Cameras Save Lives!

The rioting this week in Ferguson, MO, has deeper roots than I want to explore right now. But the spark, the August 9 shooting of a black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white cop, Darren Wilson, is something that happens all too often.

The real story is murky at best. Maybe the confrontation was violent in two directions. Maybe Brown was running away when the first shots were fired, maybe he was charging the cop or maybe he was bowing his head in surrender or pain.
There are many reports of what exactly happened between Mr. Brown and Officer Wilson.

What we do know is that the cop involved was not wearing a body camera. A report from the Police Foundation says there’s a strong calming effect of body cameras:

“The findings suggest more than a 50% reduction in the total number of incidents of use-of-force compared to control-conditions, and nearly ten times more citizens’ complaints in the 12-months prior to the experiment.”

Why? Two reasons: because cops are less likely to overuse force when they are being recorded; and because arrestees, when confronted with video evidence, often retract their complaints.

This has been analyzed in the New York Times and National Public Radio, even before Ferguson.

The cameras cost some money, of course, and the data needs secure, third-party storage. One such storage site is The ability to use body-cam data in court requires chain of custody and security from tampering, which isn’t free. But that cost must be balanced against the liability costs saved from citizen-police complaints, and the potential savings in court costs if arrested people are confronted with immediate evidence that could influence their willingness to plea-bargain.

And the economic cost is trivial compared to the potential value of improving relations between police and the communities they are supposed to be protecting and serving. Cameras aren’t magic, and problems – especially racial tensions – won’t fade immediately. But isn’t preventing another Ferguson, another Rodney King, another Amadou Diallo, worth something?

Snow Emergency!

Local friends: it will come as no surprise to you that Minneapolis has declared a snow emergency.

Let’s review the parking rules:

  1. Do not park on Snow Emergency Routes for the first nine days of a snow emergency.
  2. Do not park on trees, bushes, or other foliage in median lanes of boulevards ever.
  3. Parking on northbound non-snow-emergency routes is permitted on the left side for the first day of the snow emergency, and on the right side of southbound streets on the second day.
  4. Parking is permitted on the odd-numbered side of eastbound streets, and the even-numbered side of westbound streets, except boulevards, only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and odd-numbered Saturdays.
  5. If you are in doubt about whether your street is a Snow Emergency Route, check the color of the street signs on the corner. Blue is for snow emergency routes, green is for non-snow-emergency routes, and brown is for streets that will be abandoned to become impassable mud-holes.
  6. We leave the “Snow Emergency Route” signs up year-round because you just never know.
  7. All snow must be removed from areas surrounding your trash containers or you’ll be left a little note on brightly colored paper by your trash guys. This note will blow away, leaving you to wonder what it said, and if you’re going to be fined or maybe have garbage dumped in your back yard for the rest of the year.
  8. Alleys will be plowed no later than May 15th (May 16th if the 15th happens to be a Sunday.)
  9. Cars parked in appropriately may be ticketed, towed, or just buried by the plows.
  10. Excess snow will be deposited in that narrow walkway you’ve just shoveled out between the sidewalk and the streets.
  11. If you live in St. Paul, don’t park at night where it says “Night Plow Route”. That’s all.

Of course, it does snow elsewhere in the country. Apparently it snowed in Atlanta, causing terrible problems. One person had to survive on Mountain Dew and beef jerky for twelve hours while stuck in traffic. For twelve hours. If you live in Los Angeles, twelve hours in traffic is normal.

Of course, given what the media portrays as the usual diet of Atlanteans, that’s a step up.

Baby, it’s cold outside.

Apparently it’s gotten pretty cold out. This is big news. Hey, it’s January. It’s Minnesota. Yeah, it’s cold. The kids are getting one more day off school thanks to the weather.
<geezer mode>
Back in the early ’80s, now that was cold weather. In January 1982, I went cross-country skiing one night when the air temp was -30 F and the wind chill was in the -60 to -70 range. By the time I’d gone 50 yards, my glasses were completely iced over, so I had to put them in my pocket. That was probably a good idea, because the cold metal of the frames might have chilled my ears even more. (I did get a little nip of frostbite, not too bad).
In December 1983, there was a period where the weather was far below zero for a week or two. Two pairs of gloves, T-shirt, regular shirt, heavy flannel shirt, sweatshirt, jacket, hat. Long underwear, jeans, sweat pants, and still it was really cold walking four or five blocks. At those temperatures, it hurts to breathe, even through a well-wrapped scarf. That’s where the cold-receptor nerves just give up and send pain signals instead.
January 1986, first year of grad school, was pretty darn cold. Our Sri Lankan classmate gave up and transferred to someplace warmer.
</geezer mode>

