Walls And Bridges

Walls

I was really surprised this week when the Pope entered the election fray and made a comment about presidential candidate, Donald Trump, not being a Christian if he is wanting to build walls (on the Mexican border) and not bridges


And then the Trump campaign pointing out that the Vatican City is surrounded by what of all things…a very big wall!


We have a history in the U.S. of separation of Church and State and a First Amendment that codifies this as law. 


To me, unless a candidate is truly criminal, discriminatory, or evil in their conduct, it’s not appropriate for a lofty religious figure to publicly question their personal faith like that. 


Further, when it comes to immigration this is not just an issue in America, but all over Europe now with the refugee crisis, and in many other places in the world. 


Of course, we most definitely need to welcome refugees fleeing persecution, conflict, catastrophe, or war. 


But when immigration is principally an economic migration, this is something for each nation to debate and decide for what is best for them.


This is not an endorsement of any candidate or party, but rather an acknowledgement that we shouldn’t:


1) Mix religion and politics (and impose undue influence in a sovereign nation’s elections)


2) Judge our neighbors faith by valid policy debates


3) Throw stones in glass houses (or walled areas as the case may be).


If building bridges is what is promoted and preferred here then the Pope and Trump should kiss (proverbially-speaking that is) and make up. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

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Burning The Evidence

Transparency

This is a brillant funny advertisement that was displayed on the Metro in Washington, D.C.


“If I burn the evidence, those donuts never happened.”


This as astute marketing for a fitness facility.  


Burn baby, burn (calories that is)!


But in Washington, D.C. (and at times for fiduicary duty bound Wall Street), where transparency is supposed to rule the day–but often doesn’t as we know–this resonates in a whole other way for a class of political and wealthy elites as well as for a host of criminals. 


Bad things (fraud, waste, abuse, and stupid mistakes)–uh, they never happened if there is no evidence to prove it.  


Like the tree that falls in the woods that no one hears…it’s as if it never fell. 


Also, is there a habit of perhaps punishing the innocent in order to protect those that are really guilty? — That never happens too, right? 


But G-d knows what really happened, and often somehow, someway the truth does get exposed (whether by savy investigative journalists, Congressional or court inquiry, brave innocents that come forward, or some bad people getting caught up in their own jumble of lies and deceit).  


As Judge Judy says, “If it doesn’t make sense, it’s usually not true.” 


Or more in line with the ad, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

G-d Is Good, (Some) People Not So

G-d Good

I am quite disabled after hip surgery, but I am livid. 


There was an article in the New York Times about a Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt who likes to take children and young adults naked to the sauna and Mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) and watch!


Some even reported that he “gawked at a naked 12-year old,” “invited a 15-year old for intimate night time conversations during which he frequently put his hand on the boy’s leg,” and invited himself into a 17-year old’s living room and tried repeatedly to persuade him to change into a bathrobe.”


The article describes how this has been going on for around 30 years and the Rabbi was asked in various forms to stop by the Riverdale Jewish Center synagogue, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), and even investigated by Yeshiva University (YU). 


Interestingly, this is happening after the “2012 sex scandal involving top Rabbi’s from Yeshiva University, another with Rabbi Baruch Lanner with “sexual, physical, and psychological abuse of scores of teens” in his charge in the National Council of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), and most recently, the 6-year sentencing for “videotaping more than 150 women” (going to the Mikvah) of Rabbi Freundel of Kesher Synagogue (right here in Washington, D.C.). 


All of these sex scandals involved highly prominent rabbi’s (and I feel sick to my stomach even using that esteemed word for them), and at the time this abuse was going on and for years after, no one wanted to believe this was happening!


A friend posted this article about Rabbi Rosenblatt on my Facebook page –we both know this Rabbi from Riverdale, NY where we grew up–and asked “What have you to say to this?”


Well let me tell you…many have come forward for the NYT’s article and others on my Facebook page and behind the scenes to confirm knowledge of Rabbi’s Rosenblatt’s gawking and other inappropriate behaviors with children.


– “I refused to consider having him perform my marriage ceremony because of this and another of his ‘unusual habits.'”


– “Not only was this common knowledge personally–it was known institutionally, by both YU and the RCA.”


Yet others choose to continue the disbelief (some excerpts):


– “I believe these rumors to be vicious slander.”


– “I want to believe some weird habits are being blown out of proportion.”


So let me tell you that not knowing something is happening or not wanting to believe does not make it so. 


