Saturday, June 25, 2016

Without Even Scant Care

Three women have been killed in St. Paul this year while crossing the street. One was hit by a guy making a left turn, while the other two were hit on four-lane streets when the car in the first lane stopped for them to cross but the car in the second lane lane didn't.

You may know the scenario. You're driving down a four-lane street in the left lane. You're lagging another vehicle, maybe a larger truck, that's in the right lane. As you approach an intersection (one without a traffic light), the truck stops. You don't know why, but you pass it on the left, thinking it's maybe turning without signaling or stopping for whatever causes people to stop for no reason.

But it wasn't for no reason. The truck stopped because there was a pedestrian you didn't notice, waiting to cross the street. The pedestrian has the right of way, and the truck's driver knew that. The pedestrian has just made her way past the first lane and is heading into the second lane as you pass the truck.

And then it's too late.

This happened twice in my city, once in March and once in May. St. Paul police just announced that the killer-driver in the March "accident" will not be charged. She wasn't impaired, she wasn't speeding. So therefore she wasn't at fault.

The cops aren't even charging her with a misdemeanor like failure to yield to a pedestrian, which she is clearly guilty of since her victim is dead (and the victim's mother was severely injured). I don't expect much more in the May killing, either.

The left-turn case may come out a little differently, though, it seems. Yesterday, Minneapolis announced it's charging a left-turning driver who killed a pedestrian in downtown last winter with multiple crimes. And not just with failure to yield, but two additional misdemeanors: failure to use due care to avoid hitting a pedestrian (duh) and careless driving. And the prosecutors didn't stop there. He's also being charged with a gross misdemeanor, criminal vehicular operation resulting in bodily harm, which carries a one-year jail sentence.

That charge requires the prosecutors to prove he was driving in a "grossly negligent manner," "without even scant care." That seems kind of a high bar, but these are the facts of the case:

“The impact [which was captured on video] occurs directly in front of the defendant at what would have been the center of his field of vision had he been looking straight ahead,” the complaint said.

Prosecutors said video footage showed the truck maintained the same speed after the crash, dragging [the victim] for about the length of a bus before the rear tires rolled over her body. The truck then stopped.
So the fact that the driver never tried to stop before hitting the pedestrian (or even soon afterward) shows he wasn't looking ahead through his windshield while making a left onto a very busy, wide street in a snowstorm. I hope we all can agree that fits the definition of driving without scant care. The victim was right in front of his windshield, but he never slowed down because he never saw her.

Our St. Paul left-turn death was at a less complex intersection. What excuse does that killer-driver have? What will he be charged with?

Charging drivers in these deaths will not bring the victims back, and it's not even about justice. But maybe it will get drivers to slow down and pay attention if they know they'll be held accountable for their unintentional but negligent actions.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit as Seen on Twitter

What a turn of events in the last 24 hours. I didn't think the majority of UK voters would vote to leave the European Union, and in the absence of reliable polling, that was a reasonable thing to think. But I was wrong.

Here's what some folks on Twitter have had to say about it. Not surprisingly, some of the tweets have echoes that speak to the U.S. presidential election.

In a challenging and xenophobic era, we need courage. Greater courage is gained thru community, reflection, and vision for change!
Jennifer Godinez

Your WTF of the day: only 30% of Leave voters thought the UK would actually Leave. The others thought they could get away with a protest.
Mark Chadbourn

Good lesson for the U.S.: "Protest" votes don't know they're not supposed to count.
Nicole David ‏@obbiecole

Dear NPR: you better start being able to utter the words "racist" instead of "populist" or you'll be partly to blame for what comes.
Clara Jeffery

U.S. must lead now more than ever: address economic inequality, reform immigration, value diversity, say NO to racism and fear mongering.
Carlos Mariani

So in one hour by voting Leave, Britain lost more money than they paid to the EU since they joined in 1975...Take a while to digest that one.
Jean-Micheal Veen ‏@jbrveen

The weird thing is, Britain is the country with the *weakest* case that the EU was hurting it. It'd make more sense for Germans to flee fiscal obligations to the south, or Greeks to flee the deflationary shackles of the Euro.
Josh Barro

Globalization and neoliberalism might have worked better had its architects allowed regular people to benefit from it.
Joseph Nathan Cohen

The most invasive civilization in the HISTORY of the entire planet cannot fathom sharing their country with immigrants.
Aokiji ‏@DukeOfZamunda

This decade is shaping up to be as chaotic as the 60s. But we don't have the upside of moon landings and new Beatles records.
Andy Ihnatko

Elites think they can manage the anger that occurs because of inequality. Tonight they learned they are wrong.
Helaine Olen

Age breakdown on Brexit polls tells the underlying story. The older generation voted for a future the younger don't want:

