Sunday, October 25, 2015

Blame Game

It's become a trope within the policing industry and community: that public questioning and challenging of violent policing has led to an increase in violent crime -- because the police are less aggressive against criminals -- for fear of being held up to scrutiny and ridicule.

In other words, video-ing the police has made them cower in fear. It's the "Ferguson Effect".

They are afraid of their violence being seen and criticized.

They are cowards.

Of course we've known that for I don't know how long, and videos help to confirm that assessment.

But is it true that there is an overall increase in violent crime? And if so, is there a correlation between said increase and "less aggressive" behavior by police?

The trope is a truism being marketed by police and their media confederates nation-wide, including by the FBI director -- I'm sure with the approval of the Attorney General and the White House. On the other hand, police chiefs and law enforcement honchos, as well as the Attorney General and the White House have gone to some lengths to examine and self-criticize the current deplorable state of criminal justice -- and by extension violent policing that feeds the system.

In some cities, there seems to be an increase (media would call it an "uptick") in violent crime, but there is no lack of violent and "aggressive" policing, as statistics on police kills and other police violence and aggression shows.

On the other hand, in some cities, like Albuquerque, where police violence has been reduced, it appears in the absence of complete statistics that crime rates are about the same -- despite growing media hysteria in the local market over an apparent "explosion" in violent crime, a "wave" as it were, as police back off their use of force, particularly lethal force. Reforms required by the DoJ consent decree actually don't affect the overall use of force or use of lethal force, they simply require that any such use of force be recorded and reported -- and that it fall within particular constitutional guidelines. Consent decrees are never about reducing or eliminating the use of force/use of lethal force; they are about rationalizing and standardizing it according to "best practice" guidelines.

That police violence has been reduced in Albuquerque is a result of decisions made at the top of the command chain, not because of the DoJ, but because the killing spree the police had been on for years was costing the city a huge amount of money in payouts to victims and their loved ones, and in lost business because the city's reputation for violence by the police (as well as by the alleged criminal classes) was in the toilet. Something had to be done and fast.

The order went out to stop the killings.

So let it be written, so let it be done.

Now police and media are trying to whip up public hysteria over particularly egregious or bloody incidents -- including the recent shooting of a police officer (who survived...)

Well, no. My advice to them is: "Stop it."

Basically what they want is to return to their Wild West days when they were killing at will with no consequences, something that some other police departments in New Mexico (and elsewhere) still do and feel is their right. They designate themselves to be judge, jury and executioner -- some are specifically executioners (ie: snipers) -- without hindrance of any kind.

They see the challenges they face from the public and politicians as interference and they want it to stop.

It's become a widespread ploy used by police departments and their media champions more and more frequently, and I see less and less potential for a genuine end to violent policing because of it.

The police do not want it to end, and they are terribly fearful that they might be in some kind of danger if it does end and pretty much the worst thing they can imagine is danger to themselves.

Statistics show that it has hardly ever been safer to be a police officer, however. What danger there is is less than that of many other professions, and they know it. But they want you and me to think that there is an ongoing "war" against police which they are valiantly fighting in order to make "us" safe. No such thing is the case. It's false.

And that basic falsehood must be pointed out as often as necessary by as many as can do so.

Otherwise the return to and reinforcement of the status quo of violent policing will be solidified, and there may be no way to undo it for generations to come.

DeRay's mantra of "We Will Win" will become a hope never realized. Or -- just as likely -- the definition of "win" will be massaged and refined to such a point that it's meaningless.

The nationwide effort to overcome police violence has been going on for well over a year (of course it's been ongoing for decades on a local level) and there is really very, very little concrete to show for it. The demonstrations highlight the problem, but solutions are absent. There's a considerable amount of talk but a paucity of action. Nothing changes. The number of those killed by police continues to rise. The rates of incarceration are stable. The System continues grinding on with no let up.

In some few cities like Albuquerque -- and until recently Oakland -- there has been a significant reduction in police violence. But that is being greeted with dismay by the PTB on the presumption that only violent policing against the lower orders keeps them in line enough to maintain the safety and security of the Overclass. They sincerely believe that only violence will do it.

It's a false belief.

But convincing the Overclass of that seems as far out of reach as ever.

So there.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Random Notes

A lot of the commentary over the remarkable statements by Israeli PM Netanyahu that suggested that Hitler got the idea for the Final Solution from "a Palestinian" -- ie: the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem -- focused on the idea that "he's delusional," and/or "he's insane."

To the contrary, I think he knows exactly what he is doing, and it's not delusional or insane at all. He's making a spectacle of himself in order to draw attention away from the disaster of his rule on the one hand -- the rash of stabbings by Palestinians in Israel has apparently deeply unnerved the population, and the response by Israeli civilians and security forces is way over the to as demonstrated by numerous viral videos of Israelis committing acts of summary execution in the streets, sometimes of "their own people."

It's yet another domestic catastrophe  brought on by a man who apparently lacks any conscience whatever. This is not insanity. This is not delusion. It is pathological in my view, but it isn't an "illness." It is character. Or lack thereof.

It's pathological because a lack of conscience is destructive in the character of anyone who is in a position to wield power over others or to utilize the power of a nation state to accomplish political objectives.

We see this in the political class all the time, this utter lack of conscience, empathy, or even interest in the well-being of anyone outside their own circle, or even beyond themselves. It's not limited to politics, either. We see it in business and finance (especially finance), in the administrative realm generally, in policing theory and practice, and on and on, and I wonder...

Do people in these and so many other fields learn these traits or are they born that way? Is there some kind of eugenic experiment under way that is breeding out the genes for compassion, conscience, and empathy? Truly, I wouldn't be surprised.

In Netanyahu's case, it's been clear for decades that the man sees himself as a Warrior-King on a mission. That mission will not be thwarted by lowly Palestinians (I doubt he considers them to be human) or by anyone else -- who he also seems to doubt are truly human. His mission appears to be the reconstitution of Eretz Israel or its modern equivalent for his own Power and Glory.

If anyone gets crushed in his pursuit of this project, it's their own fault.

And Israelis love him for it.

It's not insanity or delusion. It's purpose and will -- ultimately antithetical to humanity.

