The content on this blog is my personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the US Navy in any way.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Deadly Force and Hindsight

... This news article is not a new story, but I only found out about it when a friend shared this update to it a few weeks ago... or I could mention this blog post as well.

My purpose in talking about this police shooting actually doesn't have much to do with any judgment-related problems. Rather, there's one detail here that jumped out at me: the update talks about one of the police officers involved being fired for not shooting at the suspect.

It turns out the first police officer to confront the suspect decided that the threat didn't yet merit the use of deadly force, and elected to try and de-escalate the situation. When the suspect turned away from him and started walking towards the other two police officers present, one of them killed the suspect. The police officer who didn't fire was terminated, on the grounds that he put his fellow officers in danger.

It turns out he was probably right in that initial judgment call. The guy in question was attempting to manipulate his wife by threatening suicide... then said he was going to get the cops to do it... and his gun was unloaded.

The slightly weird thing is that it still adds up to a justifiable shooting. There's no way for any of the police officers to know his gun was unloaded, and I can readily understand that someone further away might not have seen the same things that the closer officer saw, and therefore believe himself justified in opening fire. Also, frankly, if the police department wants to say that the termination had nothing to do with this specific incident and more to do with past incidents... fine, I don't care enough to debate that point.

But where the police department's termination letter (at the very bottom of this story) talks about his failure to react and shoot this particular person? It is quite badly wrong. Not employing deadly force should not be mistaken for a failure to judge the situation and decide. That decision is the responsibility we assign to those who have the right to use deadly force - and our society cannot handicap those people by telling them that one decision is always wrong. We can demand they hold themselves to a high standard, we can demand they be trained to the best standards possible, we can ask what they were thinking when we don't understand what happened, and we can track the situation on a larger scale to ensure that there aren't more general problems with training or judgment - but if all those factors are in place, then imagining that we know better than the experts we've had trained in this field is just as wrong as it would be for any other.

This is already the situation the military finds itself in - public trust in that organization is consistently high (although not universally so, of course, and I wouldn't argue that the military has never had any problems of this type). We're not quite there with the police yet (whether that's because the public doesn't realize those factors are in place or because they aren't actually in place is a topic for multiple other blog posts), but trying to play games with specific problems isn't going to get us there.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Educational Priorities

I occasionally run into some Prager University videos on my Facebook news feed. Out of all the conservative media I get, they have a better than average chance of being well thought out enough to avoid obvious pitfalls. Unfortunately that's not the same thing as saying they're right, and it's also worth pointing out that the average is pretty bad, so it's not that hard to do a little better.

Anyway, I do occasionally watch them, and I usually have something to say afterwards. So today I'm responding to "Every High School Principal Should Say This". Mostly because I was curious what sort of ideas the right wing thinks might improve our schools. The whole thing is set up as a speech that a new high school principal gives by way of introducing himself and what he intends to focus on.

While I can see some good intent in some of the points, overall I don't like it very much. If I had to summarize... basically, I think several of the things this is trying to "fix" weren't problems in the first place, some of the others will make existing problems worse, and many of the problems we do have with are education system aren't made any better or worse by changing these things.

Now for specific issues with each point.

Point one doesn't start out too badly with its call for equal regard, but it quickly gets worse as he dismisses the value of any identity other than American. You can't make people just decide that the parts of their identity that have to do with their ethnicity, their sex, their religion, etc. aren't important. Trying to do so is mostly just going to damage their self-esteem and make bullying and suicide problems worse. And pretending that identity-specific clubs only have value to people in those specific groups is fairly short-sighted; they often serve as great places for members of other groups to learn about other cultures and other ways of thinking - which is an incredibly valuable thing to learn. (Incidentally, it's funny that he talks about learning language at the end of that part - because doing so without studying "national identities other than American" is a difficult and unhelpful way to study language.)

Point two I really don't have any problem with. Some schools might want to focus on international students and have classes taught in foreign languages, but that wouldn't define more than a relatively small handful of schools.

Point three... also no real problems. I think focusing on modes of address might be focusing a bit too much on the appearance of an appropriately formal relationship versus actually encouraging appropriate relationships between students and teachers, but that's more of a minor nitpick.

Point four I also have no problems with.

Point five... based on what I said about point one above I think my reaction should probably be obvious. But just to spell it out: This is an absolutely terrible sentiment. If you don't have any self-esteem at all, if you don't believe that your best effort will have any effect, then many people wouldn't even try. Lack of self-esteem therefore becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the only way to break the cycle is to gain enough confidence to try, and to keep that confidence even if you fail. (In fact, that's a great skill to have throughout one's life.) So ensuring that your students have enough confidence and self-esteem to keep trying is one of the most vital duties an educator has.

In his defense, he may have intended just to repudiate the idea that multiple people can win and emphasize that effort is rewarded. But it's still phrased in such a way that makes it sound like he doesn't care about self-esteem.

Point six is simply irritating in multiple different ways. It's kind of amusing that he says he's going to reject politics and then goes into a discussion of issues that is a straight run down the Republican party platform. Any Democrat, of course, would tell you that allowing the school not to cover those issues would be worrying about propaganda rather than science. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Memories of Unity

As we remember the events on this day 15 years ago, one memory that often rises up is the sense of unity we felt as we dealt with a horrible tragedy.

Unfortunately, the contrast that memory presents with more recent events is one of the reasons why it comes up so often.

Of course, the next point that often comes up involves blaming one side or the other for the increase in polarization. Even if such arguments are true, correctly blaming people for what they've done wrong isn't going to foster unity.

Even as we disagree, we need to learn how to acknowledge why our opponents believe what they do, what they do right, and where we agree. Even if we don't agree in anything other than wanting the United States to be the best country it can possibly be, that's still better than nothing.

It's not going to make us always agree. It's not going to make the issues we argue about any less important; sometimes trying to work on unity is going to have to get in line behind advocating for people's rights and freedoms. And one side or the other can destroy the whole effort unilaterally; both sides have to agree that it's worth it and put in the work to make it happen.

If we can do it, though, I think we can look forward to a better country.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Once more

All right, let's see if I can actually maintain a steady series of posts here after... what, a year and a half of nothing?

I'll try to post something every Saturday evening. Starting today.