An ugly job, but it’s a living


She Lied?

So, I’ve been working my way through the Supremes’ most recent 2nd Amendment case, McDonald vs. City of Chicago, and I find Sonia Sotomayor was on the losing team.  No big thing, I think we all know she was going to be to the left, and her votes would follow.  But the interesting part is that she joined, with Ginsberg, in Breyer’s dissent.  The dissent that says, the court got Heller wrong, and now that,

“In sum, the Framers did not write the Second Amendment in order to protect a private right of armed self defense.”

Wait a second.  Is this the same Sonia Sotomayor who swore to the Senate that Heller was valid law, settled law?

I’m still working on McDonald, but it seems to be quite similar to Heller in one important respect.  It opens the door for all kinds of new cases as to what restrictions can be put on gun ownership under the 2nd Amendment.  Fat Tony really left the back door wide open in some respects when he wrote Heller.

So, does anyone believe Elena Kagan is a friend of the 2nd Amendment?

Does your watch say it’s time to go to jail?

(Saved from the old blog – this was posted July 25, 2004 with the above title.)

At 4:30 Saturday morning I was knee deep in one of my collateral duties. It was one and a half hours into the operational phase, and we were in the process of arresting 75 drunks, drug dealers, prostitutes and other miscellaneous criminals at a Salvadoran bar. The street was full of police cars, as was the parking lot, in addition to a bus with “Some City Police” emblazoned across the sides. There were half a dozen cops in the parking lot and more coming from the club with handcuffed prisoners for the bus ride to jail.

Through the middle of this came Mr. Genius strolling down the sidewalk heading straight to the club. Six foot 2, and most definitely not a Salvadoran. I was talking with a couple of officers who their had their backs turned to him, but they saw the curious look on my face and turned around to see the dude.  Mr. Genius was called over and asked where he was going.

”In the club, man”

I was incredulous. Pointing to all of the police, police cars and the bus full of people going to jail, I asked him if he thought that his course was really all that wise.

“Man, I ain’t worried about that cause I’m not no criminal. I’m a good person.”


“No, you’re not. It’s 4:30 in the morning and the only people on the street at this time are paperboys, criminals and cops.  I don’t see any newspapers or a badge.

His criminal record and the judge who had signed a warrant for his arrest seemed to agree with me.

I would have liked to have seen the puzzled looks on the faces of the jail booking officers, who were expecting  the big load of prisoners that Vice was bringing in from a raid on an Hispanic club, only to see 75 Salvadorans got off the bus with Mr. Genius standing in the middle of them.

Exposing yourself

Get your mind out of the gutter please, we’re talking about cops who blog and the risks they assume when they do.  Or in this case, when they post on Facebook and somebody doesn’t like what they see.

Deyna Carabajal is a police officer in Houston and she’s riding a desk rather than working the streets while IAD investigates her work-related Facebook postings.   Another Facebook user complained that Carabajal’s page contained postings that were inappropriate.  Apparently she doesn’t like Hondurans, or more accurately she doesn’t like Hondurans who are illegal immigrants and otherwise find ways to break the law.

The postings on Facebook were discovered by a Honduran woman who was connected as a “friend” with the officer on the popular social networking site, allowing her to read the officer’s posts on the World Wide Web.”At first, they were offensive to me and I just thought she wasn’t doing her job,” said the woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.”I just feel uncomfortable and, to be honest, she’s in law enforcement and they should protect and guide us to the right path,” said the woman, who has never met the officer in person.

Numerous postings by Officer Deyna Carabajal, 32, spelled out her dislike for Hondurans, including numerous posts where she suggested she would arrest them for various reasons.”Zero tolerance 4 yall today,” she wrote in one of her posts. “Y’all look at me wrong at all today — y’all riding,” she wrote. “Riding” is police lingo for taking a trip to jail.

I’ve seen this before too many times, and I’ve discussed it in detail before: Staying Low And I’ve outlined my research on the legal issues as well as laying out my rules for cops who want to blog and stay out of trouble: Freedom of Speech and Internet Publishing for Da Pohleece. If you don’t want to read all of that – what you need to know is, don’t post work stuff where the general public can see it. Yes, you do have 1st Amendment rights like everyone else, but when it comes to publishing work related information your rights get limited. And, if you are going to post work stuff on the internet, you have to balance the public’s interest to be informed against your agency’s interest to run without being embarrassed by its employees.

If you’re wondering if Officer Carabajal is going to get zapped – the answer is almost certainly that she will.  If she’s lucky she gets to keep her job, but at the very least she’s going to get some form of discipline.

