Thursday, May 30, 2013

“Are you biased?”

Defense Cites Obama Speech in Academy Rape Trial

May 29, 2013| by Richard Sisk

WASHINGTON -- President Obama's demands for swift justice against military sex abusers could sway jurors in the lurid case of a Marine major charged with sexual assault against a female midshipman at the Naval Academy after a boozy strip poker party, a defense lawyer warned Tuesday.

The drumbeat of condemnations of sexual assaults in the ranks by Obama, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and bipartisan Congressional leadership had the potential for prejudicing the general court martial of Marine Maj. Mark A. Thompson, said Marine Maj. Joseph Grimm, Thompson's chief defense counsel.

"I'm kind of worried," Grimm said repeatedly in questioning potential jurors as jury selection began in Thompson's trial at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard. "I'm worried that Major Thompson can't get a fair trial."

"I wonder if that's going to affect the ability of the jury in this case to be fair and impartial," Grimm said.

Marine Lt. Col. Charles Hale, who was presiding in the courtroom as the military judge, asked the entire jury pool: "Is there anything about that speech (by Obama) that would affect your ability to be a fair and impartial juror?"

All replied in the negative.

Okay, I can kind of relate to how having, say, a positive relationship or view of a defendant might make a juror admit to being impartial.  “I’ve known the defendant / the defendant was my boyhood hero / I empathize with the circumstances in which he is alleged to have committed the crime.  I can’t / won’t sit in judgment.”  Or something to that effect.

However – and maybe some readers with jury selection experience can help me out here – how many jurors stand up and say, “Obama’s made me hate the defendant.  If you put me on the jury, I’ll vote to hang, draw, and quarter ‘im!”  It seems the kind of question that the more it was actually true, the greater the incentive would be to lie about it.  In contrast, the jurors sufficiently self-aware of their biases and honorable enough to admit them would be the least of my worries as a defendant.

My guess is that the judge’s question is legal theater.  If he actually found merit in Grimm’s suggestion, he wouldn’t have bothered to ask the question.  But I don’t really know.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Just Standing Around . . .

The Independent covers the latest health craze:

If you are reading this sitting down then the chances are you are also increasing your risk of developing heart disease, blood clots on the brain and even certain types of cancer.

The latest evidence suggests that being seated for much of the day can also increase your risk of developing diabetes. However, standing up daily for an extra 90 minutes significantly lowers your chances of developing this serious metabolic disorder.

A growing body of research is finding that sitting down for extended periods may be one of the most dangerous things we do and that the mere act of standing up – rather than doing physical exercise – is perhaps the best antidote.

. . . .

A study of two groups of men and women at risk of developing diabetes has found a link between levels of sugary glucose and fatty acids in the bloodstream – which are biochemical markers for diabetes – and the time spent sitting down.

The study claims to control for other forms of physical exercise, but I'm still skeptical. Had the study found a higher incidence of, say, hemorrhoids, back pain, or spinal problem among the chronically ass-bound, I would have thought the results plausible. But with the possible exception of blood clots and cancer, the medical problems identified -- heart disease, diabetes, sugary glucose and fatty acids -- sound to me like sedentary-people problems independent of time spent sitting.

Personally, I hate standing. I like to walk and run. But if I have to stand for more than a few minutes, I start to shift my weight from one foot to the other. A few minutes after that, I start looking around for a chair. If forced to stand still for lengthy periods of time, my feet and back start to ache, more than they do from running or walking, and without the euphoria that exercise produces to distract from other discomforts.

On the other hand, while I have a desk job, I'm seldom sitting for more than a half-hour at a time. Calls of nature and such. Or I just stretch my legs a bit. Maybe the ill effects start to set in when we really sit for eight hours straight.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

On Giving No Quarter

From page 231 of Mark Owen's No Easy Day:

While holding security, the assaulter had seen a man quickly poke his head down around the landing. Intelligence reports said there could be up to four males living at the compound. Khalid, one of Bin Laden's sons, was most likely living on the second floor, while Bin Laden lived on the third floor.

The head peeking around the corner was clean-cut with no beard. It had to be Bin Laden's son.

