Saturday, November 15, 2008

Zero Tolerance as a club....

Randy Cassingham's delightful "This Is True" includes frequent discussions of the Zero Tolerance insanity. His most recent posting along these lines is Zero Tolerance Trick, No Treat about:
"An art class at Pooler Elementary School in Savannah, Ga., was assigned to draw a "scary" Halloween mask. Fifth- grader Jordan Hood drew a bloody vampire with the caption, "I Kill For Blood"
. ... when Melissa Pevey, the boy's home-room teacher, saw the drawing, she found it "disturbing" and called in the assistant principal -- and a school police officer. Pevey claimed the caption "could" be a reference to the street gang "The Bloods", and the drops of blood "looked a lot like" gang tattoos ... Jordan was required to pass a psychological evaluation before he could return to class."
Naturally, I had to learn more.
The original Savannah morning news report and publicly available information about Pooler Elementary draw a scary picture indeed:
  • It seems that the teachers had received "gang-identification training"; this may be where she got the idea a bloody teardrop was a gang symbol instead of standard Halloween issue. I would suggest this "training" was, to say the least, not very effective.
  • It also seems that Jordan was a new student from out of town. "We moved to Pooler thinking he'd be in a more diverse school with better opportunities," [his mother] told the newspaper. The mother's name, LaKisha, is used almost exclusively by African-Americans; we can assume the boy is mixed-race or black.
  • The racial makeup of Poller Elementary's student population is posted on the as 74% white (state average 48%), 15% black (state average 38%).
  • Can it be that no other student drew a mask with something that could be interpreted as a "gang symbol"? No blood? No flames? No skulls?

Put it together, folks.

It is comforting to think that Zero Tolerance is merely Being Stupid. We can mock the foolish and hope to cure ZT with education ...and of course more mockery!

But ZT is not merely stupidity. It is a convenient tool for pushing out an unwelcome student, or at least making life troublesome for him and his family.

We have little knowledge of Jordan himself, other than his ability and willingness to follow the direction of his art teacher (Clearly he deserves high marks for his artwork, since it satisfied the express requirements of being "scary" ... it scared the bejesus out of his home room teacher!)

Be he and his family must have learned something from this. Will Jordan spend the rest of his school career editing his work to avoid run-ins with authority? Or has he learned that he can get out of schoolwork by freaking out teachers?

Which would be worse?

Border Patrol Can Roadbload Your Neighborhood

... if you, like most Americans, live within 100 miles of the border. And remember, the coasts are a border.

Our Founding Fathers wrote into the Bill of Rights a prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures. This means that if you're just driving around, minding your own business, the police can't pull you over without some suspicion of wrongdoing. And THAT means they can't block a road and search the car of anyone who happens along.

Until the USA/PATRIOT act allowed the Border Patrol to do just that ... within 100 miles of a border.

Most American citizens live within 100 miles of the coast or some other border. This is because most of our large metropolitan areas are ports. The ENTIRE STATE OF Michigan, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Florida and Hawaii are within 100 miles of a border - see the map here.

The USA/PATRIOT Act effectively suspended part of our Constitution for most Americans. It's probably unConstitutional, but finding a citizen willing to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court is difficult.

Recently a guy I know, Paul Richmond, helped a client roadblocked by the Border Patrol near the Hood Canal Bridge. No-one who knows the area would think it's an international border, but we're talking the Border Patrol here ... an out-of-control organization apparently looking to boost its arrest statistics. According to a recent article in the Seattle P-I, So far, it's stopped 24,524 vehicles and taken 81 illegal immigrants into custody, for a success rate of 0.0033. This makes it by far one of the least effectual crime-prevention efforts ever; they'd be better off buying lottery tickets.

It's worth noting, from the article, that Border Patrol roadblocks claim the ability to go all through your car because they're, you know, Border Patrol. Every other law-enforcement officer has to have a reason to search your car, but the B.P. does it because they can.

Of course, the ineffectuality of the Border Patrol is not the real issue; the real issue is the suspension of our Constitution. Allowing the police to search you any time they want may make us safer from druggies and terrorists, but it doesn't make us safer from our government.

