Sunday, December 31, 2017

Whoops, Wrong Number!

When you or I make a mistake at work, the worst that can happen is we get fired.   When the Police make a mistake at work, people can get killed - sometimes Police officers, sometimes innocent bystanders.   It is a tough job, considering the pay involved.

Mark and I first lived together in Hunting Towers in a one-bedroom apartment.  I moved in with him after we've been dating for only a few weeks, which in retrospect seems kind of premature.  Both of us were paying at least $700 a month for apartments, and it seemed like a much better solution economically.  And yes most relationships have a foundation in economics as well is what we call "Love" or the emotional factor.  I'm very fortunate to have both.

Mark had two cats and I had one cat, so there was two of us with three cats living in there like a couple of lesbians.  But we were happy and content and we stayed there until the end of the lease and which point we looked for someplace else to live and couldn't find anything better.  So we ended up renting a two-bedroom apartment with the balcony overlooking the Potomac for the whopping sum of $900 a month - including utilities and two underground parking spaces.  In retrospect it was a pretty nice place to live.  One of the buildings has been torn down to make room for the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge (above).  Two buildings still stand, and it still remains a pretty inexpensive place to live in Old Town, Alexandria.

But back then it was a little more sketchy.  There were a lot of little old ladies living there by themselves, often falling down and breaking their hips and dying slowly alone in their apartments which was a real tragedy.  And there were a lot of young people and other sorts of sketchy individuals, particularly the further East you got in the buildings.  There was a hierarchy of class in the buildings.  The West building was the cream of the crop, being the furthest from the Wilson bridge. The Center building, was OK, but the East building was, well, downscale.   The first apartment we had was in the center building, and we "moved on up" to the West side.

While we were in the first, one-bedroom apartment, across the hall from us was young couple who fought constantly.  We never saw them, other than perhaps glimpses as we passed in the hallway.  It's an ironic thing about living in a high-rise apartment - you actually have more privacy than you do living in the suburbs or in the country.  As I noted another posting, when we lived in rural Upstate New York, our neighbors would ask us who was visiting yesterday, as they saw somebody else's car in our driveway and even wrote down the license number.  If you want have privacy, the country is not a place to do it.

Anyway, one night the police pounded on our door while we were sound asleep.  Mark got up and went to the door and the police said they had to call about domestic violence.  We were very puzzled by this, as we were sound asleep and snoring - and we don't really snore that loudly.  The policeman insisted that I get out of bed and come to the door and wanted to know if I had been beaten by Mark. It was pretty hilarious, as I was wearing his bathrobe which is about five sizes too small for me.  I'm sure the policeman probably shook their heads and said "couple of fags having some sort of screaming argument."  And then they left.

It wasn't until they left that we realized they probably were looking for the couple across the hall who were always having a knock-down drag-out and knocking over furniture and hollering at the top of their lungs.  We were so used to it we didn't even hear it.  Another neighbor must have heard the argument and called the police and didn't realize they gave the police the wrong apartment number. So they came knocking on our door, instead of the door across the hall where the real dispute was.

We were fortunate that there were no repercussions from this error.  However recently a young man was shot and killed as a result of the police making a mistake as to whether there was a hostage situation going on in the house.  As you no doubt have read in the news, young gamers online get mad at each other and then "swat" each other by calling the police and telling them there is a hostage situation going on at the opponent gamer's house.  The police show up, sirens blaring, with their SWAT gear and flak jackets and burst through the door and put everybody in handcuffs.

And this is why sitting around your mother's basement playing video games is a really bad, bad thing. People like to say video games are harmless, but they can be very addictive, and many people spend hours and hours every day playing video games.  And no, I don't spend hours and hours every day watching television.  Compulsive-Addictive behavior is never healthy, especially with that leads to people being killed.

As it turns out, one of the gamers, gave a false address to a completely innocent party in Kansas.  The police got the phone call and rushed off to the house, thinking there was a hostage situation, without bothering to do something as simple as calling the phone number listed for that house and perhaps asking them what was going on or at least telling them they were coming. Or they could have called the spoofed caller-ID number and realized it was a prank.  (By the way, remind me again why we allow a phone system to exist where caller-ID is so easy to spoof).  They jumped to conclusions and ended up killing someone who is completely innocent and are uninvolved in the entire process.

The police claimed they were just doing their job and that the real villain here was the gamer who gave out the wrong address.  While I don't disagree with the latter part of that statement - the gamer should be arrested and charged - the police have a greater obligation to check things out before they jump to conclusions.  And given that this "swatting" has become a "thing" - the police should have procedures in place to make sure that they are not being used as part of some online gamer's revenge.  Like I said it could be something as simple as a phone call.