"Khalid," the assaulter whispered. "Khalid."

Everyone in the compound heard the helicopter engines. They heard the shots fired at the guesthouse, and they heard the explosive breaches.

But by then everything was quiet again. All they could hear was our footsteps. Then the man on the landing heard his name being called.

"They know my name?" I imagine him thinking.

Curiosity got the best of him and he stuck his head out to see who was calling his name. The second he stuck his head back around the corner, the assaulter shot him in the face. His body rolled down the stairs and rested on the landing . . . .

Khalid was splayed out on his back, and we had to carefully pick our way past him on the stairs.

The steps were slick tile, made slicker by the blood. Each step was precarious. Nearby, I saw Khalid's AK-47 rifle propped on the step.
"I am glad he didn't man up and use that thing," I thought.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Wreck-It Ralph

I watched Wreck-It Ralph on 3D Blu-ray.


A special shout-out to Jane Lynch as Jack McBrayer’s butt-kicking babe / nerd fantasy:

Also to my new favorite techno group, Owl City, for their contribution to the soundtrack:

I LOVE 3D Blu-ray!  I love John Lasseter and D!sney!


Thought:  now that D!sney owns LucasFilm, can Rich Moore direct a re-cut of the pod-racing scene?

Other thought:  “Why does the nerd always get the girl?  Is that really realistic?” – Γ

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Flying Follies

From the Tampa Tribune (via

The crew of a military cargo jet landed at the wrong airport in Tampa in July, in part, because of fatigue, complacency and a lack of flight discipline, an Air Force investigation has found.

I almost did that once. I had dead-reckoned into OKC through 400 miles of clear though turbulent weather, and I was eager to put down at the first airfield I came to. (Greater OKC has several airports within a few miles of each other, and those miles go by fast when you're flying.) It took a while for the tower to figure out what I was doing, and I was on final approach when the call came in: Cessna charlie one-seventy-six november, be advised you are landing at the wrong airport! Oops.

But . . . jeebus, people, you're instrument-rated in the age of GPS. How frickin' fatigued do you have to have to be to screw this up all the way to touchdown?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Profile Needed

We received the following email the other day:


It is regrettable that I have to bring to your attention some repulsive and unacceptable behavior being perpetrated by someone in our workforce. Over the last few weeks, several male restrooms have been defaced with feces on multiple surfaces on numerous occasions. The sheer disgust of an act like this from someone in our professional workforce is beyond comprehension for me as your Vice Commander. These acts have created an unpleasant and dangerous environment and since this is criminal behavior, we are now in coordination with the Security Forces Squadron to assist with the investigation and to prosecute the offender to the fullest extent of the law.

. . . .

The lack of respect this individual has for the rest of the workforce and visitors to our facilities WILL NOT BE TOLERATED. Together with your help, I am confident we will catch the offender so that we can all move forward in a facility where our Team can go about doing the work of our Nation in the professional and respectful manner commensurate with our outstanding organization.



I, personally, have only seen something like this once, in a restroom at a public hospital.  The behavior is so bizarre that I have no idea if there is a profile for this kind of person.  Any ideas?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Poem

For Mother's Day this year, my daughter presented my wife with a poem:

For mommy

I love you mommy thank you
For all you’ve done for me
For Your loving care and guidance
And everything I need
When I was a baby
You cared for me each day
And no matter what I do for you
It’s a gift I can’t repay
And as I got older
You taught me what was right
You led me to a faith in Christ
And a life in God’s light
Even when I get testy
And even when I am bad
You will still always love me
Even when you get mad
I love you mommy thank you
For what you’ve done for me
For your loving care and guidance
And everything I need

Friday, May 10, 2013

Security Fun & Frolics

Last year, I shared my suspicions that the “Questionnaire for National Security Positions” was showing evidence for being less a means to protect national security than a popularity signaling mechanism.

My suspicions have been reinforced.

ODNI News Release No. 05-13

April 5, 2013

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper today issued new guidance to support victims of sexual assault who hold or wish to hold a government security clearance, but may be reluctant to seek mental health counseling for fear they may have to disclose the counseling on their application.

