Archive for June, 2009

Friends, Christians, and Communists

June 30th, 2009 No comments

This is a post from the old site, but one that fits the direction I’m headed. I received about 25 emails in response to last week’s post… of course; only 15 of them actually provided anything worth reading. Some spam, a little ranting, and a couple accusing me of being part of “the right wing conspiracy/noise machine.” I’m not certain why this (email) seems better than commenting, but either way I’m game for a continuing conversation. Along the way you will be meeting a friend of mine, Mr. Grim. Additionally, you’ll meet a few others with views from “both sides of the aisle.” I get a few responses in the comments section, but the lion’s share are spammers and trolls, I hope that changes some time soon.

Back to this post – remember last week I posed the question, “Why have prisons?” This post might seem an unusual continuation, but it fits the current theme in both corrections and criminal justice. Anyway, keep it in mind as you read through this post.

I’ve heard that nasty word “social justice” once again, and I’m always interested enough to ask my erstwhile conversation partner what he means by this interesting compound idea. Erstwhile? Former conversation partners because I’m generally opposed to the common or popular notion of what “social justice” constitutes, and my opposition seems to color me as Satan himself to some of the liberal nutroots I’ve engaged in conversation (despite their intense opposition to religion, it is ok to label opponents as the minions of Beelzebub). Taking the adjective social away from the concept at least leaves the actual noun being modified in some fashion. Make no mistake, English works precisely this way.

“No, no, no, you don’t understand. It wasn’t simply a man; it was a little green man!”

Granted, that’s poking a little fun, but whether used rationally or irrationally, that’s the way we use our language. Clearly, progressives are trying to make it plain that they are NOT talking about the classical meaning of justice, and hence, the adjective “social.” I had always thought justice by nature and definition must be social. Something else is meant in this case – so, for comparison, let’s take a look at the origin of the word “justice.” I’ll use the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1140, “the exercise of authority in vindication of right by assigning reward or punishment,” from O.Fr. justise, from L. justitia “righteousness, equity,” from justus “upright, just.” The O.Fr. word had widespread senses, including “uprightness, equity, vindication of right, court of justice, judge.” The word began to be used in Eng. c.1200 as a title for a judicial officer. Meaning “the administration of law” is from 1303. Justice of the peace first attested 1320. In the Mercian hymns, L. justitia is glossed by O.E. rehtwisnisse.

Generally, “the administration of law” was once a common understanding of the term “justice.” On the other hand, the term “social justice” uses the adjective “social” to incorporate the notions often associated with socialism/communism. The always popular “take from those who are more prosperous and give to those who are less prosperous” – whether on a national or global scale depends largely on who is promoting the idea. For example, Anthony Brunt at the University of Iowa puts it this way:

The first component of social justice is a minimum standard of living in the realms of employment, health, housing, and education. This is the portion of social justice that is best dispensed through government agencies. According to the 1999 U.N. Human Development Report, for forty billion dollars the most disadvantaged portions of the world can achieve basic healthcare, education, sanitation facilities, potable water, and an adequate food supply for all. To contrast this amount in relative terms, last year Microsoft chairperson Bill Gates had an estimated net worth of fifty-two billion dollars. I do not believe that allocating an additional forty billion dollars will strain those living in a state of luxury.

Only somewhat tongue in cheek, Kfir Alfia and Alan Lipton in A Field Guide to Left-Wing Wackos, says that communists are “Anyone who likes the things you have, wants them for his own, and doesn’t mind if a totalitarian state is what it takes to make that happen.” This idea of using a government to accomplish their ends is highlighted by Brunt in the next paragraph of his paper, albeit for logistical concerns.