John Bates, Border Patrol chief in charge of the Northwest, has announce his firm commitment to continue violating our Constitution.
"These are immigration checkpoints. However, if we encounter other violations of law, we are not going to turn our back on them."
It makes you wonder: if these really are immigration checkpoints, why do they need to search the interior of an ordinary car? Can't you tell if there's an immigrant hiding in the car by shining your flashlight around? How tiny are the immigrants they're looking for?

BTW good luck fighting the Border Patrol in court; they have professional staff paid for with your tax dollars; you have to hire a lawyer on your own dime. And you're most unlikely to get your costs paid for even if you win. Richmond's client was lucky to find a representative with the time and resources to help out; if the economy continues to sicken, don't expect there to be more legal professionals with the time and money to come to your aid.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Meat Space Flight: Does It Pencil Out?

I love SF: Science Fiction, Scientifiction, Space Flight.

Luna City, Barsoom, the Belter Civilization, Star Fleet Command. Wow! I still have a battered magazine with the first publication of The Cold Equations and Agent of Vega and some Viagens adventure by L. Sprague de Camp. Wow! And it just keeps getting better: Startide Rising and A Deepness In The Sky are different from, but probably better than, Foundation and Starship Troopers. Wowser!

And I sincerely hope someone develops the McGuffin Drive that makes it all possible, just as I hope a genii grants me three wishes or a pack of angels tells me God is paying our little planet a friendly visit to freshen her up.

Until then, you can drop on-the-order-of-magnitude-of 100 'bots on Mars for the cost of the first human expedition. This is mostly because we don't care about getting the bots back; also they can be built not to need oxygen or water.

Humans, on the other hand, are delicate. We are made of meat, and meat goes bad if you don't take are of it. The human brain is an extremely flexible controller, capable of rapidly adapting to situational change, but so what? Bots may be slower and stupider but, you know, it's not as if Mars is going anywhere. If bot #7 gets stuck on task 7.10a, just wait for bot #8.

Why not develop a bot factory to drop on Mars, just smart enough to build a more bots per instructions beamed from earth.

Lego Marstorms anyone?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lawyers for Warriors: Year Zero

Memorial Day seems like a good time to mention Lawyers for Warriors.

I have effectively zero experience with military affairs save that which I acquired through books and movies, but that has never stopped a great many neoconservatives from pontificating on whom we should invade when to achieve a fantastic visions of a world in which we are loved by all who do not fear us (apathy being, it seems, the one emotion neoconservatives fear...). Therefore I with great confidence or perhaps arrogance planted the seed of "Lawyers for Warriors" to address a general problem broadly overlooked: that uniformed service to our great nation frequently results in legal problems not easily addressed on an E-4's salary.

Servicemembers, veterans and their families have the same legal problems as everyone else: divorce, landlords, mortgages, creditors and debtors, and so on. These problems can be exacerbated by some of the realities of military life, notably deployments and their aftermaths.

I ran into these problems head on as chair of the Washington State Bar Association's Section on World Peace Through Law. I had originally joined the Section post-9/11 because I figured we were headed into a period of lawlessness, in which practical study of how law and peace can create and reinforce each other was more important than ever. Leading up to Bush's invasion of Iraq, it was patently clear that he was simply making stuff up both on the facts and on the law, and it might be worth pointing that out. Surely, Perry-Mason-like, all we had to do was point this out and lawfulness would be restore.

I was wrong. Invented facts and fabricated legal justifications worked just fine when it comes to stirring up war fever, and no mere appeal to reality stood against them. (Humankind is a feeling animal, not a thinking one, or to be more precise, feeling is the primary component of the way we think. But the political mind is another topic.)

This experience motivated me to work harder on the subject. Toward the end of 2006, the subject of the law of military orders came up, probably inspired by Lieutenant Watada. Regardless of the details of his case, this brave officer had raised an important point: the law says an officer must refuse an illegal order, but how does this work in practice?

