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Archive for December 30th, 2015

Indicting cops is not the best course to reform

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Radley Balko has a column that concludes;

. . . There are a couple of points to make here. First, when cops commit crimes, they need to be punished. When they aren’t, it isn’t just that justice was denied to the victims of those crimes; it also suggests a system in which the very people we entrust to enforce the law aren’t bound by it. But the second point is also important: We shouldn’t rely on indictments to fix the problem of unnecessary police shootings. And to some degree, indicting cops in these situations can be counterproductive. It can give the impression that this was a rogue cop who acted out, and who is now being held accountable. Hence, the system is working just fine.

The high-profile indictment of South Carolina state trooper Sean Groubert, which I’ve written about here at The Watch, makes for a good comparison with the Rice case. Groubert is the cop who opened fire on unarmed black motorist Levar Jones after pulling him over for not wearing a seatbelt. When the man reached into his truck to get his ID, as Groubert asked him to do, Groubert opened fire. Groubert was immediately fired and later indicted in the shooting. Both were necessary. But in the video, the dominant emotion you get from Groubert’s body language isn’t rage or anger. It’s fear. That suggests something much worse than a rogue cop. It suggests a fundamental problem with the way South Carolina trains its state troopers. Perhaps they’re getting bombarded with overstated warnings about ambushes during traffic stops. Perhaps they aren’t getting training in overcoming biases about black criminality. Perhaps they aren’t getting the necessary counseling after traumatic events. (Groubert had been involved in a prior shooting.) Or perhaps Groubert should never have been a cop in the first place, which suggests problems in recruitment and screening. The point here is that while indicting Groubert was the right thing to do, and undoubtedly brought some justice to his victim, it seems unlikely that it’ll do much to prevent future incidents.

Even if we could achieve predictable and certain accountability for bad cops (and we’re nowhere near that now), that might help to prevent corruption or to cut down on the use of force to bully or intimidate. But fear doesn’t rationalize. A cop who shoots a man reaching for his ID, who shoots too quickly at a kid holding a toy gun, who has been conditioned to see threats behind every corner, isn’t going to be dissuaded by the possibility of an indictment. His actions aren’t open to persuasion. He’s acting on instinct. You fix that through training — training in deescalation, training in recognizing and overcoming biases. Or you fix it with better hiring, better screening and better monitoring of the mental health of your officers, and by taking the guns from the cops who aren’t up to par.

I think Timothy Loehmann should have been indicted. But if he had, it wouldn’t change the fact that he never should have been in possession of a gun and a badge in the first place. Nor would it change the fact that if he was hired, there are probably a lot more Timothy Loehmanns on the force in Cleveland … and not just in Cleveland.

It isn’t difficult to understand why we tend to equate justice with indictment after a particularly heartbreaking case like Tamir Rice. By the time the young boy is dead, the system has already failed. It’s too late to talk about training, recruitment, screening, deescalation and so on. There’s only one remaining way to seek justice, and that’s to hold the individual officer accountable. It’s also true that these cases are helpful in illustrating just how difficult it can be to hold an officer accountable, even in clearly preventable deaths. As well as any other, Rice’s death and the lack of accountability for it shows how our legal and political systems have failed to produce laws and policies that reflect how we want police officers to deploy the use of force — how what’s legal and what we find acceptable have become two distinct concepts. 

But we should resist reducing our concept of justice to the presence or absence of an indictment. Real justice would not just hold Loehmann accountable; it would also address the policies, procedures and practices that allowed Tamir Rice to die. Real justice means changing those policies so that his death would have been prevented.

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2015 at 4:29 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Spying on Congress and Israel: NSA Cheerleaders Discover Value of Privacy Only When Their Own Is Violated

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Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the NSA under President Obama targeted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his top aides for surveillance. In the process, the agency ended up eavesdropping on “the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups” about how to sabotage the Iran Deal. All sorts of people who spent many years cheering for and defending the NSA and its programs of mass surveillance are suddenly indignant now that they know the eavesdropping included them and their American and Israeli friends rather than just ordinary people.

The long-time GOP chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and unyielding NSA defender Pete Hoekstra last night was truly indignant to learn of this surveillance:

In January 2014, I debated Rep. Hoekstra about NSA spying and he could not have been more mocking and dismissive of the privacy concerns I was invoking. “Spying is a matter of fact,” he scoffed. As Andrew Krietz, the journalist who covered that debate, reported, Hoekstra “laughs at foreign governments who are shocked they’ve been spied on because they, too, gather information” — referring to anger from German and Brazilian leaders. AsTechDirt noted, “Hoekstra attacked a bill called the RESTORE Act, that would have granted a tiny bit more oversight over situations where (you guessed it) the NSA was collecting information on Americans.”

But all that, of course, was before Hoekstra knew that he and his Israeli friends were swept up in the spying of which he was so fond. Now that he knows that it is his privacy and those of his comrades that has been invaded, he is no longer cavalier about it. In fact, he’s so furious that this long-time NSA cheerleader is actually calling for the criminal prosecution of the NSA and Obama officials for the crime of spying on him and his friends.

This pattern — whereby political officials who are vehement supporters of the Surveillance State transform overnight into crusading privacy advocates once they learn that they themselves have been spied on — is one that has repeated itself over and over. It has been seen many times as part of the Snowden revelations, but also well before that.

In 2005, the New York Times revealed that the Bush administration ordered the NSA to spy on the telephone calls of Americans without the warrants required by law, and the paper ultimately won the Pulitzer Prize for doing so. The politician who did more than anyone to suffocate that scandal and ensure there were no consequences was then-Congresswoman Jane Harman, the ranking Democratic member on the House Intelligence Committee.