The guidance which was issued on an interim basis pending formal revision of the policy, applies to all executive branch departments and agencies.

“I believe that this interim policy guidance will positively impact national security,” said Director Clapper. “The U.S. Government recognizes the critical importance of mental health and supports proactive management of mental health conditions, wellness and recovery.”

The interim guidance allows victims of sexual assault to answer “No” to Question 21 on the Standard Form 86, “Questionnaire for National Security Positions”, which asks if you have in the last seven years consulted a health care professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition or if you were similarly hospitalized. Previously, the only exemptions were for family, grief and marital counseling unrelated to violence, and counseling for post-military combat service.

The following language will be added to Question 21.2:
"Please respond to this question with the following additional instruction: Victims of sexual assault who have consulted with a health care professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition during this period strictly in relation to the sexual assault are instructed to answer No."

Individuals complete the SF86 when they initially apply for a clearance and then every five years thereafter while they are granted access to classified government information.  The standard for classification is that the release of the information must be likely to damage the national security of the United States.  The SF86 – in theory – helps the government evaluate an individuals trustworthiness for this purpose.

So . . . does mental health – or, more specifically, the seeking of mental health services – have any bearing on trustworthiness?  The official answer is:  maybe, maybe not.  Tell the government investigators about it, they’ll look into it and make a decision.

Okay, let’s consider the alternative question:  does having mental health issues involving the enumerated exceptions – the issues that are not required to be reported in Question 21 – not have a bearing on trustworthiness?  I don’t actually know the answer to that question.  It is certainly plausible that people can be stressed and depressed for a variety of personal difficulties for which they might seek counseling but which have no bearing on trustworthiness, while other matters like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia do have such a bearing. 

What concerns me is that, based on this press release, this question wasn’t even considered.  Rather, the motivation for the exception is “support[ing] victims of sexual assault who hold or wish to hold a government security clearance, but may be reluctant to seek mental health counseling for fear they may have to disclose the counseling on their application.”

Which provokes the obvious question:  whom does the government want to discourage from receiving mental health counseling?  But of course, that’s not the frame.  The frame is that the government is that sexual assault (and “sexual assault”) is the cause du jour, and it wants to create a special immunity for it, just like it wants to create a special disability for militia members.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Pretty Eyes

I remember back in the early 1990s, post-Tailhook and the Thomas hearings, when the definition of “sexual harassment” was expanded from extorting sexual favors to cover “hostile, intimidating, and offensive work environments”.  We in government service were of course subjected to mandatory harangues on the new rules.  I remember during one such session some old guy asking, “You mean we can’t compliment a woman’s appearance anymore?”  No, we were assured, there’s nothing wrong with complimenting women, so long as the compliments weren’t grossly sexual.

O, how the worm doth turn!

Last month, during a commander’s call, the senior enlisted advisor was trotted out to inform us that, indeed, complimenting a woman’s appearance was indeed off limits.  He specifically called out telling a woman she had “pretty eyes” as a no- no.

The standard, he told us, is that no one should ever say to a woman something he would not say to another man, and eye-compliments fell into that category.  On which point I would agree.  But the irony here is rich.  I’m pretty sure that the modern understanding of “sexual harassment” was mostly invented because men were behaving towards women exactly as they behaved towards each other, i.e., roughly and crudely.  But it’s also a waste of time to point this out:  the rules will be twisted to mean whatever advances the cause of feminism, nothing more or less.

Monday, May 06, 2013

The Invisible Perpetrators

As I implied in an earlier post, I saw the movie The Invisible War, about sexual assault in the military.  Our director screened the film at work, with a recorded recommendation by the Chief of Staff.

The film focuses on the experience of a dozen female (and two male) victims, especially the harrowing tale of Kori Cioca, a wisp of young woman brutally attacked by her supervisor while on active duty with the Coast Guard.  Significantly in these cases, none of the alleged perpetrators were ever charged with a crime.

