Your Lying Eyes

Dedicated to uncovering the truth that stands naked before your lying eyes.

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29 April 2008

Cops and Bloggers

Well I certainly got some major feedback on my defense of cops - particularly regarding the Ruby Ridge outrage. I appreciated all the comments, even the one that concluded "Go f*** yourself, you neocon twit" (sans *) which I resented but only for the "neocon" accusation. My defense of police in these kinds of situations should not be viewed as an endorsement of prevailing police practices, of crooked or pathological cops or of blanket police immunity. I believe I am falling back on traditional legal concepts of intent and reasonable doubt. The questions to be asked whenever a cop is on trial (when anybody is on trial) are "Was there an intent to commit a crime?" and "Is he guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

The above mentioned commenter observed:
You are obviously one of those typical New York-area assholes who worships anything the cops do. Its the likes of you who gave rise to that creep Giuliani. Its because of dipshits like you, Ziel, that we're becoming a police state.
No, I don't worship anything the cops do. I hate SWAT teams - they are an abomination. A SWAT team is almost never necessary, but they're permanently ensconced in the police infrastructure, and thus need to be constantly justified by being used - inappropriately, and often with terrible consequences for life and property. I don't like the routine use of restraints and humiliation tactics during arrests and the offhand tasering of women.

But he has a point - I am from the New York area and am aware of what the police must deal with on a daily basis in this region. More important, I saw what the aggressive policing style of the 90's has brought about - the NYC miracle, where a city on the verge of complete chaos has become a veritable municipal disneyland. Sure, I'd rather guys at Yankee games aren't hassled in the parking lots for drinking out of beer bottles or peeing against the fence, but when a populace is badly behaved and lawlessness is rampant, society has the right and duty to enforce its norms.

Other commenters pointed to the bullying behavior of many cops and a general "jerkiness" of cops. Of course there are out-and-out psychopaths, jerks, bullies, and common thugs among the police. This is regrettable, but a bit unavoidable to some extent given that it's an awfully tough job (when it's a tough job) and not terribly well paying. As one commenter noted, 90% (perhaps more) of who cops deal with are scum, so it takes a bit for them to adjust to normal folk - and even then, many of the regular folk they deal with end up being scum, too. Then we give these guys tremendous power - power of life and death, since we give them guns. Of course they're going to fuck up now and then with tragic results. But it's important to keep perspective on what's a fuck-up vs. what is a criminal act, and never to prosecute someone based on a mob's emotions. There's nothing wrong with people venting their anger, but prosecutions and convictions must be based on facts.

25 April 2008

NYC Shooting Detectives Get Off!

The day that Al Sharpton gets to decide who goes to jail and who doesn't has once again been delayed - hopefully that day won't be as soon as next January 20. I'm not real crazy about prosecuting officers of the law for actions taken in the course of doing their jobs. I mean, we give them guns, we tell them to maintain the peace, and to pretty much use their own discretion in doing so. Yes, there are rules, but all these rules ultimately require a judgment call on the part of the officer.

So if a cop is acting in his capacity as a police officer in good faith and ends up killing someone who probably should not have been killed, I don't see how we can call it a crime - incompetence, perhaps. Maybe (probably?) he should be fired for showing bad judgment, but mistakes aren't crimes (or they shouldn't be, at least). Screwing up on the job is not typically a crime - imagine failing to follow up on an important sales call, and being indicted for reckless procrastination.

I feel this way about Ruby Ridge, as well. Clearly there was no justification for anything law enforcement did in this tragic case, but I can't see charging the agents with crimes. There should have been mass firings, but not indictments (which there effectively weren't).

Now I'm not saying the police are immune to prosecution - obviously if they kill someone for personal gain or to cover up an act or to settle a score or out of hatred, it's a different story. But when it occurs in the course of official conduct and involves judgment calls, it's not a crime.