The first problem is that she publicly said that there is a nationality, Hondurans, that get no slack from her.  That is the sort of thing that makes police administrators’ jaws start clenching.

Chief McClelland said, “This is not the first time an individual, if that’s true …what you’re saying, have been disciplined for this type of behavior. It happens from time to time and we certainly have policies on the books to deal with that.”

That’s chief-speak for, “I already know what policy violations we’re going to cite her for”.

And to be fair you have to concede the man’s point here. While real cops are rolling around in the street wrestling crooks, guys like the chief spend their days talking with politicians and their uglier cousins, “community activists”. (I’ve played the police game both of those ways and I would rather ‘rassle a thief than swim in the shit with a politician any day of the week – the street cooks are more honest.) But chiefs of police have to listen to shit from the politicians, and they listen to the community activists. Plus, for every drunk, law-breaking Honduran that Officer Carabajal ever met, the chief has met Hondurans who are titled “Professor”, “Doctor”, or “His Excellency the Ambassador of Honduras”. When one of his officers publishes something that says all Hondurans are all crazy and have no regard for the law, it makes the chief’s life considerably less pleasant when dealing with Hondurans who aren’t crooks.

The other issue is a more practical one.  She has damaged her professional credibility.  Every criminal defense attorney in town will have this story in hand if they ever find themselves working a case in which Officer Carabajal is a witness.  The shysters love to twist things, but it just makes sense to attack the credibility of a witness who leaves themselves exposed like this.  If the defendant is a Honduran then the defense attorney is going to smell blood in the water.  And it won’t be limited to Hondurans, a good attorney will just throw this thing out there to see what damage he/she can do.   “Well, we know you hate Hondurans and discriminate against them.  How do we know what hatreds you harbor towards Pakistanis like my client?   The practical problem here is pretty easy to see – what good is a cop who can’t testify on the stand and be believed?

Watch your asses folks.

Original KPRC story here


1stSgt Humphrey

1stSgt Humphrey

Readers of the old blog may remember when Jack and I rode off toward New Orleans in September 2005 to help out during Katrina. It was an interesting time, worth a couple of lengthy posts, but mostly anti-climactic. But there was a moment on the last shift we worked when I thought I was about to get my ticket punched.  In a traffic accident of all things.

It was an in-progress call on the other side of the Mississippi and we were running hot across the bridge at the same time an Army convoy was crossing.   The guy I was riding with was a good cop, but I had only known him for a few days and I didn’t know how much about him – like how good a driver he might be.

At about 110 MPH we topped the crest of the bridge and started picking up speed as we came down toward the T-intersection – where the convoy was blocking us as its trucks were turning left in front of us.  And my partner was not slacking off on the accelerator as I tried to come to an understanding of exactly how he was going to maneuver through the clot of trucks blocking the intersection while maintaining Warp 9.

We made it, obviously, but I had a moment in which I thought “this dude is going to get us killed”.  Which was followed immediately by the thought, “How is my family going to deal with this?”  And, finally, “How long before they know what’s happened to me, and how are they going to get my body back home to bury it?”    (I think I also asked myself, “Hey, is that the 82nd Airborne?”)

I guess it is that “been there done that” feeling that made the story of 1stSgt George H. Humphrey’s homecoming particularly poignant for me.

1stSgt Humphrey died thousands of miles from home and family, and his body lay in an unmarked battlefield grave for almost 92 years.  But two days ago his family was able to lay him to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

It’s a good story.

0300 – 12 September 1918 South of Thiacourt, France:

The 6th Marines moved into old trenches as they prepared to step off after the artillery barrage.  The war was years old, but it was almost over.  The armistice would be signed in a matter of weeks and by 17 November the 6th Marines would be marching on the Rhine River to occupy Germany.  But at 0500, as the artillery barrage rolled forward, the 6th Marines moved forward into battle once again.

This was the Old Corps, the stuff that Marine legends are made of.  The 6th Marines was commanded by LtCol Albertus Catlin – on board the Maine when it sank in Havana Harbor, awarded the Medal of Honor for the expedition at Veracruz.  Among the 6th Marines was Capt Clifton B. Yates, one of the few officers of any service who would command a platoon, a company, a battalion, a regiment and a division under fire, he went on to become the 19th Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Yates is well remembered by Marines for his situation report during the battle of Belleau Wood two months earlier:

I have only two men out of my company and 20 out of some other company.  We need support, but it is almost suicide to try and get here as we are swept by machine gun fire and a constant barrage is on us.  I have no one on my left side and only a few on my right.  I will hold.

