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Friday, September 27, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Sherlock Holmes on the Dangers of Criminal Investigation

I think that you know me well enough, Watson, to understand that I am by no means a nervous man. At the same time, it is stupidity rather than courage not to recognize danger when it is close upon you.

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Final Problem." 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Whackadamia Quote: University of Kansas Professor Shoots Mouth Off in Class

The blood is on the hands of the National Rifle Association. Next time, let it be your sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.

Journalism Professor David Guth in a tweet sent in wake of the Navy Yard shooting spree. [Guth's teaching duties were "reassigned," whatever that means. He remains on the payroll. Although the First Amendment gives the professor the right to say things like this, it would not be inappropriate for the university to fire him on the grounds of aggravated looniness. That, of course, won't happen. Colleges and Universities are hotbeds of looniness, lunacy, and loud-mouth idiocy. If they started firing professors like David Guth, half the classes would have to be cancelled.]    

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Occidental College President Jonathan Veitch's Culture of Campus Rape

     In February 2012, Occidental College professors Caroline Heldman and Danielle Dirks publicly accused President Jonathan Veitch and his administration of discouraging campus rape victims from reporting the assaults to the police. The professors and students who supported their cause asserted that Veitch and his people not only suppressed crime reporting on the Los Angeles campus, they handed down weak sanctions against the students responsible for rapes and other sexual offenses. The activist professors and those who backed them also accused college administrators of retaliating against professors and students who publicly criticized the school's handling of sex crimes. According to the complainants, this malfeasance had been going on since 2009.

     As part of their effort to reform Occidental's campus sex crime policy, Professors Heldman and Dirks helped concerned students file federal complaints against the school that accused the administration of civil rights violations as well as violations of the Clery Act.

     Because colleges and university administrations across the country have a long history of under-reporting campus crime, congress passed the Clery Act. Under this law, colleges and universities that receive federal money are required to maintain and fully disclose campus and near-campus crime statistics. Institutions that do not comply with the Clery Act can be fined up to $35,000 per violation.

     College and university administrators hate the Clery Act and do whatever they can to get around it. Since crime is bad for business, it's still grossly under-reported on most campuses. Given the high cost of higher education and the fierce competition for students, a campus that is not perceived as an oasis of safety and luxury will lose out in the market place. Colleges and universities no longer sell education, they sell lifestyle.

     Following the filing of the federal complaints, President Veitch agreed to tighten the school's policy regarding the handling of campus rape. But in the summer of 2013, a student who said she had been raped on campus in February of that year, complained on television that the college had not honored its agreement to report these crimes and take aggressive action against perpetrators.

     Infuriated by this public accusation, President Veitch accused the complaining student and Professor Dirks of maliciously embarrassing him and the college on the evening news. The president's thin-skinned response drew public criticism. As a result, he was forced to apologize for taking out his anger on the wrong people. (College and University presidents, the kings and queens of academia, have huge egos and suffer from degrees of self-love that is borderline pathological. They therefore have no tolerance for people who criticize them.)

     On September 19, 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported that Occidental College had reached a confidential monetary settlement with at least ten students who had been raped on campus. In all of these cases, the college had either squelched or downplayed the crimes.

     On the day following the Times article, President Veitch, in an attempt to garner faculty support for his reappointment as president (his 5-year contract was up for renewal), gave a 20-minute, emotional speech at an all-faculty meeting. Now that the scandal was supposedly behind them, the president called for intra-campus civility. (In academia, "civility" is a codeword for speech suppression. There is more free speech in Russian than on an American college campus.)

     In his faculty address, rather than focus on how his administration had let down crime victims and misled the public, President Veitch talked about himself. He said he had been "shell-shocked" by the accusations, and that the "controversy" had taken a toll "on my health and my soul." (Outside of academia, who talks like that?) While the president admitted that mistakes had been made, he assured faculty members that Occidental College now had some of the strongest sexual assault policies in the country. (That might be true, but no thanks to him.)

     Occidental College is currently under federal investigation.

