Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tabs About Ferguson and Beyond

Related to Ferguson

Police are operating with total impunity in Ferguson by Matt Yglesias, writing for Vox. Why don't the cops in Fergus have their badges on? "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."

White political domination of Ferguson is doomed. Also by Matt Yglesias at Vox. How has a 65-percent-black town settled for an almost-all-white set of elected officials? It may have something to do with holding local elections in April of odd-numbered years. Yeah, that sounds like the way to guarantee high voter turnout.

After Ferguson, how should police respond to protests? By Radley Balko, author of The Rise of the Warrior Cop. With really helpful information on the Madison Method, how they used to do it in Washington, D.C., and this from Norm Stamper, Seattle's top cop during the 1999 WTO debacle:

Stamper calls his decisions in Seattle “the worst mistake” of his career because he’s seen how the police response to protest has changed since 1999. “We gassed fellow Americans engaging in civil disobedience,” Stamper says. “We set a number of precedents, most of them bad. And police departments across the country learned all the wrong lessons from us. That’s disheartening. So disheartening. I mean, you look at what happened to those Occupy protesters at U.C. Davis, where the cop just sprays them down like he’s watering a bed of flowers, and I think that we played a part in making that sort of thing so common—so easy to do now. It’s beyond cringe-worthy. I wish to hell my career had ended on a happier note.”
On a completely different tack, brace yourself and read this: I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me. An op-ed by a former LAPD cop and "professor of homeland security" from the Washington Post.

And beyond Ferguson

I've had this tab open for a long time. It's one of the most damning pieces I've ever read about the so-called "welfare reform" of the 1990s: How Bill Clinton’s welfare “reform” created a system rife with racial biases from BillMoyers.com. Most importantly (emphasis added):
What’s remarkable about the general association of black people with welfare and handouts in the popular culture — that stereotype — is that it’s almost a perfect inversion of American history. For much of the 20th century, and certainly in the earlier history of this country, we had all sorts of race-specific programs that channeled benefits to whites and excluded everyone else.

So until very recently, in many ways we have this long history of a white-centered welfare state. But after that time, when victories were achieved that actually allowed for some equality of access to those programs, that very equality became the basis for saying, “Oh, this is all about African-Americans and it’s just a handout to this racially targeted group.”
In our study, we found that...conservative counties...tended to sanction welfare clients much more often...than the most liberal counties. But ...almost the entire difference was made up by the different treatment of black and Hispanic clients. For white clients, it actually made no difference whether you were in the most liberal or most conservative county. You’d be treated the same regardless. It was only clients of color who received different treatment in conservative and liberal counties.
Because, perhaps, of implicit bias. The researchers tested this possibility:
We used identical, made-up case files. The only differences between them were that some had what are considered “black names,” and others had “white names.” So one would be like, Emily O’Brien and on another we put Lakisha Williams. We pretested them to show that most people who saw these names, right or wrongly, associated them with white or black people — or Latinos.

And we then presented actual welfare case managers with cases where it wasn’t quite clear whether the person should be sanctioned or not. Again, it was the exact same case, except we varied the name, and therefore, the race they associated with the person.

And then we also varied one other thing, which you can call a discrediting marker. So in one of the experiments, we looked at what happens if you add information that the imaginary beneficiary had been sanctioned before — maybe that would lead the case worker to think they’re a troublemaker. That should have no bearing on the current sanction decision, but it might just change their view. Or we changed the number of children they had — for half of the case managers, the person had one child; for the other half, they had four children and were pregnant.

And we found that, across all of our experiments, for the white client, adding that marker — which invoked a negative image of welfare recipients — had no effect at all. They were still judged the same way on the current matter.

The black client or the Hispanic client, when they did not have this discrediting marker, were also judged neutrally on the borderline problem we gave these managers. So there wasn’t an automatic bias. But when you added that discrediting marker, the likelihood that the person would get sanctioned went through the roof if they were a person of color. ...as soon as you added something that seemed to confirm the negative stereotypes about welfare recipients, it had no effect on the white client, but it made the black client seem like a person who should be sanctioned, and the rates went up.

And the thing that’s really fascinating is that this was equally true for all case managers, regardless of how they self-identified in terms of race and ethnicity. It was equally true of white case managers and case managers of color.
Implicit bias also rears its head in Paul Ryan's vision of long-term-out-of-work "urban men," dragging down their communities with their lazy ways. As Matt Bruenig demonstrates, only 3.7 percent of poor people meet that description. So once again, trying to make policy based on edge cases causes more damage than it correct.