The sad part about this story is that the gamer apparently has been arrested, but what can they charge him with?  The most they can charge him with, as far as I know, is filing a false police report which in many States is merely a misdemeanor.  Even the most serious penalty for this might amount to a few months or maybe a year of jail time.  And somebody has died as a result.

So who is to blame for this?  Is it the police? Gamers?  The particular gamer in question?  Or is it been the gradual militarization of our police which has resulted from the increase number of guns and assault-style rifles which have flooded the streets?  Or maybe our casual level of violence which we've grown to accept?   It is troubling that today, the Police accept that a "hostage situation" is a normal thing and have a response team in place - and no one bothers to ask why someone in a comfy suburb in Kansas would be taking hostages at all.   We just assume it is true, because similar gruesome things have happened.

The FBI says that crime rates are at an all-time low, and that in New York, the crime rate is as low as has been in since the 1950s.  But I wonder if that's because we've come become accustomed to a certain level of violence and mayhem in our society.

In another item in the news, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's son, "Track" Palin was arrested for breaking into his parents' house and attempting, apparently, to  steal a pickup truck.  He beat up his father, Todd, and was put in jail.  Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Track has run into trouble with the law.  Last year, he assaulted his girlfriend and was charged with domestic violence. His mother excuses the entire thing claiming that he was having PTSD.

In an interesting Republican twist, Ms. Palin claims that the PTSD is not a result of serving in Iraq, but as result of the disrespect he has received or potentially will receive from American citizens upon his return from the war.  In other words, she is invoking the "Spitting on Veterans" defense which was raised many years after the Vietnam War ended.

If you talk to any Vietnam veteran today, they will all tell you, without exception, that they were spit upon when they returned from Vietnam.  When you ask more pointed questions, they may admit that they were not personally spit upon but they heard about somebody else being spit upon.  Apparently it was a lot of spitting going on.  The reality is that, yes, there were some hippies who were stupid enough to hold up signs and blame the troops for their actions in Vietnam instead of blaming the powers-that-be that sent them.  And such actions are abhorrent and should be condemned roundly.

But they should not be turned into an urban legend, where every veteran was systematically spit upon upon their return.  Because that just didn't happen.  And why do I know this?  Because I was alive when veterans returned from that war, and we would have heard about it if it did.  Imagine an assembly line of spitters waiting at the airport for the thousands and thousands of GI's returning from Vietnam.  It's just a ridiculous proposition - the logistics of this spit-fest would be staggering.  And hippies are not very good at logistics - look at Woodstock.

I am not saying it never happened, only that over time, the "Mandela effect" has kicked in, and suddenly, hundreds of thousands of veterans "remember" being spit upon - far more that could have possibly be spat at.

But not only that, the narrative is just wrong.  Many of the war protesters of that era realized that the veterans were not to blame for the war, but the generals and politicians who sent them were.  And in fact, many veterans, such as John Kerry, were active in anti-war protests, because they knew firsthand the futility of the Vietnam War.  Did John Kerry have to spit on himself?  Oh, wait, I just started another urban legend.

And yes, we probably could have "won" the Vietnam War if we carpet-bombed Hanoi and committed other atrocities.  But in the long run we would have turned out to be the bad guys and it would have backfired on us in a big way.  Ironically today, Vietnam has cozied up to the United States as they need someone on their side because they have a very powerful neighbor to the North.  And from what I understand, people returning to Vietnam are often treated very warmly even though we bombed the hell out of them and killed a number of their civilian population.  The depth of human forgiveness is unfathomable.

But getting back to Track Palin, apparently his real issue is his love for alcohol and opiates.  Ms. Palin, while calling the police said he was "on some sort of medication" which made me chuckle, because of course Republicans don't do drugs, they just do medication.  As long as it's prescribed by a doctor it's not a drug - right?

I don't know why the two items might be related - or I guess the three items - other than that when the police showed up at Track's parent's residence, they didn't come in with guns blazing. They took away Track and put him in jail where apparently he still sitting awaiting trial.

You know, I wonder if this isn't all the consequence of giving your kid a goofy name like "Track."  Perhaps it was a family name.  Or they were naming their kids after snow-machine parts.  I dunno.  Good thing McCain lost, I guess.  We don't need that sort of trailer trash in the White House.  Oh, wait...

Why couldn't the police use a similar amount of restraint as they did with Track as they did during the incident in Kansas?  In Track's previous incident with the law, he was apparently waving an AR-15 about, and no one gunned him down then.

I've learned a valuable lesson from this - when the police come to the door, you shouldn't go rushing out there to greet them.  In fact, I'm not exactly sure how to handle such a situation without getting shot, other than to wait for the smoke grenades to come crashing through the window.

Such is life in the United States in 2017.