Saturday, May 12, 2018

How To End The Collusionpalooza Circus

Well, Trump has been President for over a year, now, and Robert Mueller has been investigating alleged collusion with various Russians for longer than that, and so far all he has is a handful of 1001 indictments (making a materially false statement to a federal investigator, the charge that sent Martha Stewart up the river).  To make matters worse, one of the indictees has decided to slug it out in court, and they are demanding 'discovery', the process where the accused gets to review all the evidence the prosecutor(s) have indicating wrongdoing, and they are demanding a speedy trial as guaranteed to them by the Constitution.  Mueller and his team are resisting, claiming that it just might be possible that this indictee may not have been served properly.  They reallyreally don't want anyone peeking under their skirts.  The judge, by the way, laughed Mueller out of court on the entirely reasonable grounds that if they weren't ready to go to trial, they shouldn't have issued an indictment.  Just this alone might put an end to Mueller's fishing trip, but if not...

Congress is at war with the FBI, it seems.  They issue subpoenas for files that will tell them whether Andrew McCabe or James Comey (or both) committed perjury, and the FBI stonewalls on grounds of 'national security'.  One might think that President Trump might want to let Congress do some digging inside an organization that, very probably, is conspiring against him and his administration.  I think I would.  And here's how President Clarke would get that to happen:

I would have a U.S. Marshal called to the Oval Office in stand-by mode.  I would summon Rod Rosenstein to the OO for a quick conference where I would ask him how long it would take to comply with those Congressional subpoenas, and then order him to do so.  If Rosenstein refused, I would have the Marshal arrest him on the spot for obstruction of justice, seize his phone, confiscate his passport, and hustle him off to a secure lock-up, then repeat the exercise going down the chain of command.  If Rosenstein accepted the order, I would place him on 'unpaid status' until compliance was achieved as a way of ensuring compliance happens with all deliberate speed.

I would also have Robert Mueller's passport picked up, along with John Brennan's, James Comey's, and Andrew McCabe's.  Just as a precaution.

How long do you think Collusionpalooza would continue after that?

Monday, May 7, 2018

Save The Children

We've all seen those ads on TV urging us to call right now to pledge just pennies-a-day to save abandoned animals, wounded warriors, children with cancer, abused women, and a seemingly endless array of others, each more deserving of our charity than the last.  The one that strikes me as most inappropriate is the ad (you almost certainly have seen it) showing emaciated African or South American children living in squalor and badly needing a meal or even just a simple glass of milk.  You can save this child with a donation of only nineteen cents a day.  How can anyone be so cruel as to withhold such a pittance?

As I watched one of these ads, I had to wonder why, with all the foreign aid money we splash across the globe, none of it seems to get to these starving youngsters.  Where is all that foreign aid money going?

It helps to understand, first, that we don't do 'foreign aid' today the way we used to do it, say, a hundred years ago.

A hunded years ago, Mrs. Jenkins' 5th grade class would adopt Armenian refugees or Chinese orphans or the victims of the war in West Wheresoever.  At the beginning of the term, all the children would receive a small cardboard coin bank.  During the year, they would put spare change into the box until the day finally arrived to pool all the contents.  On that day, usually with great fanfare and ceremony, the children would pop the box-ends and pour the contents into a fishbowl or pickle jar, sometimes as part of a field trip to the local bank.  The coins would be counted and sorted, perhaps by the semi-magical machine the bank used that collected the coins sorted and ready to be slipped into coin sleeves.  The bank manager would then announce that the class had collected $37.89 and the coins would be converted to a check payable to, most likely, The American Red Cross.  There would be a representative from the intended charity ready to accept the check and to give a short speech congratulating the children for their generosity toward those less fortunate.

The $252,319.23 collected from several thousand schoolrooms across the country would then be used to buy wheat, rice, potatoes, milk, tea, flour, salt, goats, and water pumps for villages where such things were not simply nice-to-have, but vital for survival.  The people who got those things knew that American schoolchildren and American charities had made it possible for them to see another Spring.  Everybody loved us and thought we were, as Alexis deTocqueville once suggested, the most uniformly generous people on Earth.

