Monthly Archives: May 2011

First, props to Missouri on this:

Modifications to the bill must be approved by the House before becoming law, but the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has already begun increasing yellow signal timing with very positive results. In Arnold, the first city in the Show Me state to use automated ticketing machines, yellow timing was increased from 4.0 to 5.0 seconds at three intersections along Missouri Route 141 on February 24. Smaller changes were made on April 15, including a boost from 4.0 to 4.4 seconds at northbound 141 and US 61/67, a 4.0 to 4.5 second change at northbound US 61/67 at Rockport School, and from 4.0 to 4.7 seconds at southbound Vogel Road at Richardson Road (4.3 seconds at the northbound approach).

The impact of the longer yellow at red light camera monitored locations was felt immediately. In January, before any signal timing had been changed, American Traffic Solutions recorded 875 alleged violations in the city of Arnold. At the end of April, that figure fell 70 percent to just 266. Jefferson County Councilman Bob Boyer obtained the ATS statistics after learning that MoDOT had extended the yellow times.

“This recent bit of information goes further to prove the point that there are other safety measures that can be implemented if safety, not money, is the focus,” Boyer said.

Whenever you talk about lengthening yellow lights, there’s always somebody that says that people will simply adjust. And sometimes people will. But study after study has suggested that in the aggregate, longer yellow lights reduce lightrunning as well as accidents. They also reduce revenue, which is part of the problem. So congratulations to Missouri for getting this right.

On the other hand

[I]n Missouri, it is common that municipal prosecutors will regularly “amend” moving traffic violations, which incur points against one’s driver’s license and potentially raise car insurance rates, to non-moving violations which do not incur said points and insurance rate hikes. Of course, the prosecutor only does so under two conditions:

1) The fine for the “amended” violation is exorbitant compared to the moving violation fine–and compared to the usual fine for the actual non-moving violation, and

2) The victim–er, ticketed person–must have hired legal representation for the prosecutor to negotiate the amended complaint. (Non-lawyers, don’t try representing yourself. Prosecutors won’t do it. I tried…once upon a time when I was younger, drove less carefully, less wise, didn’t inhale, etc.)

Now, one may counter that this behavior is not “extortion” because it is not illegal for the prosecutor to negotiate an amended charge as part of a plea bargain, nor is the prosecutor directly benefiting from the extorted fees. However, this activity is a plea bargain only in the most superficial sense, since a miniscule percentage of moving violations are ever actually contested with a not-guilty plea to begin with and individuals engaging in this ‘bargain’ have no intent to contest the moving violation. In a game theoretic, it’s almost never a credible threat so there is virtually no chance court time will be used or the alleged criminal will go unpunished. And while the prosecutor may not directly pocket the huge fines, those fines comprise a non-trivial portion of many municipalities’ revenues, which do flow back in part to the prosecutor’s budget.

This is not entirely unlike what they’re doing in Delosa, wherein you can avoid having your ticket turned over to your insurance company under certain circumstances. This makes people less likely to contest, but also helps them skirt state laws about how much revenue a town can get from tickets (they can “only” get a third of overall revenue from traffic enforcement). On the one hand, this is great because it helps you keep a clean driving record. On the other hand, it allows them to write up more tickets. In the case of Missouri, it sounds like an odd freebie for lawyers.

As I’ve mentioned before, I got out of a ticket for which I was dead guilty by hiring a lawyer once. If a lawyer knows what they’re doing, they can make it not worth their trouble. Trying to defend yourself, though, is pretty foolish.

Category: Courthouse, Road

An acoustic song in an Americana vein by James McMurtry, the son of Larry McMurtry of “Lonesome Dove” fame and one of the best singer-songwriters out there. Though the song opens with a bit of speculation about the town’s founding, it’s more about the narrator’s desire to leave.

