Thursday, September 21, 2006

Dying for No Good Reason

In the early hours of last Saturday morning, a distraught mother dialed 9-1-1 seeking help to control her 18-year old son, who was drunk, disorderly and threatening to harm himself. Two Washington County deputies and a Tigard city cop were dispatched to the scene of the disturbance. Minutes later, Lukus Glenn died in a hail of bullets.

This sad affair calls to mind another incident, not so long ago, in which another young man died needlessly in a withering fusillade of police gunfire. Fouad Kaady, naked and in shock from serious injuries and burns suffered in a car accident, was gunned down by Gresham police when he became combative and failed to respond to police commands. He possessed no weapons of any kind.

Police justify the use of deadly force whenever they fear that out-of-control persons pose a threat to themselves, to the police, or to others. Officers are trained to respond to a particular level of force with the next highest level of force. I guess—if one subscribes to this line of reasoning—that it’s okay for police to respond to someone who’s intent on fisticuffs with a knife in the belly, or to repel a rock thrower with an RPG. Certainly, someone wielding a hand grenade should be countered with a hydrogen bomb.

But, c’mon! How much of threat can a naked, unarmed crazy guy be? Or a drunken crazy kid armed with a three-inch bong knife? Or, for that matter, a drunken weirdo pissing in the street?

Police spokespersons claimed that the officers involved in these incidents acted according to the book. At the risk of sounding like a Monday morning quarterback, maybe it’s time to review police training procedures, tactical weapons, and threat assessment/threat response protocols.

We know that Tasers are, too often, ineffective against people who are pumped on adrenaline or high on meth. We know that beanbag rounds are, too often, ineffective for the same reasons. News media accounts provide ample evidence of this. Is there anything of less than lethal force that can subdue someone who seems possessed of superhuman strength? Do police have tactical means available to them that will allow them to gain control of an out-of-control miscreant without risking serious injury or death to themselves or the miscreant?

In fact, at least two means do exist. Both are primitive, both are effective, and each is relatively inexpensive. Neither is likely to cause fatal injuries. I’m referring, of course, to nets, long used by game hunters who want to capture their prey alive, and to pugil sticks, long used by the Marine Corps as training devices in bayonet training, where the use of real bayonets might prove lethal to fellow marines. Any cop who, after a couple of weeks of training, can’t disarm and/or take down a knife-wielding suspect with a pugil stick doesn’t deserve to wear a badge.

Unfortunately, police continue to overlook or ignore the potential of these great, non-lethal countermeasures. Until cops are willing to explore safer alternatives to guns, senseless deaths will continue.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Making Right a Few Wrongs

There’s an old saying that goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” What this means is don’t start tinkering with something that works ‘cause you’re liable to mess it up. Politicians should have heeded this advice but, failing to see the inherent wisdom in it, of course they didn’t. As a consequence, things keep getting worse.

Government becomes more dysfunctional, authority figures less trustworthy, social institutions less reliable and more inept. Weeda sheeple seem to be in mortal danger of losing the social safeguards we all depend on. Someone—or something—has usurped control of the political system and ordinary citizens find the ability to control certain aspects of their lives greatly diminished.

Suppose you had the power to fix everything that ails society today. Where would you start? How would you order your priorities? What changes would you make, and how would you execute those changes?

These are the things I would do if, by some twist of fate or quirk of happenstance, someone appointed me dictator of the month:

1. Election reforms; give Diebold the boot, return to paper ballots.
2. Legislative reforms; allow no riders and only one issue per bill, no more piggybacking unpopular bills on top of “must pass” legislation.
3. Tax reforms; adopt progressive taxation that puts the burden of taxes on those with the most ability to pay.
4. Corporate reforms; redefine corporations, rewrite corporate charters, limit corporate ability to influence legislation.
5. Strengthen environmental protections.
6. Expedite renewable fuels research and development.
7. Fund national healthcare.
8. End the drug war.
9. Address education and school reforms.
10. Create high-speed rail system as part of nationwide public transportation program.

