Asked and Answered In Ferguson — A Tale of Two Times Stories

Posted November 26, 2014 by Tom
Categories: quis custodiet ipsos custodes, Race

Tags: , ,

Here’s a fact The New York Times seeks to explore in the wake of the decision to let the killer of an unarmed youth go free:

A nation with an African-American president and a significant, if struggling, black middle class remains as deeply divided about the justice system as it was decades ago. A Huffington Post-YouGov poll of 1,000 adults released this week found that 62 percent of African-Americans believed Officer Wilson was at fault in the shooting of Mr. Brown, while only 22 percent of whites took that position.

The Times notes that this divide is nothing new:

In 1992, a Washington Post-ABC News pollfound that 92 percent of blacks — and 64 percent of whites  — disagreed with the acquittal of the Los Angeles police officers involved in the videotaped beating of a black man, Rodney King.

“What’s striking is just how constant these attitudes have been,” said Carroll Doherty, the director of political research for the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in Washington.

This particular article doesn’t go into much depth on who might be right — the white majority that sees justice being done from King to Brown, or the African American majority that sees culpable killers go free, but it does make clear that the experience of everyday life is … well, it’s the great grey lady (formerly) of 43rd Street, so this is how the sociology passage begins:

That whites and blacks disagree so deeply on the justice system, even as some other racial gulfs show signs of closing, is perhaps not as odd as it seems.

Not odd at all, as it happens, on the evidence of another long analysis piece in today’s paper the Ferguson decision:

But the gentle questioning of Officer Wilson revealed in the transcripts, and the sharp challenges prosecutors made to witnesses whose accounts seemed to contradict his narrative, have led some to question whether the process was as objective as Mr. McCulloch claims.

William_Hogarth_004

And what might have prompted such unpleasant suspicions about an upstanding public servant?  Perhaps this:

Officer Wilson, in his testimony, described the encounter in terms that dovetailed with a state law authorizing an officer’s use of deadly force …

In some cases the questions seemed designed to help Officer Wilson meet the conditions for self-defense, with a prosecutor telling him at one point: “You felt like your life was in jeopardy” followed by the question, “And use of deadly force was justified at that point in your opinion?”

Might as well have just used cue cards.

Defense witnesses — which is to say that those witnesses with testimony to exculpate the voiceless dead against the charge of he had it coming — did not receive such helpful guidance:

Though the prosecutors did not press Officer Wilson and other law enforcement officials about some contradictions in their testimony, they did challenge other witnesses about why their accounts had varied.

Prosecutors did not seem to shy from pointing out the discrepancies between multiple interviews of a single witness, or at some points exploring the criminal history of some witnesses, including Mr. Johnson, Mr. Brown’s friend.

And you know something:  priming works.  This was a prosecutor/cop defense attorney who knew exactly what he was doing:

Over the months, the jurors seemed to focus intently on the final movement that Mr. Brown may have made toward Officer Wilson, after a brief chase. The prosecutor asked witness after witness if it seemed as if Mr. Brown were reaching for a weapon, though few said they saw anything like that. Mr. Brown was found to be unarmed.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Or rather, this is an answer to the question implied in its companion article.  If blacks and whites view the criminal justice system differently, then, obviously, as the Ferguson trial of that dastardly murderee, Michael Brown, shows so clearly, that’s because it is different for white and black.  Or more precisely to the point made brutally clear in the sorry history of the Ferguson grand jury, both black victims and those African Americans accused of crimes cannot expect the abstract ideal of the rule of law to reach them.

The single essential requirement for justice within a justice system is that the institutions and individuals involved receive genuinely equal treatment.   As we can see from the top level decisions made in this case down to the fine grain of particular questions and answers, Darren Wilson benefited at every stage from the unequal approach prosecutor McCullough chose to employ.  (Take a look at this New Yorker piece by Jeffrey Toobin for a fine account of just how thoroughly the fix was in from the moment McCullough chose to go the grand jury route.)   Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address pondered out loud the mystery that two sides, each believing in the same God and in their claim on the blessings of heaven were still locked in an utterly destructive struggle.  How could that be so?  Perhaps, he said, in what seems to me to be the most devastatingly honest utterance by any American president ever:

The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

The offenses still come.  It’s a good thing that in twenty first century America a child can no longer be sold away from its parents.  It’s a step in the right direction that the act of looking at a white woman whilst being a black youth is not still a capital offense.

