Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rational Response to Ferguson?

In the wake of the recent grand jury decisions and subsequent outcry, many of my real life and internet friends are outraged.  Inflamed perhaps.  I agree that the grand jury isn't the best way to decide about charges against cops.  Only the prosecutor states the case, and the prosecutor and cops are on the same side.

I get that.  I agree that change is needed there.

But I am not nearly as passionate about this as my friends expect me to be.  In my view, each interaction between two people is more complex than race, including interactions between cops and teens.  I've lived and worked in diverse places.  I've had to break up fights between black teens.  I've been the victim of street crime committed by black teens.  One of my coworkers had to retire from a security job after being punched in the eye by a homeless guy.  He could no longer pass a firearms test to carry his weapon.  None of the people who did these things brandished a handgun, but none of them was innocent, either.  Cops know first-hand what harm people are capable of doing without a gun.  That's why they may respond with force to "unarmed" but not harmless people.

So here's rational reminder #1:  You can hurt someone badly without having a firearm.

Fortunately for me, I was the victim of grab-and-run rather than point-a-gun crime.  When I reported these crimes to the cops, they didn't ask if the people had a weapon.  They knew from my description of what happened that I would have no idea.  Unlike some media commentators, cops know that nobody has X-Ray vision when it comes to weapons.

One of the memes in outrage news stories is that the shooting victim was "unarmed."  Well, yes, you know that after they're laying dead on the street.  What about when they're resisting arrest?  Or even resisting talking to a cop?  "It is virtually impossible to know if an individual is carrying a concealed firearm."  That's a quote from Police Magazine, which goes on to advise complete control over the individual being confronted.  They add: "Write this in bold block letters somewhere across your mind: You cannot assume that someone is unarmed."  This article begins with the example of a cop who was killed by a jay-walker.  Sound familiar?

Rational Reminder #2:  You can't tell if someone has a weapon (until it's too late)

Cops have bulls-eyes on them all day long.  We worry about "driving while black" (or Hispanic), which is indeed a concern, but cops are hated by the worst of the worst.  And to make matters worse, tightly-wound people are triggered by the arrival of a cop.  Sometimes a cop will know ahead of time that emotions are running high.  Other times they have a right to expect a low-tension encounter but get killed.  Cops know when another cop has been killed.  The word goes out.  I bet they think about what they'd do in the same situation.  Did Officer Wilson know about the cop who was killed by a jay-walker when Brown resisted his instructions to move to the sidewalk?

Rational Reminder #3:  Cops can get killed in the most routine situations, and all cops know this.

The fact is that black teens do kill people, but usually other black teens.  If a cop who deals with trouble-making black teens all day long for weeks on end and only sees the thugs, drug users and punks, he's going to be biased.  In terms of classic fallacies, he has been the victim of "selection bias," in which he believes that his experiences represent the whole.   But it's his job to deal with just that segment of society.  If he's a "beat" cop, and he's working in a segregated community, he's not singling out any one person.  In my previous jobs I had people take offense when I didn't give them the answer they wanted to hear, and I've been accused of racism.  Seriously.  I was a white person from the suburbs making a choice to work in the "hood" when I could have taken a job almost anywhere else.  The person complaining to me certainly wasn't the only black person I dealt with during a typical day, but I might have been the only white person they dealt with.  The accusation of racism had three fingers pointing backward.  This is why I don't jump to conclusions in Ferguson and other cases.   My question is "Why wasn't he using excessive force every other day he went to work if he was such a racist bully?"  If there is evidence he was a racist, then show it.  If not, don't just make stuff up from innuendo.

In some cities there are programs that involve cops in the lives of the good kids, having them attend nerdy good-kid events to round out their "selection."   I think this is a great idea.

Rational Reminder #4:  Racial Profiling is wrong, but not unexpected.

Part of a cop's job is to protect kids from each other.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the prime age group to be either a victim or perpetrator is 18-24.   From 1980-2008, blacks were six times more likely than whites to be the victim of a homicide and slightly more likely to be the perpetrator of a homicide.