It is commonplace in the his realm. While it seems to make no sense to those on the outside,  most of those on the inside share his perspective more or less fully. It's dangerous and destructive and deeply immoral,

One of the aspects of its immorality in the Israeli case is that their argument regarding the Nazis seems to accept everything they did -- up to the Final Solution itself. Israelis can therefore justify what they have long been doing to the Palestinians -- which is very closely patterned on Nazi practice toward Jews and other minorities in Germany. That means that the camps were OK, the roundups, deportations, the ghettoization, the prohibitions on actions, employment, travel, etc., the restrictions and/or elimination of civil rights, the confiscations and demolitions, the summary executions, the lynchings, the lootings, the general destruction levied against Jews and other minorities were all perhaps unpleasant, but they were not the Final Solution and therefore were "OK."

Well, no. They weren't "OK." Or justified. Nor has Israel any right to impose similar conditions on Palestinians. But they do it just the same.

They criticize the Nazis for the mass executions, the gas chambers, and the ovens. Not really for anything else. All the rest of it up to that point was... OK.


Netanyahu is flailing for attention, and he's getting it.


The Clinton Drama continues, and if Hillary is elected, we'll have no end of drama in the nation's capital. What did I see the other day? The radicals will be offering articles of impeachment the day she's sworn in to the presidency? Well, yes. Of course they will. It's what they do. And she'll happily do battle against them. And the attempts to impeach her will be a spectacle to feed the ravenous maw of the media -- which will love it -- for (probably) her entire term in office.

Meanwhile, of course, the nefarious and conscience-free policies of Our Betters will have free rein.

Isn't that the point, after all? Positioning Paul Ryan in the #3 slot -- ie: Speaker of the House -- is a kind of preparatory master-stroke, on the thought that however the drama plays out (she could be assassinated, after all...) there will be a dynamic conscience-free back up at the ready.

Jeebus, no matter how cynical you become, it's really impossible to keep up these days.

Sanders has yet to impress me. He seems to be a sacrificial shepherd leading his devoted flock into a cul-de-sac. No, he will not be allowed to become the president, not on a bet, and if somehow he manages to become the Democratic Party nominee (he won't) he will be left to flounder and fade away. With him go the remnants of a "progressive" Democratic Party. That seems to be the point in any case.

The Democratic Party isn't the same as the Tories of Anglo politics, but it is in many respects the rightful conservative party of the United States. It has always been conservative whereas the Republicans are rightist radicals.

There is no political left in this country with any pretense to power -- perhaps there never has been one.  (FDR was not an exception). Without a functioning "left" in this country, it's impossible to move the governing apparatus away from or beyond its nearly exclusive devotion to the interests and demands of the Oligarchy.

The answer is withdrawal of presence and attention and consent. It happens organically, but it takes a long-long time to come to fruition. It doesn't happen in the political realm, it happens in the social realm, and eventually, the established political elements become irrelevant. "All of that" happens almost in another universe, affecting "real life" less and less, until nobody cares.

It's been happening in this country, this withdrawal, for several decades, but it's been fairly marginal in most respects. "Hippies" and such have been doing it since the 1960s, but there are many-many more elements than merely the unreconstructed hippies in the current withdrawals. "Alternatives" are everywhere, and those who pursue them find it's quite possible -- and sometimes a great deal more rewarding -- to simply let go of the necessity to serve the system as it is.

Thus I can't get too excited about the current political hoo-hah.

Police whining has reached a crescendo. The recent incident of road rage in Albuquerque leading to the death of a 4 year old girl seems to have triggered a reaction in the media. That reaction is apparently focused on a restoration of the status quo ante -- prior to the consent decree and all the police reforms that went with it, including a steep reduction in police killings of civilians. The local media seems to want to restore previous police practices -- and the death rates that went with them -- as a means of curbing the "current crime wave."

Well, I call bullshit. There is no "current crime wave." Crime in general, and violent crime in particular, is at or below previous levels, prior to the consent decree and police "reforms." Restoration merely means adding more violence to the mix, not curbing it at all. But Warrior Cops can't help themselves, can they? They want to mix it up, they have to, it's an identity thing. If they aren't out there killing and brutalizing with impunity, what it the point of having police, right?

So they whine and whine and whine, like dogs chained up in the back yard, wanting to kill, kill, and kill some more, to be who they are.

And the media in Albuquerque is clamoring to unchain them. To root out all those criminals running wild.




Tuesday, October 20, 2015

OT: Domestic Affairs

Well, the charger came from Los Angeles -- still waiting on the one from China, and figure it's best to have two anyway since the one that died was destroyed by my heavy foot getting caught in the cord over and over again... so I have my computer back and can start to get caught up, but at the same time, I have so many more domestic chores to take care of since Ms Ché started back to school, and there are routine fall things to do -- bulb planting, garden clearing, etc -- and (or maybe that's AND) I'm still doing a lot of sketching, etc. Days are more than full. Nearly forgot, the skunk man is coming tomorrow. Have to get ready for him, too. Ah, the skunks. So beautiful they are, but so stinky!

Domestically, well.

It's 2-2 1/2 miles to the post office; we don't get mail delivery out here, have to pick it up at the PO. Some of our neighbors walk, which is fine if you're up for it or into it, but I can't -- still struggling with aftermath of sciatic lameness from a couple of years ago, and now the onset of arthritis (boo!) has given me additional joint issues to deal with. Actually, when I joined the march against the Killer Kop Kompetition in Albuquerque last month, it was the first time I'd attempted that kind of extended hike since before my left side gave out and laid me up a couple of Januaries ago. Didn't quite make it -- many thanks to the kind soul who picked me up and drove the last few hundred yards -- but almost did. That was about 2 1/2 - 3 miles round trip. Good gauge of what I can/can't do.

It's about the same distance to the nearest grocery store. Maybe a little farther. It's a nice little independent store, though selection is somewhat limited. It's not fancy or high-end-foodie, not at all, but they have a real butcher, decent prices -- though much higher than we were used to in California -- friendly staff, and are open early and late. Since I have to get the groceries these days, it's nice to know there's someplace that close.

There's a Smith's and a WalMart the next town over, and I sometimes go to one or the other if there's something the local market doesn't have. I boycotted the WalMart for years until the local Pick-n-Choose closed (it was called Alco). Then, certain gardening, household items, clothing, and such like were simply not available locally. Actually, quite a lot of things weren't available locally any more. Some we could do without, but others....

