I told you he read FTSOS

Jack Hudson is a bit like Ken Ham. Both are Christians. Both are creationists. Both routinely fail to defend positions. Oh. And both refuse to link to those who criticize them.

Anyone who regularly reads Pharyngula knows that Ken Ham and his Creation ‘Museum’ people will not link back to PZ’s articles. It’s a cowardly passive-aggressive sort of thing. They have made a habit of referring to PZ as an “atheist professor”, a “professor from Minnesota”, or some other similar name, but they won’t mention him directly. Now it looks like Jack Hudson has taken out a page from that play book for use on me.

After getting up in a huff over something someone else said to him, he left FTSOS, vowing never to return. Okay. But it has been clear that he still lurks around here. His articles have often been based upon links posted here, and his remarks have often been thinly veiled responses to comments made here (and a couple times even to comments made on Facebook…sort of like how he referenced his Facebook discussions when he texted my cousin).

You know, I can’t deny that I’ve had conversations with friends that have resulted in posts here. It happens from time to time. Of course, if I’ve made specific responses to a person, even if written in a generalized voice, I’ve always sent on a link to the person. It’s just common courtesy. And really, why would I want to hide from what I’ve said? I said it in the first place because I want people to listen.

Jack has had at least three responses to FTSOS. The first was an update to a post of his that was pro-bigotry while vaguely featuring some infantile libertarianism.

An Addendum:

It’s a bit of a myth that this wouldn’t have happened to a heterosexual married couple; in fact, this does happen to elderly married couples.

This was in response to my post about an elderly gay couple that was separated by the state. The two men had about as much legal documentation as they possibly could so as to avoid the hardships of current end-of-life care in the United States which disregards their humanity. But it didn’t matter. They were separated and had their belongings stolen and sold by Sonoma County in California.

Jack thinks that’s the same as another older, heterosexual, married couple who was forced into a nursing home. While that is superficially similar (the gay couple was also forced into a nursing home), the fact is that this all hinges on marriage. Someone blinded by pure bigotry dressed up in lies isn’t likely to see this: the gay couple was separated and not allowed to see each other, despite the lack of any sort of conviction for alleged abuse (which was alleged by known liars), much less the presence of any charges. A married couple would have been given better than that. And, in fact, the married couple in the second story, while in a deplorable situation that was and is an abuse of power by the state, were not separated, the only reason being because they were married. Honestly. One friend (who will be getting this link, incidentally) recently told me that this whole thing is about “the legitimization” of gay relationships, suggesting that there are ways gay couples can get rights “without calling it marriage”. That’s crap and this is just another piece of evidence that separate but equal can never be equal. Oh, and gay relationships already are legitimate, gays already act as the heads of households and families, and no denial of equal rights is going to change that fact.

But that isn’t the only passive-aggressive attack.

To that end I need to make clear a few simple rules I have here – one’s that I have always had, but didn’t feel the need to make public before, but now feel compelled to.

First off I filter foul language – if you can’t say anything without dropping the f-bomb or referring to a body part in the crudest of terms, then it won’t get posted here. It is a pretty simple rule for most to follow, but some can’t seem to help themselves.

This is in response to posts of mine which occasionally have featured th-th-th, gasp!, the F-bomb!

There are three reasons I don’t stop anyone from saying “fuck” all they want on my website. One, I’m not a child. I can deal with it. Two, censorship is mostly crap. Three, it is an immature view of language to think it a good thing to curb any of its use. Words should be elastic, allowed to move and flow with the times, context, and even emotion. Sometimes a good go fuck yourself is the best available terminology; the magic is in its simplicity. I often intentionally use very simple, straight-forward titles for my posts to get my point across. Was anyone confused about what I was saying when I titled a post Andreas Moritz is a stupid, dangerous man? Was anyone befuddled as to where I was going when I said Deepak Chopra is not an intelligent man? I like to think I was pretty clear. And that was the whole point behind those titles. Sometimes simple words are needed when what’s behind the meaning is simple. There is no need to be an obtuse, pompous douche when there is so much more clarity in being short. But then there are times when a pretentious title is needed. For instance, when I wrote about the tenability of unsourced claims as they pertain to objective morality, I wasn’t trying to convey that an easy read was ahead. Philosophical styles differ markedly from most other ways of writing – and not in a way that makes them a breeze to peruse. For anyone who actually gives a rat’s ass about writing, it is abundantly clear that it is a mistake to unnecessarily corner language and only allow what feels good. Language is expression; express it.

