broke down on the brazos

Original content forthcoming, I promise. To tide you over, consider this most excellent blog, Concurrent Sentences, writing about how the war on marijuana drastically expands police powers:

So marijuana has become a law enforcement go-to for probable cause. It is the result of an officers completely subjective sense of smell. It is often supported by marijuana found during the subsequent search. If marijuana is not found but other contraband is, the contraband is unlikely to be suppressed because the probable cause for the search would still be subject to the officers “good-faith” belief there was marijuana contraband present. And in my (very limited) experience I have found the alleged odor of marijauana to be a common and reoccurring basis for probable cause and not found in the search. I have read lots of police reports that go something like these scenarios:

1) Officer smells marijuana, searches, finds a gun.
2) Officer smells marijuana, searches, finds some stolen property.
3) Officer smells marijuana, searches, finds some prescription drugs.
4) Officer smells marijuana, detains suspect and runs ID, and suspect has a protection order in place that they are violating in some minor, technical way.
5) Officer smells marijuana, detains suspect and runs ID, reveals an existing warrant.

If you’re looking for something a little lighter, then how about this entertaining AV Club interview of Danny Trejo?

I would just go with the extras and the director would see me. I was always Inmate No. 1, and I always had one line like, “Kill ’em all.” [Laughs.] It was like, “I can do this.” I remember a director handed me a shotgun and he said, “Kick in this door and take control.” There was a poker game going inside, and the director said there would be a couple of stunt people inside. He said to improvise. So I kick in the door, somebody jumps up, I bash them with the shotgun, and I ask this guy, “Oh, you wanna die, huh?” This lady starts screaming, and I put this gun right in her face. So the director yells, “Cut! Cut! God, Danny, where did you study?” I said, “Let me see. Von’s. Safeway. Thrifty Mart.” [Laughs.] So all this stuff I was doing, I just knew. You’ve got to remember, I was Inmate No. 1 for the first five years of my career. So shit, I know how to be an inmate.

That should tide you over.

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and when I say devil, I mean the manifestation of doubt

Here’s a list of stupid things that I do out of principle.

1. Boycott Sony. Sony mixes evil and stupid together in a way that astounds me when I’m not retching from it.

No matter what you think of the nature of online file-sharing, you have to agree that Sony’s steps in combating it have gone past the draconian and into the actively spiteful. Sony’s attorneys have advanced the argument, in court, that copying a music file to your computer, WITHOUT distributing it, is the same as stealing it. Sony surreptitiously installed rootkits on personal computers which secretly transmitted data back to the company, then brazenly refused to apologize when caught (“most people don’t even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?”). And Sony has been stodgily maintaining useless proprietary hardware for years.

This is probably the least stupid item of the three. There’s nothing dumb about refusing to give money to an evil corporation that makes garbage products. And furthermore, it seems to have worked: Sony’s projecting a $2,920,000,000 loss for the current fiscal year. But Sony’s a really big company, and my lone boycott’s not going to change their ways. It still counts.

2. Boycott Kellogg’s. This is a recent one, and I had to polish off a box of Club crackers in the pantry before I could start this one. But ever since Kellogg’s severed their sponsorship deal with Michael Phelps (after pictures of him smoking pot surfaced in tabloids), I’ve decided that Kellogg’s isn’t getting my money.

First off, what Seth said:

Second, and I’m paraphrasing Radley Balko here, the most successful human swimmer in the history of the Olympics smokes pot. Rational people, on hearing this, would re-examine their convictions about drug use (“hmm – I guess marijuana isn’t the career-killing, brain-wrecking, body-shattering toxin I was led to believe”). Irrational people would cling to their fervently held myths. They would insist on punishing the transgressor, because his misbehavior might “set a bad example,” inspiring millions of children to smoke pot and then turn into disgusting slobs, even though the very example Phelps sets means that that ain’t so.

(Now, in spite of my better judgment, I have faith in the attitudes of most educated Americans. Since about forty percent of Americans have tried pot, I suspect most of us know that the War on Weed is ridiculous. Even if people don’t believe that genuinely harmless behavior should be made legal and left alone, they think of pot as laughable and goofy, not poisonous and life-ending. Oh, those potheads. But there’s still a significant, shrill minority that wants to ruin the lives of people who consume a drug that’s less harmful than alcohol. And those are the idiots to whom Kellogg’s catered by publicly shaming Phelps. So that’s why they won’t see another dollar of mine)

Now, this boycott is demonstrably stupid. Unlike Sony, Kellogg’s has a workable business model – no one’s going to go bankrupt making salty snacks for Americans. But I’m sticking with this one, too.

