Thursday, July 2, 2015

Short Takes

Grecian Turn: Another attempt at getting out debt is proposed.

Six predominately black churches have burned in the last two weeks.

The government is investigating whether major airlines colluded on keeping prices high.

A federal judge in Alabama has ordered judges to issue marriage licenses to all comers.

R.I.P Nicholas Winton, 106, a Briton who saved nearly 700 children from the Nazis.

The Tigers lost 9-3 to the Pirates.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Short Takes

The Senate passed “fast track” and sent it on to President Obama.

Freddie Gray’s autopsy showed that he was the victim of homicide.

Boston Marathon bomber apologized to the victims before sentencing.

Over 800 people have died in a heat wave in Pakistan.

The Tigers lost to the team from Cleveland.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Reading

The Act of Forgiveness — Matt Schiavenza in The Atlantic on how an act of grace leads to healing.

“I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you,” a daughter of one victim said. “We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive,” said the sister of another. “I pray God on your soul.”

Given the heinous nature of the crime, the willingness of Charleston’s survivors to forgive was remarkable—and earned particular praise from President Obama. But the act of forgiving is more than just an expression of grace toward a wrongdoer. It’s also an effective tool in helping individuals and communities touched by tragedy accelerate the healing process.

In March, the Atlantic’s Olga Khazan profiled Everett Worthington, a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University whose mother was brutally murdered in a 1995 burglary. As it happened, Worthington’s own research examined the effects of forgiveness. So in the days after his mother’s death, he decided to employ a five-step process he had previously devised:

First, you “recall” the incident, including all the hurt. “Empathize” with the person who wronged you. Then, you give them the “altruistic gift” of forgiveness, maybe by recalling how good it felt to be forgiven by someone you yourself have wronged. Next, “commit” yourself to forgive publicly by telling a friend or the person you’re forgiving. Finally, “hold” onto forgiveness. Even when feelings of anger surface, remind yourself that you’ve already forgiven.

Worthington found that his approach worked—and that other examples confirmed his intuition. Studies have shown that forgiveness aids mental and physical health, while the opposite reaction—holding a grudge and harboring resentment—has the opposite effect. This can also be applied to entire communities touched by mass tragedy. In 2006, 32-year-old Charles Roberts stormed into a one-room schoolhouse in an Amish community in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania and shot ten girls, killing five before turning the gun on himself. Despite enormous shock and grief, several of the victims’ family members appeared at the killer’s funeral just days later. When Roberts’ aggrieved mother then announced plans to leave the community, relatives of the dead persuaded her to stay. Seven years later, CBS News reported that the elder Roberts had become the primary caregiver for a girl her son had wounded in the attack.

“Is there anything in this life that we should not forgive?” said Roberts.

An individual or community’s gift of forgiveness, however, does not obviate a society’s demand for justice. In a 2014 case described by the Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen, a Colorado prosecutor seeking the death penalty for a prison inmate charged with murdering a corrections officer engaged in a contentious dispute with the victim’s parents, who opposed capital punishment. After months of back and forth, the prosecutor finally agreed to forgo the death penalty. The defendant, whose attorneys believed him to suffer from mental illness, ultimately pled guilty and is now serving a life sentence.

In the wake of the Charleston murder, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley said that the state would “absolutely want” the death penalty for Dylann Roof. Even Roof’s own uncle said he would support his nephew’s execution, telling reporters that he’d volunteer to “be the one to push the button.”

Several months—at the very least—will pass before a judge determines Roof’s fate. But the decision of the victims’ relatives to forgive may ease some measure of their pain.

It’s Not About Mental Illness — Arthur Chu in Salon on copping out on the real problem behind mass killings by white men.

Dylann Roof is a fanboy of the South African and Rhodesian governments. As horrific as Roof’s crime was, the crimes that occurred over decades of apartheid rule were far, far worse, and committed by thousands of statesmen, bureaucrats and law enforcement officials. Were all of them also “mentally ill”? At the risk of Godwinning myself, John Nash wasn’t the only person to think the Jews were a global demonic conspiracy out to get him–at one point in history a large portion of the Western world bought into that and killed six million people because of it. Were they all “mentally ill”?

