Super Mega Labor Day Quick hits

Sorry to disappoint you with your long weekend reading, but between a PS conference and a family trip to Topsail Island, blogging has dropped in priority.  You might even want to space out your reading– I’ve been too lazy to break these up and blogging will still be slow while I catch back up to speed.  So, there’s a ton.

1) Definitely number for for me: Arsonist hits my hotel.  This was actually scary as hell as I was on the 8th floor and one emergency stair was choked with smoke and another was choked with people.  Fortunately, I did not go down the over-crowded one but found a third.

2) The four-word secret to seeming polite.  I’m so going to use this.

3) Boys interrupt and girls do not from an early age.  Apparently, Sarah has not been socialized into this gender role yet.

4) Loving the NYT coverage of the US Open even though I hardly watch tennis anymore.  On the dearth of quality among US Men’s tennis.  On the death of the one-handed backhand (hey, that’s what I used to use).

5) I never really liked the multiverse theory.

6) Yes, even academics should watch what they tweet.  At least if you plan on taking a job at a new institution.

7) Tennessee has been drug testing those seeking welfare benefits.  They are finding very low rates of drug use.

8) The great Civil War hoax (that I had never heard about).

9) Why college textbooks are so expensive.  I love the prescription drug analogy– I’ve used it many times myself.  I have no doubt faculty have to take price more seriously.

10) The Upshot on the blue state disapora.

11) Classic Onion headline (and so true in my experience): “GOP holds solid hold on youth that already look like old men.”

12) Our current drug czar is a recovering alcoholic and believes in focusing on health and treatment.  Hooray!

13) Vox does their own bit on the absurdity of HS start times.  Most interesting to me, apparently my own school system that educated me, Fairfax County, VA, is looking to change it’s start time.  25 years to late for me, but good for them.   And honestly, if a huge county with a high SES population and excellent school system can make this change, maybe they can be a trendsetter.  I sure hope so.

14) I learned from Nurtureshock years ago never to tell my kids their smart.  Still, liked this Khan Academy post on the matter.

15) Ozy on the invention of toilet paper.  Thank God– sure beats the previous alternatives.

16) The infamous monkey in the selife makes a statement.

17) Emily Bazelon on the rise of medical abortions.

18) Anybody who sexualizes innocent photos a father takes of his naked two year old is just sick.  Certainly not the father taking the photos.  These shots are so cute.  What’s wrong with people?!

19) In case you missed the story of the Hollywood producer being held for a bank robbery.  Oh, yeah, he was Black.

20) The Democrats’ plan for 2020.

21) The Ohio legislature versus science.  Ugh.

22) Nicholas Kristof says everyone is a little bit racist.  He’s right.  Of course, I’ve known that since grad school, but still a nice summary of some important social science.

23) Charter schools aren’t quite what they should be.

24) On the remaining sexism in Congress and the continuing difficulty faced by female politicians (this is going onto the next Gender & Politics syllabus).

25) How John Oliver’s awesome viral clips (many seen here) don’t exactly fit in with HBO’s standard business model.

26) Vox on the institutional racism of the war on drugs and the perverse incentives it provides to police forces.

27) Surely you heard the sad story of the eight-year old who accidentally shot her shooting instructor with a submachine gun on full automatic.  UVA poet Greg Orr reflects on how he accidentally shot and killed his brother as a child and the lasting trauma.  I really enjoyed seeing this because I remember when Orr came to read poetry at my HS and spoke of this incident.  Probably about the only guest speaker I remember from high school.

US vs. UK (police shootings edition)

The Economist on police shootings in America vs the UK:

In 2012, according to data compiled by the FBI, 410 Americans were “justifiably” killed by police—409 with guns. That figure may well be an underestimate. Not only is it limited to the number of people who were shot while committing a crime, but also, amazingly, reporting the data is voluntary.

Last year, in total, British police officers actually fired their weapons three times. The number of people fatally shot was zero. In 2012 the figure was just one. Even after adjusting for the smaller size of Britain’s population, British citizens are around 100 times less likely to be shot by a police officer than Americans. Between 2010 and 2014 the police force of one small American city, Albuquerque in New Mexico, shot and killed 23 civilians; seven times more than the number of Brits killed by all of England and Wales’s 43 forces during the same period.