But a century and a half after a president counseled his war-riven nation, the offenses still come.

The death of a teenager who, we are told, it was OK to kill, simply adds this latest harvest of blood to the debt that Abraham Lincoln sought to settle so long ago.

Image: William Hogarth, The Court, c. 1758.

Life is Short

Posted November 21, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Uncategorized

Eat dessert first…

(h/t Tastefully Offensive)

I grew up with golden retrievers — my mum bred them for a while.  They were and are great dogs, sweet, fun, nothing but lovely.

(As always, avoid puppy mills and look for any signs of overbreeding that yields hip problems and the like…but a good golden is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.)

I have to say, though, that the video above caught the true essence of golden-hood.  They’re goofs.

Happy Friday, all.

 

What Not To Wear To A Comet Landing

Posted November 12, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Science, Who thought that was a good idea?

Tags: , ,

Amidst all the (justified) celebration of Rosetta and Phylae today — it really is a big deal when a ten year mission ends with the first landing on a comet evah!) — there  was one truly sour note.  This:

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 4.59.54 PM

That’s Matt Taylor, Rosetta project scientist.  If you read the profile at (where else) The Daily Mail, you’ll get two impressions. One, that Dr. Taylor really loves his job, his science and this mission — all of which is great.  But two:  he and his interviewer are oblivious about what it might mean to stand in front of millions of science fans, wearing that schmatte.

Nah, this is just dudebro fun, no worries, no-harm-no-foul, why don’t you have a sense of humor stuff.

But it’s not.  There’s not a lot to say that isn’t f**king obvious.  This was and is a truly special occasion.  Lots of people thrilled to watch human reason and ingenuity reach towards the stars have been playing really close attention. Many of them are women.  Some, lots, are girls who might be thinking science could be a really fine life’s work.  That shirt tells them, pretty explicitly:  science ain’t no crap-free zone.

We’ve ample evidence that’s true, sadly.  But damn, way to drive the message home, Matt!

I’ve had friends, women in science, contact me today, asking when this shit will ever stop.  I don’t know.  Not soon enough.

My son is taking his first high school physics class this year.  Last night I was helping him with his homework on momentum, impulse and collisions — kind of relevant to today’s events.  I don’t know if his teachers broke with the curriculum today to watch the Rosetta live feed — but now I’m almost hoping they didn’t.  The girls — and the boys too, dammit — in that class deserve better.

I’ve never met Taylor.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s against discrimination in science (or anywhere else),  one who would defend any woman on his team.  I don’t know.

Maybe he’s just clueless stem to stern, with no idea how what he might say or do affects anyone around him.  Or, in fact, he could be a sexist asshole.  Still don’t know.  I generally, perhaps naively, default to that “clueless” rather than “f*cked-up” explanation, until I have affirmative evidence to the contrary.

But as we’ve learned over and over again in issues of race, of gender discrimination, of same-sex rights, it’s not what you believe that matters.  It’s what you do — and Taylor chose to wear this shirt in front of the largest audience he’s ever likely confront.  He may or many not be a sexist guy; he did a sexist thing, one with real world implications.

Repair work is needed.  The ESA/Rosetta folks should to do some, and so should Matt Taylor, however much of a goof he thought he was having.

Oh, and just in case he might accept some fashion advice, here’s Skepchik’s Dr. Rubidium with some very good natured suggestions.  A possible path to repair lies there, Dr. Taylor.

Randall Munroe Is On The Case

Posted November 12, 2014 by Tom
Categories: astronomy, Science

Tags:

Just to add to the deliciousness of the day, xkcd is more or less live-cartooning the Rosetta landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.* (h/t @edyong209)

Nothing in my day promises to be as challenging/exciting as what that craft (and its controllers) are doing.  You?

Robert_Salmon_-_South_Sea_Whale_Fishing_II

*That link is a little wonky.  If the cartoon (number 1446) doesn’t come up, click on the random button at the top, and then click again on the xkcd logo.  Sorry.)

Image:  Robert Salmon (how cool is it that a whale-fishery artist goes by the name Salmon?), South Sea Whale Fishing II, 1831.  Connection to this post made obvious at the xkcd link, btw.