Even when violence stems purely from delusion in the mind of someone who’s genuinely totally detached from reality–which is extremely rare–that violence seems to have a way of finding its way to culturally approved targets. Yeah, most white supremacists aren’t “crazy” enough to go on a shooting spree, most misogynists aren’t “crazy” enough to murder women who turn them down, most anti-government zealots aren’t “crazy” enough to shoot up or blow up government buildings.

But the “crazy” ones always seem to have a respectable counterpart who makes a respectable living pumping out the rhetoric that ends up in the “crazy” one’s manifesto–drawing crosshairs on liberals and calling abortion doctors mass murderers–who, once an atrocity happens, then immediately throws the “crazy” person under the bus for taking their words too seriously, too literally.

And the big splashy headliner atrocities tend to distract us from the ones that don’t make headline news. People are willing to call one white man emptying five magazines and murdering nine black people in a church and openly saying it was because of race a hate crime, even if they have to then cover it up with the fig leaf of individual “mental illness”–but a white man wearing a uniform who fires two magazines at two people in a car in a “bad neighborhood” in Cleveland? That just ends up a statistic in a DoJ report on systemic bias.

And hundreds of years of history in which an entire country’s economy was set up around chaining up millions of black people, forcing them to work and shooting them if they get out of line? That’s just history.

The reason a certain kind of person loves talking about “mental illness” is to draw attention to the big bold scary exceptional crimes and treat them as exceptions. It’s to distract from the fact that the worst crimes in history were committed by people just doing their jobs–cops enforcing the law, soldiers following orders, bureaucrats signing paperwork. That if we define “sanity” as going along to get along with what’s “normal” in the society around you, then for most of history the sane thing has been to aid and abet monstrous evil.

We love to talk about individuals’ mental illness so we can avoid talking about the biggest, scariest problem of all–societal illness. That the danger isn’t any one person’s madness, but that the world we live in is mad.

After all, there’s no pill for that.

Nice Work — Christine Porath in The New York Times on how civility — and the lack of it — is damaging the American workplace.

Why is respect — or lack of it — so potent? Charles Horton Cooley’s 1902 notion of the “looking glass self” explains that we use others’ expressions (smiles), behaviors (acknowledging us) and reactions (listening to us or insulting us) to define ourselves. How we believe others see us shapes who we are. We ride a wave of pride or get swallowed in a sea of embarrassment based on brief interactions that signal respect or disrespect. Individuals feel valued and powerful when respected. Civility lifts people. Incivility holds people down. It makes people feel small.

Even though a growing number of people are disturbed by incivility, I’ve found that it has continued to climb over the last two decades. A quarter of those I surveyed in 1998 reported that they were treated rudely at work at least once a week. That figure rose to nearly half in 2005, then to just over half in 2011.

Incivility often grows out of ignorance, not malice. A surgeon told me that until he received some harsh feedback, he was clueless that so many people thought he was a jerk. He was simply treating residents the way he had been trained.

[…]

Civility elicits perceptions of warmth and competence. Susan T. Fiske, a professor at Princeton, and Amy J. C. Cuddy, a professor at Harvard, with their colleagues have conducted research that suggests that these two traits drive our impressions of others, accounting for more than 90 percent of the variation in the positive or negative impressions we form of those around us. These impressions dictate whether people will trust you, build relationships with you, follow you and support you.

The catch: There can be a perceived inverse relationship between warmth and competence. A strength in one can suggest a weakness of the other. Some people are seen as competent but cold — he’s very smart, but people will hate working for him. Or they’re seen as warm but incompetent — she’s really friendly, but probably not very smart.