Additionally, the peak age for both victims and perpetrators of gang homicides is 18-24, and blacks and hispanics are more likely than white teens to join gangs.  (National Gang Center)

So... statistically, it is true that black men between the ages of 18-24 really are more likely to be murderers.    It may not be a wide margin, but when you consider the segregation of American cities, a cop in a black neighborhood is far more likely to be dealing with black criminals, and the highest percentage would be in the 18-24 male demographic.  So is Ferguson due to racism or the cop's personal experiences?  Did the cop have PTSD?  Was something else going on?  The media won't delve into that because it's not an easy story to tell.  But... if there were really an epidemic, none of the recent events would be newsworthy.  We'd be living in the 1960s and before, when only black newspapers reported on excessive force against blacks, including lynching.  Remember lynching?  Whites didn't pay attention to black victims until the civil rights movement.  Remember water cannons?  Remember the bridge to Selma?  No?  Look them up!  You have internet service!

Rational Reminder #5:  Yes, things have gotten better.  Excessive force even one time is too many, but it's not like the bad old days.

So settle down, America.  We're on this.  We aren't perfect but we're doing a damn good job compared to a few generations ago.

But but but.... there are still racists!

Well, yes, America there are, but there's no law that everybody has to like everybody else.  We can only legislate behavior.  Cops have to treat everyone with the same professional standards no matter how they feel about them.  Cops who give a break to a criminal outrage me just as much as cops who get a break.  A former coworker had a devastating spinal injury because of a 19-year-old college student who rear-ended her car with his pick-up truck while she idled at a red light.  The cop gave the kid a warning because "he's just a kid" and "he was scared."   (I have no idea what race either the kid or cop were)  My coworker needed multiple surgeries and couldn't work for months.  This isn't newsworthy but it's an injustice and it outrages me.

In my opinion, we need to make some changes but race is only one part:

  1. Cops need to be trained to handle quickly-changing situations without necessarily using their guns.  Because guns are so deadly, they have to pass regular firearms tests, but do they practice non-lethal tactics with as much dedication?  Depends on the place.  Ferguson isn't Everywhere, U.S.A., despite what the media says.  Some cities do indeed cross-train their cops in multiple methods.  We don't hear about those cities for obvious reasons.
  2. American cops need to develop better behavioral profiling.  It won't help people who rush a cop or refuse to drop something that looks like a gun, but it will help cops keep their heads in minor scuffles.
  3. People need to respect that cop's job is tough and they never know which day might be their last.  I made a cop jumpy in a store with wood floors one day when my cowboy boots hit a hollow section right behind him.  One part of his brain was picking out a yogurt for his lunch.  Another part of his brain was on alert in case someone wanted to grab his gun.  Yes, they do fear this.  And they should.
  4. Realistic toy guns should be banned.  Period.  There is no reason for these.   We do have school shootings, street shootings, accidental shootings, and playground shootings by kids, including young teens.  If a cop shows up to a report of a kid with a gun and the kid refuses to put down the gun,  the kid is going to get shot.... unless it's obvious that the gun is a toy.  We want our cops to be able to act quickly to save lives.  It's up to us not to give them a false impression.  Toy guns should be yellow or purple or green, and real guns should not be any of those colors.
  5. Any time a cop kills someone, it should be investigated by an independent body aside from the prosecutor's office.  I think this change will come, but we'll see.
  6. All officers and dead suspects' blood should be analyzed for substances and the results publicized.  Not that drunks and druggies deserve to die, but people on some drugs just do not behave like normal people, and they all have mothers who think their kid was an angel.  The kid the cop met may not have been the kid who kissed his mum that morning.  (Ditto for the cop)
And finally, we have to stop making our own fallacious assumptions based on sensational headlines.  We need to settle the fuck down!  We need to stop falling for the spotlight fallacy, in which media coverage substitutes for rational thought and research.  We need to stop taking the side that comports with our prejudices.  We need to withhold judgment until all the facts are in.  You know, be skeptical.

