Monday, November 19, 2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Republic of Texas? Not So Fast.

A CNN article (full of vitriolic comments in both directions) informs us that the online petition platform includes a petition regarding the secession of Texas from the United States. Presumably, its authors desire signatures.  The question is, what they expect the President to do with it.

The admission of Texas to the Union wasn't immediate;  one treaty signed between Texas and the United States and submitted to the Senate on April 22, 1844, was rejected by the Senate on June 8 the same year.  When congress passed resolutions providing for the annexation of Texas, Texas agreed as expressed in its Ordinance of July 4, 1845.  The Ordinance agrees that in addition to Texas, four additional states may be made from its territory (presumably, to give its citizens more representation in the Senate).  By the end of 1845, Texas had the right to send two Representatives to Congress notwithstanding its not having participated in the prior census.

The Constitution of the United States provides in Art. IV §3 that new States may be admitted by Congress.  The petition purporting to request the President "permit" Texas to withdraw from the Union would appear a nullity, as the President hasn't any power to grant or revoke the status of a State because that power was never conferred on the President (and neither has a state: see Texas v. White).

The petition has, however, enough signatures that by the terms of the Petition portal the President should give it a response.  Perhaps the President will gently explain that while he has no power to grant the petition, he loves Texas (not to mention the 3.53 million Texans who cast votes for him earlier this month despite the state's drift to the right) and believes it and the Union are stronger together.  The President is, after all, a politician.  He should say things like that.  Besides, it might help take a little of the sting out of the President's decision to give retired Space Shuttles to California, the District of Columbia, New York (which isn't that far from the national flight museum in D.C.), and Florida while jilting the Johnson Space Center where Mission Control worked.  The JSC in south Texas is, after all, why the first word spoken from the surface of the Moon back to the planet Earth was "Houston".

But, no.  Not even a trainer.

Texans can take heart, though:  at least the I.R.S. still reads their mail. And if they aren't satisfied with that, they can always write a Congressman.  Not theirs, necessarily;  any of them could potentially introduce an appropriate bill . . . .

UPDATE: Second petition supports keeping Austin US if Texas secedes.  Does anyone care about the law on either?

'Catch Me If You Can' Crook Caught

If you liked Catch Me If You Can, and wondered how that would play out in the age of electronic identification, here's your chance:  a teen busted for impersonating an ER doc was busted again while on bond – for impersonating a police officer.

Some kids just don't learn very quickly.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Aliased Filmmaker gets 1 Year for Parole Violation

Mark Bassekey Youssef was remanded to a year of incarceration and sentenced to serve four years of supervised release following his use of the alias 'Sam Bacile' in violation of the terms of his probation sentence in a bank fraud case.  Youssef used the alias while tricking actors into making a film that was overdubbed into the anti-Islamic piece infamous for its connection to the recent September 11 anniversary attacks and protests against United States diplomatic missions in the Middle East.  The probation had been conditioned on the fraudster's use of his own name to the exclusion of aliases.  The alias was likely immaterial to actors' willingness to participate in the project, however;  those who gave interviews said they would not have participated in the project if its actual post-dubbing dialog had been revealed to the actors.

Neither punishments nor charges have been brought in connection with the film's dialog or the deceptions involved in recruiting a cast.

Those that murdered Americans in Benghazi had motives other than the film.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Perspective on US Elections

Over breakfast I discussed the election result with two children, aged 8 and 5.  The most critical thing I wanted to leave them with wasn't who won – if the victor turns out to matter to them in ten years, they'll have better perspective to study that then – but what US elections really mean.  So I asked them how many people they thought were on the news for having been shot over the attempted change in power.  The changing Senate seats, the changing House seats, the disputed Oval Office.  How many died over it last night, did they think?

Many people live in countries in which deaths occur every week over efforts to change power.  Unpredictable political violence places bystanders at risk even when officials are targeted.  However, political violence is frequently directed at non-government victims, like people shopping in a market.

In the US, we enjoy a tradition of peacefully exchanging power on a plan directed by an election schedule, which occurs like clockwork and is advertised on billboards, mailings, television, and social media.  These ballot-driven coups may not produce much change, but they produce all the change a majority demands.  It may not lead to wise policy (a look at federal budgets over the last few decades may suggest neither party has a monopoly on willingness to spend) but it's civilized (at least if you turn down the volume so the candidates' snide remarks about each other are less audible).

And that's the lesson I thought the kids needed to get:  we can get along, and disagree, and dispute power, and still never raise a fist.

The fist, we save for bullies.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Note To Internet: Anonymity Is Dead

Online anonymity isn't what it once was for liars and creeps.  If you want to be a creep or a liar, it's a lot safer to do it at home, alone, in the dark. 

 Just, you know, so you know.