Leaders can use simple rules to win the hearts and minds of their people — with huge returns. Making small adjustments such as listening, smiling, sharing and thanking others more often can have a huge impact. In one unpublished experiment I conducted, a smile and simple thanks (as compared with not doing this) resulted in people being viewed as 27 percent warmer, 13 percent more competent and 22 percent more civil.

[…]

Civility pays dividends. J. Gary Hastings, a retired judge in Los Angeles, told me that when he informally polled juries about what determined their favor, he found that respect — and how attorneys behaved — was crucial. Juries were swayed based on thin slices of civil or arrogant behavior.

Across many decisions — whom to hire, who will be most effective in teams, who will be able to be influential — civility affects judgments and may shift the balance toward those who are respectful.

Given the enormous cost of incivility, it should not be ignored. We all need to reconsider our behavior. You are always in front of some jury. In every interaction, you have a choice: Do you want to lift people up or hold them down?

Doonesbury — She’s not a scientist.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Short Takes

The New York manhunt moves to Vermont.

American killed fighting ISIS in Syria.

Papal tribunal to try bishops for negligence in abuse cases.

Florida now allows dying patients to try experimental medications.

Food for Thought: New York now requires salt warnings; San Francisco bans soda ads.

The Tigers got trounced 12-3 by the Cubs.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Kalief Browder Was Murdered

From the New York Times:

Kalief Browder was sent to Rikers Island when he was 16 years old, accused of stealing a backpack. Though he never stood trial or was found guilty of any crime, he spent three years at the New York City jail complex, nearly two of them in solitary confinement.

In October 2014, after he was written about in The New Yorker, his case became a symbol of what many saw as a broken criminal justice system. Mayor Bill de Blasio cited the article this spring when he announced an effort to clear the backlogs in state courts and reduce the inmate population at Rikers.

For a while, it appeared Mr. Browder was putting his life back together: He earned a high school equivalency diploma and started community college. But he continued to struggle with life after Rikers.

On Saturday, he committed suicide at his parents’ home in the Bronx.

Jennifer Gonnerman, the author of the article in The New Yorker, said in an interview on Monday that it appeared he was never able to recover from the years he spent locked alone in a cell for 23 hours a day.

He hanged himself, but it was the New York City jail complex that killed him.

Short Takes

At the G7 summit, President Obama pledged more help for fighting ISIS.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York thinks the escaped prisoners from Dannemora had inside help.

Former South Carolina policeman indicted for murder for shooting an unarmed man in the back.

Texas policeman put on administrative leave for pulling his gun on teens at a pool party.

The Supreme Court rules that Congress cannot tell the State Department what to put on passports.

The Tigers had the night off.  They go up against the Cubs tonight.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Monday, May 4, 2015

Short Takes

Baltimore lifts curfew.

Italians rescue 4,500 migrants at sea.

Freed Nigerian women tell of Boko Haram kidnapping horror.

Suspect charged in shooting of New York police officer.

Nepal’s bureaucracy blamed as supplies pile up.

The Tigers split the series with K.C., winning Saturday night 2-1 and last night 6-4.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Short Takes

Cuba is off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The UN voted to slap sanctions on Yemen.

Senate committee votes out legislation to give Congress a say in the Iran nuclear agreement.

Atlanta educators get prison time for cheating scandal.

Neo-Nazi charged in hate-crime murder of gay North Carolina community college staff member.

The Tigers shut out the Pirates, 2-0.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Short Takes

Iraq security forces launched another attack against ISIS.

Four former Blackwater guards were sentenced for their part in murdering people in Iraq.

A Tulsa, Oklahoma reserve deputy sheriff was charged with manslaughter in the shooting of black man over the weekend.

The Tennessee Supreme Court is halting capital punishment in the state for the rest of the year.

Good move: Indiana is hiring a P.R. firm to help restore its image.

All good things… The Tigers finally lose a game, 5-4, to the Pirates.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

It’s Not Life

Now that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been found guilty on all counts for his part in the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013, the only question seems to be what to do with him: kill him or put him in prison for the rest of his life.