“Flatter than a tabletop
Makes you wonder why they stopped here
Wagon must have lost a wheel or they lacked ambition
On the great migration west
Separated from the rest
Though they might have tried their best
They never caught the sun
So they sunk some roots down in the dirt
To keep from blowin’ off the earth
Built a town around here
And when the dust had all but cleared
They called it Levelland”

Update: The official music video is below the fold: (more…)

Category: Theater

The economics of the Death Star. As someone that has recently been discussing the geopolitical ramifications of Superman’s renounced citizenship, I – of course – think that these things are neat as hell. I’m going to have to start reading Overthinking It with more regularity.

So what did we learn from Toyota’s recall crisis? Basically, it all goes to hell once the politicians get involved.

The ins and outs of getting a tattoo with a professional sports logo. I remember, years ago, a woman with a huge tattoo on her back with the logo of the local professional sports team. A friend and I wondered what she would do if they changed their logo. I suppose it could be hip and retro and all that, but she didn’t strike me as a retro-ironic sort.

A human rights worker passes on a list of things he wishes he’d known before getting involved.

GM is not sure what to do with GMC. The degree to which these decisions are made around their dealership networks is nothing less than astounding. The cars are meant to be sold to people. You need a network to do it, but it’s only part of the equation. It’s been suggested that GMC become their Jeep counterpart. Not a bad idea, actually, if they have to come up with something to tag-team with Buick. Ford ran into the same issue with Lincoln/Mercury and the end of the latter. On the other hand, our local dealer is Chevy/Buick but not GMC, so it’s not a hard rule that they have to go together, apparently.

Married women get more time for leisure than unmarried women. The difference is marginal, but acts as a counter to the complaint that men double the housework. Then again, we’re dealing with averages. A few stay-at-home wives can throw off the averages.

Why redheads are more sensitive.

A Yale student gave up any and all semblance of privacy to be a guinea pig in a class project.

Category: Newsroom

I discovered a long-time acquaintance is a red diaper baby. Her parents are bona fide Communists, as were her grandparents. The sort that hoped that we would lose the Cold War. This actually explains a great deal. She’s one of the most conservative people I know, in the traditional sense of the word. And her mannerisms really strike one as a fundamentalist Christian or something. She’s been mistaken for right-wing by mutual acquaintances. It’s the lifestyle that she leads. And yet her politics were way out in left field. Why?

Well, if you’re a real traditionalist, and you were born into a family where the family tradition is Communism. You keep up the fight. You honor your family’s heritage and accept the wisdom handed down from one generation to the next. Their good guys are your good guys. Their bad guys are your bad guys. Your tribe is the USSR, defunct or not, and not the nation in which you were born and raised.

Category: Coffeehouse

Bill Wyman wrote a worthwhile piece a few months ago about the universal availability of art:

If you were born to this it’s an unshakeable, seemingly permanent feature of the world. The rest of us marvel that a significant part of everything out there that should be digitized and made available has. And once it’s out there, getting your hands on it is a fairly simple process. The concept of “rarity” has become obsolete. A previously “rare” CD or movie, once it’s in the iTunes store or on the torrent networks, is, in theory, just as available as the biggest single in the world. (In practice, there are marginal differences, like having to do a few extra searches or wait a bit for a download, but that’s a big difference from, say, driving across town to a Tower Records to find that they don’t have a CD in stock.)

A rarity might be less popular; it might be less interesting. But it’s no longer less available the way it once was. If you have a decent Internet connection and a slight cast of amorality in your character, there’s very little out there you might want that you can’t find. Does the end of rarity change in any fundamental way, our understanding of, attraction to, or enjoyment of pop culture and high art?

The notion that “the Internet changes everything” is touted too often. But this is really an astonishing development. Many years ago, I was a Batman fan that bought a somewhat disappointing one-shot called Batman: Vengeance of Bane, which introduced an interesting but (within the story) inconsequential villain. When Bane went on to utterly defeat the Batman, the comic book that I had purchased for a couple bucks – that they didn’t even bother an embossed or triple-released cover, was suddenly worth $40. Unlike a lot of valuable comics at the time, this didn’t become valuable because it had an embossed cover or something like that. It was valuable because people wanted to read the story and they couldn’t unless they bought it (when they released a second print, the value dropped back down to $10). These days, they could have just downloaded it on the Internet, illegally for free or for a few bucks from DC Comics itself.

