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by Peter Moskos

July 31, 2009

Viva Mexico

I'm in the same place for two nights for the first time in a week. So I have a little more time to write and check email and the like.

I'm always amazed how different things are in Mexico from what most Americans think things are like. Maybe things are worse up in border towns in the north. Or some of the nasty resorts. Or in the slums of Mexico City. But down south, in the Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Chiapas, Campeche, and Tabasco, everything is fine. Clean. Civilized.

The drivers here (I've done a lot of driving) are generally more polite and courteous than drivers in America. Actually the people here might be more polite and courteous than Americans, too.

When it comes to driving, there are some different rules, like using your turn signal to indicate what others should do (a car with the left blinker going means you should pass it. Unless of course it's turning left, but then it will pull over to right. Usually). But if you learn the rules, the driving here is easy and the roads fine (as long as you keep your eye out for topes, killer speed bumps).

Now yes, in the back roads of Chiapas, we did see a freshly butchered cow being sold on the side of the road. But who doesn't like fresh meat? And that's the country. There are still cowboys riding around.

You can even drink the water... at least in three cities. Maybe it's clean everywhere. I don't know. My rule is to ask a middle-class person. If people who can afford to buy bottled water say the tap water is fine, I'll drink it. There's no magical Mexican immunity from drinking dirty water. It's either clean or it's not.

With the recent flu problems, there is a great emphasis on hygiene. I wish I could say the same about New York City. Even many street food carts, and they're a lot of them, have hand-washing stations.

And Villahermosa, where I am now, had a horrible flood two years ago. Today everything seems find. I dare you to go to New Orleans and say the same about the flood five years ago.

I know people talk with their feet and you don't see too many Americans sneaking across the border to live here. It is poorer here. And people want a better life. I'm just saying it's not all bad here. And it's far less third-world than most Americans think.

Should a cop be fired for off-duty offensive speech?

More Gates fallout.

Police are and should be held to a higher standard. But I'm pretty much an absolutist when it comes to free speech. I don't think you should be fired for what you do and say at home.

(But on the other hand I wouldn't want a nazi or klan leader to be a police officer. Even if they argue that they can keep their private life and beliefs separate from their job performance.

We all say things in private that would be inappropriate, insensitive, and offensive if taken out of context or said in public. I know I have. But this guy was an idiot. I mean, first he writes an offensive comment to a columnist and then he forwards it to all his friends in the National Guard. So it wasn't exactly private anymore. But I still think it's free speech. But then what should the police department do? Doing nothing doesn't seem like the answer, either.

Here's the story by Maria Cramer in the Boston Globe.

Op-ed in the Baltimore Sun

This one I wrote. Careful readers of this blog will have come across many of these points.
Every police/public confrontation ends up in one of three ways: the suspect 1) leaves the scene, 2) defers to police authority, or 3) gets locked up. Mr. Gates couldn't do the first option, he refused to do the second, so he virtually begged for number three. It was certainly wrong, in this situation, to arrest Mr. Gates. But can it ever be right to cuff somebody for "contempt of cop"? The short answer is: yes.
Read the complete story here.

The truth about Democrats

Is this what they really think about us?

From one of my favorite comics, "Get Fuzzy," by Darby Conley:Now go subscribe to your local paper that carries it.

[And greetings from Villahermosa]

July 29, 2009

Fly on the Wall

Mike O'Neil has a good article in the Huffington Post. What he hopes three well intentioned men will say in the White House.

I would write more. And respond to comments. But I'm in Chiapas, Mexico, on the Pacific Coast with what must be the world's worst internet connection. On the plus side, all is peaceful here. And the food is delicious. And in Comitan, you can even drink the water!

July 28, 2009

Last word (yeah, right) on the Gates' case

The 911 call is here:

Part of the 911 tape is here:

Here is my take on the matter. Only the first three points are new.

1) The 911 call was excellent. A woman saw something suspicious and reported it. Race was not mentioned. In fact, the caller specifically said she could not determine race and raised the possibility that the people lived there. But better safe than sorry.

