Weekend Required Reading

Three day weekend in the United States, so I expect local readers to read all of these especially closely. 

1. Online Privacy Should Be Modeled On Real World Privacy. Gather round, John Gruber is fired up.

“Just because there is now a multi-billion-dollar industry based on the abject betrayal of our privacy doesn’t mean the sociopaths who built it have any right whatsoever to continue getting away with it. They talk in circles but their argument boils down to entitlement: they think our privacy is theirs for the taking because they’ve been getting away with taking it without our knowledge, and it is valuable. No action Apple can take against the tracking industry is too strong.”

2. The Secret Adjustment Factor Tesla Uses to Get Its Big EPA Range Numbers. Outsmarting its competitors.

3. In Washington State, the revolving door between government service and lobbying is well-greased. 

“Washington’s revolving door received renewed scrutiny last year when then-state Sen. Guy Palumbo, a Democrat, resigned his seat to become a state lobbyist for Amazon. Prior to stepping down, Palumbo had been the prime sponsor of a bill to require state agencies to adopt cloud computing solutions for any new information technology investments. In urging his colleagues to approve the bill, which passed the state Senate but died in the House, Palumbo touted Washington’s homegrown cloud computing companies. ‘Namely Microsoft and Amazon who are the worldwide leaders in this space, Palumbo said at the time.”

How to get rich? Step one, get elected.

4. Police reforms face defeat as California Democrats block George Floyd-inspired bills. This is the substantive stuff to pay attention to as the media spotlight shifts.

5. The man who defied death threats to play at the Mastershttps://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32234719. My friend RZ loves golf. The Masters is his favorite tournament. He’s also a sociologist who studies Blacks in the elite. This one is for him.

6. ‘Greatest Met of All Time’: Tom Seaver Is Mourned Across Baseball. How can anyone read that and conclude you have to be mean and nasty to be an elite athlete?

(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Is Complexity Obsolete?

I break with a lot of my fellow liberals when it comes to negative, largely anonymous, internet-based rushes to judgement of people who feel they have the right to decide what is and isn’t socially acceptable.

Often the mob is right, the offending person deserves to be censored and/or fired, and/or made to stand trial, especially if the people they lead would suffer those consequences from saying or doing the same things.

But sometimes the mob is not right. Which they realize once there’s some context. But then it’s usually too late. The offending person’s reputation, and sometimes livelihood, is ruined.

Consider the case of Al Franken as detailed in this Jane Mayer New Yorker article from 2019.

“A remarkable number of Franken’s Senate colleagues have regrets about their own roles in his fall. Seven current and former U.S. senators who demanded Franken’s resignation in 2017 told me that they’d been wrong to do so. Such admissions are unusual in an institution whose members rarely concede mistakes. Patrick Leahy, the veteran Democrat from Vermont, said that his decision to seek Franken’s resignation without first getting all the facts was ‘one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made’ in forty-five years in the Senate. Heidi Heitkamp, the former senator from North Dakota, told me, ‘If there’s one decision I’ve made that I would take back, it’s the decision to call for his resignation. It was made in the heat of the moment, without concern for exactly what this was.’ Tammy Duckworth, the junior Democratic senator from Illinois, told me that the Senate Ethics Committee ‘should have been allowed to move forward.’ She said it was important to acknowledge the trauma that Franken’s accusers had gone through, but added, ‘We needed more facts. That due process didn’t happen is not good for our democracy.’ Angus King, the Independent senator from Maine, said that he’d ‘regretted it ever since’ he joined the call for Franken’s resignation. ‘There’s no excuse for sexual assault,’ he said. ‘But Al deserved more of a process. I don’t denigrate the allegations, but this was the political equivalent of capital punishment.’ Senator Jeff Merkley, of Oregon, told me, ‘This was a rush to judgment that didn’t allow any of us to fully explore what this was about. I took the judgment of my peers rather than independently examining the circumstances. In my heart, I’ve not felt right about it.’ Bill Nelson, the former Florida senator, said, ‘I realized almost right away I’d made a mistake. I felt terrible. I should have stood up for due process to render what it’s supposed to—the truth.’ Tom Udall, the senior Democratic senator from New Mexico, said, ‘I made a mistake. I started having second thoughts shortly after he stepped down. He had the right to be heard by an independent investigative body. I’ve heard from people around my state, and around the country, saying that they think he got railroaded. It doesn’t seem fair. I’m a lawyer. I really believe in due process.'”

That’s a remarkable paragraph.

Have we completely stopped thinking about how we’d want to be treated in a similar situation? Are we not smart enough to recognize and acknowledge subtlety, nuance, and complexity?

