Too much TV

As much as I enjoyed “Breaking Bad” I really wanted to like “Better Call Saul.”  But I know just because somebody has made one great television show is no guarantee for the next (Treme, anyone?).  Anyway, I gave Saul three episodes when I decided that it just wasn’t interesting enough.  Maybe, before the golden age of TV, I would have decided otherwise, but it seems there’s so many good viewing options out there now, it was hard to justify the time on something not all that captivating.

Thus, I really loved Emily Nussbaum’s essay on “Better Call Saul” and what it means to commit to a new show in the modern TV world:

 “Better Call Saul,” on the verge of its own finale, of Season 1, has a lot to recommend it, particularly for devotees of the original show. ..

And yet, nine episodes in, “Better Call Saul” never really answers the question: Would you watch this show if you didn’t miss “Breaking Bad”?

A show doesn’t need to be perfect to have a powerful allure for viewers who just want to hang out in the world it invokes. (I’ve watched every episode of “Nashville.”) But TV is triage these days. While it used to be possible to catch up with every ambitious drama—during that golden era of TV efficiency, when there were only five of them—that’s no longer true. At this year’s Television Critics Association meetings, FX’s C.E.O., John Landgraf, a prolific producer himself, presented a report that was highly alarming, at least to television critics. Last year, according to FX’s data, three hundred and fifty-two scripted first-run prime-time and late-night programs aired on broadcast, cable, and streaming networks in the U.S., not including PBS. Joe Adalian, crunching the stats atNew Yorks Vulture, wrote that the number of new prime-time scripted cable shows had “doubled in just the past five years, tripled since 2007 (the year Mad Men premiered), and grown a staggering 683 percent since the turn of the century.” When people angrily tweet at me that some show is the best thing on TV, I know they’re lying: they haven’t watched most of the other ones, and neither have I.

Under these conditions, the question of where to invest one’s attention becomes more complicated, and, so far, “Better Call Saul” doesn’t offer a clear answer, though it shudders with potential energy.

If Nussbaum concludes that Saul “doesn’t offer a clear answer” that’s enough for me to clear out the episodes of my DVR in case everybody had been raving about it.  Of course, part of my problem is I’m watching hardly anything as the damn internet just sucks me in every night.

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Punishing people on welfare

So, Kansas and Missouri want to make life really difficult for people on welfare by severely limiting what they are allowed to purchase.  That’ll teach ’em to be poor, damnit!  Emily Badger explains how these laws are just bad policy:

The first is economic: There’s virtually no evidence that the poor actually spend their money this way. The idea that they do defies Maslow’s hierarchy — the notion that we all need shelter and food before we go in search of foot massages. In fact, the poor are much more savvy about how they spend their money because they have less of it (quick quiz: do you know exactly how much you last spent on a gallon of milk? or a bag of diapers?). By definition, a much higher share of their income — often more than half of it — is eaten up by basic housing costs than is true for the better-off, leaving them less money for luxuries anyway. And contrary to the logic of drug-testing laws, the poor are no more likely to use drugs than the population at large.

But, I think it is the moral case, where she is especially compelling– and damning of those self-righteous hypocrites on the right:

The second issue with these laws is a moral one: We rarely make similar demands of other recipients of government aid. We don’t drug-test farmers who receive agriculture subsidies (lest they think about plowing while high!). We don’t require Pell Grant recipients to prove that they’re pursuing a degree that will get them a real job one day (sorry, no poetry!). We don’t require wealthy families who cash in on the home mortgage interest deduction to prove that they don’t use their homes as brothels (because surely someone out there does this). The strings that we attach to government aid are attached uniquely for the poor.

Yes!  But isn’t it so nice to feel good about oneself for thinking you are not receiving any government benefit while looking down on those who receive benefits because they are poor.