2) The call was dispatched as typical, with the officer knowing very little about the actual 911 call. But the 911 operate seems to have done a pretty job at getting the relevant info to the dispatcher.

3) Once a wagon is called for, it means somebody is going to be put in it. It's not clear about the time frame or officer's location at this point. I don't know if the clip above is complete or edited or what.

4) The officer had every legal right to be in the house and needed to investigate a possible burglary.

5) The arrest of Gates was dumb. That does not mean the arrest was wrong. The arrest was dumb because it Henry Louis Gates Jr. and you don't want discretionary arrests for disorderly conduct to become national news. I thought so on day one and I still think so.

And thank you for all your comments. It's been a great discussion. Too bad I've been in Mexico, missing all the fun.

July 22, 2009

Another vacation

For me at least. My wife writes travel books. And no, travel writing is not as glamorous as you'd think. She's going to Mexico. I tag along and play the role of Pedro, El Chófer.

She and her friend also have an outstanding cookbook coming out soon. Forking Fantastic quotes me as saying a mandoline is more dangerous than me drunk with a gun. A stand by that statement.

I return in August, straight to Baltimore and my favorite crab feast.

In the meantime, keep commenting, stay civil, and stay safe.

[update: Obama says the police acted "stupidly" in arresting Gates'. Has he been reading my blog?]

In the New York Times

I wrote a short piece about the racial profiling for the New York Times. Some other good opinions there, too.

And thanks to 10-8 for pointing out the article by Syracuse Professor Boyce Watkins in The Grio.

Taxing Weed

Oakland votes to tax medical marijuana.

It's expected to raise about $300,000 a year and passed with 80 percent of the vote.

July 21, 2009

Question for Readers:

Should being an a-hole to police get you locked up?


Remember, being an a-hole isn't technically a crime. But many people have talked their way into handcuffs. Police can always get you for something.

I ask this because my wife seemed vaguely bothered by this concept. But it doesn't bother me.

John Van Maanen wrote the classic academic piece appropriately titled "The Asshole." Some of it is a bit dated now (it's from 1978), but the core concept holds true. Police label people as suspicious persons, know-nothings, or assholes. Assholes are likely to get locked up (in Van Maanen's time, beaten).

More recently Southpark's Cartman said, "This will teach you to question my authoritay!" And Chris Rock's "How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked By the Police" always deserves another viewing.

Now Rock, like Van Maanen, talks about getting your ass kicked. But the same applies to getting arrested for some B.S. charge. I honestly don't know how police could do their job if they didn't have a "catch all" offense to lock you up (but of course you need smart police officers to use and not abuse this discretion).

Seems like you should treat everybody with respect--strangers, waiters, employees in stores--but of all people you should treat with respect, a police officer with a gun, handcuffs, and the legal authority to put your ass in jail should be pretty high on the list.

In the old days, if you were a jerk to the police, they might beat you. That doesn't happen much anymore. Ultimately cops have handcuffs. Handcuffs--and not, as Bittner once said, the use of force--handcuffs define the function of police.

But what are you supposed to do as a cop if somebody will not respect your authority? Look, if I tell a drug dealer to leave a corner and he says, "f*ck you." He's got to go. What is a cop supposed to do when verbally confronted? You can't through down and play the dozens.

Every police/public confrontation ends up in one of three ways: the suspect must 1) defer to police authority, 2) leave the scene, or 3) get locked up. Right or wrong, there really is no other choice. Not that I can think of.

Generally, I had a pretty high-tolerance (at least by Baltimore cop standards) for taking sh*t. I'm a pretty mellow guy. Sometimes I would just laugh. I did not have a chip on my shoulder and I didn't want to lower myself to ghetto standards. Other cops would be quicker to take things personal.

But if you questioned my authority? Well, ain't nobody gonna punk me. Not when I was working. Cops can't lose face. Period. To do so is dangerous if you ever have to walk those streets again.