3. Refuse to Show ID for Allergy Meds. This is the dumbest of the three, and probably the stupidest thing I do.

Last week, I tried to fill a scrip for Allegra-D that my doctor had written for me. The tech made some phone calls, double-checked my insurance information in confusion, and then called over the pharmacist to talk to the insurer. They chatted on the phone for a bit.

“Your insurer’s no longer covering it,” he finally told me. “They recommend getting the over-the-counter equivalent.”

I can get the generic equivalent of Allegra-D at any pharmacy in the U.S. It will be just as potent as the stuff I could (up until recently) get on prescription. And it’ll only cost a little more than I would have spent on a health insurance co-pay. All I need to do is get a little card from the rows of drug meds, walk to the pharmacist counter, and exchange the card for a bottle of Sudafed or Claritin-D. After presenting my driver’s license.

I won’t do it.

You used to be able to buy Claritin-D without showing a government photo ID, if you recall, but the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 changed that. Because pseudoephedrine – a powerful decongestant – can be used to cook up some crank, you now have to present ID when buying it. This will supposedly diminish meth production (even though it hasn’t).

This shouldn’t bother me, right? After all, I’m not a drug dealer, and I have no guilty intentions.

First off, that’s a variation of “if you’re not guilty, you don’t have anything to hide,” a disgusting maxim that’s been used to justify every invasion of privacy from Octavius’s triumvirate to the PATRIOT Act. And second, it’s not even true. You can get arrested and convicted for buying large quantities of cold medication, period, full stop. Not for manufacturing meth. Not for intent to distribute. Simply for owning large amounts of cold meds. William Fousse was sentenced to a year of probation for such a crime. A man who bought up to the legal ration of allergy meds in a month was arrested when he bought some for his child. This is not paranoia; this has already happened to real human beings.

This is a useless law that will not produce results, and with which compliance merely facilitates a charade. I will have nothing to do with it.

Now here’s why this boycott of mine is stupid.

Go back to the top of #3 and read the beginning again. I was going to a pharmacy to fill a scrip for Allegra-D. In order to get that prescription at co-pay cost (instead of $156, and what does it say of American health care that I’d only be paying one-fourth of that if I had health insurance?), I had to present my insurance information. The pharmacist had to verify this with the insurance company, creating a record of my name, my home address, my date of birth, my employer, etc.

In other words, I had no problem giving the pharmacist an ID to fill out a prescription. But I have irreconcilable problems giving the pharmacist an ID to buy over-the-counter meds.

I know this is a rather silly little contradiction. I know that my diminishing stockpile of pre-2006 pseudoephedrine and my stubborn refusal to take care of my allergies won’t change the law. It won’t make things harder on Pfizer, or the FDA, or the DEA. I’ll live a stuffier and more inconvenient life until I die, or the law changes, or pseudoephedrine is banned outright.

That’s what principle makes me do.

if the hate doesn’t make you want to die, try harder

I’m reprinting this op-ed from my birthplace’s paper of record on why the War on Drugs is destroying this country without further comment:

Imagine you’re Cheye Calvo, the white mayor of Berwyn Heights, an affluent part of Prince George’s County. Coming home one night in late July, you find on your front porch a large package that, unbeknownst to you, happens to contain a lot of marijuana. As it turns out, your spouse is the victim of a drug-smuggling scheme that targets innocent customers in the UPS system. You bring the box inside; moments later, the SWAT officers standing by break in and shoot your two beautiful Labradors. As the dogs lie there bleeding to death, you’re held in the same room, handcuffed for hours. Nearly a month later, you have yet to receive an apology.

Because of who he is, the nation knows what happened to Mr. Calvo a few weeks ago. Here’s what most Americans don’t know: There are perhaps 40,000 such raids each year, according to a Cato Institute report, “Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America.”