Compared to the battle of Belleau Wood the previous June, where in one day in those bloody wheat fields the Marine Brigade suffered 1,056 casualties (more than the Marine Corps had lost in its 143 years of existent up to that point), the fighting at Thiacourt (Battle of St. Mihiel) was relatively light.  Still, of the 2883 men of the 6th Marines who entered the battle on 12 September, there were 706 casualties (more than 100 would be KIA).  Most of the casualties for the 6th came on 15 September as they held their position on the line of resistance somewhere between Thiacourt-Regnieville and St. Mihiel.

Originally reported among the dead was 29-year-old 1stSgt George H. Humphrey.  Under fire from enemy machine guns, Humphrey fell from rounds that pierced his helmet.  His troops were unable to evacuate the body and were forced to bury it in the field. After the war, fellow Marine Frank A. Cleland of California, wrote to George’s brother Oliver.  After the battle, attempts were made to try and find where they had buried 1stSgt Humphrey, but they were not successful and his status was changed from KIA to MIA.

I know my parents would be equally as anxious as you are if the circumstances were reversed.  During the day, we buried your brother on the crest of that hill about 150 yards from that trail.  Whatever personal effects your brother had were buried with him as they were shelling the hill all the time and we didn’t have time to search him, and there was no one to send them in with anyway.

For more than nine decades the grave of George Humphrey was unknown.  On visits to Arlington National Cemetery his family would speculate if cousin George was there, in the Tomb of the Unknowns.  But 1stSgt Humphrey lay in a forest in the hills of Northern France in an unmarked grave waiting to be brought home.

He lay there until last October, when some French relic hunters with a metal detector began to dig in a forest near Rembercourt-sur-Mad.  What they found was the body of 1stSgt Humphrey, still wearing his boots and bullet-riddled helmet. His uniform appears to have disintegrated, but some more durable items survived such as his canteen, razor, toothbrush, fountain pen, a pipe and a marksman badge with “GH Humphrey” engraved on its back.   The Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) was able to positively identify the remains this past March using dental records.

This last Wednesday, on a sunny Summer day in Northern Virginia, 1stSgt George H. Humphrey was laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery. His family was able to attend and received the American Flag from BrigGen Walter Miller.

Humphrey’s cousin, 90-year-old retired farmer John Humphrey was quoted as saying “You’d think after 92 years he’d never be found. It tells people don’t give up. There’s always hope for families.”

There are hallmarks, values and traditions that differentiate Marines from anyone else. From the first day of Boot Camp all recruits learn that every Marine is a rifleman, and throughout his/her career, whether it is as a clerk, aircraft mechanic, or computer programmer, there lives inside that Marine a trigger-pulling grunt. It is a great strength in the Marine Corps, this spirit of oneness, this brotherhood.   As Army Colonel Daniel Bolger wrote in his 2009 DEATH GROUND: TODAY’S AMERICAN INFANTRY IN BATTLE:

The entire Corps, all 170,000 or so on the active rolls, plus the reserves, are all infantry.  All speak the language of the rifle and bayonet, of muddy boots and long, hot marches. It’s never us and them, only us. That is the secret of the Corps.  It explains why Marine commanders routinely, even casually, combine widely disparate kinds of capabilities into small units…. Marines send junior officers and NCOs out from their line rifle companies and expect results. They get them, too.

Among the traditions that make us Marines is our sacred vow to never leave our dead and wounded behind to the enemy.  Gunnery Sergeant William J. Dixon, who oversees official funerals at the Marine Barracks Washington, DC., said it very well when referring to the funeral arrangements for 1stSgt Humphrey:

There is no greater honor to me than to direct this funeral in honor of such a fallen warrior who laid down his life in defense of the world.   His remains were lost to time, but only for a moment to the Marines.

Colonel Bolger’s assessment of the Marine Corps and Marines does get to the heart of what makes us different.   But in in his last sentence, GySgt Dixon illuminates how it is all possible.  We are not just brothers while we are under arms together, we are Marines for life, and that connects us in an unbroken chain of faithful brotherhood to every Marine who ever served in nearly 235 years.  And it is what will connect us to every future Marine in the years to come.  In that shared sense of honor, values and purpose we are strong.

1stSgt Humphrey had to wait a while, but his brothers in arms brought him home, laid him to rest with honor, and made sure his family knew what happened to him.  No future Marine can expect any less from the brotherhood.

Trust, but verify

That was a Ronald Reagan signature line, from the Russian proverb (“doveryai, no proveryai”). I found it interesting to learn that Reagan learned how to say it in Russian so he could repeat it to Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the old Evil Empire, whenever they met. That amused Gorby to no end.

“You repeat this phrase every time we meet.”

