Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Invisible War is Slanted, So Please Don't Take it at Face-Value

I've been meaning to write a post about the Invisible War for two months. The plan was to take notes on its inaccurate and slanted use of statistics, research for comparable statistics in the civilian world in terms of what percentage of sexual assault allegations are prosecuted, and show how unfair it is to compare how the military deals with allegations of sexual assaults compared to how the civilian world does so. The problem was that I'm a busy man at my day job, and lazy when it comes to this blog/details/hard evidence. I even took notes on the second time I watched that documentary, but now have no idea where that notepad went so here we go.

What prompted the writing now is that I just got an email from a law school friend about whether I saw this great movie. He shares the same left-leaning political views I do and is somewhat inclined, like me I guess, to sympathize with victims. He was moved by this movie. As was my wife. When me and the little lady watched this movie, it led a lively discussion where she couldn't believe the kind of crap we let go on in the military. I told her our efforts to deal with sexual assaults were not accurately portrayed, yet she really didn't believe me.

If you're not aware of what the movie is about, I'll let the description from the movie's website explain: The Invisible War, a groundbreaking investigative documentary about one of America's most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military. The film paints a startling picture of the extent of the problem-today, a female soldier in combat zones is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. The Department of Defense estimates there were a staggering 19,000 violent sex crimes in the military in 2010. The Invisible War exposes the epidemic, breaking open one of the most under-reported stories of our generation, to the nation and the world.

Let me just be clear, I get it. Sexual assaults are a very serious matter and that the way those women in the movie were treated is deplorable. The fact that any woman (or man) is raped by fellow Soldiers is disheartening. That many of victims portrayed in this movie had attackers who are still serving, along with the comanders and investigators who are alleged to have done nothing and to have sometimes punished the victims, is more than tragic. If true, it is enraging. If possible, those cases should be reopened and reexamined to determine if there is anything that should be done to those who failed to do the right thing the first time around. That being said, this movie doesn't recognize that the Army gets it too. The message from Congress has been clear for sometime on what the Army needs to do with regards to sexual assault. And at heart, the Army (or military) is filled with ambitious career driven people who follow orders and tow the company line. So much of our legal training, the military police investigative training, both of our time, resources, etc., is spent making sure these cases are properly investigated and prosecuted. So much so that it's hard to really communicate to someone who doesn't live it and see it on a day-to-day basis. In short, this movie is late to the party in terms of what we do and have been doing for years.

And by way of comparison, we take more tough cases to court-martial than civilian prosecutor's do. I say this not with hard evidence, just by anecdotal evidence of what I've experienced by interning in the sexual crimes section of a civilian prosecutors office, seeing high profile civilian sexual assault investigations in the media that were not prosecuted but would be by us, and seeing in my jurisdiction how the special victim prosecutor ensures that if a female does not recant the allegation and wants to testify in open court, then we take the case to court-marital no matter how confident we are that we can win the case. Almost every time, we put the evidence out there and let the panel decide, not concerned for our conviction percentages the same way civilian prosecutors are. This strategy, by the way, is being criticized from those who know about it.

In short, in my time in the military, I do not recognize the version of the military justice system that is portrayed in the Invisible War. The movie is not fair nor is it an open and frank discussion where opposing points of view are given enough time to lay out what the military is doing right to address the issue of sexual assaults. Yet I'm fairly certain it will win an Oscar and continue to earn the acclaim of fans the world over. I just want everyone to know, though, that before they make up their mind, they should make sure they are getting the full picture and not assume this movie is giving that to them.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Level of Outrage at a Mass Killer is Proportional to the God He Prays to