A good way to wreck a local economy: build casinos. David Frum (of all people) writing in The Atlantic.

Forcing kids to stick to gender roles can actually be harmful to their health. The "constant effort to manage one’s everyday life in line with gender norms produces significant anxiety, insecurity, stress and low self-esteem for both boys and girls, and both for ‘popular’ young people and those who have lower status in school."

The case for free tampons by Jessica Valenti, writing in The Guardian. "The cost of a product that half the world’s population needs multiple times a day, every month for approximately 30 years, is simply too much." It's a public health issue and a major part of getting girls to school, too. And get this: "Women in the U.K. are fighting to axe the 5% tax on tampons (it used to be taxed at 17.5%!), which are considered “luxuries” while men’s razors, for some baffling reason, are not. And in the U.S., though breast pumps, vasectomies, and artificial teeth are sales tax-exempt and tax-deductible medical care, tampons are not even exempted from sales tax in some states."

A wonderful WGBH audio documentary on the right to vote, past and present.

Thoughts from education professor Paul Thomas: Rejecting the post-apocalyptic mindset in a civilized world.  "...the ruling elite have been born into abundance and haven’t experienced the anxiety of scarcity, but they demand that those born into and living in scarcity rise through a manufactured culture of competition—even though we have an abundance of resources to make such social Darwinism unnecessary."

One way to decrease gerrymandering: stop counting prisoners where they're being held and count them instead at their last known address. As I've written before, this practice is way to similar to the Constitution's holding that non-voting, enslaved men were counted as three-fifths of a human for census purposes. Source: A Demos report called Implementing reform: how Maryland & New York ended prison gerrymandering.

From New York magazine: What all this bad news is doing to us. According to the researcher interviewed, "When I’ve done studies and people watch coverage of, say, 9/11, they don’t then meet criteria for depression in the DSM. But if you ask them how they feel about the world, what they end up with is this malaise: ‘Everything’s kinda bad’ and ‘Why should I vote? It’s not gonna help’ and ‘I could donate money, but there’s just gonna be another kid who’s starving next week.’” And: "We already know from political-psychological research that the more threatened people feel, the more likely they will be to support right-wing policies. And people who believe in the concept of unmitigated evil appear more likely to support torture and other violent policies."

Great... that means it's time for a Better Angels of Our Nature antidote once I turn off the live feed from Ferguson.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Words from My Mouth

Looking back through some old blog posts, I came across one that was a premonition of the recent police overreaction in Ferguson, Missouri: Covering the Rainbow Gathering "Riot". An excerpt:

I have friends who have been present at what they describe as "cop riots," where police attack protesters using overwhelming force despite little or no provocation. It's easy for those of us who haven't felt a need to exercise our right to free association or speech in a public forum to think that those who do so have done something to provoke the police, that they somehow deserve what happens to them. And that we would be immune in the same situation because our behavior would not provoke them.

But I have a nagging sense that our freedoms are more limited than we imagine, that they exist, in some ways, only on paper, and that those who actually put them into practice often find themselves at the wrong end of a nightstick or even pepper bullets, as happened with the Rainbows and their children.

The main point of Niman's article, though, is that AP (and the papers that carried the AP story) failed because they didn't check the police story for corroboration, in effect rubber-stamping the police point of view. There were independent observers there, including other independent journalists, who contradict the police story.

His point is, what's the purpose of a free press, if it's just going to regurgitate the government's news releases?

Suburban Spaces

Last night, a Twitter user named Travis Hughes posted this graphic to help people who are trying to understand the details of what's happening in Ferguson, Missouri:

Thanks to Travis for doing that.

But the map shows one of the problems inherent in Ferguson: Everything is concentrated on the one street, Florissant Avenue, because the side streets are generally limited to single entry points. In effect, they're super cul-de-sacs, forcing the through-traffic all onto one street. Which is lined with big box stores and pedestrian-unfriendly spaces.

Here's a wider look at that area:

The Target store mentioned as the location of the "media pen" is at the south end of this map. The store whose surveillance video was released on Friday is marked with the red balloon. Michael Brown was shot on Canfield Drive, near the north end of the green area labeled Northland Golf Club.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Pallas Cats

And now some cat therapy.