It reminds me of something I heard a small businessman say about the keys to success for sole proprietors. At the end of a short list of things to do, he emphasized his final point, “…and keep your eye on the register!” The way he said it, and the fact that this is the only part of his message I remember, seems to emphasize that everything before that final bit was not that important if you did not keep an eye on the money.

The message he wanted us to hear was, “…nobody will safeguard your economic interests as well as you.

One employee with his hands in the till can rob a business blind. And, if that employee runs the books as well, it can go way beyond theft and take one to financial ruin and serious legal issues.

I remember a case involving a very successful family run business that hired a comptroller that they came to trust too much. There was a production manager who ran one side of the business and the comptroller handled all the money issues. The family, survivors of the founder of the business, let these two men run everything and just collected their profits in the form of regular checks.

Their world went to shit one morning when they got a call from the office saying that there was something strange going on. The Internal Revenue Service wanted to know why the company had not paid payroll taxes in years, and why they had ignored their repeated written demands for payment and an explanation.

The business manager was responsible for making those payments, and he also was the only employee trusted with a key to the company’s post office box – the same box where the IRS had been mailing their demands.

I can’t remember how much the guy actually stole from the company, but when you added in what the IRS said was owed, and all of the fines and interest charges, the company found itself more than $5 million in the hole.

One guy, working alone, brought a company to financial ruin. He was not the first, nor will he be the last. And, apparently, when it comes to the record for the dollar amount stolen, he is not even on the list of “also rans“.

French prosecutors on Sunday ordered trader Jerome Kerviel to be held in police custody for another 24 hours as a probe continued into multi-billion-dollar losses at the Societe Generale bank.

Kerviel, 31, turned himself in to police on Saturday, two days after Societe Generale — one of Europe’s biggest banks — revealed it had lost a staggering 4.9 billion euros (7.15 billion dollars) at the hands of a rogue trader.

Say that number out loud and then try to see that much cash piled up in one place. Here’s a visual aid to help you, click to get a good view of a million dollars in twenty dollar bills.


Imagine a stack one thousand times as large and that’s a billion. It takes a little work to wrap your mind around that picture, doesn’t it?

Now, imagine a stack 7,150 times as large as the one in the picture. Then imagine Jerome Kerviel with a can of gasoline and a book of matches.


The 7.15 billion figure is just what Jerome lost. According to the most recent reports, he had $73 billion in real money on the line when he got caught.

Le Societe General claims that Jerome was some kind of mad computer genius who was able to hack through three levels of security to pull this off, all by his lonesome. Through his lawyer Jerome is claiming that Le Societe is blaming him in order to cover up losses that the bank took without his help. There are more shoes to drop before this story is done.

As you consider the case of Jerome Kerviel baisez le chien*, you might want to wonder, “what happened to all that money?” Jerome was playing with real money – who foots the bill? Do you think le Societe General just writes a check to cover Jerome’s fuck up?

More importantly, what happened to the $73 billion in trades that Jerome had on the felt when somebody at Le Societe unraveled what was going on? What role did the unwinding of those trades have on the hundreds of billions that disappeared from the markets last week?

There is more to this story.

You have to wonder how someone like Kerviel was able to make all of these moves without someone stopping him, or at least catching him before he had a king’s ransom laid out on the craps table of the hedge fund world.  He was in a position where his job was to make investment decisions based on his analysis and read of the markets, but there has to be some administrative oversight  Trust is important, but somebody should have been verifying the transactions in Kerviel’s accounts.

* screwing the pooch

Sheep get sheered; Pigs get fat; Hogs get slaughtered


Confidence games rely on one important factor – the greed of the “victim”. The Jamaican Switch, Pigeon Drop, Pyramid Schemes, Nigerian Email Scams, etc., all rely on a willing and greedy idiot who believes that he is getting something for nothing. Among my favorites: The “white van guys” who con marks into buying crappy stereo speakers by claiming that they are delivery men who find themselves with too many speakers due to a warehouse error; or the “warehouse” worker who is selling a brand new television – still in the box – that he lifted out of the warehouse.

Someone’s misfortune could mean a heck of a bargain for you, until you plug in the speakers to hear static or open the box and find some heavy junk and no TV.

When I was a detective and someone called to report being “victimized” by one of the something for nothing schemes, I refused to take a report.

Let me see if I understand this correctly. You thought you were buying stolen merchandise so you didn’t check it out too closely. And now that you’ve discovered that you were ripped off by a smarter crook, you want the police to get involved and look out for your interests? I think the better question here is why shouldn’t I arrest you for attempted theft by receiving.

Hello, are you still there?