Foreign aid today is an entirely different story.

Today, the government taxes everyone to support the General Fund that covers all the government functions we have come to expect and including foreign aid.  Foreign governments (not the people) get vouchers good for purchases from American companies.  Foreign governments don't want wheat and rice; they just have to redistribute stuff like that and it's a big pain in the butt to do that.  They'd rather have the money.  But if we just give them money, there's no guarantee they won't spend it in places we disapprove of, so we give them vouchers that can only be redeemed on purchases from American companies.  The American companies can turn the vouchers in to the Treasury Department for real cash.  That way, the money stays here where it belongs.

Alas, the companies that usually redeem those vouchers are generally in the business of supplying guns, tanks, warships, and warplanes, and the ammunition all those things use.  Very little, if any, of that 'foreign aid' actually gets to the people who need milk, tea, coffee, scrambled eggs, toast, cereal, or a new water pump for the village.

Most of it, in fact, goes toward bombing, maiming, and killing the people who need food and water and clothing for themselves and their families.

And everybody hates us.

And that's why your nineteen cents a day is so badly needed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Wrong Path To School Safety

Following the St. Valentine's Day Massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, there has been the easily-predictable wave of calls for even more civilian disarmament, but this time it's different. Those calling for more stringent gun control are the students of MSDHS in concert with schools all across the country. Florida has passed a law that, among other things, raises the minimum age for buying a long gun to 21; federal law sets the minimum age at 18 for long guns and 21 for handguns. Unspoken by the mainstream media is that the student protests, including rented buses for getting their voices to Tallahassee and Washington DC, are being funded by deep-pocket anti-gun organizations like Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety among others.

Naturally, politicians of all stripes are paying rapt attention to these teenagers. They're not old enough to exercise most of their rights, but they're clearly old enough to have opinions on everybody else's rights. It's not a surprise that Democrat politicians have jumped on the "Throw Lots Of Money At The Problem" bandwagon, but the GOP (you know, the ones the NRA buys with their campaign contributions) seems to have signed on as well. Heck, even Governor Scott is happy to squirt a half billion of somebody else's dollars at it if it seems like it will pick up a few extra votes for Senator Scott when he's term-limited out of the Governor's mansion.

Why not the — to the gun-rights proponents — more sensible tactic of allowing properly-trained teachers to carry on the job? This suggestion is always answered by a litany of strawman arguments: teachers aren't supposed to be cops; the majority of teachers don't want any more guns in their classrooms; if you make me carry a gun, I'll quit; what happens when a teacher accidentally shoots a student?; and on and on...

Most of those arguments are based on pure fantasy or pure fatalism.

Teachers aren't supposed to be cops. And nobody wants them to be, least of all the teachers themselves. That said, a recent survey suggests that 1-in-5 teachers would, if they were legally permitted, bring their own firearm with them. Did you catch that? Their own firearm. No additional expense to an already overbloated school budget for "supplying guns to teachers". Those teachers already have firearms with which they are conversant, and with which they train — probably more often than the deputies who will be called to respond to the next school shooting.

And there will be a 'next one'. Nothing that has been proposed so far will prevent another school shooting. The best you can hope for is to minimize the damage. Oddly, having teachers ready to respond immediately to a shooting may be the best option: in the eleven (11) states that now permit armed teachers, there have been no (0) school shootings since that policy went into effect.

The majority of teachers don't want... What if a majority of teachers didn't want a School Resource Officer present, either? Would you consider that something we should all pay attention to, or would you say "don't be stupid!"? Why should a bloc of teachers who are of one mind endanger the safety of the entire school?

