Sunday, September 23, 2018

Police Militarization Undermines Mission

First, some background: the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a nonprofit society of scholars created by an Act of Congress that President Lincoln signed into law in 1863. It's not some site founded to subvert the government, or undermine the rule of law. To the contrary, its purpose is to advance the sciences. The National Academy of Medicine, for example, was founded under its charter.
NAS' publication Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America recently published "Militarization fails to enhance police safety or reduce crime but may harm police reputation," which includes graphs that suggest adding SWAT teams to police departments causes more assaults against police officers.  Of interest to those who like to argue militarization serves some kind of beneficial purpose in protecting police may be the observation that "Estimates for officer deaths, both accidental and felonious, are precise and near zero, partly because they are so rare[.]"  Although there was little increase in death to explain even after SWAT teams' exacerbation of conflicts elevated them, data "show[] a statistically significant 3.2% increase in noninjurious assaults" before adjustment for time trends.  Although the evidence for increasing officer risk is iffy, "there is no evidence that acquiring a SWAT team lowers crime or promotes officer safety."
The article observes that aggressive policing strategies disproportionately target minority communities, but that defenders of militarization claim it's necessary to protect officers. The data disagree. The author concludes that "the routine use of militarized police tactics by local agencies threatens to increase the historic tensions between marginalized groups and the state with no detectable public safety benefit."

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wheeler's Dryad-Born: More Of The Same, And Still Not Finished

The Jaded Consumer apologizes for the delay in this review, but it's not pleasant to say terrible things about a book that required so much time and effort to craft. Jeff Wheeler's novel Dryad-Born contains all the same good worldbuilding described in The Jaded Consumer's review of Fireblood, but doubles down on its use of an evil group the author calls "Romani" that bear too much similarity to real-world Romani – and the prejudices against them – not to get irritated every time the author attempts to use their villainy to engage the reader's emotions. We see more of the Big Bad Villain in this installment, but it's not clear why he doesn't polish off the protagonists whom he clearly outclasses.  We're left with the impression it amuses the evil dictator to double as his own hit man, and enjoys dragging out conflicts so he can spend more time twirling his moustaches before horrified victims.  It becomes hard to believe.  Yet, it gets worse: it's not even a story yet. 

While reviewing the first book in this series, The Jaded Consumer remarked on the experience reading Connie Willis' outstanding time-travel adventure (not the use of the singular) Blackout and All Clear: the editors didn't lift a finger to cushion the blow of taking this great story and sawing it into two volumes, and let readers walk un-warned into one of them.  Without access to All Clear, I would have writhed in fury, interested to see the characters reach some kind of decision about their predicament, but helpless to get more than a hint the author had an actual story in mind, instead of a colorful extended vignette depicting a weird world full of people afraid for their lives.  It's the climactic decision that makes or breaks a story, and the first half of a book hasn't even got a climax to judge.  Thank goodness I happened to have both volumes with me when I finished the first.

Which returns us to Dryad-Born. The second volume still doesn't bring us a conclusion.  Mind you, it's not necessary to show an ultimate conclusion in a second volume – Jim Butcher ably shows in The Codex Alera that you can hold your ultimate conclusion until the sixth volume but still give each volume its own complete story arc and an answer to the volume's story problem even while leaving larger problems overhanging the characters.  The problem is, Wheeler doesn't bother to create a story problem for any of these installments: you need them all to see even one story arc.  It's frustrating.

Or at least it would be, if you still believed in the villain or cared about the world.  There's a lot of secondary-world fantasy to read out there without having to experience the problems presented in Dryad-Born or its companion volumes.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Brust's Vallista Reminds Us Why We Love Vlad

    Vallista presents a Vlad Taltos adventure set on Steven Brust’s fantasy world of Dragaera, is reviewed at Fantasy Book Review.

    Links to Brust’s swashbuckling parody-homage to Alexandre Dumas, The Phoenix Guards were removed, as was a link about Brust's his narrator from The Phoenix Guards –  the Dragaeran historian Paarfi – and the Paarfirotica written in his voice.

    Read Vallista, and be happy there’s seventeen more volumes to read in its world.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bank ATMs Ditch OS/2, Get Hacked

Years ago, IBM's OS/2 operating system ran about 80% of the world's ATMs.  Now that Microsoft's anticompetitive campaign to destroy OS/2 is complete, the world's ATMs enjoy the same insecurity as most of its desktop computers.  Case in point: ATMs in Taiwan recently spat cash into the hands of masked robbers who ordered the machines to delete the record of their attack.