Have you heard of pallas cats (Otocolobus manul)? I hadn't until yesterday. They're native to central Asia, from China to Siberia to Nepal to the Caspian Sea, in elevations up to 15,000 feet. They don't seem to like the desert areas of Mongolia and China, though.

Here is a pallas cat in action:

And a few still shots from around the web:

From the Wikimedia Commons by Scott M. Liddell

By Cait Caesar, from Pinterest

I feel just a little bit better now.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Signs at a Holiday Inn Express

Holiday Inn Express has better design than the average chain hotel. (I also like the fact that they have two types of pillows, soft and firm, denoted in embroidery on the pillowcases.)

In the breakfast room, the signs that help you find the various food selections have a unified style and an appropriate morning sensibility. They also were written by someone who was trying to be funny:

With varying degrees of success, depending on your tolerance for puns:

I think the cereal sign is trying a little too hard:

Or maybe that's just dry humor. Better than dry cereal.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Another False Equivalency

Today's Star Tribune contains a pithy and accurate letter to the editor from Robert Heise of Richfield, Minnesota. He's responding to an earlier letter that said Medtronic and other companies carrying out corporate inversions are only following the law, just the way regular taxpayers do by taking every deduction available.

It’s really not like you taking tax deductions

The commenters [August 13] who try to parallel a person using tax deductions with corporate inversions are engaging in false equivalency — the biggest difference being that average people don’t have lobbyists writing the language of bills that affect the way they are taxed. Medtronic is paying hundreds of thousands to try to keep tax law swayed in a favorable direction. The notion that a company is doing right by playing by rules it has helped to formulate is another example of the disparity between the moneyed and the average citizen.
Like Mitt Romney said, you wouldn't want a president who paid a dime more in taxes than he has to, right? Even one who helps to shape those tax policies in the first place.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sometimes the Words Have No Meaning

I had to go to Target the other day and while there saw two products whose names confounded me.

The first was a true what the #%**#@ moment, because I was just wandering past when the bright-orange package leaped out at my eyes:

Yummy! Good thing it was in the pharmacy department and not in groceries.

The second was a product that I was actually looking for and found without help of the sign, since they (sports bras) are recognizable without the help of words. Afterward, I saw this sign above:

And marveled at the way copywriters have to come up with names like "compression racer" for a bra. Compression. That's a new one on me. Not to mention that the word "cami"—short for camisole—appears to now be common usage when it's not even part of my vocabulary.


Update: I just realized I've written about Joint Juice before. I guess that means it's not as memorable a name as its creators might wish.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It's Up to Us

I've been following the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri, pretty much since it started. Too much to say and so I can't say any of it.

But everyone should read this, from Vox:

Telling white people the criminal justice system is racist makes them like it more.

Rationality and conscious prejudice have very little to do with any of this. Implicit bias is at work, whether in perceiving guns that aren't there or thinking black kids are five years older than they are.

White people, what are we going to do about it?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cards Against Harassment

Bill Lindeke is a Twin Cities urbanist who encourages people to walk, bike, and take transit. He wants people to be in the city and enjoy it as a place.

As part of his work, he began talking to women about street harassment, and recently wrote about it on MinnPost. Thanks to that article, I now know about a local woman named Lindsey who has created Cards Against Harassment, which she gives out to men who catcall her and worse.

Even more impressive is the fact that Lindsey talks back in a respectful way to men who harass her and records the interaction. Here's her YouTube channel, with over a dozen videos (mostly just sound, since she's making the recordings with her phone while talking to the men).

This is a brave woman, doing inspiring work. Most times, it appears she has convinced the men to stop catcalling and to think about the situation from the woman's point of view. But then there's the one with the guy who suddenly seems to become afraid of her and backs away when she tries to give him one of the cards.

I guess he was uncomfortable about a woman who talked back.


I also appreciated Lindsey's FAQ page. And, from a different source, this comic called Next Time Someone Says Women Aren't Victims of Harassment, Show Them This.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Summer Vegetables in Chalk

Summer chalk art from the Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis:

I'm especially fond of the kohlrabi art near the bottom.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Eighteen-Hundred Years Off in Pittsburgh

I can't resist sharing another one from Jen Campbell's compilation, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores:

Here's my earlier post that mentions Campbell's book and has a couple more examples from the text.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Missing a Hyphen Once Again

It's not the first time, but I just saw another fun example of a missing hyphen:

No, don't waste those free lunches!