  It stands for “Better Safe Than Sorry,” because that is the exact justification being used.  The qualifications to get droned require that:

  • A “senior official” have reason to believe that you are a member of Al Qa’ida or a related group known to be constantly plotting attacks against the US.
  • They have to not have proof that you aren’t doing so.
  • They have to feel that it is not feasible to capture you, which could mean that you’re holed up in a Dr. Evil-style supervillain lair bristling with anti-personnel weaponry and wearing armor made of orphans and kittens… or it could mean that the odds of somebody trying to capture you getting hurt or killed are too high for that senior official’s liking.
  • It has to be consistent with the rules of war, which the DOJ believes to mean, in this case, that we’re not capturing and then killing them, we’re just killing them.  Preferably quickly, and with some thought about whether or not civilians are caught in the crossfire.

All of this to kill people we haven’t even put to trial.  To kill U.S. citizens we haven’t even put to trial.  They justify this by saying, basically, that Congress did say “any and all necessary force” to take down Al Qa’ida and their associates, and since we’re at war with something you can’t point to on a map, we can effectively define the “combat zone” where civilians are acceptable collateral damage as “anywhere we believe we can find terrorists.”  Without any oversight, and actually specifically stating that judicial oversight is a patently ridiculous idea, because “due process” is an unnecessary burden on the process of blowing the ever-loving shit out of people we “have reason to believe” need to have the shit blown out of them before they blow the shit out of us.  The memo specifically states that it has no advice to offer whatsoever on what constitutes a minimum threshhold for “imminent threat,” except that it doesn’t require that we actually know where, when, how, or even necessarily if an attack is going to take place, just that we can’t prove one isn’t going to.  It actually goes into some detail to justify that argument!

And people seriously wonder why some folks in the US are scared shitless of our own government.

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A little extra food for thought….

January 9, 2013 at 9:43 pm (Politics) (, , , , , , , , )

My last post on here was a bit of home-brew analysis of readily available stats related to gun ownership and death rates.

Turns out, I could have just pointed everybody to this handy paper by the folks at Harvard Law.

In particular, I would like to draw attention to the following statement, which emphasizes the point of the article:

Although the reason is thus obscured, the undeniable result is that violent crime, and homicide in particular, has plummeted in the United States over the past 15 years.

The fall in the American crime rate is even more impressive when compared with the rest of the world. In 18 of the 25 countries surveyed by the British Home Office, violent crime increased during the 1990s.

This contrast should induce thoughtful people to wonder what happened in those nations, and to question policies based on the notion that introducing increasingly more restrictive firearm ownership laws reduces violent crime.

The point is this; gun control advocates believe that reducing or eliminating the presence of guns (or certain types of guns) will reduce violent crimes.  On the contrary, the evidence would seem to suggest that there is, at best, no correlation whatsoever between gun ownership and the homicide rate, once you stop limiting your data set to firearm-related deaths.  Reducing the number of firearms-related homicides and suicides doesn’t really matter if the people who are looking to kill just find another method to do so, and the data indicates that’s exactly what happens.

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Tragedy in CT

December 14, 2012 at 7:18 pm (Politics) (, , , , )

Before I go into anything else, let me make this clear:

What happened today in Newton, CT was a tragedy.  What I am about to say is not in any way intended to diminish that fact, but instead to ask a simple question; what are we supposed to do about it?

In my Twitter feed following the news, there were a lot of people calling for something to be done, preferably in the form of getting rid of guns.  As one person I follow said, “in Finland in 2009, there were approximately 4 deaths per 100,000 people.  In the US, it was an order of magnitude larger.  When will something be done?”

As another said, “this is exactly the time to be having this discussion – nobody wants to have it unless a tragedy has happened, and then we’re told to STFU!  When else are we going to have it?”

Well, here I am, having it.  I expect some people will think I’m callous for coming to the defense of gun ownership the very day of the nation’s second-worst school shooting, but as my friend said… when else are we going to have it?