Wow.  And what could account for this?  How about more guns equal more police getting shot and more police shooting people:

The explanation for this gap is simple. In Britain, guns are rare. Only specialist firearms officers carry them; and criminals rarely have access to them. The last time a British police officer was killed by a firearm on duty was in 2012, in a brutal case in Manchester. The annual number of murders by shooting is typically less than 50. Police shootings are enormously controversial. The shooting of Mark Duggan, a known gangster, which in 2011 started riots across London, led to a fiercely debated inquest. Last month, a police officer was charged with murder over a shooting in 2005…

In America, by contrast, it is hardly surprising that cops resort to their weapons more frequently. In 2013, 30 cops were shot and killed—just a fraction of the 9,000 or so murders using guns that happen each year. Add to that a hyper-militarised police cultureand a deep history of racial strife and you have the reason why so many civilians are shot by police officers

Now, I realize that gun-wise, we are culturally a million miles away from the UK and wishful thinking is not going to get us there.  But in the UK, where for the most part, only criminals have guns, a hell of a lot less people get shot.  And a lot less of those people are police or victims of “justifiable” shootings on the part of the police.  Call me crazy, but that sounds a lot better than America’s gun-infused culture.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) The complex historical factors behind poverty in NC.

2) A journalist volunteered to go to prison (you can do that!) in Arizona.  It wasn’t pretty.

3) Love Michael Pollan’s takedown of the Paleo diet.

4) Can you really say you are sure there’s no such thing as Bigfoot?

5) Very nice essay on the dumbing down of America.

6) On the parallels between Voter ID laws and leash laws for unicorns.  Love this.

7) Love this from a former Marine on the bad combination of military weapons given to police officers without proper training in how to use military weapons.

8) Did you hear about Facebook’s plan to tag satirical posts (e.g., Onion, etc.) because too many people are fooled by them.  Sad.  Love this website that has actual reactions to Onion posts where people did not get the satire.  Good, good stuff.

9) There was an absolutely horrible Op-Ed from a cop in the Washington Post about how citizens need to meekly obey all police authority and we’d have no problems.  I wanted to write a post and didn’t.  Big Steve wrote a better one than I would have anyway.

10) Great piece from Jon Lee Anderson on ISIS and James Foley.  A big part of the problem is that Europeans pay ransoms (not that this would have helped Foley).  They shouldn’t.  And a nice Vox piece on what Obama should do about ISIS.

11) I love cave art.  I’m still waiting for my wife to figure out that I want her to surprise me with some sometime (a reproduction, obviously– though I sure wish I could see the real thing some day).  Some scientists are now suggesting that art is part of the feminization of the human species which proved crucial for the development of human cooperation and society:

A new scientific-minded guess at this riddle is both intriguing and politically appealing, not to say politically correct: it suggests that ape-men made art and culture only when ape-men finally became more like ape-women. A group of five scientists just last week proposed that the great symbolic transformation happened at around the time the human face, and the hormones that shape its growth, became—and this is the scientists’ word—feminized. Indeed, that’s the title of a paper in this month’s issue of Current Anthropology: “Craniofacial Feminization, Social Tolerance, and the Origins of Behavioral Modernity.”

The argument is tight enough. “Social tolerance” seems, from long anthropological observation, not to mention common sense, to be necessary for symbolic communication: if you can’t stay put in the circle around the fire long enough to listen, there’s no point in sharing good stories. As human groups got bigger, more social tolerance is what they had to have. Very early man, alas, of the kind who appears on the fossil record for some four hundred thousand years, shows every sign of social impatience; his big, testosterone-fuelled brows seem made merely to intimidate his fellow early man—to scare him (or her) away before the talking and symbol-sharing can even start. As testosterone ebbed and the aggressively masculine stare-downs faded, Paleolithic life had to become less a scene red in tooth and claw and more like an afternoon program on NPR, with thoughtful-voiced disputants sharing the day’s news and seeking its moral points.

12) Nut allergies are quite the growing problem these days.  Immunotherapy can be quite effective, but it’s long and hard.  Here’s an idea… change the nuts themselves to be less allergenic.  It’s the early stages, but seems to hold some promise.