So, it was off to WalMart now and then. Gaa. Not only is the store far larger than is necessary in this area (fewer than 5,000 people live in the store's shopping area -- say within 15 miles or so) but it's got some really... interesting... ways of doing business. For example, items are frequently (routinely?) shelved in the wrong slots so that it appears from the shelf price that such-and-such will cost X-amount, but no. Get to the check out and it's -- whoops! Oh, but it's worse than mere mis-shelving. In too many cases to count now, the items are shelved correctly, but the item rings up at a different -- sometimes much higher -- price than the shelf price, and unless you're eagle-eyed you're probably not going to know. In fact, it's pretty much impossible to keep track of the prices being scanned and rung up because you're still unloading your cart as the checker does his/her job. So the only way to know whether you've been overcharged is to scrutinize your receipt after the fact. And have a sharp memory for the shelf-price.

Alco used to do it too, but they closed. Smith's has taken to doing the same thing. They take it a step further, not pricing certain items on the shelf at all. One doesn't know until one gets to the checkout what the price is. Sometimes the surprise is a shock.

WalMart also has these bagging carousels, and by golly, how often is one (or more) of the customer's bags conveniently left behind? Oh, if my own experience is any guide, fairly often. One is not likely to notice one is missing a bag or two until one is home and unpacking one's things and notices that something one thought one bought is not there. Hm. Wha? In my dottage, it's not unusual for me to forget this or that, so I'm likely to be puzzled about missing items rather than certain that I left them behind. Maybe I didn't pick them up to begin with? But one time, I was sure, and I went back (another 10 miles from home, 20 round trip) and found the items had been re-shelved already. They gave them to me without objection, but still...

I figure these fairly common merchant practices can easily add 15%-20% to a customer's charges every time they shop. Quite lucrative, so lucrative merchants can happily refund overcharges brought to their attention and replace missing items the customer complains about because so often overcharges aren't noticed and missing items are "just forgotten" especially by the elderly... clever.

I wonder just how common this practice really is? I hadn't noticed it before, but it seems to be widespread in these parts nowadays. Initially, I thought I was imagining things but not any more. Now I think it really is a commonplace merchant policy.

I would have had no idea were it not for the fact that I have to take care of a lot more domestic chores now that Ms Ché has gone back to school. Oh, by the way, she got her midterm grades the other day. All "A" -- except for the two "A+". My my!

There is still much fall planting and year-end outside clean up to do. I managed to clear out the gutters and get those on the front of the house to work for the first time (they were installed wrong to begin with but I hadn't been able to tackle the project to fix...) I'm trying to clear out one of the sheds so I can bring the stuff we still have in storage in California. BUT as I was doing that chore, I saw the news about the mudslides closing highways in Southern CA. Thought little of it until I saw that one of the highways was Highway 58 that I take from Bakersfield to  I15-I40 in Barstow. 6 feet of mud for a mile or more outside of Tehachapi(e). Oh. Brother. I would have taken the plane in November, then rented a truck to bring the stuff in California back to New Mexico, but Highway 58 is my route to get from there to there (the alternatives are much longer) so... maybe not. Better wait till spring.

They say this El Nino is shaping up to be the most intense since 1988. There have been certain signs of course. Our local drought is broken (thankfully. It went on way too long...) We've had plenty of rain and they say there will be pretty heavy snow this winter, but so far temps have been mild, balmy, even warm. No frost at all. May not be any till mid-November... wow.

Of course the situation in California becomes more and more Apocalyptic, seemingly by the day. Our friends who still live there insist things are not really as bad as the news is making it out to be, but I'm somewhat less Panglossian about it. The fires were terrible and raged through areas we're pretty familiar with around Clear Lake and in the Gold Country. No one we know was directly harmed, but still... Floods and mudslides of course will be more widespread than ever. The persistence of drought in the midst of these catastrophes compounds the misery. After a while, it becomes too much to bear...

Though I will probably always be a Californian deep-down, I realized I had become a "real" New Mexican the other day when it occurred to me that I routinely get offended by the most unlikely or innocent things that people say or do. This is a very New Mexican trait I've discovered, taking offense being something of a core value it would seem. It doesn't usually last more than a little while, but it's pretty frequent, and sometimes it makes me laugh at the pettiness and silliness of it.

Now to get back to getting stuff done...

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hiatus Due to Hardware Issues

It's not that there aren't matters for me to comment on. Oh, there are so many.

The problem is that the other day my laptop's battery charger bit the dust. In fact, it came apart and is no longer functional. There were about two or three hours of charge left on the battery, and once that was used up, that laptop was kaput. I ordered another charger before the battery died, but found out afterwards it would be shipped from China and would take who-knew-how-long to get here. So I ordered a backup from Los Angeles.

The one from China has been shipped. By air. The one from Los Angeles? No word. Not a peep. So, who knows when or whether either of them will arrive? Mysteries abound.

Meanwhile, Ms. Ché has let me borrow her little notebook for a few minutes or an hour before she has to go to class.

I've even taken to pencil and paper now and again lately. It's quite a feat. Remembering how to write; my penmanship sucks, too (used to be pretty good, but that was years and years ago...) Thinking of unpacking one of the typewriters...;-D

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Legally Right -- Mortally Wrong and Morally Bankrupt. The Injustice Endures

After what seem like endless and quite deliberate delays regarding "investigating" the death of Tamir Rice, Tim McGinty has released two reports which justify the shooting and death of young Tamir on the basis of law and court decisions which essentially protect police officers from criminal liability when they kill ("use deadly force") in performance of their duties.

As long as officers declare themselves to have perceived a threat -- even if there isn't one -- and that perception can be considered "reasonable", they're essentially immune from criminal liability for almost any death or injury they cause in the course of performing their duties.

In the case of Tamir Rice, the reports claim that the officers involved reasonably perceived a mortal threat to themselves when young Rice approached Officer Loemann and reached for his waistband thus justifying the immediate use of lethal force.

The perception of a mortal threat -- even though objectively there wasn't one -- had to do with the dispatch reports of "a black male with a gun" in a park outside a community center.

Here's what's wrong with that analysis:

The perception is based on faulty metrics. The fear the officers felt was due not to any objective threat to themselves or anyone else but due -- entirely in my estimation -- to the fact they were told by dispatch that there was a black male with a gun. A black male with a gun. A BLACK MALE WITH A GUN.

That, all by itself, is considered an existential threat to police and civilians in open carry Ohio.