Bogus Bullying Advice

Remember when airlines used to train everyone that in the event of a hijacking, you should cooperate fully and do everything the hijackers demanded?  Because the professionals knew how to handle it properly?  And do you recall how well that worked out?  And how ignoring that imbecilic advice was the only effective alternative to even worse disasters?  And think:  if intolerance of evildoers' assertions of authority to oppress were more widespread on those flights, how might the scores onboard have succeeded in stomping their attackers at the first sign of their insurrection?  But I get ahead of my story.

Now – today, in 2012 – CNN is running an article explaining that the solution to bullying isn't self-defense, but for bullies to stop bullying.  That we wait for authorities to better teach bullies the error of bullying.  I'll wait while you digest that one.  Obviously, the kids who can be reached with the "don't bully" message aren't by their teens still intimidating underclassmen out of lunch money or homework services.  Oh, better training might improve detection and response, and there could in theory be great gains to be made by authorities (if they can be bothered to direct scarce funding at this, rather than curriculum development or administrators' salaries).  But the idea of stopping bullying at school with a new policy announcement is like halting crime with a new statute.


Bullies pick victims based on their vulnerability.  They pick the time of an attack to ensure rescue is improbable.  They pick the means of attack to ensure maximum control, and minimum risk.  While it's possible that an incompetent bully might actually get caught, evidence sufficient to support a meaningful sanction is simply implausible to amass.  Certainly not by a terrified, isolated victim who's been cut off from support by blackmail or threats against a victim's person.  What makes bullying possible is the certainty of non-retaliation.

The math on the commandeered 9/11 flights shows that certainty there is no risk of self-defense is the only rational way fewer than a half-dozen bullies can assume control of even so isolated a community as an assembly of passengers.  Look at the sheer numbers involved in each vehcle.  Anyone who's seen an angry mob on the move knows full well that a handful of people with boxcutters or less haven't a prayer against a mobilized mass.  Now, move this to a school.  Teaching children to cry quietly until rescued by officials is not just offensive, it is absurd.  Despite aspirational slogans like "To Protect And Serve", officials out in the real world have no duty to protect citizens.*  They may have a duty to write a report (which they may neglect out of convenience;  I've seen cops talk complaining witnesses out of filing reports by convincing them it will affect their insurability or insurance rates), but that didn't do much good for Joshua DeShaney or his distraught mother.

Doing the right thing is not without consequences.  Allowing evil to continue simply because it's easier to teach compliance than spine is no virtue.

CNN's article – by an author earning an income from the current excitement about bullying – goes so far as to equate self-defense with bullying itself.  Earth to Carrie Goldman:  nobody outside your distant orbit is likely to accept, after thinking about it, that using force to obtain freedom is a moral equivalent or a practical equivalent to using force as part of a planned scheme to elevate one's social or financial standing by repeatedly injuring victims selected for the certainty of a clean escape.  Goldman says that educating children on the rules and methods of appropriate self-defense that a parent will support is doomed because "It teaches kids to out-bully each other, rather than to focus on restoration and restitution."  Her very premise is flawed because it equates bullying with self-defense, and suggests that self-defense depends for its success on becoming a successful bully.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

No one suggests that self-defense won't lead to sanctions – the isolation obtained by the successful bully may make self-defense claims hard to prove – but the safety of the bully depends on the certainty that self-defense is absent.  Parents who support their children's efforts to protect themselves will help their children send the right message to would-be bullies:  this one is a bad victim.  Bullies who don't get the message without a round of self-defense will get it soon enough . . . and there's always a real victim to pursue someplace else.  Parents need to be supported in teaching their children not to be victims.  Whether the schools eve get their heads on straight may be a matter of hope, but parents' education of their children in their own survival is a matter of necessity.

Parents must teach their children they are worth fighting for, that they are worth defending from villainy, and that they will be supported by their parents no matter what idiocy may be accepted by absent authorities.  Parents have to believe it for their children to believe it.  Sabotaging this important work – by urging parents to teach children to be pliant victims instead of agents of their own personal protection and that of their larger communities – suggests that even thousands of murders can be shushed by a schmuck chasing a buck.

There are a lot of things worth doing in response to bullying – and schools' inaction – but preventing students' own assertion of self-determination by dismissing self-defense in favor of advancing further victim-culture is just not part of the equation.

*:  A careful look at the facts of DeShaney v. Winnebago City Social Services Dept. is instructive.  The only reason the victim's mother didn't protect the boy crippled by the ongoing attacks was her voluntary compliance with a government official's order requiring the boy to be turned over and over into the custody of his attacker.  Her pleas for Social Services to take action resulted in a number of reports that fully substantiated her claims the boy was being horribly abused, but no action that prevented his eventually being beating to the point of permanent brain damage.  The Supreme Court held the government had no duty to rescue the boy even from a known attacker, and had no need to change any of its practices in the future.