There’s no scarcity anymore, except that which is imposed by the producers to price certain people out. Any book released today will likely be available, in perpetuity, forevermore. Due to the virtual abolition of the public domain, it may never be free. But it’ll be available. As someone that once ached to find copies of CDs out of production or comic books that had a single run years ago, this is a pretty amazing development. Once, I purchased an entire set of 60 comics just so that I could finally get my hands on the four that I didn’t have and that were hard to get. It would, of course, be nicer if I could get it for free, but it’s pretty amazing that I will likely be able to get ahold of – one way or another – anything that came out since around 2005.

This is great for me. And in some sense it’s good for the producers to the extent that they can continue to make money off old things without firing up the printing presses again, though at the prices they will sell them at and the availability of the stuff for free online, I’m not sure how much money they’re actually going to make. Not only is it free from Bit Torrent, but you never have to worry about any DRM glitches. So there’s the argument that, if they want to sell these things, they should make them so cheap that it’s not worth taking any sort of risk on Bit Torrent, and that they should make it available. Sure, maybe a lot of people won’t pay for it, but they’ll make more money in the end than they do if they put together a package at a price and with restrictions that people won’t abide by.

From a practical standpoint, I think this is wrong for two reasons. First, people who aren’t geeks really don’t seem to care all that much about DRM. Kindle and its offspring have demonstrated that people are willing to pay what are really outrageous prices when the delivery system is sound. Even before music downloading went from AAC to MP3, Apple was sitting pretty.

Second, I am becoming increasingly convinced that people internalize price. That art, when sold cheaply, becomes cheap. Someone that pays $15 for a CD is likely to have an investment in that artist. Someone that pays a couple bucks for the three songs off the CD that they want will likely forget about the artist. They won’t have an attachment. They won’t – for lack of other things to listen to – listen and relisten to the CD until they find out that there are actually four other songs that they come to like. So while from a fan’s standpoint – to the extent that fans are willing to concede that the record labels, artists, and the like should be compensated for their trouble, which isn’t always the case – it shouldn’t matter to the record labels whether they make $1000 selling a copy to 100 people or the same amount selling to 400 since the marginal costs are so low, there’s an argument to be made that making their product cheap actually does do them harm, by making the services they provide seem less valuable. And from an artist’s standpoint, by making their music more disposable.

More on this to come.

Category: Market, Theater

Will’s post regarding the Hellspawn reminded me of something I haven’t thought of a lot in recent memory, save for an incident out a couple weeks ago when I was verbally savaged for using the “r-word” (for the uninitiated, there is a major movement to treat the word “retard” the same as the N-word; since the site speaks for itself, I offer a balancing opinion from the Washington post).

My precise wording: “in American classrooms, class proceeds at the pace of the slowest retard.” The person in the discussion who took offense, took great offense because she has a brother who is “developmentally challenged” and she really, really, really doesn’t like the use of that word.

In the larger scope, however, I refer back to my 3rd grade English class. In my grade school, we had a couple of “developmentally challenged” individuals. Not enough to constitute their own classroom, as Will had in his day minding the Hellspawn; instead, there was a special-ed teacher on staff for them who had them most of the day. To “innovate” around the difficulties of minding them (she couldn’t eat during normal lunch periods, instead having to mind her charges at the “special table” in the cafeteria/gym), the school decided to kill three birds with one stone. Bird #1 was that she needed a special lunch period. Bird #2 was that when she was eating, someone else had to “mind the hellspawn.” Bird #3 was that, due to state regulations, each of them had to spend “one class period with age-appropriate peers for socialization.”

In other words, the class period right after lunch was when her charges were farmed out to the other teachers of the school, dropped into their classes for “socialization” while the special ed teacher ate her lunch.