So, the US stock markets just opened and all the indexes, and almost all of the stocks, are deep in the red. The Asian and European markets got the hell slugged out of them yesterday and earlier today, and the Fed just announced a 75 basis-point (.75%) cut in the fed funds rate. Billions of dollars in unrealized capital gains have evaporated, and it’s shaping up to be one of those days when either you cowboy up or you run for the hills. This is where the suckers get cleaned out and even the steel nerved veterans find themselves hanging on with white knuckles.

The stock markets are not a scam in themselves, but there are flim-flam men selling cons by the dozen. People get in the market because they want to make a profit, and there are always predators there who will try and take advantage of anyone whose desire for profit outweighs their common sense. What we’re experiencing now is the fallout from the latest con game played in the markets.

The subprime mortgage mess is just the aftermath of a scam in which someone created a new investment vehicle and announced that “this time is different and the old rules don’t apply.” Yeah, right. Everybody saw money to be made and they jumped in the water without checking for the sharks. And they were all lying to each other, and themselves.

As defaults and foreclosures rise, the various players in the housing market are all pointing fingers at each other. State prosecutors like Andrew Cuomo, the attorney general of New York, are investigating whether investment banks that packaged mortgages into securities disclosed the risks to investors and credit-rating agencies. Investment banks, in turn, are accusing lenders and mortgage brokers of shoddy business practices.”What strikes me here is that this a tainted system from A to Z,” said Tamar Frankel, a law professor at Boston University. “Everybody blames everybody else. If you look at what is being said, there isn’t one who doesn’t blame another and there is half-truth in everything.”

Anybody who didn’t see this one coming is an idiot because they didn’t understand what they were investing in. There is a reason why some people are identified as being poor credit risks – loaning them money is a risky proposition. Creating a whole industry to extend billions of dollars of credit to such people might not be a bad idea, provided that everyone involved understands the degree of risk, and that there is adequate compensation for that risk. Even then, a wise investor finds a way to hedge the bet.

Greedy people ignored common sense and extended that credit and then passed the risk on to someone else – after they took as much as 20% of the loan value in “origination fees”. Some genius came up with the idea of bundling these risky mortgages together as a kind of bond and they were sold to investors all over the world – with some nice fees and commissions attached. It didn’t hurt the sales of those bundled mortgages that credit rating and insurance companies stamped AAA ratings on paper of questionable value – after they got their commissions. And the final greedy suckers to line up were all the fools that are now stuck holding this garbage – all of whom were willing to believe that the so called “collateralized debt obligations” and “structured investment vehicles” were really sound investments – and “Oh, look at the interest rate we’re getting!”

Once again, we are learning that anybody who says “this time is different” is a lying thief or a moron. We are also learning that the new global economy and markets are not quite as decoupled from the US markets as everyone wanted to believe. Yes Virginia, when the US sneezes the rest of the world really does catch a cold.

And now, an hour after the market open, the indices have recovered a lot of ground – but the real test will be where everyone is when the market closes at the end of the trading day.

Look what I found on the door of the refrigerator

The Blond Chick has a rare “Why yes, it is all about me” moment.


Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!


One day, while I was in the police academy, we had to attend a speech by the Comandante del Policia of Mexico City. He was in town on some official visit and part of the giant dog and pony show was his speech to the cadets. He spoke about law enforcement being an honorable form of service.

A year later he was in prison after they discovered that he was one of the biggest crooks in Mexico.

It is a recurring theme:

McALLEN, Texas — A former Mexican police commander accused of playing an active role in guiding drug shipments served as a tax collector for the Gulf cartel, a witness testified Thursday in a federal drug smuggling case.Carlos “El Puma” Landin Martinez collected pisos, or tolls, from smaller drug gangs crossing through the cartel’s turf in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, said Daniel Zamorano Marchant, a Chilean restaurant manager who once smuggled marijuana and methamphetamine for the cartel.

Anyone wanting to run drugs or transport illegal immigrants between the Mexican cities of Diaz Ordaz, south of Sullivan City, and Rio Bravo, had to pay tolls to Landin, Zamorano said. Landin is accused of running a drug smuggling operation for the Gulf drug cartel while also working as the state police commander in Tamaulipas, Mexico.

There may be honest cops in Mexico, but I never actually met one.   The odds against an honest man making it to a position of authority in Mexican law enforcement are simply astronomical.

I want to thank my chemistry professors


My youngest son asked for help preparing for the semester final exam in chemistry. It’s an honors class, so the information is somewhat advanced, and more than a little beyond what my liberal arts education prepared me for. My week has been spent deciphering babble of this sort:

The more electronegative species gains a full negative charge while the other gains a full positive charge. The bond is purely coulombic, and as our theme of opposite charges predicts, the plus-minus is low energy and the attraction holds the two toms together.