I didn't see it as my job to teach people respect. It was usually too late for that, anyway. But if you wouldn't respect me, you would at least obey me. If I had to get in your face, so be it. Better to feared than loved, cops will tell you. I don't buy that. Better to be obeyed than feared, I say. When people are afraid, they strike back when cornered.

But sometimes you have to make people think you're crazy. Make them think you hate them. Make them afraid. I reserved that act for special occasions.

[Why do you think so many cops shave their heads? I did, too. Looking like a skinhead might not be good for community policing, but it can make a criminal think twice before wanting to fight you.]

As a cop, I didn't want to be loved. I didn't mind being feared. I did want to be respected. But all that really mattered to me was to be obeyed.

You want to step outside, Mr Gates?

Leave it to me to have to read another blog to find out about stuff that I've already written.

See, there's this book I wrote, Cop in the Hood. I hear it's pretty good. It's also, uh, for sale. Anyway, on pp. 117-118 I describe how officers can invite a person outside in order to arrest him for disorderly. I never used this trick, but it certainly was something I could have used. I gave the example of a domestic situation:
Though the officer believes this argument will continue and perhaps turn violent, there is no cause for arrest. Police may not order a person from his or her home. But an officer can request to talk to the man outside his house. At this point the officer might say, “If you don’t take a walk, I’m going to lock you up." The man, though within his rights to quietly reenter his house and say goodnight to the police, is more likely to obey the officer’s request or engage the police in a loud and drunken late-night debate. The man may protest loudly that the officer has no reason to lock him up. If a crowd gathers or lights in neighboring buildings turn on, he may be arrested for disorderly conduct.

Crooked Timber
writes: "Moskos is in general in favor of police having a fair amount of discretion (he seems to believe that much basic policing work would be impossible without it)." True, indeed.

From the arrest report:
I told Gates that I was leaving his residence and that if he had any other questions regarding the matter, I would speak with him outside his residence. As I began walking through the foyer toward the front door, I could hear Gates again demanding my name. I again told Gates that I would speak with him outside. My reason for wanting to leave the residence was that Gates was yelling very loud and the acoustics of the kitchen and foyer were making it difficult for me to transmit pertinent information to ECC or other responding units.
Gates ignored my warning and continued to yell, which drew the attention both of the police officers and citizens, who appeared surprised and alarmed by Gates’ outburst.
Crooken Timber says:
Now, I should emphasize that I have no personal reason whatsoever to doubt that Crowley’s account of the arrest is accurate – it may very well be that the acoustics were such that communication was difficult indoors. I am not acquainted with the physical specifics of the building where Gates lives. It is, however, notable that Moskos’ Baltimore police officer both (a) uses a verbal invitation to induce the targeted individual to leave the building, and (b) then uses the attention of bystanders to generate a charge of disorderly conduct. Whether these resemblances are purely accidental or not (in the absence of more facts, you could generate arguments either way), I leave to the imagination of the reader.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. Arrested

Apparently for pissing off a Cambridge cop who responded to a burglary call. Gates had sort of broken into his own house because the key didn't work. A witness called police. Words are exchanged and Gates gets cuffed for dis con.

It's hard to overstate just how esteemed of an intellectual Harvard Professor Gates is.

If you're a police officer and run into the director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research--even if he is rude to you--best to let it slide. Really.

But this arrest has as much to do with class conflict as it does with race. There's a big blue-collar/egghead divide back in what used to be my home town. I can imagine the unfortunate glee the cop felt as he locked up this big-shot intellectual. That glee is probably tempered significantly by national news coverage.

The AP story by Melissa Trujillo.

[Update: The police report is here. All charges have been dropped. And Al Sharpton chimes in. Read Gates' reply in gawker.]

July 19, 2009

The future with legal marijuana

There can be a future with legal and regulated drugs.
A drug deal plays out, California-style:

A conservatively dressed courier drives a company-leased Smart Car to an apartment on a weekday afternoon. Erick Alvaro hands over a white paper bag to his 58-year-old customer, who inspects the bag to ensure that everything he ordered over the phone is there.