Why even mention this topic? Because I find it at least a little ironic and humorous that this unusual group of liberals shares so much in common with the very people they are so opposed to having any influence on our society. Truly, the only real difference between the liberal nutroots and the Christians in this case is the means by which we ameliorate poverty. I really cannot say it better than C.S. Lewis on this topic, and he makes the point so forcefully, I’ll close with a small portion of The Problem of Pain:

Those who would most scornfully repudiate Christianity as a mere “opiate of the people” have a contempt for the rich, that is , for all mankind except the poor. They regard the poor as the only people worth preserving from “liquidation,” and place in them the only hope of the human race. But this is not compatible with a belief that the effects of poverty on those who suffer it are wholly evil; it even implies that they are good. The Marxist thus finds himself in agreement with the Christians in those two beliefs which Christianity paradoxically demands – that poverty is blessed and yet ought to be removed. (C.S. Lewis, 1940, pp. 108-109)

P.S. “And that’s Entertainment”


Why Have Prisons?

June 23rd, 2009 No comments

Seriously, “Why have prisons?” Knowing what the goals for incarcerating law breakers are should help to define the strategic and tactical policy that is carried out behind prison walls. Though I plan on discussing the Oregon Department of Corrections’ (ODOC) Oregon Accountability Model (OAM), let’s leave the OAM out of this particular discussion for the moment. Again, “Why have prisons?” If we are at least moderately honest with ourselves, then often enough this is a question for which we rarely seek specific answers. But those answers are most often the defining determinants of how politicians, policy makers, and management (policy wonks) create the strategic policy which correctional practitioners struggle to turn into tactical policy.

Unfortunately, this is often a political question that has too many possible answers. In fact, this myriad of possible answers is one of the most glaring problems with developing effective, coherent, and reasonably operational policy. Oh, and let’s leave out the matter of the price tag and effective training.

Why bring this up? Because I think a general discussion of the most common answers to the question, “Why have prisons?” at least starts not only corrections practitioners, but the general public, in a reasonable discussion of the purpose and goals of Oregon’s prisons (more to the point, the purpose and goals of ODOC). As a start, here are four of the most common reasons/answers to the question.

  1. Retribution – punishment, “just desserts,” getting what one deserves for a crime committed
  2. Rehabilitation – to change or alter inmates through treatment or education to make them productive citizens upon release
  3. Deterrence – this is generally understood to mean the punishment of criminals as an example in order to discourage others from committing crimes.
  4. Incapacitation – prevent criminals from committing more crimes by locking them up and isolating them from society

Knowing these, I’d be most interested in what others think the answer(s) to the question is/are. Without referring to the OAM, I’m interested in what Oregonians believe the purpose of the corrections element of our criminal justice system actually is. Whether by email (the link at right) or by comment, please, let me know what you think. Until next time,


Writing to the Reader, or Know Your Audience…

June 23rd, 2009 2 comments

I’ve got this small readership, and as it turns out, one of the readers is one of my daughters. As it happens, she also shares a few traits with me… Mathematics and the hard sciences generally came easier to me than language arts and soft/social sciences. Later in life, these difficulties caused me to pursue additional education in language arts and the soft sciences. My daughter pretty much loathes reading – she’s an “I’ll wait for the movie” kind of girl – and I mean that in the best possible way. The girl that has become a young woman is extraordinarily smart! She is a brilliant pop culture observer/guru. I think for Fathers’ Day she read one of my posts and left a comment that I thought worth sharing:

so i read ‘men without chests’. lots of big words i didn’t know and many points that went over my head, but i read the whole thing!

Why worth sharing? Because in her characteristically kind (there might be some sarcasm in both of our comments) way, I think she’s letting me know why I have a small readership. Part of it is the subject matter, and the other is the vocabulary. I think I’m writing like an old man 😉 People claim to like good old William Shakespeare, but most detest actually having to read him – not that I’m claiming to write like the bard himself – just that some might not like having to read my posts… so they don’t. So kiddo, I think I’ll work on aiming at a broader audience, but I’m a snob I guess, I’m keeping most of the vocabulary 😉 I actually do like reading the bard!

Thanks for your comments kiddo!