My 3rd grade year, we got “Ricky.” Ricky was one of the types who if you put his problems into a neat dossier, would doubtless generate sympathy. His parents were poor. Kenny McCormick-level poor. He was one of several (as in, “poor people who don’t get the idea of birth control or are religiously opposed to it” numerous) children, at least half of which were also “developmentally challenged.” He had physical deformities in addition to mental, deformities which if you got him to “smile for the camera” would, again, lead towards a sympathy reaction. His level of developmental problems meant that most of the day, he was barely doing preschool-level tasks instead of 3rd-grade tasks. He really, really liked the stuffed animals his parents tended to give him (rather than giving him breakable toys or anything that could be used as a weapon). It is not impossible, and indeed quite likely, that his health and development problems and those of his siblings were related to or exacerbated by the fact that his mother was a chain-smoker and alcoholic who had neither refrained from, nor limited, her usage of either during any of her pregnancies.

What the dossier would leave out is the following: he fit the definition of “hellspawn” almost perfectly. He was verbal without being understandable, communicating in a combination of grunts, groans, moans, and screams. He had severe impulse control issues, in that he had no impulse control at all. He would, when feeling balked or ignored, throw temper tantrums that involved physical violence with the strength of body that somehow seems to be a trademark of certain “developmentally challenged” individuals who never, ever, ever hold back from maximum. He had a predilection for throwing things – HARD. The stuffed animals didn’t really hurt. The hardcover books he liked to throw more, did. He was not above biting, and did in fact bite our teacher on at least two occasions hard enough to draw blood. He was such a disruption that for purposes of our English class over the course of that year, we probably got through 20% of what we were supposed to get through, and that only because after the second biting incident, the school actually did manage to remove him from the socialization aspect and found a teacher (the gym teacher, it turned out) who they could assign to watching him 1-on-1 during the time the special ed teacher was getting her lunch. His “socialization time” the remainder of the year was limited to the gym teacher keeping a 1-on-1 eye on him during recess periods, where he generally ran in circles off to one side while everyone else was on the playground equipment.

Admittedly, Ricky is an extreme case. However, when confronted with people who in the educational system insist that “mixing classes” is the “fair way” to get scores up and insist that the slower kids will “learn from the advanced kids”, I cannot help but remember the year my English class was saddled with Ricky, and the fact that even with lesser students in the class who are not such extreme cases, class must necessarily move at the “pace of the slowest retard” and one sufficiently disruptive student can ruin the school year for up to 29 other kids.

Category: Elsewhere, School

I was somewhat reluctant to password protect my WiFi. Having leeched off neighbors’ WiFi after a couple of moves until I could get my own Internet up, I felt hypocritical not extending the same courtesy to others. But ultimately, the desire for security won out. Specifically my fear that someone might use my connection for something untoward. Basically, I didn’t want to end up like this guy:

Lying on his family room floor with assault weapons trained on him, shouts of “pedophile!” and “pornographer!” stinging like his fresh cuts and bruises, the Buffalo homeowner didn’t need long to figure out the reason for the early morning wake-up call from a swarm of federal agents.

That new wireless router. He’d gotten fed up trying to set a password. Someone must have used his Internet connection, he thought.

“We know who you are! You downloaded thousands of images at 11:30 last night,” the man’s lawyer, Barry Covert, recounted the agents saying. They referred to a screen name, “Doldrum.”

“No, I didn’t,” he insisted. “Somebody else could have but I didn’t do anything like that.”

“You’re a creep … just admit it,” they said.For two hours that March morning in Buffalo, agents tapped away at the homeowner’s desktop computer, eventually taking it with them, along with his and his wife’s iPads and iPhones.

Within three days, investigators determined the homeowner had been telling the truth: If someone was downloading child pornography through his wireless signal, it wasn’t him. About a week later, agents arrested a 25-year-old neighbor and charged him with distribution of child pornography. The case is pending in federal court.