An eighth-ounce of organic marijuana buds for treating his seasonal allergies? Check. An eighth of a different strain for insomnia? Check. THC-infused lozenges and tea bags? Check and check, with a free herb-laced cookie thrown in as a thank-you gift.

It's a $102 credit-card transaction carried out with the practiced efficiency of a home-delivered pizza

The story by Marcus Wohlsen and Lisa Leff in the Seattle Times.

[Thanks to Sgt. "they served him to me with his pants around his ankles" T.]

July 18, 2009

Two officers shot

Two officers down in Baltimore. Supposedly in stable condition. Supposedly returned fire, which is a good sign.

July 17, 2009

That's the way it was

Walter Cronkite died Friday. He was 92. On his 90th birthday he told the Daily News, “I would like to think I’m still quite capable of covering a story.”

He was known for knowing a failed war when he saw one. Not just Vietnam. He was against the War on Drugs and a friend of LEAP.

July 14, 2009

Four-week police-officer training

I may be mistaken, but what is going on in Portland sounds like a very good idea to me.

Give cops four weeks of training: defensive tactics, firearms and the law. Then let them ride with FTOs. And then when the academy class begins, they join the class.

Remember, it's not like a class is starting every week or even every month. The idea is that it's better to have trainees learn on the street (and take that knowledge into the academy) than have pre-hires getting paid to hang around burnt-out desk jockies doing makework.

Here's the story by Maxine Bernstein in the Oregonian.

Look... everybody will be green as hell when they hit the streets. And that doesn't matter if it's 6 months or 1 month of training. Besides, classroom training is not well used anyway. Of my six months in the academy. I'd say that one month was wasted by sitting in an empty room or getting yelled at. Another 2 months were all but wasted with B.S. "classes" where nothing was really learned. That leaves three months of training that was actually productive. And I think I'm being generous.

In fact, after an effective one-month training and some time on the street, I'd be very curious to know what if anything the officers actually learn in four more months of academy training.

July 13, 2009

"Excited Delirium"

Can you die from it? Does it exist? The Taser company, not surprisingly, says yes. Because if and when people die from "excited delirium," there seems to be a good chance it will happen after being Tasered.

Laura Sullivan of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" has a good report on this.

Here's part one and part two.

(Thanks to Marc)

The Wire Comes to Brooklyn... sort of

Fatal gun battle outside party for wife of Jamie Hector, who played Marlo Stanfield on 'The Wire'

The story by Kenny Porpora, Alison Gendar, and Samuel Goldsmithin in the New York Daily News.

July 12, 2009

Double lock your handcuffs

In the academy we were taught to always double lock our cuffs. Usually I didn't. But I should have. And so should you.

July 9, 2009

John Jay College student's killer get life without parole

"Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges called Littlejohn, 44, an unrepentant 'predator' who should never taste freedom again."

The story in the Daily News

July 7, 2009

The Idea of "Juvenile"

The state has an archaic system in which we operate under the misimpression that everyone under 18 can be rehabilitated for repeatedly committing violent crimes. We must find a way to provide rehabilitation, but also accountability and punishment.
That's kind of hardcore coming from, of all places, the office of Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy. Her office, as I write about in my book, is often at odds with police officers.

I'm not against the concept of "juvenile justice." I do think that kids who commit crimes should be treated differently than adults. But 17-year-olds? Especially when they're fathers, murderers, and drug dealers? They're no longer kids. I can't tell you how many times I had to treat an arrested 16 or 17-year-old as a "juvenile" only to find no adults who could or were willing to deal with this violent man anymore.

These so-called kids certainly don't see themselves as kids. They don't look like kids. They certainly don't play like kids. Why treat them like kids? How many times does somebody have to locked up for violent crimes before they're kept off the street and away from other?

