Saturday, January 25, 2014

True’s Miscellany for January 2014 (Part 2) Crime, Sex and Short Stories

The following are some thoughts on writing – hopefully not boring thoughts.  I’ve been working (and I use that term loosely) on some short stories.  I’m having difficulty focusing and I will tell you why.  Stories are meant to be read by someone, but the possibility of being formally published is remote.  It’s frustrating.  As some of you might know, I had – still do actually – a sister blog where I had posted some of my stories.  Then I was informed by those close to me that some of the stories bordered on pornography, so I deleted them.  It was not my intention to write pornography – whatever that is – but law enforcement and crime often, in reality, can be a pretty dirty business.  So, the quandary was and is, ‘how do I write about what I’ve seen, heard and experienced while leaving out the seamy side?’

Here’s are some examples:
I once talked with a FBI Agent who was working “kiddy porn.”  First off, I think that is an awful way to phrase a terrible crime – but it is the way that cops often describe it.  He told me that what he observed on a typical day was so perverted and disgusting that he had to shower as soon as he got home and try and forget, often with little or no success, his day’s work.  He said the burn-out on that squad was high; and that many agents were haunted by those images for years, even a lifetime.

It almost makes me laugh to watch some of those CSI programs.  One episode I remember, the investigator knelt in the midst of a rather gruesome murder scene.  I suppose they were trying to depict deep contemplation and a subsequent eureka moment.  In reality, murder and death scenes, suicides are often the worst, are something you don’t want to kneel in, spend much time in deep thinking, nor do you want to breathe.  The smell at times is not for weak stomachs.  The visual will give you nightmares.  On the Sheriff’s Office, we would often bring cigars to smoke.  If the smell of death and decomposition didn’t make you sick, the cigar certainly would.  And, to vomit just wasn’t something you’d want to do (not professional).  Nonetheless, the cigar smoke did seem to disguise the stench.  Except, I must add, the smell of death stayed in your cloths and seemed to become lodged in your nostrils.  After all, that is what odor really is – tiny particles floating in the air.  One other comment, autopsies are nearly as bad – especially when they saw the skull open.

I once attended a seminar on serial killers.  Ted Bundy was the principal topic.  He was executed in Florida (1/24/89) for various murders.  And, was alleged to be responsible for more than thirty murders of young women.  He was attempting to cheat the executioner by offering, periodically, to confess to and describe the murder of particular young women – including what he did and how he subsequently disposed of the body.  This was designed to give some sort of closure to parents of missing women.  His ploy did work for a while and allowed him to live a bit longer.  During the seminar for law enforcement types which I attended, one of Bundy’s taped confessions was played.  It was, I would briefly describe as, simply horrible.

Now, these are not the types of subjects that I want to spend a lot of time thinking about.  But, they are part of police work.  Some might say why don’t you write uplifting, positive, intriguing stories; but skip the graphic details?  I’m not sure I can – always.  It’s just not reality.

So my options, I suppose, are to modify stories in a way that my future grandchildren can read them.  Or, file the stories away – for what purpose I am not sure.

I did find that Google will attach a ‘warning,’ ‘adult content,’ for anyone visiting my short story blog.  I guess that’s a possibility too.

True Nelson

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

True’s Miscellany for January 2014 / Marijuana

It’s been awhile since my last post.  Well, I’ve been a little under the weather – although I hate to admit it.  The weather in Portland has been mostly mild (and that’s an understatement) compared to the Midwest and East Coast.  Nonetheless, I seem to have developed a very persistent cough that just doesn’t want to go away, or allow me a good night’s sleep.  No, I don’t smoke cigarettes or marijuana.

Speaking of marijuana, the President has made some interesting, if somewhat confusing, comments about the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington.  Apparently, he supports the legalization of MJ in said states, but has also added a caveat.  If, for example, marijuana is harmless for responsible adults, why not a small amount of cocaine or methamphetamine?  I think this is a rhetorical question on his part and that he is not necessarily endorsing such a move; but he also seems to have articulated some potential risks down the road.  This issue is complicated.  I understand that.

Oregon, under its referendum process, is nearing a vote on the legalization of marijuana.  I kind of hope that Oregon voters, understanding the uncertainty of legalized marijuana and the resulting social construct, will vote the measure down.  I’m concerned about our young people.  Why don’t we let Washington experiment with their children before Oregon follows suit?

Now, some of you will be offended.  After all, some of you will claim marijuana is harmless, no worse than alcohol.  Alright, but is it OK if I disagree?  Such a statement of marijuana’s harmlessness is little more than ‘bumper sticker’ science.  Secondly, they will say that marijuana will not be sold to minors.  OK, and yes that same restriction has worked for alcohol really well, right?  No, once marijuana is legalized into the mainstream and readily available, kids will get it – big time.  Oh, you say, they already get it.  Yes, and they get heroin too.  Is that justification for legalizing that drug?  No, of course not.

