Sunday, November 30, 2014

Washington Post notes that African-American boys are denied childhoods; Vox slams depending on eyewitness testimony in any case

The Washington Post Outlook section Sunday November 30, 2014, offers a piece by Stacey Patton, “Black children don’t get to be children”, link here.  The report talks about the pseudo-science of a century ago, but well before the rise of Nazism, that claimed that black children’s brains would not develop fully, but also that black boys developed more quickly than whites, and were a sexual threat to “normal” white men.  The article connects this to a past  justification for lynchings, and that is covered by the clips in the still unfinished film by Gode Davis, “American Lynching”. All of this would be known as scientifically wrong by the early twentieth century, as in fact we are all “black” (descended from an ancestor in Africa, whatever “right wing” creationists claim), and genetic differences are in biological terms almost none.  (We may have been very close, almost identical, to Neanderthals, too, genetically, but that’s another discussion.) 
The Post is also reporting even more conflicts in eyewitness testimony. Joseph Stromberg has a take on this on Vox here. Vox also offers a chart of all the grand jury witnesses.  
The media report that Wilson has resigned from the police department, which means he loses income (CNN says he did not receive a severance package), and he seems to live in hiding. (The media's -- and even Wilson's lawyers' -- sensationalizing of this point seems way over the top; what has happened to the rule of law?  Look at this story on MSNBC, although CNN is more graphic.)  To my reading, what really happened is really unclear. Why did Brown behave so out of character in the convenience store and then on the street?  On the other hand, it's surprising that Wilson characterizes him as a horror movie monster, and that fully armed, could not have defended himself without killing him. Neither side of this mess "adds up".  But what has happened to Wilson shows that the "system" can fail him -- a more "privileged" person -- just as it failed Brown.  If the system failed me, it would end my life, with no memorials.  Call if left-wing or right-wing "purification" if "you" like. 

ABC News notes critical pieces of evidence that the grand jury did see, including damage to the police car, a witness's diary, and Brown's DNA in the police car, here.  This does sound important.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Ferguson activists close down a section of BART in Oakland CA

Fourteen “Ferguson activists” were arrested after chaining themselves to BART train cars in Oakland, CA, preventing any trains from pass through the station for over an hour.  A CBS station in the Bay Area has a detailed story here

The energy of the protests recalls the indignation I often saw in the 1970s with groups like “The People’s Party of New Jersey”.  But lettuce boycotts (or even “Brown Fridays”) are less disruptive than transportation disruption.  Earlier some protesters had briefly caused Highway 101 in LA, and threatened to do so on some bridges in NYC.  Imagine the “Traffic Jam”  -- near the 101 and 405, or maybe even on the “Cyber Highway”.  
In 1971, a coworker (of mine) had the experience of a Vietnam war protester jumping on his car as he drove to work (at the Navy Dept) on Route 50 in Arlington.  There was a minor accident and an arrest, but no injuries or significant damage.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Wilson shooting of Brown remains a murky tragedy, at least in my own mind; there are stones to throw from both sides

What to make of all the evidence now?
The NPR has a very telling post this morning on the evidence, with an index to all of the exhibits available to the Ferguson grand jury, here

Yet, even the most conservative Supreme Court justice Scalia says that the prosecutor handled the grand jury in an inappropriate way.  Although the prosecutor’s job is normally one-sided, I think a prosecutor’s decision to anticipate affirmative defenses can sometimes be appropriate, to prevent prosecutorial abuse.  Affirmative defenses might include interpretation of a law and anticipating the possibility of overturned convictions even on constitutional grounds. This could be one of those cases. 
The Washington Post on Thanksgiving morning documents inappropriate practices by the Ferguson polie in handling evidence, including allowing Wilson to wash his hands and drive.  And of course, why did Brown “lie in state” so long?  
The Wall Street Journal has a “conservative” but appropriate perspective here
There has been some discussion of Brown’s marijuana use.  It is conceivable, although medically unlikely (especially in a big man) that pot use might contribute to an uncharacteristic outburst.  What is clear is that before the tragic incident, Brown’s behavior had without explanation gone off the rails (maybe suddenly) that Saturday morning.  That can happen just as easily with a white person, and has often.  Most shooting rampages are from white males.   Can some other young adult that "you" know and admire go off the deep end unpredictably?  That's a frightening lesson for everyone. What's happened to the idea of "personal responsibility"?

Update: July 29, 2015

Vox Media has a card stack on the facts as best they are known.