13) North and South Carolina are working together to clarify their border– which will apparently be modified.  Pretty amazing to think that state borders could have been wrong all this time.

Quick hits (part I)

1) NPR on the power of peer groups in preventing campus rape.

2) Cool optical illusion.

3) Police shoot dogs all the time.  Just hope the police never come to your house looking for a criminal (Balko on the epidemic of shoot first, worry about whether the dog is a potential threat later).

4) Post editorial on the wrong-headedness of the Rick Perry prosecution.  DJC sent me a link suggesting that Perry will be convicted.  I just don’t see it happening.

5) Can taxing the wealthy strengthen democracy?  Probably yes:

The historical record, however, suggests that taxing the wealthiest does have an important, but different, consequence: making the wealthy vested in the common good. In fact, taxing the wealthy was crucial for the emergence of representative government itself.

6) George Will confirms Nixon’s attempts to sabotage peace in Vietnam in order harm LBJ and HH.  Nixon may have done some good things as president, but he was an absolutely abominable human being who would do anything to achieve and protect power.   Or so it was made pretty damn clear to me watching the new HBO documentary on the Nixon tapes.

7) Interesting libertarian piece by Mike Munger on government by unicorn.  Raises good points, to which I say I’ll still take government by horribly fallible humans over the alternative.

8) People in rich counties disproportionately search google about tech stuff (and boy do they love Canon cameras).  In poor counties it’s all about diabetes.  And hell.

9) John Oliver with his typically brilliant job on police militarization.

10) Interesting essay by Lev Grossman on how he struggles as a writer until he started writing fantasy.  I’ve been meaning to read The Magicians for a while.  Will try to do so soon unless some of you tell me otherwise.

11) Dahlia Lithwick on how the police in Ferguson have run roughshod over all sorts of Bill of Rights protections.

12) Lenore Skenazy on helicopter parenting run amok and how today’s parents want to criminalize the behavior that was the parenting approach of their own parents.

13) Fascinating study of why some people, but not others, in a near-death experience (a plane crash) develop PTSD.   I’ve always been a very psychologically stable person, but I’ve never really been pushed.  I’ve always wondered how I would respond to something like this or being in a war zone.  Of course, I hope I never have to find out.

14) That toddler injured by the flash-bang grenade thrown it its crib during a no-knock warrant search?  The county does not think it needs to pay for his medical bills.  Is this America or Russia damnit?!

15) Turns out breakfast is not the most important meal of the day after all.  Maybe.  I actually never ate breakfast at all until I got married and then started eating it every day just because Kim was.  I cannot imagine not doing so now (though sounds like not a bad way to save some calories, actually).

 

The media and Ferguson and what it tells us

First, it is just extraordinarly stupid that the police in Ferguson have repeatedly gone after members of the media.  If they think that is somehow going to work in their favor, they are just morons.  Maybe in Russia; not in America.  More importantly, though, this tells us a lot about the mindset of police forces in Ferguson.  And it’s not good.  Vox’s Max Fisher:

That police in Ferguson are targeting journalists so openly and aggressively is an appalling affront to basic media freedoms, but it is far scarier for what it suggests about how the police treat everyone else — and should tell us much about why Ferguson’s residents are so fed up. When police in Ferguson are willing to rough up and arbitrarily arrest a Washington Post reporter just for being in a McDonald’s, you have to wonder how those police treat the local citizens, who don’t have the shield of a press pass…

The police crackdown on journalists in Ferguson has become so severe that President Obama, in public comments, had to remind police that media freedom is protected in the United States.

“Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their job and report to the American people what they see on the ground,” he said. This would be banal statement if uttered about China or Russia; that the American president had to say it about his own country is a staggering sign of how badly the situation has turned.

Meanwhile, conservatives are complaining that the media have “taken the side” of the protesters.  Hey, wouldn’t you if you were getting gassed and arrested to?  But it’s far more than that.  Great post from Slate’s Josh Vorhees:

But missing from such handwringing about the reporters’ ostensible loss of objectivity is the fact that the media had left the sidelines long before Lowery and Reilly were handcuffed. The very reason that national reporters—including Slate’s Jamelle Bouie—packed their bags for Ferguson was to get answers. Answers to why a member of the Ferguson Police Department opened fire on an unarmed black teen in broad daylight. Answers to why city officials originally refused to identify the cop involved in the shooting or even say how many bullets he had fired. Answers to why police were responding to what originally were largely peaceful protests with military-grade riot gear.

