Category Archives: Items in the news

GPS monitors

I wish I could say I’m shocked—shocked! Unfortunately, I’m not. Hell, I’m not even especially surprised.
What ignited this rant was an article in the newspaper. I was on page A6 of the Friday, December 16, 2016 edition of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, under the headline “Sex offender guilty in murder of 4 women.” Now, I am not shocked to see that a man has murdered four women…well, actually, yes I am. But it’s not surprising to see he was a registered sex offender and a convicted kidnapper. Not all, perhaps, but it seems like a lot of sex offenders and kidnappers have a problem relating favorably to members of the opposite sex. What almost shocked me in this case, and lit the fuse to this rant, was the fact that the man just found guilty of multiple murders was not only running around loose at the time; he was wearing his fourth—fourth—GPS monitor.

Apparently Steven Dean Gordon, 47 years old, and 30-year-old Franc Cano acted together, but they are being tried separately for four 2013 killings in Santa Ana, California. Gordon has just been found guilty. Cano’s trial has not yet begun, but he has pleaded not guilty.

Now, while the crime of murder is terrible, it does happen—a case of men, and/or women, behaving badly. What got me worked up begins with the fact that Gordon and Cano were registered sex offenders even before they got together after meeting in prison. In 1992, at the age 23, Gordon was arrested and convicted for lewd and lascivious acts with a child below the age of 14 years. Unknown how much time he served, but he was eventually freed, presumably with his first (1st) GPS monitoring device, because in 2002 he was arrested and convicted of kidnapping. Cano was convicted for his initial crime, whatever it was, in 2008. After serving less than eight years for his kidnapping, Gordon was released with a GPS monitor, his second (2nd). At about that time, in or before 2010, Cano was also released with GPS monitoring. It was in 2010 that Cano cut off his device and took off to Alabama where he got together with Gordon, who presumably had already done the same thing, because they were both arrested there for removing their devices. Back in California in 2012, both apparently free again and with GPS monitoring (Gordon’s 3rd), they were both arrested for doing the same thing again, removing their devices. So, what punishment do you suppose they got? Maybe pick up trash along the freeway on weekends? Even if they spent a weekend, a month or a year in the county jail, they had already demonstrated more than once that they don’t consider the device as a deterrent to fun and games. Well, would you believe they were again released into the world with GPS monitoring devices (Gordon’s 4th)? It was after this release—while wearing their devices—that they kidnapped, raped and murdered four women. That’s how they got caught. Wow! Isn’t science great?

So, how long do you have to serve for the crime of removing your device? Is it a crime? How many chances should a person have to demonstrate that he is willing to play by the rules society has set before we say, “Okay, you blew it, no more releases.”? Why isn’t this offense covered by three-strikes? If it is, who failed to notice? Doesn’t anyone take those things seriously? Are they actually monitored? How closely? Is that all the monitoring system is good for, to keep a record of where and when the person has been in order to get a conviction after they do something else, like kill four women?

Is this the best we can come up with to keep tabs on depraved low-lifes like these two? Why do we use devices they can cut off whenever they get tired of being watched and want to start playing their sick games again? Why don’t we use something nailed or otherwise permanently affixed to their foreheads for all to see? Okay, forget the nails, but surely modern science can come up with something, maybe something like a permanently running camera with a microphone so we can actually monitor their actions from every angle at every moment, waking or sleeping. How about if we attach the new and improved monitoring system to them so it can’t be removed without also removing one or more significant limbs? Maybe we could even include something to inflict a paralyzing shock to them if they are seen to be about to do something naughty, something to hold them until we can swoop in to haul their ass back to the pokey. You know, since we don’t want to actually lock them away forever?

And, why don’t we? Oh, yeah, because they’re sick. At least some folks might say these men are sick. But some illnesses are nothing more than evil, incurable and untreatable. And, if they are sick, what about people with things like Ebola and other highly infectious and potentially deadly diseases? They’re sick, too, and they haven’t even kicked a puppy, probably very nice people, but they aren’t allowed to wander about the country with nothing more than a removable device to tell us where to find the bodies they leave in their wake—unless they cut it off. Why are sickos like Gordon and Cano, who still have the option to decide whether or not to allow their afflictions to affect other people, given such freedom? I’m a big believer in the rights our Constitution guarantees, but I don’t believe Adams, Jefferson, Madison or any of the other founders would agree that this situation is one of them.
No, I don’t believe the system is broken. But, in some cases, it is badly out of whack.