In the wake of that NSA scandal, Harman went on every TV show she could find and categorically defended Bush’s warrantless NSA program as “both legal and necessary,” as well as “essential to U.S. national security.” Worse, she railed against the “despicable” whistleblower (Thomas Tamm) who disclosed this crime and even suggested that the newspaper that reported it should have been criminally investigated (but not, of course, the lawbreaking government officials who ordered the spying). Because she was the leading House Democrat on the issue of the NSA, her steadfast support for the Bush/Cheney secret warrantless surveillance program and the NSA generally created the impression that support for this program was bipartisan.

But in 2009 — a mere four years later — Jane Harman did a 180-degree reversal. That’s because it was revealed that her own private conversations had been eavesdropped on by the NSA. Specifically, CQ’s Jeff Stein reported that an NSA wiretap caught Harman “telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two officials of American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in exchange for the agent’s agreement to lobby Nancy Pelosi to name Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee.” Harman vehemently denied that she sought this quid pro quo, but she was so furious that she herself had been eavesdropped on by the NSA (rather than just ordinary citizens) that — just like Pete Hoekstra did yesterday — she transformed overnight into an aggressive and eloquent defender of privacy rights, and demanded investigations of the spying agency that for so long she had defended:

 I call it an abuse of power in the letter I wrote [Attorney General Eric Holder] this morning. … I’m just very disappointed that my country — I’m an American citizen just like you are — could have permitted what I think is a gross abuse of power in recent years. I’m one member of Congress who may be caught up in it, and I have a bully pulpit and I can fight back. I’m thinking about others who have no bully pulpit, who may not be aware, as I was not, that someone is listening in on their conversations, and they’re innocent Americans.

The stalwart defender of NSA spying learned that her own conversations had been monitored and she instantly began sounding like an ACLU lawyer, or Edward Snowden. Isn’t that amazing?

The same thing happened when Dianne Feinstein — one of the few members of Congress who could compete with Hoekstra and Harman for the title of Most Subservient Defender of the Intelligence Community (“I can honestly say I don’t know a bigger booster of the CIA than Senator Feinstein,” said her colleague Sen. Martin Heinrich) — learned in 2014 that she and her torture-investigating Senate Committee had been spied on by the CIA. Feinstein — who, until then, had never met an NSA mass surveillance program she didn’t adore — was utterly filled with rage over this discovery, arguing that “the CIA’s search of the staff’s computers might well have violated … the Fourth Amendment.” The Fourth Amendment! She further pronounced that she had “grave concerns” that the CIA snooping may also have “violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution.”

During the Snowden reporting, it was common to see foreign governments react with indifference — until they learned that they themselves, rather than just their unnotable subjects, were subject to spying. The first reports we did . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2015 at 3:00 pm

More on Sapiens

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I am still reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which continues to be fascinating. I looked through some Amazon reviews, and one comment  struck me. He (Steven Mason) writes “Using this twisted logic, a modern doctor today is less knowledgeable and capable, and has a smaller, less capable brain, than a paleolithic witchdoctor who happens to know how to hunt for food, start a fire, make clothes and weapons, navigate by the stars, etc. This is complete and utter nonsense and reveals an appallingly narrow and simplistic definition of intelligence and capabilities.”

It seems obvious to me that a less intelligent person can have more “knowledge” (in the sense of what Richard Dawkins defined (in chapter 11 of “The Selfish Gene”) as memes: units of cultural knowledge). With a greater number of memes, or more evolved memes, the less intelligent person can use those memes (that knowledge) to outperform a more intelligent person who lacks those memes.

Consider: A grade-school student can easily do long division, a task that taxed the abilities of even educated citizens of Classical Rome, not because students today are so much more intelligent than people in Classical Rome, but because students today have better memes in that application area.

A college student today can solve problems, using his collection of calculus memes, that would have been extremely difficult if not impossible for Newton—not because the student is so much more intelligent than Newton, but because the student has more evolved memes in the problem area. It seems at least possible that intelligence can decline even as memes thrive and evolve.

And just as genes are “selfish” in that they inevitably evolve in directions that help the genes and not necessarily the animal, so too memes will evolve in directions that help the meme’s survival even if there is a substantial cost to the meme’s human hosts (cf. the Agricultural Revolution: great for the meme, not such an unalloyed good for the human hosts).

Indeed, I would say that human consciousness is the result of an accumulation of memes, and it arose not from the breakdown of a bicameral mind (pace Julian Jaynes), but in the creation of a bicameral mind, with the part of the mind that deals with memes split off from the unconscious to become the conscious self, which seems to be constructed from memes. Note, for example, how one’s sense of identity, of who one is, is generally given in terms of memes.


Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2015 at 10:14 am

Posted in Books, Memes

Maggard open-comb razor and Manna di Silicia shaving soap

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SOTD 30 Dec 2015

A very nice shave. The Plisson European Grey badger brush has a wonderful, smooth, grainy feel on the face, quite distinct from the feel of a silvertip, and it does a terrific lathering job, today with the Manna di Silicia soap shown, which produces a fine lather with a pleasant, light fragrance. The container is odd, however.

The razor is the Maggard open-comb head on one of the Maggard stainless steel handles, this one inspired, I would guess, by the Feather AS-D1/2 handle. The razor is very comfortable and also very efficient, and I routinely recommend it now as a novice’s first razor.

A good splash of The Holy Black’s Gunpowder Spice aftershave, and I’m good to go.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2015 at 9:46 am

Posted in Shaving

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