North Charleston shooting

Lots of thoughts.  First, though, the Onion just nails it:

“The number of law enforcement officers who have shot unarmed civilians and gone free over the past year has been extremely discouraging, but the fact that this policeman was arrested so swiftly shows that therecan be justice for victims so long as a bystander is nearby, has a camera phone on them, captures the whole interaction, and several dozen other circumstances play out in the precise sequence,” said North Charleston, SC resident Jenine Williams, echoing the sentiments of millions of Americans who told reporters they have faith that, as long as a fair-minded eyewitness happens to be passing by at the exact right time; has the inclination to stop and film; an unobstructed view; enough battery life and memory on their phone; a steady hand; the forethought to start filming an interaction with the police before it escalates into violence; is close enough to get detailed footage, but far enough away to avoid being shot themselves or seen by the officer and potentially having their phone confiscated; and it is daytime, then justice would certainly be served.

Yes, yes, yes.  You know this would’ve been buried (as the departmental report had already done) if not for the video.  How many “justified” police shootings every year are out-and-out murders, but we never know because there’s no video.  Far too many, I fear.

Doesn’t help that American police forces shoot way more people.  From an Economist article last fall:

I loved a bunch of comments that said stuff like, “but it doesn’t take population size into account” as if that could somehow make up for this kind of disparity.

Charles Blow hits one of my favorite (i.e., most frustrating) points:

But I would argue that the issue we are facing in these cases is not one of equipment, or even policy, but culture.

I would submit that cameras would have an impact on policy and culture, but that a change in culture must be bigger than both. It must start with “good cops” no longer countenancing the behavior of “bad cops.” It will start with those good cops publicly and vociferously chastising and condemning their brethren when they are wrong. Their silence has never been — and is certainly no longer — suitable. We must hear from them, not necessarily from the rank-and-file but from those higher up the ladder.

One of the most disturbing features of the Department of Justice’s report on the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson was the number of witnesses who said that they were afraid to come forward because their version of events contradicted what they saw as community consensus.

But isn’t the unwillingness, or even fear, of “good cops” to more forcefully condemn bad behavior just the same glove turned inside out?

Lest we forget, the events leading to the shooting were over a broken taillight.  A man died over a broken taillight.  That these stops are standard operating procedure is appalling enough, as Jamelle Bouie wonderfully lays out:

There are racial disparities in police stops—blacks are stopped twice as often as whites—but they aren’t related to traffic safety offenses, in which cops exercise a little less discretion and violations are equal within groups. Where we see a difference—even after we adjust for driving time (on average, blacks drive more and longer than whites)—is in investigatory stops. In these, drivers are stopped for exceedingly minor violations—driving too slowly, malfunctioning lights, failure to signal—which are used as pretext for investigations of the driver and the vehicle. Sanctioned by courts and institutionalized in most police departments, investigatory stops are aimed at “suspicious” drivers and meant to stop crime, not traffic offenses. And as the authors note, “virtually all of the wide racial disparity in the likelihood of being stopped is concentrated in one category of stops: discretionary stops for minor violations of the law.”

What we can say, however, is that the shooting of Walter Scott happened in an institutional environment where police officers are encouraged to make intrusive stops against people they deem suspicious. Overwhelmingly, those people are black American men. And as we’ve seen with stop-and-frisk tactics in New York City and with the behavior of the Ferguson Police Department, these stops aren’t effective; they yield fewer suspects and less contraband than what you get from more targeted investigations. Instead, they poison the relationship between departments and communities, creating mistrust and entrenching the view—among the police, the policed, and everyone else—that blacks are lesser citizens than their peers. Whether Slager, who is white, was racially biased—there’s no evidence he was—is irrelevant. What matters is that this universal suspicion is baked into the culture of police departments across the country, such that all kinds of officers—black as well as white—engage in profiling.

So we need to ask: Is this worth it? Does what we gain in crime control from investigatory stops justify the costs to individuals, families, and civic cohesion? Is it worth the extent to which these stops erode trust in police, discourage political participation, and create feelings of racial subordination?

I’m just going to say, “no, it’s not worth it.”

Time for things to change.  Yes, it’s great that the officer in SC is being held accountable, but so long as we treat him as “one bad apple” and do nothing to change the underlying problems in our current culture of policing, plenty more innocent (mostly minority) citizens are going to die.

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