Video of the day

This animation of an asteroid destroying the earth is so cool.  More here.

Samoas > Carmel Delites

Many years ago my wife and I had a fun moment when we realized that we actually both had the same favorite girl scout cookie despite thinking otherwise.  I had grown up with Samoas, she with Carmel Delites.  At some point thereafter, I learned that multiple bakeries actually are responsible for the girl scout coookies (though, why all the others maintain the same name but these do not is still a mystery).

Anyway, love this LA Times “investigation” into Thin Mints in Boston vs. NYC.  Yep– different bakeries.  They also run a comparison on Samoas and Carmel Delites.  Turns out, Samoas are better (and now I’m in Carmel Delite world).

Perhaps you’re vaguely aware of the fact that there are both “Samoas” and “Caramel deLites” distributed by the vested lasses? Well, the former are baked by Little Brownie Bakers, and the latter by ABC Bakers, according to two distinct recipes.

“More cookie than caramel”; “milkier chocolate”—the ABC version’s flavor profile is just a jumble of euphemisms for “cheap.” Little Brownie Bakers clearly wins.

That said, I do love all of them.  Enough blogging, time to go eat a Carmel Delite.

The real criminals in Ferguson

Were the police.  And the entire criminal justice system for that matter.  The whole thing is really pretty disgusting.  There’s already been some pretty good reporting on this, but the new Department of Justice report is just devastating.  I especially liked Jamelle Bouie’s take:

You see the same dynamic with small, discretionary infractions. Ninety-five percent of tickets for jaywalking were against black residents, as were 94 percent of all “failure to comply” charges. Either black people were the only Ferguson citizens to jaywalk, or the department was targeting blacks for enforcement. On the rare occasion when police charged whites with these minor offenses, they were 68 percent more likely to have their cases dismissed. And because supervisors awarded promotions on the basis of officer “productivity,” there was little incentive to stop any of this behavior.

The most disturbing statistics are with regard to arrest, incarceration, and police force. Ninety-three percent of all arrests in Ferguson were of black Americans, and 88 percent of use-of-force incidents were against them. In cases were police had warrants, 92 percent were for blacks. Of those arrested for outstanding warrants, 96 percent were black, and among people jailed for more than two days, 95 percent were black. And in a terrible callback to Jim Crow, police used canines exclusively against black residents, including a 14-year-old boy who suffered puncture wounds in his arms, hands, and legs…

When I was in Ferguson, I talked to white residents who were baffled by the anger of their black neighbors. What was so bad about the city? they asked. Why are you so upset?

It’s not hard to grok. In Ferguson, if you are black, you live in the shadow of lawlessness and plunder, directed by city officials and enforced by the police. You work, and you pay taxes, and those taxes go to fund a system that stops you, arrests you, and steals from you.

Which is all to say that we shouldn’t ask why Ferguson rioted. We should ask why it didn’t happen sooner. [emphasis mine]

Charles Blow, meanwhile, has a nice column on how the court system and the administrative “leadership” of the city all conspired to use the police and courts to abuse the citizens:

As the Justice Department report pointed out:

“Court practices exacerbate the harm of Ferguson’s unconstitutional police practices. They impose a particular hardship upon Ferguson’s most vulnerable residents, especially upon those living in or near poverty. Minor offenses can generate crippling debts, result in jail time because of an inability to pay, and result in the loss of a driver’s license, employment, or housing.” …

 Perhaps most disturbing — and damning — is actual correspondence in the report where the authorities don’t even attempt to disguise their intent.

Take this passage from the report:

“In March 2010, for instance, the City Finance Director wrote to Chief [Thomas] Jackson that ‘unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. . . . Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.’ Similarly, in March 2013, the Finance Director wrote to the City Manager: ‘Court fees are anticipated to rise about 7.5%. I did ask the Chief if he thought the PD could deliver 10% increase. He indicated they could try.’”

Furthermore, the report made clear that “officer evaluations and promotions depend to an inordinate degree on ‘productivity,’ meaning the number of citations issued.”

The report read like one about a shakedown gang rather than about city officials. [emphases mine]

You know the worst part?  If this is happening in Ferguson it is surely happening in other US cities as well.  And would we even know about it if Darren Wilson had not shot Michael Brown (regardless of the appropriateness of that shooting)?  Surely not.  This sort of everyday horribleness goes in in America every day and most of the time and most situations we are blithely unaware.  We need to do better.