Oh, you think keeping teachers disarmed enhances the safety of the school? If we look at "concealed carriers" as a class (and, yes, any teacher who goes armed would have to have a concealed carry license) and compare them against "law enforcement officers" as a class, we find something very odd: licensed concealed carriers are more law-abiding than are the police — they even return their library books on time — and when they have to shoot, it is the police who are 5.5 times more likely to shoot an innocent bystander. You're worried about the teachers? Worry about your SROs!

If you make me carry a gun, I'll quit. Nobody will make anybody carry a gun (and you know it). Those teachers who volunteer and who demonstrate proficiency will be the only ones (legally) carrying, and since it's concealed, neither other teachers nor the students will know who is or who isn't.

What happens when a teacher accidentally shoots a student? It's silly to suggest that no teacher will ever accidentally shoot a student who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing. It is going to happen. That unlucky student is more likely to be shot by the SRO (see above), and if that 'bad shoot' happens in conjunction with a real school-shooting event, it's fair to wonder about the odds of dying in a school without armed teachers.

If you have an open mind, you may by now be rethinking your objections to the notion of "teachers as first responders". School shootings are like terrorist incidents: they happen at random and without warning (that authorities pay attention to). Because they are a diffuse phenomenon, any response, to be reasonably effective, must also be diffuse. The remedy must be wide-spread to the point that at any moment and in any place you can say with confidence "we're prepared".

Sure, you can splash money all over the problem and get very, very close to an ideal solution.

Or you can treat your teachers as if they actually have a brain and let those who are willing provide the best solution.

For free. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Can we Prevent School Shootings?

All the talking heads, both media- and otherwise, are babbling on about how to prevent the next horrific school shooting, and I'm shaking my non-talking head over the plethora of non-solutions being offered:  ban assault weapons;  raise the age-to-purchase to 21 (someone even said '25');  better, more comprehensive background checks;  on-site mental health professionals to look for warning signs;  more SROs (School Resource Officers).  The list goes on and on.  I just want to ask one question.  Would any of these or even all of them together have prevented the last shooting?

My conclusion is that, no, not even all of these together could have prevented that event.  Each of them can be worked-around — where the system itself doesn't simply fail in its assigned task.  You can have all the SROs you want, but if they're all outside having a smoke break and decide they're not going to risk their lives just to save a bunch of teenagers...

No, it's not possible to prevent the next school shooting.  The best you can hope for is to mitigate the damage — ideally, down to zero — and there's only one way to do that:  there have to be people ready to answer the threat at the very moment it arises, at the very spot where it arises, and the more people who are ready, the better.  More SROs, you say?  At Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, the well-paid armed SROs cowered outside waiting for the gunfire to die down while the underpaid and unarmed teachers tried to shield their students from the carnage.  P.s.: it didn't work.

Now, nobody is suggesting teachers must be armed.  Neither you nor I want to see a teacher who is unfamiliar with firearms and who, in fact, doesn't want to be around guns nevertheless forced into such a supremely uncomfortable position.  But there are some teachers who (a) own guns, (b) are comfortable being armed, (c) would rather be able to defend themselves and their charges, and (d) wouldn't turn down a 'training and readiness stipend' if offered.  Did you say you don't believe there are that many teachers who would volunteer?  Certified firearms instructors across the country offer free or reduced rate classes specially designed for teachers and school staffers, and they report that thousands of them apply for the hundreds of slots available whenever they're offered.  They turn out for the classes even when they know there's no chance the school board is ever going to bend on the issue.  That is:  they're trained and ready and unable to put that training to use because they work in a gun-free zone of mandated defenselessness.  In case of another school shooting, all they'll be able to do is run and hide until they're found and killed.

Well, the last couple of shooters used rifles.  Are we going to pit trained teachers armed with pistols against untrained nutjobs armed with rifles? No, we're going to keep those teachers unarmed because they're going to die anyway, so what's the use?  That's the reasoning (if it can be called that) behind gun-free zones:  everyone is going to die;  let's not make it worse.