I don’t know if such SWAT teams exist in Callie. But it’s a headache no matter how you look at it. Of course, in addition to getting the wrong guy, there’s the question of whether something like this is really “SWAT team” material:

The trend towards the militarization of the police, brought to us first by the drug war, is quite disturbing. I am all for arresting people who break the law, but military approaches to law enforcement turn citizens, who are presumed innocent (lest we forget) into presumed enemies of the state. This is not an appropriate approach, especially when dealing with something as tenuous as an IP address for evidence. Even if a given cybercrime did originate in a given location, there is no way to know which person in said household committed the crime. To bust through the door, toss people to the ground and then start sorting things out is not what I want out of law enforcement agencies in a democracy.

There are two main justifications for this sort of raid. The first is that they fear retaliation and have to gain control of the situation quickly. The second is the fear of destroying evidence – in the case of drugs, flushing them down the toilet. There is very little reason to believe that either is the case here. Child pornography consumption does not exactly equate with “armed and dangerous.” And while it’s possible that they can delete the stuff, it’s getting harder and harder to delete stuff that cannot be recovered.

Further, these raids are non-trivial events. They are, in a sense, a punishment in itself. If they fear that they are being assaulted by hooligans, they can get their gun and end up dead on the floor. Or they could survive and spend the rest of their lives in prison for accidentally killing a police officer (though, if they get a police officer, they’re probably dead in any event). If they have a dog, there’s not a bad chance that the dog will be killed in the process. Even leaving aside the psychological effects, you’re putting this person at great risk.

Sometimes, it may be necessary. But it’s pretty hard to argue that – as bad as we may consider child pornography to be – accused consumers are a particularly dangerous group.

Category: Courthouse

“How was your day today?”

“A lot better than expected.”


“Yeah. A 7th grader was shot and killed last week.”


“Well, a lot of the kids were at his funeral today. And most of the rest of them kind of sullen. Made my day much easier.”

“That’s awful.”

“Absolutely. For the kid.”

Category: School

How much do we really want to hear about someone else getting sexually assaulted? Why do we want to hear it? Does it help us? Or has “coming forward” just become, in many cases, an automatic, lurid way to get attention while bumming a lot of other people out?

Back when I wrote for newspapers*, I was at the center of a newsroom fight about this topic. The alleged victim wasn’t famous like Lara Logan; she was a single young welfare mother. Here’s what happened: She came to a young female reporter (not me) offering to tell her story about being raped. She wanted her name used. Young female reporter jumped all over it.

Young female reporter was working the Saturday shift, when there was a skeleton crew of management and thus, less scrutiny over what went in the paper. In a day, she wrote a huge story containing every graphic detail that the alleged victim told her about how an older man had said he wanted to go into business with her; developed a relationship with her; eventually got her out into a car on a supposed business trip, took her out to the mountains and proceeded to bind her and rape her for a day. Oh, and he still owed her money he’d promised to pay her for “work.” The cops arranged for her to call him on a pretext of getting money he supposedly owed her, and got him to come to her house, where they were waiting to arrest him.

How do you feel so far reading this? Good? No? Lucky you, you only have to read a few sentences about it. The newspaper’s Sunday readers were treated to a huge front-page story, complete with a photo of the alleged victim looking sad, and a sidebar about the perils of acquaintance rape. Her allegations were described over 80 or 90 column inches, as compared to about 12 to 15 for a regular news story.

All the quotes and information came from the alleged victim, except for a brief quote from a police officer calling her “brave.” Oh, and the usual no-comment from the alleged perp and/or his attorney, if he had one by then, I can’t remember. Oh, and the police report. Because that’s all there was, was a police report and an arrest. No hearing, no trial, we were nowhere close to that yet. No physical evidence, no other witnesses. Just a woman claiming that her business partner raped her, then she went home, called the police, had him arrested, and had them write down her account. That’s it.