I and others I have spoken to remember children being invited to play racquetball as I remember it (squash in the article) and to go to the Sauna with the Rabbi afterward. 


As someone described for the NYT article about going to the Mikvah with the Rabbi, I can attest that this similarly happened to me PERSONALLY. 


Before I got married, the Rabbi accompanied me to the Mikvah for the ritual bathing which he said was needed before marriage, and just as the 15-year old victim in the article described, the Rabbi was “watching me” and I remember the Rabbi also telling me that he had to in order to see my whole body immersed.


I also remember feeling his look at me being off and feeling sick afterwards, like I just wanted to wash again and again. 


However for others referenced in the NYT article, it was much worse, “The routine was always the same: ‘Always the hand on the shoulder or the leg, always the hand touching some part of your body’…The rabbi’s touch ‘was very seductive and it was very manipulative in a way.'”


Unfortunately, as is typical, it is easier to blame the victims or disavow them, then acknowledge a deep-rooted sick and evil in our society by some who are at the top of the pecking order religiously and otherwise.


To be completely clear, the chilul Hashem is NOT with the victims, but RATHER it is with the man who for over 30 years continued this sick ruse, even after he was asked repeatedly to stop his inappropriate behavior with children and young adults. 


For those who choose to continue to look the other way, say how nice and scholarly these Rabbis are, and make every excuse in the book, rather than demand a FULL investigation and justice, all I can say is they are being complicit! 


One last thing I will say, there are others in that community that were involved.  


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

2014 The Bad News Goes On

Bad News

What a 2014 it’s been as the world continues it’s descent into madness.  


If Ebola, the War with Hamas in Gaza, the shoot down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 killing 298 including 80 children and 15 crew, the intransigence of Iran on Nuclear Weapons, employment still near a 30-year low, the National Debt hitting over $18 trillion (and growing $2.43 billion a day!) and the suicide of comedian, Robin Williams wasn’t enough…


– Criminal Records: 1 in 3 adult Americans (i.e. 80 million people) now have a criminal record…hmm, if the average family has around 2.5 people then just about 1 person per household has a criminal record. Are you starting to look around you now?


– Economy: Uber, yes, it’s a online “ride-sharing” (i.e. taxi) service, but after it’s recent IPO, Uber is worth over $41 billion dollars (more than Delta, Charles Schwab, Salesforce.com, and Kraft Foods). Someone’s getting taken for a ride. Is this even surprising considering the S&P is priced over 27 times average 10-year earnings (while the historical average is only 16), the result of pumping the economy with short term easy money policies.  


– Cyber Attacks: After a blithering cyber attack by North Korea, Sony withdraws the release of the movie, The Interview, surrendering to cyber terror, and putting us all at greater risk in the future because cyber crime does pay!


– Islamic Terrorism: While ISIS advances in Syria and Iraq, 132 school children (mostly ages 6-18) plus 9 adults massacred by the Taliban this week in Peshawar, many shot in the head and others lit on fire with gasoline and burnt to death so they are unrecognizable. This only 9 months after the April kidnapping by Boko Haram of more than 280 schoolgirls in Nigeria, which was repeated this week with the kidnapping of another 185 woman and children.


– Russian Militarism: The Great Bear is back with a vengeance as Putin continues driving Russian nationalism and buildup of advanced weapons, including WMD (e.g. nukes), aircraft, submarines, and ICBMs to counter alleged “Western Aggression.” And despite, the rubbles’ massive decline, Putin promises an economic comeback within 2 years–he’ll wait out the West and hold Crimea hostage and spoil it for everything it’s worth


So where are we going next–more hell on Earth or at some point a turnaround towards heaven again?   


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Struggle Against Nature and Nurture

Struggle Against Nature and Nurture

I started watching The Following on Netflix.

If you haven’t seen it, the show is a portrayal of a serial killer.

This criminal has a near cult like following of people who want to kill, like him, and they do.

It is a frightening portrayal of people who murder, gruesomely.

They do it almost nonchalantly, like second nature.

They have no remorse, quite the opposite, they are deeply committed to what they do (e.g. through stabbing, burning, choking, etc.)

And they connect with each other, and the main serial killer, in their brutal acts of murder.

The show is deeply troubling in that there seems to be so many people out there who savor this, and that the authorities struggle to try to stop them.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal explored the science behind violent criminals.

They found in more than 100 studies that “about half of the variance in aggressive and anti-social behavior can be attributed to genetics.”

The study of this is called neurocriminology.