These are the questions I’ve been asking myself when thinking about the great policing debate. From my vantage point, there are only two choices. The Left’s “Option A” is to believe that police are an occupying force that does more harm than good. Consequently they need to be defunded. Which the Right consciously and continuously misrepresents. Most Black Lives Matter activists argue:

“Police forces have been receiving an increasingly disproportionate amount of a city’s budget. Instead of paying for such things as extensive officer overtime and expensive military equipment, cities should reallocate that money to a city’s social services, such as mental health, education, and housing.”

That filling in of context is still an anathema to the Right and their “Option B”. These “Blue Lives Matter” people argue the Left is exaggerating the problem of police brutality. Why rethink policing when it’s only a few bad apples?

I’m holding out hope for a third option which is neither centrist or moderate as much as it is intellectually honest because it acknowledges the complexity that’s inherent to any discussion of an institution as large and consequential as policing.

Somehow, in “Option C”, we’d muster the intelligence to do two things simultaneously. First, we’d get a whole lot better at identifying the particular police behaviors and police departments’ activities that are so far outside the common good, as to be unredeemable. The badge-wearing Derek Chauvins of the world. And we’d break the hold of police unions so that we could prosecute them for their brutality much more often than we have so far. In short, we’d get even more angry and determined to purge the police of the “too far gone”.

Equally important, we’d get a whole lot better at identifying the particular police and departments that are building positive working relationships with their communities and consistently and competently upholding the common good. This is especially important for those of us on the Left. Most simply put, we have to reject the utter mindlessness of “All Cops are Bastards”.

There either are important differences between individual police and their departments or there are not. I believe there are. I believe the most intelligent option is neither Option A or B. It’s C. For complexity.

Thursday Required Reading

1. Owners and Election Day: A Chance to do the Right Thing. Two sociologists call for Congress to declare the first Tuesday in November, Election Day, a national holiday. Along the way, they destroy the “athletes should just shut up and dribble” argument.

“About a dozen states have declared Election Day a state holiday, including, in the last few months, both Virginia and Illinois, and many states give their workers time off to vote. A majority of Democrats (71%) and Republicans (59%) support having Election Day become a national holiday, but many Republicans clearly want fewer, not more, people to vote.”

2. Topless Beach Drone Scandal! Do the Golden Valley Police Department and the Minneapolis Park Police get any points for good intentions? Prob not.

“The Golden Valley Police Department’s well-intended but very wrong assumption about drone as deescalation tool is a familiar one among regular drone users. Because its people were comfortable with drones, they grossly overestimated how comfortable the average person actually is with the prospect of being looked at by a flying camera drone, much less one that’s zeroing in on their private bits.”

[Editor’s note—Major props to Ron for leading with the sociologists and not the second, click-bait reading. Role model.]

3. How Police Unions Fight Reform.

I believe The New Yorker pays its writers by the word. You would never know that by how fast Finnegan starts. Paragraphs 3-5.

“In many cities, including New York, the unions are a political force, their endorsements and campaign donations coveted by both Republicans and Democrats. The legislation they support tends to get passed, their candidates elected. They insist on public displays of respect and may humiliate mayors who displease them. They defy reformers, including police chiefs, who struggle to fire even the worst-performing officers. In an era when other labor unions are steadily declining in membership and influence, police unions have kept their numbers up, their coffers full. In Wisconsin, the Republican governor, Scott Walker, led a successful campaign to eliminate union rights for most of the state’s public employees. The exceptions were firefighters and police.

Police unions enjoy a political paradox. Conservatives traditionally abhor labor unions but support the police. The left is critical of aggressive policing, yet has often muted its criticism of police unions—which are, after all, public-sector unions, an endangered and mostly progressive species.

In their interstitial safe zone, police unions can offer their members extraordinary protections. Officers accused of misconduct may be given legal representation paid for by the city, and ample time to review evidence before speaking to investigators. In many cases, suspended officers have their pay guaranteed, and disciplinary recommendations of oversight boards are ignored. Complaints submitted too late are disqualified. Records of misconduct may be kept secret, and permanently destroyed after as little as sixty days.”

4. Discovery in Mexican Cave May Drastically Change the Known Timeline of Humans’ Arrival to the Americas. Archeologists can’t agree on when humans arrived in the Americas. It may have been twice as long ago.

5. How to Handle Anxiety Over Back-to-School Decisions.

“It’s helpful to remember that in times of chaos, the dogged search for certainty can itself lead to distress. . . . the goal is not to guarantee that your child will never be exposed to a virus particle. That is impossible. The goal is to make a realistic plan that will holistically keep teachers, families and children as safe as possible.”

One excellent insight after another.