Categories: Culture, Philosophy Tags:

Visit to Hospital

June 16th, 2009 No comments

Sorry about the lack of a real post today, Tuesday, but I spent some time in the hospital getting a few tests done. Took a little more out of me than I thought it would. I’ll try to get something out this week as well as next Tuesday. Stay well all.


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Trial Service Year – P003

June 9th, 2009 No comments

What matters is not what any individual thinks, but what is true. A teacher who does not equip his pupils with the rudimentary tools to discover this is substituting indoctrination [orientation] for teaching.

-Richard Stanley Peters


Visit Quote Snack for a great look at this quotation!

NEO Training Part 1
NEO, or New Employee Orientation, is what prospective Correctional Officers (CO’s) are subjected to in their first week of employment at Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP). I mention this specifically for OSP because not all Oregon correctional facilities train their employees in the same fashion, nor does each institution necessarily use the same materials for their training; in fact, some institutions do not have a NEO training week. There are both pros and cons to this reality; however, I am primarily concerned with OSP – so the focus will remain on OSP’s version of preparing a prospective CO for the realities of employment in a correctional setting.

Considering the 3″ binder full of OSP’s policies, procedures, and post orders, as well as the Department of Corrections’ rules and regulatory instructions, my peer group’s training sergeant did a pretty reasonable job of covering an enormous amount of disparate information. Unlike New York, new COs in Oregon are not sent to the training academy prior to starting their job. OSP chooses to deal with this lack of training by providing a one week crash course. In Oregon, if a new CO, or in New York’s parlance, a New Jack (a CO still serving their one year of trial [read probationary] service), makes it through NEO and the first few months of “sink or swim,” then the new CO is sent to the training academy. That little gem right there is worth a post all its own!

Back on point! So there we were, my peer group and five days of mind numbingly tedious information interspersed with a few fun moments thanks to our training sergeant. One of the points that were hammered home was the need for consistency. Several of the instructors said something close to, “straight up people, better to be a consistent asshole than to be a wishy-washy chocolate heart.” Often enough that statement was followed up with something along the lines of “mind you, I’m not telling you to be an asshole – only that a consistent asshole is better than an indecisive or inconsistent officer.”

Virtually every OSP post order has some version of this imperative: Staff will be totally consistent and uniform in enforcing all applicable DOC rules and policies and OSP procedures and directives. Somewhere along here I think it becomes obvious why I included the Emerson quotation. I think too, that the Peters quotation starts to make a little sense. The incredible emphasis on total consistency calls to mind the very bureaucrats that most of us despise. That a person would spend more time seeking the right pigeonhole in order to apply a “consistent” rule than to exercise a little creative/flexible thinking in order to find a reasonable solution to a problem should seem absurd to an American! And yet…

Too often, new COs walk away with an overwhelming affinity for the notion of consistency – because it removes the necessity to think and take a risk in decision making. Too often, the people training new COs rely on indoctrination methods rather than sound teaching methods in order to produce an officer with the tools to get at the truth of a matter or to think on his feet. Now then, after making these kinds of observations don’t make the mistake of assuming I think I am the best CO around! There are several officers that I think are better at the job. But the point really isn’t who the best is – it’s how to make us all better at the job.

In a budget crisis, we all know, the very first things to get cut out of the budget are education, training, and “in-service” instruction. It’s cheaper to indoctrinate than teach, and that is simple economics. However, our on-the-job (OJT) training could be much better. Take a look at SB – 257 (which aims at removing academy training) and think about it in practical terms. We do need to work with each other to do the best with what we’ve got! There are two things we can do here.

First, avoid that “foolish consistency.” I made a point of quoting a section common to most of OSPs post orders. The reason is twofold:

  1. It was one of the most often repeated elements in NEO and OJT, and
  2. How often the very NEXT imperative was NOT mentioned in tandem with a reasonable consistency.

This is how, dear reader, you know this isn’t just some negative screed. The writers of the post orders knew what a “foolish consistency” was and immediately followed the “consistency imperative” with a “mature thinking” imperative. If both elements were properly emphasized, then the writers had every reason to expect it would help prevent that very “foolish consistency.” What is that next imperative in the post orders?

