Monday, May 20, 2013


 The stalled gun control discussion in America is primarily focused on background checks to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons and people with known mental illness. This is important, but it is only part of the problem with guns in America. 

This is what a human skull looks like after a hand gun is discharged while pointing up under the chin or in the mouth. This skull was found with most of the rest of a human skeleton and a number of personal items in the woods of rural northwest Florida. The remains of this John Doe were determined to be the result of a suicide by gun.

This is the handgun found with the human remains. According to the Taylor County Sheriffs Office, "The weapon found at the scene was a Charter Arms 38 Cal. Revolver with a serial number of 23173. ATF trace shows the gun shipped from manufacture to Howard Brother Wholesale Distributers at 801 Riverbarge, Monroe Louisianna on 15 February 1968. No further records available."

According to data for 2010 published by the CDC, the rate of suicides in the United States has risen sharply since 2000, now accounting for more deaths than automobile accidents. Suicides by middle-aged men have risen more sharply than for other segments of the population. 

Here are some summary data for 2010:

All suicides

  • Number of deaths: 38,364
  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 12.4
  • Cause of death rank: 10

Firearm suicides

  • Number of deaths: 19,392
  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 6.3

Suffocation suicides

  • Number of deaths: 9,493
  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 3.1

Poisoning suicides

  • Number of deaths: 6,599
  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 2.1

What stands out immediately in the data summary above is that suicide by gun  is the most popular method among suiciders (I prefer this term to "suicide victims"). Why is that?

I can only guess about the answer to that question, of course, because there are no interviews of successful suiciders. My guess has two parts: 1) suicide by gun is instantaneous, if conducted properly, thus avoiding the pain and suffering of suffocation, poisoning, or bleeding to death; and 2) guns are very easy to get. 

And this is the issue; the accessibility of guns in America. Tens of thousands of people in this country kill themselves with a gun every year. And we - that's right, you and I - allow it to happen over and over and over. We allow it to happen by not insisting that our government strictly control firearms. I don't have statistics, but I will bet that the number of suicides would drop by many thousands a year if guns were not so easily obtainable in America. 

Did I mention that the skull shown above was my kid brother Larry? Larry became a missing person in January, 1999 after sending his 2 brothers and a few close friends a long, carefully composed printed suicide letter. He disappeared from Manhattan where he had lived for many years. In August of 2000, some hunters found human remains in the woods of Florida, and a diligent investigator with the Taylor County Sheriff's Office finally cracked the John Doe suicide case in 2004. From the articles found at the scene, it appears that Larry sat under a tree, drank a bottle of brandy and smoked a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes (irony was one of Larry's trademarks) while listening to a John Coltrane CD ("My Favorite Things" which I now have and listen to occasionally) on his walkman. He then put a bullet through his brain. 

Larry most likely bought the handgun on the street in New York. Maybe he knew some shady characters; he hung out at the horse races a lot. The coroners report mentioned that he had a few healed ribs that had been broken;  hence part of our family lore that Larry was in trouble with the mob over gambling debts - but this is just us imaging Larry's life and death. 

The handgun shown above can be traced from the manufacturer to a wholesale dealer, and that is where the trail ends. Why is that? How did that gun get into the hands of a guy in New York city who used it to kill himself? Why doesn't the government track guns as they move through the population? I'll bet the NRA knows the answer to this one! That gun could not be traced, and therefore the identity of a John Doe could not be determined. It took 5 years for us to find out what happened to our brother, and the answer came only because a dedicated law officer in Florida wouldn't give up and finally figured it out starting with the State of New York tax stamp on the package of Lucky Strikes

Larry I. Fishman was 49 years old when he left New York for the last time. He was a bachelor, and in many ways a loner with few close friends. He was intelligent, a talented actor and song writer, a lawyer. He wrote, produced and starred in a short movie just before he checked out (we have a copy). And as shown above, Larry never missed an opportunity to mug for a camera or an audience. 

Alas, poor Larry. I still have a black plastic box containing Larry's ashes (we had his skeletal remains cremated after getting them from the Taylor County Coroner). I need to do something with it, but I haven't yet. His suicide was carefully planned and staged; he even had a plastic bag in his pocket with $150 and a note that the money was for any expense involved if someone found his remains - and it included an apology for the trouble. A kind and considerate man to the very end!

I often wonder if Larry would still be alive if he had not been able to get a handgun. I don't know whether or not Larry would have done himself in by poison, a plastic bag over his head, or opening a vein. But I think he would not have - a single shot through the brain was so quick and, well, so Larry. Maybe if guns were not so easily attainable my little brother would still be mugging for my camera. 

How many more Larrys will kill themselves with a gun before we come to our senses? This is a national tragedy, and we need to end  it

Monday, May 06, 2013


I like Metro (the Metropolitan Service District). I like open and green spaces, fish and wildlife, parks for everyone, natural restored organic sustainable places in my natureshed.  But I might vote no on Metro Measure 26-152.

