Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Who is your favorite Angel?

Angel Martin, ably portrayed by Stuart Margolin, Jim Rockford’s ex-con sidekick? Or Angel, (David Boreanaz), undead love interest of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer?

I go with Angel Martin. I don’t think he would be a match for Angel in a straight up fight, but then, I don’t think there is much to be gained from imagining a Los Angeles conman from the 70’s fighting a vampire from the 90’s. It is not like there is a unified theory of TV shows that would ever allow such fisticuffs to take place. Although a unified theory itself might be worth pursuing.

However, to careen back into the lane I started in, Angel Martin was always a lot more entertaining in his crap-weasleness, than Angel was in his night-dwelling angst. Vote for Martin!

Contractors Full Employment Act

I had to sit in a couple of interminable meetings where government contractors tried to sell me on the idea that they had a better way of transferring ideas from Marines who are fighting the war to the schools where young Marines are being trained. These contractors know full well that a perfectly fine method of doing just this already exists and IS BEING USED. The problem, from the contrator's point of view, is that they are not getting paid for it. So, these retired Colonels have repackaged the process, slapped a new name on it "T-LIDS" and now have their hands out, waiting for their former subordinates to put some money in them. I wrote this in response:

1. Situation. Currently, there is no effective way for Marines in the operational forces to communicate their observations of new behaviors Marines in the Fleet are or should be performing. While Marine Corps Lessons Learned Database (MCLLD) is the logical repository for such information, MCLLD has serious limitations. On the other hand, TECOM is rolling out the TECOM Integrated Management System (TIMS), a browser-based program that has numerous capabilities and limitless potential, including the ability to allow the operating forces to rapidly communicate with the occupational field (OCCFLD) sponsor, the OCCFLD Task Analyst, the Centers of Excellence, and the MOS-producing schools.

2. Discussion. There is currently no readily accessible way for the occupational field interested in the observations contained in the database to “mine” the data. The tool ostensibly proffered by MCLLD for the purpose in immediate data retrieval, a bulletin board with email notification to self-selected interested parties, is undisciplined and diffuse. Many of the postings on the MCLLD are rambling accounts describing in general terms what worked in a particular situation and what did not. Other postings appear to be written by contractors with an agenda to support one system and denigrate another.

Further, the volume and lack of organization in the data contained in MCLLD makes the database susceptible to mischief. Anyone with a point of view can mine the data and assert that there is support for their proposal or system. Since there are no controls on who can write to the database that can then be mined by anyone, there is real temptation for individuals or organizations to both write to the database then use the data as validation for their own position.

Most troublingly, the MCLLD allows interested parties to supplant, or, at best, to work in parallel with, the TECOM SAT process by denying the need for Front End Analyses (FEA). The argument by those with this view is that all the data a Subject Matter Expert (SME) would need to draft new standards or to improve training can be found in the MCLLD. However, FEAs are scientific surveys conducted by trained and impartial specialists. The FEA is the TECOM approved means of polling the operating forces to determine what new behaviors are being performed or are necessary to mission accomplishment. Using the MCLLD in tandem or in parallel with the FEA represents wasteful duplication and would tend to confuse and mislead the operating forces as to the most expeditious way to influence training.

TECOM already has means to give the operating forces an even more nimble and responsive way to effect changes in standards and behaviors. With TIMS, anyone in the operating forces, from anywhere in the world, with access to a web browser and a TIMS login can view existing standards and write new standards. In the current round of T&R Manual review, Marines from all over the world are collaborating online. While this collaboration represents a promising start, much more can be accomplished.

3. Recommendations. Online review and collaboration of T&R events should be made more robust in the following ways:

a. Allow TIMS events to be viewable by anyone accessing the internet from .mil domain.

b. Include a bulletin board organized by T&R event number so that during the review period anyone may comment on individual events.

c. Give the Task Analyst honchoing the T&R manual permissions to end discussion on threads within the bulletin board when the debate has reached a consensus.

d.Stand up a “Version #+1” for each approved T&R manual in TIMS and allow anyone from a .mil domain to write to that version using the TIMS T&R event template.

e. Notify key individuals (OCCFLD Sponsor, OCCFLD Task Analyst, OCCFLD Centers of Excellence, the MOS Producing School and TIMS Coordinator) via email any time an event is updated to facilitate immediate review, approval and new curriculum development.

f. Give GTB Head “By Direction” authority to approve new T&R events, the training of which will not result in the expenditure of additional resources or manpower.

Can anyone explain gravity to me?

I was listening to the radio and heard Lisa Randall, a theoretical physicist at Harvard, talk about gravity. She has a new book, “Warped Passages,” in which she explores the mystery of gravity. This mystery really fascinates me. Many of you reading this must be thinking: what mystery? Gravity seems so banal, stuff falls from “up” to “down.” We see this effect every day. Only a dolt would be mystified by this concept. True enough, but only if one remained unconvinced of the effects of gravity. In other words, in contravention of everything you had ever seen or experienced in your life, you sincerely imagined that you could throw a ball right up into the stars. Or that you could leap from building to building. Pondering the effects of gravity is banal. But the interesting thing about gravity is that even though we live the effect of gravity, we cannot see or detect gravity itself.

Other forces in nature can be detected. Light can be deflected or interrupted and observed down to the wavelength. The same is true with electromagnetism. But gravity? Gravity cannot be deflected, cannot be interrupted, cannot be detected at all. The effects of gravity are instantaneous, in effect, it is always on, and does not require a chemical or electrical reaction. However, gravity’s effect become more pronounced the closer one gets to the center of a large body. So a huge body hurtling towards you would start to exert an undeniable pull on you, the closer it approaches. On the other hand, light travels at the same speed regardless of the body giving off the light.

“So what Ken,” you say, “I can see gravity in action everyday, so gravity exists, even if I can’t see it.” Undeniably, gravity exists, but if the examination of gravity stops at examining the effects of gravity, that is akin to examining baseball by observing the movement of the ball. Imagine for a moment, being able to watch a baseball moving in three dimensions, without seeing how the ball is being propelled. We know it is moving within an observable range, but why the ball is moving would remain a mystery. Would we not speculate or offer conjecture? Of course we would. However, with gravity, no one, except theoretical physicists like Lisa Randall, stops to think of where gravity comes from.