Not only was Tamir Rice shot and killed -- on sight -- by Ohio police because he was said by a 911 caller to be armed and "brandishing," so was John Crawford III, even though neither of them were actually armed (in the sense of having a weapon with which they could do lethal harm to another) and neither, at the time he was shot and killed, was "brandishing".

All it takes is for someone to say the right words for the executioners to act.

The problem here [8 pg pdf] is police training and Supreme Court rulings that protect the officers who use deadly force even though there may be no objective threat to be neutralized.
Because officers cannot be expected to read the minds of individuals and determine intent, they are instead trained to scrutinized individuals’ behavior for telltale signs. An individual’s actions are often the only signals of their intent. Obviously, if the individual being confronted is reasonably believed to be armed, the officer’s attention to those actions will be intensified. In such a situation, officers are taught to focus on the hands of the individual.3 If the hands move in the direction of a “high-risk area” – an area where a weapon may be concealed, such as inside a jacket, towards the waistband of pants, or under the seat of a car, well trained officers will immediately identify this as a serious threat.
When threat identification is combined with the concept of action versus reaction, an officer’s need to make split-second judgments with respect to the use of force becomes evident. Action versus reaction is simply the recognition that there is a certain amount of time required for every person to recognize a stimulus, formulate a response to that stimulus, and then carry out that response. When applied to deadly force situations, action versus reaction refers to the time it takes for an officer to observe the actions of an individual, such as the movement of an individual’s hands, perceive those actions as threatening, calculate possible responses to the treat, determine what level of force is necessary, and then complete the reaction. The reactions of a well-trained officer may be quick, but they are not instantaneous. The time differential between a threatening action occurring and the ability to respond to that threat always puts law enforcement officers in the position of having to catch-up. The practical effect of action versus reaction in deadly force situations is that officers cannot wait to react until they are absolutely certain of an individual’s malicious intent. If an officer waits to be certain that the individual reaching into a high-risk area is retrieving a weapon, action versus reaction dictates that the weapon could easily be used against the officer before he or she has an opportunity to respond.
This is the root of the problem right here. The passage was written by a former FBI trainer now retired, someone whose wisdom, if you want to call it that, has formed the basis for police training with regard to 'threats' and their 'neutralization' for decades. The principle is that perception rules all, and instant action in the face of a perceived 'threat' -- whether there is really a threat to the officer or someone else -- is drilled into the officer over and over, without regard to either the necessity of using lethal force in the first place or to the consequences of the use of lethal force on the victim.

Naturally, under the circumstances, many, many innocent people and people in one kind of crisis or another and many people who are only tangentially 'threats' will be injured and killed. And their injuries and killings will be justified by the likes of this person, for the simple reason that the law allows and protects it and the officer's perceptions of a threat -- perceptions which have been drilled in over and over again -- are all that is necessary to justify a killing or injury by police.

I've long held that 90% or more of police homicides are unnecessary. If there were a different standard of police conduct and a different way of seeing situations (ie: not all hands to waistbands are reaching for a gun; indeed very few are. And even if they were, why should that be a death sentence to be performed by summary execution on the spot? Whatever happened to "due process?") there would be little or no necessity to use lethal force in the first place. If police were trained to see each situation independently (ie: a hand to waistband doesn't necessarily mean a gun will be pulled from said waistband) and not react to each situation as if a deadly threat were present, the number of police homicides could be cut immediately and substantially. If police were trained to be skeptical of dispatch reports based on 911 calls, the number of police homicides could be cut substantially and very quickly. If police were trained to actually assess a situation before going into it guns blazing, the number of police homicides could be cut substantially. If police commanders and chiefs said to their officers that inappropriate use of firearms will result in discipline up to and including termination, the number of police homicides could be cut substantially.

I could go on. The issue is that police are not expected to value any lives but their own, and even then, their self-valuation may be very low. They need to learn to value human life in general, and specifically to value the lives of those who have previously been determined to be disposable.

That day seems always to be far off, but somehow I know it is coming.

These reports that are being cited to justify the police murder of Tamir Rice are shameful, but they represent the state of police belief and practice as it is.

We must change it.

OT: Houses

Looks like quite an interesting place:

Las Milpas -- "The [Corn]Fields". I've passed by it any number of times without realizing it was there. It's set back quite a ways from the street, and I'm not at all sure you can even see it when passing by. For sale. $12.5 million. A sure thing. This is not the most expensive property I've ever seen listed in Santa Fe, but it's close to it. Some of the swells have that kind of money to be sure, but whether any of them would be willing to part with their lucre for an "authentic-historic" adobe (supposedly the only one on the Eastside) is an open question.

The listing says the house was built in 1886, well into the Territorial period, so I have a difficult time believing it was built the way it appears now -- a rather early colonial casa (c. 1700) that's been added to but only slightly modified over the years by people with plenty of money. Yes, this is a big place, and even in the 1880s a place like this would have cost a good deal to build and even more to maintain.

No, I suspect it was built as a fairly ordinary Victorian house -- modified for adobe construction and local weather conditions -- and then later (probably in the1920s) it was remodeled into the formative Spanish-Pueblo "Santa Fe Style" that nowadays makes Santa Fe into what's been called "Adobe Disneyland."

So I did a little  research and discovered that actually, Las Milpas was in fact remodeled in the 1920s and the current compound is a relatively recent renovation, remodel and expansion done by one of Santa Fe's show business elite in authentic early colonial style. Well, well, well. It's more like a setting for a movie that's now passing for a museum.

There are several house museums in the region (Casa San Ysidro, Las Golondrinas) that preserve something of the Spanish colonial era lifestyle for the edification of contemporary schoolchildren, scholars and visitors. I used to be fascinated with these sorts of places in California (where there are quite a few of them) and I enjoy the ones I've found in New Mexico.

We live in something of an Old House ourselves.

As I've mentioned previously, our house is a pioneer adobe, started about 1900 when this area was (finally) opened for settlement by the courts (including the Supreme Court) which extinguished competing land grant claims. Its style is not that of Santa Fe. It's pretty standard late Victorian, and the only way you'd know this is an adobe house is by the thick walls and deep window recesses. The adobe and stucco were covered with aluminum siding in the 1950s when the house was last remodeled. So friends who've come to visit sometimes have a hard time picturing its adobe-ness and antiquity.

