Photo of the day

From the final installment of In Focus’ photos of the year:

Nowa Paye, 9, is taken to an ambulance after showing signs of Ebola infection in the village of Freeman Reserve, about 30 miles north of Monrovia, Liberia, on September 30, 2014. Three members of District 13 ambulance service traveled to the village to pickup six suspected Ebola sufferers that had been quarantined. Months into the world’s worst-ever Ebola outbreak, and the first to happen in an unprepared West Africa, the gap between what has been sent by other countries and private groups and what is desperately needed is huge. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)


People are complicated

One of the things that I like to think represents an intellectually mature mind is seeing the nuance in situations and the human condition.  Seeing the world in black and white, is such the hallmark of the adolescent mind (and the Sith!).  And one of the key ways that manifests is wanting to label people “good” or “evil.”  No, there are some truly uniquely good and uniquely evil people out there, but most people are quite capable of considerable extremes of both.  Yes, you reading this are sure you are good person, but are you quite sure you would not have helped the Nazi’s effort against the Jews if you were living in a small German village in 1942 and the SS came to town?  Sometimes good people do bad things and sometimes bad people do good things and it’s not always clear what’s what, or if that’s even meaningful.  But absent a larger context and understanding to simply take any criminal, label them a “thug” and essentially write them off, shows a very facile way of thinking.  Bill Ayers on the matter:

The second item that sparked my thinking was from one of the many ideological talking heads “contributing” to the ongoing “debate” about police violence and the protests in NYC, Ferguson, and elsewhere. In this case, an avowedly conservative show (The O’Reilly Factor) trotted out an avowedly conservative commentator (Ben Carson, who happens to be black) to defend the police against attacks (both physical and verbal). You can see a synopsis and a link to the interview here. But what really caught my eye was this particular snippet by Carson, which the Fox News site picked up in the summary and the headline:

“The community has to recognize that a thug is a thug. When people do bad things, there are consequences,” Carson said.

This struck me because of something I’ve been wrestling with lately: a framework in which, rather than “picking a side” and dehumanizing the people on the other side, we can engage in conversations with people we disagree with, about serious and even tragic subjects, while continuing to recognize the humanity of each other. The phrase that keeps coming to mind: each of us is a Child of God…

Carson’s glib bumper-sticker statement, of course, runs in completely the opposite direction. He wants to put white hats and black hats on everybody so that he can defend the virtuous and punish the wicked. I guess it must be comforting to play God like that. But I think it’s the wrong approach.

And, I just love this conclusion– I read it and thought, “that’s going right into my blog”

To be clear: there are people in the world who, despite their humanity and inherent value, will try to hurt others unjustly. Some of these people are civilians, and if they’re lower class we call them “thugs”. Some of them are wealthy and wear suits and they usually get treated pretty well, even when the damage they cause is far more widespread than any thug could dream of. And some of them carry badges and wear uniforms and are called police officers. None of this should be surprising – if you change clothes and circumstance, some people will still do bad things to other people.  [emphasis mine]

But if we actually want to things to get better – if we want to work towards a society where fewer police are killed in the line of duty, and where fewer civilians are shot by police, and where fewer people are terrorized and assaulted by either strangers or those close to them – we need to stop pretending that we can draw neat boxes around people and label some of those boxes “good people” and others “bad people”. We need to treat violence and the use of force seriously – not as some Hollywood fantasy exercise and not as something that can be contained to only a few. We need to acknowledge everybody’s legitimate need to live in peace, and think about what we do when that is violated – by anybody. And above all, we need to listen to the collected wisdom of many centuries: treat others, and view others, as we ourselves would be treated and viewed.

Wonderfully said– nothing for me to add.

When it was easier to have a big Democratic coalition

I really love this post from Seth Masket that places the struggles of the Democrats in some nice historical context.  It’s wonderfully titled: “Yes, Democrats Won Lots of Elections Back When They Tolerated Bigotry.”