Randall thinks that gravity exists outside our human ability to perceive or understand. For her, proof lies in the fact that at the sub-atomic level, light, electromagnetism and strong molecular force, weak molecular force and gravity cannot be reconciled. If we listen to Einstein, all these forces should be vectors proportionate to their force in the universe, but, observation tells us that they are not. However, the only odd bird among these forces is gravity. To Randall, the odd and unobservable force of gravity that seemingly does not behave as other observed forces in the universe suggests that gravity exists or at least originates in a dimension of its own. She leaves her examination right there but promises to keep thinking about it and looking for it. She goes even so far as to suggest that someday, we may be able to use gravity to communicate with this other dimension.

Allow me to offer her a suggestion. It is not only theoretical physicists who suspect there are other dimensions we cannot perceive with our own senses that nonetheless effect this world. Christians believe exactly the same thing. Gravity is a mystery that effects us every day, tangibly, in myriad ways. For believers, the same can be said of the holy spirit. And we already have a way to communicate with that other-dimensional power, it is called prayer.

If theoretical physicists are ready to accept that there are processes outside our perception and experience, why do Darwinists have such a hard time accepting the idea of Intelligent Design? I will examine that one another time.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Pentagon bureaucrats lining their pockets at my expense

Here is the letter I sent to the per diem committee, the organization in the Pentagon that determines what servicemen are paid:

The 2006 BAH for an 03E assigned to the Pentagon is $2340 while the BAH for an O3E assigned to Quantico is $1897, a difference of $443 a month. The explanation for this difference (commuting time; rental costs) is insufficient.


1) Using rental data to compute BAH is statistically inappropriate and keeps BAH artificially low. According to the latest census data, more than 68% of Americans own their own home. Given that fact, why then would you approve a statistical analysis that samples data that is irrelevant to the majority of those who rely on BAH to pay their mortgages? Since your website is silent on that, I have to assume the reason is because using rental data accomplishes your unstated goal, which is to artificially depress the amount of the allowance.

2) Applying an arbitrary commuting time AND commuting distance to and from the duty station zip code, and at the same time arbitrarily excluding some areas within the commute time perimeter when calculating the BAH, suspiciously skews the data. Giving the analyst this much leeway to introduce so many variables into the calculation essentially lets that analyst "pick" a number for BAH which is no more or less valid than the old VHA.


Under the current system, the Pentagon zip code, where you all work, is calculated with the highest BAH in the region regardless of where your all live. Marines ordered to Quantico, paid BAH which is a fraction of yours, nonetheless compete for housing with you and your self-inflated BAH. You are far outside your notional 20 mile/one hour commuting range, yet here you are, pricing me out of housing in MY OWN BAH COMMUTING RADIUS.


A fairer calculation would be to poll each paygrade, using statistically sound methods to determine either where the servicemembers in the duty zip code actually live and calculate BAH based on those results OR to poll servicemembers on what they actually pay and provide them that amount. I am hesitant to call your calculations dishonest, but it is puzzling why so many in my paygrade who work in the Pentagon yet live in my neighborhood are paid so much more than me.

You may choose to ignore this email, but I am forwarding it to my Congressional representative (Mr Johnson of Texas) and my Senators (Mrs Hutchinson and Mr Cornyn) to see if they think the per diem committee is treating servicemembers fairly.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

World's Tallest Structure and My Adventure Thereupon

One time, I was driving across country, and I found myself in eastern North Dakota. I saw on my trust Rand McNally Map of North Dakota that nearby was the world’s tallest man-made structure. I made as much of a beeline towards the area, and noticed as I was getting closer that there are two tall towers, about 20 miles apart. Well, it was getting late, and as faithful readers of this blog know, I don’t like driving in the dark, so I chose the one which looked a little taller. I careened through county roads, and farm roads and finally onto a gravel road that lead to the tower. I got right to the base of the tower where, cattycorner to it is a clapboard church surrounded by a field of alfalfa and squash. Outside of the church was an old man fiddling with some squash so I jumped out of my car and ran up to him.

“Hey mister, is this the tallest tower in the world?”

The grizzled North Dakota church caretaker stood, looked up at the tower and said “Nope. That one over there is about 3 feet taller.”

I thought to myself, “Screw it, 3 feet is close enough” and I had the old man take my picture. He did not manage to get any of the tower in the picture, so all the picture is, is Ken standing in the North Dakota squash field. Not a very compelling visual.

An interesting historical note, the tower I was standing under was once brought down 16 February 1968 when a Marine helicopter piloted by Major Karl Vernon Albert, USMC, flew into and severed the guide wires. All four Marines aboard were killed. The helicopter, a CH-53A assigned to Patuxent Naval Air Station in Maryland, was on a routine training flight performing cold weather tests. Major Albert is buried at Arlington and I intend to go see him one of these days.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Hard Hearts and Hardened Positions

At 2:45pm, 26 December 1996, Boulder Colorado Detective Division Commander John Eller returned to the “Situation Room” at the Boulder Police Department. JonBenet Ramsey’s body had just been found, turning what had been a kidnapping investigation into a murder investigation. A couple of Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agents who had been called in to assist in the kidnapping investigation, waited there. The agents had been called into to assist the Boulder Police since by act of congress, kidnapping is a Federal crime. However, since this kidnapping was actually a murder, the Agents prepared to leave, but wanted a word before they departed. “’This is now a homicide,’ said one. ‘It [JonBenet Ramsey’s murder]’s local, so it’s not our case.’ Agent Ron Walker added, ‘Look at the parents. No bullshit, that is where you need to be.’” (Thomas, p36)