Most people don't want to live in places like this because they're really pretty rough and can be hard to heat, cool and maintain. They're drafty, not well insulated (despite the legendary insulation properties of adobe), the floors creak, they're dusty and a home for spiders and other fauna, and in our case, there is no finished floor over most of the house. The subfloor (ancient and refinished) is the finished floor, and it's been that way from the get go.

Our pipes freeze regularly in the winter because of the lack of insulation on the one hand and our tendency to forget to run a stream of water through the pipes during particularly cold weather. Thankfully, the previous owner replaced the galvanized iron pipes with plastic that doesn't burst when the pipes freeze. Good move.

During particularly cold and windy weather, drafts come up through the floor and it can get very chilly at floor level. On the other hand, the heaters can generally defeat the drafts if they're on long enough -- which means that our utility bills can be pretty high, certainly much higher than they were in California. But then the tradeoff is that our basic housing expense is half or less of what it was in California.

We haven't tried to retro-remodel the place into something like it might have appeared when it was first constructed, though we have a lot of old stuff inside the house. I've thought about doing a major remodel retro-remodel, though.

If we did, our place would probably look something like this:

But when I checked on costs to do this kind of remodel some time ago, I found it was well beyond our budget. More than likely, it still is. The cost to do it is probably two or three times the value of the house in any case.

Some people have wondered why we live in this house when there ought to be others which would suit our needs -- possibly better than this house does  -- and not cost so much to maintain, heat and cool?

I was attracted to this house from the moment I saw its picture in the listing ten years ago, and when I visited and learned some of its history, I said, "This is the one." From the time I was little, I wanted to live in an adobe house. The idea of living in a house built from the earth itself appealed to me. The fact was that people had been making and living in such houses for thousands of years, and it seemed to me to be a thoroughly natural way to use available resources for shelter.

Indians in New Mexico had long used a form of adobe to build their pueblo communities, but they didn't -- generally -- use adobe bricks. Instead they built with hand-shaped "turtles" -- roundish masses surrounded with adobe mud. They also used puddled adobe and forms of construction which resembled pottery making.

When the Spanish came, brick making was introduced. It was revolutionary in the sense that it was much faster than the Indian way of building with adobe, but it didn't really change the nature of the structures that were built. Spanish colonial structures were generally separated rather than coalesced as was the case with many of the Indian pueblos that functioned as apartment buildings, but the nature of the structures built by the Spanish and those built by the Indians -- multiple rooms for housing and storage typically built around a plaza or courtyard -- were almost identical.

The main difference was the number of people (and animals) housed in any given compound and the finish and decoration of the resulting structures.

Las Milpas is intended to resemble a Spanish colonial compound that would have been built over a couple of centuries (say 1700-1900) by generations of a particular Spanish family. While it claims to be "authentic," it's actually an "authentic re-creation." It's not original, in other words.

However, as a re-creation, it's quite appealing. When I first saw the photos of the place, I was captivated. If only our place looked like that! Well, no. On second thought, no.

I think Las Milpas would be a very difficult place to live in.

It seems to ramble somewhat randomly -- which is (and isn't) "authentic." It doesn't appear to have modern heating (which might be a problem in the cold-cold Santa Fe winters.) I don't see a kitchen among the pictures at all (although there must be one, no? One is mentioned in the story. but maybe the cooking is fired by wood, and water is carried in jars from the acequia out back?) and only one bathroom is pictured. For some reason, I feel something of a shiver when I see it. Brr.

In other words, it seems like the effort to make it authentically historic has made it difficult or impossible to include modern conveniences. That's OK up to a point, but there comes a point where the discomfort level rises so much that almost nothing else matters...

No, let's not be quite so deliberately uncomfortable.

And yet Las Milpas has a very strong appeal -- to me. I think I would really like to imagine myself living there at some point in the long-ago. It reminds me in some ways of Mabel Dodge Luhan's Los Gallos house in Taos. That house was expanded from a core of four rooms to quite a large place in the 1920s, and it has a great deal of appeal to visitors and caretakers alike. It is "authentic" in the sense that it was built by Indian labor according to Indian designs (Tony Luhan was the builder-creator). But there are modern conveniences, and so the discomfort level is lessened.

If we ever do retro-remodel our own house, I suspect the result will be a sort of hybrid between high -- or low -- Victorian and Arts and Crafts. Box beams instead of vigas, for example, touches of stained glass, wood floors instead of ceramic tile, and probably fireplaces with mantles instead of the kiva style so popular in the Santa Fe tradition.

But that may be years away if it ever comes...

(I've been working on another post about houses I've lived in over the years that have been influential in the way I see things... one day I may find time to complete it and post it!)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Kunduz Hospital Atrocity

The number of killed and wounded at the Kunduz, Afghanistan hospital run by MSF is somewhat uncertain. Dozens are dead or injured, at any rate.

They were killed and wounded during a nighttime attack from above. At least one US AC-130 and possibly one or more helicopter gunships fired on the hospital's main building around 2am, largely destroying the hospital and causing significant death and injury to patients (some of whom are reported to have "burned in their beds") and to staff.

MSF has called the attack a war crime.

The Defense Department has characterized it as an "accident," or perhaps a "tragic" incident justified by reports of Taliban fighters using the site to fire on American and/or Afghan forces operating in the area to retake Kunduz from Taliban insurgents, yadda yadda.

MSF insists that there were no Taliban fighters on the grounds or in the hospital, and there was no firing from the compound before or during the attack.

Of course under the shadowy Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan and other theaters of our many overseas wars, it doesn't matter whether the reports of Taliban fighters using the grounds and hospital as positions from which to fire on American and Afghan forces are true or false. It only matters that there are reports of suspected enemy presence or action from such and such a location to unleash Death From Above. Confirmation is never required as actual confirmation might jeopardize a troop on the ground. Can't have that. Good heavens no.

Force protection is All Important. The deaths of untold numbers of civilians, and the destruction of protected infrastructure such as hospitals, power plants, water treatment and pumping plants, etc, matters far less (actually not at all) compared to the necessity to protect the force.

Such death and destruction is patently a war crime under various treaties, but it's routine in the US pursuit of Empire, and there is no plausible prosecutorial means to hold the Imperial forces liable. Much the same is true of Israel's actions in its attacks on Gaza. Israel routinely attacks and destroys protected sites and infrastructure, killing untold numbers of civilians and other protected individuals, and Israel justifies it through reference to reports of enemy action at or near these sites -- or doesn't bother justifying it at all, it just does it.

