Too Many Police Chief Generals?

Am I the only one who’s noticed that almost every police chief that shows up in a news broadcast or TV show is wearing the insignia of a military general; that is, four stars?

Note that federal law governs the numbers of general officers for all branches of our military, and that all general officers are all addressed as “general” or “admiral,” with no reference to the number of stars they are entitled to wear. Four stars is the maximum number except in times of war, when there have been five-star generals and admirals.

Police departments all over our country have long used military rank to define command structure; e.g., sergeant, lieutenant, captain, but I didn’t notice when chiefs became four-star generals. Federal law limits the numbers of four-star generals to seven Army, nine Air Force, two Marine, and six Navy (admirals).

I certainly admire and respect men and women who have risen to the rank of police chief, but four stars? “The Crossing,” a TV show we tuned into recently, not only has a four-star chief but also a three-star (lieutenant general) as an assistant chief. I think the two of them supervise about five other police officers.

Several police chiefs on national news programs lately, and I hate the thought of what caused them to be on the news, have shown up with collars sagging from the weight of four stars.

Can’t help wondering when and why the four-star fixation got its start. It’s certainly good for the companies that manufacture insignia. Found one company that sells the shiny silver four-star collar item for $41.50. Police departments could save some money just going for one or two stars. Tom Selleck plays the role of the Commissioner of the New York Police Department, and he doesn’t even wear one star.

Advertisements

Fantasyland: Transforming Belief Into Truth

A review of Fantastyland – How America Went Haywire – A 500-Year History, Kurt Andersen, Random House, 2017.

Where to begin and end? As a pal in my book club put it, this book is “so rich” with content we may need two meetings to discuss it.

From 1517 to the present time, the author relentlessly exposes how and why Americans tend to believe what we want to believe, regardless of the facts. Americans, free and independent, have built a nation in many ways on a foundation of fantasy – Fantasyland.

The author doesn’t conclude that all beliefs, conspiracy theories and dreams are irrational, just the ones that go “…overboard, letting the subjective entirely override the objective, people thinking and acting as if opinions and feelings were just as true as facts.”

From beliefs in recent trips to and from Heaven to government conspirators hiding all manner of truths and conspiracies from us; from Satan on Earth today to real estate prices that would always increase; from believing risky debt isn’t risky to extraterrestials among us; from the dangers of vaccines to life’s creation several thousand years ago; from the phony moon landing to the government’s 9/11 plot; from hoarding firearms to thwart thugs and terrorists to the origins of AIDS; from pretending we’re soldiers “…or elves or zombies….” to sitting at our personal computers to engage in virtual battles; from believing the vapor contrails formed by aircraft at altitude are really secret gasses emitted to control us to believing Satan recruited Indians from Asia to North America to impede Christianity – in Fantastyland many have believed all this and more, and in some cases still believe, therefore it’s true.

In a footnote on page 7 the author discloses the source of survey data that tell us only a third of us believe emissions from cars and factories are causing global warming; only a third of us don’t think telepathy and ghost are real; a fourth of us believe Donald Trump won the popular vote in 2016; a third of us believe the government is keeping natural cures for cancer a secret so “Big Pharma” can make more money – the list goes on.

We have facts and access to facts in America, but in many aspects of our lives we are exposed to misrepresentations, made-up stuff, spins, alternative facts, misdirection, and outright lies, and we’ve had all of it in varying degrees since the first “settlers” arrived.

In its 462 pages, including an index, this book offers an opportunity to discover how the differences between opinion, belief, and fact all got blurred in America from the very beginning of the country, and how by now have all but disappeared.

“You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan

The 2nd Amendment and Gun Control

United States Constitution, Amendment II: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

I recently saw on the news (CNN, June, 2017) that nearly 1,300 children were shot and killed in our country every year. I don’t want children killed with a gun at school or anywhere else.

First, a bit of what the media like to call “Breaking News.” Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has called for a repeal of the 2md Amendment (Raleigh News and Observer, March 27, 2018). I agree, mostly because I’m convinced the 2nd is, as Justice Stevens notes, “…a relic of the 18th Century….” and hasn’t been correctly interpreted since roughly 1850. Here is my take on understanding it.