When I first read that, my eyes crossed and I wondered why it wasn’t written in English.

I have discovered that chemists, while incredibly smart at all things chemical, are ignorant of how to explain such things to the chemically challenged. I’ve overcome the obstacles by reading two books, reading websites, and watching/listening to several informative podcasts. Not only do I actually understand this stuff, but I can teach it. After a fashion.

The boy’s textbook was simply horrible, and given the tax dollars expended it is criminal. It covers a scads of material, but it does a rotten job of explaining many concepts. This seems to be a recurring theme in academia. The oldest son is a freshman in college and he waits a week or more after a class has started to see which required books he needs to buy, because, as is the case with the high school kid, many instructors find it much more effective to teach from lectures and handout materials from other sources.

So, the textbook was little help, and I was able to counter some of its weaknesses with a copy of Chemistry for Dummies. Yeah, I know – how appropriate. But still, there were some concepts that weren’t explained very well and I was finding myself in the weeds too often. I started searching the internet and found thousands of websites, many of them for schools and colleges.

What I was looking for was something comprehensive, that didn’t assume I already knew a lot about chemistry but explained the material in depth from A to Z.

What I found were sites that were either too elementary – A, B and C were explained and it stopped there – or too complicated – X, Y and Z were detailed and it was expected that the reader knew everything that came before “X”. It was taking, on average, 8 – 10 websites and both books to understand a single concept.

I began to harbor a deep hatred for a number of college and high school chemistry instructors. At one point I realized that you didn’t need to know chemistry to blow things up, and I fantasized about being the next Unabomber. Chemistry profs and teachers across the country would run in fear at the sight of their friendly postman.

But foolish fantasies, while briefly enjoyable, were not solving my problem.

At one point I placed my hopes in the audio podcasts from some community college chemistry classes. After all, what were once known as Junior Colleges are for all the people who weren’t quite ready for real college – right?

I teach a community college and I can say unequivocally that I teach at a more basic level, even though our credits transfer to “big name” colleges and universities. I know someone that almost lost her job because students bitched and moaned that she “taught like it was Yale.” She had to dumb down and break down her courses to meet the needs of her less skilled students.

That’s a quote from Rate Your Students, a site for professors to bitch about rate the simpletons darlings that are their students. There is a debate there at the moment on the quality of community college students and professors.

If I didn’t instruct community college students on a more basic level than university students, my community college students would drop out at an even more alarming rate than they already do (I sometimes lose half a class over the course of a semester–this is standard in our neck of the woods). I do have some intelligent students who would do better with more focused and higher level instruction. I am grateful for them every day, and I try to push them to excel in their work–many of them have thanked me for doing that.

Unfortunately, all of the profs who are dumbing their lectures down are evidently too busy to make a podcast or a website that doesn’t suck suffer from being babble that only chemistry geeks understand.

Nearly at the point of losing all hope, I ran across some podcasts for chemistry class lectures at UC Berkley, which has a phenomenal reputation for its college of chemistry. At least four elements on the periodic table were first isolated by Berkley researchers. I downloaded a few on to a flash drive and popped it into my truck’s stereo so I could listen while I was driving. Honestly, I have to say that I had little hope, and I was sure that it would be wasted time because I believed that the material would start out over my head and get more complex. In fact, what I found was that I started to understand the material. The only thing missing was being able to see the visual aids being used in the class.

I was so close.

Then I found MIT’s Open Course Ware website.

MIT was an early adopter of providing an open university of sorts on the internet. The same lectures (as video/audio podcasts), lecture notes, test materials, and related links, as on campus students receive, are all available for a variety of courses. The only thing missing in most cases are the textbooks. You can check it out by clicking here to go to the MIT Open Course Ware site.

Ultimately I watched all of the lectures for about half of a semester of two different chemistry classes (actually, one was a engineering materials class for solid state chemistry)

Professors Sylvia Ceyer and Donald Sadoway’s lectures were phenomenal and my comprehension of chemistry skyrocketed. If you consider MIT’s reputation, the caliber of the students and instructors, and the complexity of the course, it’s amazing that I understood anything. Not that I understood everything, there was always a point at which it became very complicated and my eyes glazed over – “So, the attractive energy is simply Q1 times Q2 over 4 times Pi Epsilon zero R…” – but, up to that point I was in the groove. And besides, I didn’t really need to know how to measure the energy, I just wanted to understand the basic behavior of electron energy in chemical bonding. Unlike the 9th grade textbook, my Chemistry for Dummies book, or a dozen tutorials on different websites, at MIT I found the material I needed to know and understood it.