But on his main empirical point, that Democrats used to do better in elections back when their leaders didn’t talk about race or gender or the environment, well, that’s actually true, although probably not quite in the causal sense Kotkin seems to be implying. The Democratic Party of the mid-20th century was an historical anomaly. Thanks to the legacies of both the Civil War and the Great Depression, Democrats had an enormous and ultimately unsustainable coalition of both northern liberals and southern conservatives, integrationists and segregationists. Basically, a lot of poorer southern whites were still blaming Republicans for “northern aggression” in the 1860s and a dismal economic record in the 1920s and 30s. Democratic leaders tried to prolong this coalition as long as possible, largely by avoiding taking stances on civil rights. Ultimately, civil rights activism on the streets and in party conventions forced Democratic leaders to change their stances and actually begin advocating for civil rights laws, which is what finally drove most white southerners out of the party. [emphasis mine]

Yes!  Whenever pundits, etc., call for political strategies that emulate that of the mid 20th century, it largely shows they just don’t get history.  As Masket notes, this period is quite anomalous in our history.  Absent the Civil War, the South simply would not have stayed solidly Democratic for the next 100 years.  And we’ve got nothing like the historical conditions that produced the mid-20th century anomaly.  So, sure, make some good suggestions for helping the Democratic party, but if they involve taking us back to 1950 in a variety of ways, think again.


Hooray for Ohio

They’ve just made a move to begin non-partisan redistricting after the next census:

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Of 435 House races in November, only a few dozen were considered competitive — a result of decades of drawing district lines for partisan advantage, generally by state legislatures.

But in an era of hyperpartisan gerrymandering, which many blame for the polarization of state and national politics, Ohio took a step in the opposite direction last week. With the support of both parties, the Ohio House gave final approval Wednesday to a plan to draw voting districts for the General Assembly using a bipartisan process, intended to make elections more competitive.

This is only for the State legislature, not US Congress, but it is still a huge step in the right direction.  Kudos to Ohio Republicans for passing this while in the majority.

The plan explicitly prohibits maps drawn to favor or disfavor one party.

Republicans, who in some ways acted against their own interests, were motivated partly out of fear of a potential voter referendum that could impose an even more sweeping overhaul.

They also recognized that they could slip into the minority one day. “Right now, we’ve got 65 of 99 seats in the House and 12 of 16 congressmen,” Mr. Huffman said. “But in a state like Ohio, that’s not always going to be the case.”

The proposed changes, which Ohioans must vote on in a November 2015 referendum to amend the State Constitution, would not go into effect until the next redistricting, in 2021.

Not only does this give voters a real choice, it’s great to see politicians themselves recognizing some of the insidious impact of our current system:

Jon Husted, Ohio’s secretary of state and a Republican, praised the plan as a step toward ending polarization in the General Assembly. Many members face competition only in primaries, pushing them to cater to ideological extremes.

“We elect people that get there by winning primaries, and we say, ‘Now you come together and do the people’s business,’ ” Mr. Husted, a former speaker of the State House, said. “If your electoral incentive is only to care about staying loyal to the base voter in a primary election,” he added, “then your incentive to govern” is small.

Yes, it would be great if this covered Congressional districts, too, but I’ll take what I can get.  And I’ll certainly hope that this can be an inspiration to legislators in NC to likewise do the right thing.

Should you drink Diet Soda?

So, asks Time of Five health experts.  The answer, a resounding no.  My answer?  It depends.  Will you using it to replace sugar-sweetened drinks?  Then the best evidence says yes.  But if you are overweight and think that this will make you healthy, it certainly will not.  Anyway, the experts all weigh in on correlational studies that show that less healthy people drink more diet soda.  Consider me far from convinced.  That said, this very recent Nature article that is linked, is actually pretty interesting stuff in that it makes an effort to address a causal relationship.  I still think I’ll hold off on making dietary decisions based on causal studies with an N of 7 (!) however. Would I be healthier drinking less diet soda?  It’s entirely possible.  That said, since I’m pretty damn healthy and have no signs whatsoever of the meatabolic diseases that it supposedly causes, I shall continue to take my chances.

The NYPD shooting

I’ve been so  frustrated by the utterly ridiculous and facile that those who protest police brutality somehow have “blood on their hands” for the actions of what was obviously a completely crazy man.  It’s not like protesters (much less President Obama or Eric Holder, who have been blamed by various police officials and their apologists) have been urging a violent response to the police.  Conor Friedersdorf has the best take I’ve seen so far.  Lots of good stuff (all emphases within are mine):

With regard to the particular crime of killing police officers, “the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty—that is, killed with felonious intent by a suspected criminal—plummeted to 27 in 2013, its lowest level in decades.” That is the Obama/Holder record on this issue. We needn’t speculate about whether their rhetoric has proved dangerous for police. We know that it has not.