In short, the media descended on Ferguson looking for the same thing that had led protesters to take to the streets: the truth. That’s the real reason the media is siding with the protestors: What the people in the streets of Ferguson want is the same thing the journalists were sent there to find.  

Meanwhile, love this post from Yglesias on the lack of police accountability in all this:

Reasonable people can disagree about when, exactly, it’s appropriate for cops to fire tear gas into crowds. But there’s really no room for disagreement about when it’s reasonable for officers of the law to take off their badges and start policing anonymously.

There’s only one reason to do this: to evade accountability for your actions…

And what’s particularly shocking about this form of evasion is how shallow it is. I can’t identify the officers in that photograph. But the faces are clearly visible. The brass at the Ferguson Police Department, Saint Louis County Police Department, and Missouri Highway Patrol should be able to easily identify the two officers who are out improperly arresting photographers. By the same token, video taken at the Lowery and Reilly arrests should allow for the same to be done in that case.

Policing without a nametag can help you avoid accountability from the press or from citizens, but it can’t possibly help you avoid accountability from the bosses.

For that you have to count on an atmosphere of utter impunity. It’s a bet many cops operating in Ferguson are making, and it seems to be a winning bet…

But on another level, it would almost be nicer to hear that nobody in charge thinks there’s been any misconduct. After all, a lack of police misconduct would be an excellent reason for a lack of any disciplinary action. What we have is something much scarier. Impunity. The sense that misconduct will occur and even be acknowledged without punishment. Of course there are some limits to impunity. Shoot an unarmed teenager in broad daylight in front of witnesses, and there’ll be an investigation. But rough up a reporter in a McDonalds for no reason? Tear-gas an 8 year-old? Parade in front of the cameras with no badges on? No problem.

Again, it would be nice if people across the political spectrum could admit these are genuine problems.  (They are!) If  only the right-wing support of the police wasn’t so damn reflexive (hooray for libertarians, though, I am particularly loving Mike Munger’s FB feed).   These are real problems that simply should not be existing in a healthy democracy, or at minimum should be seriously addressed rather than largely ignored.  American can and absolutely should do better.

 

Photo of the day

From an In Focus gallery of Ferguson:

Demonstrators raise their arms and chant, “Hands up, Don’t Shoot”, as police clear them from the street as they protest the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Over-zealous policing: it’s the incentives

I’m pretty sure I’ve written before on the scourge of democracy that is civil forfeiture– apparently not enough– (police have huge incentives to make drug arrests and legally seize the property of the alleged offenders).  Here’s a great post from Jordan Weissman on how police, like those in Ferguson, are given incentives to harass and nickel-and-dime their citizens to death to pay for their budget.  Bad incentives= bad outcomes:

When you split a metro area into dozens of tiny local governments (St. Louis County, to be clear, doesn’t include the actual city of St. Louis, which spun off from it in the 19th century), they tend to duplicate each others’ services, which is of course extremely expensive. But raising taxes so that each tiny borough can afford its own police and fire department is a nonstarter, since wealthy residents can always just move one town over. End result: You have police departments that self-fund by handing out tickets. And thanks to the delightful racial dynamics of U.S. law enforcement, black residents are disproportionately stopped and accosted, even though police in Ferguson are less likely to find contraband when they search black drivers than when they search whites.

Michael Brown wasn’t being pulled over for speeding when he was shot. But we’re talking about the broader issues that poison the relationship between a community and the cops who are, theoretically, paid to protect them.

In a way, you can think of it as a small-bore version of the problem with civil forfeiture laws, which allow state and federal governments to confiscate property allegedly involved in crimes and which are often accused of encouraging “for-profit policing.” The same way the Justice Department puts the heat on its lawyers to increase forfeiture claims in drug cases—because that’s where they can skim money—local police have every incentive to crank up their traffic stops.

If you want good policing, you need to give the police incentive to be good.  All too often the incentives for police are not to protect and to serve, but to arrest and make cash.

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