News by Professionals 4 Professionals

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Airport security, property tax, incivility, DART, gerrymandering, Juneteenth

Assuming bias

Re: “Extend your outrage to Muslim victims,” by Ramiro G. Hinojosa, Saturday Viewpoints. This commentary tells a story of outrage in which the author’s friend was detained by Customs officials at DFW International Airport, “most likely based on his appearance and name.” That statement needs to be proved, not alleged. His detention coming from Jamaica could have been due to drug screening, search for contraband, outstanding warrants, past criminal activities, etc., or maybe even a mistake. Nevertheless, this temporary restriction of movement was deemed a “trampling of his basic rights.”

Of course there are no interviews with Customs officials, no mention of complaints being filed (there is a process), nor any other follow-up to confirm the events were in fact true. Its basis assumes that any actions were not justified but were caused by bias.

John Beall, Dallas

Other inconvenient truths

Talk about inconvenience! Please consider the inconvenience of hundreds of thousands of travelers every day due to security checks at airports, trying to keep people safe from mostly Muslim extremism. And the inconvenience of hundreds of millions of people worldwide who are trying to keep their families safe from Muslim extremists. A better title for this piece would be: “Extend your outrage at the Muslim extremists who kill thousands each year by cars, knives, guns and suicide bombs.”

Don Skaggs, Garland

Tax protest system unfair

I believe the Dallas County tax appraisal protest system is unfair to older homeowners for two reasons: The process for appeal is mainly online, and a hearing is involved in a location unfamiliar to the homeowners, if they have transportation. What are they to do if they do not have a computer or transportation? What if they are not physically able to go to a hearing?

Rozanne Holmes, Coppell

The pox of incivility

I have a question for all of the letter writers asking for more civility in our political discourse who then turn around and blame it on the media or Democrats. Did you feel the same way when the right wing was calling President Barack Obama a Muslim, an illegitimate president, an anti-Christ, and every other name under the sun? Did you feel the same way when local elected officials were referring to the first lady as a gorilla? If not, then you’re part of the problem every bit as much as the most rabid Trump-hater.

Until this country recognizes that this is an issue that completely spans the political spectrum, we will make no progress.

Miner Raymond, Waco

Suburban transit

Re: “Take the regional approach — DART needs to build Cotton Belt line, says Ron Whitehead,” Tuesday Viewpoints. I support the firm appeal made by Whitehead, city manager of Addison from 1982 to 2014, for Dallas to take a balanced, regional approach to building both the downtown D2 route and the suburban Cotton Belt Line in Far North Dallas. I can appreciate Dallas’ new desires for walkability, bikeability and availability of transit for poor Dallas residents, but the promises of a regional transit system satisfying interests of suburban cities can’t be deferred forever. Suburban population growth and business development have advanced far beyond the expectations upon DART’s founding in 1982.

We have reached the point where two major cities exist side by side in North Texas: the city of Dallas and suburban Dallas. Does Dallas want to provoke the suburban cities to merge into a major city, challenging Dallas politically in Austin? If DART can’t work regionally, that’s the next alternative for suburban cities. Looking at the Cotton Belt route, one sees significant facilities to be accessed: University of Texas at Dallas, North Lake College and an alternate route to DFW Airport. Is Dallas’ real motivation to deny competing suburban business districts access to DFW Airport?

Frederick W. Fraley III, Dallas

As easy as 234

DART did have a connecting nonstop express route across North Dallas. The route was the 234 express bus running from the LBJ/Central rail station to the North Irving bus station then eventually into the Las Colinas rail station. The route started in the late ’90s using the old HOV lanes across LBJ. Ridership grew primarily due to the fast commute times across LBJ. With the LBJ construction, we lost the HOV lanes. Due to poor planning, lack of effective connections, increased commute times and inconsistent performance by DART, the ridership dropped dramatically. Before the route was canceled a year ago, the 234 bus briefly used the new HOV lanes across LBJ. Commute times were around 20 minutes from LBJ/Central to North Irving.

DART should consider connecting the Blue, Red, Green and Orange rail lines with a North Dallas crosstown express bus like the 234, using the LBJ HOV lanes. This North Dallas crosstown connection would be cheaper and easier to implement than the Cotton Belt route.

Glen Suhren, Garland

Gerrymandering begone

Re: “A Blow to Gerrymandering? Court decision could reshape American politics,” Tuesday Editorials

We, the voters, have tolerated our rigged election system for too long! We don’t get to choose our leaders. Thanks to partisan gerrymandering, they choose us. Without competitive voting districts, collaboration and compromise are unnecessary and even harmful to our complacent “representatives.” We continue to suffer partisan deadlock in Washington, D.C., and in Texas. The Supreme Court partisan gerrymandering case is both hopeful and long overdue. However, real change will be slow and more litigation is inevitable. States, like our Lone Star, continue to weaponize the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by willfully diluting the representation of minority voters. This shameless persistence is perplexing, and the failure of the House Redistricting Committee to hold any meetings since 2013 is unconscionable. Joint resolutions calling for an independent redistricting commission have been soundly ignored in every session. With Independence Day in mind, let’s raise our voices to our “elected” leaders for democracy’s sake. Call often. Ask them to end gerrymandering and to support joint resolutions for an independent redistricting commission.