Let’s begin with the first clause: “A well regulated Militia….” Those are the first four words, and as my education in the subject of the English language concludes, they are the basis for the rest of the sentence. Everything that comes later in the sentence relies on and refers to “A well regulated Militia….” (Dictionary definition of a militia: a military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency.)

Next comes: “… being necessary to the security of a free State….” When that was written, the “free State” had not much of an army, navy, air force, coast guard, or merchant marine. None of those were at all enough to ensure the security of a free State. In fact, a couple of them (air force, coast guard, and merchant marine) didn’t even exist. Hence the need for “A well regulated Militia,” intended to be what was needed to secure the “free State,” not unregulated hundreds of thousands of individual gun owners, but “A well regulated Militia.”

Next comes: “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms….” The long accepted use of the phrase “the people,” as in “We the people…,” the first words of the Constitution, is that “the people” means the total population – “the people” equals the entire country. “The people” refers to all the people, the entire population, not individuals who just want a gun, or a collection of guns.

The last few words of the 2nd, “…shall not be infringed” means that the people, the country, shall not be forbidden, precluded, disallowed, to form those well regulated militias to protect and defend the free State. It does not mean individuals stocking up on guns and stockpiling ammo for target practice, amusement, drive-by shootings, school shootings, night club shootings, or any of the other horrible shootings that taken the lives of children and other innocent people, shootings that happen more in our America than in any other country.

Here is what I would include in a new Constitutional Amendment. The right of individuals who have reached a minimum age of 21 to purchase and own guns for limited and legal uses; however, I would ban private ownership of any automatic, military-style weapons. I also support rigorous background investigations, waiting periods, firearms training, and limits on the number of rounds in a magazine for a semi-automatic weapon. After background investigation, training, and a waiting period, I would require a license to complete all purchases of guns, said background investigations and licenese(s) to be renewed on an annual basis. I would make ownership transfers between individuals, including family members, subject to the same requirements as those transfers and purchases from a gun dealer. There should be due process required of anyone to obtain and keep any gun from any source.

Some will say I’m proposing too many safeguards, too much cost, and too much regulation that will never work. Some will say it’s too late, that too many weapons are already in the hands of people who have no business owning them. I know this article will be met with those criticisms and more, but I am sick and tired of learning about shootings, dead and injured children, dead and injured innocent people. We cannot simply hope another shooting won’t happen. We cannot just offer thoughts and prayers to families that have lost children and other family members. We must act now. We must convince our elected officials to act now. Americans can and must do better.

I don’t care how much time and money and regulation it takes. I don’t want children killed with a gun at school or anywhere else. I don’t want innocent lives lost by gunfire no matter what and how long it takes to achieve a safer democracy. I don’t want to minimize the risk of mass shootings; I want to eliminate that risk.

Guns for Teachers?

This morning’s newspaper described how our NC legislators might be considering arming teachers as a method of preventing or at least discouraging school shootings. An NC School Safety Committee is being formed and requested to produce recommendations to the Legislature.

One NC legislator was quoted as referring to the reactions of people in favor of better methods of gun control as “useless hysteria” that “we have to get over.” One can only hope he won’t get up in front of a group of grieving parents and classmates of murdered fellow students and tell them they have to get over their useless hysteria.

Heard another NC legislator on NPR state that she didn’t think there would be much action on school safety in NC unless and until we experienced a school shooting in NC. Reminds me of a comment from a long-time Wake Forest resident who once told me NC wouldn’t install a traffic light “until 2 or 3 people were killed at the intersection.” Good grief.

Never mind that roughly 7 of every 10 Americans think there should be more strict background investigations and a ban on privately owned automatic, semi-automatic weapons, and the “bumpstocks” that make semi-automatics fully automatic (all hereinafter referred to as “military-grade weapons”).i   As a certified geezer with experience as a teacher, coach, FBI Agent, legal administrator, and real estate instructor, I can think of more reasons than I’ll have the time and patience to include here about why arming teachers is not a good idea, but here are a few:

  1. Arming teachers means there will be guns in our schools, lots of guns, every day, available for misguided people to figure out ways to get at and use them.

  2. Shooting at targets, no matter how much one does that, is not the same as shooting at someone who is trying to shoot others, especially if that someone is shooting at you. Odds are that an armed teacher would be sending rounds into unintended people and other targets; e.g., the classroom across the hall.