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Surge in gun sales

Well, we did it. We actually passed a law limiting, to a degree, how much access the people of California may have, or be required to tolerate, to a certain type of firearm: automatic rifles with features generally accepted to describe assault weapons. It’s only a ban on new sales, though. Any such guns already owned may still be kept as long as they are registered (yeah, that’ll happen). Of course, as typically happens, the bill that Governor Brown signed back in July doesn’t take effect until January. Now there are headlines spreading the shocking news that, with lines of eager buyers backed up out the doors of gun shops and around the block, the new law is responsible for the six-month-long surge in the sale of these very toys…er, rifles. I think the proper response to this revelation is something akin to, Duh!

What the hell did they expect? It happens every time there’s a push for any kind of gun control, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. Of course anyone that wants to have one of these lethal toys is going to take advantage of the six-months warning that they had better get on with it. If they wait ‘til January, they’ll have to drive all the way to another state to buy it.

As I understand it, the reason for this law is to reduce the ready availability of a very real, clear and present source of death and misery in California. Seems to me that would qualify it for emergency status. You know, pass it to be effective immediately, like the following day, a week at the most. While waiting for these six months to drag by, we have seen more than an additional 250,000 of these lethal toys hit the streets of California, or at least potentially on the streets since most will probably go into closets, hopefully with good locks. And, yes, these steel, wood and/or fiberglass creations are toys. You don’t think so? Look up the definition of toy.

Just because a good, honest citizen is the buyer, you know, doesn’t mean a weapon, whether firearm, knife, hatchet or whatever, will not be used in a crime. Honest people commit crimes. Does that really shock you? Then, think about it. It is only after they commit the crime that they are no longer honest and honorable. Criminals start off as honest people. They are not born as criminals. They are not a separate species. They don’t have tattoos or green hair or three ears to set them off from the rest of society. There is no way to identify who is or who may become a criminal just by looking at them. They are people that take a wrong turn somewhere along the road. Sometimes they use the weapon they bought while still honest and non-violent to become a criminal because it is there so nice and handy when they get the urge to blow someone away—an urge that may dissipate before being acted upon given time. Sometimes the weapon is simply stolen from an honest person by someone who is already a criminal. Criminals also steal. Of course, if the honest person didn’t have it, the criminal couldn’t steal it, and he’d have to find another honest person that did have one that he could steal, if he could find such a person.

But, the thing is, the argument that this law will only affect honest people, not criminals, is bogus. It’s like this: If there were no guns, no one would get shot, period. But, since that is not going to happen—there will always be guns because there already are—any reduction in the increase and spread of guns, especially certain ultra-efficient types, available to criminals or those who may become criminals would still have a direct effect in the number of criminal uses. If there were 250,000 fewer assault weapons in a given area, say only 1,000,000 instead of 1,250,000 it would mean 250,000 fewer assault weapons available for criminals to use in that area. Of course, that’s not counting shotguns, assault weapons and muskets brought into the area from other areas, which is another issue, but with the same potential solution of reducing that area, also, by 250,000, or any number. It wouldn’t solve the whole problem, but it would be a start. A journey not begun, you know, is one never completed.

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned the Second Amendment. I haven’t because it is not part of this issue, which is about the effects and the wisdom of delaying the implementation of a new law. It could equally apply to a law about…oh, say requiring red shoes worn on the right foot to have green laces, not blue ones. If there were a recognized serious health or safety reason for the restriction, why would we agree to give as many as 250,000 red shoe owners six months to stock up on blue laces? Oh, yeah, financial hardship for the stores selling shoelaces, as well as the factory producing them at an increased rate, all of which would be stuck with the huge inventories of blue laces they all stockpiled when their market forecasters saw the goldmine the writing on the wall predicted with the new law that was probably coming.

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Stuff in the news

I took a break from working on the revisions of one of my books by browsing through my Santa Rosa newspaper, The Press Democrat. Now, there were lots of things in there that were worthy to pass along, but I’m not going to copy the whole paper in my blog, just the stuff that grabbed my attention, pulled me back to re-read the headline and demanded I read the entire article. After each one, I just sat there and mourned the human race.

These first three were in the Friday, July 15, 2016, issue. I’m not going to reproduce them here, just the gist.