Examples of innocent officers: The Rodney King cops (probably over-reacted while trying to subdue a very large, uncooperative, and inebriated perpetrator), Ramos and Compean (used excessive force against a drug-smuggling illegal alien - not a crime), the guys who shot Amadou Diallo (really bad call - no intent to kill an innocent man - not a crime). Example of a guilty cop: Justin Volpe (not acting in his duties as a cop).

22 April 2008

Educate Us, Oh Wise Times Columnists

New York Times columnists are just falling over each other pointing out how our dreadful education system is responsible for every bad thing in the world.

The other day Harvard economist Greg Mankiw blames it for rising inequality. He cites the numbers:
The cohort of workers born in 1950 had an average of 4.67 more years of schooling than the cohort born in 1900, representing an increase of 0.93 year in each decade. By contrast, the cohort born in 1975 had only 0.74 more years of schooling than that born in 1950, an increase of only 0.30 year a decade.
Ok, so the average educational level has stayed the same over the last 25 years - how's that supposed to cause more inequality? Well, he explains, we're a more technological society today. "Skilled workers are needed to apply and manage new technologies, while less skilled workers are more likely to become obsolete."

Now, granted, I don't live in Silicon Valley, but I do live in an area (Northern New Jersey) where a lot of people make some serious money. I'd say everyone I know who makes any kind of money is, if not completely retarded, at least seriously challenged when it comes to technology. They make money the way any go-getter of the Fifties would instantly recognize - with telephone calls, superior management skills, client meetings, and competent secretaries. Yes, there is Silicon Valley, but there has always been demand for engineers - particularly when we used to manufacture things. My guess is that the shift away from manufacturing and advances in information technology have enabled those who are good at making lots of money to rely on a lot less support. Even on Wall Street movers and shakers relied on large clerical staffs to process transactions and keep track of finances. The problem today is that there are less people required to do important work, not more - that's why there are less good jobs available, and why incomes continue to diverge.

Not to be outdone, Bob Herbert today spouts the tired line about how our failing schools are leaving us less competitive in the global marketplace, even going so far as to quote Bill Gates - how original, Bob! He basically debunks his own argument when he quotes some full-of-crap Gates-lackey:
“In math and science, for example, our fourth graders are among the top students globally. By roughly eighth grade, they’re in the middle of the pack. And by the 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring generally near the bottom of all industrialized countries.”
That effect sounds familiar it's the same pattern we see with Head Start - the underprivileged kids start off doing relatively well but the gains dissipate over time, and by high school they're back to their underperforming selves. This suggests that our educational system is actually pretty good - like we have the whole country on Head Start - our youngsters are getting a good education early and compare well with those from other countries. The falloff later suggests something more fundamental is at issue, as there's no logical explanation why education should get worse in later grades. Herbert notes that "Roughly a third of all American high school students drop out. Another third graduate but are not prepared for the next stage of life — either productive work or some form of post-secondary education." Care to speculate on where all these dropouts might be coming from, Bob? Later he notes:
By 2030, the U.S. population is expected to reach 360 million...with immigration
insert italic tags having a big impact on both the population as a whole and the work force.
The most fitting rejoinder to that is delivered by Herbert himself (though obviously out of context) a few lines later:
You have to be pretty dopey not to see the implications of that. But, then, some of us are pretty dopey.
Touche, Bob, toooo-shay.

Related: Chris Roach discusses this silly education mantra in reference to a Charles Murray op-ed from a few months ago. Had Mankiw or Herbert taken the time to read Murray's column, it would have saved them the 15 minutes it took them to pull together those piles of cliches for their columns (assuming their heads would not have exploded first).

Update: Greg Cochran had left a comment on this post which I accidentally deleted (sorry about that):
Looking at the demographics, the US has at least twice as high a fraction of the population with an IQ in the 80s as, say, Finland.

Bound to have an effect.
One demographic advantage the United States has had is a sizable Jewish population, but that advantage has been dissipating as the Jewish population has stagnated and their proportion has shrunk from by about a third over the last 50 years.