     In my opinion, President Veitch, when his 5-year contract runs out, should be shown the door. And he should be sent packing without one of those typically over-generaous severance packages. No golden parachute for this man. If he is one-tenth as great as I'm sure he thinks he is, getting a new job should be no problem. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Using Historical Figures in Novels

No historical character in a novel should do or say anything that you don't know he said and did. You can't displace him in time, and you can't move him geographically. And you've got to be true to him. If I wrote a novel that included Billy The Kid, it would be the Billy The Kid out of history; in other words, he couldn't be the main character....I would never quote Billy if I didn't have a valid quote. I wouldn't put him in any part of New Mexico that he wasn't in at that date; I believe you owe that to historical characters. Nothing distressed me more than to see an historical character in one of those historical, romance novels take the hero aside and give him a little advice on his love life or something. I don't think you have a right to do that with historical characters.

Shelby Foote (1916-2005), Conversations with Shelby Foote, 1989

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Sherlock Holmes and the Power of Deduction

You mentioned your name, as if I should recognize it, but I assure you that, beyond the obvious facts that you are a bachelor, a solicitor, a Freemason, and an asthmatic, I know nothing whatever about you.

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder" 

Writing Quote: The Fantasy Genre

What does fantasy ask of us? It asks us to pay something extra. It compels us to an adjustment that is different to an adjustment required by a work of art....The other novelists say "Here is something that might occur in our lives," the fantasist says "Here's something that could not occur. I must ask you to first accept my book as a whole, and secondly to accept certain things in my book." Many readers can grant the first request, but refuse the second. "One knows a book isn't real," they say, "still one does expect it to be natural."

E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel, 1927

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Stray Bullet in Brooklyn: A Cripts Gang Member Shoots a Toddler to Death

     Anthony Hennis, a member of the notorious Cripts street gang with 25 arrests for drug and gun possession as well as car theft and assault, lived in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York. The Brownsville neighborhood, with a high concentration of public housing and violent crime, is one of the most dangerous places in America.

     At seven in the evening of Sunday, September 1, 2013, Anthony had picked up his 16-month-old son Antiq from the boy's mother's apartment. The father told Cherise Miller that he and the toddler would be visiting his grandmother that evening.

     As Anthony Hennis pushed his son's stroller across the street about a block from the mother's place of residence, the 21-year-old father was approached by two men. One of these men pulled out a handgun and fired four shots at Anthony. Three bullets missed their target. The fourth slug struck Antiq in the head. The shooter, as he fled from the scene on foot, yelled, "I shot the motherf--er!" (The assailant apparently didn't realize he'd missed Anthony and hit the boy.)

     An hour after the stray bullet entered the left side of Antiq's head, he died at a nearby hospital. He became the 16th murder victim this year in New York City who was under the age of sixteen.

     It didn't take New York City detectives very long to identify the child killer as a 23-year-old Cripts gangster named De Quan Breland. Breland had been accompanied by 19-year-old De Quan Wright, another member of the gang. Investigators traced the two fugitives to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania where Breland was visiting his girlfriend who happened to be Wright's sister.

     De Quan Breland, on parole from a 2011 armed robbery conviction in upstate New York, had an extensive criminal record that included robbery, assault, drug dealing, and weapons possession. (Why was this man out on parole?)

     On Friday, September 6, police officers arrested Breland and Wright at an apartment in Wilkes-Barre rented by De Quan Wright's cousin. When Breland learned he had shot and killed a boy in a stroller instead of the fellow gangster with whom he had a beef, he reportedly broke down and cried.

     Two days following their arrests in Pennsylvania, Breland and Wright were arraigned in New York City. After pleading not guilty to the homicide charges, the judge denied the prisoners bail.   

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lower Education in America: Teacher Dress Codes

     At one time in America, doctors, lawyers, business people, members of the clergy, and school teachers adhered to the unwritten rule that practitioners in these and other fields should at least look professional. Today, in the general population at large, people are less inclined to dress for anything including restaurants, church, weddings, funerals, or their white-collar jobs. At one time people got dressed up when they traveled by air, or went to the supermarket. We have become, by comparison, a nation of slobs. What is the reason behind this trend, and what does it say generally about our culture? Beats me.