"Investigations" by the United States or Israel into these frequently repeated actions are typically farces which exist solely to exonerate those who conducted the operations. In any rational world they would be considered war crimes.

But we are not in a rational world.

We are in a world of illusion and deception, in which literally any presence or action -- or lack of action -- can be interpreted as a "threat" to Imperial forces, and such "threats" can be/will be suppressed with lethal force. There's nothing rational about it. It's all "gut" and "perception," illusion and deception. And above all, it's force protection. From phantoms.

I've compared these incidents with domestic police actions which result in death and destruction. It literally does not matter whether there is an actual threat involved in police use of lethal force. All that matters at law is that there is a perception of a threat -- or simply reports that there is a threat -- for domestic police forces to justify use of lethal force.

False or inaccurate reports are sufficient.

Thus, for example, John Crawford III and Tamir Rice were killed by police on the basis of false/inaccurate reports of 911 callers and dispatchers. It didn't matter what Crawford and Rice were really doing, nor did it matter that they weren't threats of any kind. All that mattered was that they were suspected and reported as potentially threatening.

That is sufficient justification for police use of lethal force in this country, and it is sufficient justification for military action overseas -- such as the constant drone attacks on "suspected militants," the frequent attacks on wedding parties by US forces and their allies, and the recent deadly attack on the Kunduz hospital.

In a rational world, they would be crimes against humanity.

But we are not in a rational world.

[Maybe some links later; busy day today.]

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Oh Now.... Priorities!!!

AG Loretta Lynch has opened her yap and apparently caused something of a stir in the activist community by dismissing the requirement that local police forces maintain and submit records of all the police killings and deaths in custody that happen in their jurisdictions.

No, she proclaims, keeping track of the "minutae" of police-public interactions is less important than "improving" police-community relations...

All righty then.

Statistics on police killings of civilians and civilian deaths in custody have been vastly understated for any number of years. I don't think there's ever been an accurate official count, and the statistics released by FBI are simply ridiculous. That wasn't even noticed beyond a certain community of activists until last year's uproar over the deaths of James Boyd, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and so very many others.

Then a 'national conversation' got underway about the problem of police killings of civilians, and part of that 'conversation' was the lack of  accurate and complete official data on the number of civilians killed by police and civilian deaths in custody.  Nobody was keeping track because it wasn't required.

Actually it was required. A law was passed in 1996 requiring police departments to report incidents of use of force and deaths in custody, but it was never enforced due to complaints from the field that the costs of reporting were beyond the abilities of many departments to handle. Consequently they couldn't be required to report.

Media stepped into the vacuum, first with a Facebook page called "Killed by Police" begun in May of 2013. This is an effort to track every media report of police killing of civilians and every report of civilian death in custody in almost real time. To date, it is the most  comprehensive and up to date listing of civilian deaths at the hands of police in existence. It is not, however, the flashiest, nor is it necessarily the most often cited. That would be the Guardian's "The Counted." In a distant third place would be the Washington Post's data on police shootings of civilians.

I noticed long ago that local media was more than happy to publicize police killings of civilians -- no doubt on the journalistic principle that "if it bleeds it leads". Some of the reports were quite lurid. On the other hand, they almost always stuck with the police version of events, as if there were some Immortal Truth in police statements -- which, of course, always justified their actions in eliminating the threat of yet one more civilian perpetrator.

It became a routine. Someone would be killed by a police officer. Inevitably, their mug shots and criminal history would be promptly released and litany of offenses which led to their death would be read out, almost always including "pointing a gun" or "reaching for waistband" thus causing the officer to "fear for his life and the safety of others" and justifying the discharge of his duty weapon. The suspect/subject subsequently "died" -- exactly how is "under investigation." The officer involved has been put on "standard paid administrative leave."

These reports were sometimes accompanied by dash-cam or body-cam views of the incident, but many times, there was no verification of police reports at all. Media accepted whatever the police said about these killings almost always without question. But that started to change when civilian witness videos became more and more available. Many of these videos showed quite clearly that the police version of events were fraudulent and false. Too many unarmed people, too many innocents were being killed, and police routinely felt comfortable lying about what happened.


Police departments saw this discrepancy as primarily a public relations problem. They did not, at least at first, see any problem with their actions. Killings by police were always justified, and the lies and falsehoods that wound up in reports were merely the result of the "fog of battle" -- or what have you.

Police only killed out of absolute necessity, and only as the last resort. Always.

Videos showed that in many cases, police killed their victims on sight or within seconds of the encounter, without bothering to find out what was really happening; many victims were unarmed; some were surrendering or attempting to obey commands barked by officers when they were shot. Others were clearly having psychological issues that prevented immediate compliance, and so they were shot. Over and over again, police were shown escalating situations rather than defusing them, these escalations leading too often to use of deadly force by police. Too many times, police were shown using deadly force where none was called for, often in response to a 911 call from a concerned family member requesting medical intervention.

And of course these videos exposed a glaring racial disparity in police use of force and killings. Police abused and killed black people at a rate far greater than that of whites. It was plain to see. Black people were being shot and killed by police as a matter of course, whereas white folks would often be treated with kid gloves -- no matter if they were armed or even shooting at police. The discrepancy was stark and obvious. And it wasn't just black people; Native Americans, Hispanics, and mentally ill people of any race were being subjected to lethal force as a matter of course.

The rate of killing by police was much higher than had been previously believed due to the significant undercount annually reported by the FBI. The actual death rate at the hands of police is still unknown because many deaths in custody aren't reported. But just those police involved homicides reported in the media were three times the number cited by the FBI in its incomplete -- actually false -- reports.

Now Loretta Lynch is saying we don't really need accurate statistics on the number of deaths caused by police -- as gaining those statistics might-could be a burden on already over-stressed and under-funded/staffed police departments, and we really want to improve relationships with the communities police patrol rather than obsessing on numbers anyway, right?

Good God.

Good freaking God. What is the matter with her?

Crime is at a nearly all-time low. There are more people in jail and prison in this country than in any other nation in the world. Well over a thousand people die at the hands of police in this country every year, far more than in any other first world nation, and too often those who die at the hands of police should not have been subjected to lethal force. Yet almost always those homicides are ruled "justified" because police did the killing and there are layers of protections for police when they use lethal force -- whether or not it's objectively justified.