First off, I’d like to address an order of accuracy.  In 2009, according to my quick Wikipedia research, the WHO said that Finland had 3.6 deaths per 100,000 people due to gun-related injuries.  This classification includes people killed in officer-involved shootings, accidents, suicides, any gun-related injury.

The same article cites 9.0 over the period 2008-2010, while the Kaiser State Health Institute cites 10.1 in 2009 specifically.  Neither of these numbers represents “an order of magnitude,” which would imply 36 deaths per 100,000, over 3 times the actual statistic.  I’m just asking for a bit less hyperbole when discussing these issues – “almost three times as high” is bad enough, don’t go saying it’s 10x worse.

Let’s take a closer look at some of those stats though.  Interestingly, looking at the Wikipedia article, there are no figures given for how Finland’s numbers break down in terms of suicide, homicide (“Any killing of one human being by another”) or accidents.  But if you look at the US numbers, over half of the deaths are suicides, so excluding those brings the gun death rate down to comparable to Finland’s.  So if the lack of breakdown indicates that the deaths due to suicides or accidents were statistically negligible, that actually raises some serious questions regarding the effect of the availability of firearms on homicide rates.  However, I think it’s more likely that the WHO simply didn’t break down the numbers for Finland, while the OAS did in the US.

A more interesting statistic, and looking at things from an apples-to-apples perspective in terms of source data, is what we find at the Kaiser State Health Institute.

10.1/100,000 firearms-related deaths in 2009.  Roughly a .0101% chance, one in 10,000, of dying because of any gun-related injury.

The fatality rate due to motor vehicle accidents?  11.7/100,000 for the same time period.  Roughly the same, but a bit higher.

In my state, Wisconsin?  An avid hunting state, with a lot of firearms?  Firearms-related fatalities are 7.9/100,000, while motor vehicle accidents killed 10.1/100,000.  Which means that, while you’re less likely to die of either in Wisconsin, you’re more than 25% more likely to die because of a car crash than because you’ve been shot.

Sticking with the car comparison, a radio host I heard on the way home was talking about how 18,000,000 guns were sold last year alone, and this number is staggering evidence of how out-of-control and gun-crazy our society is.  Well, in the interests of statistical accuracy, I’m going to sliiiiiide our numbers back to 2009 again.

In 2009, in the throes of a recession, Ammoland says that we sold approximately 14,000,000 guns here in the US!  Isn’t that an awful, awful lot?

With approximately 305,000,000 people in the US in 2009, we come out to approximately… 3,050 sets of 100,000 people, so… 30,805 gun-related deaths in the country (BTW – go ahead, check my math!  I make mistakes sometimes.  I am, however, an accountant, so….)

That means that each of those 14 million guns was responsible for .0022 deaths.  So for every 450-ish guns sold, a person died.  That’s pretty horrible, I’ll admit.

Now, in 2009, the BBC says  that “just over 10 million” new cars were sold in the US.  New, mind you, not all cars, so we’re excluding the used car market.  But let’s say that “just over 10 million” means that it was within a rounding error’s margin – within 50,000, or about .05% of the number.  So that’s about 10,050,000 cars sold.

With 11.7 car deaths per 100,000 people, we have 35,685 deaths in 2009 from motor vehicle accidents, or approximately .00355 people killed by every new car, or one person killed for every 280-ish cars sold.

Which means that a new car is approximately 1.6 times more likely – that’s over 160% more likely – to kill somebody than a gun is.

And yet, when there’s a pileup, I rarely hear people talk about outlawing cars.

All of this is a nice little intellectual exercise, but doesn’t answer the core question of “how do we stop these sort of tragedies from happening?”  And we don’t know enough about the Newton shooting to say anything yet.  Were those guns bought legally in the first place?  Did the shooter have a history of mental illness?  It seems likely that he murdered his mother in addition to the others he shot at the school (where she worked), so how does that play in?