     Many public school students, perhaps inspired by their parents, go to class, the prom, and other school events inappropriately attired. Fine. A lot of kids are idiots who need to be told how to dress for school. Since many parents can't or won't supervise this aspect of their children's lives, school authorities have been forced to impose strict dress codes. The fact we have student dress codes is not a good reflection on modern parenting or society.

     Having solved the problem of how kids dress for school, what about their teachers? Apparently many public school educators don't know how to dress for school either. In Little Rock, Arkansas, the district superintendent recently had to establish a dress code for teachers. These rules will be enforced starting in the fall of 2014.

     Based upon the letter sent to all of the employees in the Little Rock School District, classes are being taught by teachers who are either dressed for Walmart, an afternoon on the couch watching TV, or ladies' night at the local bar.

     Female teachers in Little Rock have to be told to wear panties and bras, and to avoid "see-through or shear clothing." It has also become necessary to remind these women that the showing of skin between pants and skirts and blouses is inappropriate for work. Also verboten are "cut-off jeans with ragged edges, cut-out dresses, and spaghetti-straps." Oh--and no spandex. Good heavens.

     Male teachers in Little Rock had to be told not to wear "t-shirts, patches and other clothing containing slogans for beer, alcohol, drugs, gangs or sex." (I guess they can still wear t-shirts to work as long as they are otherwise appropriate. I can't imagine being taught by a guy in a t-shirt.) All Little Rock educators will also have to cover their tattoos, and refrain from wearing jogging suits or flip-flops.

     If a school teacher in spandex, no underwear, and flip-flops refuses to go home and change into clothing more suitable for a quasi-professinal, this employee could be labelled insubordinate, and as such, risk losing their job. Although everyone knows how difficult it is to fire a public school teacher, the teacher's union in Little Rock is up in arms over the superintendent's dress code. What right does the superintendent have to tell teachers how to dress for school? Outrageous.

     Even at Walmart and McDonalds employees conform to dress codes. The fact that a dress code is even needed for school teachers reflects how far the teaching vocation has sunk. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Was J. Edgar Hoover Murdered?

     I've seen some exhumations that are irresponsible attempts to disturb the dead for the sake of providing a harebrained theory, and I've seen others that are scientifically worthy. Some notable people die surrounded by legends and half-truths, making it legitimate to exhume their remains in an age where science can supply answers to the cause and manner of death, especially if the person in question has historical significance.

     Without being conspiracy theorists, we can say that the questions raised on the death of an individual can be many and varied. For example, why did three medical doctors decide not to autopsy the remains of J. Edgar Hoover, a man with many enemies and no history of medical ailments? Shouldn't we find out more through an exhumation? [Hoover was director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972. He did have a lot of enemies. Many of the agents who worked under him were glad to see him dead. There was no evidence, however, that he was murdered. That is a harebrained theory.]

James E. Starrs (with Katherine Ramsland), A Voice for the Dead, 2005

Writing Quote: The Death of the Short Story Genre

     If you want to write fiction, the best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.

     If it persists, you probably ought to write a novel. Interestingly, most embryonic fiction writers accept the notion they ought to write a novel sooner or later. It's not terribly difficult to see that the world of short fiction is a world of limited opportunity. Both commercially and artistically, the short-story writer is quite strictly circumscribed.

     This has not always been the case. Half a century ago, the magazine story was important in a way it has never been since. During the twenties, a prominent writer typically earned several thousand dollars for the sale of a short story to a top slick [non-pulp] magazine. These stories were apt to be talked about at parties and social gatherings, and the reputation a writer might establish in this fashion helped gain attention for any novel he might ultimately publish.

     The change since those days has been remarkable. In virtually all areas, the short fiction market has shrunk in size and significance. Fewer magazines publish fiction, and every year they publish less of it. The handful of top markets pay less in today's dollars than they did in the much harder currency of fifty or sixty years ago. Pulp magazines have virtually disappeared as a market.

Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel, 1979

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Why Cops Are So Hard to Fire

      [Police officers accused of serious misconduct including physical abuse are] able to keep their jobs and benefits--sometimes only temporarily, but always longer than they should have--thanks to legislation written and lobbied for by well-funded police unions. That legislation is called the "Law Enforcement Bill of Rights," and its sole purpose is to shield cops from the laws they are paid to enforce....

     The rights created by these bills differ from state to state, but here's how a typical police misconduct investigation works in states that have a law enforcement bill of rights in place:

     A complaint is filed against an officer by a member of the pubic or fellow officer. Police department leadership reviews the complaint and decides whether to investigate. If the department decides to pursue the complaint, it must inform the officer and his union. That's where the special treatment begins, but it doesn't end there.

     Unlike a member of the pubic, the officer gets a "cooling off" period before he has to respond to any questions. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is privy to the names of his complainants and their testimony against him before he is ever interrogated. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is to be interrogated "at a reasonable hour," with a union member present. Unlike a member of the pubic, the officer can only be questioned by one person during his interrogation. Unlike a member of the public, the officer can be interrogated for only "reasonable periods," which "shall be timed to allow for such personal necessities and rest periods as are reasonably necessary." Unlike a member of the pubic, the officer under investigation cannot be "threatened with disciplinary action" at any point during his interrogation. If he is threatened with punishment, whatever he says following the threat cannot be used against him.

     What happens after the interrogation again varies from state to state. But under nearly every law enforcement bill of rights, the following additional privileges are granted to officers: Their departments cannot publicly acknowledge that the officer is under investigation; if the officer is cleared of wrongdoing or the charges are dropped, the department may not publicly acknowledge that the investigation ever took place, or reveal the nature of the complaint. The officer cannot be questioned or investigated by "non-goverment agents," which means no civilian review boards. If the officer is suspended as a result of the investigation, he must continue to receive full pay and benefits until his case is resolved. In most states, the charging department must subsidize the accused officer's legal defense....

Mike Riggs, "Why Firing a Bad Cop is Damn Near Impossible," reason.com, October 19, 2002

Writing Quote: Internet Journalism

The question is not whether Internet journalism will be dominant, but whether it will maintain the quality of the best print journalism. In the end it is not the delivery system that counts. It is what it delivers. There has never been such access to knowledge in all its forms. What we have to find is a way to sustain truth seeking. If we evolve the right financial model, we will enter a golden age of journalism.

Harold Evans, My Paper Chase, 2009

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Letting the Kids Sweat it Out in Chicago

    In August it can get real hot in Chicago. Last week the temperatures in that city rose to 100 degrees. This was bad news for hundreds of elementary students in dozens of suburban schools that do not have central air conditioning.

     Students at five Lake Zurich Unit District 95 schools took turns cooling off in the schools' air conditioned libraries. At Our Lady of the Wayside Catholic School in Arlington Heights, students in the building that didn't have air conditioning were rotated through the cooler buildings. In the schools that don't have any air conditioned buildings or rooms, teachers switched off the lights, organized water breaks, and turned on window fans. Sitting in a darkened classroom with hot air being blown on you must have been nice. Students were told to dress lightly. Classes in other schools were canceled, and in some districts, the kids were sent home early.

     Perhaps the schools that can't afford central air conditioning should stay closed until mid-September. It's not fun having a crayon melt in your hand. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Militaristic Policing

There's now a dominant military culture within modern police agencies. Go to one of many SWAT conferences and SWAT team competitions held throughout the year and you'll find exhibit halls teeming with military weapons, gear, clothing and imagery. The vendors at these events know their market. They use war imagery to ply their goods because that's what makes cops and police departments want to buy them. Many sell the same products to both the military and civilian police agencies. In the 1990s  and 2000s, the company Heckler and Koch marketed its MP 5 semiautomatic weapon with the slogan "From the Gulf War to the Drug War--Battle Proven." Publications like Larry Flynt's SWAT magazine feature ads that emphasize knocking heads and kicking ass, and print articles with headlines like "Go for the Throat" and "Warrior Mindset."

Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop, 2013