On page A3 I found a great illustration of the term “how dumb can you be?” In response to a report of one or more small fires in a mobile home park, the emergency responders went from home to home to make sure nothing was overlooked. When they checked one of them, they found something that prompted them to evacuate the park. Sitting on the window sill of a bedroom was a device consisting of several unmarked sticks in brown paper wrappings and held together with a couple of strips of black tape. Attached to them was a small electronic board with various components and wires, a couple going into the end of one of the brown sticks. Mounted on top was a digital read-out with four spaces of red numbers. A photo of this thing accompanied the article. It sure looked like a bomb, at least the ones Hollywood puts in movies. The bomb squad destroyed it. When they finally contacted the resident, who was away at work at the time, they were told it was an alarm clock he had bought on line a few years ago…as a joke. Ha ha ha. Gosh, that’s funny. I’ll bet the firemen are still laughing.

On page A5 was a story about a couple of guys that chased Pokemon phantoms right off a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. How could you not notice the Pacific Ocean? Anyway, neither was killed, but they had to be rescued. Hope they were billed for the entire cost of the rescue–times two for stupidity in progress. I can see this whole Pokemon situation is going to get a lot worse before it goes the way of the Pet Rock. At least I never heard of anyone being attacked, bitten or otherwise injured by a Pet Rock.

On page A6 was a story that put a really sour feeling in my gut. A mother and a father thought it was appropriate parenting to send their children, ages 4, 5 and 6 years, into the desert in the area of Twenty-nine Palms and Palm Springs in Southern California. Apparently they decided the children needed to be punished for something any 4, 5 or 6 year-old should know better than to do, not do, or otherwise behave in an adult manner. And just to be sure the kids didn’t cheat in their learning their lesson, Mom and Dad sent them into the hot sand and cactus-strewn wilderness without shoes or water. I can tell you from personal experience that the sand down there gets down-right toasty in the summer. The children learned their lessons for 45 minutes before being rescued by a deputy. It didn’t say if Mom and Dad were going to be taught a lesson in parenting, just that they had been arrested.

Ah, me. What is my species coming to?

In Sunday’s paper, July 17, 2016, was a Close To Home piece by Jill Ravitch, Sonoma County District Attorney. She made some good points relating to the release and posting on the internet of videos from body-cams worn by police officers. While I agree with lots of folks that some of the ones that have been shown seem to be pretty clear in showing bad police conduct, I have to point out that almost all of them are incomplete. They begin part way into the incident, leaving the behavior leading up to what everyone can see to their imagination or to what supposed eye-witnesses swear happened. But then I remember how I learned in my days wearing a badge that eye-witness testimony is about the least reliable kind of evidence you can have. Everyone sees what they think they see, convincing themselves even more every time they think about it or tell about it that it happened just that way. Maybe even, unintentionally or not, embellishing it here and there–just to make everything that doesn’t fit, fit. I also agree with lots of folks that there are cops that shouldn’t be wearing badges, and I’ll be the first one to rip the star or shield off their uniform if they are proven to be wrong. I’ve known and worked with a couple. But I also know that incidents of bad police behavior are rare. There are lots of points and counterpoints to made in this subject, and it should continue to be thoroughly and thoughtfully discussed. However, the point I want to make here is something everyone seems to be overlooking. If the video from a body-cam is posted on the internet, incomplete as it is in showing enough of what happened to be able to establish just what did happen, how much harder is it going to be to get a jury of 12 people, plus alternates, that have not been biased. And if the video does show the entire incident, start to finish and leaving nothing out (by all appearances) it could be even harder to form a jury of unbiased peers. So, if either side, whether the arrestee punching a cop or the cop punching the arrestee, is charged with a crime, would a fair trial be possible? If a conviction is based largely or primarily on what is in the video that has been on the internet for a year or so by the time it gets to court, how good would a defense attorney have to be to get a reversal at the appellate or supreme court. Would you like to have your guilt or innocence decided on the internet? How about your son’s or daughter’s? Your grandchild’s? Just ponder that for a bit.

And to close out, here is my latest rant, published in Sunday’s paper, July 17, 2016.