That’s the first ten. On the second day, I would . . .. Yeah! Right!

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 Revisited

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center’s twin towers, in New York City, each of which collapsed into its own footprint after being struck by a hijacked airliner. Five years has not been long enough to erase the memory of that fateful day, to ease the pain felt by those who lost friends or loved ones to the carnage, or to quell the sense of outrage that grew in the aftermath of terrorism.

Still, after five years, many questions remain unanswered. A high percentage of citizens believe the government engaged in some kind of cover-up. The official 9/11 Commission Report contained inaccuracies and “facts” not in evidence. Indeed, the government’s explanations of the 9/11 catastrophe fail, on many points, to pass the straight-face test.

One of the talking heads on NBC News, last night, claimed that the interiors of the fallen buildings were subjected to temperatures equal to those at Earth’s core—physical and thermodynamic impossibilities unless thermite or other high-intensity explosives were used to cut through structural members and facilitate their collapse.

To suggest that kerosene, burning at temperatures not exceeding 800 degrees centigrade, could heat structural steel (which melts at approximately twice that temperature) to the point of failure, in 62 minutes and 102 minutes respectively, is the height of ignorance and stupidity—unless you have something to hide. Those buildings didn’t fall without a lot of inside help.

There are other inconsistencies, paradoxes, enigmas and conundrums associated with the government’s official version of the events occurring on 9/11/01. Among the questions raised by various conspiracy theories are:

Why was the Air Force, despite being equipped with billions of dollars worth of high-tech weaponry and state-of-the-art detection systems, unable to mount an effective response to the hijacking and unauthorized deployment of four commercial civilian aircraft?

What caused Building 7 of the World Trade Center complex to collapse?

Why, in photos of the various impact sites, is there no visible aircraft debris?

How was the pilot of one of the airliners that struck the Trade Center able to override automatic controls that prevent the aircraft from exceeding pre-established safe g-force levels when the aircraft is banking into a turn?

How did debris from Flight 93 end up eight miles away, on the other side of a hill?

Why were some of Osama bin Laden’s relatives flown to safety, outside the country, immediately after the attacks?

Why did President Bush lose focus on his avowed mission of capturing or killing Osama bin Laden to concentrate his attention on waging war in Iraq?

How were so many people on Flight 93 able to communicate by cell phone? (It’s my understanding that, because of the speed at which commercial airliners travel, it’s difficult for a cell phone to establish a connection through a microwave tower before it’s out of range and has to re-establish the connection through a different tower.)

How is it possible that at least 11 of the named hijackers were still living two years after 9/11?

These are only a few of the questions that come to mind; there are many others, but I’ve given you enough to think about, for now. To find out what really triggered the events of 9/11, you must first find satisfactory answers to these questions.

The mainstream media belittles people who speak of conspiracies and conspiracy theories. However, there can be no doubt that there was indeed a conspiracy behind the 9/11 tragedy.

With that thought in mind, we might ask ourselves one final question: Whose conspiracy was it?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Liars Can't Be Trusted

Do you trust President Bush? I don’t!

How can you trust a guy whose every important political decision has been based on a lie? There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Saddam Hussein had no ties to the terrorism of 9/11, the U.S. did engage in the torture of prisoners, in extraordinary rendition, in warrantless spying on U.S. citizens. Bush has said he’s either done or not done a lot of things, but the facts prove otherwise.

How can you trust someone who gutted the Constitution, tried to gut Social Security, and made a bigger mess of public education and public healthcare than they were already in? How can you trust a man who’s willing to sacrifice the global environment all of us depend on for the sake of his oil-plundering buddies?

When queried about his veracity, his expression is that of an idiot deer caught in the headlights, or maybe Alfred E. Neuman on crystal meth, but without the guileless charm. I don’t know, maybe it’s his arrogance, his apparent ignorance, and that ever-present smirk that turns me so against him.

It’s no surprise that Bush’s approval rating has slipped to around 33 or 34 percent. What’s surprising is that there are still that many people who think he’s doing a good job. How can he be doing a good job when he’s involved Americans in an illegal, misbegotten war and spent the country to the brink of bankruptcy?