Maybe lowering the adult age to 16 would be good start. Given the environments some kids grow up in, childhood is an unfortunately idealistic concept as best. But at some point, for some kids, we simply gotta put them away. If you disagree, and it's touching if you do, I recommend you go to the juvie home and work on adopting an unloved teenager. But whatever problems have developed need to be headed off long before the teen years.

The issue here is Lamont Davis. He's been arrested 15 times since he was ten. Lamont is a very bad boy. In the past year and a half since Davis has been in custody of juvenile services, he's been arrested and charged in five incidents. God only knows how many times he hurt people and didn't get caught.

Recently Davis yoked (robbed and beat) a woman. He was arrested and plead guilty on July 1st.

On July 2nd, soon after Davis cut off his home monitoring bracelet, a five-year-old girl apparently got in the path of one of his bullets. She may not make it. Two other guys were hit as well.

Justin Fenton has the story in the Sun.

Willie Bosket
comes to mind. I'm not a fan of prison. But some people need to be put away for a long time. I nominate Davis. And then let's come up with some ideas and be willing to spend some money to prevent such cases from happening again.

Mexican Immigration Problems

Mexico Builds Border Wall To Keep Out US Assholes

July 6, 2009

Life Without Daddy

At any given moment, more than 1.5 million children have a parent, usually their father, in prison.
Among those born in 1990, one in four black children, compared with one in 25 white children, had a father in prison by age 14. Risk is concentrated among black children whose parents are high-school dropouts; half of those children had a father in prison, compared with one in 14 white children with dropout parents.
In some cases children may benefit from a parent’s forced removal, especially when a father is a sexual predator or violent at home. But more often, the harm outweighs any benefits.
The whole story by Erik Eckholm in the New York Times.

I like making fun of the "think of the children" line. But in this case, shouldn't we? What's the answer?

Marion Barry: set up again?

Mr. Marrion "that-goddamn-bitch-set-me-up" Barry has been arrested... yet again. Except for the crack, the not filing his tax returns thing, and the alleged stalking, he sure is a great elected representative for his people.

Here's the story about his latest arrest. It's complicated, of course. Who knows what really happened? Who cares?

But does anybody out there have the AUDIO from the famous video of his arrest for crack? I can find the video, but not with sound. I want to show it in my class as an example of entrapment. Make fun of hizonnor all you want, but in that case that g*dd*mn b*tch really did set him up!

July 5, 2009

Amsterdam Party People

This account of the party scene in Amsterdam is from a person who enjoys such things. He’s lived in Amsterdam for the past 17 years.

The Sensation dance party, Wicked Wonderland, held in the city’s largest football stadium. The dress code was all white. The party goes from 10pm to 6am. Tickets cost about $100 (69 euros).

The placed is filled with thousands--probably tens of thousands people--dancing. [Update: there were 40,000 people on each of the two sold-out nights. Public transportation was excellent, night train schedules were posted in the bathrooms, and special free busses were running between 1 and 5am when the metro is shut down] Top DJs spin. It’s an upscale rave. Does that mean people are taking drugs? Of course.

Nobody overdoses. Nobody dies. A good time is had by all. Many if not most of the people are high on marijuana and/or ecstasy. There’s also a full bar.

[click on the picture to get an idea of the scale of this event. It is HUGE.]
Because of our war on drugs, there’s no equivalent to this DJ-music party scene in the US. It's actually illegal. Nobody can make money on such a large scale event because they all get shut down by police. It would be like closing down Yankee Stadium in the 1920s because people were drinking at baseball games.

In Europe, this party scene is a job-creating industry. This one sounded like fun.
Sensation White was the best or at least the most impressive dance music party I have even been to. It was at the Arena, but they did it up really nicely. The stage was in the center with four thrust parts going into the four corners. That meant that your section of the audience was broken up and smaller and there was stuff close to you.

They did the place up so well with details and hiring hundred’ of models to work there. Everyone was actually dressed all in white, and the atmosphere was superb. And so many hot 20 somethings. Mmmmm. And 30 somethings and 40 somethings too. It was an exciting mix actually. And it sounded good. There, it’s official, a stadium set-up can sound perfect. I want nothing less in the future, please.