Now try to imagine that instead of a middle-class white man in the Maryland suburbs, you’re a young Latino boy in Modesto, Calif. Shortly before dawn, in early September 2000, a SWAT team forces its way into your house. Thirty seconds later, although you comply with police orders to lie face down on the floor, you are dead from a shotgun blast to the back. The officer responsible is later cleared of wrongdoing in what is concluded an accidental shooting – though it was not the first time his weapon had “accidentally” discharged during a raid. Alberto Sepulveda had just begun the seventh grade.

Or say you’re 57 and getting ready for work in May 2003. A battering ram breaks down your door shortly after 6 a.m., and a flash grenade is tossed inside. You’re coughing, you can’t breathe, while the police search for a stash of drugs and guns they’ll never find because it isn’t there. Alberta Spruill, a church volunteer and city worker in Harlem, died of a heart attack on the way to the hospital.

Or you’re a fierce 92-year-old Atlanta woman, frightened by the sounds of someone prying off the burglar bars that cover your door but determined to protect your home. The door is broken down; you fire one shot at the intruders before being shot at 39 times, handcuffed and left to die while the police (who have broken down the wrong door) realize their mistake and plant drugs in your basement. Two of the cops responsible for Kathryn Johnston‘s death pleaded guilty to manslaughter last year; a third was recently convicted of lying in the cover-up.

Many lives are lost, and many more are ruined, by these paramilitary operations in the ever-widening circles of survivors and families of those killed. You’re in extra danger if you happen to be poor or a person of color.

No-knock warrants may be justified in unusual circumstances. But unreasonable, routine no-knock raids must be stopped. Police should do their homework beforehand, show restraint and use the minimum amount of force necessary in a situation. They must take extraordinary care not to enter the wrong house when conducting a raid. Most important, they need to be held accountable to the communities they serve.

The fact is, raids like the one on Mayor Calvo’s home violate every precept of American liberty that is held up as integral to our “free” society. We can no longer allow our supposedly democratic government to terrorize communities across the country with the very tactics that are publicly decried when used by defense contractors and our own military in Iraq.

Unfortunately, racism in political structures and security forces still dictates who matters and who doesn’t – and for the most part, violence against those who don’t is tolerated. Because the vast majority of these raids are against poor people of color, we hear very little about them.

That’s what makes the Berwyn Heights case so potentially important: It is opening a window into the realities lived every day by innocent victims and survivors of the ineffective and destructive “war on drugs.” Let’s remember this case, keep this window open, and use it to address the misguided (at best), unjust and indisputably failed drug war policies that are destroying the fabric of our society.

president gas is up for president

Time to talk politics.

First, hitting up the Opposition Party, Radley Balko has a few questions for Barack Obama:

In your autobiography, you admit to using marijuana and cocaine in high school and college. Yet you largely support the federal drug war — a change from several years ago when you said you’d be open to decriminalizing marijuana. Would Barack Obama be where he is today if he had been arrested in college for using drugs? Doesn’t the fact that you and our current president (who has all but admitted to prior drug use) have risen to such high stature suggest that the worst thing about illicit drugs is not the drugs themselves, but what the government will do to you if you’re caught?

He also has some questions on farm subsidies and ethanol, but I like that question best.

Next, picking on the Ruling Party candidate, John McCain has changed another of his long held political beliefs, this one on cigarette taxes:

McCain’s war against the tobacco companies – and this former POW does believe the metaphor is appropriate – stands as a self-acknowledged failure. In 1997, McCain was the moving force behind legislation to expand government powers to regulate tobacco and to levy a tax on cigarettes of more than a dollar per pack. In 1998, the legislation failed, but McCain helped to broker the industry’s $338 billion settlement with state legislators.

McCain developed an antipathy to tobacco lobbyists. He once threw lobbyist Charlie Black out of his Senate office because Black worked for Phillip Morris at that time. (Black now works for McCain as a strategist.)

McCain now opposes sin taxes on cigarettes. He said he worries that Congress would put the additional money into a general revenue pool. “Does anyone here have confidence in Congress?” he asked the crowd. Moderator Paula Zahn was skeptical. Might McCain change his mind if researchers proved that raisng the tobacco tax would help lower smoking rates?

Finally, I have to credit Patri for pointing this out: the Congressional Effect Fund, an equity fund that only buys long on the days Congress sits in session and looks for interest-bearing securities otherwise. Their reasoning: the market reacts spasmodically to Congressional pronouncements – e.g., Congress declares higher fuel standards for cars; car company stocks fall – so you’ll do better to invest when Congress goes on vacation.