But that’s looking at this specific incident and dissecting it.  Let’s take a look at the broader picture, and what do we see?  We see that a lot of these shooters are people who have serious mental illness – no surprise there, I would submit that you are probably pretty typically insane if your idea of a reasonable course of action is to go out and murder as many people as you can.  So maybe we should focus on that end of things, more than on the gun end.  Yes, to some extent, on making sure that people with certain mental diagnoses don’t get guns – schizophrenics and paranoiacs, for example.  But moreover, how about on focusing on changing our society’s view of mental illness?

These days, a lot of people who desperately need mental help don’t want it.  Not because they can’t afford it, but because our society treats mental illness like a character defect or a weakness, something shameful that needs to be hidden.  Maybe if we can fix that, if we can start treating the mentally ill like… well… people who are ill, and need to receive proper treatment, we can keep them from becoming dangers to themselves, or others.

If Holmes had been diagnosed as the schizotypal/bipolar individual he seems to have been, and had received proper treatment, maybe it would have stopped the Aurora shooting.  Maybe it would have at least kept him from buying an assault rifle.  Maybe it wouldn’t have.

But it might have stopped a lot of other tragedies.  Not all of them, I’ll admit, but the same with outlawing firearms.  It won’t stop every shooting.

But here’s something that we have to grow up and recognize, as a society.  Freedom means that bad things can happen as well as good things.  Security is not intrinsically at odds with liberty, but total security requires no liberty.  And we need to decide, consciously, which one matters more to us.  Before you ask the government to fix our gun problem, consider what happened when we asked it to fix our terrorist problem.

The TSA still hasn’t caught a single terrorist, but a few days ago they interrogated a 12 year old in a wheelchair because she had “explosives residue” on her hands (read: anything from fingernail polish to fertilizer).

Our President is working on establishing a set of rules for drone strikes against suspected terrorists.  Which means that people he’s chosen and who are accountable pretty much only to him will decide whether or not he gets to tell somebody to go blow up a US citizen who hasn’t been convicted of a crime, and then to go blow up one of his kids three weeks later.

And, the last time we asked the government to fix our gun problem, over 76 people died at Waco, Texas, and on TV no less as government tanks rolled into the buildings, firing enough flammable tear gas into the building in the course of two hours to keep it filled for two days, and possibly mixing an incendiary grenade or two in there as well by mistake; there is literally no way to know because of lax munitions management.  Of course, why they even were given incendiary grenades to fire is another issue, but that’s a matter for another post.

Me… I think it’s about time that we sit back, take a deep breath… and try to fix our bad things happening by solving a root cause, rather than the end result.

Care to debate me?  There’s a comments section on here for a reason, people!  Have at it.

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Happy Holidays!

November 12, 2012 at 8:44 pm (Uncategorized)

From Bloomberg to the homeless of a storm-devastated New York….

Happy Holidays!

New York City is no longer taking private donations to food pantries and homeless shelters.  Why?  Because they can’t properly monitor the salt, fat, sugar, and other elements of nutritional content in them.

So, did you bake some extra pies this Thanksgiving, hoping to bring a smile to the face of somebody who has damned little to be thankful for?  Tough luck.

Delis that have been donating fresh kosher bagels?  Gor!

That nice Polish family down the street who makes the kitchen pierogies every week?  Nie ma szans!

The food that you’ve been preparing for generations, from recipes passed down from one nation to the next, that you’ve spent the time and the trouble to prepare for charity, out of the goodness of your own heart, isn’t good enough for starving, desperate people out in the cold to eat.

So it’s Campbell’s for everybody, I guess!  Sure, the cans are coated with enough BPA to make even the manufacturers of those trendy metal bottles throw up their hands and shout “whaddaya want from us,” but at least you know that you’re getting a product primarily flavored with salt and chicken byproduct.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the reasons why I’m just a teensy, tiny bit leery of letting the government run my health care.  You see, part of the justification for this bullshit is always going to be “well, it makes people less healthy, which drives up health care costs!”  Or, alternately, “people can’t be trusted to make healthy decisions, so we need to make the decisions for them!”