Unlike two years ago where police in plainclothes were harassing party goers and arresting joint smokers (for what I’m not sure), this year they were present, helpful and in the background.
It should be noted that two years ago the Amsterdam police were not actually going so far as to take people to jail for drug use. But they were taking people out of the party and giving them citations. Taking any action for marijuana in Amsterdam is pretty much unheard of. Much less "harassing" people who otherwise were not causing trouble. This year was more laid back.
We did one e before getting on the metro and I had two more in my shoe. In the other shoe I had a joint and left a decoy joint in my pockets. When I took it out at the frisking, they said it wasn’t allowed. "Why?" I asked.

You are allowed to have 5 grams [about 1/5 of an ounce] of weed in a bag and roll your own. But not a pre-rolled joint because, “We don’t know what is in it.”

“You can go outside and smoke it right now if you want,” a second security helpfully offered.

I thought that was very reasonable, but let them take it. I smoked the secret one over the evening in their classy, not stuffed, not smoky smoking room. The football stadium had windows the opened!
I wrote back and said I was shocked that anybody in Amsterdam would have to resort to a “decoy joint.” It's "just not mokum," I said. His reply:
On one hand it is ridiculous that I would bring a decoy roach. And it’s not Amsterdam. On the other hand, I think it’s still nice that I can bring a decoy roach just to see what the police/security will do and not be worried that anything bad will happen. Of course I know they are not going to make me take off my shoes, so drugs get in.
Is this man a blight on society? A junkie? A long-haired hippy freak? Quite the contrary. This man, who may or may not be my brother, is a husband, a father, and employees lots of people. He is a businessman.

Were it not for the permissive and successful drug policy of the Netherlands, he would not be in Amsterdam providing jobs and paying taxes. He never would have visited in the first place.

July 4, 2009

July 3, 2009

$12,500 in Seattle Taser Settlement

A homeless felon in Seattle gets $12,500 for being tased twice simultaneously by two officers. That's just what I don't like my tax dollars going to. I'm not saying the cops didn't follow procedure and their training. I am saying that procedure and training are wrong.
[A] judge ruled that the two officers ... were too quick to use their Tasers after confronting Releford outside a Tukwila convenience store to arrest him on outstanding misdemeanor warrants.
Both officers ordered him to turn around. When he hesitated at the conflicting commands, the officers fired their stun guns simultaneously, knocking him to the ground with a combined 100,000 volts, the documents say.
She said the officers didn't adequately consider their other options before resorting to the use of Tasers.
"He didn't resist," she said. "They just didn't give him time to comply."
Releford — despite his size and a long history of run-ins with the law — had never been violent toward officers. In fact, she said, records showed that Vivet had arrested Releford six times in the eight months before the incident, all without incident.
The story by Mike Carter in the Seattle Times.

Bicycle Patrol

I love the idea of cops on bikes. Nothing beats the speed and stealth. But I haven't really considered the benefits of paramedics on bikes. A couple of those saved a life in Chicago.
The rescue might not have been possible if not for the paramedics' bicycle team, which can weave in and out of crowded spaces like the Taste with life-saving defibrillators and other medical supplies in tow.
"You can't beat them. They're just invaluable," he said of the team, which is also used to patrol busy downtown areas.

The whole story by Monifa Thomas in the Chicago Sun Times.

New Haven Firefighters

Interesting story in the New York Times about Ben Vargas, the lone Hispanic firefighter on the winning side of Ricci v. DeStafano.

July 2, 2009

Police Blogs

Here's a police blogs that seem, at least at first glace, to be pretty interesting.Beat and Release:
To new supervisors, I have the following the advice: Dedication to your troops is what engenders respect. Willingness to back them engenders respect. Putting paper on them and chastising them for very minor infractions shows them you are a company man with no discretion and can't be trusted. Don't break the law or lie for them, but consider the totality of the circumstances in any given situation. I heard one of my guys trying to recruit another officer for the team. His selling point was, "I know he won't go to jail for us, but he will put his ass and his job on the line to keep you from getting screwed over."
And this post: Old Versus New.