“Look at the parents.” These words seem incomprehensible in their monstrosity. The FBI agent asserted that the lead suspects in the case of a sexually assaulted and murdered little girl were her own parents. For the average person who otherwise has never encounter such a brutal crime, and in that group of average people are included the Boulder City Detectives, the idea of a parent doing something so horrendous is hard to contemplate. Yet the FBI agent spoke from studied experience. “Only about 6 percent of all child murders are committed by complete strangers, while an overwhelming 54 percent are committed by family members.” (Thomas, p35)

Ron Walker’s instincts have been proven correct in other cases. In another Colorado case, this time in Grand Junction, local detectives puzzled over the disappearance and murder of a young girl, Abby Blagg, and her mother, Jennifer Blagg. The then-retired Special Agent Walker consulted with Grand Junction detectives, and quickly put them on the trail of the father. Walker’s analysis of the crime calls to mind elements of the Ramsey murder:

Walker said he believed the removal of Jennifer's body indicated an intimate relationship between her and the killer, and that Jennifer was the target of the crime and Abby was most likely an additional victim. He said the execution, the crime scene clean-up and removal of the bodies took time, and that the killer had a high level of comfort in the home.

The Ramsey murder case seemed very clear to the detective working it. Agent Walker’s instincts put the Boulder Police on the trail of the Ramsey’s and the Ramsey’s own behavior and what physical evidence there was seemingly reinforced Walker’s initial suspicions. For the next seven years, the police doggedly attempted to validate their suspicions with the evidence. However, this attempt fell to ruins as a Federal Judge threw out a related case against the Ramsey’s for lack of evidence. New, advanced science examining the DNA evidence left on JonBenet Ramsey’s body exonerated every suspect, except an as yet unidentified assailant.

How is it possible that earnest investigators working long hours, literally for years, spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars, could all be so wrong? John Ramsey, the father of JonBenet, and one of the prime suspects in the murder of his daughter, himself blames an enraged public which pressured police to quickly find the killer. Ramsey cites a combination of massive bungling in the police work involved in the investigation, and “massive media attention and interference” in the case which obscured the identity of the killer. In Ramsey’s mind this media and public pressure made politicians feel as though they were forced to act and to name suspects lest the politicians lose favor and be voted out of office. “However, the media’s lynch-mob urgency to hang us seemed to be building on Romer (Governor of Colorado) and the very public and angry resignation of Steve Thomas from the Boulder Police force (one of the most confident proponents of the theory that Patsy is the killer) probably brought matters to a head.” (Ramsey, pg 399) The “matters” Ramsey is talking about is the decision to convene a grand jury which ultimately “no-billed” the Ramseys.

Since the evidence collected failed to prove the guilt of the Ramseys, why did the investigators persist in accusing the Ramseys? Clues to this question can be found in Richards J. Heuer’s chapter on “Why Can't We See What Is There To Be Seen?” in his book Psychology of Intelligence Analysis. Heuer enumerates what he calls “a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided through the five senses.” Heuer articulated the components of this process as follows:

1) We tend to perceive what we expect to perceive.
2) Mind-sets tend to be quick to form but resistant to change.
3) New information is assimilated to existing images.
4) Initial exposure to blurred or ambiguous stimuli interferes with accurate perception even after more and better information becomes available. (Heuer, chapter 2)

These categories serve as useful signposts to highlight the mistaken assumptions and tangents taken by the investigators and for that matter, other commentators and interested parties who looked into the JonBenet Ramsey murder. Each of these categories will be amplified later in the paper.

Before this paper examines the mistakes made by police, it is necessary to bolster the assertion that the Ramseys did not in fact kill their daughter, JonBenet. While we might all wish for metaphysical certitude in determining the killer of JonBenet, sometimes the best we can hope for is for a finder of fact to render a decision one way or another, or for some physical evidence to point one way or the other. In the case of the Ramseys, we have both. On page 329, of the hardcover edition of their book quoted above, (a passage removed from the subsequent paperback), John Ramsey wrote about Chris Wolf, a Boulder reporter:

By March 1, 1999, we had reported more information on Chris
Wolf to the authorities. One person had seen Wolf go into
an angry tirade aimed at me after he read an article about
our company printed in the Boulder Daily Camera in
early1996. Apparently Wolf accused the company I worked
for, Lockheed Martin, of selling arms to South American
countries. (Wolf v Ramsey Complaint, para 23)

Paragraph 24 quotes another passage in Death of Innocence from page 205 in the hardcover and 215 in paperback: “Whatever the police's intentions, Wolf went on our suspect list. He represented too many unanswered questions.” (Wolf v Ramsey Complaint, para 24)

Chris Wolf saw these statements as defamatory, and sued in Federal Court in Atlanta for libel and defamation in pursuit of $20 million in damages. Wolf’s argument was that John Ramsey knowingly defamed him because John Ramsey and Patsy Ramsey were in fact the guilty parties in the murder.

The defendant John Ramsey, in an attempt to help his wife Patsy Ramsey cover up her brutal murder and her sexual assault of his daughter, JonBenet Ramsey, willfully, intentionally and maliciously, and with a reckless disregard for the truth, made and continues to make statements to the Boulder, Colorado police, district attorney, and to the public at large, through the reports of private investigators, news conferences, press releases, magazine and television interviews, and a book which he co-authored titled The Death of Innocence, intended to create a deliberate, cumulative and false impression that the plaintiff Chris Wolf brutally murdered his six-year-old daughter, JonBenet Ramsey, after the plaintiff sexually assaulted her. (Wolf v Ramsey Complaint, para 31)

Federal District Judge Julie Carnes reviewed the evidence that Wolf had to prove his contention that Patsy murdered JonBenet and John Ramsey covered up the crime and concluded that the entire case hinged on whether the “ransom note” was indeed written by Patsy Ramsey. While there was other evidence in the case none was conclusive or definitive. Judge Carnes ruled that the evidence that Patsy wrote the note was equivocal and therefore: “In sum, plaintiff has failed to prove that Mrs. Ramsey wrote the Ransom Note and has thereby necessarily failed to prove that she murdered her daughter. Moreover, the weight of the evidence is more consistent with a theory that an intruder murdered JonBenet than it is with a theory that Mrs. Ramsey did so.” (Wolf v Ramsey Order, pg 90)

There is a finding of fact in a court of law that the Ramseys did not kill JonBenet, and there is also recent scientific evidence that supports the theory that an unknown intruder killed the little girl. An investigator in the Denver police laboratory says that new DNA techniques have allowed the laboratory to create a complete DNA profile of the killer, one that rules out anyone in the Ramsey family. “The crime lab has two spots of JonBenet's blood found on the underwear she was wearing the night of the murder. Mixed in with that blood is the DNA of an unknown person. It has taken years to isolate, but forensic scientists in Colorado now have a complete DNA profile of the killer. They know the killer is a male. What they don't know is his name.” (CBS) It turns out that the parents were telling the truth all along when they maintained that they did not kill their little girl. So why is it that investigators missed or ignored exculpatory clues to continue the pursuit of the Ramseys?