Who are the Bush supporters? No doubt their numbers are made up of the people who profit handsomely from his policy decisions—special-interest groups, corporate leaders and investors, politicos and political party members who gain political traction from decisions that favor their causes.

Religious fundamentalists, gleefully awaiting Armageddon because they loathe the world they helped create, “true patriots” who never met a crooked politician they didn’t like, and the upper strata of the middle class—too busy fighting the forces that are dragging them down to gain a clear understanding that it’s the Bush Cabal behind the forces that are dragging them down—make up the remainder of Bush loyalists.

But who, in a sound state of mind, would support an incompetent twit, a chronic liar, a leader that lacks direction, a decider that makes bad decisions? Other than diminish our nation’s reputation in the eyes of the world, undermine Constitutional protections, and put the country into hock up to its ears, his only successes have been to make rich people richer, poor people poorer, and the fearful more fearful. It’s not a track record anyone should be proud of.

Bush is such a habitual liar that he reminds me of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. He’s told so many lies, so often, that he no longer has any credibility. It’s probably best if we just ignore the fear-mongering rhetoric that would keep us living in fear, and learn to make peace with the wolf.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

At Risk of Dying

The premature death of Steve Irwin, Australia’s famed “Crocodile Hunter,” got me to thinking about death and dying—and, more specifically, about one’s chances of dying while engaged in one’s favorite activities.

People who swim with sharks have a much higher risk of being bitten by a shark (not applicable to lawyers, who enjoy professional courtesy) than do people who stay at home and watch Steve Irwin, swimming with stingrays, on the telly.

It’s a given that we’re all going to die, some sooner, some later, but there’s no question that, eventually, death takes us all. The only questions are how? When? And how much is it gonna hurt?

I heard, recently, that the odds of being struck by lightning are 800,000-to-1. Sounds like a pretty low risk, doesn’t it? Please, be smart enough to know that those odds include the risk to all people. Golfers who stand in the middle of a golf course during a thunderstorm are at substantially higher risk. Mountain climbers who stand on top of a mountain while a thunderstorm passes overhead are at even higher risk of being struck by lightning. Proximity to the danger zone has a lot to do with the odds.

Frequency seems to be a determining factor when assessing risk. How often you engage in risky behavior has a profound effect on your chances of being seriously injured or killed. People who rack up frequent flyer miles are probably more likely to die in an airplane crash than a person who takes a single airplane trip and lives to tell about it.

Vintage fighter jet pilot Robert Guilford had thousands of hours flying without crashing and burning, until he did. Jean-Claude Killy skied on countless mountain slopes without being caught in an avalanche, until he was. Dale Earnhart raced thousands of laps in stock cars without hitting a wall and dying, until he did. (It’s fair to say that because Earnhart did all of his racing in stock cars, his chances of dying in a Formula One race were non-existent.)

The odds of dying in a building collapse are greater if you’re above the floors of a skyscraper impacted by a Jumbo Jet than you are if you’re below the impact area. And if you’re in the impact area . . .? Well, you qualify for a starring role in the next Final Destination movie.

But what are your chances of dying in a building collapse if you’re sitting at a table in the front window of your local Mickey D’s scarfing down a Big Mac? Almost nil! You’d be at greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, or being gunned down by a sniper shooting from across the street. If it’s any consolation, it would be almost impossible for a sniper to hit you if you were in a collapsing skyscraper.

Speaking of those Final Destination movies, when I saw the first one it got me to thinking about my own life, about how many times I’ve averted disaster or escaped serious injury or death and not given it a second thought. I suspect the same can be said for your life, too.

And while we’re on the subject of death, have you ever seen the Sci-fi channel series Dead Like Me? It’s gotta be the funniest show on television. First time I saw it, I damned near died laughing. Still, I haven’t missed an episode since.

Yeah, yeah! It’s risky behavior, I know, but I just can’t seem to help myself. It seems reasonable that if I’m gonna die anyway, I might as well go out laughing.