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day.  Freaky!

Picture of a constellation of orbs, rings, and halos hanging above the Greenland ice sheet

Icesheet #4727

Photograph by Murray Fredericks, National Geographic

A constellation of orbs, rings, and halos hangs above the Greenland ice sheet in this picture by Murray Fredericks, who spent months photographing the island’s remote beauty. The optical phenomena seen here occur when ice crystals—suspended by powerful winds called piteraqs—refract sunlight.


The most political Supreme Court decision ever?

Okay, well, we don’t know how the court will yet decide, but just listening to NPR’s summary of oral arguments today had me yelling at my radio (and really, Antonin Scalia).  Based on the fact that I think they are not totally in the tank politically, I think Roberts and Kennedy both sign on with the liberals for this to be 6-3.  In reality, it should be 9-0.  Actually, it should be 0-0– the court should never ever have taken this case.  Talk about nothing to see here.  Just the idea that even 3 justices (let alone a majority) would vote for the plaintiff gets me pissed off on how incredibly political those votes would be.  Sure, the Supreme Court is a political institution, but there is still a place for little things like principle and the rule of law.  What is so compelling and upsetting about the conservatives sympathy for the plaintiff’s efforts to gut Obamacare is the fact that virtually any way you want to interpret the case, the judicially conservative action is to uphold the Affordable Care Act!  If you need a good summary of just what an open and shut legal case this is, the NYT editorial on the matter is excellent (I’m going to send it to my son as it explains much more succinctly than I can why I was shouting at NPR).

Alec MacGillis had a good piece on the matter and highlights why I so despite Scalia:

The ultimate wooden and literal reading of the Affordable Care Act would be seizing on a few words to upend the law, thereby throwing millions of Americans off of health coverage and wreaking havoc in the health insurance market. But it appears as if that’s just fine with Scalia. The millions depending on the law for their coverage will likely need to depend on another justice to retain the economic security they have gained under Obamacare.

MacGillis’ piece also highlights that to find for the plaintiff in this case, would be in complete opposition to the Court’s earlier finding that made the Medicaid expansion voluntary, rather than mandatory (and has led to plenty of poor, but working Americans suffering without affordable insurance).

And here’s the quote from Scalia that had me yelling at my radio (in Dahlia Lithwick’s excellent summary):

Contemplating the catastrophic real-life outcomes that could happen if the petitioners lose—which nobody seems to want to talk about—Alito posits that “it’s not too late for a state to establish an exchange if we were to adopt petitioners’ interpretation of the statute.” Verrilli replies that, “In order to have an exchange approved and insurance policies on the exchange ready for the 2016 year, those approvals have to occur by May of 2015.” So, yes, it’s too late. Alito wonders if the states could be given extra time.

Scalia jumps in with a better fix: “What about Congress? You really think Congress is just going to sit there while all of these disastrous consequences ensue?”

People laugh. [emphasis mine] Even members of Congress may have laughed. Even Verrilli laughs, in his gravitas-y way: “Well, this Congress, your honor?”

Exactly, Scalia’s contention is so breathtakingly disingenuous that it is simply laughable.  And finally, while I’m picking on Scalia, here’s EJ Dionne from a few months ago:

Textual interpretation, Scalia insisted, should be “holistic” and “contextual,” not “wooden” or “literal.” Courts, he said, should adopt the interpretation of a law that “does least violence to the text,” declaring that “there can be no justification for needlessly rendering provisions in conflict if they can be interpreted harmoniously.”

If Scalia wants to be true to his own principles, can he possibly side with a convoluted reading of the law that apparently never occurred to him before? [emphasis mine]

Scalia’s principles?  Give me a break.  He’s got this reputation of being very conservative, but brilliant and principled.  He’s not.  He’s just very conservative.  Full stop.  Scalia reaches the decisions he wants to 99% of the time and that’s that.  I would love for him to prove me wrong in this case, but alas, he seems to have become more partisan than ever in recent years.  And, really, none of the justices have any more excuse than he for what would be a breathtakingly wrong and horribly partisan Supreme Court decision.

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