That’s what they said in New York when they limited the size of sodas that people were allowed to buy.  That’s what they said when they limited the amount of salt that restaurants were allowed to use, or when they ban smoking, or trans-fats.

That’s what they say when they argue for spending a trillion dollars and thousands of lives on a War on Drugs that isn’t working.  It’s the basic argument behind virtually every attempt to create a new manner of “victimless crime.”

“You want us to pay for X.  Your bad decisions make X more expensive.  Therefore, in order to keep our costs down, we have to ban bad decisions.

“Oh, and please ignore the fact that after I retire from this job, I’m going to be getting a high-paying ‘job’ with one of the lobbying groups that put a lot of pressure behind passing these bills.  Also ignore that these groups are frequiently financed by industries that are forced to compete with whatever it is that we’re banning.  Because I’m doing this for the people, and you should be ashamed of yourself for even thinking otherwise!”

If we really want to go taking a trip down Slippery Slope, this same sort of logic was used to justify all sorts of other nasty behavior by the government.  Note the critical phrase in that paper:  “people supported in institutions or ‘maintained wholly or in part by public expense.’” (Emphasis mine.)  When the government is paying for everybody’s health care… or, for that matter, everybody’s anything, then everybody is maintained wholly or in part by public expense, which has been argued for years to give the government the ability to override whatever Constitutional concerns might be raised.

Now, yes, neo-eugenics is well down Slippery Slope Road.  But a federal-level ban on trans-fats?  Good bye, vegetable oil.  A federal level “vested interest” in fighting obesity on an all new level?  Hello, fat tax!

Ultimately, it all boils down to this.  How much are you willing to give up your liberty, in exchange for being able to say that it’s not your problem, because the government’s going to take care of it?

Just remember Sandy-ravaged New York City, and how it’s done so much to make Big Food thankful this November.

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I know I’m not the first…. (Though I may be one of the rantiest.)

May 24, 2012 at 7:28 pm (Uncategorized)

I know I’m not the first to talk about this. Hardly the first. I hope that I might be the last, because I’d like to pretend that after posting this that Pastor Charles Worley will realize what a hideous, bigoted waste of human flesh he appears to be, and recant what he said. And actually mean it. But I’m pretty damned sure that he won’t.

For those of you who haven’t seen the video yet, here you go. I’ll warn you in advance; this video almost made me physically ill when I watched it, and without a single offensive image.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=d2n7vSPwhSU

Here’s the problem. As if I have to say it.

“Build a great big large fence… put all the lesbians in there… Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out…”
“…And you know what, in a few years, they’ll die out… Do you know why? They can’t reproduce.”

Now, before I go into my usual, vitriolic, rage-filled ranting mode that people like this put me into, let me politely and cogently point out the following. If you want to skip through the part where I’m trying to be reasonable, just search for the word “vitriol.”

Pastor Charles Worley… your plan won’t work. It really just… won’t. You want to know why?

History says it won’t work. This has been attempted multiple times in the past; the Church tried to kill off homosexuals with the Inquisition (and several other methods). Hitler tried your method. Dictators throughout history have tried your method. When Hitler tried it, it actually resulted in an *increase* in the number of gays and lesbians born in the following decade or so – fun fact! But this plan never works. And here’s the simple, undeniable, logical reason why.

All those gays and lesbians? Their parents weren’t homosexuals themselves, honest. At least not in the vast majority of situations. I mean… that’s kind of how it works out logically, right? Their parents had to have sex with each other, and your whole approach is basically built around the idea that homosexuals can’t do that.

Now, logically, this kind of raises the point that just rounding up the world’s gay and lesbian population won’t work. But, of course, I’m sure you would pose that all subsequent homosexual individuals born should be packed away too. And I’m just going to assume that you’d like to pack off all bisexual and straight transsexual individuals as well, on the basis of biological gender segregation since we pesky bis and those transsexuals still attracted to the biologically opposite gender would fuck up (words used *most* intentionally, I assure you) the whole “they can’t reproduce” argument.