The chart comparing eyewitness accounts is particularly important.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Protests in Washington DC over Ferguson grand jury no-bill are vocal but orderly; many protesters appear to be white and affuent

I did go to the demonstrations at Mount Vernon Square in Washington DC this evening.  The demonstrations turned north and marched up 5th Street, and then East. I don’t know if the destination was the White House or the Capitol. 

Demonstrations were very peaceful and orderly.  More demonstrators appeared to be white than black or Latino, and many were young couples.  Many appeared to be of college age. 

The chants were telling, however.  Sometimes it was “no justice, no peace”.  Often it was “hands up, don’t shoot!”.  That phrase appeared on signs.

In the video above, at second 20, I couldn’t resist humming the “Russian national anthem”, as performed just before the 1981 film “Reds” and also at Sochi. 

I asked one young couple (white) if they had heard of the interview of Darren Wilson by George Stephanopoulos on ABC World News Tonight at 6:30 PM tonight.  (I’ll cover it on my TV blog.) 

 They hadn’t.  One young woman had another poster of other victims of police shootings, but I didn’t see Darrien Hunt on the list. She didn’t know he was. 

I felt one body blow and wondered if anyone was trying to take the camera.  But nothing happened. I think some people resent the idea that some video bloggers like to kibitz, gawk and gain attention but not "live the life" and trade places.  It's the "Rich Young Ruler" problem.  
Is this really about race for its own sake?  I've never really believed that.  Actually, we are all "black"; we all come from African ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago.  People lost pigment as they moved away from the Equator and needed to make Vitamin D.  I'll pass on Vox Media's take "The terrifying racial stereotypes laced through Darren Wilson's testimony", link here, although I personally question this assessment. 
CNN calls this a "defining moment for young activists." This was all organized on social media.  

One of the posters read “Riots are the language of the unheard.”   

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Louisiana town orders owners of certain "vicious dog" breeds to give the pets up

A village in Louisiana, Moreauville, has passed a law banning pit bulls as part of a “vicious dog” and requires all owners to surrender the pets by Dec. 1 .  The Washington Times has the story here
The dog’s owner, Joanna Armand, has a petition to overturn the ordinance here.  Her dog is named “Zeus”.

Back in the 1990s, a coworker who lived in Prince William County had rottwiler named Malcolm, but nothing ever went wrong. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Baton Rouge picture (visit in Feb. 2006). 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Obama's immigration speech has no surprises; Ferguson police officer will resign

I was out at a concert while President Obama spoke for 15 minutes about the actions he will take with Executive Order on immigration.

There were no surprises.  Obama said that immigrants who met certain qualifications could leave living under “shadows”. 

He also challenged Republicans to “pass a bill.”  He also said “We will deport felons, not families.”
The main story on CNN from Jim Acosta is here
About five million immigrants would be shielded from deportation for three years.
In another development, there are negotiations for Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson to resign, while a decision from the grand jury is expected. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Michael Cannon and his "existential threat" to "Obamacare"

Michael Cannon, from the Cato Institute (which I visited in October) has a lot of supposed progressives who have supported “Obamacare” listening.  He says that the president is acting illegally in offering subsidies to lower income people in states that refuse to run their own exchanges.  Sarak Kliff has a big story with an interview of Cliff on Vox here

Cannon has a bizarre article in Forbes (linked from the Cato site) to the effect that a new Republican majority in the Senate (starting in 2015) can “nuke the filibuster” for Obamacare, link here. It’s pretty convoluted. 
As far as the intransigence of states on pre-existing conditions, and on why they won’t “take the money” on Medicaid expansion, they all say, they don’t want to put their own children into further federal debt. They think that “family and friends” and “gofundme” operations should care for people with pre-existing conditions.  And someone like me is not very approachable for “other people’s mistakes”. Good education, bad karma.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Group in Ferguson might do "citizen's arrest"; media coverage very slow on Darrien Hunt shooting in Utah

I overheard a story on CNN Monday morning to the effect that a group was planning citizens’ arrests in Ferguson, MO if there is violence after the grand jury returns its finding, particularly if it does not indict the police officer.   Over the weekend, as we know, there was more information about a possible seventh bullet wound in Michael Brown’s body.
There’s an instructive article on citizen’s arrest in FindLaw, here  The legal parameters are surprisingly simple.  I don’t think I’ve covered this before.
An older article on Aug. 21 on NPR had looked at who was getting arrested, link and indicated that many low income residents were having difficult with ordinary shopping and function in the neighborhood because of the violence.