Was it enough to protect the paper from a lawsuit? Yes. Was that enough to merit an 80-inch front-page Sunday spread glorifying her as the poster girl for date rape? I didn’t think so. I voiced my objections strongly, which led to conflicts.

The staff was divided into three camps: 1) Those who thought the alleged victim was “brave for coming forward” (mostly women).

2) Those who thought we’d been sickeningly irresponsible to print a detailed account of some publicity-seeking, random woman’s allegations about some random man based on nothing more than a police report (mostly women).

3) People who just wanted to stay the hell out of it (mostly men).

It’s one thing to seek justice for a sexual assault. It’s another thing to seek publicity. At least that was the Camp 2 view. Camp 1 seemed to think that anyone who’s been raped is doing society a heroic deed by talking about it to as many people as possible, and everyone is obligated to listen and applaud. Also, Camp 1 thought, incorrectly, that there’s no way police would arrest a man based only on a woman’s allegation, with no physical evidence. (Whether the district attorney actually prosecutes the case may be a different matter, but we weren’t there yet.) I couldn’t tell how much the two beliefs were intertwined, because members of Camp 1 didn’t talk to Camp 2 for a few days, then we just kind of tried to avoid mentioning it again.

*Print reporters and TV reporters are natural enemies. That’s because most TV reporters are obnoxious self-promoting bimbos, like Lara Logan.

Category: Newsroom

I’ve literally been called in for every day for last week and next. I think teachers have a lot of sick days to burn or something. I even have a full day at the high school, which is a first (every HS assignment I’ve gotten has been half-day).

Right now I’m in the middle of my first four-day stint. I was initially excited about the prospect. One of the frustrations of substitute teaching is that you get to know the kids a little bit and then you’re on. I get excited when I see repeats. So a four day assignment? Awesome! Then I found out it was special ed, which lessened my excitement somewhat. But it was special ed at the middle school, which I’ve done before. Different teacher’s name, but the special ed room is chalk full of teachers, so it could be the same students regardless.

It wasn’t. It was, of course, the worst set of students I have ever had. I was warned. The teacher referred to them as “little pieces of…” {ask the student who arrived early to cover his ears} “shit.” Her expectations were basically null. Take a standardized test. They get as long as they need. They should finish in two days, but they have all four. Here’s the science lesson. If you get through this lesson, meant for one day, over the course of your tenure, you did okay.

The “special ed” in this case has a few kids with some learning disabilities, and surely a few others with disabilities I can’t see (a couple of them I had in regular classes and it never occurred to me that they would be special ed material), but mostly kids that needed to be put somewhere and for some reason not to the alternative school. Most of them seem not far below average, though a couple are. One student in particular had to answer a question about his opinion on evil corporations cutting down the forest and disrupting nature so that they can make evil profits. The “correct” answer was in the question (“I think it’s bad.”) but he couldn’t answer it. So I said, “Just put down what you think.” To which, he said with great exasperation, “I DON’T THINK!” He’s one of my favored students, along with an awesome girl who is Daria Morgandorffer with Aspergers. The rest would prefer throw stuff at one another or hit each other with rulers. I do what I can, but it isn’t much. Can you send a whole class to detention? A couple kids did get detention. One for throwing something right after I told him not to (easy to single that out) and another (not one of the few with obvious retardation, though clearly a kid with issues) for dropping his pants and farting in the face of another student. That was Day One. Day Two said kids refused to do their work because “I have detention this afternoon. I’ll do it then.”

So I’m two days in and dreading tomorrow and the next day something fierce. Fortunately, I had a weekend to unwind. But I’m not looking forward to tomorrow.

Almost any time I sub and talk to one of the other department teachers, they say “Look, if you have any problems, send them over to my room.” I got no such offers this time around. Over lunch I was asked by a teacher that I knew from having subbed for her before how the day was going. I told her it was a challenge in as diplomatic terms as I could. Another teacher – who is next door to me – said, “You’re just doing fantastic. I don’t think that they’ve ever been this quiet!”

Category: School