Murtaza Hussain

So now the U.S. understands what it feels like to have other people cast stupid votes that affect the rest of the world.
Jorge Guajardo

A lesson that was learned in WWII: You can only let regular people struggle so much economically before endangering a political-economic system.
Joseph Nathan Cohen

I don't want a future in which politics is primarily a battle between cosmopolitan finance capitalism and ethno-nationalist backlash.
Christopher Hayes

Imagine trying to colonize the entire world and then saying how dare these immigrants come ruin our way of life, while eating kebabs.
Miriti Murungi ‏@NutmegRadio

Worth remembering that #brexit is happening because a center-right party threw a bone to its lunatic fringe to save a flagging campaign.
Chris Jones ‏@ProfChrisMJones

Wow. This says volumes about #Brexit voters:

Weh Yeoh ‏@wmyeoh
And to put all of that (plus the other death and destruction of 2016) in perspective, I recommend this short video about human development and history over the past 6 million years.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Moment of Transition

I use Google Images all the time. I'm not just looking for an example of what something looks like; sometimes I'm also looking for confirmation that there's a consensus on what something looks like.

Yesterday the University of North Dakota launched a logo for its recently renamed sports teams. They used to be the Fighting Sioux, but (not surprisingly) they were forced to change by the NCAA. A while ago, they chose the name Fighting Hawks, and yesterday was the day the Fighting Hawks got a new look. 

But when you search Google Images for North Dakota Fighting Hawks, you get something like this:

Not one of those is the new logo, as you might suspect. The one at top left is the old logo. Some of the others might have been officially in the running, while several clearly were not (ahem, especially the befeathered penis or the Third Reich wannabe).

This is the real logo:

I heard a description of it on MPR this morning, something about a stylized hawk head and angular letters. The story said people either love it or hate it. I have no feelings about it. It seems better than many sports logos, but I'm not the audience. I figure if anyone hates it, they really are just hating the  change of overall identity.

But it was fun to find myself in the middle of a transition moment, when the interweb hasn't yet figured out what's real. I wonder how many days or weeks it will take for that same search to return mostly images of the official logo?

I give it a week.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Intermodal Facts of Life

Things I learned from this Marketplace Money report on global shipping:

  • You can currently ship three semi-sized containers across the globe for no more than the cost of an iPhone.
  • Intermodal freight transport was invented 60 years ago. (I would have thought it was more like 40 years ago.)
  • Until now, ships were limited to carrying 5,000 containers, but now that a wider canal has been built through Panama, they can carry up to 14,000.
  • This increase in scale is coming on line just as global shipping has stopped growing, resulting in a glut in capacity (hence the iPhone cost of three containers).
Lots of fascinating stuff in that report, including this graphic (which wasn't on the radio, of course) showing how the ships have gotten bigger:

(Copyright © 1998-2015, Adapted from Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Department of Global Studies and Geography, Hofstra University.)

I'm grimly fascinated by the effect the switch to intermodal transport had on society. From stevedores losing their jobs (and the attendant decimation of the well-paid working class in places like Baltimore), to allowing for all of those cheap goods at Walmart, to the effect on our built environment, as warehouses changed from windowed, multistory buildings that stored crates or pallets to sprawling, faceless, one-story cinderblock canker sores with parking lots full of metal boxes...

No one voted for things to be this way, they just are, as a result of competition and innovation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Zephyr Teachout for Congress

I don't often wish I still lived in New York state, but I sure would like to vote for Zephyr Teachout, who's running for the House of Representatives in New York's 19th district.

I first heard of her on either Melissa Harris Perry or Chris Hayes's show. It was three or four years ago, so I'm not sure which. She's a law professor at Fordham University who grew up in Vermont. I remembered her right away because of her crazy name, but her work against political corruption at all levels is what's truly memorable.

I would have been in favor of having Teachout in Congress regardless, but then I heard who her likely Republican opponent is: John Faso, a lobbyist funded by hedge-fund owner Paul Singer. Singer helped fund the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry and now pitches into the Club for Growth and the Koch brothers' various efforts.

If that doesn't symbolize the kind of corruption Teachout is fighting, I don't know what does.

Teachout has been endorsed by the New York Times. The editorial board wrote,
...she has the potential to be a rarity in Congress — an effective local representative who has national stature as a legal expert on political reform.... Her political skills and expertise would make her a powerful ally for those who have become angry and disillusioned by Washington’s chronic dysfunction. Ms. Teachout could focus attention on the ways big business, big agriculture and big monopolies distort the economy and hobble those trying to survive.
One bright spot I hope to see in the polluted miasma that is our Congress.

Monday, June 20, 2016

I'm Not Kidding

This just came up in my Twitter feed:

TrumpSingles—come find someone that steals your heart, and not your guns! Making Dating Great Again.