It's a huge problem and it appears to be growing.

Loretta doesn't want statistics, though. She wants "improved relationships." This goes right back to the earlier police departmental idea that the problem of police killings is one of perception -- PR -- not action. In other words, it's about the propaganda, not about the killing.

That Loretta Lynch apparently buys into this bullshit is troubling, yes? Well, it is to me.

On the other hand, I've seen so many consent decrees with various police departments around the country which seem designed to seek better ways to justify the police killings not reduce them.

This convinced me long ago that the DoJ really has no interest in lowering the rate of police homicide. Its primary interest is in coordinating police departments and police conduct to fit a standard of behavior -- and killing -- that will be "more professional" and gain greater public confidence and respect.

Yes. Well...

Community relations under those circumstances really are more important than statistics on police homicides.

I'm also led to believe that the FBI director doesn't want to have to bother with more complete/accurate statistics. There are real crimes to fight, after all.

No. This won't do.

We need an outcry, loud and sustained, against this attitude by the Top Cops. Stop the bullshit. End the deceit.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mars Water, Hmph.

I haven't written much about my favorite extraterrestrial planet Mars in quite a while -- primarily because there's not been much to say about it for quite a number of years. The problem -- at least in my estimation -- is the real reluctance of the planetary science community to go against established "knowledge" as promulgated by the Big Men of the Field. This has been true for decades, and one can assume it will be true for the foreseeable future.

But in advance of the release of the new Ridley Scott film, "The Martian," word comes that "flowing water" has been found and confirmed on the surface of Mars. Uhhh. Well....

Sure. Why not?

The streaks that have given rise to the current findings have been known and noted for nearly 20 years, and the "discovery" that they are presently active has been recognized for almost as long. The problem has been that their cause is mystifying. Because of a long-time consensus among researchers that the surface of Mars is too cold and the atmosphere is too thin for liquid water to exist at all, research tended to discount the notion that the streaks (known as linea) were the result of flowing water, or if they were that the water which made them had flowed recently -- which could be any time within the last few million years.

This tendency to discount what seems so obvious has been strong among Mars researchers for many a long year, and it continues today.

The idea that water can -- and does -- currently flow at the surface of Mars, at least intermittently, is still regarded with some suspicion. The idea that other substances may be liquid and flow at current Martian surface temperatures and pressures is generally dismissed entirely.

Myself, I was once a fairly strong advocate of current surface water on Mars as it seemed to me that the visual evidence* of what appeared to be geysers, springs, flows and so on was too strong to be ignored, yet it was ignored. Or the evidence was interpreted so as to preclude water or any other flowing liquid.
(* link is to a site which hosts thousands of images of the Martian surface acquired by the Mars Global Surveyor between 1997 and 2003, images that I and many others scoured intensely as they were posted for various interesting features, including streaks and other signs of current flows.)

After a time, I began to think about other volatiles on the surface that could mimic water -- look just like water but not be water and act almost identically under the current surface conditions.... what substance could do that?

It occurred to me that an aqueous solution of sulfuric acid -- which is stable in liquid form down to around -63C and .05mb atmospheric pressure -- would be an ideal candidate. It would appear to be liquid water, and it would act just like liquid water (apart from its solvent qualities), but it would not be liquid water. It would be battery acid. There would be no easy way to tell from a distance (such as an orbiting satellite or from Earth) just what the substance was. The only chemical difference between sulfuric acid and water is the presence of a sulfur atom and three additional oxygen atoms.

But at the time I was proposing sulfuric acid as a potential surface fluid on Mars, the consensus was that the likeliest fluid -- if there were current fluid flows -- would be water, probably water heavy with salt. Well, it would have to be because only brines can sustain a liquid phase under current Martian surface conditions. Even then, the period of liquid phase would tend to be brief unless the salt content was high.

When the Phoenix Lander exposed a patch of ice directly under the craft, the water scenario brightened considerably. Ice would indicate fresh water (although a brine could freeze at low enough temperatures). But there was a puzzlement: droplets of some fluid appeared -- and stayed -- on the landing struts for quite some time. It was at first assumed that these droplets were water liberated from the ice below by the heat of the retro rockets as the craft landed. But how could it be? The droplets were in shadow, and the temperature in shadow was well below the freezing point of even brines. These droplets appeared to remain liquid for... days, weeks, months. The atmospheric pressure was also low enough that when patches of ice were exposed during digging efforts they sublimated directly into gas once exposed to the air and sunlight. There was no observable liquid phase -- to water ice.

Some other fluid must have been seen on those landing struts, but what? It almost certainly wasn't water.

As analysis continued, salts were observed in the soil, one of the most interesting being perchlorate, used as a cleaning solvent on Earth. It was speculated that perchlorate in solution with water would produce a brine which could withstand surface conditions and remain liquid, and potentially, it could harbor microbial life.

This was actually a quite radical departure from previous "knowledge" about the surface of Mars. After the ambiguous life-detection results of the Viking Landers (c. 1976) a theory got going that suggested that the surface was sterile, and it was sterilized by a combination of some sort of hyper-oxide in the soil (substances which have never been observed) and the ultraviolet flux from the sun which is unimpeded by the Martian atmosphere. This theory was maintained for many years, and proposed that not only was the surface sterile, but it would be lethal to any living thing, including you and me. Simply breathing Mars dust might well be enough to kill you.

I never believed it, but it was the standard model of Mars for many years.

Just as a blood-red surface and brilliant orange-red sky were standard for so long. Though they were false renderings made for publicity, they remained the most frequently seen images of the Martian surface for decades despite repeated calls from the public for more accurate renderings.

The streaks that have caused all the buzz were first seen in the Mars Global Surveyor images in the late 1990s, though there were hints of them long before that. While much of the surface of Mars appears to be static -- except for dust storms and occasional small impacts -- there are areas that demonstrate considerable activity, including dust devils, some features that may be fluid geysers, active sand geysers, snow fall at and near the poles, possible glaciers, apparently explosive deflation of hillsides, land slides, and these streaks. They're found mostly in mid latitudes and equatorial areas mostly along the rims of craters and cliff faces. They tend to be a good deal darker than the surrounding terrain, but in some cases, they are quite a bit lighter. They have been observed to grow quite long and then they stop. Typically they fade away after a few months, and frequently they reappear in the same general areas once the surface temperatures warm up. Usually, they are seen when surface temperatures are between 250K and 300K -- in other words, somewhat cooler than to well above the melting point of pure water ice.