I wouldn’t sink my retirement fund into it just yet. The graph looks convincing, sure, but any fool with a degree in Finance can fair a curve with 40 years of past results. However, I respect the logic behind it, so I might pitch a couple bucks their way.

it’s like that, and that’s the way it is

First and most important, c/o Phanatic (who swiped it from a friend of his) here’s some fresh breakin’ to start your day.

Next: I remember reading a copy of the Journal at the kitchen table in the family homestead over Christmas and seeing a full-page ad for Lifelock – an identity theft protection service. In this ad, which I’m sure you’ve seen since, Todd Davis, CEO of Lifelock, stood in front of block text declaring his Social Security Number to the world. So confident was he, apparently, in his company’s product.

Well, according to a class action lawsuit filed last week, the inevitable happened:

“The lawsuits allege that LifeLock and its multi-million-dollar advertising campaign provided false and misleading information about the limited level of identity protection the company provides, and failed to warn them about the potential adverse impact the company’s services could have on their credit profiles,” according to the press release.

Additionally, the release alleges that Lifelock CEO, Todd Davis has been a victim of identity theft multiple times since using his SSN as a marketing tool to sell the service.

Oops.

Next up: could the “obesity epidemic” plaguing America have anything to do with … the shifting definition of obesity?

“Overweight:”Definition changed from BMI ≥ 27 to BMI ≥ 25 by the U.S. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute in 1998, instantly increasing by 43% the numbers of Americans, an additional 30.5 million, deemed ‘overweight.’

“High cholesterol:”Definition changed from a total cholesterol ≥ 240 to ≥ 200 in 1998 increasing by 86% the numbers of Americans labeled has having high cholesterol, an additional 42.6 million adults.

“Hypertension:”Definition changed in 1997 from 160/100 to 140/90, instantly adding 35% more Americans, 13.5 million, to the rosters of hypertensive. A new definition for ‘prehypertension’ in 2003 increased to 58% the Americans believing they have hypertension.

“Diabetes:” Definition changed from a fasting glucose of ≥ 140 to ≥ 126 in 1997 by the American Diabetes Association and WHO Expert Committee on the Diagnosis and Classification of Diabetes Mellitus, increasing by 14% and 1.7 million the people diagnosed with diabetes. With the proposal of a new term, ‘prediabetes’ by the First International Congress on Prediabetes, and promoted by the International Diabetes Federation (sponsored by 12 pharmaceutical companies), 40% of the adult population was added to the rosters believing they have diabetes and are in need of treatment.

I’ve still seen plenty of fat Americans, but this explains a lot.

In news abroad, Jesus tapdancing Christ, don’t fucking invade Burma in the name of humanitarian aid, you fucking stupid fucks:

One of the illusions that convinced some otherwise well-meaning people to go along with the conquest of Iraq in 2003 was, “Iraq is so bad, how could we make it worse?” But we could. So with Burma. I know almost nothing about the junta that rules Burma. But I know that it’s the junta that rules Burma – that is, that they’ve extended their writ over a preponderance of the territory we think of as Burma, more or less. That is to say, they successfully maintain power.

The junta apparently numbers 19 guys, but 19 guys don’t run a place like Burma by themselves. They’ve got people for that. Cops, soldiers, secret policemen, bureaucrats. And those people have families and friends and hangers-on. Stakeholders. And apparently “regional commanders enjoy a great deal of autonomy in their respective areas.” So they and their retainers and whoever else profits from existing arrangements have a stake in the existing system. And the habits and attitudes of the bulk of the population are the habits and attitudes that enable one to survive under tyranny. It’s not about knocking off that one bad guy and his eighteen friends. There’s a whole set of structures and class interests and cultural patterns, local peculiarities and regional fault lines to cope with. I don’t know much about Burma, but I know that much about any place. It’s hubris to be sure you can start rearranging such a society without a good chance of making it even worse.

And, because I haven’t ragged on President Dog in a while:

“I believe that it’s not an accident that our hostages came home from Iran when President Reagan was president of the United States. He didn’t sit down in a negotiation with the religious extremists in Iran, he made it very clear that those hostages were coming home.’’