  3. A teacher with a handgun has no chance against someone with a military-grade weapon.

  4. Teachers are not law enforcement officers, and no amount of training will transform them into law enforcement officers.

Consider these questions. Would teachers be required to arm themselves? Would teachers have a right not to bear arms? And suppose a disgruntled teacher decides to open fire at school? More “useless hysteria” to follow? And more “thoughts and prayers?”

It has become quite a distasteful burden to listen to our leaders offer “their thoughts and prayers” to the families of murdered school children and teachers, who have lost everything they were and everything they were yet to be. My thoughts and prayers are that our government officials at all levels will ban private ownership of military-grade weapons and not allow sale of any kind of gun to anyone under the age of 21, require extensive background checks and waiting periods and licenses for all purchasers of any gun of any type, require regular of issued firearms licenses, and that the NC School Safety Committee will consider the above and much more, and will produce better ideas than arming teachers.

Some say it’s too late, that too many military-grade weapons are already out there, privately owned.. Others say under the 2nd Amendment we have the right to own those weapons. I say it’s not too late to attempt action that will rid this country of mass shootings of all kinds. I also say that the authors of the 2nd Amendment could not have predicted the killing power of the weapons that would be available to anyone 200 years later.

In the meantime we need much better security at our schools, security provided by trained police officers. I would allow only two entrances that provide access to any school facility; lots of exits, but only two entrances, each of which would be staffed by trained police officers and equipped with metal detectors.

If I’m engaging in “useless hysteria,” so be it. I don’t want any more students, teachers, or anyone else murdered with military-grade weapons.

i People, including the media, often confuse the different types of military-grade weapons. To clarify, with a semi-automatic the trigger must be pulled for each shot; with an automatic (or with a bumpstock on a semi-automatic) the weapon continues to fire as long as the trigger is held in the firing position and there are live rounds in the weapon’s magazine. Both automatic and semi-automatic weapons use magazines loaded with bullets, called “rounds,” although as a general rule the magazines for automatics hold more rounds because they can fire more of them in a brief time. As either type is fired, the round in the chamber is on its way, the empty shell is ejected from the weapon, and a new round is slipped from the magazine and inserted in the chamber for the next shot. To fire 12 rounds from a semi-automatic, the trigger would have to be pulled 12 times; from a fully automatic the trigger need only be held in the firing position until the magazine is empty. There are automatic weapons that are capable of firing upwards of 100 rounds in a matter of seconds.

Nobody Asked Me, But…..Volume 3, No. 6

Nobody Asked Me, But…..Volume 3, No. 6

Some friends asked me why I write these blog articles. By the way, is “blog” an acronym, and if so, for what? Anyway, I write because I like to write, I’m interested (if not anxious these days) in current events, and I enjoy trying to come up with interesting and informative articles to send to family and friends.  In the “Nobody Asked Me, But…..” articles I try to point out a few of the zany if not crazy stupid news articles that appear on social media, my newspaper, and other outlets; e.g., my daily quote calendar. Here are some examples:

First, I saw a post on Facebook the other day that claimed Ben Carson, our HUD Secretary, said: “I think illegal immigrants who commit crimes should have their citizenship revoked.” Probably generated by some Russian hacker, so I’ll ignore that one. Besides, nobody with a high school diploma would make that mistake.

Next comes a statement from today’s newspaper about a poor guy who lost several toes and part of his foot due to an infection. He has diabetes and is on disability, and is worried that a federal heating assistance program is about to be wiped out by our Leader and other leaders in Washington. He lost his job and is struggling to heat his home for himself and his fiance and their five children. Never mind that, the important part of the article states that he won’t vote for Trump again if this heating assistance program is eliminated. Wait – fiance and five children? Somebody call a pastor, priest, or civil servant who is allowed to perform marriage ceremonies.

And finally, there is the NC State Legislator that is trying to figure out a way out of his comments about “communist democrats.” He says he didn’t mean all Democrats, just the Communist ones. Comparing himself with General George S. Patton, who once apologized for slapping a soldier, noticed that regular Democrats might have felt somewhat miffed. He went on to recall how “Nikita Cruchev” had long ago predicted that “…Communists would conquer America without firing a shot,” and that a major part of that strategy would be disarming “our people.”

Can’t help being astonished about these little stories…..good grief.