Youngest son has been complaining about not being able to understand his chemistry teacher. So have a number of other students, and the drop rate in the class has been pretty high. I’ve talked to the man several times and he does speak with an accent, and since English is not his first language he does occasionally use some awkward wording. It’s not that big of an impediment, but I think that when it’s coupled with some difficult material presented at a rapid pace that communication problems do account for some of the kids’ lack of understanding. Or, you could choose to believe what my son believes is the problem – “He’s not that good of a teacher, Dad. All of the kids in class agree that nobody understands half of what he is teaching.”

After my recent experience with chemistry teachers I can sympathize with the little darlings.

But when I was having difficulty translating a point, I resorted to sharing part of an MIT video with him. It was short, just a two minute segments of an hour lecture, but he got the point I was trying to make – and he had a sudden epiphany on another point I didn’t know he was having problems with.

That’s how you calculate those! I tried to get Mr. (Teacher) to explain that to me three times, he talked about it for thirty minutes in class, and I still didn’t understand it.

Junior is taking physics next semester, a subject that I enjoy and know a few things about, and I am looking forward to helping him. But if I stumble, I know where to go to fill in the blank spaces in my knowledge.

What kind of job did you think you were applying for?


My search for a decent blog written by a chief of police continues. Richard “The Most Idiotic Police Chief in Britain” Brunstrom was briefly in the running until the Cerberus Inc. crack research time found indications of severe stupidity, or blatant prevaricating, in one of his posts. I’m looking for one that is written with some style, appears to be the genuine words of the chief rather than one of his house cats, and exhibits more than a passing familiarity with common sense.

It’s proving to be a tall order.

On one of the candidate’s blog I found a post about something his recruiting staff brought to his attention. They received a number of email requests for information about the hiring process, and from that they had amassed a list of the return email addresses of potential applicants that seemed to cast doubt on their character, intelligence and/or common sense:


and the one that really confused me…mytieisbroken@

According to the chief, the recruiters also have a collection of humorous voice mails.

My guess is that a lot of people have email addresses that express something that they want to convey to others. It doesn’t take too much guesswork as to what messages “thumperhard69” or “metallicaboner” are trying to send. But I think I’m also right in believing that most people also have an email address that presents a more refined, and less profane, public image. Common sense would seem to be conspicuously absent from those who choose their “fun” email address, as opposed to their “business” email, to send a job inquiry.

Unless I’m hiring clerks for the night shift at an adult bookstore, there is little chance that “tk_paddywhacker” or “strokin_100” are going to get a job offer from me. To be honest, I’m not sure I would hire them for that job either.

While it’s interesting to note what people inadvertently give away in their job seeking, it is absolutely astounding what can be learned about folks when you’re given a lot of leeway in the interview and hiring process.

I had one brief fling at a non-policing job in my career. A nine month stint in recruiting as a sergeant (it was an effort to gain some investigative experience, as tenuous as it was) which was ended by budget crisis that brought on a hiring freeze.

We saw, on average, roughly 1000 applicants each month. A small percentage of them would voluntarily withdraw their application at some point, but most would have their application suspended or rejected for cause, either permanently or temporarily, and a very small percentage would be favorable applicants who were offered a position in the academy as a cadet. We rejected at least 95% of all applicants for cause, and after a small percentage declined the offer by withdrawing their application, we were able to field a class of 70 every 2 months. Those figures are consistent with what most other police departments report.

My domain was over the preliminary processing unit, which handled the initial background interview of the 1000 folks that wandered in off the street each month. A huge chunk of that 95% rejection rate came from one of 15 people working for me who were doing those interviews based on a 30 page questionnaire. If the applicant answered the questions truthfully, the questionnaire would give us an accurate assessment of the applicant’s ability to meet most of the SCPD selection criteria. Those that lied were usually caught by a polygraph exam or a background investigation that sent investigators to physically verify the truth of everything they had said.

1,000 interviews a month, 30 pages of very detailed questions that hit a wide variety of details ranging from the mundane to the very personal – equals a regular supply of very bizarre responses by applicants.

About half of the interviewers were civilian HR professionals, and the rest were cops who were experienced background investigators. The latter took most of what they heard during interviews in stride, and would tell some of the funnier stories over a cup of coffee. But my civilians were a different story.