Joanne M. Mason, Coppell

Erasing history

Re: “Juneteenth, about fun or freedom? Older generations want the emphasis to be on holiday’s historical significance,” Monday news story. I agree wholeheartedly with those quoted in the story about the younger generation not learning about history and their heritage, but from a different point of view. Being a fifth-generation Texan, my heritage includes the Confederacy; however, it seems a lot of people would like to erase this period from our history by removing statues, memorials, markers, etc. I am not a redneck white supremacist, but the Confederacy is a historical fact and should be remembered as such.

Sam Myers, Balch Springs

Parpos: A visit to South Middlesex Correctional Center

By Suzanna Parpos

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I believe it. My village is the concentric circles that encompass my world that is, the boy that day-in and day-out steals my heart. My world calls me mom. A year ago, I set out on this incredible journey to learn about those that comprise these concentric circles the agencies the people who day-in and day-out selflessly sacrifice and put their lives on the line to protect my world your world all of our worlds. Some of these circles are more visible than others they re uniformed and on the front [blue] line. Other [concentric] circles are less visible. They are the branch of law enforcement we hear about when those who comprise it are slain, but beyond that, their existence is absent from civilians daily thoughts. Yet, every day, their fearlessness helps to ensure our freedoms.

Last week s headline from Georgia, where two inmates fatally shot two corrections officers, brought visibility to the neglected circle. Those in the communities impacted by the escaped prisoners did what was innate to civilians they retreated indoors and they feared. It s what many of us did locally when James Morales escaped a Rhode Island detention center earlier this year. But what happens is we fear and then we forget when the fugitive is captured and the headline becomes further removed from our memory. We freely go about our daily lives without hindrance, once again. This isn t what it s like for correction officers and correctional program officers. Day-in and day-out, they walk among those that the majority of us would rather not. And depending on the security level of the facility, they walk with handcuffs and a radio but no gun.

To assume they merely just sit around waiting for fights to break out among inmates would be incorrect. That misperception can be attributed to television. I ve told you before about how I am Framingham. And, I candidly admit that in my near four decades, I cannot recall a single time that I thought of the Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities in my town. That is, until last summer when I went on a ride-along with the Framingham Police Department. It was on that 4 p.m. 12 a.m. shift, when day fell into night, that I saw my hometown through different eyes. And in driving by MCI Framingham and South Middlesex Correctional Center, I realized why these facilities were so absent from my thoughts; I realized why I never had to fear the inmates essentially living in my backyard.

It s because of people, like Daniel MacDonald, Correctional Program Officer (CPO) at South Middlesex Correctional Center (SMCC), that I ve been able to overlook SMCC and MCI Framingham (MCI-F) all these years. This isn t to say the aforementioned is right. And this isn t to suggest my existence has been in a bubble. My career in education began in the inner city. I had students in my classroom who were learning to cope with their parents incarceration; I know crime and punishment exists. But what the absence of SMCC and MCI-F from my thoughts exemplifies is the extraordinary commitment of our local law enforcement of how every day the men and women that comprise this far-too-often overlooked circle, or branch of law enforcement, show up and do their job. After getting a civilian s insider perspective from the front lines with the FPD, it was time to see things from the post-arrest perspective. And it s with much appreciation that I thank all those involved with authorizing my visit to South Middlesex Correctional Center (SMCC).

It isn t what your mind pictures. The perimeter of SMCC isn t etched by barbed wire; that world is a stone s throw away at MCI-F. SMCC is a minimum and pre-release prison for female offenders. There are currently 134 inmates the majority of them in minimum security. The near two dozen that are pre-release and eligible to work in the community are watched under close eye. Make no mistake about it, the main goal of the DOC is security and public safety. CPO Daniel MacDonald has been at SMCC for 19 years. He s worn the dual hats that of both security and programming. As the day shift commander, MacDonald is responsible for the assignment of his staff, among other administrative tasks. Yet, he also serves as the volunteer coordinator and field training officer. It s less known to the public, but SMCC offers countless programs, such as being one of the prisons in Massachusetts where America s VetDogs outsources some of its training to inmates who help train the dogs that ll be assigned to veterans based on their specific needs.

And then there is the Family Reunification House. This is an on-site house built in 2008 by male inmates from another prison. As they prepare for life outside the prison, SMCC inmates may be eligible to spend anywhere from two hours to two overnights with their children in this house. After a walk-through of the entire SMCC facility, it s evident that these women are given every opportunity to make a better life for themselves when they are released. That is why MacDonald encourages the offenders to take advantage of the time spent at SMCC. Their living quarters are as expected small. It s a tight space shared bunk beds, a specifically designed see-through television, a bulletin board with some pamphlets tacked on not much else in the bare rooms. There is a decent-sized library for them to utilize; however, there is no internet access on the computers.