 

They Are Who We Thought They Were (Republicans And Their War On Our Kids)

Posted November 11, 2014 by Tom
Categories: climate, Republican knavery

Tags: , ,

Republican priorities are — not “becoming,” because they always were — clear. Facing the one unequivocal existential threat to the American way of life (for starters) over the next century, here’s the GOP response to the oncoming rush of human-caused global warming:

The new Republican Congress is headed for a clash with the White House over two ambitious Environmental Protection Agencyregulations that are the heart of President Obama’s climate change agenda.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the next majority leader, has already vowed to fight the rules, which could curb planet-warming carbon pollution but ultimately shut down coal-fired power plants in his native Kentucky. Mr. McConnell and other Republicans are, in the meantime, stepping up their demands that the president approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry petroleum from Canadian oil sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

At this point, Republicans do not have the votes to repeal the E.P.A. regulations, which will have far more impact on curbing carbon emissions than stopping the pipeline, but they say they will use their new powers to delay, defund and otherwise undermine them. Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, a prominent skeptic of climate change and the presumed new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is expected to open investigations into the E.P.A., call for cuts in its funding and delay the regulations as long as possible.

Just to update your scorecard, here’s what the latest IPCC report confirms is at stake:

i) Risk of death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states and other small islands, due to storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea level rise.37 [RFC 1-5]

ii) Risk of severe ill-health and disrupted livelihoods for large urban populations due to inland flooding in some regions.38 [RFC 2 and 3]

iii) Systemic risks due to extreme weather events leading to breakdown of infrastructure networks and critical services such as electricity, water supply, and health and emergency services.39 [RFC 2-4]

iv) Risk of mortality and morbidity during periods of extreme heat, particularly for vulnerable urban populations and those working outdoors in urban or rural areas.40 [RFC 2 and 3]

v) Risk of food insecurity and the breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought, flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes, particularly for poorer populations in urban and rural settings.41 [RFC 2-4]

vi) Risk of loss of rural livelihoods and income due to insufficient access to drinking and irrigation water and reduced agricultural productivity, particularly for farmers and pastoralists with minimal capital in semi-arid regions.42 [RFC 2 and 3]

vii) Risk of loss of marine and coastal ecosystems, biodiversity, and the ecosystem goods, functions, and services they provide for coastal livelihoods, especially for fishing communities in the tropics and the Arctic.43 [RFC 1, 2, and 4]

viii) Risk of loss of terrestrial and inland water ecosystems, biodiversity, and the ecosystem goods, functions, and services they provide for livelihoods.44 [RFC 1, 3, and 4]

Many key risks constitute particular challenges for the least developed countries and vulnerable communities, given their limited ability to cope.

 

In case those near-term consequences aren’t motivation enough, consider the IPCC’s view of the longer term:

Hieronymus_Bosch_-_The_Fall_of_the_Rebel_Angels_(obverse)_-_WGA2572

Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts. Some risks of climate change are considerable at 1 or 2°C above preindustrial levels (as shown in Assessment Box SPM.1). Global climate change risks are high to very high with global mean temperature increase of 4°C or more above preindustrial levels in all reasons for concern (Assessment Box SPM.1), and include severe and widespread impacts on unique and threatened systems, substantial species extinction, large risks to global and regional food security, and the combination of high temperature and humidity compromising normal human activities, including growing food or working outdoors in some areas for parts of the year (high confidence). The precise levels of climate change sufficient to trigger tipping points (thresholds for abrupt and irreversible change) remain uncertain, but the risk associated with crossing multiple tipping points in the earth system or in interlinked human and natural systems increases with rising temperature (medium confidence).

There is hope, or would be, given smart climate policy — really, almost any climate policy

The overall risks of climate change impacts can be reduced by limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change. Risks are reduced substantially under the assessed scenario with the lowest temperature projections (RCP2.6 – low emissions) compared to the highest temperature projections (RCP8.5 – high emissions), particularly in the second half of the 21st century (very high confidence). Reducing climate change can also reduce the scale of adaptation that might be required…

But, of course, such an approach — reducing the impact of climate change by controlling carbon emissions, while planning for a higher-carbon future —  is precisely what the Republican party has vowed to block.

My son was born in 2000.  in 2050, at the threshold of that second half of his century, he’ll face the world we make for him now.  The Republican party is conspiring with their paymasters in ways that will make his world significantly worse than the one our parents’ generation left for us.  Potentially — see Oreskes and Conway on this — it could be horrifically degraded, my son and his generation and their kids confronting catastrophic failures in the systems that make modern life go.

