Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lies, damned lies, and In The Market

I flip channels a lot when listening to the radio on my drive home and often come across In The Market With Janet Parshall, since it's played on two stations at the same time. Sometimes it's hard not to stop and listen a bit just out of sheer horror. I'm always frustrated when I hear right wing radio, because it's always full of misleading information, half truths, and out and out lies.

This bit from yesterday's show jumped out at me:

... here's Planned Parenthood marketing themselves as helping women and 'we provide pap smears and breast exams and all those other things' and you and I both know, that's a tiny, tiny percentage of what they do. Their coffers are filled through abortions.

This is flatly untrue. Only 3% of Planned Parenthood services are abortions and less than 15% of revenue comes from abortions.

Janet Parshall is a damned liar.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I have angered Mayor Rock God

All I was trying to do was point out the irony in him complaining about the state regulating away his ability to regulate my behavior.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Can we elect Krugman to something?

In today's NYT:

But here’s the thing: If Wall Streeters are spoiled brats, they are spoiled brats with immense power and wealth at their disposal. And what they’re trying to do with that power and wealth right now is buy themselves not just policies that serve their interests, but immunity from criticism.

Actually, before I get to that, let me take a moment to debunk a fairy tale that we’ve been hearing a lot from Wall Street and its reliable defenders — a tale in which the incredible damage runaway finance inflicted on the U.S. economy gets flushed down the memory hole, and financiers instead become the heroes who saved America.

Once upon a time, this fairy tale tells us, America was a land of lazy managers and slacker workers. Productivity languished, and American industry was fading away in the face of foreign competition.

Then square-jawed, tough-minded buyout kings like Mitt Romney and the fictional Gordon Gekko came to the rescue, imposing financial and work discipline. Sure, some people didn’t like it, and, sure, they made a lot of money for themselves along the way. But the result was a great economic revival, whose benefits trickled down to everyone.

You can see why Wall Street likes this story. But none of it — except the bit about the Gekkos and the Romneys making lots of money — is true.

Krugman for Secretary of the Treasury, 2012!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My thoughts on the police investigation report

A few weeks ago, the City released the report on the investigation into last summer's pepper-spraying and accused roughing-up of a guy* on Green Street. This incident was unusual primarily in (a) that it was a video- and audio-taped by a squad car camera and microphone and (b) that the tape was anonymously leaked and posted online. Probably without this leak, no one would have given a damn about this. Here's a WILL article written after the leak, if you want the background.

Now, I've never had any law enforcement training or even contact with the police, good or bad, but I'm a blogger and am therefore an Expert on Everything™. One of the three findings from this report is that an unjustified amount of force was used to remove the guy from the squad car (i.e., grabbing the guy by the neck and pushing him out of the car onto the ground). But the concerns that I have are related to what happened earlier that evening. So here's my take on this. Numbers are timestamps from the video.

This stop was pretty clearly a pretext for hassling this guy. The report says that this guy had been loud and obnoxious earlier in the evening. Two officers are seen following him along Green Street, followed slowly by this squad car (02:24:45-02:25:33). It is only after the two officers turn away that the squad car quickly accelerates to catch up with this guy and this incident occurs.

In fact, the report pretty much comes out and admits this:

...officers and shift supervisors had been directed to focus their efforts on identify suspects and/or possible suspects in the aggravated batteries. Those efforts often involved the use of Terry Stops of problem individuals and the enforcement of ... "minor" offense such as loitering and pedestrian violations. [emphasis mine]

The problem I see with that is that a Terry Stop requires "reasonable suspicion" that the person being stopped has committed or is about to commit a crime.** This report mentions nothing about this guy being suspected of any crime other than the fact that, earlier in the evening, he had been yelling loudly. He was a "problem individual." The male and female companion of this guy, also jaywalking, were ignored.

I mean, arresting a guy for jaywalking? In Campustown? Really, if they start arresting people for jaywalking on campus, it will be empty. Half the population will be in jail and the other half will be bailing them out.

One of the things that really convinces me that it was predetermined that this was not going to go well -- and maybe this isn't fair -- is that you can hear the primary officer start to hum a little tune to himself as soon as he starts to pull his car forward to arrest this guy (02:26:43). It's not like the officer was humming to himself as he drove down the road. It starts as soon as the guy is in the street.

The thing that bothers me most about this incident is the pepper spraying. After seeing this guy jaywalk, the officer pulls his squad car into the middle of Fourth Street, jumps out of his car, crowd-sized can of pepper spray in hand.

After the guy and the officer stop walking (02:27:09), less than two seconds go by before the guy is pepper sprayed in the face (02:27:10).

I'm not suggesting this guy is anything other than an obnoxious drunk jerk. The report specifically draws attention to the fact that this guy moved his arm "to approximately shoulder level." But it's very obvious that he's just gesturing with both his hands in the same way he's been doing ever since the officer grabbed his arm and started marching him back to the squad car, protesting the whole way.

When talking about the unjustified removal of this guy from the squad car later that night, the report says officers are expected to "... use verbal persuasion, dialogue, and courtesy to gain voluntary compliance whenever possible".  So it seems to me that the immediate jump to a pain compliance technique is unwarranted (again, Expert in Everything™, see above). If this had been a different kind of force, but of roughly the same intensity, say a punch in the gut, would it still have been considered reasonable?