Secondly, I don’t post personal attacks or responses to them.

Really?

You know Michael, I almost never feel compelled to deal with anyone physically, but you are very lucky your puny little bank teller body is in Maine, because i would kick your butt from one side of the room to the other if you said that to my face. Of course you wouldn’t because you are a coward.

And along with that readers should know I never call or email strangers or people who I interact with online.

Again, Jack is directly responding to material from FTSOS, but he’s pulling the ol’ Ken Ham. He doesn’t want to link others here and get any exchange moving between users, I suppose. Fortunately, while Jack has a handful of creationist milling about his page, I have a bit of a larger audience. I encourage everyone reading this to venture over to Jack’s site and start leaving comments. Don’t spam the guy’s stuff, but make him actually response to something intelligent. I recommend starting with this incoherent post about atheism, but feel free to tear apart whatever seems appealing. Unlike Jack, I don’t want to pretend I’m your boss.

And finally:

Recently I saw an atheist claim that ‘spiritual beliefs do not equal religious beliefs’. This may be true, but for an atheist to say so is a bit like a vegetarian lecturing on the best way to prepare a steak.

Surprise, I’m that atheist.

This analogy is just so awful. First, an atheist has no religion. That does not mean an atheist has no knowledge of religion or is unable, like Jack, to tell the difference between a real world phenomenon and a nebulous term that always needs to be defined before being used. Second, aren’t theists always claiming that atheism is a religion? In Jack’s bad analogy, atheism is very unlike religion. Isn’t it amazing just how often these people undermine their own silly claims?

So a quick wrap-up (because this post is way longer than I ever intended): Jack is a creationist like Ken Ham who refuses to link back to those who criticize him; he does not understand how to parallel socially important issues because (also like Ken Ham) he is a bigot; and finally, he apparently does not pay close enough attention to FTSOS. Say something stupid loudly enough, like Christopher Maloney or Andreas Moritz, or cross me in a magnificently stupid way like Rawn and Judy Torrington or Lt. J Christopher Read, and I have no issue posting and posting and tearing apart what I see as a wrong on my website (and for all five of those people, publishing and distributing stories all around my hometown, including Maloney’s own neighborhood). I mean, honestly. Have I not been clear? Has there been confusion as to what I am willing to do to get my point across? Do people not realize that to do something for the sake of science does not simply mean to act in a way that shows passion for science because science is good, but it also means to stand up to bad actions, bad behavior, lowly thoughts, and dishonest methods?

McCamish Rectifies Officer’s Error

By Michael Hawkins

Lt. J. Christopher Read has been doing his job for close to 20 years. He knows how the Augusta Police Department works. In fact, he knows how the law works better than most. At least, he knows it better than I do. He told me so.

Let me bring everything up to date.

It began with a parking ticket in high school from Officer Richard Dubois. I was illegally parked, but Officer Dubois made the citation out incorrectly. I unofficially contested the ticket. Stubbornness ensued.

Officer Dubois wouldn’t take the ticket back despite the clarity of his error. (He wrote that I was parked on the sidewalk. I was actually on the yellow diagonal lines seen at the end of parking spaces. These lines cannot be placed on the sidewalk, nor are they ever put there.) I was guilty of a $15 crime and would have simply paid the fine had Dubois not made a silly mistake. But if anything, the law is full of technicalities. I saw no reason to not use that to my advantage.

Long story short, I went to great lengths to definitively prove the lack of validity to the ticket (and absolutely did so), but ended up paying it anyway. Okay, whatever. It’s $15.

But then came a great opportunity.

For a journalism course I had to use the Maine Freedom of Information Access Act (FOIA) to obtain some sort of information from a government entity. Inspired by the Boston Globe’s use of the Massachusetts version of the act to uncover the disciplinary record of a State Trooper, I requested the same record for Officer Dubois’.

Okay, I admit it. His stubbornness got to me. Maybe I’m arrogant. Maybe I’m cocky. I’ll accept those descriptions as long as I can still say I was right about that little ticket. I’ll sacrifice image for principle any day.

But whatever the reason for my actions, I requested Officer Dubois’ record. And I had a right to it. The Maine FOIA says so: “… if disciplinary action is taken, the final written decision relating to that action is no longer confidential…”

The language is clear. It’s unambiguous. The disciplinary records of municipal, county, and state employees are not confidential.