And insofar as there is anti-police sentiment in some U.S. subcultures right now, it has little to do with the top-down rhetoric of national political leaders and much to do with grassroots outrage at police killing unarmed people and the proliferation of videos showing police officers abusing their authority, often with impunity. That intense anger over such videos coincides with persistent rarity of politically motivated attacks on cops underscores Radley Balko’s observation that “it’s possible to both be appalled by senseless executions of cops and angry at unjustified killings by cops.” …

I see nothing wrong with criticizing people who urged or expressed affinity for actual violence against police, even as the bulk of responsibility must belong to the murderer alone. But NYPD defenders are engaged in an attempt to discrediteven criticism of police that is totally nonviolent. Theirs is an attempt to squelch legitimate political debate by irrationally associating it with the deeds of a suicidal murderer.

That is scurrilous behavior.

The context is the election of a mayor who is less sycophantic in his relationship to the NYPD than his predecessors, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Too many police officers are reacting to this duly elected city leader with petulant histrionics that veer uncomfortably close to disdain for civilian, democratic control.

Yep.  Was listening to some various quotes last night and the subtext truly was that it is simply wrong to criticize the police.  Ever.  Oh, man, do I not want to live in the society where that’s the case.  You can respect the hell out of the work that most cops do and still see the need for substantial reform:

There are a lot of good cops in New York City. There are, as well, a lot of bad cops in the force of 34,500. People who hate all police officers because some act badly are being prejudiced and irrational. It is also irrational to extol everyone who wears an NYPD uniform despite the fact that some of them abandon whistleblowing colleagues when they need backup, accost an innocent kid with racial slurs and physical threats, retaliate against a fellow officer who exposes systemic misbehavior by trying to have him involuntarily committed to a mental institution, or assault women with pepper spray for no reason. Unions that fight to keep even misbehaving officersfrom being fired bear some responsibility for the reputation that the NYPD has among its critics, as does every cop that observes misbehavior by colleagues but stays silent. Only by distinguishing among police officers—praising the ones who do their jobs honorably and capably, and disciplining or firing the ones who fall short—can the proposition that the profession is worthy of respect be rationally defended.

Yes!  What I would really love to see is some actual cops and their defenders come out and say that some cops go too far, that the killing of Eric Garner was just plain wrong, that maybe (maybe he could not have, but maybe he could) Darren Wilson could have done more to try and deescalate the situation, that cops should probably not have shot a 12-year old with a toy gun in less than 2 seconds of pulling up on him, etc.  Truly, I get that it’s a hard job, but we need the good cops to not reflexively stand with the bad cops, no matter what they do.

Also, an excellent piece from Jamelle Bouie:

Nothing here should be a surprise. Despite what these police organizations and their allies allege, there isn’t an anti-police movement in this country, or at least, none of any significance. The people demonstrating for Eric Garner and Michael Brown aren’tagainst police, they are for better policing. They want departments to treat their communities with respect, and they want accountability for officers who kill their neighbors without justification. When criminals kill law-abiding citizens, they’re punished. When criminals kill cops, they’re punished. But when cops kill citizens, the system breaks down and no one is held accountable. That is what people are protesting.

And last word to Ta-Nehisi Coates who, unless I’m missing something, has written a brilliant piece on the matter:

For activists and protesters radicalized by the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, this weekend’s killing may seem to pose a great obstacle. In fact, it merely points to the monumental task in front of them. The response to Garner’s death, particularly, seemed to offer some hope. But the very fact that this opening originated in the most extreme case—the on-camera choking of a man for a minor offense—points to the shaky ground on which such hope took root. It was only a matter of time before some criminal shot a police officer in New York. If that’s all it takes to turn Americans away from police reform, the efforts were likely doomed from the start…

The idea of “police reform” obscures the task. Whatever one thinks of the past half-century of criminal-justice policy, it was not imposed on Americans by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies—the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects—are, at the very least, byproducts of democratic will. Likely they are much more. It is often said that it is difficult to indict and convict police officers who abuse their power. It is comforting to think of these acquittals and non-indictments as contrary to American values. But it is just as likely that they reflect American values.

When it comes to policing, America can do better.  A lot better.  The fact that a murderous lunatic decided to take out his rage on two totally innocent officers (and certainly, this is a tragedy) does not change this one bit and shame on those who would try and silence those who simply want better, more just, more fair policing for their communities.

Photo of the day

Pretty cool gallery of WWII color photos.  Just love the old-school color palette in all these.

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