Police work is one of those occupations that give employees a degree of access to information, people, places and things that few other occupations approach. SCPD hiring practices reflect the degree of concern about who is hired that matches the degree of trust expected of the office holder. IBM won’t, and can’t, send a background investigator to every place you ever lived, worked or went to school to ask questions like: “Is he trustworthy?”, “would you say he is stable?”, or “how much does he drink?” Microsoft may ask a challenging question like “how would you weigh the moon?”, but SCPD will ask you to describe every drug you ever took, how much you drink and what criminal acts you committed – even if you were never caught, much less convicted. The questions and checks are all backed by a very expensive and exhaustive study to identify the bona-fide job qualifications for a beginning SCPD officer, but they are far beyond what most employers could legally pursue.

All of the civilian personnel officers had bachelor degrees, many had their masters, and a few were working on their doctorates. With the exception of one woman who was married to an officer, none of them had ever spent much time around cops or worked in a HR setting in which they were legally allowed to ask the kinds of questions we had them ask. Never did more than a couple of days pass when one of them didn’t come into my office, close the door, and say…

Sergeant Cerberus, you would not believe what this applicant just told me.

Actually, I would believe, because I had conducted a number of those same interviews, and I reviewed every completed questionnaire.

Some of the things people said were nonsensical. There was a young woman we rejected because of criminal activity and unfavorable employment history. She had been fired, that morning, after her boss at a greeting card store had found her stealing cash from the till. The card store was on the ground level of the office building where our offices were located. She must have walked straight out of her past employer’s place of business and jumped on the elevator to come visit us. I nicknamed her the “I need a job chick.”

Why is my application being rejected?

The fact that you were fired, today, for stealing from your employer puts you outside of our guidelines on criminal activity and employment history. If you can stay away from committing crimes and not get fired from a job, we will be glad to see you back here in 5 years to try again.

Yeah, but I need a job.

I understand that. But you can understand why we wouldn’t hire you to be a police officer, can’t you?

No, because I need a job and you’all are hiring, so why can’t we do this?

Let’s look at it this way. Being a police officer is not just a job. It’s a position of trust in the community. As an officer you could find yourself alone with other people’s property, or with other valuable items that are evidence at crime scenes. Given the fact that you were just fired from a position of your employer’s trust for stealing from her, wouldn’t it look pretty foolish for us to hire you for a position of even greater trust with less direct supervision?

Yeah, but I need a job.

That’s not going to happen here for you today. Maybe I can direct you to someplace else that might take a chance on you. Most of our applicants are interested in public service as a career, why did you apply with us?

I got fired this morning and I need a job.

Our questionnaire included a section on illegal and prescription drug use. When I first read “What type of medication are you currently taking, and why?”, I thought it was poorly worded. But the responses we got to the “why” part often generated some enlightening responses, and those included a smattering of goodies that were guaranteed to make you laugh. Almost weekly we got something along the lines of…

What type of medication are you taking, and why?: Birth Control Pills – I like to fuck.

On rarer occasions we got some scary responses to that question…

What type of medication are you taking, and why?: Haldol – My doctor prescribed this to keep me from hearing voices that tell me to do things I don’t want to do.

The questions on illegal sex acts caught a few really whacked out people. One of my folks, who was finishing his dissertation for a PhD., came in to my office one morning with a queasy look on his face. While I’m sure there are all sorts of young people who grow up on farms and ranches who never succumb to barnyard bestiality, there are some of them who find the temptation too great. About once a month there would be one who came in and answered the question about bestiality with forthright honesty.

The applicant in question was a regular expert in animal husbandry, and had described a number of critters around Old MacDonald’s farm with which he had carnal knowledge.

Yee-Eye-Yee-Eye-Oh – indeed!

The personnel officer said he was handling the interview well, until the applicant had mentioned a certain species of animal and a specific sex act.

As soon as he said that I thought he was just pulling some kind of joke. I imagined it was a like one of those radio show pranks when they wire a guy with a microphone and have him go into a business and do something stupid to see how people will react. So I called bullshit and told him that what he was talking about was impossible, and I swear to God, until just a few minutes ago, I really did think it was impossible.

So, what happened to change your mind?

He just gave me a ten minute explanation on how to get head from a cow. An extremely detailed explanation. Including how to select the right cow, what “lure” to use, how to keep from getting stomped on, or kicked, or bitten, and so on, to the point where I was ready to throw up. I’m telling you sergeant, I don’t think I can ever enjoy a cheeseburger again, and I know I will never drink another milkshake.

It’s not that more crazies, weirdos or criminals try to get jobs in law enforcement, we do get our fair share, it’s just that we get to ask the kind of questions that are supposed to identify them.

All of those people rejected get jobs somewhere. What do you really know about the people working with you?