[…]

Asked if he thought Mr. Obama was an appeaser — the Democratic candidate has said he would be willing to meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran — Mr. McCain sidestepped and said, “I think that Barack Obama needs to explain why he wants to sit down and talk with a man who is the head of a government that is a state sponsor of terrorism, that is responsible for the killing of brave young Americans, that wants to wipe Israel off the map, who denies the Holocaust. That’s what I think Senator Obama ought to explain to the American people.’’

I should barely need to open my mouth to refute something this illiterate, but:

(1) Reagan had no problem sitting down with Iranian religious extremists when he needed some loose cash to fund Nicaraguan guerillas.

(2) Not that I want to defend Obama’s foreign policy acumen, but: Senator Obama would probably want to sit down with the head of Iran for the same reason Reagan sat down with Gorbachev, or the same reason Nixon shook hands with Mao Zedong. I know these aren’t strictly analogous cases, as Russia and China were threats to the U.S. and Iran is not, but I hope everyone can still follow along.

From the Washington Post, an op/ed that examines the social cost of terrorism:

Fear, in other words, is a tax, and al-Qaeda and its ilk have done better at extracting it from Americans than the Internal Revenue Service. Think about the extra half-hour millions of airline passengers waste standing in security lines; the annual cost in lost work hours runs into the billions. Add to that the freight delays at borders, ports and airports, the cost of checking money transfers as well as goods in transit, the wages for beefed-up security forces around the world. And that doesn’t even attempt to put a price tag on the compression of civil liberties or the loss of human dignity from being groped in full public view by Transportation Security Administration personnel at the airport or from having to walk barefoot through the metal detector, holding up your beltless pants. This global transaction tax represents the most significant victory of Terror International to date.

The new fear tax falls most heavily on the United States. Last November, the Commerce Department reported a 17 percent decline in overseas travel to the United States between Sept. 11, 2001, and 2006. (There are no firm figures for 2007 yet, but there seems to have been an uptick.) That slump has cost the country $94 billion in lost tourist spending, nearly 200,000 jobs and $16 billion in forgone tax revenue — and all while the dollar has kept dropping.

[…]

What is happening to the American character? True, the country has gone through crises of confidence before, some of them cresting in sheer hysteria — from the Alien and Sedition Acts to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s search for a commie under every State Department desk. But the worst acts from 1798 were repealed or allowed to lapse within three years, and the senator from Wisconsin was censured a few years into his red-baiting career. Alas, the USA Patriot Act and DHS have already endured longer than either earlier excess, and neither is fading.

I vaguely recall someone mentioning how important it was that American citizens live out their lives as normal – without fear, in other words – in the days immediately following the September 11th attacks. My mistake.

Next, you might have seen this on a CNN scrolling banner last week: Marijuana may up heart attack, stroke risks. Of course, the beauty of modern cable news comes from not having to tell you the interesting parts of the story:

The marijuana users in the study averaged smoking 78 to 350 marijuana cigarettes per week, based on self-reported drug history, the researchers said.

78 joints per week makes 11 per day, or one every hour and a half while awake. 350 joints per week makes 50 a day. Drinking 50 glasses of distilled water per day would cause kidney problems, but you don’t see that making the news.

Was there some mythical era of American journalism when obviously bogus news stories like this one would have been caught at the editor’s desk? Or is that wishful thinking?

Finally, I worry about the rising price of oil as much as anyone, but I hope that my worries sound more literate than those of the dumbest man with a Times byline, Paul fucking Krugman:

Now, speculators do sometimes push commodity prices far above the level justified by fundamentals. But when that happens, there are telltale signs that just aren’t there in today’s oil market.

[…]

The only way speculation can have a persistent effect on oil prices, then, is if it leads to physical hoarding — an increase in private inventories of black gunk. This actually happened in the late 1970s, when the effects of disrupted Iranian supply were amplified by widespread panic stockpiling.

But it hasn’t happened this time: all through the period of the alleged bubble, inventories have remained at more or less normal levels. This tells us that the rise in oil prices isn’t the result of runaway speculation; it’s the result of fundamental factors, mainly the growing difficulty of finding oil and the rapid growth of emerging economies like China. The rise in oil prices these past few years had to happen to keep demand growth from exceeding supply growth. [emphasis mine]

Speculators? Hoarders? Heaven forfend, Dr. Krugman! Are the Freemasons poisoning the wells? Should I let some blood to dispel the bad humo(u)rs? Quick, without peeking at a calendar: what century are we living in right now?

