Monthly Archives: March 2015

Seemingly Unrelated News Items

In today’s newspapers, I read three seemingly unrelated stories, which upon retrospection are in fact related.

One had to do with the crash of the Germanwings plane earlier this month. The current best guess is that the pilot purposely crashed the plane when he thought he might lose his job as a result of some eye condition or that he had been suffering from depression and had long harbored suicidal thoughts. It now appears that he was treated for depression while in pilot training, took a leave from the training program, and later returned. It is not clear whether the airline or the training program was aware of his depression and suicidal thoughts when he reentered pilot training.

The second story appeared in the Washington Post about Shari Thomas, a woman who had killed a man who had abused her as a child, went to prison, earned a college degree there, earned a degree in biotechnology after release, and now thanks to the Internet, finds it hard to get a job. Her past will always haunt her. You can read about it here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/womans-criminal-record-upends-her-life-25-years-later/2015/03/30/4cb95966-ccf5-11e4-8a46-b1dc9be5a8ff_story.html

The third story is about a car that crashed into a barrier at Fort Meade MD, the home of the National Security Agency. The current theory is that the driver of the stolen car made an accidental turn into the highly secure and guarded complex, became concerned when he saw the police car as he had some illegal drugs in the car, and accidentally crashed into a police car in an attempt to avoid the situation. The end of the article mentions a similar case when a woman was shot when she accidentally (or not) crashed into a White House barrier in October 2013. Details are available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/officials-respond-to-incident-at-nsa-on-fort-meade-campus/2015/03/30/08bdfe56-d6e1-11e4-ba28-f2a685dc7f89_story.html

What are the unifying themes around these stories?

One might have to do with how we as a society deal with mental illness, how we treat or stigmatize those with mental illnesses, and how we protect ourselves from the mentally ill who act violently. Miriam Carey, the woman who crashed into the White House seemed to suffering from some mental illness. Did she get the care she needed? She had a job at the time. Did it provide mental illness support? Would she have lost her job had her employers known about her illness? Did Andreas Lubitz hide his mental illness from his employer fearing job loss. Apparently flying was a childhood dream and the thought of being grounded may have driven him to crash his plane.  The New York times addresses this point today at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/31/world/europe/role-of-illness-in-germanwings-jet-crash-spurs-debate.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

The second theme is the need for security and the parameters to establish it when facts are unclear. In the case of Shari Thomas, should her murder conviction more than 25 years ago disqualify her for employment today? Should the fact she killed an abuser, admittedly not in self defense, give prospective employers a reason to not hire her? Should mental illness years ago prevent one from obtaining a commercial pilot’s license? In the Fort Meade case, and the White House case, and the many other police shootings that have made headlines in recent months, how do we decide when force is needed to protect the public, how much is needed, and when lethal force is justified?

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Mandatory Church Attendance

Readers of my previous postings on the Church of Biggie M, know me to be a spiritual guy and hardly an opponent of what people call religion, although I do draw the line at Scientology. But this one took me by surprise.

An Arizona state senator has called for mandatory church attendance. Yes, you read that correctly. But don’t take my word for it. You can read about it here:
http://www.kpho.com/story/28620533/az-senator-church-attendance-should-be-mandatory

It had to be on Sunday, which is a bit problematic for Jews and Moslems, not to mention Catholics who go to Saturday evening mass. This does seem to be a violation of the 1st Amendment’s prohibition on the establishment of religion but many believe that the U.S. is a Christian country and thus it already has an established religion. Most of these people are Christian. It seems unlikely that non-believers or members of other faiths would support this view. Or maybe it is a mostly Christian country, but certainly not an exclusively Christian country.

Now, with all due respect to Senator Sylvia Allen and the good citizens (R-Snowflake), does it seem appropriate that she represents someplace with the word “Flake” in its name? And our editorial staff did consult records that indicate that even though it is in Arizona, Snowflake does actually see snow most years.

Indiana Religious Freedom or License to Hate?

This week Indiana passed a “Religious Freedom” bill that would exempt business from having to serve same-couples if that would somehow infringe on the religious beliefs of the owners.

http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2015/03/23/us/politics/23reuters-usa-indiana-gays.html

Now, when I grew up, Jews were routinely called “Christ Killers” and I would imagine that it could be against some believers to serve the descendants of their savior. And I recall some citing Biblical passages supporting slavery and discrimination against Blacks. Hindus, of course, are idolators and the Bible does warn us against those kinds of people. Recently, a Florida pastor called Terry Jones has called for the burning of the Koran and one could imagine that this bill, while it doesn’t directly protect Koran burning, might be used as a defense against attempts to prohibit this activity. Maybe the Indiana law would support all these activities. You can read the text of this law for yourself and decide.

https://iga.in.gov/legislative/2015/bills/senate/101#

On a TV interview with George Stephanopoulos,  Governor Tom Pence refused to say whether this bill would allow businesses to provide services to gay weddings, blaming the media for creating a brouhaha about the bill.