And that was my introduction to seriously cold weather. I lived in upstate New York and Connecticut as a kid, so winter wasn’t a new phenomenon. But the multiple layers, the real frostbite risk, the feeling of truly bone-chilling cold, the point where a rapidly inhaled breath is cold enough to give you that ice-cream headache, that’s a Minnesota thing.

In the last thirty years, we’ve had enough global warming that our current cool weather is an unusual event. It hasn’t been this cold in 17 years. Now, I’m not going to do the climatology statistics, you can see that here and an analysis here. The take-home message is that, yeah, it’s cold, but it’s not as cold as it has been. Of course, the older I get, the more winters I’ve had and the more comparisons I can make. If you’re under 30, the 1980s are ancient history. I don’t remember the cold spell of December 1963, but that was a long time ago.

Now they are saying one good result of the cold may be a die-off of the invasive Emerald Ash Borer bug, which is chewing up our ash trees. Maybe a similar effect will help save the pine forests from their insect-related problems. But as very cold winters become the exception rather than a commonplace, we’re going to have more and more problems with these exotic species.

Take-home message: it’s cold, but not as cold as it has been. Buck up, weenies.

It’s not my deFault.

Okay, today’s news is filled with discussions of Republicans suggesting that we don’t actually have to default after October 17th.
Rand Paul says a default is just “balancing the budget” – yeah, by not paying the mortgage!

“It really is irresponsible of the president to try to scare the markets,” said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. “If you don’t raise your debt ceiling, all you’re saying is, ‘We’re going to be balancing our budget.’ So if you put it in those terms, all these scary terms of, ‘Oh my goodness, the world’s going to end’ — if we balance the budget, the world’s going to end? Why don’t we spend what comes in?”
“If you propose it that way,” he said of not raising the debt limit, “the American public will say that sounds like a pretty reasonable idea.”

Well, now some Rs are saying it’s not just about Obamacare but all the deficit and national debt…
So here’s a few numbers to play with.
According to much economic research, there is a correlation between states that mooch off the Federal deficit and states that vote Republican. Slate has an excellent analysis. Now, comparing this data with the election maps shows a pretty clear connection.

Looking at the numbers (2005 is the latest available here), cutting off just the excess payments to the worst ten states (per capita) would save about $125 billion per year. That’s not cutting off all payments, just the excess above what those states pay in federal taxes.

This is a sum greater than the “sequester” cuts, which Republicans would say didn’t hurt anybody.

Unfortunately, a great deal of that excess payment money (Slate, again) is anti-poverty payments. Yes, the poorest states are also the most conservative. Or maybe, the most conservative states are also the poorest – you make the call.
So, do the red-state, tea party types hate spending because it largely flows to the poorest in their communities? Is spending on the poor more visible in the very poor states, and thus an easier target?

Maybe they are actually compassionate, caring people in their own lives. But they don’t seem to be willing to be compassionate to the strangers in their midst.

Here’s another story – this time from The American Conservative (from September 2012) looking at the number of people in each state who don’t pay Federal income tax (the infamous 47%). Turns out, 47% is pretty high. The states with the most “non-payers” have about 40% non-payers; the states with the fewest are around 30%. (Wait, who files a return and has no tax liability? Poor people, mostly, whose deductions outweigh their tax liability. Most of them file to get their withholdings back.)
Again, it’s the poorer, more conservative Deep South states that have the most zero-liability returns. Except for a few Rural West states (ND, WY, AK), most of the highest-liability states are “blue states”.

All in all, I think Albert Alligator explained it best:

Pogo by Walt Kelly, April 14, 1956 found at

This is not an overly coherent post. Busy week. But, some interesting tidbits. I just double-dare Obama to say that debt service comes first, poverty relief second, and any other payments to states, or military bases & contractors located therein, whose senators and/or representatives vote for default get lowest priority.