This is a good place to reiterate that major media has not covered the death of Darrien Hunt in Sarasota Springs, UT very well.  A typical recent story on the Daily Kos now is here.  The Twitter account is “@OpDarrienHunt”.   I noticed this issue on actor-musician  Reid Ewing’s twitter feed, but it seems to be largely overlooked nationally.  Darrien's legal name seems to be Darrien Nathaniel Hunt and he has a Facebook memorial site here
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Utah Lake, where Sarasota Springs is located.  My last time in the area was in May 1981. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Obama likely to "go it alone" on immigration and energy, maybe without many results

The president plan to go on his “warpath” to go it alone on immigration, as indicated in a New York Times story today by Michael D. Shear, Julia Preston and Ashley Parker, link here
The focus of the president’s attention seems to be to loosen “stay” regulations on parents who are here illegally but who have children who are American citizens, or who have various kinds of skills.  The high-tech industry has wanted a liberal policy to employ immigrants because it cannot always find workers it needs with specific skills and because it wants to sell overseas. It’s not so clear how his policies would affect “illegal” immigrants like Pulitzer Prize reporter Vargas (film “Documented”, May 30, 2014 on Movies blog). 
But there seems to be little interest in pressuring more Americans to become involved in hosting those seeking political asylum or particularly children fleeing violence in Central America and other countries.  As some would say, we don’t “live their lives”.
There’s talk that Obama will try to stop the Keystone Pipeline – and there was another earthquake in southern Kansas yesterday, possibly related to fracking, but it’s far from clear.  (See “Fracknation” and related movies like "Gasland" from the Movies blog, Aug. 27, 2014, as well as "Dirty Oil", March 18, 2012).
So far, the agreement that Obama made with the Chinese on carbon emissions seems a bit underwhelming, but that will come under scrutiny soon.

It's rather amusing to hear the president use the hastag "Obamacare" in his own tweets. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Odd algae virus causes neurological symptoms in people, maybe, a sci-fi idea; Spencer released from Bellevue, quiet about controversy

Even CNN mentioned this one Monday:  a virus (called a chlorovirus) that affects algae has been found in the throats of people, and has apparently produced some kind of low-level neurological infection. The people do less well on cognitive tests, especially tests requiring processing of visual information quickly.  A typical story is here) at “Alternatrive News Sources.”
The results were apparently reduced in some mice.  But’s not clear how credible all this is.
The idea that a plant virus could affect humans or animal tissue at all is novel.  But during the early days of the AIDS epidemic there were stories from Sweden about a bizarre fungus actually causing AIDS rather than just being an OI of it (before HIV was announced).
The idea could be important however.  In Christopher Nolan’s film “Interstellar” the world seems to have been decimated by a plant disease, which could be a virus targeting chlorophyll and photosynthesis.  If this could really happen, the Earth’s oxygen supply could slowly be depleted.
A slowly spreading neurological disease, which seems to start at high altitude areas among non-natives, is also a premise of my own novel, “Angel’s Brother”.  If a disease like this ever happened, it would be very difficult to trace contacts, and determine any need for isolation or quarantine, if symptoms built up gradually over months.   In the novel, there are unusual skin lesions in some people, leading to controversy over possible need for quarantine, even though the lesions precede more serious symptoms by months.  Stephen King made things all too easy with his “super-flu” in “The Stand” (1978, 1990), which turns out to have neurological consequences.

The only remaining patient in the US with Ebola, Dr. Craig Spencer, was released from Bellevue Hospital in NYC.  He had been playing the banjo and using an exercise bike in isolation.  Apparently he was in the hospital for 19 days, but has been much less ill since about Nov. 1.   Some chatter to my own inbox in Twitter suggests extreme disapproval (like, using bleach on the banjo) of his behavior before isolation, in the view of some New Yorkers.  Amber Vinson, in her press interviews, has said she was not told not to travel or mix in public. Spencer has suggested before that he followed all Doctors without Border protocols (which DWB confirms).  The latest New York Times story on Spencer is here.  He had received a plasma transfusion from Nancy Writebol.  There is not a lot of detail yet on his stay, and we will want to see if he wants to do public interviews; right now, he says he will not and just wants to get back to medicine.  Unlike Mupko, he has not wanted to tweet or write about it yet.  Again, people who have recovered from Ebola will probably face pressure to do multiple plasma donations, which could even be used in Africa.  Does immunity to Ebola make it easier to treat patients with less equipment?    
Spencer can start his life again by seeing Christopher Nolan's film.  
Mayor Bill Di Blasio, at a news conference this morning, said, "No one should be discriminated against for helping others."  When Spencer started to speak, CNN rudely interrupted him with a commercial, but carried the speech online. (The line "I'm no longer infectious" doesn't come out right.)