Call the FBI With Tips

The FBI website instructs us to just dial 1-800-CALLFBI. I just did that and the call was answered by a long recitation of which keys to press based on which major case you are calling about. The number got me to the FBI’s Major Case Call Center, probably not a number to call to report a kid who might be planning a school shooting. The message is too long and the subject matter is not presented as a choice. Takes way too long to speak to a human being.

I’m pretty good at using the Internet, and I still could not find a phone number to call anything resembling a tip center in West Virginia referred to in some of the news stories about the 2018 Valentine’s Day Florida school shooting. I did find a few references advising me to call the nearest field office – not much help if you don’t have time to figure out which office is nearest and what’s the phone number…..

I recall sitting on phone duty several times while an agent in Seattle and Washington, DC back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. In both instances as far as I knew I was the only agent in the building. In both instances we were given a “nut box” or access to a “nut file cabinet” so we could check on callers who insisted they were receiving communist radio signals on their tooth fillings or bridges, or who had seen a Soviet submarine in Lake Washington. For the latter, which was pulled on practically every new agent in Seattle, the supervisor insisted that you interview the manager of the Ballard Locks, which connected Puget Sound to Lake Washington, to determine whether any Soviet submarines had been spotted going through the locks. When yours truly, a young and anxious to be of service new guy, approached the manager at the locks, he smiled and, before I could ask, told me he had not sent any Soviet submarines through the locks.

These days my involvement with the Bu is limited to ex-agent luncheons and reading the X-Gboys emails, many of which I’d volunteer to edit for such things as misspelling judgment (there’s only one “e”) and “insuring” that something would or wouldn’t happen (should be “ensuring,” as the Bu isn’t selling insurance).

In yesterday’s emails there were some alarming statistics having to do with the FBI tip center, wherever it is and however you reach it. Examples: 1) roughly 2,100 calls a day in 2017, 2) 150 employees, and 3) 766.888 total calls for 2017. Talk about an assault of numbers. It’s a wonder a few hundred (thousand?) calls weren’t mishandled. On my busiest day as the agent on phone duty I don’t think I received more than 10 calls, even in DC, where the ratio of crazies to sane people is fairly high.

My most exciting call was in DC of course. A fellow called to report that he had seen a message on a whiteboard in a classroom at American University; something on the order of a plan to assassinate President Nixon. I reported the call to the Secret Service and notified my supervisor.

I don’t recall all the details, but do recall that the Secret Service sent two agents out to American University to investigate. Never heard any more.

Here’s a shout-out to the retired agent whose email repeated what was on our credentials; that as agents we were charged with the duty of investigating violations of the laws of the U.S., collecting evidence in cases in which the U.S. is or may be a party of interest, or perform other duties imposed by law. He wrote that he didn’t recall a duty to chase “…kids around who had a mental disorder…..”

I confess to being an unapologetic fan of the Bu; always have been and always will be. I’m not convinced that after more than two dozen referrals of the shooter to local authorities in Florida a visit from a couple of agents would have made any difference. To me the problem is our allowing military weapons to be in the hands of anyone other than the military. Mass shootings, by far more in the U.S. than everywhere else on the planet, are not likely to be eliminated in my lifetime.

But no sane national policy allows individuals to own weapons intended for use in wars.

And no tip operation will have a perfect record in identifying persons with mental illness who intend to use military weapons at schools or anywhere else.

Nature Scientist

Raise your hand if you think concerns about climate change, formerly described as global warming, particularly climate change caused by humans, is a relatively recent concern, something scientists have only recently begun to warn us about.

Put your hands down. Studying the barren land, lower water levels, and the disappearance of brushwood causing soil to be washed away in the colonial plantations at Lake Valencia in Venezuela, Alexander von Humboldt became the earliest of scientists to mention “…harmful human-induced climate change….” The year: 1800.

There is more. “Humbolt was the first to explain the forest’s ability to enrich the atmosphere with moisture and its cooling effect, as well as its importance for water retention and protection against soil erosion. He warned that humans were meddling with the climate and that this could have an unforeseeable impact on ‘future generations.'”

The quotes are from The Invention of Nature, by Andrea Wolf, 2015, Alfred A. Knopf.

There is much more. Hats off to the author for this eye-opening biography.