The Oregonian editorial today recommends a no vote because of some unresolved questions and timing issues. I don't always agree with the Oregonian editorial board, but this ballot measure has been nagging at me, and the editorial peaked my interest, so I dug around a bit. 

I read the entire text in the Voters' Pamphlet for Measure 26-152. I went to the Metro web site and read more, including some background reports. I googled (yes, using google, not bing or yahoo) "no on measure 26-152" and managed to find maybe 3 coherent items. 

OK, first off, the measure title falls into one of my pet peeve categories: using buzz words to get a favorable reaction. The measure title: "LOCAL OPTION LEVY: IMPROVE NATURAL AREAS, WATER QUALITY FOR FISH." Wow, three buzz words/terms in one concise title: natural, water quality, fish; impressive. And in fact, water quality and salmon (another PNW buzz word) are prominent in the text. 

By itself, this choice of buzz words isn't such a big deal, but hear me out a bit more.

Here is a pie chart from the Metro web site that shows how the bond money will be spent:

Notice anything? Where do the terms "restore, natural, wildlife, fish and water quality" appear? The right half of the pie, "Restoring natural areas for wildlife, fish and water quality" representing 40-50% of the money. 

The remaining 50-60% of the bond money will be for other things, including 20-30% for regional park operations (places like Blue Lake Park and Oxbow Park). 

So, in fact, only half or less of the bond measure is for "improve natural areas, water quality for fish;" the majority is for operational expenses for other programs ("improving public access to natural areas" is kind-of "improve natural areas" but is a bit misleading). (1)

Why not put forward a bond measure for half of the $53,300,000 (53.3 Million) to fund habitat enhancement and protection projects (the real goal of "restoration") and save everyone some tax payments; or, give the measure a name that actually represents what it is, an operating budget for Metro parks and natural areas?   

I think this is deceptive on the part of Metro.

There are two other items that disturb me about this bond measure: (1) deception regarding the information presented by Metro and supporters about the last natural areas levy, and (2) tax compression.  As Krugman says: let me explain.

(1) Metro and it's supporters on this measure tell us that the last two times we the voters approved bond measures on this natural area stuff, it was ONLY for purchasing property, not maintaining or improving it. Voters approved bond measures for Metro related to natural areas in 1995 and 2006 totaling $363 Million. Here is the first sentence in the Voters' Pamphlet summary for the 2006 measure:  Protects specific natural areas, lands near rivers and streams, wildlife and trail corridors through land acquisition and restoration (underline added). And here is the second bullet in the summary of what the bond measure will do: Protect and restore watersheds for improved water quality (underline added). OK, "restore" is a verb, it means that Metro (or someone) will take actions to restore (improve, enhance, whatever) the land and the watersheds. So Metro and it's supporters are not being factual, the previous bond measure was to restore lands as well as purchase them. 

(2) What the hell is tax compression? This is what I asked myself when I read the Oregonian editorial. So, from the State of Oregon web site: 

The Oregon Constitution also sets limits on the amount of property taxes that can be collected from each property tax account. These limits are often called the "Measure 5 limits." To figure these limits, taxes are divided into categories described in the constitution. The categories are: education and general government. Some taxes, usually for general obligation bonds, are not subject to limitation. The limits are $5 per $1,000 of real market value (RMV) for education taxes and $10 per $1,000 of RMV for general government taxes. 
If taxes in either category exceed the limit for that property, the taxes are reduced or "compressed" until the limit is reached. Local option taxes are compressed first. If the local option tax is compressed to zero, and the limit still hasn't been reached, the other taxes in the category are proportionally reduced. 
Please note that these limits are based on the RMV of the property, not the taxable assessed value.

There is some concern that passage of the Metro Measure could result in some municipalities in the Metro region having to cut budgets from other programs, based on the State mandated tax limitation rules. In fact last November, 19 suburban mayors in the Metro region signed a letter to Metro asking it to delay a decision on placing the bond measure on the 2013 ballot until serious concerns were examined. 

There is a green juggernaut in the Portland metropolitan area, and you're either on the bus drinking the lime koolaid, or your not relevant. I generally don't ride that bus.

So now, gentle reader, scroll to my opening paragraph to remind yourself about what I like - I am not anti-environment, anti-natural areas, not etc. (I like cute little pussy cats. I like cotton candy on a summer day at the county fair. I like toast and jam.) 

But I might vote no on Measure 26-152 because of the serious issues discussed above. 


(1) I recently applied for a Community Project Grant, but was denied. This is a good program, I think, and I'm not against the program. 

Sunday, May 05, 2013


The following is from the U.S. Department of Justice web site: 
The United States and the city of Portland, Ore., have jointly filed in federal court a proposed court enforceable settlement agreement to remedy constitutional claims that the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional uses of force in response to “low-level offenses” against persons with actual or perceived mental illness.  The agreement addresses the allegations described in a civil action also filed today by the United States, under provisions of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 for alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

There is a long story behind the above paragraph, one that I'm not getting into in order to save time and space. But I chose the above as a lead-in to this post. The answer to the title of this post is yes, in my opinion. 