But here is where the heart of your argument reveals itself as morally and theologically hollow. Your argument seems to work on the idea that children born to homosexual parents would themselves be homosexual, and that by preventing homosexuals from reproducing we can “breed out” the undesired trait. And yet, this poses the idea that homosexuality is genetic in nature.

In other words… God *made* homosexuals. So you’re entire argument is based around the idea that we need to gather together God’s children and wait for them to die off… because you think that God fucked up.

Now, I’m sure that you’re going to trot out the argument that God didn’t make homosexuals, and that it’s a choice. Or that, even if he did, Leviticus 18:22 says that he wants them wiped out anyway (by the way, how’s that shrimp dinner tasting? When *did* you last burn an oxen as an offering? And have you been sure to have that all the women who’ve been raped in your parish have been properly stoned to death if the rapist wasn’t caught in the act?)

All of this while claiming to worship and love a being who said to treat others as you would be treated. Who preached that a lowly Samaritan was a greater man than a fleet of wealthy churchgoers and priests, because he stopped to love his fellow man as he would be loved himself. Who preached that one must love thy neighbor *as* thyself, without saying “unless, of course, your neighbor sucks dick and doesn’t have tits.”

Oh, I’m sorry folks. The vitriol is coming out again, in case you didn’t notice.

All of this is, of course, invalid, because we live in a country where religion doesn’t dictate our legal structure, unlike such forward-thinking nations as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Because of this, you and your morally bankrupt brethen are theological scholars, not legal experts… though, frankly, I suspect that you at least have a better grasp on law than you do on theology, since you did at least recognize that you’d never get your plan past the legislature. The Republican-dominated (in the House, at least) legislature, so you might want to rethink casting this as a party-based issue.

So, your only options are to either pack every possible political post you can manage with people as far to the right as yourself, which won’t happen because, as I think you realize, you’re in the VAST minority in your opinion… or try a legal option.

Since the problem with homosexuals is that they can’t reproduce, I recommend the following.

You take yourself, and all of your devoted followers, and everybody else who agrees with your bullshit idea, and you build a great big large fence. Hell, if you want, I’ll even suggest that we pay for the materials! You electrify that fence, just to keep us dirty homosexuals and liberals from getting in, and we’ll airlift food and supplies in to you. After all, you offered to do it for us Godless heathens, clearly it’s only fair we do it for you.

We’ll even let you expand the fence when the population demands it. Just so, y’know, we’ve got the moral high ground over you.

But you see… I don’t think we’re going to need to expand that fence. Because I’ve got a feeling that, before very long, you bunch of hateful, bigoted fucks will slaughter each other with your bare FUCKING hands, because you said that God wanted everybody to butter their toast on the top, and one of the other pathetic, attention whoring sacks of shit that walks around preaching the word of the One True God who nobody else understands but him will say that God wants everybody to butter it on the bottom, because it’s Godless heathen butter airlifted in from the outside.

I predict that if you lot were forced to actually live with each other, to live with those sad, shattered reflections of your own innate evil walking around you, you’d murder each other within a year, and that’s being damned generous with you. Those who lived? I figure you’d be drinking the almond-flavored sugary beverage of your choice within another six goddamn days, so that on the seventh day you might rest as the Lord did.

And then when you get to the pearly gates to meet whoever it is who handles admissions to Heaven? Hell, I’d give anything to be there just to see your jaws hit the fucking deck when you realize that you’re the ones being damned, because you committed the single, solitary sin that the all-forgiving, all-loving God you pretend to love so much cannot overlook.

You twisted His words, His message, into one of hatred and intolerance, completely rejecting your supposedly beloved Christ in the process.

I would give anything to be there when you realize what you’ve done, and that no amount of backpedaling is going to get you out of it, because you are dealing with a being who knows your innermost heart. And I know that that’s a vindictive, petty thought, from a somewhat vindictive and occasionally petty soul. But you know what?

I’ll still have the fucking moral high ground over you.

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