Return to Heuer’s observations. Number one is “we tend to perceive what we expect to perceive.” In the case of the kidnapping of a small child, inexperienced observers, of whom the Boulder police are included, would expect grieving parents to flood police with all the information they could, and would be waiting frantically by the phone for word, any word. When observers do not see what they expect, they begin to suspect the worst and ironically, begin to look for details that confirm their new suspicions. This very dynamic was at work in the immediate response by police to the Ramsey’s desperate calls for help.

During the initial 911 call that Patsy made to the police at 5:52am on 26 December 1996, Patsy hysterically screamed that her daughter had been kidnapped. Rick French, the patrolman who initially responded to the 911 call, looked around and noted that there did not seem to be signs of forced entry or a struggle. He also noted that the parents, particularly Patsy Ramsey, were acting strangely. French called his observations to another patrolman still outside the house and asked that patrolmen to pass the word to the detectives when they arrived. When the two detectives, Linda Arndt and Fred Patterson, arrived, the patrolman outside the house passed to them French’s belief that “something doesn’t seem right.” (Gentile, pg 14)

Soon after she entered the house, Detective Arndt began to notice many things about the Ramsey’s and the crime scene that she considered odd and which bolstered French’s report that had been forwarded to her. John Ramsey did not comfort his wife Patsy, leaving her instead in the care of friends and victim’s rights advocates who soon arrive. Neither John nor Patsy Ramsey seemed to recognize nor care that one of the deadlines set by the kidnappers, 10am, passes without a call. John Ramsey often got up and wandered around the house, out of eyesight for minutes at a time. The ransom note was so overly detailed to seem quite out of the ordinary and suspicious. (Schiller, pg 12-14)

Another Boulder detective assigned to the case, Steve Thomas, saw parent’s actions as those of individuals guilty of murder. In fact, Thomas describes their accounts and their actions as “erratic, suspicious and inconsistent.” (Thomas, back cover) Thomas, as early as the night of the 25th of December, based only on radio accounts of the murder, believed “something did not sound right. Why would a kidnapper who wanted ransom money leave the body at the crime scene? Even dead, the body was valuable collateral because the family, unaware of the death, might still pay the money.” (Thomas, pg 44) Detective Thomas, predisposed to believe the kidnapping was a ruse, directed his suspicions at the parents. In Detective Thomas’ mind, the Ramsey’s looked even more as if they were trying to hide something by hiring attorneys. The Ramsey’s had contacted lawyers and by the time Thomas joined the case, were now forwarding their communications through the lawyers, to the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office and to the Police Department. In Thomas’ words “That could only mean trouble for the police” (Thomas, pg 52)

Since Detective Thomas saw the entire crime as puzzling and the development of hiring lawyers as suspicious, he resolved to watch every move of the Ramsey’s and to listen closely to every utterance. Thomas wrote, “It had been my experience in thirteen years as a police officer that victims tend to act like victims, so I expected to find a grief-stricken family demanding investigative results. Instead, [at the “non-testimonial evidence collection”] they were flanked by a squadron of attorneys and private investigators, and saying absolutely nothing to police.” Detective Thomas intended to perceive what he expected to perceive. That is simple human nature. Since what he saw was in variance to his anticipated perception, he was deeply suspicious. So when the traumatized mother Patsy Ramsey, seeing how suspicious the assembled detective were, she blurted out: “I didn’t kill my baby.” Detective Thomas wrote disingenuously: “No one suggested that she had.” However, his own words and the perception of the mother point out, even if Thomas won’t admit it, perhaps even to himself, that he had hardened his perception of Patsy Ramsey.

The Ramsey’s offered a more benign interpretation of their suspicious actions. Patsy Ramsey made the 911 call because John was still in his underwear, and went to get dressed for when the police were to arrive. Patsy was hysterical as any mother would be, but John Ramsey, who had lost another daughter in a traffic accident and remembered his helplessness then, was determined this time to stay resolute, and do everything in his power to bring back JonBenet. Officer French picked up on these two divergent responses to the kidnapping and since he did not know the back story, thought it strange. John Ramsey’s resolve to be proactive in searching for his daughter compelled him to leave his wife in the care of others in the house, and look out windows for strange cars and to search the house for his daughter, both of which actions so disconcerted Detective Arndt.

Further, John Ramsey offers the opinion that since the Boulder Police Department themselves ignored the instruction on the note not to call the police, and traipsed about in uniforms and marked cars, then he trusted their judgment and experience. John Ramsey further opines that there was nothing particularly guilty about his and his wife’s actions, rather, their actions only appear suspicious to an inexperienced and incompetent police department who had compromised the investigation and were casting about for a scapegoat.

