Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I got nothin today

Let's see.. today in history - wait.. scratch that, today in present history we have folks rioting in Chicago over a knife wielding 17 year old kid on PCP being shot by police last year. Not a whole lot new there..

A Russian jet being shot down in or near Turkey and the various saber rattling that ensued from that.. Nope.. nothing there either..

<sigh> I guess I really just don't have much inspiration this morning.. here's some shopping storm troopers:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

You Can't Fix Stupid

Venerable Alfred E. Newman - Mad via Wikipedia
I thought I'd not have much to write here today. After all, I am into my third day of Thanksgiving idleness and starting to plan for cooking for family and friends. Yes I do anticipate a putting on a pretty good feed this year, but more on that later. Let's talk about truth.

I'll start out by saying I give most people the benefit of the doubt when discussing facts. Facts are very tricky things, especially when we are trying to remember not big trendy things, like say two buildings falling down in New York after getting hit by planes hijacked by Muslims. No, those are fairly easy to nail down. It's details that can be ethereal and difficult to grasp and hold them still.

With that in mind, I read with some bemusement the thread on Instapundit about the Washington Post's effort to play the gotcha game with Trump's statements about Muslims cheering when the towers fell. After all, it's not like they haven't gotten away with this before. Consider how successfully they managed to tank George Allen's campaign over the 'macaca' statement. In that case Allen used what he thought was a made up word, then the media looked it up and 'shazam!' it was an arcane curse. It was kind of like when you are playing scrabble with a 12 year old and they just make up a word because they are tired of playing. You invoke the dictionary rule, look it up and you are both surprised that it is there. The 12 year old struts away with the win while you are looking at a tray full of useless X's, Y's, and F's.

I thought that Powerline had pretty much nailed down that Trump was correct about Muslim's cheering when the towers fell and the Post would crawl back in their hole and let that one go. But no, as the title of this post notes, you can't fix stupid. Today they decided to go ahead and double down on that. This time a different writer, Chris Cilliza, took the stupid ball and ran with it, writing about "Donald Trump's Increasingly Fact Free Campaign"

First off, let's go with the premise that at some point, the Donald spoke only the truth, and now he mostly isn't. That would require a diligent reporter to cite examples of when he spoke the truth and where exactly he deviated from that. Did any of that happen in this post? Er, no.

So let's look at where exactly Trump was supposed to deviate from the truth. First let look at exactly what Trump said:

Note how he tees it up. He wants the Post to jump on this like they have. The throw off is he doesn't really care about the 'thousands and thousands' part. That is just hyperbole. When asked about specifics in the Stephanopoulos interview, he drops into factual territory and talks about what he saw on TV. Here is exactly the kind of thing that he is talking about:

There are home grown terrorist that need to be monitored. They are advocating attacks on the US. This is undeniable. What's wrong with saying that these people need to be monitored?

Cilliza goes on to make this astounding statement:
If there is no agreed-upon neutral arbiter, there are no facts. 
Naturally, the Post should be the arbiter. But of course Trump is ignoring them, and, in a hat trick, they continue to whine about it, giving him more press and keeping his polling numbers high.

The writer wraps up the post by claiming that this tweet by Trump quotes 'inaccurate' facts about black on black crimes:

The Trump ad people are great! What are the two facts that catch your eye in this graphic?

  • about 1% of blacks that are killed are killed by the police
  • about 97% of blacks that are killed are killed by other blacks
Empirically sampling the police blotter from say Chicago on any given weekend, I'd say that is just about right. On the other hand, the Post wants you to look at the 81% of whites are killed by blacks. I didn't even see that in there until they pointed it out, did you?