Taxed Marijuana In Rhode Island?

There's yet more rationality in the news today!

Let's stop quibbling about decriminalized marijuana for dying people and get to the heart of the matter: legalize, regulate, and tax. That's what they're looking into in Rhode Island. Katherine Gregg reports in the Providence Journal:
The measure poses a number of specific questions for study, among them: “Whether and to what extent Rhode Island youth have access to marijuana despite current laws prohibiting its use. ... Whether adults’ use of marijuana has decreased since marijuana became illegal in Rhode Island in 1918. ... Whether the current system of marijuana prohibition has created violence in the state of Rhode Island against users or among those who sell marijuana. ... Whether the proceeds from the sales of marijuana are funding organized crime, including drug cartels. ... Whether those who sell marijuana on the criminal market may also sell other drugs, thus increasing the chances that youth will use other illegal substances.”

The resolution also cites questions about the “dangers associated with marijuana resulting from it being sold on the criminal market, including if it is ever contaminated or laced with other drugs.”

The panel has until Jan. 31, 2010, to report its findings and recommendations to the Senate.

Man Burned at Burning Man Assumed Risk of Being Burned by Burning Man

Sometimes the courts actual make the right decision.

It seems that if you go to Burning Man and get burned by the actual burning man by walking in fire, you can't sue.

Fair enough.

Lowering the Bar brought this important legal decision to my attention.

I went to burning man once. There's some incredibly cool art and ideas there (and no, it's not just topless women riding bikes--though you'll see that, too).

It's kind of amazing that more people don't get hurt, given the Mad Max artistic chaos and fire and drug fueled ambiance.

Given all the things Burning Man could have trouble with--drugs come to mind... and the fact there are tens of thousands of people congregate on what might be the least hospitable place on earth--it's nice that at least they're safe from this frivolous lawsuit.

But I still cringe just at the thought of all that gypsum dust.

[update: My wife said she thought the headline was an onion story. She adds, "I think when it says on the ticket that they're not responsible if you _die_, you pretty much have no case.]

Help Wanted

There's a Craigslist help wanted ad for chief of the BPD's Criminal Investigations Division. Normally you would expect this position to be in internal promotion. Justin Fenton writes about this in the Sun.

Rain Prevents Crime

Duh. All cops know that. Rain keeps all the sh*ts inside. But apparently it's breaking news to the New York Times.
But I also think, despite what the article says, that rain reduces domestics as well. I don't have the stats to back that up, but it's certainly what I saw. Domestics don't start because two people are cooped up all day. Somebody gets cut when somebody returns home. People fight because one person is out getting drunk and maybe a little "suh'um suh'um" and then comes home.

We it rained in Baltimore, not only would we not like getting wet, we didn't want our cars to get wet. And then you can't keep the windows open and talk. So we would move from 800 Chester to under the Amtrak tracks on Broadway and enjoy the quiet.

July 1, 2009

Raiding Gay Bars

40 Years after Stonewall police are still raiding gay bars? Really?!

And looking for... er... drunk people? If you can't be drunk in bar, my God, where can you be drunk? Apparently some police were looking for gay men to beat up.

The Fort Worth police chief said, "You're touched and advanced in certain ways by people inside the bar, that's offensive.... I'm happy with the restraint used when they were contacted like that." Can you imagine if women started using that excuse? Meanwhile one guy was put in intensive care with a serious brain injury.

Dan Savage makes a good point related to the "Gay Panic Defense": "Gay men don't grope police officers when they enter gay bars."

I'll go a step further and say that gay men don't grope non-police officers when they enter gay bars.

I have a close gay friend I know from being a boat captain in Amsterdam. Zora and I have have made a little tradition of spending Thanksgiving with him and his boyfriend in Savannah. And then maybe once every other year Bob comes up to New York to visit me.