Die-hard fans will enjoy hearing that OS/2 is still getting maintenance updates from IBM's licensee, Arca Noae.  I guess, in hindsight, that Microsoft can't therefore claim to have destroyed OS/2 in the absolute sense it destroyed Borland, smothered Netscape, and murdered DR-DOS – but it certainly used its market power and targeted software sabotage (like crippled OS/2 products) to kill OS/2 as a strategic threat to Microsoft's core business. So, maybe it's like QuickTime?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

California Police Show True Colors to Cameras

Police of Pomona, California arrested teenager Christian Aguilar for filming the brutal manner in which they arrested his family.  When they spotted him filming the crimes they committed against his family, they arrested him, too – for "resisting arrest" … which is in fact not an offense under California law if the person is not in fact charged with some other offense that would justify an arrest.

Police then noticed Robert Hansen, whom they spotted recording their beating of the teenager.  Naturally, they arrested him, too – alleging a slew of bogus offenses.

They had it all neatly wrapped up – they wrote reports that spun a bald-faced lie how the encounter went down, and they edited the video they seized so that their wrongdoing never appeared.  It was this video they presented to the District Attorney's office of Los Angeles.

While this was going on, they delivered Christian Aguilar – a minor – into the hands of actual criminals by locking him among a population of male offenders.  They kept him there despite his protestations he was a minor.  Pomona police told Christian Aguilar's mother that her son could not have a lawyer.

The terrible allegations made by police against their victims cost the job of one of Christian's relatives, a respected cardiac nurse. 

The story gets worse.  Read all about it here.

Also, some of the video is available.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Should Police-Flight Video Shock?

A video shot in Mexico depicts police officers fleeing, despite the pleas of onlookers, shortly before a murder.  The much-watched video has attracted comments, naturally.  But what does American law say?

According to the United States Supreme Court's majority decision in DeShaney v. Winnebago Co. Department of Social Services, law enforcement officials have no duty to rescue members of the public from the violent attacks of third parties, even if they know about it.  Maybe shame would induce police to thwart attackers, but if a citizen's bid to plead for protection fails there's no federal remedy against the government or its officers for electing to leave you to your own devices.  If you think police should have a duty to rescue people from harm, you'll need to agitate for local law to require it:  federal law doesn't.

Since the news is replete with stories about people killed directly by police with no consequence, there's no point in advising people to trade a fight with local murderers for a fight with the police, on the theory the government will be held to a better standard.  Expecting police to police the police leads to frustration (based on whistleblower-retaliation accounts from California, Georgia, Maryland, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, etc.;  Kansas legislators went so far as to threaten whistleblowers with special felony charges).  The West Coast is pretty good at offering pro-consumer law, but as of this writing California leads the nation in civilians killed by police during 2016.  It's not a pretty picture.

The police-flight video may be offensive, but it ought not be surprising.  The government message to citizens appears to be: if you want safety, take care of it yourself.

That's not to say police can't send a message of competence, loyalty to the community, and faithful service beyond the call of duty.  But the inconsistent message threatens public confidence and undermines faith in the rule of law and those sworn to uphold it.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Jessica Jones Gets Second Season

The News
At of this month, the second season of Marvel/Netflix production Jessica Jones has the green light.  (Daredevil's second season will be released March 18 at 12:01 AM, also on Netflix.)

Why To Be Optimistic
What you may not know is that Jessica Jones' writers include the show's creator, Dexter alum Melissa Rosenberg, who gave an interview here. (Spoilers are pre-announced so you can skip ahead to miss them).  The second season will have the same quality of writers Disney

One strength of the Netflix-only delivery is that the season isn't subject to being manipulated halfway through by pressure from advertisers or studio execs looking over the makers' shoulders.  The shows are ad-free, and the whole season drops at once so viewers can consume episodes like novel chapters as quickly as they have the time.  Shows like Jessica Jones can revel in mood-building scenes longer than an ad-interrupted show could manage;  they can, for example, focus on character for whole minutes at a time without necessarily pushing plot to regain eyeballs after the next commercial.  A second strength is that with a known-length season – no 12-episode deal with an option to 18 or 23, just one fixed season at a time – writers can craft stories that fit the season length.  Story can fit the medium instead of being torqued into weird shapes to fit the evolving demands of advertisers and waffling studio execs.  Netflix-only shows like Sense8, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, The Defenders, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist will have the freedom to take their time building the characters' world and story in ways that weekly episodic ad-funded television do not allow (while addressing subject matter and situations broadcast television would not presently allow in the United States – more on that later).

Another fun factor in the upcoming show's new seasons is the interlocking nature of Marvel's stories.  Daredevil makes reference to the rebuilding of New York following Loki's alien invasion in Marvel's The Avengers.  At the end of Jessica Jones' first season, Daredevil's nurse Claire Temple treats a major character who, presumably, is known to her and therefore potentially available to Daredevil in his second season.  By using different series to flesh out backstory of complex characters, Marvel gives viewers more and more excuse to see more Marvel properties.  When the intertwined properties are both available at the same time ad-free on Netflix, all the better for viewers.  I mean, you have netflix already right?