I’m against the death penalty.  Not just because of my Quaker beliefs against killing, but because it’s not justice, it’s revenge, and as we’ve learned in a number of cases, it’s applied to people who turn out to be innocent.

There’s no doubt about Mr. Tsarnaev’s guilt, but the recent case of Anthony Ray Hinton in Alabama where it took thirty years to prove his innocence tell us that mistakes (and not a little prejudice) happen, and there are no backsies in capital punishment.

I have no sympathy for him and his cause, nor do I believe that he was just some impressionable kid caught up in his brother’s madness.  He’s an adult and he’s old enough to make his own decisions.  He did it, he was caught, he needs to pay for it.  Killing him won’t accomplish that; in goes the needle, he goes to sleep, that’s it.  It’s a much more fitting punishment that he be forced to spend the next sixty years or so in a small cell with no human contact for 22 hours a day.

Short Takes

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev found guilty on all counts in Boston Marathon bombing.

The police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott in Charleston, S.C. has been fired and charged with murder.

An Afghan soldier opened fire at a group of U.S. troops in the city of Jalalabad

Indictments near in George Washington Bridge scandal.

The Tigers shut out the Twins 11-0.  The Perfect Season continues.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Short Takes

Search continues for last of the the suspects in Charlie Hebdo massacre.

The U.S. Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube accounts were hacked.

Attacks against ISIS continue.

Cuba released 53 political prisoners as promised as part of the thaw in U.S. relations.

South Dakota’s ban on same-sex marriage is struck down, but the order is immediately stayed.

Paul Ryan isn’t running for president.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Short Takes

Over a million people marched in Paris against terror.

F.B.I. assumes larger surveillance role.

Ice storms and freezing rain head for the eastern U.S.

Seven shot, two killed in North Carolina house party.

House GOP plans to undercut Obama’s immigration plans.

Who won a Golden Globe?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Shiftless Thievery

Via:

1960 Ford manual transmission 04-15-13Police say two carjackers almost got away with a vehicle near Ocala’s downtown skating rink Wednesday night — but they didn’t know how to drive a stick shift.

Ocala Police Department officers spoke with the owner of a 2014 Toyota Corolla near the city’s ice skating rink. The man told them he was sitting in his car talking on his cellphone when a man with a gun tapped on the driver’s side window. Another man stood by the passenger’s side window.

The gunman demanded he get out of the car and hand over his money. The victim said he told the man he didn’t have any cash. The robber ordered him to give him his wallet, which he did. The robber then demanded his keys, a report states.

The victim handed over the keys and quickly walked away from the car and headed west toward Southeast First Avenue. He said he saw the robbers trying to drive away, but they had trouble making the car move.

The victim, meanwhile, stopped another motorist and asked the person to call police. Before officers arrived, the robbers ran from the car, which still had the keys in the ignition.

Kids these days.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sunday Reading

The Moment — Dani McClain at The Nation notes that we are seeing the dawn of a new civil rights movement.

Back in August, some observers drew comparisons between the shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, and the 1955 murder of Emmett Till. If parallels to civil rights movement history are helpful now, then let yesterday’s announcement that a Staten Island grand jury won’t indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death be a sign that we’re somewhere closer to 1963—when a series of devastating setbacks and subsequent widespread outrage transformed the civil rights struggle—than we are to Till’s lynching, that earlier consciousness-raising moment. There was a perfect storm this week: the continuing fallout of the failed indictment of Wilson; the news of the outcome in the Garner case; a Cleveland newspaper’s efforts to discredit and sling mud on the parents of a 12-year-old boy killed by police. This moment has the potential to catapult change, just as a series of events that transpired eight years after Till was killed did.

The murder of 14-year-old Till and the 1963 murder of four black girls at Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church both became national stories that hit Americans square in the chest, reminding them of the Jim Crow system of justice in which black people had no rights that whites were bound to respect. With the killings of Garner, Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice and others, we are all reminded that black life is still too often devalued, and that police officers are often not subject to the rule of law. That reminder has packed a similar emotional wallop. It is all coming so quickly: these announcements that a trial isn’t even needed to determine the police officer’s guilt or innocence. These exonerations through other means. People are taking to the streets nationwide to protest: just last night saw an outpouring of response in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta and beyond.