Due to the large numbers of inmates typically present within the zone of control, it is especially important that all assigned staff exercise self-restraint and maturity of judgment as they enforce guidelines in a timely, decisive, impartial, and unobtrusive manner.

The second thing we can do is advocate for reasonable training. The idea that training can be computer based in an officer’s “spare time on the job” as worked out with his supervisor is – well, errant nonsense seems a kind way to put it. Unless a concerted effort is made by the top of the food chain to take the training seriously by supporting, scheduling, and TEACHING, it hardly seems reasonable to presume the bottom of the food chain will invest any more concern than the top of the food chain. Let’s make the most of our NEO training time (and our in-service training time).

Phew! I didn’t even manage to get to the videos we watched or the environmental conditions of the training… perhaps next week. Until then, take heart Oregon public – OSP truly is full of dedicated officers doing their best with what they’ve been provided, and THAT, is good news indeed.


Oregon’s General Fund and Movies

June 2nd, 2009 2 comments

Sorry about the late post, but for those of you who know me – the Jeep has finally given up the ghost, well, as Gary said, “I’ll help you push it off a cliff when you’re ready.” It’s flying into the abyss even as I write… Now I have to get another vehicle – just when America’s auto industry is in the toilet. Goody.

I suppose I could have railed at the state of the economy and our government’s complicity in the growing debt, but really, who wants to hear it? People here in Oregon should want to hear what’s going on right underneath their noses, and thanks to Chuck Sheketoff over at Blue Oregon, we do have some information about a misuse of general fund dollars in these lean economic times! The Oregon Production Investment Fund was set up by the state to subsidize film/video production in Oregon. Sheketoff’s entire article is enlightening, but the basics can be extracted from highlighting just a few paragraphs… First:

Here’s how it works. For every $100 an individual or corporation donates to the Oregon Production Investment Fund, they get a tax credit out of the General Fund worth $111. Yes, you read it right. Those who donate get back more from the General Fund than they contribute to the earmarked special subsidy fund. Instead of paying taxes that support schools, health and human services and public safety, contributors earmark some money for the film subsidies and then take even more out of the General Fund.

It’s such a great deal for the individuals and corporations who contribute that all of the tax credits are sold out through tax year 2011, and the agency that doles out the subsidies to the movie moguls is asking the legislature to pass SB 621 (PDF) so that they can issue 50 percent more tax credit subsidies.

In other words, rich folks and corporations make an incredible return on their donation, AND the Oregon Production Investment Fund does not have to compete head-to-head with public services, education, health and human services, etc., for General Fund dollars. If a donation occurs, then the state is obligated to pay out our tax dollars to the “investor.” Worse, the governor and his friends are trying to expand this great little deal by 50% – So the second small quotation should seal the deal here:

The proponents of the tax credit think it’s a great deal for Oregon and our economy and have an expensive consultant’s report (PDF) telling them what they wanted to hear to prove it. Yet, they’d rather hide their spending in the intricacies of the tax code than compete head-to-head for General Fund dollars with other public services.

Regrettably, even though Oregonians are going to see public services reduced because the economic crisis has wreaked havoc on state revenues, the Oregon Senate Finance and Revenue Committee yesterday voted in favor of the SB 621 expansion. The three Democrats on the committee voted in favor of the expansion, while the two Republicans voted “no.”

Maybe I took Mr. Smith Goes to Washington too seriously, but I’m optimistic that the full legislature will recognize SB 621 as economic folly and not only refuse to expand the Hollywood subsidy scheme but instead give it the curtain call it deserves.

Please read the article! It’s worth the small amount of time it will take, and I hope it will move you to call your representative to let him know how you feel. I’ll be calling mine! Let’s face it, there are more important things for Oregon right now, and a few million dollars may keep services to a few friends that desperately need it!


Cheers All!

Categories: Culture, Government, Politics Tags:
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