Although the movie is shot through with distortions of military law and policy, I have not found even a disreputable source like me that impeaches the credibility of the victims themselves.  Still, I couldn’t help noticing that not one of the alleged perpetrators was specifically named.  It’s just speculation of course, but I can imagine two possible reasons for this.  Unlike, say, Mark Furman, who called out Michael Skakel in his book Murder in Greenwich, the filmmakers may lack the courage of their convictions.  I can’t say that I blame them; with a dozen victims, none of whose charges were considered by their chain of command to be sufficiently supported, the odds are that at least one of their stories will collapse on close examination.

The second possible reason is that certain (how can I put this?) commonalities among the perpetrators would, um, muddy the film’s message about the evil and heartless chain of command.

But having said all this, the film certainly left me with the impression that the armed services, under pressure from feminists to fully integrate females into all aspects of military operations, have by so doing created an environment in which not only do women not have sufficient protection from sexual assault, but also one in which it is very difficult to bring the perpetrators to justice.  Like the victims themselves, I would have to think hard about recommending military service to any young woman.

The film opens with a montage of recruiting commercials directed at women.  Most old commercials look hopelessly dated, and the efforts at recruiting women in earlier decades look comical to modern tastes.  But it was interesting to watch their evolution.  Whereas once the ads emphasized the compatibility between femininity and military service, contemporary commercials take the “grrrl power” angle:  today’s women can “man” (is this word still acceptable?) a machine gun, too!

Except . . . the women in the movie are demanding something that no other serviceman (oops again) has:  a law enforcement body, independent of command channels, that investigates and prosecutes sexual assault.  I don’t actually have an opinion about this demand or its effect on readiness, but I would point out the contradiction:  women demand admission to male institutions on the grounds of equality, then demand special consideration.  But nowadays, this is beside the point.

The film mocks the military’s various “training” efforts aimed at combating sexual assault.  Like most propaganda, some of these efforts deserve a good round of mocking on their aesthetic merits, but it’s worth pointing out that, in contrast to the related experience of these particular victims, most sexual assault involves the abuse of alcohol by both victim and perpetrator, and social situations that are frankly indistinguishable from the average hookup.  I understand the frustration of the women in the movie, some of whom were brutally attacked in their own quarters, that what happened to them would be characterized as “date rape,” but regrettably, the bad behavior of too many women have changed men’s baseline expectations, and not for the better.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Hotel Transylvania

The family and I watched the movie Hotel Transylvania on 3D Blu-ray. It was an excellent though somewhat uneven film, with lots of knowing cultural references, non-stop sight-gags, and a touching if time-worn theme of a father's worry over his daughter's coming-of-age.

The film is pretty obviously an allegory for the Jewish experience in America, though suprisingly few reviewers have remarked on this. Count Dracula retreats into seclusion from a howling mob of torch-bearing, vaguely Germanic human villagers to build a hidden refuge for monsters. Therein they nurse a culture of fear and grievance against humans, though by movie's end they emerge into a vaguely American world where monsters are celebrated rather than scorned.

To the extent that this story is a message to executive producer Adam Sandler's fellow jews -- Christians don't actually hate you anymore, and your reflexive anti-Gentilism is outdated -- I can't help regard the film as a positive development. Yet questions remain. Is Sandler a-okay with intermarriage? (Dracula's daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) falls in love with a human backpacker that stumbles into the hotel.) Are the unions Jewish or Gentile? (Mavis is 118 years old and apparently immortal; what happens as the backpacker ages normally?) What exactly does the hotel represent? (Israel? Insularity in general?)

Hotel Transylvania borrows promiscuously from the legends of the full monster pantheon (werewolves, vampires, zombies, etc.) who were originally called into being to embody traits that were . . . how can I put this . . . somewhat anti-social. And then it implies that those legends are all false: monsters are merely misunderstood, and the fear of them is mindless predjudice. That's just a little too tidy even for a children's movie. (This review hints at some of this.)

The movie makes a nod toward portraying the backpacker as someone to whom a modern teenager would credibly be attracted, but the result is something of a mishmash. Jonathan (Andy Samberg) is at once too clueless (in the California surfer mode) to realize he has stumbled into the hotel of the undead, yet simultaneously excels at whatever he does, be it hiphop music or surfing magic tables. But he also manages to play it pretty cool around Mavis and doesn't give immediate reign to his interest in her.