I recently learned how to track my page views and saw that this old post on gun violence is one of the favorites. I reread that post and it got me thinking. These last two years have shown that nothing will stop the regular gun violence in America. But what if we had a mass shooting with a terrorist connection? What would happen then? I don't know how many times I've heard people discuss the possibility of terrorists detonating a suicide bomb in a mall in small town America. But it would be much easier for them to just shoot it up with how easy it is to purchase weapons here. Most people know the random American town attack would scare the crap out of us, and it seems relatively easy to accomplish. If the terrorists ever were to do this, there'd be a shitstorm in terms of figuring out what we could've done differently, how it happened, and maybe they'd even trick us again to invade another middle eastern country that had nothing to do with the attack. But it really doesn't even take much of a thought experiment to speculate on the different reactions to national tragedy depending on the motives of the shooter. We already had one gun tragedy with a possible terrorist connection, and the dominant discourse was clearly much different than it is for your run-of-the-mill-this-is-just-what-happens-in-America mass shooting. (Funny how scared we are that a terrorist will do something that we already do to each other on a regular basis, randomly kill each other in public places.) MAJ Hasan's attack on Ft. Hood was not predominantly a discussion of where he got the weapon and the type of weapon it was. Those discussions were ancillary to the dominant political discourse over who missed the signs and whose fault this was. We'll have congressional reports after attacks like MAJ Hasan's, but I couldn't find any examples of recent investigations into the mass shootings in America (Google failed me in my 5 minutes of research. Funding for the Pearsandwich intern fell through, so I can't be more certain of this claim). At the very least, we don't allow federal money to fund studies of the issue, yet investigations into what the Justice Department knew about ass-backward gun walking investigations where federal agents tragically were killed is given all of the congressional oversight in the world. So anyways, in this thought experiment I say that if this tragic event occurs, the intent of the shooter will show how we finally react differently as a nation. If he's doing it because he hates America and believes it's his path to heaven, America will probably never be the same. We'll lose our innocence one more time and we'll have politicians/pundits/people pointing fingers, we'll get some more laws and maybe even some miltary action. If the shooter is just a crazy person who doesn't believe in Allah, we'll have the couple of days of discussion and finger pointing before just shrugging our shoulders and getting on with our lives. I mean, you don't get over 30,000 shooting deaths a year without growing accustomed to it and just accepting that you're the greatest country on Earth that doesn't need to do anything to change.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

You Can Only Beat Human Beings that You Own

A few months ago we had a court-martial that looked like a clear case of child abuse, yet the panel said the Soldier was not guitly. The defense relied on the parental discipline defense. The 12 year-old child was home alone. He let his older sister's friend into the house so he could use the phone. And that friend proceeded to steal a laptop. When Dad found out, he blamed his son and used the rubber scrap pictured below to hit the kid. The entire case came down to whether this amount of force was a reasonable way to discipline a child for letting someone in the house when Dad wasn't home. The lawyers in our office all thought the pictures spoke for themselves, and there's nothing the child could have done to deserve this. I didn't realize we were in trouble until we picked the panel members. Most of them said they were hit when they were kids and it made them better people. They said their parents used wooden spoons, belts, hangers, and one even said a bed rail. After all the evidence was presented, it took them 40 minutes to acquit.
Anyways, this was and is upsetting. How is it that an adult can bruise a child like this and it's ok? In any dispute in a civilized society, you're not allowed to make your point with violence. And yet with children, the smallest and most vulnerable human beings, it's socially acceptable to use weapons and bruise them when you're teaching them a lesson. But you can't do this to other people's children of course, since hitting someone else's child is clearly a heinous crime. Before you can lawfully hit a child you have to show that you own it. Once ownership is established, then you can use a rubber scrap cut from an old tire and swing away, leaving bruises that last for 3 days. Unsurprisingly, this child is also violent. He was suspended from school multiple times for fights with other students. So it's nice to see that Dad is paying this forward. I'm not sure what I'm hoping to accomplish from writing about this. I guess just hoping to get this off my chest and hoping some like-minded people agree. Anyways, this is some messed-up stuff. What a world.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Horrors of European Socialism

With election season making the direction of our country a focal point, I'm glad to see the courage of intelligent Americans warn of the danger Barack Hussein Obama threatens to our individual liberty. The United States Army has put me face-to-face with the nightmare of European style Socialism for the last three years. Driving on better roads, taking more efficient mass transit, seeing citizens enjoying better healthcare, and not fearing for my life every time I exit the house has made me realize how incredibly terrible it would be for the U.S. to adopt some of these more Marxist ideas. I hope some of this post's pictures below, of Stockholm and Norway, demonstrate the hellscape a country can become when the top tax rate on the highest earners hovers around 50%. How the job creators and everyday freedom lovers in these Socialist backwaters can enjoy themselves while the rest of the population enjoys a greater social mobility, better education, and social safety nets that allow for more risk taking, just boggles the mind. No, I just want to live in a country where I drive 15 minutes from my suburban house because of zoning that's led to more isolation from my fellow citizens, enter my nearest superstore, and then pay for processed foods on my credit card with one hand while my other hand cradles a concealed weapon, all so I can make it back home safely in time to watch more television than people in any other country on Earth.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Complaints about America

I'm not sure how people multitask. I've been working 70 hour weeks for the last few months, and I've barely had enough time to brush my teeth everyday, let alone write posts no one is going to read.