Lt. Read was confused on the issue.

I approached the Lt. on a Monday with my request. He informed me that personnel records are confidential. For the most part, yes, they certainly are. I know because the act states this immediately before naming a particular exception.

But I hadn’t read the Maine FOIA carefully at this point. I was turned away, no records in hand. I soon began my research.

Upon discovering that Lt. Read had made an error, I returned two days later. I gave the man the benefit of the doubt. Hell, I could see myself making a mistake like that.

“I think there may have been a misunderstanding. I’m looking for Officer Dubois’ disciplinary record, not his entire personnel record.”

Lt. Read held his ground. It was here that I read him, verbatim, what the law actually states. Remember, the language is abundantly clear.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years; I know how it works…That’s your interpretation.”

I persisted, explaining in the simplest terms possible why he was wrong. It was to no avail.

Realizing the brick wall in front of me, I decided to finish up by reminding Lt. Read that he needs to give me a written response explaining his denial of my request within 5 business days. (I’ve heard it may be 10 business days, though I’ve only read “5”. Regardless, a response is required.)

Looking me dead in the eye, no sign of a smirk, no twitch of laughter, he delivers his line.

“I’m not going to do that.”

I’m dumbfounded. I gave this man the benefit of the doubt. I read him the act. Twice. I interpreted it for him clearly. Yet here I was.

I reminded Augusta’s finest of the $500 fine that comes with a violation of this law. He was wasn’t fazed.

Going a step further with the overly-nice guy routine, I even offered Lt. Read a copy of my written request. I figured he may realize he’s wrong somewhere in the next few days. He’d need my contact information.

He refused it.

It was at this point in my mind that I questioned the honesty of the officer. I believe him when he says he’s been in law enforcement for 20 years. But I draw the line when he claims he knows how this law works. He had no idea that the disciplinary records were not confidential. He had no idea he was required to give me a written response. He didn’t seem to realize there was a fine associated with his bungling of the situation. “Liar” may be a strong word here, but it can’t be too far off the mark.

I let Lt. Read know I was going to see City Manager William Bridgeo with an identical letter. He had every chance to correct himself.

Bridgeo was in a meeting, but a clerk took down my whole story alongside copies of my letter and a printout of the relevant section of the law. She said the manager would get back to me.

And get back to me he did.

Within a couple days, I received a letter from Bridgeo. Perhaps the nicest man in Augusta, he praised my efforts (yay me!) while also informing me that Officer Dubois had no disciplinary record in the past two years (records are not kept longer than that, with exception for repeat offenses).

In other words, the records are public information. Great. Tickets made in error aside, Officer Dubois seems to be on the up-and-up. This is far more satisfying than finding an officer riddled with reprimands and suspensions.

But the story doesn’t end there.

A few days later I received another letter. This one was from Police Chief Wayne McCamish.

“I must apologize that as you are aware, should there be a final written decision relating to a disciplinary action taken against an employee, that information is not confidential and you would have a right to access of that information.”

He goes on to explain that as a result of Lt. Read’s handling of the situation, “[a]ll Police Supervisors are to review our Standard Operating Procedure, Public Access to Records, to ensure that a request for information is handled properly…I am truly sorry for the inconvenience you have experienced.”

Twenty years is a long time, but it doesn’t hold up against the law. But maybe that’s just my interpretation.

Troopers troopers

I have updates for two previous posts. The first is about that Dallas cop – Robert Powell – that stopped a family from seeing their dying relative. He pulled a gun on these people. Think about that: a vehicle slowly runs red lights, puts on its hazards, and pulls into a hospital parking lot. What’s your first thought? Well, if you’re normal, it’s that there’s an emergency. If you’re an almost surely racist, hillbilly cop, it’s to pull a gun out on t’em t’ere niggers. That’s what Powell did, among other things. He has resigned.

“I made this decision in the hope that my resignation will allow the Dallas Police Department, my fellow officers and the citizens of Dallas to better reflect on this experience, learn from the mistakes made, and move forward,” Powell said in a statement issued through his lawyers.

No, he wants to ease his legal situation as best as possible and he knows he’s going to be fired anyway. Understandable move, but he’s lying.

My second update is about my run-in with some officer at the Augusta Police Department who had no idea how the Maine Freedom of Information Access Act works. The Capital Weekly (a local, weekly paper) has asked me to do a first person write-up of the incident. It will not be kind to the offending officer – Lt. J. Christopher Read.