That's the brilliance of the Trump campaign. They knew someone in the media would pick up on that 'fact' and blow up the internet with it. Like the loyal lapdogs they are, the Post didn't disappoint. This of course effectively gets that graphic moved from just a throwaway post into the a national spotlight. The net effect is that more people see that Trump is highlighting the fact that matters - the problem in the black community is black on black violence, not cop on black killings, something seemingly lost in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Chris is right in one sense. The media's apparent inability to fairly fact check all candidates leaves the average reader to assume that any fact check is just another hatchet job. What the Trump campaign has done is the take that hatchet away from the erstwhile political reporter who risks getting hoisted by their own petard when they try to pull the old 'gotcha' trick out of the playbook.

Good for you Trump, Good for you.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Y'all Come Back Now, Ya Hear?

From Wikipedia
As I may have mentioned elsewhere, even though I current live in Virginia, I grew up in the real south - Memphis. As I was perusing the news this morning and thinking about what to write here this morning, I came across this story about Hillary making a whistle stop visit to my home town and affecting a southern accent for the home crowd, her being a former first lady and all from neighboring Arkansas.

I have no idea how things are in Memphis now, but her touting her Arkansas first lady credentials really doesn't hold much appeal for me. When I was growing up there, Arkansas was a pretty foreign land to us. The Mississippi river was both a cultural and physical barrier. When I think back on growing up in Memphis, there really wasn't much on that side of the river but miles and miles of flatland and mud flats. The only industry there was the dog track. Even back then it was a despised institution which managed to irk both the southern baptist with it's sinful gambling and the animal lovers with it's exploitation of man's best friend. Thus, the state government that would allow such a thing was in my mind always a little backward and pitiful.

But what exactly did Hillary say and do in her brief sashay through Memphis? Well first she made her stop at LeMoyne-Owen College, a historically black college, located just a few blocks from Beale Street. I must admit I have never been there as that part of town was not someplace I had any reason to go to. Of course I have never been to Graceland either, so I don't have any feelings about it either way.

Her visit there was of course to burnish her reputation with the black voters as the wife of the first black American president. I do however wonder what black voters think about her adopting a southern accent every time she is confronted with a room full of black faces. Probably the more interesting question is "Why does she do this?" In attempting to relate to them is she taking on the persona of the white slave owners that subjugated their forefathers? There are some rather interesting things going on there that warrants further study, but frankly I am just not motivated to look into it.

There was one other thing she did there that should be noted. She talked to the family of Darius Stewart, offering them her condolences. Who is Darius Stewart? Another unarmed black child killed by a white cop, that's who! Well, that of course isn't the whole story. It turns out he was a 19 year old who had outstanding warrants for being a child molester. This is how the shooting went down. The police did a traffic stop and issued a ticket to the driver. At the same time, they looked up the ID of the passenger and found he had an outstanding warrant for arrest. They put him in the back of their cruiser while they took care of the driver and sent him on his way. When the officer went to get him out to put the cuffs on him,  he tore into the cop. The cop was loosing the fight when he pulled his weapon and shot Darius, once in the arm and shoulder, and the second time in the chest.

My theory is this was effectively suicide by cop. Anyone who knows the prison system knows that child molesters generally get the worst treatment by their fellow inmates. This fact was not lost on Darius, and when he knew that he was going to be faced with a humiliating trial followed by years of the hardest type of time, he made a decision right then and there to try to escape at all cost. With nothing to lose, trying to fight his way through one cop in order to secure his freedom seemed like a reasonable alternative.

It's a pretty sad situation all around. I can't imagine what Hillary though she could accomplish by inserting herself into it. I guess it was a crass effort to align herself with the "Black Lives Matter" crowd. She certainly did that, then neatly side stepped that issue today by tweeting today:

 What about Darius's victims? Don't their black lives matter too?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Just A Guy Named Jose, Or Jesus, But Probably Not Mohammad (as far as we know)

from Wikipedia

I have done a little thinking about immigration today. Like most Americans, I have my own experiences with immigrants and the immigration process. I offer these two examples and then will go on from there.