“Somewhere in there, Detectives Linda Arndt and Fred Patterson came in. By this time, I think the officers have looked around the house a little. I don’t realize it at the time, but the first action the police should take in a missing child situation is to thoroughly search the entire house in case the child has fallen asleep - or is playing or hiding - in some unusual place. Unfortunately, the police do not conduct an extensive search of our home.” Later, John Ramsey writes; “We don’t want the kidnapper to think we have called the police, since he said [in the note] he was watching the house. Yet the police officers do not seem to be using much discretion: the cars are marked, the police are wearing uniforms.” (Ramsey, pg 14-15)

The reversal of perception by the police of the “Ramseys as victims” to the “Ramseys as killers” was quick to form and resistant to change. Detective Thomas makes it clear that from the initial stages of the investigation, the Boulder Police pursued the “Ramseys as killers” based on their impression of the Ramseys and the Ramseys seemingly odd behavior. Yet there was another dynamic at work, which helped solidify this impression, The police rank and file’s held antagonism towards the Boulder County District Attorney’s office. Thomas catalogued the animosity. The DA refused to try cases, citing “lack of evidence” and/or the juries’ reluctance to convict. The DA’s office was pre-disposed to plea bargain. Thomas asserted; “I believed they were so weakened in trial experience after decades of plea bargaining that they were afraid to take their chances in court.” (Thomas, pg 116) In a later passage, Thomas wrote that the DA’s office featured a “culture of cowardice and tradition of timidity that were [its] hallmarks.” In Thomas’ view, this yellow streak allowed the DA to get rolled by the Ramsey’s “Dream Team” of lawyers. The DA had come down on the side of the “unknown intruder” theory to explain the murder of JonBenet which put the DA at odds with the detectives, further hardening positions on both sides.

In an attempt to bridge the gap, and soften the positions of the two law enforcement agencies looking into the case, the legal advisor for the Boulder Police convened a meeting of the police detectives and members of the DA’s office. For six hours, the Boulder Police laid out their suspicions about the Ramseys and their belief that there was no evidence to support the “unknown intruder” theory. The DA argued that there was nothing in the presentation that would prove there was guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and that he would not convene a grand jury to compel more testimony from the Ramseys. One of the District Attorneys characterized the police presentation in this way: ”So you’ve got a guy who acts a little weird and won’t talk to you. So what? Doesn’t mean he is a killer.” This meeting, which was intended to bring the disparate points of view, ended up driving the sides even farther apart.

New evidence continued to come into the teams working the case, yet virtually every piece was seen by the police as confirmation of their theory that the Ramseys killed their daughter, yet at the same time, seen by the Ramseys’ legal team as exculpatory. The new evidence was being assimilated to existing images. Three specific pieces of evidence illustrate this point. One was whether Burke, the nine year old brother was awake or asleep at the time of the 911 call, another was whether or not Patsy stepped on the ransom note which had been left on the stairs; and whether JonBenet ate pineapple before her death. In each of these cases, the detectives had evidence that was in variance to the statements made by one or both of the Ramsey adults. Detective Thomas saw these inconsistencies as damning proof of guilt. However, when these seeming contradictions are viewed dispassionately, a more benign interpretation can be given them.

First, examine the 911 call. Listening to the tape, and reading the transcript, the call seems like exactly what you would expect from a confused and hysterical mother, who, early in the morning has just discovered a kidnapper’s note and finds her daughter missing. During the call, Patsy Ramsey begs for help, makes disjointed comments, loses her train of thought, and wails in grief. These are all behaviors that you would expect from a mother frightened for her six year old little girl.

From the transcript:
Patsy Ramsey: We have a kidnapping, hurry please!
Patsy Ramsey: There we have a…There’s a note left and my daughter’s gone.
Dispatcher: Does it say who took her?
Patsy Ramsey: No…I don’t know it’s there…there’s a ransom note here.
Patsy Ramsey: No I don’t. Please, we just got up and she’s not here. Oh my go please. (Thomas, pg 13-14)

This transcript reads and the audio reproduction of the call sound exactly as one would expect a frightened mother to sound in the morning of a kidnapping. But after Patsy seemingly hung up the phone at the conclusion of the call, the line stayed open. Police theorize that the handset did not fully seat in the cradle and captured 15 additional seconds of audio. Listening to the tape, the unaided ear cannot make out anything but static and some tones in this part of the tape. (Boulder County Police Department) Boulder police submitted the tape to defense contractors who had high-speed software which allowed them to isolate the sounds on the tail-end of the recording. Police assert that there are three voices and a short conversation at the end. According to police the final words on the 911 call are as follows:

Patsy Ramsey: Help me Jesus. Help me Jesus.
John Ramsey: We’re not talking to you.
Burke Ramsey: What did you find? (Thomas, pg 15)

The Boulder Police did not reveal the contents of this final part of the call, and quizzed the Ramseys closely about Burke’s movements the morning of the murder. Tom Trujillo, Boulder Police Department Detective (TT) questioned Patsy Ramsey (PR) during their first interview.

(TT) When did you check on Burke during all this? You talked about John going to check on Burke.
(PR) Yeah, I think I ran in to check on him when I was up there, up um, you know, it just all happened so fast. I said, “Oh my God, what about Burke?” And I think he ran in and checked him while I was running back downstairs or something. But I remember he, you know, I think he ran and checked on him and, he told me he was okay or whatever.
(TT) Okay. John talked about that will all the commotion and you guys yelling and stuff, did that wake up Burke at all?
(PR) No, it didn’t.
(TT) Okay.
(PR) He didn’t get up for a while.
(TT) Cause we talked, John went up later on, and, and woke up Burke.
(PR) Yeah, brought him down.
(TT) Okay.
(PR) Got him dressed. (Gentile, pg 69-70)

The Boulder Detectives saw this as crucial testimony establishing the Ramseys as liars. “The Ramseys would repeatedly tell us that their son did not wake up throughout the night of the crime. We knew differently.” (Thomas, pg 15) The police theorized alternately that Patsy killed JonBenet in a rage over some slight, or our of jealously or that Burke accidentally killed JonBenet while playing a game. While these are certainly theories that might fit the facts, and the lies about Burke might bolster the theories, as mentioned above, Judge Carnes looked at the evidence and ruled it inconclusive at best.