When this predisposition of genetics is combined with “early child abuse,” an individual is more prone to commit violent acts.

This is the old, “nature and nurture,” where our biological predisposition combined with our specific environmental factors, in a sense, make us who we are.

Understanding these contributors can help to both predict behavior and recidivism, and very importantly help with early treatment by “making it possible to get ahead of the problem” through therapy, medication, and so on.

People can be the worst type of animals, killing not only for food or because they are threatened, but actually for the joy of it.

The show is scary, but the reality is even more frightening as we battle heredity and environment.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Parole By Analytics

Parole By Analytics

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about parole boards using software to predict repeat offenders before letting someone go free.

What used to be a decision based on good behavior during time served, showing remorse to the parole board, and intuition is being augmented with “automated assessments” that include inmate interviews, age of first arrest, type of crime, and so forth.

At least 15 states have adopted “modern risk assessment methods” to determine the potential for recidivism.

Individuals are marked as higher risk if they are:

– Young–age 18-23 (and impulsive)
– Offense was drug-related
– Suspended or expelled from school
– Quit a job prior to having another one
– Single or separated
– Diagnosed with a mental disorder
– Believes that it’s not possible to overcome their past.

Surprisingly, violent criminals (rapists and murders) are actually considered lower risk those guilty of nonviolent property crimes–the thinking being the someone convicted of robbery is more likely to repeat the criminal behavior because the crime is one that “reflects planning and intent.”

Honestly, I think it is more than ridiculous that we should rank violent criminals less risky than thieves and release them because they had what is considered an “emotional outburst.”

Would you rather have some thieves back on the street or murders and rapists–rhetorical question!

But it just shows that even the best of systems that are supposed to help make better decisions–can instead be misused or abused.

This happens when there is either bad data (such as from data-entry mistakes, deceptive responses, and missing relevant information) or from poorly designed decision rules/algorithms are applied.

The Compas system is one of the main correctional software suites being used, and the company Northpointe (a unit of Volaris) themselves advise that officials should “override the system’s decisions at rates of 8% to 15%.”

While even a 1/7 error rate may be an improvement over intuition, we need to still do better, especially if that 1 person commits a violent hideous crime that hurts someone else in society, and this could’ve been prevented.

It’s certainly not easy to expect a parole board to make a decision of whether to let someone out/free in 20 minutes, but think about the impact to someone hurt or killed or to their family, if the wrong decision is made.

This is a critical governance process that needs:

– Sufficient time to make important decisions
– More investment in tools to aid the decision process
– Refinement of the rules that support release or imprisonment
– Collection of a broad base of interviews, history, and relevant data points tied to repeat behavior
– Validation of information to limit deception or error.

Aside from predicting whether someone is likely to be repeat offenders, parole boards also need to consider whether the person has been both punished in accordance with the severity of the crime and rehabilitated to lead a productive life going forward.

We need to decide people’s fates fairly for them, justly for the victims, and safely for society–systems can help, but it’s not enough to just “have faith in the computer.” 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Remembering Every Moment

I saw a frightening movie a while back about a girl that had been drugged and brutally raped. 

In the movie, the girl is eerily warned, “You won’t remember, but you will never forget!”

That line leaves an indelible mark–that something can be so horrific, so scaring that you can’t recall it, and can’t forget it. 

Now there is a new device coming to market that helps you recall everything.

Memoto is a 5 megapixel tiny camera (36 x 36 millimeters) with an embedded GPS that is worn around the neck, like a necklace. 

When clipped on, it starts taking the phones and when put down or in a pocket it shuts off. 

The Memoto takes 2 photos a minutes (1 every 30 seconds or nearly 3,000 a day if worn all the time).

The photos are stored in an accessible cloud app that uses GPS to sort the photos on a timeline with a date and location stamp.

Photos are private by default, but can be shared using traditional social media, such as to Facebook or Twitter. 

The battery lasts about 2 days and is rechargeable by connecting to your computer at which time the photos are uploaded to Memoto’s servers. 

Wear, photograph, recharge/upload and repeat. 

Privacy issues abound with a device like this–imagine wearing this into the bathroom, locker room, bedroom, or even a private corporate meeting–lots of embarrassing and compromising no-no’s here!

At the same time, imagine all the precious or memorable moments in life that you can capture and enjoy–it’s the realization of the photographic memory you’ve never had, but always wanted. 

Also think of that rapist or other criminal approaching you–getting photographed, caught, and punished–so that the victim really does remember, and can forget with a new peace of mind. 😉