Anyways, so I fell behind and have some old thoughts to get caught up on here. I went to Orlando for work a few months ago. I stayed in a hotel near Universal Studios, on the crappier side of town (government cutbacks), and it drove home how effed up our country's priorities are. The town is organized around entertainment, chain restaurants, and outlet malls. There's asphalt, concrete and traffic everywhere. Contrasting this to my home in rural Germany, where they've managed the trees and lakes to keep the area beautiful, where the towns are organized to have pedestrian zones and all your necessities in walking distance, it depressed me. Maybe that's like comparing Orlando to Asheville, NC, and it's just not fair, but there is something representative about Orlando's place in America. Orlando is an epicenter of entertainment, a place you work and save up for (assuming you still have a job) to take your kids on vacation. People also come from around the globe to get a taste of America. But outside the parks, this mecca for family fun is cheap and somewhat dingy. There's nothing aesthetically pleasing about the traffic or buildings. And shopping at outlet malls while not at amusement parks is like switching to beer after a three day binge of hard liquor. Either way you're an alcoholic, you're just getting your fix from a different source.

I heard on AFN radio the other day about a Target worker protesting the 12AM opening for black Friday. It's crazy the bind that workers like him are being put in. We have a shitty economy and a terrible social safety net. People have to choose between spending time with their family on holidays, or working to avoid losing their jobs. How is it these stores do it? A country where it's acceptable to force your employees to work at these hours without a social stigma? Americans really think the predominant goal in life is to make money. And on the demand side, how do we have consumers who shop at 12am instead of spending time with their families (or sleeping)? Maybe some of these consumers shop with their families at that hour? Is that what fills the void? Buying stuff at a cheaper price to give to yourself and others, because if you don't have these consumer goods that you otherwise couldn't afford then you would disappoint yourself and them?

So anyways, it's just disappointing to think of our screwed up priorities. How we organize our cities, our society, how we spend our time. We don't let others rest on the holidays, since we can't stop consuming. We can't afford to turn off the perpetual motion machine of being distracted. We expect our movie theaters, amusement parks, stores, etc. to be open. And we hype these cities of entertainment, but outside the parks they're gross and disappointing. So what are you going to do? Hope that we can reconstruct our society at least from a city planning perspective to encourage green spots and walking zones? Reprioritize the population to focus on anything other than materialism (community? family?)? Complain about it on my blog and hope that somehow makes a difference? Anyways, it's just a little bit of a screwed up country. But I don't see what can be done about it. For now I'll be spending Thanksgiving at home, eating food and watching grown men try to kill each other on the football field. Because I don't care about the time these guys get to spend with their friends or family. It's not my problem.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Value Over Replacement Prosecutor

Bill James has read hundreds of crime books and he synthesizes a comprehensive volume's worth of stories in his book, "Popular Crime." It's a familiar formula for him, digesting a bunch of old information and offering a new perspective. James has obviously proven he's a smart guy that deserves to be listened to. Here he offers a new perspective on the media, the criminal justice system, and some of the centuries most famous crimes. The Jon Benet Ramsey saga is a case in point, and James' chapter on this was one of the most interesting in the book. I always considered the parents to have been culpable without paying the story too much attention. I felt that if I ignored our silly media, then they'd stop bothering with this nonsense. But James convinced me I was mistaken to ignore this story. And after his arguments and review of the facts, it appears that there is no conceivable way the parents killed their daughter.