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Paternity leave, even when offered, is often not taken; the effects of leave policies on the careers of parents and non-parents alike

The New York Times Sunday Business offers a detailed essay by Claire Cain Miller on paid paternity leave, and the idea that not many men feel comfortable taking it even if offered.  The title in print is : The leave seldom taken: When a new father takes time off from work, his whole family can benefit. But maybe his career won’t – at least until a stigma is erased, link here
The article explains how some Silicon Valley companies, especially, have been aggressive in promoting it as a benefit, as have some law firms.  More interesting is the degree of intimacy possible from new fathers in marriage, when there is a presumption that the father should share more of the child care than used to be the case in the past, so that the wife can also go to work.  The child seems to benefit.  Previous reports have indicated that father’s testosterone levels drop when they care for children.  The Family Research Council has tried to exploit this fact in attacking gay marriage, but I don’t know if there are any studies on the performance of MLB or NFL players right after they become fathers.  (Pitchers, it seems, do quite well.) 
That brings up related questions: is the leave offered for adoption (usually yes).  That opportunity could benefit same-sex couples, if the expectation (as well as the permission) for gay adoption increases in the future, given other policy issues (foster care, orphans, refugees and immigration). 
Still, many men do not experience the profound marital intimacy (the family bed) that paid paternity leave seems to promote. 
That also begs a question of logic.  If people are given more paid time off for successful heterosexual intercourse, that means that those who don’t experience it wind up subsidizing it.  The money has to come from other people’s pay.  This is more serious in a salaried environment where people aren’t paid overtime, and work more hours for nothing if they pick up the slack for someone who is out.  Salaried environments in the past have tended to encourage a lot of “personal ownership” of work responsibilities which is less now than it was. 
Yet, in Europe, paid maternity and paternity leave seems to go pretty well without much social tension, including adverse effects on gay men.
The video above, from the University of Rochester, takes a libertarian take on the unintended consequences of mandating maternity and paternity leave, which can wind up weakening the careers of parents more when mandated than if voluntary. 

Saturday, November 08, 2014

DC Club owner arrested for "over enforcing" policy intended to prevent underage drinking in his bar

A bizarre case in Washington DC shows the problems that businesses serving alcohol (especially clubs and discos) have because of the downstream liability risk for inadvertently serving underage people (under 21).
A news story by Keith Alexander in the Washington Post Nov. 7, 2014 relates how Marc Barnes, owner of The Park in downtown Washington, was arrested for “theft” or “destruction” of property after he had his employees shred what he believed to be a fake ID of a customer who, to complicate matters now further given current events, comes from Liberia.  The detailed story is here.    An important part of the story seems to be that he believes that an underage customer tried to use the original customer’s id illegally.

The club has a policy of shredding or confiscating documents it believes to be fake.  It’s not clear if this is legal, or if the practice is widespread.

However the owner was sued a number of years ago after a customer caused a serious auto accident after drinking.

Doormen of clubs have become stricter in recent years about admitting patrons whom they already believe may be intoxicated (despite the “pub crawls” in Arlington on Halloween).  On a  few occasions, I have been denied admission based on my hip-related gait (I believe) when a doorman thought I had alcohol when in fact I did not.

It’s not clear that gay clubs have had any unusual issues.  But I do know, from my days of substitute teaching, that I have seen people under 21 in bars (on regular nights) on a couple of occasions;  the clubs will not be named.
Some clubs, especially in NYC, are now scanning bar codes on identifying documents, which could enhance security but also raise other issues (like possible contact tracing of epidemics).  
Fake-id’s have been used in movie or television plots, as in a critical episode of “Everwood” with the character Ephram a few years ago.

In 2012, Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper criticized reporters for asking a “clown question”, as to whether he would drink (when still under 21) after playing in a game in Toronto, where it would have been legal (but probably against MLB policy).  

Friday, November 07, 2014

A narrow miss with a deer on a country road near the Blue Ridge, in the Virginia Piedmont

I had a narrow miss with a deer at around 6 PM, after dark, driving east bound on US 211 betweem Sperryville VA and Washington VA, in a section where the highway is four lanes, divided, but with a speed limit of 55 because the highway does have intersections, though not many.  The large deer was standing astride the two lanes.  I slammed on the brakes and burned rubber but did not lose control f the car.  I did not feel a thump or notice any damage.  However, it could have been possible to run over a foot or leg, and leave it collapsed.  I do not believe I was going over the speed limit.  The auto diagnostic warning light system does not show any problems, and it can detect tire damage or low pressure when it occurs. 
Fauquier County News reports a man lost control of a car and died near Warrenton, VA that same day, before dawn that morning, story here.  I’ve since learned that the Virginia Piedmont, near the Blue Ridge, has some of the highest incidence of deer crashes in the nation in the fall, during mating season. 
American Family Insurance in Madison WS has the recommendations for avoiding deer crashes, link.  Natives who live in these areas often use deer whistles, but it is not clear that they work. 
I was driving with low beams, so as not to annoy other drivers.  But the Indiana DNR recommends using high beams in deer-populated country during the autumn mating season, and other sources recommend special reflectors. Deer vision goes to higher wavelengths than human.   Many people think that deers are confused by high beams, however. 

