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Accountability: The Missing Ingredient
12/4/2014 11:46 AM
Over the last few weeks, the public has been subjected to an array of Grand Juries deciding not to indict cops accused of homicide. Keep in mind that we aren't talking about the verdicts of trials here. We are talking about indictments. An indictment is given when a Grand Jury decides that there is enough evidence present to actually have a trial. The prosecutors typically select their strongest evidence and present it to the Grand Jury in an effort to get an indictment. Because of the way this system works it is incredibly rare for prosecutors to fail to get an indictment. It doesn't take much evidence to make it worth having an actual trial. Not only that, but since the prosecutor has full discretion over what information gets presented to the Grand Jury, non-indictments are incredibly rare.

Of course if you are trying to indict a police officer, all of that gets thrown right out of the window. It presents several problems the largest of which is the fact that the prosecutors office has to work with the local police department on a daily basis. Indicting one of their officers in a situation where the entire department is towing the "official" line almost certainly guarantees that working together on a daily basis will become that much more difficult. Police Departments are notorious for their solidarity in situations like this.

But we aren't just talking about Darren Wilson. Let's talk about this guy. Eric Garner was standing on a street corner, broke up a fight and was choked to death for his trouble. The NYPD denied that the officer used a banned choke hold. Despite the fact that there was a video proving otherwise, yesterday a jury decided not to indict the officer in question. In the cases of both of these incidents, the officers being accused of the homicide were allowed to testify as part of the Grand Jury proceedings in their own defense. Frankly, this is unheard of as the point of an indictment is for the prosecutor to present their best evidence to a Grand Jury and for the Grand Jury to decide whether or not the evidence is strong enough to merit having a trial. People don't get to testify in their own defense at indictments... unless they are cops.

Then we have the case of Tamir Rice. In this case a 12 year old kid walks around waving around a fake gun and somebody calls 911. The police roll up and immediately shoot him dead. Before the video came out, the police claimed that they gave the kid three chances to drop his gun and that he refused to comply. However in the video you can clearly see that the kid is shot dead 1.5 to 2.0 seconds after the police cruiser comes to a stop. There were no commands, just a trigger happy cop. In the video available at the link the Cleveland Police Chief is quoted as saying, "I have to stand behind them until I see something different". How in the fuck does this video footage not constitute that breaking point?

Believe it or not though, this post isn't actually about the police and my complete and utter lack of respect for them as an organization. No rather it's about how all of this fits into the bigger picture. The real issue here is that our society is unwilling to hold anybody in a position of power accountable for their actions. For instance, former members of the Bush Administration feel that George W. Bush committed war crimes during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. We've heard these allegations over and over again, yet we refuse to delve into them. Why? That's probably got something to do with the fact that the succeeding administration, the Obama Administration, has largely continued to use the same tactics. They much like the Bush Administration before them use drones to kill unarmed civilians, illegally spy on American citizens and wage illegal wars of attrition overseas at their leisure.

Yet we haven't made any moves to hold either of these Administrations accountable for their crimes. But is it any surprise? We can't even hold a local police officer accountable for their actions, much less a head of state and his entourage of fools. This isn't about the poisonous political climate in this country that has made politics no better than just yet another sporting event where two sides of rabid and drooling fans spew nonsensical hatred in either direction. This is about the saga of the great Financial Crisis and how years of provable and obvious fraud have been swept under the rug. This is about crooked CEOs who lie while under oath to Congress and are allowed to walk free.

People are dying as a result of our culture of un-accountability. If that's not enough for you, consider this: I posit that it is impossible for any form of representative government to survive without accountability. If politicians aren't accountable to their constituents then what motivates them? If the financial gatekeepers/Wall Street CEOs aren't accountable for the long term financial health of the system they operate as part of then what motivates them? Likewise, if police officers aren't accountable to the public they are charged with protecting then what motivates them?