I hope that Oregon voters wake-up and act like grownups.  Yes, I agree that an adult caught with a minimal amount of marijuana should be treated appropriately – a reasonable fine would seem adequate.  But, let’s not push it in the public’s face.  Let’s not imply to our children that any mind altering substance is OK.  As we all know, alcohol has caused untold misery.  But, we’ve learned to live with it, understand it, and theoretically help those who abuse it, with some success.  Marijuana is a social uncertainty.  Let’s see how it works out in Washington.  Oregonians, let’s wait a few years.

True Nelson

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Law Enforcement / Profiling and Prejudice (Part 2)

Whether or not profiling is considered good or bad depends on how it is used.  Racial profiling has been defined by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional based on the ‘equal protection’ clause.  This means that law enforcement stopping someone for no other reason than their race is illegal – as it should be.
Regarding racial profiling some evidence has been developed based on statistics provided by police officers that it does exist, at least it would appear so to some.  Law enforcement personnel are required to note in their reports the race of the individual stopped or cited for traffic violations.  What does this mean?  Well, based on the percentage of a certain racial minority in a given jurisdiction, it appears that African Americans and Hispanics are stopped and/or cited more than Caucasians.  The percentage difference is not great, but is statistically significant.

What is never adequately explained in the research are the extenuating circumstances that led up to the traffic stop.  Did the police officer know prior to initiating the stop that the driver or passengers in a vehicle were minorities?  Are there certain cultural differences that are suspicious, but not necessarily criminal, that might trigger a police response?  Such as inordinately loud music on the car radio, strange modifications to vehicles like blacked out windows or graffiti, unusual driving patterns, drivers exchanging words or gestures with pedestrians, vehicle cruising slowly through a residential neighborhood at night and I could continue.

However, as they say ‘statistics can lie’ and often do when a particular group with a vested interest applies statistics.  But, of course, the elephant in the room that no one wishes to mention is that percentage-wise more crimes are committed by certain minority groups.

When I say minority groups, I mean this in the wider sense and I’m not necessarily saying people of color.  Young men and teenagers might be considered a minority group.  Caucasians within a certain ethnic group or with negative associations might be considered a minority.  Police know and understand these patterns and tend to act accordingly.

Behavioral profiling in criminal cases, although not new, is becoming a major trend in police agencies, including the FBI.  It is one more tool used to identify criminal suspects, particularly in the areas of ‘crime against person,’ such as sexual assault and murder.

Criminal profiling is as old as police work.  Many experienced police investigators use criminal profiling and call it intuition or instinct.  That is pretty much what the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit does except they have taken profiling to another level by using quantitative analysis, massive data and computers.  Does the BSU generally provide more accurate analysis or opinions than an experienced police investigator?  Maybe, but not always.  Much of what the BSU provides would be considered ‘common sense’ by a very experienced investigator.

There is nothing particularly mysterious about profiling.  We all do it every day as we pass people on the street or observe them in the check-out line.  It is a skill we all learn early on in life.  If you didn’t possess that skill, you would be a sorry individual indeed – bungling through life, having people continually take advantage of you, and would probably not survive to old age.  Do I exaggerate?  I don’t think so.  Do we sometimes make mistakes?  Yes.

True Nelson

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Law Enforcement / Profiling and Prejudice

I’d like to discuss social bias, prejudice, bigotry; all the usual suspects that make up who we are and how we treat others.

I was reading an article in the Scientific American magazine (January 2014) about the unconscious mind and how it controls human behavior.  It would seem that the goal of overcoming prejudice against various minority groups is a nearly impossible goal for the majority of us.

One of their experiments found that “many people who say they have a positive attitude toward minority groups are astounded when social scientists reveal contradictions (in that belief) using a simple test.”

My first reservation about this simple test is that the word ‘social’ should never be considered an appropriate descriptive modifier for ‘scientist.’  But, that’s just a pet peeve of mine.  However, I should point out that my major in college was Social Sciences – very interesting, but not a subject area that one would normally describe as science.  I found that sociology and psychology were far easier than zoology.

The test in question involved two buttons and a computer screen.  The left button to be pressed indicated either ‘good or white.’  The right button to be pressed indicated either ‘bad or black.’  Various pictures were shown to include puppies, spiders, snakes, kittens and a series of faces of different races.

The same pictures, or variations thereof, were later shown to the same group of test takers.  However, the buttons were changed:  left button indicated good or black, right button indicated either bad or white.  Latent prejudice among the test-takers was proven / at least indicated because the test-takers took longer to press the appropriate button – apparently indicating they had more difficulty associating black with good.

The article did not reflect whether or not minority individuals fared better on this test than Caucasians.  Furthermore, it did not indicate that all children grow-up with a notion that white is generally and intrinsically good, versus black which is generally and intrinsically bad.  Example:  good cowboys tend to wear white and bad cowboys usually are dressed in black, good witches are white and bad witches are black, when mourning people traditionally wear black, etc.  Now, some might jump-in with ‘yes, that’s true and children are programed from a very early age.’  OK, perhaps, but that concept of white / good, black / bad goes back centuries.  And, the association was usually not associated with race.

I’m sorry, but I hate this kind of research.  It does no good, draws lines apparently based in science, and makes one feel hopeless that things will ever change.

Which brings me to another related subject, law enforcement profiling:  good or bad.

To be continued…

True Nelson