There is another explanation for the confusion about Burke’s whereabouts at that moment, and that is faulty memory for details. Patsy Ramsey made her statements to detective Trujillo months after the events of the day. Although one would assume that minor details about so traumatic a morning would be burned into Patsy’s memory, our own experiences show how fallacious this assumption is. Think back to times when you have related a story that is solid in your memory, only to have someone add a detail that you had forgotten, but which changes key elements of the story. Patsy was running around frantically looking for her daughter, screaming into the phone early in the morning. John was running up and down stairs. Is it possible Burke came out to see what was going on? Is it possible that Patsy and John forgot this fact because they attached so little import to it? For most observers, the answer is yes. For the detectives of Boulder saw this new evidence fitting conclusively into their framework of the Ramseys as killers and liars.

Another piece of evidence that the investigators deemed crucial was the idea that Patsy could not have possible stepped over the ransom note that was left on the spiral staircase without losing her balance and falling over. In her interrogation by Detective Trujillo, Patsy Ramsey addressed the matter.

(TT) Un, ok. At that point in time, do you have to step on the note, or step over it when you come down.
(PR) I probably stepped over it.
(TT) Okay.
(PR) Cause we sometimes lay papers and stuff there to go up, and if you step on it you might slip, I don’t, don’t think I stepped on it. (Gentile, pg 47)

Detective Thomas attempted to recreate coming down the stairs and could not step over the stair where Patsy claimed she saw the note without losing his balance. Thomas asserted that it is much more likely she would have stepped on the note or that the note was never there at all. Thomas’ theory supported by Dr. Hodges conjecture, is that Patsy drafted the note herself to cover her murder. The “Patsy Two Step” seemed to be clear evidence to the detectives that Patty was lying and that the note was never where she said it was.

Again, common sense argues that there may be a simple reason why Patsy could step over the note while Detective Thomas could not. Patsy was 5’6” and probably barefoot and in her own home when she performed the maneuver she described, one she had performed many times before. She was also a graceful and lithe. Detective Thomas was 6’1”, in shoes, and in unfamiliar surroundings. His re-enactment would not necessarily prove anything except that he himself could not do the maneuver as Patsy described it. However, this new evidence fed into the assumption already made that Patsy was lying about her actions on the stairs and probably about everything else as well.

Finally, it is time to examine the ransom note itself. Judge Carnes says this is the most conclusive evidence in the case, outside the DNA profile. The entire case hinges on who actually wrote this note. The killer is the only one with a motive for writing the note, to afford him or herself a chance to flee, or at least establish some sort of alibi while the police and family members inadvertently trash the crime scene. Such a tactic would be either diabolically clever, or incredibly lucky, but either way, it worked. With little intact, uncompromised physical evidence, the best chance investigators had was to tie the ransom note to some one.

The note itself would seemingly offer a wealth of clues. The note is three lined pages in length, handwritten, full of misspellings, obscure references, threats, nonsense, and an acronym. There is so much there, that detectives and journalists have pored over the contents of the note and come to at least three different conclusions, that Patsy wrote it (Thomas, Hodges), that John wrote it (Singular), and that some unknown outside assailant wrote it (Ramsey). The note was puzzling to the first person known to have read it, Patsy, and subsequently has been “blurred stimuli” for everyone else who has picked it up.

An analysis done for the National Enquirer shows that once someone is looking for something, there is plenty of evidence to bolster their theory inside the note. Examine the example below of the ransom note on the left, and a sample of Patsy Ramsey’s left handed writing on the right:

(Picture missing)

The circled words are intended for the reader to link the two documents together, and to blame Patsy Ramsey. The four words chosen certainly look similar, but to the dispassionate observer, what does it prove? To Judge Carnes, it proved nothing, to Dr Hodges and to the National Enquirer, it was enough to call Patsy a murderer.

As was mentioned above, a cunning and diabolical killer could not have constructed better note with more red herrings and obscurities. Running down the leads in the note consumed years of police time and resulted in many accusations of people not at all involved. Two particular parts of the note stand out. From page one, the author of the note wrote: “You will withdraw $118,000 from your account. $100,000 will be in $100 bills and the remaining $18,000 in $20 bills. Make sure that you bring an adequate size attaché to the bank.” The note concludes with this puzzling sequence: “Use that good, southern common sense of yours. It's up to you now, John! Victory! S.B.T.C” (Schiller, pg 8-9)

The reference to “$118,000” has been described at the exact size of the bonus John Ramsey received from his company. Dr Hodges describes it this way: “For the first time Patsy boldly reveals some personal information: $118,000 was precisely the amount of John’s bonus. John may have made the suggestion to give this number since he probably would be much more familiar with the exact amount of his bonus, but Patsy, for her own reasons, probably liked and used his suggestion.” (Hodges, pg 18) Others saw the number referring to Psalm 118. The key passage of that Psalm is verse 28, “God is the LORD, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.” In the words of a profiler:
“My assessment of this verse and it's possible relevance to this case is as follows: The person using this verse would be from a conservative Christian background, i.e. Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, etc. They would see themselves as having committed a grievous sin that requires more than a prayer of forgiveness. Their disgust for their sin would lead to anger towards themselves and towards the person that they felt they had wronged in this case the girl. By killing the child they believed that they where taking the child from a dark world or a dark existence and sending the child to a better place. This blood sacrifice would in their mind bring them redemption for their sin and rid them of their guilt as it related to the child.” (Yeager)

This assessment seems quite well reasoned, except that the killer asked for “$118,000” and did not actually mention the psalms or the bible. It is coincidental that JonBenet was found bound with cords as if in sacrifice but then it would be further coincidence that her father got a bonus of that amount in dollars. Which coincidence is relevant, and which not? That answer is lost amongst the other blurred stimuli of the note.

One of the other puzzles of the note are the initials “S.B.T.C.” at the end. Chris Wolf’s girlfriend thought that he had a shirt with those initials on it and they stood for Santa Barbara Tennis Club. The profilers brought in by the Boulder PD thought that it stands for “Saved by the Cross.” Still others thought it referred to John Ramsey’s time at the Subic Bay Training Center in the Philippines. Which is correct, which not? More blurred stimuli.