Let freedom ring

Freedom of information, that is.

I recently gave an update on my experience using the Maine Freedom of Information Access Act. On two separate occasions I got stonewalled by some Lieutenant who was not familiar with the act (nor with humility). Eventually, the city manager gave me the information. A couple of days later I got this (emphasis added).

Dear Mr. Hawkins:

I have been advised you have made contact twice this week with Lt. J. Chris Read requesting copies of any disciplinary action taken against Officer Richard Dubois. I am now aware that you made your first request on Monday, Mark 9th and returned on Wednesday, March 11th. Each time you received a verbal denial from Lt. Read advising that the information you were requesting is confidential as personnel records are confidential.

I must apologize that as you are aware, should there be a final written decision relating to a disciplinary action taken against an employee, that information is not confidential and you would have a right to access of that information. Your request should have been handled differently and following a review of the individual’s personnel file, you should have been advised that there are no disciplinary action documents in the file. I have personally checked the officer’s personnel file and can state that there are no disciplinary documents of any kind in the file.

As a result of how your request for information was handled by a member of my staff, I have undertaken a review of our procedures pertaining to public access to records. All Police Supervisors are to review our Standard Operating Procedure, Public Access to Records, to ensure that a request for information is handled properly.

Again, there is no information pertaining to disciplinary action regarding Officer Richard Dubois to provide to you per your request. I am truly sorry for the inconvenience you have experienced.

Sincerely

Chief Wayne M McCamish

Quality response. This covers the department from the $500 fine to which Lt. Read potentially subjected them since it covers both my requests within 5 business days of receiving them. While it would have been interesting to see the whole process of a fine being assessed to either the police department or the city itself, I’m far happier to see that the law was followed correctly. Regardless, I’ve contacted a local paper to see if they’re interested in having me write this story for them (I’ve written for them in the past [usually about local hiking]).

Being right feels so good

I recently wrote about my experience obtaining information using the Maine Freedom of Information Access Act. I wanted any “final written decisions” relating to a local police officers disciplinary record. Another officer told me that was not public information. He asserted that his 20 years of experience trumps what the law actually (and explicitly) says. In short, the man was largely ignorant of the law – and too stubborn to admit it even when faced with undeniable evidence.

After going to the City Manager, I received a letter in the mail. Here is the body of it.

I am in receipt of your request for copies of all disciplinary action taken against Officer Richard Dubois. I have reviewed the officer’s personnel file and find no records of disciplinary action. Augusta Police Department Officers are covered by a collective bargaining agreement which prevents written disciplinary action from remaining in an officer’s personnel file in excess of two (2) years unless a similar violation has occurred (relevant language enclosed).

As an aside, I noticed your internal posting this afternoon and enjoyed it. I recommend your journalism professor give you an “A”!

In other words, I am absolutely right that the information for which I asked is public. It just so happens that the information is only left in personnel files for a certain period of time, i.e., some of the stuff I wanted simply does not physically exist any longer (assuming it did at all). For the time when the information does exist, Officer Dubois has had no disciplinary actions taken against him.

Oh, what to do now, what to do now. I can take the high road and enjoy that feeling of being vindicated humbly (minus this current indulgence). Alternatively, I can request the information of Lt. Read and be sure to post it. In addition, I can also be sure the local newspaper hears about this. Furthermore, I can be sure to explore all possible avenues as they related to the officer/police department being fined for not issuing me the required letter explaining why they feel the need to break the law. Guess which road this persistent defender of rights is going to take?

Maine Freedom of Information Access Act

There is a law in Maine similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act. It allows the public to access information that is produced through government agencies (with notable exceptions). Many states have similar laws on the books, all varying in one manner or another. One of these states is Massachusetts. Recently, the Boston Globe used the act in order to obtain the disciplinary record of asshat trooper Michael Galluccio. This gave me an idea.

I am currently taking a journalism class because I was too slow at signing up for the classes I actually wanted (though I am enjoying this class). One of my assignments is to obtain information using Maine’s FOIA. Until I saw the Galluccio story, I was at a loss of what to do. However, with the knowledge that disciplinary records are public information in one state, I decided to pursue the record of a particular officer at the Augusta Police Department in hopes that Maine law is sufficiently similar.