The first is while I was growing up. My grandfather had a large farm in Texas. Since my dad and his brother left the farm, and my grandfather's hard life was beginning to catch up with him, he hired temporary labors the help him out. As a frame of reference, this was in the late 60's or early 70's. I recall that my grandfather referred to them as 'wetbacks'. This wasn't a derogatory term for him. It was a practical statement of fact. These guys came to Texas to get work without the sanction of anyone's government. In fact, it was common in that section of Texas. In exchange for housing and a wage, they would do whatever needed doing around the farm. Much of that work was very hard. I can confirm that because I spent a summer working for my grandfather. While there was always something fun to do there, there was also some of the hottest, hardest, work I have ever done.

My grandfather told a story about how his workers came to burn down a house that he had on the property. It seems that while my grandfather had provided a livable house for them, he did not provide them with cut firewood to heat it. It was up to the workers to chop the firewood from the surrounding deadwood. This particular group of guys were not inclined to do any more work than was necessary, so rather than cutting the wood so it would fit in the fireplace, they came up with the rather brilliant idea to light one end of a log, then feed it into the fireplace as it burned. The inevitable happened and they fell asleep and the lit log resulted in the conflagration of the house.  They all escaped, but were fired and wondered off to another farm to work.

On another side of the coin, my mother in law immigrated from Spain. She and my wife's father corresponded and she came to America to marry my wife's father. She is steadfastly an American and, while she values her Catalan heritage, she also prizes her American citizenship.

So, with those two examples in mind, let's turn to what seems to be the theme for this week: the problem of the Syrian refugees. By some reports there are something like 4 million Syrians fleeing their war torn country. According to Uncle Joe, these are mostly women and orphans, but will be increased from 2000 this year to 10000 in the coming year, and will be subject some really stringent screening.

I got curious about how they would do this. After all, the Greeks are saying it's nearly impossible to tell the bad jihadist from the good Muslim. In an admittedly brief perusal of the INS site, I stumbled on the USCIS site, and the form (I-589) that is used to determine if a potential refugee is going to be granted asylum. First, you have to say that the form is detailed, and somewhat like a form you would fill out for a job application and background check, but a bit more personal. For example, it ask right up front what religion you, your spouse, and children are. As for why you are fleeing, it ask (among other things) these questions:

  • Have you, your family, or close friends experienced harm or mistreatment or threats in the past by anyone? Give specific details
  • Do you fear harm or mistreatment if you return to your home country?
  • Have you or your family members ever been arrested, interrogated, (etc) in any country other than the United States
  • Are you afraid of being tortured in your home country
The problem is not with the details, but with verification of the details, given the current state of Syria. It's not like we can call up the Syrian government and ask "Hey, did you rip the fingernails out of this guy?". Nope, this is a classic problem of using interrogation techniques to weed out bad actors from legitimate refugees and it's damn hard to do. The only basis that you have for verifying that what is on the paper is the truth is the refugee's own internal consistency. A really well prepared jihadist will be hard to detect. Hopefully, there aren't that many well prepared jihadist and the interrogators / interviewers are really, really good. This is complicated by the interviewee's due process rights. What if an interviewer thinks but can't prove that the person they are talking to is a jihadist? Do they have to pass them through anyway? I suspect they might.

Given the sheer number of applicants, I can see where is will be hard to have a large enough cadre of skilled interviewers to adequately vet all applications, and therein lies the problem. Consider a similar problem the government faces with vetting security clearances. The task is somewhat similar in that the a small cadre of investigators must, using electronic and other bio-metric data, determine that a person is who they say they are, and have no skeletons in their closets. Even in the best of circumstances, this process mostly relies on the skills of the interviewer to determine the veracity of the applicant,  and takes an average of 65 days to complete an investigation when the investigators have broad access to everything about an individual. The investigation of an asylum seeker has got to be many times more difficult than that!