19 April 2008

Hey, I've Got a Family to Feed

In a rather eye-opening investigative report, the NY Times reveals the close relationship between the "military analysts" one sees being interviewed on TV and the Pentagon, and the business interests that binds them. Most of these guys are lobbyists, consultants, or executives with firms seeking military contracts. The Pentagon gave them unprecedented access, which of course was great for business. And as long as they touted the administration's line in interviews, the access continued. But slip up once, and you're cut off. Here's one analyst describing the bull he proferred to the public:
“We knew we had extraordinary access,” said Timur J. Eads, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Fox analyst who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a fast-growing military contractor. Like several other analysts, Mr. Eads said he had at times held his tongue on television for fear that “some four-star could call up and say, ‘Kill that contract.’ ” For example, he believed Pentagon officials misled the analysts about the progress of Iraq’s security forces. “I know a snow job when I see one,” he said. He did not share this on TV. “Human nature,” he explained...
We're used to financial pundits lying to us without a trace of that "still, small voice" getting in their way as they try to get you to invest in whatever company is paying them consulting fees at the moment. But some of us naively expect military guys not to be selling out their brothers quite so blatantly. Some of us can be pretty stupid. Still, the article is pretty disconcerting - depressing, really, as to how money - and not all that much money - can be used so effectively and subtly to mold public perceptions.

10 April 2008

Warm Weather is Bad for You

I have been reading a good deal about global warming over the past few years, particularly skeptic sites, and deep down I do believe that the increasing levels of CO2 in our atmosphere (due to burning fossil fuels) is causing the earth to warm up. The data - at least up to now - seems rather clear on that, and the quality of the arguments on the global-warming-advocacy side seems much higher generally than that on the skeptic* side.

When they're talking about the climate, that is. But it's news reports like this that keep my skeptic blood flowing. Can you imagine - a 2 degree increase in temperatures is supposed to cause a significant health hazard - in the United States? Right - that's why all the old codgers move to Florida and South Carolina and Arizona - so they can get sicker and die earlier. What a crock.

*Skeptics tend to be snarky, polemical, and use rather crude analytics**. Most climate scientists expressing skepticism seem to be retired or have the title "emeritus". Not that there's anything wrong with that, but they're likely to be uninformed regarding the power of computer modeling or other newer techniques.

**"Snarky, Polemical and Crude" - sounds like a good blog motto.

09 April 2008

Wild Doin's up in Massachusetts

Big controversy up in MA between...well, let's let the Boston Globe explain it:
The Massachusetts Municipal Association severed ties yesterday with the Anti-Defamation League's embattled No Place For Hate program, reigniting a debate that had gone quiet recently over the ADL's position on the..."
What? What could it be? What could this burning controversy be that would embroil the municipalities of one of our founding states and a militant Jewish organization? Well what else...
"on the World War I-era Armenian genocide."
Boy, life must be awfully good up in Massachusetts.

08 April 2008

Gray Lady Gettin' Down?

Is the Times trying to titillate its more geeky readers with this headline the way the NY Post famously excited its readers with this?

Conspicuous Reproduction

The well-off like to advertise their success in many, mostly unproductive ways. They like to buy expensive luxury cars from Europe or build tacky, gaudily landscaped mansions, or purchase boats they never use. The point is to make the rest of us know that they have made it big and that we should be duly impressed.

But according to this Washington Post article, they've hit on a new favorite flaunt: having lots of kids. Anyone with kids knows it's not cheap, but it's especially not cheap when you're trying to impress people - or just keep up. Kids get real sore when their peers get all kinds of cool stuff and privileges and they don't, and they start wondering whether their old man ain't got his game no more (my kids have long ago given up on my "game" - though the 1993 Nissan Quest is still a much resented source of embarrassment). The cost of private schooling is of course beyond belief, but there are activities such as traveling sports when they're young, constantly eating out because of all the activities, trips to Europe in their teens, and then the horror of college tuition. And it keeps going - weddings, subsidized apartments, even paying for internships. So if you've got 5 kids in an upper-middle class milieu, people are going to be impressed.