Think about it and for crying out loud: Hold these people accountable. Because if not now, when?
The Anatomy of an Epic Fail
10/22/2014 11:02 AM
I just finished reading an article detailing an idea for modernizing the US Postal System and I have some thoughts that I'd like to share. Before I begin, I'd like to take a moment to explain why the following critique is so important to me. The long and short of it is that as a software developer, my career essentially consists of solving problems. Software is just the tool I tend to rely upon for getting the job done. Throughout the course of my career I've run into many people who were terrible problem solvers and the people who birthed the idea I'm about to shred exhibit all of the qualifications necessary to join that particular group.

The basic premise of the idea is that sending snail mail is too hard. That's right, you heard me: too hard. You need an address and postage stamps and that's essentially too much to ask. In an effort to solve this problem the hipsters in question have created a system called Signet that requires the following:

(1) Every user must have a "device that uses a laser to etch it with your name and a unique identifying pattern", the result of which will act as the stamp.

(2) The delivery organization must create and maintain an extensive database of all available recipients that can be used for delivery so that the sender doesn't need to know the address of the receiver.

(3) A ubiquitous app that can facilitate real time communication between the delivery service, the sender and the receiver.

So what are the gains here? Well instead of needing a stamp and an address, now all I would require is the device that etches my signet. Okay so no more last minute trips to the grocery store or post office to pick up stamps. That's nice I suppose. Apparently I don't need to know the recipient's address either. On the surface that appears quite convenient.

The only problem is that it is not. Names are not unique. Addresses on the other hand are. Much like an email address, a street address allows us to essentially pinpoint the destination for a parcel with very little information. This system is amazingly effective when it comes right down to it. By forcing delivery to rely upon knowing the recipients name, you create a number of new problems that the new system appears to completely ignore:

(a) The app allows the user to designate the recipient after the delivery organization receives the parcel. This is convenient for the user but increases the burden on the delivery organization. It also increases the possibility of a parcel being delivered to the wrong person. If I have a friend named John Smith, how easy is it going to be for me to use an application on my phone to decide which John Smith should be receiving my parcel? Oh if this particular John Smith is on my contacts list, the problem is solved. But what if he's not? What if I run an online store front and I need to deliver a purchase to a customer? How do I identify the correct John Smith? Now this may sound like nit-picking but this portion of the idea represents its greatest failure because it's ignoring the reality of implementation. Not only does the delivery organization have to maintain a comprehensive list of recipients, but it also has to effectively make that information available to any patron of their services. Consider the consequences of that for just a minute. There are a lot of people that I would like to keep my address from and this system would by it's very nature reveal that address to anybody who wants the information. That's hardly an improvement over the current system.

(b) The app allows the process of delivery to begin without all of the required information being made available. Yes this makes it more convenient for the absent minded among us who cannot be bothered to look up somebody's address and write it on the envelope, but it creates a new and very real problem for the delivery organization. What are they going to do with all of these parcels that are missing pertinent information? Do you have any idea how many parcels an organization like the US Postal Services handles each and every day? This portion of the new process creates a massive new problem in the form of local Post Offices requiring temporary, secure and easily accessible forms of storage in order to compensate for their customers inability (now apparently a requirement) to provide all of the required information up front.

(c) The app requires that anybody wishing to send out a parcel use a special device that can etch their unique signet into an envelope. Call me crazy, but that device sounds like it's going to be expensive. On top of which, it sounds like allowing users to incorporate their own customization into the signet will serve as a breeding ground for other problems. For starters, where do I customize my signet? Presumably within the aforementioned app. How does that information end up in my etching device? Presumably it can sync with the delivery organizations online system somehow. Does that mean my etching device plugs into a computer/phone? Can it connect to a wireless network for this? Just how complex is this particular device?

The bottom line here is that while this idea sounds wonderful from a technology standpoint, it doesn't actually improve the existing process at all. For all the flak they take, the US Postal Service is actually exceedingly efficient when it comes right down to it. This process would only serve to lower that level of efficiency and raise the prices of their service all for the sole purpose of allowing the lazy to procrastinate and wait until the last possible moment to decide who they want to send a particular parcel to.

Is that really an improvement? I think not.
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