[…]

Granted, those dead at the hands of police today are not civil rights leaders, or children killed in their place of worship. For some observers, these more recent victims are unsympathetic: they were involved in roughing up a bodega owner or selling untaxed cigarettes. But for others, we find ourselves at a similar moment fifty years after that critical turning point in civil rights movement history—with “Again?” on our lips and a familiar feeling of dread in response to the violence we witness on the video of the killing of Eric Garner, the incredible amount of force used on a man who announced over and over again, “I can’t breathe.”

What would it take to scrap and rebuild a system that makes it nearly impossible to indict an officer when he or she kills a civilian? What is the landmark legislation that all this fury in the streets can demand and drive? Some of the organizers and strategists who are responsible for the displays of coordinated, righteous protest are putting their minds on these questions. The sense of being up against an unchangeable justice system designed to brutalize black life at the slightest perception of provocation can make one feel that the United States has proven itself to be a failed political experiment, one in which some people’s rights will never be secured. But if the history of this country’s most revered revolutionary period is any guide—and if a policy program is developed to channel all this growing energy—then we’re just getting started.

No Less Convinced — Charlie Pierce on the unraveling at Rolling Stone.

I don’t know what to make of the suddenly unravelling Rolling Stone account of a shocking alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. Right now, it appears that the magazine is back-pedaling on both feet, while trying to pin everything on the woman who was the victim of the alleged crime, and they appear to be doing it under pressure from, among other quarters, The Washington Post. For myself,  I would like to the Post to clarify further this curious admission from the fraternity’s official statement.

Our initial doubts as to the accuracy of the article have only been strengthened as alumni and undergraduate members have delved deeper,” according to the statement.

What “alumni” would those be? Frat-brother lawyers working pro bono? Law enforcement officials in their Wahoo footie pajamas, moonlighting as ratfckers for the old brotherhood? And what undergraduates have “delved deeper,” and what did that involve and where were they delving precisely?

There is a part of me that always thought the story – and the ground rules under which it was pursued – seemed a little hinky. However, at the same time, I’m no less convinced than I was before that something very bad happened to this woman at UVa. If both of those things are true, then a terrible disservice has been done to a lot of different people, including the victim, and I’m not at the point yet that I’m going to take the word of a fratenity’s lawyers that nothing untoward happened at all. I am, however, convinced that we are dealing here with a horrifying breakdown in communications – between source and reporter, reporter and editor, editor and publisher, and magazine and readers – that may well have consequences far beyond this one case. I know a brave someone who’s been working hard on the issue of sexual assaults on campus. This is not a job for the timid and, no matter how the RS affair plays out, it isn’t going to be made any easier, because the howler monkeys already have come out to play. I know we say this a lot but, dammit, absolutely nothing good will come of this.

World Wide Web Not So Much — Vauhini Vara in The New Yorker on how the internet is limited around the world.

In September of last year, Chinese authorities announced an unorthodox standard to help them decide whether to punish people for posting online comments that are false, defamatory, or otherwise harmful: Was a message popular enough to attract five hundred reposts or five thousand views? It was a striking example of how sophisticated the Chinese government has become, in recent years, in restricting Internet communication—going well beyond crude measures like restricting access to particular Web sites or censoring online comments that use certain keywords. Madeline Earp, a research analyst at Freedom House, the Washington-based nongovernmental organization, suggested a phrase to describe the approach: “strategic, timely censorship.” She told me, “It’s about allowing a surprising amount of open discussion, as long as you’re not the kind of person who can really use that discussion to organize people.”