Rule No.1:  When you have a political problem, blame someone else.

On March 31, 2105 Governor Tom Pence agreed to “fix” the law, this apparently after many Indiana based companies objected and others, such as the NCAA showed concern about having future events in the state.   It looks as though the economic implications of the bill may trump the religious freedoms Hoosiers value highly, but not so highly as to hurt them in the pocketbook.

Rule No. 2:  When people say it’s not the money but the principle, remember that the principle is: It’s about the money.

Now, did those who oppose this bill support a similar one years ago.  Read the following and decide for yourself.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/is-the-controversial-indiana-law-the-same-as-a-law-backed-by-obama/2015/03/31/d80e7494-2f5f-4b53-b68d-99d49574644d_story.html

If you take a look at the map, it seems that most of the states that have these laws are “Red” states.    Most have a large socially conservative population that oppose same sex marriage, citing the Bible as a moral authority that condemns it.  Many were part of the Confederate States of America which cited the Bible as the moral authority that accepted slavery.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2015/03/27/19-states-that-have-religious-freedom-laws-like-indianas-that-no-one-is-boycotting/

Arkansas passed a similar bill on March 30.  It sure looks a lot like the Indiana bill.

http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2015/2015R/Bills/HB1228.pdf

People as Products

We’ve been hearing a bit these days about robots replacing humans for mundane tasks and self driving cars are already a reality. Many years ago, I wrote a birth announcement for a colleague as if it were a new product announcement and thought it might be relevant. I’ve changed the name of the people involved.

NEW PRODUCT ANNOUNCEMENT

Today at 10:45 a.m. Boslov and Derf, Inc. announced the arrival of the new
Ricky-I. A highly sophisticated, entry-level parent training device,
the Ricky-I is officially known as Richard Boslov-Derf. Since final
delivery of the project was delayed past the original due date,
an outside expert specializing in the delivery of such projects
was brought in. Fred Derf was seen at the cord cutting ceremony
but was unable to comment. Suzie Boslov, who was intimately involved
with all aspects of the project, took the delivery lying down.

At present, software for the Ricky-I is effective, but not robust
or remotely user-friendly. It is limited to the most essential I/O
and voice functions. More sophisticated software functions will
definitely be added in future years.

Name: Richard Boslov-Derf
Intro Date: 22 October 1986

Product Description: Lap-size, four-function baby

Functions: Input, Output, Alarm, Snooze
Output Connector: Male
Weight at intro: 7 lbs.
Height at intro: 19 1/2 inches
Fuel Requirements: Initially 1 oz/hr. Subject to change without
notice.

Future Expansion: Locomotion, language, reasoning, and
additional features will be added in the
near future.

NOTE: This is a prototype, and NOT FOR SALE. Similar devices
may be obtained by a complicated process that is somewhat
understood. Delivery approximately nine months after receipt
of order. Size, weight, and output connector may vary.
No warranty either expressed or implied.
Does not come with a training manual.

WARNING: Batteries not included. No user-serviceable parts inside.
External shielding required to prevent accidental waste
discharge. No refunds. No exchanges.
——-

Yet Another Police Shooting

There is a video on CNN today of a supposedly mentally ill man shot dead  by police because he refused to drop a screwdriver.   Yes, a screwdriver can be a weapon and some mentally ill can act erratically  but the man did not seem to be acting aggressively or hostile  to the police.

http://www.cnn.com/videos/justice/2015/03/18/lv-cops-shoot-kill-mentally-ill-man-screwdriver-dallas.cnn

It’s been a long, long time since I shot anything and it was a .22 rifle at a shooting range. But I have to  believe that the officers at the home in Dallas could have not shot the man, or at the very least shot him in the leg, removing most any threat he could could pose to them or his mother.  Did the man drop the screwdriver when ordered by the police?  No, but he was shot seconds after the order.   The police have a tough job, but they do seem to like to shoot when they have a chance and they don’t seem to aim to disable but to kill.  Why is this?  I don’t know and my more cynical instincts tell me that they get off on control  and killing people plays into that.

Could the police use more training in dealing with the mentally ill? Probably.  Would they actually use the training and behave differently?  I don’t know.  But I do have a friend with an autistic child who has gone around teaching local police departments how to deal with autism.  Maybe he could broaden his program to include other forms of mental illness.

There seems to be an epidemic of police shootings of unarmed people.  Is this happening more now than before or are we just hearing more about it.  A recent report in Maryland states that 109 people in the state were killed by police officers from 2010 to 2014, or whom 40% were unarmed and 70% where black.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/blog/bs-md-aclu-police-deaths-20150318-story.html#page=1

What can we do about this?  What should we do?