The bizarre distinction between “speculators / hoarders” and the “fundamental” business of the market belies an odd, illiterate bias on Krugman’s part. To demonstrate why, substitute the word investor for every instance of the word speculator or hoarder. They’re the same thing: people who buy a commodity in the expectation that its price will rise. But one can be found in every basic Econ textbook in print today – none of which, apparently, Krugman has ever read – while the other evokes images of a miser in a mud hovel on the outskirts of a Prussian village. Speculators! Hoarders! Assemble a posse! Notify the burgomeister!

Maybe I wouldn’t be so mad all the time if I lived in Iceland:

Iceland, lodged in the middle of the North Atlantic with Greenland as its nearest neighbour, was too far from the remit of any but the more zealously obstinate of the medieval Christian missionaries. It is a largely pagan country, as the natives like to see it, unburdened by the taboos that generate so much distress elsewhere. That means they are practical people. Which, in turn, means lots of divorces.

‘That is not something to be proud of,’ said [city councilor and single mom] Oddny [Sturludottir], with a brisk smile, ‘but the fact is that Icelanders don’t stay in lousy relationships. They just leave.’ And the reason they can do so is that society, starting with the parents and grandparents, does not stigmatise them for making that choice. Icelanders are the least hung-up people in the world. Thus the incentive, for example, ‘to stay together for the sake of the kids’ does not exist. The kids will be just fine, because the family will rally round them and, likely as not, the parents will continue to have a civilised relationship, based on the usually automatic understanding that custody for the children will be shared.

Fewer Puritans, a high GDP, greatest number of books per citizen and hot springs? I now have a designated escape country.

for a moment this good time would never end; you and me, you and me

“Free Tibet” flags made in China (BBC)

Police in southern China have discovered a factory manufacturing Free Tibet flags, media reports say.

The factory in Guangdong had been completing overseas orders for the flag of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Workers said they thought they were just making colourful flags and did not realise their meaning.

But then some of them saw TV images of protesters holding the emblem and they alerted the authorities, according to Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper.

I never limit myself to one meaning when I can encompass two or more, so take away the following from this story:


  1. Globalization commands a lot of power;
  2. You can find irony anywhere if you know where to look, and;
  3. Propaganda permeates the civilized mind in ways outsiders can’t comprehend. The police didn’t uproot this factory in an undercover sting – workers voluntarily turned themselves and their employer in. Tibet never did anything to harm these guys, but they so thoroughly believe the Chinese government’s gospel of Tibet As Guerilla Radical that they went out of their way to make the State’s job easier. Fortunately, in the free and enlightened West we don’t have that problem.

Speaking of, how goes the campaign to nuke Iran, Senator Clinton?

Got it – thanks!

Meanwhile, black males took a bump down to Junior-Level Citizenship in New York on Monday, when three NYPD detectives were acquitted of killing an unarmed black man whom they “feared” might be threatening them. Fifty shots it took, which places the 18- to 35-year-old Black Male somewhere between a charging African Rhino and Wolverine of the X-Men in the Scared White Guy Hierarchy of Indestructability. Remember, black people: you don’t have an inherent right to life as such while in the city of New York. You exist on the sufferance of every paranoid cop.

Kai Wright talks a little more about the Sean Bell shooting here, and also sheds some light on the mystery of New York’s falling crime rate over the last decade. If you believe that Giuliani’s “broken windows” theory of Better Living through Petty Harassment reeks of bullshit – as I always have – then the drop in crime looks like a mystery. But Wright points out the following:

[B]lacks accounted for 66 percent of those killed by New York City police between 2000 and 2007 (New York is a perennial leader in police fatalities, averaging 12 a year over those years). And while the violent crime rate plunged to historically low levels in that time period, the number of people killed by police has not budged—indeed, the number of cop bullets fired has skyrocketed. And it’s happened with impunity. Out of 88 fatal shootings, including at least 12 in which victims were unarmed, in only one instance was an officer convicted of criminal wrongdoing.