EDITOR: Among the many qualities Donald Trump claims is that he is a hugely successful businessman. That he has been, in fact, successful is a whole different issue. But should huge success in business be a plus or a minus in our choosing a person for the position of President of the United States? Because the basic goals of each endeavor are practically opposites, the two call for very different skills, ethics and values. While the ultimate focus of a successful business must be on the bottom line, government at any level should not even have a bottom line on which to focus other than zero. The ideal outcome for any elected government is to come out neutral at the end of the fiscal year, and that is after meeting all requirements of the society in which the leaders are elected. Discrepancy in either direction equals incompetence. When a government or government agency tries to operate like a business seeking a profit, we wind up with a situation like at the University of California where out of state students often receive preference over those from within the state because they pay more. A shark is a hugely successful predator, but do we want him in charge of the pool?

Political donors

While browsing through the newspaper, I came upon a letter to the editor written by James Martin that caused me to stop, read it again, and make a note to myself. It was a short letter in relation to most, and it didn’t really make any new revelations, but the point it made reverberated with me. It addressed an issue that has often been in the news since the U. S. Supreme Court made their astounding decision known as Citizens United, but I don’t recall this particular impact being stated so clearly or in such a succinct manner.

Rather than paraphrasing and possibly (or probably) losing the impact I felt, I will reproduce the entire letter here. It was published in The Press Democrat newspaper in Santa Rosa, California, on Friday, July 1, 2016, under the heading Foreign Donors as follows:

“EDITOR: Since “corporations are people too, my friend,” as Mitt Romney once said, and it’s illegal for foreigners to contribute to American political campaigns, does that mean that corporations that undergo inversion (buying a company in, say, Canada, then moving its headquarters there to avoid U.S. taxes) are allowed to continue to contribute to U.S. politicians and their campaigns?

James Martin
Santa Rosa”

I don’t know Mr. Martin, but it seems to be a fair question. And it is one that might give you a sour feeling in your stomach if you think more than twice about it. It’s a question I’d like to hear answered by those who think Citizens United was a good and legitimate use of the Supreme Court of the United States.

N. Korea imprisons American tourist

When the Democratic (?) People’s Republic of Korea passed sentence on a tourist on Wednesday, March 16, 2016, they once again demonstrated to the world that they are about the best example around of the term, “Evil Empire.” Some weeks ago, it seems, a 21 year old American man, a University of Virginia undergraduate student no less, demonstrated that Americans can be about the best example of the term, “clueless arrogance.” While I truly have sympathy for the family and friends of Otto Warmbier, it is hard not to slowly shake my head and solemnly intone, “Did he really think what he was about to do was nothing but a harmless, college stunt to show his girlfriend back home how gutsy he is, and that if he was actually caught, that the government of North Korea would simply wag a finger at him and say, ‘Ah, these college kids’?”

Apparently, he was caught trying to steal a propaganda banner as a trophy and memento of his trip. Stealing a propaganda banner from a country that was ready to launch nukes over a Hollywood movie that made fun of their (tyrant for life) president. Stealing a propaganda banner from a country that uses propaganda along with threats of nuclear holocaust as their primary method of communication with the outside world. Hell, why not go for spectacular? Make a sidewalk chalk portrait of Mohamed in downtown Tehran?

I have to wonder why anyone, other than a dedicated diplomat on a directed mission from his government would visit North Korea, anyway. I know many people do, but why? The government of North Korea apparently wonders the same thing since they are ready to arrest and accuse about anyone that does visit of being spies, even dedicated diplomats on directed missions.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s the thrill of seeing how close a person can dare to get to the crumbly edge of the precipice, sort of like plummeting to the earth while wearing a suit about as aerodynamic as a flying squirrel and zooming between rock pillars or down-hill skiing in prohibited areas where a person can see if he can skim the moss off of tree bark without exchanging an arm for it. Is it that some people, mostly Americans, it seems, have the idea that they can do whatever they want when they travel about the world because they just want to make the most of their trip and they don’t really mean to cause harm and they can do stuff like that at home without spending the next fifteen years at hard labor in prison. And why are the edges of precipices allowed to get so crumbly, anyway?

When are Americans, and anyone else, going to realize there are places in this world that are plain not welcoming. These places don’t operate with the same rules and values as here at home. They sometimes do things to outsiders that you have to wonder isn’t simply a deliberate provocation for war, but is more probably just more fuel in their furnace of bluff and bluster to make the world believe they are too terrible to mess with. They may even believe it, themselves. But the thing is, because they can do it, they will. And if a clueless tourist happens to get caught in the tangle, well, he just adds value to the game.