When Bob and I see each other we often end up in gay bars because 1) he likes gay bars, 2) I like bars, and 3) we both like pinball. Many gay bars still have pinball. So we end up at some place called Ramrod or Rawhide and drink cheap drinks. We talk and play pinball. I've never been groped.

I'm sure a lot of women wished straight men behaved so well.

Civil Service and Affirmative Action

The Supreme Court ruled in Ricci v. DeStafano that a particularly bizarre form of affirmative action is unconstitutional. You can't just throw out a test because you don't like the results. In 2003 a firefighter’s promotional exam produced no black candidates. The city of New Haven threw out the whole exam and promoted no one.

I’m against racial discrimination and that includes many if not most forms of affirmative action. I think affirmative action does more harm than good.

But while I think affirmative action is generally wrong, I’m not willing to say it’s always wrong. Obama or not, we’re not living in a race-blind society. We notice race and we have to take account of race. I do think diversity is good there are some cases where race-based approaches are needed.

White people often say, “I didn’t get no benefits because of my race.” But you have. We all have.

Take college admissions. There are plenty of affirmative-action-like systems out there that benefits white folk. Having a parent who went to a college or held a certain job gives you a benefit. But often that college or job wasn’t open to non-whites a generation or two ago.

Should unqualified blacks get in over whites or Asians? No. But race should be one factor of many.

Athletes get affirmative action. And though some poor blacks benefit from this, it really benefits people who go to rich prep-schools bloated sports programs. Did your school have a lacrosse team and a swimming pool? Well a lot of schools don’t.

I went to the same college my father did. Did I get into college because my dad went there? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. I certainly didn’t hurt my chances. And my father got in on affirmative action because he was from the state of New Mexico. That's geographic affirmation action. Colleges like Princeton want one student from each and every state. My dad was the token New Mexican. Perhaps, 37 years later, my wife was, too.

But race-based affirmative action is supposed to address historic discrimination in the US. And if that is all it were, I would approve. Legal racial discrimination wasn’t that long ago. Even slavery wasn’t that long ago. To argue that centuries of racism had no lasting negative impact is crazy. And to push people to the bottom and then ask why they can’t lift themselves up is disingenuous at best.

But... I think affirmative action should only be for black people who can trace their roots back to Slavery. Immigrants should never get affirmative action. Period. The idea that a Spanish sounding last name would give you any benefit at all is simply absurd. And women aren't “minorities” (though a good argument could be an argument made for affirmative action for women based on historical discrimination).

Affirmative action, when it is practiced, has become so broad that it no longer helps those people for whom it was designed. Simply being biased against white men isn't the answer. And of course this creates resentment. Significant, real resentment.

But when it comes to civil-service hiring and promotions, I think there are other issues. Civil-service promotional exams are as dumb if not dumber than affirmative action programs. To say that affirmative action isn’t fair somehow implies that civil-service exams are themselves fair. I don’t buy it.

Civil service exams are a horrible way to decide, say, who should be a police sergeant (or a police officer. If you study hard for a civil-service exam you’ll do better. But does doing better on a test mean you’re a better worker? I don’t think so.

A written exam tells you nothing what kind of cop or firefighter you will be when lives are on the line. These tests test nothing about leadership potential or collegial respect. I don’t think it matters one damn bit, in term of your competence to do the job of police officer, whether you score a 96 or a 98 on a civil service exam.

Perhaps hiring and firing in the police and fire department should be done more like normal businesses do it. Let the bosses decide. Or ask the coworkers. While nobody is liked by everybody, if somebody is disliked by everybody, there is probably a problem there. People on the workforce tend to know who is good worker and who isn’t.

In the meantime, I’m happy with the court’s decision. Picking on people because of their race is simply wrong. There has to be a better way.

[update: very interesting story in the New York Times about Ben Vargas, the lone Hispanic firefighter on the winning side of Ricci v. DeStafano.]