When I came home, later that night, I had a stopped bathroom drain with was found to be from a rat that came in from the sewer lines.  It’s going to take surgery to get it out.   

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Big Meadows at Shenandoah has major display on past segregation; police shooting in Utah is serious, gets less attention than MO

At Big Meadows, in Shenandoah National Park. Virginia, about 10 miles south of Stony Man, there is an arcade showing history of the park, including the Civilian Conservation Corps, but also many other issues.

These include the displacement of residents when the park was founded.

Moreover, there are several displays of the controversy over segregation in the Park in the 1930s. 

There was even a separate store. 

There is also a sign showing gasoline rationing during WWII. 

The tension in Ferguson MO is shown by this article on “19 Rules” issued by “citizens” as in this CNN story

There is another serious case, Darrien Hunt, shot by police in Utah apparently during a costume role play, Guardian story here. This hasn’t gotten much media coverage outside the entertainment world.  It sounds outrageous.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

GOP takes Senate, keeps House; I voted but "didn't help"; can GOP govern now? No more debt ceiling fights?

When the cat’s away, the mice and ants play.  Seriously, as I was out this evening, the GOP, as expected, has seized the US Senate.  The incumbent Democrat in Virginia John Warner has barely held on.  I actually voted libertarian for both Senate and House races today.

The details on CNN are here and will continue to be updated all night. The “failure” of the Obama administration to lead properly in the three biggest foreign policy and now public health crises (ISIS, Russia’s invasion on the Ukraine, and Ebola) certainly led to the switch.  But the GOP, just last year, was pulling government shutdowns and threatening to default through the debt ceiling (although the actual “threat” may not have been as dire as usually presented in a legal accounting sense) particularly after throwing a tantrum over Obamacare. The GOP has yet to show it can “govern.” What it needs is some "parlor timocracy".  

How will this affect LGBT equality?  That will require more postings, but there are signs that most of the GOP is moving toward more libertarian positions and away from obsession with “social capital”, as Santorum used to put it.  Well, libertarian author Charles Murray talks about that idea, too.  It's worthy of note, though, that Obama's unsteadiness on Russia may have made things worse for gays in Russia (and African countries) -- did anyone notice that human rights and freedom at home really can be undermined when they are lost abroad?  

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Doctor with Ebola in NYC reported improved; but speculative uncertainty about Ebola is still more troubling that CDC admits

While it’s good news to hear that Craig Spencer is doing better in New York (no longer in serious condition and apparently recovering – my tweet on the NYTimes story got favorited), and while Kaci Hickox won a reasonable order from a Maine judge, it’s good to note two letters to the Editor of the Washington Post, link here

Note that one of the letters maintains we don’t really know everything yet.  I can remember that kind of reasoning with AIDS and HIV, often used by the right wing in Texas particularly to try to pass draconian anti-gay legislation around 1983. 

Even so, the idea that very small infections might take longer than the 21 days to manifest and surface later, causing unpredictable cases, could be troubling. 

If someone goes to work in West Africa (whether treating patients or for normal commerce, like for an oil company), it seems that employers and organizations can arrange to compensate people for the 21 days of monitoring and limited activity, in advance of even going.  But there is at least a possibility that in the future that 21 days might not be enough. What is more troubling is isolating someone caught in the middle, who did not agree to go to a dangerous area.  What if someone boards a plane in Brussels for the US and we find out later that he or she sat next to someone from West Africa who does develop Ebola right after landing and perhaps started to become symptomatic during a long flight?  What if the 21 days gets extended to 42 for that person.  Who compensates the person? 
I’m reminded of another debate, when to take driver’s licenses away from people as they age, if they haven’t shown significant symptoms, but have some laboratory finding that suggests a sudden death or blackout is possible even though it hasn’t yet happened?   Should people be goaded into treatments (like pacemakers or bypass surgeries) they don’t believe they need, based on “theories”?   I’ll take that up more soon on my Retirement blog.