Anyway, it's late and I want to wrap this up. This guy was clearly a jerk. He was obnoxious to start with and increasingly obstreperous as the night went on (though who wouldn't be pissed off after having been pepper sprayed in the face, reasonably or not?). I couldn't care less that the secondary officer told him to "shut the fuck up". Hell, just while watching this video, I wanted the guy to shut the fuck up. But it doesn't seem to be that being an obnoxious jerk is enough to get a face full of pepper spray.

[*] For lack of a better term, I'm just going to call the guy that was pepper sprayed and arrested "the guy."

[**] IANAL, but I can read Wikipedia.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

SQL Developer needs better font support

Warning: nerdom ahead...

SQL Developer is a pretty damn good tool for Oracle development. It has one problem that I find rather jarring, though: its text display in the editor is terrible. I've finally figured out what it is. Text isn't anti-aliased in the editor. That's a pretty significant oversight for any software written since, oh, Windows 95 or thereabouts.
Here's an example of what I mean:

That's the same two queries in SQL Developer and Notepad++ (great little text editor; if you're not using it, you should be). They look very different even though they're using the same font. Without antialiasing, SQLDev is displaying the "m" in the "from" in the second query as a freakin' square! And look at the difference in the asterisk. So moving from one program where text is nicely rendered to SQL Dev where it's, well, not, is jarring and annoying.
To be fair, I suspect this is not a limitation of SQL Developer itself, but of the Java component being used to render the text. But really, Oracle owns both. If they want SQL Dev to be the IDE for an enterprise-grade database, really, it shouldn't make my eyes hurt.
And a shout-out to @thatjeffsmith for his interesting talk on SQL Developer this week.
(In Windows XP or so, Microsoft introduced support for ClearType fonts, which is a really cool technology that provides sub-pixel antialiasing at the cost of some chromatic distortion. Since then, Consolas has been my go-to font for when I need a fixed-width font. I originally thought this was that SQL Dev didn't have support for ClearType fonts, but it's more basic than that, even.)

Kris Rice shows how to enable AA fonts. Awesome, thanks! (I didn't even realize there was a .conf file.)

Sunday, April 01, 2012

A self-defeating tax?

A couple of weeks back, the Champaign City Council supported a resolution to force retailers to charge for disposable plastic bags, about $0.05 per bag. Personally, I think this is a really bad idea in support of a laudable goal.

Sure, it's good to reduce waste and litter in our community. But the only way a tax like this would work is if the fee is large enough to actually cause people to change their behavior. I don't know about you, but five or six bags adding up to an extra $0.25 on my grocery bill isn't going to make me go out of my way. (I do normally use reusable bags, but occasionally forget to bring them.) Anything under a buck, maybe $0.50 isn't going to register on my radar.
But then I noticed this quote from the mayor:
I don't know where we get extra money for education, unless we charge five cents for plastic bags, I guess.
So if the point of this tax is not to change people's behavior, but to raise money, maybe the whole point of placing the per-bag fee so low is so that it doesn't cause people to change their behavior, raising the amount of revenue.
Or am I just being paranoid?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The News-Gazette discovers women are a bunch of dirty sluts

I was thinking about coming off my long blog hiatus by bitching about the News-Gazette's recent editorial approving of the new Presidential power to assassinate American citizens he has declared to be terrorists, when they came up with an even more annoying one. In this case, it's one about how unmarried, teen girls are having all these babies and that's why you can't have nice things.

I'm certainly not going to disagree with the notion that becoming a teenage mother can have severely negative consequences for a woman. Not to mention the difficulty it places on a young woman trying to finish high school, let alone college, childbirth is a significant financial cost when it comes to health care.
After a long series of statistics about the high cost of maternity, the News-Gazette's main complaint in their editorial is that Obama has made it difficult to kick these girls off of Medicaid.
What can the state do about reducing its cost for Medicaid births? Thanks to President Barack Obama's national health care plan, the answer is nothing.
Obamacare rules forbid any reductions in eligibility requirements that might cut the Medicaid rolls. Indeed, over the new few years, many thousands more Illinois residents are expected to be added to the Medicaid rolls under Obamacare.
So, really, this editorial has nothing to with teen mothers at all. After discussing the impact teen pregnancy has to a young woman's future, the core message to their editorial is that society shouldn't be paying for the cost of their health care. After all, what an unemployed, 16-year old mother needs to go with her newborn is a $10,000 medical bill.
The editorial characterizes the problems with Medicaid funding as the "high cost of social collapse", that it's "social disintegration", and that these young women have a "dangerous social pathology." I'm honestly surprised this editorial doesn't call these girls "welfare queens."
Of course, there's one way to make sure that teenagers don't become mothers and fathers, and that's comprehensive sex education. Information about and access to birth control does, shockingly, prevent unwanted pregnancy. (Now, I swear there was another recent editorial where the N-G approved of employers being allowed the "religious freedom" to restrict their employees access to birth control, but I can't seem to find it now.) In fact, any discussion of how to prevent what the N-G claims is a scourge upon our society is conspicuous in in its absence.
It is a standard trope of the right-wing that America is deteriorating and if only we went back to 1950s social policy/enforced mandatory prayer in schools/put gays back in the closet/slut-shamed women more, everything would get better. So this teenage-pregnancy-cum-Medicaid-collapse scandal is, of course, part of that:
It's a seemingly intractable problem that reflects a slow and steady cultural decline.
Except that's not true! According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the teenage pregnancy rate in Illinois dropped 40% between 1988 and 2005. (That's the most recent data I could find.) According to this article in The Economist, not only are a lot of other factors about American life better than they have been in the past, but the teenage pregnancy rate is the lowest it's been in 40 years.