Obviously, this means that despite the wretched feelings that remain from last Tuesday’s debacle, we gotta keep fighting.  We need the Presidency in 2016, and as much of the Senate as we can claw back — and, perhaps more important, all those local and regional governments in which it is possible to attempt global-warming policy jurisdiction by jurisdiction.  A hard slog.  But necessary.

At the same time, I do have one question:  Why do Republicans hate their children so?

Image:  Hieronymous Bosch, Hell (the world before the flood) — panel from the Fall of thRebel Angels triptych,

La Lucha Continua…With A Sideways Reason To Keep Fighting From The (A) Good Doctor

Posted November 6, 2014 by Tom
Categories: poetry, rare sincerity, The Good Fight, What I'm Reading Now, words mattter

Tags: , ,

Serendipity works sometimes.  My friend David Dobbs publishes a near-daily newsletter of three or four fascinating essays or articles to read.  (You can sign up here.) Today he took me to a writer I’ve only occasionally glanced at in the past, Sadie Stein, (may have to change that)  for a piece that comes to a climax with a vision of a young, fictionalized Joyce Carol Oates, TA-ing her first class.  Trust me; it’s worth a look. (It’s over at the Paris Observer, itself a venue I chance upon more than seek out — might want to change that too.)

Contemplating the various joys of full-body immersion in student fiction was fun, enough so that I clicked through to Stein’s archive, and there, just below the bon-bon of a post to which David had directed me, I came upon her entry for Tuesday.  Mostly (though not entirely) she hands the microphone over to William Carlos Williams, and a poem, which, thus acknowledged, I herewith steal:

Election Day

Warm sun, quiet air

an old man sits

in the doorway of
a broken house–

boards for windows
plaster falling

from between the stones
and strokes the head

of a spotted dog

George_Wesley_Bellows_-_Man_and_Dog_(1905)

The dog and the man deserve better.  The struggle continues. It will not end easily, as Tuesday’s results remind us.  But to mix references and speakers of very different histories, the arc of the moral universe is long.  But that we can conceive of the idea of justice allows us to bend that arc towards the just end.  (And yes, I’m feeling my Anselm just a bit today.)

Image:  George Wesley BellowsMan and Dog, 1905.

No. Those Clothes Don’t Make You Look Thin

Posted November 4, 2014 by Tom
Categories: ridicule, The Way We Live Now

Tags:

I’ve been saving this for a day when we need some comic relief.  Seems like this might be one.

About a month ago, the FTC cracked down on a product I had no hint could possibly exist. (Get offa my lawn!)

That would be caffeinated underpants.

No.  Really.

“The revolutionary new anti-cellulite iPant from Wacoal. …embedded microcapsules combine the best selection of active ingredients: caffeine, retinol, ceramides, vitamin E, fatty acids and aloe vera. Caffeine is a renowned active slimming agent that promotes fat destruction.”

The Norm Thompson online catalog has already been expunged of all claims of weight loss, but from the FTC documents:

Take up to 2” off hips and 1” off thighs in just weeks. The shapewear’s secret?  Caffeine. . . . Caffeine helps break down fat; botanicals flush out toxins.

Gustave_Courbet_-_The_Wrestlers_-_Google_Art_Project

Alas.  Obama’s jackbooted thugs over at the Federal Trade Commission have no respect for the genius of the free market:

The FTC…ruled that the trials relied upon to make these claims were faulty: they were unblinded, had no controls, and even then didn’t produce the results claimed.  After 28 days of wearing caffeinated britches, the average hip circumference reduction was less than 0.166 of an inch; the average reported thigh reduction was 0.125 of an inch.

Or, in blunter terms:

“Caffeine-infused shapewear is the latest ‘weight-loss’ brew concocted by marketers,” Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said. “If someone says you can lose weight by wearing the clothes they are selling, steer clear.”

Words to live by.*

The two companies cited in the FTC complaint are paying smallish fines and ceasing and desisting.  As the Wired article linked above notes, however, there are other companies cockroaches out there selling this same scam.  There will be suckers.

With that, this thread — it is open.

*Not unlike this advice: If some Republican tells you they can raise revenue by cutting taxes, steer clear.

What — you thought I could avoid all politics today?

Image:  Gustave Courbet, The Wrestlers,  1853

 


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