I put together a panel (or, more accurately, I found some great panelists and Jay Hastings, a great guy, organized the show) and in January 2007 "What Is An Illegal Order?" was presented, featuring several veterans explaining the blackletter law and how, in practice, it rarely matters. But again, that's another issue.

In developing this panel, it became clear to me that there were a host of issues addressing our military community, and to solve these problems in a comprehensive way was the responsibility of no-one. The community is large and inchaote: there are five uniformed services, each with its own structure; there are Regular, Reserve and Guard components; there are actively serving and veterans; there are the servicemembers and their families of all the above. Have I left anyone out? I apologize if so, but by my count we could have 5x3x2x2 = 60 population segments, and I haven't even addressed geographic (50+ Guard organizations), unit (how many divisions?), and economic (e.g. officer vs enlisted) issues. Truly this is a complex matter even before we consider distinctions written into law (Blue Water Navy vs. Brown Water, pre- vs. post-9/11 servicemembers, citizen vs. non-citizen).

It's no surprise that there are gaps in legal coverage. I never disparage the JAG Corps; those I've met are uniformly cool, competent and good to have on your side. But their mission is not to address those 60+ segments and they tend to be fully involved as is. So whose gig is it to fill the gaps? Nobody's.

Heck, whose job is it to IDENTIFY the gaps? (No intelligence means no solution.)

Nobody's. Or, as Bill Keane would say, "It's Not Me!"

Hence, Lawyers for Warriors. The first move was a training program called "Lawyers for Warriors", develop through WPTL jointly with the WSBA's Section on Legal Assistance to Military Personnel (LAMP). The former section supported the program on the grounds that servicemembers & families are a population heavily affected by our efforts and, too often, failures to maintain peace through law. The latter was already actively promoting CLEs on the subject, and happy to access a different set of lawyers. In four hours we learned enough to figure out that there was a lot to do, and merely running a few CLEs wasn't going to solve the problem.

Lawyers for Warriors is still a voluntary program and, like so many voluntary efforts, limps along because it's no-one's primary focus. I have a day job, after all: if a man can't feed himself, he can't help anyone else.

I hope, however, that by keeping on slogging through, doggedly, I can contribute in a small way to solving the problem. I've found some good buddies and helped develop partial solutions, such as Attorneys Assisting Citizen-Soldiers & Families. I'll record what I find here in my scrapbook or on the Lawyers for Warriors blog and see what happens.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Operation Love Reunited

Operation Love Reunited is a photography organization offering free photography sessions to deploying, deployed, and reuniting military families.

Each family gets 2 free sessions, whether it be one before deployment with their military member, during deployment of homefront spouse and children, and a homecoming session or post-deployment session. The photographers have agreed to send albums to deployed military members at no cost. The photographers have to meet strict requirements to be accepted.

Their website,, is designed to help families find photographers using the military member's zip code.

Are you a professional photographer? Here is a wonderful opportunity to volunteer!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Minimum Wages for the Complete Idiot

The math is easy: raising the minimum wage leaves minimum wage workers better off than before, although with slightly different work patterns and higher quality of work.

Let's work through the math.

We're gonna use some numbers which you may or may not agree with, but it doesn't matter. Change the numbers to anything you want; it works the same unless you use really strange numbers (like $0/hour or $100/hour).

ASSUME: an increase in minimum wage means employers will cut back somewhat on the amount of minimum wage hours employed. (The actual cut is typically small since the labor cost of most goods is only a fraction of the total cost of goods produced.)

An economy with one million hours of minimum wage work at $5/hour.

An 10% increase in minimum wage means a 5% cut in minimum wage hours worked.

The pool of minimum wage workers get $5 million and work 1 million hours.

* Minimum wage goes up 10% to $5.50/her
* Employers cut hours employed 5%, to 950,000 hrs
* The pool of minimum wage workers get $5 225 000 and work 950,000 hours.

The workers have more money
The workers have a little more free time

NOTE ALSO: since the workers are paid higher wages, it is more economical for the employer to use technology to improve their productivity.

Everyone wins!

EDITTED: for support, see