Several forces came together in the JonBenet Ramsey case to thwart the police trying to investigate the crime. Some of these forces were completely outside their control. The killer or killers were depraved and diabolical. If we are to take the words of the ransom note at face value, the killers demanded the relatively paltry sum of $118,000 to spare the life of a beloved six year old girl, then killed her, and ran off without ever trying to contact the Ramsey’s for ransom. If we believe the profilers, the murders had some kind of mental defect that compelled them to sexually assault and then murder a little girl, but yet possessed the cunning to draft a red herring of a ransom note to cover their get-away. Or, one parent or both murdered the child and then callously hid behind lawyers and threw money at the justice system until the parents exhausted an overmatched district attorney and an inexperienced police force. Whatever happened, the evidence and theories collected to date are insufficient. Resolution of this case awaits better techniques to evaluate the evidence collected.

There is reason to hope that such techniques will eventually arrive. There is a DNA profile that has been established of the killer based on evidence collect from the JonBenet’s body yet sadly, that profile does not match that of anyone who’s DNA has been collected. However, it is foreseen that new techniques that would allow for partial matches of DNA in the database will direct investigators to relatives of the killer, then eventually back to the killer himself, even if he or she is diseased. Justice can only sit by patiently and wait for the killers of this little girl to be captured by the few milliliters of evidence they left behind.

Altman, Evan M. ROBERT CHRISTIAN WOLF, Plaintiff, v. JOHN
Boulder Colorado Police Department. Patsy Ramsey’s 911 Call of
26 December 1996. (
Carnes, Julie E. ROBERT CHRISTIAN WOLF, Plaintiff, v. JOHN
Gentile, Don & Wright, David. JonBenet: The Police Files. Boca
Raton, FL: American Media Inc.) 2003.
Hodges, Dr Andrew G. A Mother Gone Bad. (Birmingham, Alabama:
Village House Publishers) 1998.
McDonald, R. Robin. “Federal Judge: 'No Evidence' That Ramseys
Killed JonBenet.” Fulton County Daily Report archived in ( 7 April 2003.
Ramsey, John & Patsy. The Death of Innocence: JonBenet’s
Parents Tell Their Story. (New York: Onyx) 2001.
Schiller, Lawrence. Perfect Murder, Perfect Town. New York:
Harper Paperbacks) 1999.
Singular, Steven. Presumed Guilty. Beverly Hills, CA: New
Millennium Press) 1999.
Thomas, Steve and Davis, Don. JonBenet: Inside the Ramsey
Murder Investigation. (New York: St. Martin’s Press) 2000.
Wiggins, Mike. “Document may show dark side of suspect.” link 18 Jun 02.
Yeager, Dale; Knoke, Denise. Analysis of $118,000 ransom demand
in Ramsey case. ( 28 May 1998.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

I had not wanted to see it...

Because it seems vulgar and probably not that funny. But it looks like I will have to rent or buy the Dukes of Hazzard movie. Why Ken, why? I will tell you. They have Junior Brown playing the Balladeer, the roll Waylon Jennings played during the TV series.

Junior has another link to Waylon. He covered "Nashville Rebel" on the great Waylon Jennings tribute album Lonesome, On'ry and Mean. Junior's voice and obvious affection for Jennings' music probably explains why the producers of the movie would have picked him for the Jennings' role and why I am now compelled to see a movie I otherwise would not have. Curses!

Psychologic Component of Warmaking

During the Battle for Fredericksburg on 13 December 1862, a Federal division attacked across a sunken farm toward an Confederate Army entrenched hillside which had been reinforced with artillery. The Rebels blunted the attack at horrific cost to the attackers. The forces from the South then quickly counter-attacked. The counter-attack also stalled, this time at terrific cost to the rebels. The battle lasted approximately an hour and a half and resulted in a return to the
status quo. 5000 dead and wounded from both sides lay on the now renamed “Slaughter Pen” farm. A staff officer for Jeb Stuart wrote that the dead lay “in heaps.” From a vantage point on the heights the southwest of the farm, Robert E. Lee, who had viewed the attack and counter-attack, and now looked over the carnage is said to have remarked to James Longstreet, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we would grow too
fond of it.” (O’Reilly p 237).

The Battle at Slaughter Pen Farm and Lee’s reaction succinctly summarize the simultaneous appeal and revulsion towards war that is inherent in man. The Chinese have a concept called 阴阳(yin yang) or “opposites coexisting.” Inside all people are opposite urges that are in constant tension. Lee aptly exemplified this concept at Fredericksburg. Lee’s yin yang involved the seductive horror of war. Was Lee’s psychology an aberration unique to himself? Or was his psychological makeup typical of mankind? The larger question to ask is the following: Is war part of human nature?

This paper will attempt to determine whether there is an innate psychological compulsion pushing humans into conflict absent a rational explanation, or if war occurs more or less as a rational response to stimulus such as that of resource scarcity. The final question to be asked is whether stimulus to conflict is a natural, unavoidable consequence of living in an environment with changing seasons and the uneven distribution of resources across terrain.

“War,” as a concept is easy to condemn. The violence directed towards combatants and innocents, the destruction of infrastructure, the devastation to the environment where the battles occur and to the families of the warriors effected, all when observed without context appear wasteful and pointless. Poets mourn the destructiveness of battle; perhaps Seigfried Sassoon had the most perceptive eye. He expressed his revulsion at the horrors of trench warfare in France in his poem, “The Glory of Women” published during World War One:

You can't believe that British troops "retire"
When hell's last horror breaks them, and they run,
Trampling the terrible corpses - blind with blood.
O German mother dreaming by the fire,
While you are knitting socks to send your son
His face is trodden deeper in the mud. (Sassoon)

But even Sassoon recognized that soldiers have some innate appeal. From earlier in the same poem Sassoon wrote:

“You love us when we're heroes, home on leave”

Emmanuel Kant earlier wrote of the veneration that all feel towards the vigorous and violent soldier:

For what is that which is, even to the savage, an object of
the greatest admiration? It is a man who shrinks from nothing, who fears nothing, and therefore does not yield to danger, but rather goes to face it vigorously with the fullest deliberation. Even in the most highly civilised state this peculiar veneration for the soldier remains, though only under the condition that he exhibit all the virtues of peace, gentleness, compassion, and even a becoming care for his own person; because even by these it is recognized that his mind is unsubdued by danger. (Kant, chapter B 28).