Here is an opening statement in the final Agreement between the USDoJ and the City of Portand (CoP):

The United States and the City of Portland (“City”) (collectively “the Parties”)
recognize that the vast majority of the City’s police officers are honorable law enforcement professionals who risk their physical safety and well-being for the public good. 

I whole-heartedly agree with this statement, and that is not part of the argument I'm making. I want to talk about the culture of the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), the organizational mind set. 

Here is another statement from the Agreement between the DoJ and the CoP:

The Parties further recognize that the ability of police officers to protect themselves and the community they serve is largely dependent on the quality of the relationship they have with that community. Public and officer safety, constitutional policing, and the community’s trust in its police force are, thus, interdependent. 

This statement really captures the essence of my position. It's all about the "quality of the relationship" the PPB has with the community, and the community's trust in the police.

In my opinion, the Portland Police Bureau has a bad relationship with the Portland community, and it is because of a systemic problem within the Bureau.

There have been numerous killings of Portland citizens by Portland police officers in recent years. The deaths by police of Keaton Otis, Aaron Campbell, James Chasse, Jr., James Jahar Perez, and Kendra James have received a lot of media attention. There are many other shootings by police that have resulted in injury or death that don't get much press. And there are many more incidents of people injured by police officers using excessive force. 

Three recent examples of police using excessive force will illustrate my point. 
1. a young woman was pulled over by police at 1AM, she refused to take a sobriety test but agreed to take a breathalizer test (citizens have this right), she was grabbed by police officers and dragged out of her car through the open car window, and her wrist was broken in the process. 
2. a police officer stopped when she saw a man sitting with his car door open and puking into the street, when he didn't get out of his car after being asked, the officer filled the car with pepper spray and arrested the man when he staggered out of the car gagging from the spray, he spent two nights in jail before being released without being charged.
3. "The city of Portland will pay $2.3 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed by William Kyle Monroe, a man diagnosed with bipolar disorder who was permanently disabled after Police Officer Dane Reister mistakenly fired lethal rounds at him from a beanbag shotgun in June 2011." The unarmed man was stopped by police after getting calls that a man was acting strangely around a playground with children. After he was stopped and emptied his pockets to show that he had no weapon, Mr. Monroe became frightened (he was having a paranoid mania incident) and started to run. The police officer fired his shotgun, thinking that it contained beanbag rounds, but it contained live rounds. The officer fired 5 times, the last shot from about 15 feet away, severely injuring Mr. Monroe, who nearly bled to death. (One wonders why the officer kept shooting after seeing that the shotgun had live rounds.) 

Another example to illustrate my point is that of Captain Mark Kruger. "An internal affairs investigation found Kruger brought "discredit and disgrace upon the Bureau and the City," when Kruger nailed "memorial plaques" of five Nazi soldiers to a tree on the east side of Rocky Butte Park sometime between 1999 and 2001." Kruger was mildly disciplined for this incident that greatly disturbed the Portland Jewish community, and has since been promoted to Captain and conducts leadership trainings for the bureau. 

Finally, another incident that did not involve a human victim of police actions, but helps illustrate my point. In 2012, a Portland Police Bureau anti-terrorist unit staged a training raid on the Columbia River. The cops stormed a beach by boat, shooting high-powered assault weapons at targets set up on the beach. The problem with this exercise was that the location was in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, at Cape Horn on the Washington side of the river. The training exercise left the basalt cliffs at Cape Horn permanently defaced with a large number of pock marks from the high-caliber rounds. The U. S. Forest Service, which manages the Scenic Area, was not notified of the exercise, and probably (one would hope) would not have approved it. The City of Portland apologized and blamed it on a "new person" who planned the operation. There was no penalty of any kind. (Imagine what would have happened to me if I had shot hundreds of live rounds into the basalt cliff in a National Scenic Area!)

My point from all of the above is this: the Portland Police Bureau has little regard for the community it serves, as evidenced by the way they treat Portland citizens as well as iconic and significant landscape features that help form the foundation of what it means to be Portland. All of this stems from the bureau's institutional mindset that values bureau insularity more than the community. People in Portland's minority communities are afraid of the police, as they should be based on the record. 

Police officers can do their job without hurting people, except in a small number of incidents. People stopped for weird behavior, suspicion of drunk driving, or suspicion of gang activity should not be beat up or shot. This is not simply a matter of a "few bad apples" in the force; it is a matter of a failed institution that trains it's officers poorly and condones bad behavior by looking the other way. 

Police officers have a tough job to do, every day. However, their job would be easier if they were a part of the community, not an armed force running roughshod over the community. 

I've worked with Portland cops on neighborhood issues. They are mostly good people with a difficult job. There are many good things to be said about the Portland police and the majority of dedicated and professional officers. As an institution, however, the Portland  Police Bureau has failed the community in too many important ways, and a complete overhaul to change the culture of the institution is way overdue.