And you're asking: so what?

Why Jessica Jones Rocks
Rosenberg is right: it'd be nice to live in a world in which Jessica Jones is a "superhero" – and not a "female superhero" – but we're not there yet.  It's important the character is a woman for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the dearth of female superhero leads.  Of course, Jessica Jones is a superhero – but she's much more believably flawed than, say, Wolverine can be depicted in a two-hour movie.  A 13-episode series allows more backstory visits without distracting from the overall story arc, and the development of supporting characters in depth unimaginable in a two-hour flick.  And what has this delivered?

Jessica Jones has revealed a handful of Hell's Kitchen's neighborhood supers – some of them, with enough suggested backstory to ensure their re-appearance in other shows will draw viewers to Jessica Jones for the completeness.  But the Season One plot arc is primarily about the villain Kilgrave's re-appearance in Jessica's life.  Killgrave plays with her mind, sending her clients only to toy with them, their daughter, and Jessica herself.  To fight him, Jessica Jones draws on all her support structures at work and in her personal life, pulling out all the stops to solve the problems she chooses to fight rather than flee.  As others have pointed out, Jessica Jones' response to Kilgrave's re-appearance squarely addresses the aftermath of the rape he commits with his superpower.  But Jessica Jones' character offers something much broader and deeper than a victim reacting to one character's despicable assault.  The show explores more kinds of abuse, and from more angles, than one simple backstory-of-victimization character would normally provide.

People Abusing One Another
Sure, Jessica Jones is hired to rescue a client's daughter following an abduction and rape like her own.  To do it, she has no compunction about using her superpowers to frighten people into submission (a trend that eventually has viewers asking about her entitlement to use force to compel others to submit, and exactly where it ends).  And Jessica's allies all have experience with abuse.  She's got no boss – she won't submit enough to be anyone's employee – but the lawyer Harper (Carrie-Anne Moss) refers process-serving work to her, and becomes entangled in the story when she represents another Killgrave victim (and is herself tempted by his power, and commits abuse to benefit from it).  Even with no powers at all, Harper abuses her own lover while mistreating her wife, whom she hires Jessica Jones to serve legal papers, and whom she later hires Jessica to coerce into capitulation in the unexpectedly rancorous divorce, using an escalating succession of blackmail efforts and physical threats.  Killgrave's backstory is filled with abuse, and Killgrave naturally abuses everyone within reach with his power – forcing them to commit acts that horrify them when they come to their senses.  Jessica Jones' bestie Trish dates a man whom Killgrave tried to have kill her, but when he is drawn into solving the story problem we see the limits in his willingness to take orders:  his go-to move is physical coercion, and he's soon lying, murdering, and manipulating minds (not, by this time, under the influence of Killgrave but the combat drugs he got from his black-ops military unit – and he doesn't even really need those to be a violent, controlling abuser as we learn … but they don't help de-escalate things).  Jessica Jones' complex experience as abusee, (occasionally paid) rescuer, and abuser connects her to multiple victim/abuser/rescuer triangles and shows her (and others) in each role. We're shown a complex, nuanced look at how abuse looks from different angles, and different possible responses.  We feel it from all sides, sympathizing with characters who turn our stomachs as they turn, even if momentarily, into monsters.  Others have written persuasively about Jessica Jones' portrayal of PTSD, and they're right.  Jessica Jones doesn't minimize the effect of violence, it depicts the invasive way traumas can impact so many aspects of one's daily life, and it shows lots of different coping mechanisms (some less counterproductive than others).

I'd especially like to draw attention to a form of abuse this show depicts particularly well: gaslighting.  The gaslighting is illuminated wonderfully.  Abusers' projected entitlement to steer, pressure, undermine, reprogram, manipulate, and blame their victims is depicted so intimately the audience itself doubts what the characters believe.  It's the best depiction of gaslighting I've seen onscreen.  It's a work of art.

Conclusion
Jessica Jones' writers aren't busy trying to write a political screed (check out the Rosenberg interview), but characters whose inner selves are hidden beneath fronts designed to armor them against the world.  They're not all-good or all-bad, they're caught between looking out for themselves and acting in support of their values – and some of them haven't got much in the way of values.  Over the season they develop a 3-D feel that's hard to build so deeply for so many characters in a more frenetic format like a one-off movie or episodic television.  For all that, each episode of Jessica Jones is a discrete story segment that, like a chapter of a well-crafted book, provides an immediate problem while advancing the overall story and delivering a disaster viewers will want to see resolved.  Jessica Jones is strong fiction, well-crafted storytelling at its best.  For a nuanced look at nontrivial characters engaged in complex relationships in a world that's rarely fully black and white, check out Jessica Jones – and look forward to the second season.