The Ramsey saga deals with levels of human nature that I find truly fascinating. The police's certainty of the parents' involvement in the face of so little supporting evidence (and a great deal of contradicting evidence. By the way, did the Ramsey's not have an alarm system? That was never properly addressed by James and I'm surprised rich people like that wouldn't have their basement windows wired.) is a characteristic that has always intrigued me. The police arrived at their belief and then spend the rest of the investigation searching for facts that support it. It's what has infuriated me about people throughout my life. It's political or religious dogma by another name. James' quote (in another chapter dealing with the failure of cops to understand serial killers until the 1980s) that, "The capacity of mankind to misunderstand the world is without limit. The external world is billions of times more complicated than the human mind. We are desperate to understand the world; we struggle from the moment of birth to understand the world - but it beyond our capacity. We thus sign on to simplifications of the world that give us the illusion of understanding," is exactly what I tried to get at with my last post. We're arriving at beliefs and then going forth in this uncertain world. We do what we can to justify those beliefs, contradictory evidence be damned.

James also spends a good part of the book arguing for a more rational justice system. One of his attempts to create such a system is to standardize what it takes to cross the threshold of "beyond a reasonable doubt." He assigns numerical values to evidence and requires that evidence go beyond a specific total number, so that we can prevent wrongful convictions. An admirable call to reason, but one that will probably go unheeded because of the difficulty in arriving at such values. Perhaps books like this, though, will create some rough guidelines or make us more thoughtful on some minimums before we should take away life or liberty. Or perhaps it'll just inspire prosecutors like me to convict less innocent people. (Here's hoping.) And while I'm taking everything he wrote to be factually correct (probably a mistake) he does speak of convictions that are based on evidence that should've been considered legally insufficient, but judges allowed juries to make unsupported decisions anyways, such as Rabbi Neulander, and Randall Dale Adams.

James also hits many more interesting topics that and I'll just hit a few briefly. He raises the issue (in passing) of America's long history of a higher crime rate than Europe, a phenomenon that I've been contemplating ever since I got to the ridiculously safe and unmean streets of Germany. (And again, how can the Ramsey's have not had an alarm system? If there was a take home point from this book it was get a guard dog, a semi-automatic weapon, booby-trap your yard with land mines, and never leave your house under any circumstances.) Based on the ballistic and witness evidence, James also suggests that the fatal shot that killed John F. Kennedy was an accidental discharge from one of his secret service agents. It's a scandalous theory that I've never heard discussed before, and one I'd like to see him debate on television with a well-informed person of an opposing view. In fact, in a perfect world this book would be made into a movie where well-informed people could debate him and most of his contentions (in a more perfect world, I'd get executive producer credit). Anyways, it was a really sweet book. And man are there a lot of psychopaths out there.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Seeking Certainty in an Uncertain World

That Scientific American subscription is proving a huge inspiration for this blog. There was an article last month on the biases that lead people to skew the truth. One of my favorite topics on this blog, one my brother told me to stop writing about because it's a truism not worth exploring, is the tribalism of American politics. Anyone who's been paying attention to the events of the last few weeks/decades/centuries knows that factionalism has been around almost as long as our republic. And as I like to point out from time to time, I knew this president's attempt to move past political factionalism would not succeed because tribalism is ingrained in human nature.

"The Believing Brain" sheds some light on the phenomenom. The article explains how people come to understand reality. Humans form their beliefs first and see reality second. One of the many biases that lead to these beliefs is the in-group bias of tribalism, where opponents are demonized and dismissed while friends are listened to and empathized with. (Which can explain how a political party can ignore their own significant contribution to the problems they blame another party for.)

In the same issue of SA there's an article on how unknowable reality just may be. In the "Bad Boy of Physics", Leonard Susskind explains that reality may be too complex for us ever to understand fully. He even says we should stop using the word reality, but rather focus on what is "reproducible,": knowable discreet events. He then goes on to say things that I cannot comprehend: that physics currently predicts this universe is 1000 times bigger in volume than the portion we can ever see? That there are most likely multiverses, meaning this large forever-completely-unobservable universe of ours might not be the only one?

And it all reminds me of why we use these biases to shape reality. Without them we'd have to admit our inability to understand ourselves and our places in this uni-or multiverse. It's a big, confusing, unknowable existence. We're just a small speck in a small corner of a place infinitely larger than we can ever comprehend. And for many politically active people in the US, certainty and meaning come from battling it out with the opposite members of a political party. It's a lot more empowering to see yourself in a battle of good v. evil then to come to terms with your own ignorance and insignificance. The world becomes us v. them because without that simplified division of reality, we would not know what to make of this thing we're doing.