So Giuliani didn’t reduce violence so much as outsource it to the NYPD. Juking the numbers, if you will.

In other news, rice continues to get more expensive – and more scarce, which really means the same thing – all around the world. Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution offers his take on why in the New York Times:

The damage that trade restrictions cause is probably most evident in the case of rice. Although rice is the major foodstuff for about half of the world, it is highly protected and regulated. Only about 5 to 7 percent of the world’s rice production is traded across borders; that’s unusually low for an agricultural commodity.

So when the price goes up — indeed, many varieties of rice have roughly doubled in price since 2007 — this highly segmented market means that the trade in rice doesn’t flow to the places of highest demand.

Poor rice yields are not the major problem. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that global rice production increased by 1 percent last year and says that it is expected to increase 1.8 percent this year. That’s not impressive, but it shouldn’t cause starvation.

The more telling figure is that over the next year, international trade in rice is expected to decline more than 3 percent, when it should be expanding. The decline is attributable mainly to recent restrictions on rice exports in rice-producing countries like India, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Cambodia and Egypt.

Tariffs and export restrictions choke off valuable goods and services. You can’t call arguments for free trade a trivial academic debate anymore, like whether a country profits more from cheaper cars or more domestic jobs. Open trade across borders will save the Third World from starvation. Fortunately, in the free and enlightened West we don’t have that problem.

Speaking of, how goes the effort to dismantle NAFTA, Senator Obama?

Got it – thanks!

As continuing proof of the ancient assertion that no one has ever drafted a law so noble that it can’t be misused, local British councils have started using surveillance cameras to nab litterers and dogs shitting in public. And a student who photographed some cops ticketing other civilians earned himself a $628 ticket for “sitting on a park ledge.”

Finally, on a somewhat upbeat note, Clay Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody) talks about the growing wealth of a globalizing economy, the surplus of free time that results, and how we spend that time:

I started telling her about the Wikipedia article on Pluto. You may remember that Pluto got kicked out of the planet club a couple of years ago, so all of a sudden there was all of this activity on Wikipedia. The talk pages light up, people are editing the article like mad, and the whole community is in an ruckus–“How should we characterize this change in Pluto’s status?” And a little bit at a time they move the article–fighting offstage all the while–from, “Pluto is the ninth planet,” to “Pluto is an odd-shaped rock with an odd-shaped orbit at the edge of the solar system.”

So I tell her all this stuff, and I think, “Okay, we’re going to have a conversation about authority or social construction or whatever.” That wasn’t her question. She heard this story and she shook her head and said, “Where do people find the time?” That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, “No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you’ve been masking for 50 years.”

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, “Where do they find the time?” when they’re looking at things like Wikipedia don’t understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that’s finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.

Now, the interesting thing about a surplus like that is that society doesn’t know what to do with it at first–hence the gin, hence the sitcoms. Because if people knew what to do with a surplus with reference to the existing social institutions, then it wouldn’t be a surplus, would it? It’s precisely when no one has any idea how to deploy something that people have to start experimenting with it, in order for the surplus to get integrated, and the course of that integration can transform society.

I have always measured wealth in units of Time I Can Spend Doing What Makes Me Happy. It pleases me to see that that calculation works on a social level as well.

but I never thought you’d be a junkie because heroin is so passe

Time to troll the week’s headlines:


  • I’ve never registered to vote because, for other reasons, I want to stay off of jury duty rolls in Massachusetts. Lately, though, I’ve started to wonder whether that’s really the right tack. My one vote is so insignificant as to be statistically discountable – but think of the havoc I could wreak on a jury! That’s just eleven other people! And they can’t leave the room!

    I remembered this malicious little thought when I read an op-ed in Time by the writers of The Wire, the greatest show that the medium of television has yet produced: Ed Burns, David Simon and George Pelecanos. Quoted (emphasis mine):

    “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right,” wrote Thomas Paine when he called for civil disobedience against monarchy — the flawed national policy of his day. In a similar spirit, we offer a small idea that is, perhaps, no small idea. It will not solve the drug problem, nor will it heal all civic wounds. It does not yet address questions of how the resources spent warring with our poor over drug use might be better spent on treatment or education or job training, or anything else that might begin to restore those places in America where the only economic engine remaining is the illegal drug economy. It doesn’t resolve the myriad complexities that a retreat from war to sanity will require. All it does is open a range of intricate, paradoxical issues. But this is what we can do — and what we will do.