Ten states make it easy for properly-trained teachers to be armed on the job.  Do you recall the last time you read a headline screaming "Teacher Goes Berzerk; Kills Student For Texting In Class"?  No?  You can be sure that headline would be repeated on the front page of every newspaper in the country if it ever happened, so I think we can rest assured it hasn't.

So here's where we are:  of the several 'solutions' being proposed to halt the scourge of school shootings, the only one with an unblemished record of success is routinely rejected in favor of others whose only track record is failure after failure after failure.

And when the next school shooting happens at a school where every one of the reforms on the progressive wish-list has been implemented, we will be told "Aha!  We forgot to prohibit..." and a new item will be added to the wish-list.  What won't be added is 'allowing teachers to defend themselves'.

Makes sense to me...  not!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Solution to Gerrymandering

Ask virtually anyone their opinion of 'gerrymandering' and you are virtually certain to get a negative response.  Gerrymandering, the practice of drawing political districts in order to make them predictably safe for one party or the other (only Republicans and Democrats get to draw district boundaries because no other parties ever have sufficient clout to draw district boundaries because they have been gerrymandered into obscurity) has been practiced since the early 19th century when political parties began to form, and has always been looked down upon — officially — by the general populace.  The result of gerrymandering is often a district whose boundaries appear to be more random than regular, sometimes including stretches that contain no actual voters.  It has always been seen as something of a political dirty trick, herding your opponent's voters into the corner while spreading your own voters strategically so as to win more districts, win more positions in the government, and win more power to install your policies.  I say 'officially' because few people complain that gerrymandering has given them more power than they deserve.

Nevertheless, principled people have long sought a way to prevent any party drawing district boundaries for nefarious purposes.  In 200 years, their efforts have been largely fruitless because any law that would effectively prevent gerymandering would, it was thought, be large, complicated, and difficult to administer if it could actually be passed by a legislature, something not at all certain.

That, at any rate, is the conventional wisdom.

I think I may have stumbled upon a solution, a rule that is simple, straight-forward, easy to understand, and (most importantly) easy to police.  It is a two-part rule:

  1. it must be legally possible for any person to walk from any place within a district to any other place within the same district without leaving the district;
  2. the distance from any point within the district to its center may not be more than 2.5 times the distance to the nearest district center not within the district.

Provision (a) prevents connecting two or more sections by routing it (e.g.) along an interstate highway or private rights-of-way because it's illegal to walk on them.  Provision (b) tends to make each voting district more circular than extended, 'extended' being the sign of a manufactured district.

'2.5' is arbitrary.  The closer you move it toward 1, the more circular the district would become.  Total circularity is obviously impossible; 2.5 seems a reasonable compromise, but if you think it should be 3.64, I can completely understand that; you couldn't convince me that 17 is equally reasonable.

What's left is a district that has no long, spindly alleys connecting two pieces of the same district, and that is compact enough such that, from wherever I am in that district, if the district center is five miles away, there isn't another district center closer than two miles.  I think that no one would complain (aloud, in public) were every district constructed to these specifications.

What am I missing?

Sunday, December 24, 2017

What collusion?

Well, here we are more than a full year away from the first claims that Russia hacked our election, and seven months into a very expensive excursion by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller and what do we have to show for it?  Did I hear you say 'bupkis'?  Why, yes, I believe that's what several million dollars (your dollars to be precise) spent on top-notch Washington lawyers has gotten us.  Wait.  What?