Apocalypse When?

Today, September 30, is the last day before the Apocalypse.

Which apocalypse depends on what your particular fears are.
As so often happens, the topic for today is a reflection on a New York Times article.

Are we going to have an apocalypse because Obamacare is coming in on Tuesday? Or maybe because a chunk of the federal government is going to get shut down?

Maybe the apocalypse will wait a few weeks until the debt ceiling crisis happens.

Maybe it will be from global warming, radiation from Fukushima unleashing a 21st century Godzilla, or a bioterrorism plague that gets out of hand.

Maybe it will be a ten mile wide comet we overlooked because the NASA guy who was supposed to be on telescope duty next week was furloughed because of the shutdown.

Maybe all those religious nuts are right and it’s the Second Coming, although since “no one knows the day nor hour“, you can automatically dismiss anyone who claims to.

Maybe it will be apologetic space aliens, sorry about the delay but traffic round Alpha Centauri was a mess, can you believe some beings, and what ever happened to all those Heaven’s Gate people that were waiting for us.

Maybe it will be zombies devouring all those sucker liberals who aren’t up to their armpits in guns and canned goods.

But meanwhile, there are papers to grade, children to hug, dishes to do and sunshine to enjoy. So while you wait for whatever apocalypse is headed our way, please have a nice day.

And clean up after yourself, so the archaeologists in a few millennia won’t think you’re such a darn slob.

Yeah, yeah, 9/11, blah blah

Another September 11th has come and (mostly) gone. Twelve years and twelve hours ago I was coming home from dropping Kid #1 at preschool when NPR interrupted Morning Edition with the news that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. It was a Tuesday, I didn’t teach that day since I was then on a MWF schedule, so I spent the rest of the day glued to the TV.

As with so many others, I had that day imprinted on my memories the way Pearl Harbor or the Kennedy assassination were for earlier generations.

For a few days, we all felt the surge of pride in the cops & firemen who saved thousands of lives, and lost so many of their own. We were shocked and grieved. We were ready to pull together as a nation, bear any burden, pay any price…

A stunned President Bush took a day or two to figure out what to do. About the only thing he did right back then was to make it clear that the terrorists were not typical of Muslims and that the vast majority of Muslims aren’t terrorists.

Then he proceeded to waste every scrap of potential good will. Do you remember that the Bushies initially opposed the TSA because it would have meant a huge increase in the Federal workforce? And the fear and over-reaction the attacks spawned can only be counted as a victory for the bad guys. The point of terrorism, after all, isn’t so much to kill innocents as it is to provoke terror. A successful attack terrifies, and the victory is when the target group or government reacts in a way that proves the terrorists’ point or causes blunders. In that sense, OBL won big. Compare that to the response of Boston after the marathon bombings this spring. “Don’t mess with Beantown” and a law-enforcement success stopped the terror quickly. We need to remember that terrorism seeks to provoke, so the best response is to maintain moderation and a law-enforcement view. That’s what weakened the IRA’s hand in 1970s-1980s Britain, and it’s what has helped Israel weather so many attacks.

And of course there was the near-immediate conflation of two very different enemies: the fundamentalist, terrorist Bin Laden and the secular dictator of Iraq. Did the Bushman blow a chance to capture OBL in late 2001 because he was already beginning to focus on starting a war with Saddam Hussein? Did he sacrifice the possibility of a quicker and more complete victory over the Taliban? “We want to bring democracy to the Middle East” without finishing the job of bringing it to Afghanistan? Did he really think that a war in Iraq could be faster than the already 18-month-old war he already had? Anybody remember the argument that the Iraq war had to start in the spring because it might be too hot in the summer? In quick, beat Saddam, and have swooning, grateful Iraqis throwing roses at our departing feet by June? And how it so quickly became obvious that there was simply no plan for what to do next?

Rumsfeld: You don’t go to war with the army you want, “you go to war with the army you have.” Unless, of course, you’re smart enough to avoid going to war in the first place.

The stunningly incompetent arrogance of those drum-beating days of 2002 and early 2003 should be remembered as long as the patriotism of September 2001. Only then can it be said that we have learned the lesson of 9/11.