On Thursday, Freedom House published its fifth annual report on Internet freedom around the world. As in years past, China is again near the bottom of the rankings, which include sixty-five countries. Only Syria and Iran got worse scores, while Iceland and Estonia fared the best. (The report was funded partly by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United States Department of State, Google, and Yahoo, but Freedom House described the report as its “sole responsibility” and said that it doesn’t necessarily represent its funders’ views.)

China’s place in the rankings won’t come as a surprise to many people. The notable part is that the report suggests that, when it comes to Internet freedom, the rest of the world is gradually becoming more like China and less like Iceland. The researchers found that Internet freedom declined in thirty-six of the sixty-five countries they studied, continuing a trajectory they have noticed since they began publishing the reports in 2010.

Earp, who wrote the China section, said that authoritarian regimes might even be explicitly looking at China as a model in policing Internet communication. (Last year, she co-authored a report on the topic for the Committee to Protect Journalists.) China isn’t alone in its influence, of course. The report’s authors even said that some countries are using the U.S. National Security Agency’s widespread surveillance, which came to light following disclosures by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden, “as an excuse to augment their own monitoring capabilities.” Often, the surveillance comes with little or no oversight, they said, and is directed at human-rights activists and political opponents.

China, the U.S., and their copycats aren’t the only offenders, of course. In fact, interestingly, the United States was the sixth-best country for Internet freedom, after Germany—though this may say as much about the poor state of Web freedom in other places as it does about protections for U.S. Internet users. Among the other countries, this was a particularly bad year for Russia and Turkey, which registered the sharpest declines in Internet freedom from the previous year. In Turkey, over the past several years, the government has increased censorship, targeted online journalists and social-media users for assault and prosecution, allowed state agencies to block content, and charged more people for expressing themselves online, the report noted—not to mention temporarily shutting down access to YouTube and Twitter. As Jenna Krajeski wrote in a post about Turkey’s Twitter ban, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed in March, “We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. They will see the power of the Turkish Republic.” A month later, Russian President Vladimir Putin, not to be outdone by Erdoğan, famously called the Internet a “C.I.A. project,” as Masha Lipman wrote in a post about Russia’s recent Internet controls. Since Putin took office again in 2012, the report found, the government has enacted laws to block online content, prosecuted people for their Internet activity, and surveilled information and communication technologies. Among changes in other countries, the report said that the governments of Uzbekistan and Nigeria had passed laws requiring cybercafés to keep logs of their customers, and that the Vietnamese government began requiring international Internet companies to keep at least one server in Vietnam.

Doonesbury — Raiders of the lost arc…

Monday, December 1, 2014

Silent Killers

Via the Guardian:

Republican lawmakers in Ohio are rushing through the most extreme secrecy bill yet attempted by a death penalty state, which would withhold information on every aspect of the execution process from the public, media and even the courts.

Legislators are trying to force through the bill, HB 663, in time for the state’s next scheduled execution, on 11 February. Were the bill on the books by then, nothing about the planned judicial killing of convicted child murderer Ronald Phillips – from the source of the drugs used to kill him and the distribution companies that transport the chemicals, to the identities of the medical experts involved in the death chamber – would be open to public scrutiny of any sort.

Unlike other death penalty states that have shrouded procedures in secrecy, the Ohio bill seeks to bar even the courts from access to essential information. Attorneys representing death-row inmates, for instance, would no longer be able to request disclosure under court protection of the identity and qualifications of medical experts who advised the state on their techniques.

“This bill is trying to do an end run around the courts. When things aren’t going well, the state is making its actions secret because they don’t want people to see them screwing up,” said Mike Brickner, senior policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Ohio.

The way they’re going about this, you would think that they’re somehow ashamed of what they’re doing; as if they know that killing someone is wrong even if the convict is the worst criminal in their jails.

If they were so sure that what they were doing was right, they’d open the records, let everyone know exactly how they’re doing it, and perhaps even put it on TV.  That would reveal capital punishment in its truest sense: state-sanctioned revenge, and it might be a deterrent, not just some way of getting rid of the excess prison population.

HT to FC.