    If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will — to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun’s manifesto against the death penalty — no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens.

    Jury nullification is American dissent, as old and as heralded as the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, and absent a government capable of repairing injustices, it is legitimate protest. If some few episodes of a television entertainment have caused others to reflect on the war zones we have created in our cities and the human beings stranded there, we ask that those people might also consider their conscience.

    But, in order to get on the jury duty rolls, I need to register to vote anyway. So who do I talk to about that?

  • Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz thinks the war’s responsible for the U.S. recession. His reasoning:

    “The Fed has flooded the economy with liquidity and the regulators looked the other way when very imprudent lending was going up,” Stiglitz said. “We were living on borrowed money and borrowed time and eventually a day of reckoning had to come, and it has now come.”

    The war has also altered how the United States has reacted to its current economic troubles, he said.

    “When America’s financial institutions had a problem, they had to turn to the sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East for recapitalization, for the bailout,” he said.

    “The reason was obvious. The war had led to high oil prices. The war had meant that America had to borrow more money. There weren’t sources of liquid funds in the United States. The sources of the liquid funds were in the Middle East,” he said.

    I don’t expect to shake the man’s Nobel laurels at you and silence the argument there. But if you still thought wars were good for the economy – and you forgot that the “economy” is a thermometer, not a thermostat – then ask me about the Broken Window Fallacy sometime. Or Google it. That’s what I’d do if I had to explain it to you. Which I don’t. Because Joe Stiglitz just did. I forget the point I was trying to make, except that there’s no good reason for American troops to be stationed in Iraq at present.

  • I continue to sit agape at Cracked‘s transformation from “MAD Magazine knock-off” to “prime source for clever online essays.” Here, for instance, are seven insane conspiracies that actually happened, like the Tuskegee experiments, MKULTRA, Scientology’s “Snow White” project and President Bush’s grandfather’s (alleged) plot to kill FDR. If you haven’t had enough yet, you can read about the South American coup that the CIA conducted on Chiquita Bananas’ behalf. And if you can still handle the jive, read David Wong’s much-linked article on the monkeysphere.

    Holy shit, dude. If I could be so profound.

  • My favorite entry in the Funny/Tragic file this week has to be Mukasey’s Paradox:

    In his twisting of legal principles, the attorney general has succeeded in creating a perfect paradox. Under Mukasey’s Paradox, lawyers cannot commit crimes when they act under the orders of a president — and a president cannot commit a crime when he acts under advice of lawyers.

    […]

    Once in office, Mukasey still had the nasty problem of a secret torture program that was now hiding in plain view. Asked to order a criminal investigation of the program, Mukasey refused. His rationale left many lawyers gasping: Any torture that occurred was done on the advice of counsel and therefore, while they may have been wrong, it could not have been a crime for CIA interrogators or, presumably, the president. If this sounds ludicrous, it is. Under that logic, any president can simply surround himself with extremist or collusive lawyers and instantly decriminalize any crime.

    However, this is only half of Mukasey’s Paradox. The other half occurred last week when Mukasey refused to allow contempt charges against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers to be given to a grand jury. Bolten and Miers stand accused of contempt in refusing to testify before Congress in its investigation of the firings of several U.S. attorneys in 2006. Mukasey wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that their refusal to testify could not be a crime because the president ordered them not to testify under executive privilege.

    Under this logic, no official can be prosecuted for contempt as long as a president ordered them to commit the contempt — even if the president’s assertion of privilege is clearly invalid or incomplete. In this case, many experts have expressed skepticism that all or any of President Bush’s assertions of privilege in this case would be upheld.

  • I’m going to shotgun these last few: John McCain declares there’s “strong evidence” for a link between vaccinations and autism (note: there isn’t); a blindfold test confirms that Monster brand stereo cables are no better than coat hangers at conducting sound; readers of the Freakonomics blog come up with a six word motto for the United States; and Dubai may own a quarter of the world’s construction cranes.

  • To end on an upbeat note, here are some publicity stills from the set of Watchmen. Based on these, I can say with certainty that it’ll be a kickass first 75 minutes. No question. After that it’s anyone’s guess.

Have a good weekend, folks.