In the case of the guy who died from asphyxia, there's video and it's clear that cops didn't ease their hold when he said he couldn't breathe.  The Feds are on it.  It's probably going to turn out that the cops thought the guy was not being truthful and would have gotten away if they'd let go.  A full exploration of the experiences of each cop might find that they've been fooled before.   I hope training officers will use this to develop better tactics.

As with other things, it's very hard to let go of old experiences and react to each one as if it's the first time.  This is something cops (and everybody, really) should gain some practice in.  We are pattern-seeking creatures.  It's in our DNA, literally.  It's why we are racist, why we take our umbrella to work on a cloudy day, and why the scientific method has changed our lives - we took ourselves out of observations.

I'm just amazed at the reaction of my atheistic friends.   People who otherwise believe themselves to be "rational""skeptical" "free-thinkers" are overreacting, in my opinion.  The data on police shootings and excessive force is incomplete, but Wikipedia keeps a list of news reports of killings both of and by officers so we can check for patterns ourselves rather than trust "news" outlets. Likewise, the grand jury deliberations are sealed so we can't say whether the results were fair or not.  We don't know everything about everything, so we need to learn more to have better judgement with this as with everything else.  I hope they will release more data, but until they do I'm not jumping to conclusions.

Don't let the media yank your chain.  Think for yourself.  Look for facts, statistics, you know... the truth.  Make up your own mind, and embrace nuance.  Be a skeptic.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Updated List of Non-Theistic Charities

I have added some charities to the list I compiled some time ago (check the tabs above) I made the list because I sometimes want to make a donation in someone's name in lieu of a gift.  I wanted to know what good choices out there could be neutral donations - they would mean something to me and the person I'm donating in honor of, but wouldn't have any religious connotation pro or con. That's why I haven't listed the Freedom from Religion Foundation or Camp Quest.   These charities shouldn't offend believers, but an atheist doesn't have to compromise his/her atheism to make a donation, either.

If you learn that one of them has a theistic agenda, please let me know!  Otherwise, dig deep and donate to a worthy cause this "holiday" season.   It's tax-deductible and all of the charities on the list have good ratings for fiscal responsibility and using more money for the actual charity than for fund-raising, administrative costs, and what-not.

A p.s. here, while looking for new charities I ran across one that I've blogged about.  According to the Charity Navigator, Teen Ministries is in "deep financial trouble."  The first two on the list look like worthy charities that just don't have the money coming in that they used to.  Number three is Teen Ministries, with a negative balance of over four million dollars.

This is the "charity" that runs Christian rock concerts and uses "interns" (slaves) to do fund-raising in call centers.  They used to put teens through a brutal and abusive boot camp experience for Jebus, including forcing kids to eat disgusting food and then roll down a hill repeatedly until vomiting.  The kids with the strongest stomachs had to roll through other kids' vomit.  Charming people.  They only stopped the abuse after being busted by local television.  They aren't quite ready to declare bankruptcy but we can hope.   Perhaps next year they will be on a list of defunct charities.

For links and more details on this charity abusive cult see my previous post on their concert series, Acquire the Fire or a blog for victims survivors, My Teen Mania Experience.  The latest post declares it dead.  It may just be pining for the fjords.  We shall see.

Indiana Cave Attraction Promotes Intelligent Design

An otherwise interesting cave, with ancient bones & an underground river, promotes Intelligent Design Christianity.  Read a review here:


(found via reddit)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"Dones" are the new "Nones"

According to this Huffington Post article, people who used to be active members of their churches are now leaving and not coming back -- they are done with it!

This should come as no surprise to atheists who have followed the blogs, vlogs, podcasts and other media sources in the atheist community (such as we have).  Consider how many formerly devout people in the public eye are done with it:

  • Jerry DeWitt:  former pastor, now director of The Clergy Project
  • John Loftus:  former pastor, now author and blogger
  • Seth Andrews: former Christian radio broadcaster, now atheist podcaster & author
  • Dan Barker:  former evangelical musician, now co-director of Freedom from Religion Foundation
  • Michael Shermer:  former evangelical Christian, now skeptic and author

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Another Faith-Healing Outrage

Check out Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True site today.  He describes two court cases:  one guilty verdict for faith-"healing" parents whose child died, and a Canadian decision to allow parents to force  "traditional" on their sick child.