SMCC staff strive to ensure all have health insurance when they re released and they re given articles of clothing to start them off as they enter the working world on their own. The walk-through was eye-opening and it must be stated the fact that there was no part of me that felt fear walking among the offenders who were out and about doing such things as getting their laundry. Of course, I was with CPO MacDonald; however, the rules or way of life seemed undeniably understood by the women living at SMCC. Though the established atmosphere is that of teaching and how to better one s self, it s also an environment that still very much holds women accountable for the actions that led to their confinement there. When I asked MacDonald what traits define a successful CPO, he emphasized the importance of understanding mental health and trauma issues because that is often what contributed to the women ending up in prison. Inmates at SMCC can stay anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.

MacDonald is very much aware of his surroundings when he walks the grounds at SMCC; however, that state of hypervigilance doesn t necessarily spill over into the personal lives of correctional program officers there. Perhaps a contributing factor of this is the minimum/pre-release level of security of SMCC. Some outsiders may question the various rehabilitative opportunities provided to the inmates; however, if these women thrive when they return to society, then we all benefit. MacDonald explained how much of his job entails good listening skills and realizing that there really isn t much of a difference between these female offenders and us. Again, the inmates are held accountable, but are also taught. That rang familiar to when a former student of mine questioned whether she d make the same mistakes as her father and end up incarcerated like him. And the words of encouragement I offered that second-grader were, You will make smarter choices because you re learning there are other options.

Does this mean the system is perfect that there ll be no repeat offenders after they re released? We re all human; we all stumble it s just that some of those falls come with much graver consequences than others. And, yes, of course, you can t go around breaking the law. But, sometimes our stumbles aren t law-breaking falls; yet, they still leave us confined, only in a much different way. Whether we re restrained by the words printed in a stack of papers or the secrets we harbor of a group, we all want the same thing: freedom. Life is what you make of it. It s true for us and it ll be true for these female offenders when they return to society.

To those who make every effort to protect the public from criminal offenders who make it possible for me to freely go play ball in the park with my child, thank you. Thank you to the correction officers and correctional program officers, like Daniel MacDonald, who selflessly guard the common center of those concentric circles: my world your world all of our worlds.

Suzanna Parpos can be reached through her website: www.suzannaparpos.com.

The Kaggle data science community is competing to improve airport security with AI

The Kaggle Data Science Community Is Competing To Improve Airport Security With AI

Going through airport security is a universally painful experience. And despite being slow and invasive, the TSA doesn t have a great record at catching threats[1]. With the help of the Kaggle[2] data science community, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is hosting an online competition to build machine learning-powered tools that can augment agents, ideally making the entire system simultaneously more accurate and efficient. Kaggle, acquired by Google earlier this year[3], regularly hosts online competitions where data scientists compete for money by developing novel approaches to complex machine learning problems. Today s competition to improve threat recognition algorithms[4] will be Kaggle s third launch this year featuring more than a million dollars in prize money. With a top prize of $500,000 and a total of $1.5 million at stake, competitors will have to accurately predict the location of threat objects on the body. The TSA is making its data set of images available to competitors so they can train on images of people carrying weapons. Importantly, these will be staged images created by the TSA rather than real-world examples a necessary move to ensure privacy.

The Kaggle Data Science Community Is Competing To Improve Airport Security With AI

Competitors will be competing to predict the likelihood that weapons are hidden in 17 body zones. Of course, the problem the TSA faces isn t just a machine learning issue. Expensive physical machines are complicated to upgrade, and none feature the kinds of sophisticated GPUs found in modern data centers. Thankfully, Google, Facebook and others are heavily investing in lighter versions of machine learning frameworks, optimized to run locally, at the edge (without internet). This means that it s possible that some submissions to this competition could wind up in use on actual scanning machines it s just a matter of training beforehand and optimizing for the constrained conditions. The DHS has promised to work closely with the winners to explore potential real-world applications.

This is a really hard problem, machines do not have crazy GPUs, Anthony Goldbloom, Kaggle s creator, told me in an interview. But one thing that gets lost is that doing inference doesn t necessarily need such heavy compute.

Another concern that Kaggle and the TSA had to account for was the risk of bias influencing the automated threat detection process a potential nightmare for travelers that could be inappropriately segregated based on arbitrary factors. To mitigate this, the TSA put special effort into creating the data set of images that will ultimately be used to train the detectors.

The TSA did a nice job in setting this up, Goldbloom emphasized. They recruited volunteers but made sure that they had a decent amount of diversity so models don t fail on a certain type of person.

Google plans to make GCP available to competitors in the near future. And though Google owns Kaggle, it is thankfully not forcing people to use TensorFlow, its own open-source framework. You can check out additional details here[5]; the competition will draw to a close in December.

Featured Image: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images/Getty Images

References

  1. ^ the TSA doesn t have a great record at catching threats (www.huffingtonpost.com)
  2. ^ Kaggle (www.kaggle.com)
  3. ^ acquired by Google earlier this year (techcrunch.com)
  4. ^ Today s competition to improve threat recognition algorithms (www.kaggle.com)
  5. ^ here (www.kaggle.com)
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