“When your mind starts moving into the slippery slope of unproductive worries, try naming them: ‘There goes my mind again.’ This highlights the difference between ‘having a thought’ and ‘burying a thought.’ When unproductive worries strike, you don’t have to go down that rabbit hole of trying to disprove them or reassure yourself, you can just let them be. It’s not bad feelings or thoughts that are the problem. It’s what we do with them that causes more suffering.”

The author, Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, M.D.  is working on a book about the tyranny of self-care. I predict that is going to be a very good read.

When Police Kill

Alex Tabarrok has an excellent book review of When Police Kill by Franklin Zimring (2017).

Tabarrok ends with this Zimring quote:

[Police killings]…are a serious problem we can fix. Clear administrative restrictions on when police can shoot can eliminate 50 to 80 percent of killings by police without causing substantial risk to the lives of police officers or major changes in how police do their jobs. A thousand killings a year are not the unavoidable result of community conditions or of the nature of policing in the United States.

Paragraph to Ponder

Rayshard Brooks.

“The police were called to the scene initially because Mr. Brooks had fallen asleep on* the drive-through line of the restaurant. The video shows Officer Brosnan waking Mr. Brooks in the driver’s seat of a car and asking him to move the car to a parking space. Officer Brosnan appears to be unsure whether to let Mr. Brooks sleep there or to take further action.”

Unsure whether to let Mr. Brooks sleep there. In his car, in a parking lot. I don’t understand.

*one is “in” a line, not “on” it

Rethinking Policing

Patrick Skinner’s policing philosophy deserves a national audience. Here it is, in short:

“We all matter, or none of us do.”

Related. Unbundle the police. Take two. 

“The roles of warrior cop, traffic patroller, and tax collector are bound up in a way that practically guarantees a large number of violent encounters between armed police and civilians. The United States has about 40 percent more police officers per capita than England or Australia, but adjusted for population, U.S. law enforcement kills 20 to 100 times more people.”

The Problem With Direct Democracy

Let’s start the new year off with some heresy.

Education, medicine, policing, journalism, fill in the cross-section of the work world, every work collective is attempting to reinvent themselves; to save money; to work smarter, not harder; and ultimately, to meet people’s needs more effectively. Thoughtful reformers across the gamut repeatedly cite the importance of public participation in reform efforts.

A friend of mine, a transportation engineer, shared a story with me recently about an award his office received for a particularly successful redesign of a small downtown in Central Washington state. What stood out in the write-up was how thoroughly his team sought citizen’s input on what improvements they most valued before ever picking up a shovel.

Another friend is in the State Highway Patrol. Last week I shared a lengthy article with him about changes afoot in the Seattle Police Department. Here’s his insightful reply:

I’m all for a new approach to policing and public safety, but it needs to be driven by citizen initiatives and new laws not local prosecutors deciding what to file based on what they think is important. I don’t agree with a lot of the prostitution laws, but it is still illegal. Just like I didn’t agree with the marijuana laws, but it was still illegal. The citizens determine what laws we live by not selective prosecutors and politicians.

That makes imminent sense. The education parallel is we need new approaches to K-12 schooling and teacher education, but it needs to be driven by citizen initiatives not middle managers at the Office of Public Instruction.

But I have to believe, given the notion of connoisseurship, or specialized expertise, that there are limits to direct democracy. When it comes to reforming our medical system, I trust Atul Gawande way more than I trust myself. Why? Because from reading him I know he has patients’ best interests in mind. Plus, he has highly specialized expertise.

Like everyone, I have some thoughts on how to improve medicine–I’d like my doctors to work more closely together, I’d love to see a dermatologist sometime before I die, and it would be nice if rising costs were in line with the Consumer Price Index–but I have no idea how to get from here to there. I don’t need a seat at the table, I trust the Atul Gawande’s of the world to reinvent medicine. I’m content, if in the end, I get to vote for what he and his doc friends propose.

For the last three decades education reform has been largely ineffectual because nearly every change has been imposed on teachers from well-intentioned people outside of schools—whether Presidents, Secretaries of Education, Governors, Superintendents of Public Instruction, CEO’s, wealthy philanthropists, and academics. When it comes to revitalizing K-12 schooling, I trust teacher leaders in those schools way more than I trust President Obama, Arne Duncan, Tom Friedman, Bill Gates, Randy Dorn, or myself.

Here’s the most bold education proposal imaginable—let’s empower teacher leaders to reinvent their profession. Let them decide themselves what to teach; how to teach; and how to evaluate, promote, and reward one another. I’ll be content if, in the end, I get to vote up or down for what the teacher leaders propose for the schools in my community.

When it comes to redesigning a small town’s downtown, I trust my transportation engineer friend. When it comes to reinventing policing, I trust my State Trooper friend. Because they have citizens’ best interests in mind and they are far more expert than me in their respective fields. That’s why I’m more a fan of representative democracy than direct.