Note: "The Albatross" is Jerry's forthcoming book about the incompatibility of faith and science.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Near-Death Experiences: What are they?

The brain is a marvelous thing, and it's way smarter than our mind is.  It can imagine things we never thought of, and it can continue coming up with random stuff while we're asleep and even while we're dying.

Obviously, the strings must be pulled by some external force because our willpower has been turned off, right?

Oh wait.... are our thoughts really under our control while we're awake?   What makes us notice extraneous noises while we're trying to read?  What makes us think "nice ass" when we see a good-looking person of our favored sexual desires walk past us?    The same people who think the Devil would make us lust after a nice piece of ass don't bother to assign blame for the more mundane things.  Or do they think they really have control over all their thoughts until the piece of ass walks by?

Then what about dreaming?  If we have no control over those dreams, who does?  Why do I dream about bears so often?  Is that Agreius looking for Oreius?  Or is it just my dream-brain hearing my dog snoring nearby and turning that sound into a bear?  No, it's prophetic.  I'm going to be attacked by a bear.   In my sleep.

If we dream about something seemingly prophetic, that seems magical to us.  But 99.99% or so of our dream never have any relation to subsequent events.  If anything they rehash our recent past in metaphor.  Is it a failed prophesy when the bus that crashes right in front of us and makes us wake from our highway dream doesn't correlate to any actual bus crash?

"Careful.  There's bears around here"
Is there one powerful being that gives us prescient dreams but another one who gives us stupid dreams?   Or if it's just one powerful being, why do we have so few prescient dreams?  Why waste important dream time on purple kangaroos when we could see where the next terrorist attack will be or a short in an airplane's cockpit?

And then when we die, the brain carries on after we stop controlling it.  (*wink*)   It just does whatever it wants, and it conjures up our dead relatives, light bulbs, our doctors, or whatever it wants.   I hope that as I'm dying from a bear attack I won't "see" bears in my altered state of consciousness.  I should see bunnies or something to make up for all the bears in my dreams.

So what inspired these musings?  (Besides staying up past my bedtime?)

I searched for NDE's on Pubmed and found this free article which cites this non-free article.  The abstract is free, however:
Approximately 3% of Americans declare to have had a near-death experience. These experiences classically involve the feeling that one's soul has left the body, approaches a bright light and goes to another reality, where love and bliss are all encompassing. Contrary to popular belief, research suggests that there is nothing paranormal about these experiences. Instead, near-death experiences are the manifestation of normal brain function gone awry, during a traumatic, and sometimes harmless, event.
I feel a bit better now.  I will feel bliss as the bear attacks me, and not the fear or puzzlement I feel when I encounter it in my dreams.

Or perhaps instead of waiting for an NDE, I could get worked up in a Pentecostal altar call.   Or I could take heroin, which from all accounts gives you that love and all-encompassing bliss feeling.

"Heaven is Real" arguments from NDEs always make me think of heroin.  I think of Heaven as a bunch of people nodding off to psychedelic choirs of LSD tripped-out angels.

I want to see a movie called "Reality is Real."  Perhaps with bears in it.  That would be much more interesting.

And now I'm going to bed.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Long & Thoughtful Deconversion Story

A parent follows a child into atheism despite both being victims of Liberty "University."

I took many of the same steps in much the same way, but without any particular incentive.  "Logan" started his deconversion by trying to come up with ways to reason his son back to Christianity.

It didn't work.

Here's a link to the first of this 7-part story:

My deconversion went something like this:  1) the Bible's O.T. is repulsive, 2) The N.T. is contradictory, 3) Everybody else thinks their religion is right, 4) Other supernatural claims are bunk so why not religious ones?

I did indeed try to listen to churchy people along the way.  Apologists just aren't very convincing, and the people they pray for die every day.  "Feeling" the spirit just didn't cut it for me, either, as it sounded a lot like being drunk or stoned on heroin.  And then there are the disembodied voices telling people strange things.  Who believes those voices today?  Only psychotic people.

Anywho, give the story a read.