Backstory: Sometime ago in high school I got a parking ticket. I was parked at the end of a series of spaces where there were yellow diagonal lines. Clearly, I was illegally parked. I do not dispute that. However, on the ticket the officer wrote “sidewalk”, indicating that the reasoning for the ticket was that I was parked on the nearby sidewalk. This was not the case. 1) Those yellow lines would not extend to a public sidewalk. 2) I went to City Hall and obtained a property blueprint for my school. It was clear that I was not on the sidewalk. I brought this to the attention of several officers, including the one who issued the ticket. Of course, they refused to admit they were wrong. It would be one thing to give me a ticket I technically deserved. Unfortunately, what they did is issue me a ticket for an offense I did not commit. It would be like arresting someone for assault who actually committed theft. The sentence (for the sake of argument) may be roughly the same, but that does not mean that the thief is guilty of something else simply because the result is similar. Just the same, I was never guilty of parking on a sidewalk. The ticket is bunk.

So fast forward to my journalism class and the Globe article and I’ve got my idea. I am going to get the disciplinary record of the officer who issued me the incorrect ticket. I make out a FOIA letter (which is a courtesy, not a required form) and head on down to the APD. I am told by Lt. J. Christopher Read that personnel files are not public information. Bummer, right? Possibly. I follow this up with a call to the Globe. They say he is almost certainly wrong. I then also ask my instructor. She says basically the same thing. I go the next necessary step and find the exact wording in the act.

Personnel records pertaining to municipal, county, and state employees are for the most part confidential. For example, complaints, charges or accusations of misconduct, replies to those complaints, charges or accusations and any other information or materials that may result in disciplinary action are confidential. However, if disciplinary action is taken, the final written decision relating to that action is no longer confidential after the decision is completed if it imposes or upholds discipline.

It is clear. If a state employee is disciplined and there is a final written decision, it is public information. I am entitled to it. Now armed with this information, I make some corrections. First, I obtain the name of the offending officer. I originally only knew him as Officer 135. I now know his name is Richard Dubois. I also change my timeframe. I originally asked for all records dating to January 2001. I figured that covered a couple of years prior to my ticket and it also wasn’t so much as to be a pain in the butt. Because I was given incorrect information, however, I have updated my timeframe to date to either 1990 or Richard Dubois’ date of hiring; if they’re going to make me do extra work, I’m going to return the favor.

I bring my updated information back to the APD and speak with Lt. Read again. I present my new letter and read, verbatim, the part of the act I have bolded above. He tells me personnel files are off limits. I again inform him that the exception is when disciplinary action is taken. He tells me that is simply my interpretation and he has been “at this for 20 years”. In other words, the explicit text that says “if disciplinary action is taken, the final written decision relating to that action is no longer confidential” can be interpreted to mean something other than, well, that final written decisions related to disciplinary action are not confidential. One wonders what Lt. Read thinks it means. I guess 20 years on the job gives a person super special reading skills and insights. Or it makes them stubborn. Draw your own conclusion.

After it has become clear that Lt. Read is not going to give me the information to which I have a law-given right, I inform him that he needs to give me a written response within 5 business days because the law clearly states that to be the case. He says – and I quote – “I’m not going to do that.” I then ask him if he is aware that there is a $500 fine associated with violating the act and he says “That’s fine.” I presume that is code for “I acknowledge the fact you have just told me, but I do not want to admit that I am ignorant of a tremendous amount of this law.” I then ask Lt. Read if he wants a copy of my letter. My intention here is quite kind, if I do flatter myself: the man is wrong and I know he is wrong. If he checks with other supervisors or simply reads the law, he may realize this. Without my letter, he will not be able to contact me and will thus be forced into violating the law. He says he does not want it. I inform him that I have an identical letter addressed to the City Manager, William Bridgeo.

Once I leave, I head over to City Hall. Mr. Bridgeo was in a meeting but I gave all this information to the clerk/secretary/whathaveyou in the office. She asks for the name of the officer who refused to give a written response, makes copies of my letters along with my excerpt of the act, and tells me that, yes, a written response is required. (She said 10 days, but seemed unsure and soon qualified that it may depend on the information requested. At any rate, a written response is required.)

Further information: I originally saw Lt. Read on Monday, March 9, 2009. I saw him next, new letter (and different dates) in hand on Wednesday, March 11, 2009. He has 5 (or 10) business days to give me a written response to my first request. The second request is being handled by a more responsible entity.

Lt. J. Christopher Read of the Augusta Police Department in Augusta, Maine

Lt. J. Christopher Read of the Augusta Police Department in Augusta, Maine