As time marches on and no indictable offenses are forthcoming, it becomes more and more likely that there were no indictable offenses — at least in the direction Bob Mueller is looking.  If Bob Mueller (or his replacement or successor) looks through the other end of the telescope, however, the view changes dramatically.  The Obama administration's FBI and DoJ obtained Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants to spy on high-ranking members of the Trump campaign — before and after the election — based on the now-discredited 'Trump dossier'.  That document was produced by a company known as Fusion GPS, a well-known scandal-for-hire research (!) firm.  Fusion GPS was hired to dig up (or manufacture) dirt on the Trump campaign  by lawyers contracted to the DNC.  Wait.  What?  We now know that the Clinton Presidental Campaign was in de facto control of the DNC at the time, according to claims made by Donna Brazile who took over leadership of the DNC from Debbie Wassermam-Schultz after the latter's ignominious fall from grace.  In other words, the Clinton Campaign, through their hand-puppet DNC, hired lawyers to find someone to get dirt on Trump (and in the process provide plausible deniability), then fed the result to FBI and DoJ, which proceeded to (a) leak the dossier to friendly news outlets, and (b) go to the FISA court to get warrants authorizing spying on the Trump campaign.  Loretta Lynch, as AG, had to sign the applications for warrants before they could be presented.  Perhaps she didn't brief her boss, Barack Obama, on what was going on?  Maybe she briefed Bill Clinton during the 'tarmac meeting' in San Diego?

Now we have Andrew McCabe, a very high ranking employee of the DoJ, unable to recall exactly when he discovered the Trump dossier was a fabrication.  How odd.  Were I McCabe, I would have scheduled an emergency staff meeting that same day and there would be some record of the meeting notice going out in the DoJ's very professionally done email-handler and meeting-arranger system.  I would have scheduled that meeting to discover the 'root cause' of that dossier (Clinton), and to begin investigating whether the act of providing what the DNC almost had to know was bogus information to the FBI/DoJ for the purpose of undermining the Trump campaign rose to the level of a criminal offense.  If it were criminal for the Russians to do it, wouldn't it be criminal for anyone to do it?

But I'm not McCabe, and that may explain why I'm finding this all a little too hard to swallow.  After all, the original judgement of 'gross negligence' in Clinton's handling of emails (a criminal offense) was changed by a long-term Hillary-supporter on McCabe's staff to 'extreme carelessness' (a naughty-naughty) and subsequently used by Comey to explain why she was not being indicted.

How very, very odd.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Glass Mountain

When I was growing up, CBS-TV (channel 2) in NY offered "Picture For A Sunday Afternoon" at 1pm or 2pm, and they would deliver two movies (the second was billed as "The Early Show") until 5pm or 6pm after which there was news followed by the prime-time lineup.

"Picture For A Sunday Afternoon" used a hauntingly beautiful theme that stuck in my head for years and years.  One day as I was walking down a corridor at IBM in White Plains casually whistling this music, a young man popped into the hallway from his office.  "Is that 'The Legend of the Glass Mountain'?" he asked.  I shrugged.  I had no idea what it was called.  It turned out that he was right.

Years later when I worked for Fawcett Publications (a division of CBS), I called down to the music library at Black Rock, the CBS headquarters in NYC, and spoke to one of the archivists.  All he could tell me was that, yes, the music was 'The Legend of the Glass Mountain', and, no, he didn't have it on record or tape and didn't know where it might be found.

Years passed.  I finally located — on this new-fangled internet — a CD version, and I ordered it shipped to me.  It remains one of my favorite discs.  It was from that disc I learned the composer's name:  Nino Rota.

'Who?' you might ask.  Nino Rota.  Between 1933 and 1979 when he died, Rota scored 150 films, working most often with Federico Fellini.  In fact, from about 1950 onward, Rota scored every Fellini film including La Strada, 8½, and Juliet of the Spirits.  He wrote the music for the first two 'Godfather' films as well as Franco Zefirelli's Romeo and Juliet and the 1978 'Death on the Nile'.  His musical output was phenomenal.  He could write — and did write — music in almost any style you can name from casual to classical.  People know Johann Pachelbel from the one piece that ever became a hit;  they don't know Rota, a real musical genius, from Adam.

You should fix that.

Anyway, I just found a DVD copy of the movie, The Glass Mountain, for which Rota wrote that hauntingly beautiful melody, and I'm looking forward to watching it even if it did only get 3½ stars.


Update: The Glass Mountain is a beautiful love story worth much more than a measly 3½ stars.