Kant notes that all men, regardless of their civilized status, are drawn to the soldierly ideal. Kant even hints at the yin yang in man when he mentions that civilization strives to wring the baser instincts out of men, while at the same time, for the violent soldier who can “pass” as civilized, much adoration from a grateful public awaits.

Seeking adoration is one of the real reasons men go to war as are other, similarly prosaic pursuits. Socrates himself noted that neither fear of punishment nor pursuit of booty was able to get him to stand shoulder to shoulder in a phalanx, facing the sharp blades of another Greek city-state, rather it was that “he must stay there and face the danger without any regard for death or anything else rather than disgrace.” (Plato, p33) Cashman includes these types of motivations for in the “Psychological Explanations for War” chapter of his book What Causes War? Cashman argues that motivations like seeking adoration and fear of disgrace are components of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of the Psychological Needs,” which men (and women) when motivated, will fight to attain. (Cashman, p 97)

Cashman sees the psychological explanation for war as lacking. While man-to-man conflict might be explained as by individuals’ competing psychological needs or by an individual’s perception of temporary overwhelming advantage, propelling a modern nation state to war on these bases is problematic. Modern democratic states have a numerous legal, institutional brakes installed to prevent one individual from willing a nation to war. On the other hand, Cashman gives credence to the idea that a strong, albeit democratically elected leader can single-handedly make war. “In that case [of a democratically elected chief executive] the bargaining, coalition building, and logrolling among the leadership group [surrounding the chief executive] may have a relatively insignificant effect on policy selection.” However, Cashman’s argument is weakened by the fact that he has few modern examples of a democratically elected leader taking his/her country to war in the absence of widespread public support for such a policy. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Viet Nam War, the Falklands War, the Israeli Wars and the first Gulf War were all initially popular with the electorate or in the case of the Cuban Missile Crisis, not really a war. When a polity desires the nation’s armed forces to go to war, only a foolish politician stands in their way.

Authoritarian states do not have the same requirements to ensure their policies are popular with the people, but after a time they do they grow bureaucracies that begin to throw up roadblocks which have the same braking effect as low public ratings or lack on legislative support has on precipitous action in democracies. Young, energetic despots who make a revolution to take power, are the most likely to want to continue the conflict with neighboring states. These type leaders find that their tactics of violence in pursuit of political ends was successful, and look to continue that success in neighboring countries. Recent history is rife with these types of what I call “first generation despots” (FGD) who, once they have consolidated power, quickly move to export their violent success. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Kim Il Sung, Ho Chih Minh, Castro; Saddam, all quickly went to war with neighboring states once they secured their internal power.

The life cycle of these FGDs are as predictable as the aging process in any human. They start out with youthful energy but as they age, they lose the will and vigor to personally continue their earlier revolutionary and expansionistic burst. As they lose interest or energy to continue prosecuting their foreign wars, they are forced to spend time administrating their countries. This need for an administrative apparatus to administer a state established by a violent, charismatic, unpredictable personality inevitably leads to a dysfunctional, ineffective organization. The organization protects those in it by promoting individuals who skills consist of loyalty to the FGD and the ability not to make independent decisions. Competence and quick wittedness become less valued. Those who can survive in the bureaucracy learn to defer decisions until a consensus emerges, and put self-preservation over any other consideration. The result is inevitably bloated, slow moving decision making apparatus which are by nature adverse to bold initiative. Ironically, these skills and proclivities, which proliferate as the states age are exactly the opposite of those which brought the regime to power in its youth.

The psychological basis of war is also found in today’s transnational Global War on Terror. While most theorists focus on scarcity as the primary motivation for warfare, the men who piloted planes into buildings on 11 September 2001 were motivated by something else. Mohammed Atta and the band he lead were relatively affluent. Atta himself was “relatively affluent.” The other terrorists in the attack were bank clerks, students on scholarship, basically middle class. Their transformation into nihilistic terrorists had no basis in scarcity or national allegiance, but was instead a conscious decision to embrace a nihilistic philosophy.
Charles Krauthammer, psychiatrist and Pulitzer Prize winning commentator, writing in the immediate aftermath of the horrific attacks of September 11th, noted a phenomenon driving these men to attack their perceived enemy, the United States. Calling these terrorists “a new enemy” in his article entitled “The Enemy is not Islam,” Krauthammer wrote:

“It turns out that the enemy does have recognizable analogues in the Western experience. He is, as President Bush averred in his address to the nation, heir to the malignant ideologies of the 20th century. In its nihilism, its will to power, its celebration of blood and death, its craving for the cleansing purity that comes only from eradicating life and culture, radical Islam is heir, above all, to Nazism.” (Krauthammer p2)

These nihilistic terrorists have certain differences from Nazis. Nazis gained control of a country, and launched a cross border war of conquest. Further, the Nazis had discrete, rational goals and were amenable to negotiation. Ultimately, the Nazi leadership recognized their untenable position, and surrendered. Those who ascribe to militant Islam have decided that there is nothing for them in this world except to defeat the enemy, the Great Satan, and to die in that cause. Bin Laden himself laid out the terrorist nihilistic philosophy: “the love of this world is wrong. You should love the other world...die in the right cause and go to the other world.” Mohammed Atta and his cohorts on September 11th as well as millions of others around the world have heard this call, and decided to follow.

The predictable life cycle of despotism and the conscious decisions of the 9/11 terrorists provide credence to the idea that psychology is the predominant reason for war. LeBlanc makes a persuasive case that across regions and climates and time, groups have fought. LeBlanc ultimately concludes that warfare “has been based on rational behavior for much of human history” in a battle over scarce resources. His prescription is to solve the problem of scarce resources. He may well be right in this prescription but it seems ultimately unpersuasive when confronting a nihilistic philosophy. When faced with such virulence, we need men like Lee, who are prepared to entertain that part of themselves which craves the battle and who are willing to close with such an enemy and destroy them.

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