So, for those people saying that Republicans are hard hearted by saying let's just back up a minute before opening the flood gates to these Syrians, i'd say their position doesn't look so crazy, given the above considerations. The federal government's first and most important job is to defend the people from harm. If you can do that and let these people in, by all means go ahead. But I think you need to prove that you can and be completely transparent in the process before allowing a single one of these people in. This administration has been anything but transparent about this. Anything else is just empty promises.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Some Post-Veteran's Day Thoughts


If you read through the "Who Is This Guy" tab on the right, you will discover that I am a veteran. It's not something that I make a big deal about. I went into the Army straight out of high school and stayed in for only one enlistment period. I learned a lot about life in that time, and am grateful to all the seasoned leadership (good and bad) that I learned from. I matured there in a way I never would have if I had chose a different path. In turn, I gave back to my country. It was a win-win.

So I approached this veterans day like many of my brothers in arms, respectful of those that gave more service and somewhat sheepish about making a big deal about it. One of the grocery chains in my area has special parking year around for veterans. Most times I won't park there, figuring there are others more deserving of that honor. But sometimes I will. After all, I did honorable service and am fully entitled to this minor perk. As far as all the free meals and discounts offered by merchants on Veteran's Day, I have never taken any of those; not because I purposefully eschewed them, but mostly because I just don't need them. 

That gives you some context for what I am about to write next. I had an odd encounter this Veterans Day. As part of my daily ritual, I dropped by a different grocery store on my way home from work. This particular store is one that I frequent every other day, so they kind of know me there. The people that work there seem like nice people and are generally hard workers, doing an honest business. After the clerk rings up my purchase, he ask "Are you retired or active duty military?"

The question kind of threw me. I knew it was Veteran's Day, and this question was asked because they probably were going to add some discount if I answered yes. However, I stumbled a bit before I stammered out a "No". In retrospect, the question, and the distinction behind it ended up bothering me a bit. I wasn't active duty, and no, I didn't put in 20 years service that would entitle me the label of military retired. But this was Veteran's Day! I was an honorably discharged veteran, and this grocery chain was, in a small way, deciding to make that distinction. That kind of bothered me a little.

I did a little research on this to look at the numbers. There are 1.4 million active duty personnel in the US and 1.4 million retired military  (page 7) drawing retirement pay. On the other hand there are  19.3 million veterans alive and kicking in the US. Doing the math on that:

(1.4m active duty + 1.4m retired)/(19.3m total veterans + 1.4 active duty) = 13.5 %

So this particular chain made the reasonable distinction that they would honor those who have served or were serving, but only 13.5% of them. I understand they had to limit their loss, while seeming to do the right thing from a PR viewpoint. However, let's look a little closer at those numbers. The total population of the US over 18 years old is around 209 million. So if you look at the relative percentage of the persons who have served or am currently serving:

(19.3m total veterans + 1.4m active duty)/209m =  discounts for 9.9% of consumers


(1.4m active duty + 1.4m retired)/209m = discounts for 1.3% of consumers

I guess it makes some economic sense. But for many veterans, it kind of leaves a bad taste in our mouths. Make no mistake, I served under some of those old dogs, and they truly deserve every honor and break that they get. On the other hand, Veteran's Day is a day for all of us, not just the soldiers who have made the military their life. It rings somewhat hollow when you do that. I am not going to change where I shop because of this, nor should any one else. 

I just ask the retailers to pause and think about that feeling they are about to give the 92% of the veterans that will walk through their door on Veteran's Day, and ask themselves: Is this really a good idea? I really could care less about the money. If that same clerk had asked me if I was a veteran and thanked me for my service it would have made my day. If he gave me a small discount on my purchase, all the better. What I ending up feeling walking away from the store was something all together different. Those feelings are probably not something you ant a consumer to have upon exiting your store. So next Veteran's Day I ask you to think this through just a little more, ok?

Note: This is part one of my 9 days of Thanksgiving Break. I intend to write a little every day of the break. I hope it is entertaining, but I admit that most times it may not be... enjoy and let me know what you think either via email or in the comments. Thank you for reading and linking!