This is one trend that should be encouraged - by all means, show off. You might worry we'll soon be inundated with swarms of spoiled brats, and this is certainly true. But these kids will for the most part be able to read and write and do high school math, which is an enormous boost over what is now the most fecund population segment - immigrant children with 50% high school graduation rates. It would be nice if this trend were to catch on in Western Europe, where they face a much scarier demographic trend. Another positive side of this is that this involves real sacrifice on the part of the mother. Well-to-do women work extremely hard at keeping themselves looking good, spending many hours at the gym and starving themselves the rest of the day, probably only infrequently being rewarded with a quick fling with the trainer (for which the competition is particularly fierce). Thus having several children requires a level of commitment to a "higher societal goal" we're unaccustomed to seeing in today's movers and shakers. So let's not sneer at this latest status symbol - cheer it on!

03 April 2008

Department of Dubious Distinctions

Or, Department of Things You Can Find Out from Google Analytics. If you find yourself thinking "Barack Obama sucks" - who ya' gonna call?

02 April 2008

Why Weren't Any WMD Fabricated?

There were a number of justifications put forward for the Iraq war: Saddam's brutality, his continual violations of the various "no-fly zones," his supposed hobnobbing with terrorists, the alleged plot to assassinate Bush 41, his unsavory efforts to undermine the "Oil-for-food" program.

But the only one that in any way truly justified the invasion was his continued stockpiling of Weapons of Mass Destruction. I don't know of any evidence to back this up, but I'm pretty sure that even today if a cache of chemical weapons were found in some bunker somewhere in Iraq, a solid majority of Americans would feel the war justified. But a very sizable minority would also no doubt believe it to be planted evidence.

Which leads to the question: Why didn't the Bush administration fabricate a find of chemical weapons? They were certainly desperate in the months after the invasion to find the WMD they were so sure were there. Finding any such stockpiles would have silenced most of the administration's critics - or at least greatly neutralized their effectiveness. So why not just plant some somewhere and have some naive troop of soldiers stumble on them while looking for insurgents?

The Bushies have been accused of many things far worse than planting WMD after the fact - including being behind 9/11, or purposely allowing it to happen, which is about as bad a thing as a government can possibly be accused of, so it's hard to argue that they'd be reluctant to face such fraud accusations. So what the hell - why not give it a shot?

Let's assume that morality - any sense of wrong and right - are not at play here - i.e., let's assume for purposes of this discussion that right and wrong are irrelevant. Then why wouldn't the administration have planted WMD in Iraq?

Basically, I don't think that fits their m.o. - it's not how they operate. They're much more about bending the truth, disinformation and propaganda. Seizing on bits and snippets in intelligence reports and blowing them out of proportion (Niger yellowcake; aluminum rods); using any past behavior as 100% determinant of present or future behavior (Saddam lied before; therefore it is impossible that anything he says can be the truth); and complete confidence in optimistic scenarios based on very little evidence (tax cuts, wars, immigrants and trade deficits all eventually pay for themselves in the end).

Bush, I believe, is very much into self-justification; he likes to have a plausible narrative to convince himself that he's made the right decision, which is easy since he insulates himself from facts so effectively. In the case of Iraq, there are any number of such rationales that he doesn't need to falsify evidence. But he probably could have justified it to himself nevertheless - after all, everyone believed the WMD was there - he certainly believed it - hell, it probably was there and somehow they got it to Syria or whatever - so what's the harm in simulating what it would have been like if the WMD - that we all know was there anyway - were actually found?

Planting evidence in Iraq would have taken a good deal of the kind of hard work Bush is very disinclined to do. Or anyone in his administration, for that matter, judging from the amount of planning and due-diligence that was done prior to the invasion (a fair assessment would be that it amounted to the grand sum of zero). Special operatives - and the right kind of very loyal operatives - would have had to be identified, a careful plan put in place, plausible deniability, blind hand-offs, all that tedious, difficult conspiracy stuff - just ain't worth it. A lot easier just to blame it on Tenet and move on - otherwise, the doubting, the re-thinking, the stress of planning - it could lead a man to drink!