While it seemed possible to those with open minds that these streaks were the result of some kind of water flows, it was very difficult, indeed nearly impossible, to prove. Liquid water could not flow or persist at the Martian surface for any length of time because the temperature and pressure were in most places too low for too long. Thus even if there had been flowing water at the surface in the past, it would have been temporary unless the temperatures and atmospheric pressures were a good deal higher than they are today.

I'm one of those who tends to think that Mars is currently in a warm period, perhaps the warmest it's experienced in the planet's history. I doubt there was ever a warmer and wetter past, and I doubt there was ever an ocean as we would know one. There may have been a relatively heavy ice cover in some -- or many -- areas and there may have been intermittent lakes in many areas. But such water (or other fluid) which appeared at the surface for however long it may have done so came from below in almost every case.

Including those streaks. One of the problems with understanding them is that in most cases they begin at or very near the tops of crater rims and cliff faces. In many cases, their origin is a point source, really undetectable at the resolution of orbiting cameras, so it's impossible to tell just what the source of these streaks is. Somehow the fluid, whatever fluid it is, has to get up to the highest surface level before flowing downslope, sometimes for a kilometer or more.

I've often wondered why the streaks begin at the tops of cliff faces or crater rims rather than taking the easy route and forming at the bottoms where the fluid -- whatever it is -- might pool and be detected as a lake or pond even if ice covered for much of the time.

Actually, there are indications that that happens in various places at various times, but those who study the streaks don't seem to pay much attention to the indications of current ponds and lakes... ah, the division of labor...

Still, there is no explanation for the origin of the streaks at the tops of crater rims and cliff faces rather than their bottoms. The mechanism is thought to be hydrologic pressure from below which could be due to almost anything, Exactly why it manifests where and how it does remains a mystery.

The notion is that the streaks are underlain with a layer of permanent ice and that the flowing water which makes the streaks visible runs over the ice when temperatures at the surface are high enough. Interestingly, atmospheric pressure doesn't seem to play much of a role in the presence or absence of streaks, it's all about latitude and temperature.

There have been indications for many years that much of the surface of Mars is underlain with ice, not solely near the poles where it was expected but all over the planet. In some areas, this ice is very near the surface, essentially at the surface. In others it may be a few meters below. The indications come from hydrogen detection by orbiting spacecraft and the detection of widespread hydrated minerals. The belief is that only water (and ice) could cause these spectral signatures. And of course ice was found essentially at the surface at the Phoenix landing site.

So, there's no absence of ice on Mars, nor is there an indication that this ice is not water ice. I would imagine that it is water ice, and depending on where it is found, it is probably in a highly pure state. Meltwater from these ice deposits might well be potable. Whoo-hoo! Mission to Mars, here we come!

Well, that is unless it is filled with nasty microbes... Is that possible? Sure. There's no sign -- yet -- that such is the case, but it's worth noting that no orbiter or lander sent to Mars since the Vikings in 1976 have carried biology-detection instruments, not even biology inferring instruments. It's worth asking why not, but answers probably won't be forthcoming. Not only have there been no direct biology detection instruments, there have been no instruments which could analyse the soil for the hypothesized hyper-oxides which supposedly sterilized the soil at the Viking landing sites of any organic matter and thus of any biology. There weren't even instruments to measure the ultraviolet flux that was supposed to be a contributing factor in the complete sterilization of the Martian surface.

It seemed as if the hypotheses advanced to explain the failure of the Vikings to detect biology for certain in 1976 were being accepted on faith without even an attempt at verification. To me, as an interested observer, it was bizarre.

It occurred to me, though, that quite possibly the hypotheses of a sterile Martian surface were never accepted (13 pg pdf), and that was why there was no apparent effort at verification. Why verify something you know isn't true? On the other hand, it might have helped to falsify those sterility hypotheses, no?

What has been learned is a sideways falsification, I guess. There are organic materials in the soil, for example, materials which, for whatever reason, the Viking instruments did not detect. There are no signs of  hyper-oxides sterilizing the soil. Instead, there are widespread peroxides and perchlorates and salts and significant regions of near-surface ice, all of which indicate the presence of water both historically and currently. The notion that the surface of Mars is dry and dead and sterile is slowly -- painfully slowly -- yielding to a more complete understanding...

The surface of Mars may somewhat resemble a terrestrial desert, but it's not much like the surface of the Earth at all. It mimics... but it isn't the same.

The surface has many signs of flowing and pooling liquid -- both historic and recent/current -- but just what that liquid is or was isn't certain. It is assumed to be water, probably quite briny, but again, it's not certain. It may have been water in some places, whereas something else -- such as sulfuric acid -- may have been the surface volatile in others. There are indications of sulfates and sulfur in various places on Mars, which in combination with hydrogen and oxygen -- both of which are in fair abundance -- can produce various strengths of sulfuric acid. As an aqueous solution, it would behave almost like water -- except that it would remain liquid at very low temperatures and pressures, though eventually it would sublimate away like water.

So. The breathless announcement last week that "flowing water" had been "discovered" -- or rather confirmed -- on Mars has to come with a caveat or two. Those streaks have long been known and have long been speculated to be caused -- somehow -- by water flowing downhill. But how or why the water involved would be pumped to the tops of cliffs and crater rims in order to be released to flow down the cliffs and into craters is still a mystery. It doesn't really make hydrological sense, but it seems to be what happens.

Hydrated minerals/perchlorate salts have been spectrally found in association with the streaks but only when they are dark, not when they are faded or light. I have a problem with that in that hydrated minerals and perchlorates appear to be commonplace on the surface, found nearly everywhere. If the fading or lightening of these streaks is due to evaporation/sublimation, then the presence of salts should be stronger not weaker when the streaks have faded or lightened. But not what's found.

There has apparently been no spectral signature of water found in association with these streaks, and that's interesting all by itself. Water is simply assumed. Not necessarily wise given the way Mars deceives and mimics.

I suspect that we will not actually know about the surface of Mars until and unless people go there to measure and test and explore, and somehow survive the encounter. That adventure has been long-delayed, but what with all these new findings of "flowing water" -- and the blockbuster movie opening tomorrow -- you never know.