Listen, now, kids, because this is important, and you may be tested later. When you travel abroad, take your wonder and your awe with you because there are some marvelous things to experience in the world. But leave behind your arrogance, your juvenile sense of humor, your daring-do. People in most countries around the world have a sense of national pride at least as great as that of Americans, and usually justifiably so. Don’t belittle their country. Experience it and admire it, maybe even brag about your own, but not at the expense of theirs. Their own sense of humor may be very different from yours, so don’t expect or demand that your joke is appreciated. Listen to their jokes and learn a new culture that may be as good as what you left back home, and is most likely much older. And please, please, please leave behind the idea that you can–should–are expected to–leave behind a mark to prove you were there. It is so not cool to make your own carving next to one left by a neolithic ancestor or etch your own version of runes on a Stonehenge monolith. I can almost hear the plaintiff cry, “Why is everyone mad at me? It was just a joke. Don’t you people have a sense of humor? All I did was draw a stupid mustache on an old picture that wasn’t all that good, anyway.” as the guards at the Louvre in Paris escort a clueless tourist away from the Mona Lisa.

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Use of force in Lock-ups

“You’re talking about people who have no rules.”

That’s what deputy Scott Lewis of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department was quoted as saying in “Tasers used weekly at county jail” in The Press Democrat on Wednesday, November 4, 2015, about people in custody who are subdued with Tasers and other forms of control when they refuse to submit to control, something that reportedly occurs at the Sonoma County jail about once a week or so.
He also said, “This isn’t a college campus. These are people who, for a million different reasons, don’t have the same behavior control as other people.”

Other people, for various reason, are saying these methods are also used as extra-judicial punishments, or, at the least, as an unnecessarily extreme method when lesser methods may be just as effective, or even more so.

When Esa Wroth, a young man of 28 years, was being booked for DUI, he was apparently uncooperative enough to be tasered 23 times. There is apparently a 29 minute video in support of his claim for three million dollars. It does seem to be a bit excessive–both the 23 times and the three million dollars. You have to wonder what he did that he had to be zapped 23 times.

Seems to me it would have been better to just delay booking until he is sobered enough and calm enough to cooperate. If there is a policy requirement that booking must be completed immediately upon his arrival at the jail facility, that may be one of the problems. Maybe they should take another look at their policies and question if they are in need of improvement.

I my days behind the badge, I took in good number of people to be booked who were less than cooperative. One way to handle them was to pound them until they did cooperate, although, I actually never did that myself, nor did I ever see it done. Another way was to con the guy into cooperating. It’s not all that hard to do with some of them. I arrested a guy for fighting in the street. Since he might still be around, I’ll just call him The Mountain (he was big, like one click was all I could get on the cuffs when I put them on his wrists). Fortunately, he didn’t resist arrest or give me any problems until I was almost finished with booking. In those days, we had to do three separate, original fingerprint cards, one for our records, one for the state, and one for the FBI. I finished everything with The Mountain’s booking except for the last two print cards. That’s when he said he wanted to make his phone call. I told him he had to wait until we finished booking. He said, he he wouldn’t let me finish booking until after he made a phone call. I could have hit him over the head with something, or maced him or some other senseless violent act, none of which would have convinced him to let me finish the booking. I could have just locked him in a cell until he agreed to complete booking, something that I had done with many others. If he had to sit there for a day or so…oh, well, his choice. Instead, I said, “I’ll tell you what, Mountain, if you’ll let me do just two more of these cards, I’ll skip the rest for now and let you make your phone call. Okay?” He thought about it for a few seconds and said, “Okay. It’s a deal.” We finished the two cards, he made his phone call, I put him into a cell, and he went to sleep happy. Our policy was to complete booking on any arrested person–if they cooperate.  they don’t, they go into a cell until they do. However, they could not be bailed out or get released in any way until booking was completed. And in those days, when we used actual ink on paper for fingerprinting, we did not want to try to book a falling-down drunk who might have to hang onto my shoulder with his inky hands while I rolled the fingers of his other hand. He would just wait until he had slept it off in the tank.

In today’s law enforcement, there seems to be an urgency to regain control. At times, I agree, there is a legitimate reason for the immediate restoration of control. But there are a lot of times when a little patience will accomplish more that tasers, batons, pepper spray, and fists, and a lot of times even quicker. If a policy demands something to be accomplished immediately, whether it is booking an uncooperative arrestee or overcoming a barricaded gunman, maybe it should be reconsidered. Few things–other than a brick wall–are justifiably inflexible. And, it would be beneficial if even a brick wall could flex at times, like in an earthquake.