Someone "that" steals your heart. Are the copywriters admitting your special someone is an object, not a human being?

And check out that logo:

There's a black capital T hiding in there on the left, but it's hard to see under the star-spangled jellyfish. That leaves the word RUMP to stand on its own, in all its appropriate glory.

Then there's, with a weird heart-like squiggle at the end, which looks like a lower-case "b," and therefore as though the web address is TrumpSingles.comb. Or comb-over, whichever.

The font choices are Engraver's Gothic and University Roman. The former is similar to the letter forms used on money, and so seems appropriate, but the latter is one of the tacky fonts used by beginners because of its excessive design. So I guess it's appropriate, in a way, since Trump is known for tackiness.

The good news is, if the owners of TrumpSingles are stupid enough to select me as part of their audience, they'll soon be out of money with no clients to show for their spending.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Support the Troops, Except...

From today's Star Tribune: our military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan burned their garbage right next to the bases. That includes plastic and styrofoam and electronics and all sorts of things whose burned particles no one should be breathing.

And it wasn't incidental: burning your crap has always been military SOP.

One of the most notorious was in Balad, site of the largest and busiest air base operated by the military in Iraq. More than 10 acres in size, the pit burned at all hours and consumed an estimated 100 to 200 tons of waste a day. It was hastily constructed upwind from the base, and its plumes consistently drifted toward the 25,000 troops stationed there.
Yeah, that's brilliant. On top of building a 10-acre burn pit, you put it upwind. (Though if it was downwind, I suppose it would have poisoned Iraqis instead.)

And how does having a 24-hour-a-day column of black smoke fit with the supposedly secret locations of these bases? Or at least, American soldiers aren't supposed to tell their families where their bases are at. But I guess it's okay for anyone in Iraq to know where they are.

The military learned nothing, it seems, from Agent Orange or Gulf War Syndrome. Though since 2009 they've halted the practice, so maybe they finally did, after they had 36-year-old veterans like Julie Tomaska developing pancreatic cancer, as described in the story.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Bad Graph, Disturbing Meaning

I have my reservations about Hillary Clinton, but her being a liar—any more than the average politician—is not one of them. It's hard not to think some of her coverage isn't rooted in sexism (especially the incessant male whining about her voice).

But even with that suspicion as a starting point, I was still surprised by this graph, which I saw on Mother Jones, though it's drawn from a study by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

The graph is badly rendered, in my opinion (more on that in a minute), but what it means is even worse: While Clinton's coverage was more likely to be about issues than the other candidates (29% vs. 12% or less for the others), the issue coverage she got was 84% negative, while Trump's issue coverage was only 43% negative. As Kevin Drum at Mother Jones put it,

Hillary wasn't just savaged on her tone or her clothing or her poll numbers. She was savaged on the issues, the one place where practically everyone agrees she's strong and knowledgeable. Even if you disagree with her—and that isn't supposed to affect media coverage—she knows what she's talking about.... Even the non-scandal portion of Clinton’s issue coverage—what she was saying on trade, jobs, foreign policy, and the like—was reported more negatively than positively. Clinton was the only one of the major candidates whose policy platform generated an unfavorable balance of news coverage.
Not surprisingly, that kind of coverage shows up in this Shorenstein-study graph of 2015 Clinton coverage by month:

Note all of the negative numbers. There's only one month with a positive number.

Bernie Sanders' 2015 graph looks like this:

As Kevin Drum said, no wonder Clinton doesn't like talking to the media.

Oh, and here's why I think that original graph is bad: the red bar is supposed to represent a subset of the blue bar (the percent of issue coverage that's negative). But instead, it's external to the blue bar and overwhelms it. At first glance, the graph looks like Clinton got more coverage than the other candidates (rather than more of a certain kind of coverage), and that the red to blue height ratio is consistently about 3-to-1 for all of the candidates, so that seems kind of fair.

When what it really means is this:

Or if you treat the tone as a separate data point, you get a graph like this, which really shows how startling the difference is in how Clinton is covered:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Maybe I Lack Imagination

I get an odd feeling when I read about conservatives and Republicans tearing their hair out over Donald Trump. There have been many, of course, but here are two recent ones.

Campaign consultant Rick Philips (who appears occasionally on Chris Hayes's show) has been losing it on Twitter lately. He even coined the name "Cheeto Jesus" to describe Trump.

Then I found this post called the Self-Immolation of the Republican Party from the editor/founder of a conservative site called

What disturbs me most is the prospect that Donald Trump is what a very large number of Republican voters want: not a wonk, not an orator, not a statesman, not even a leader, really, if by leader you mean someone who persuades and inspires and manages a team to pursue a common good. They just want a man who vents their anger at targets above and below their status.
I like his definition of leadership, and Trump definitely in no way fits it. And the writer is very perceptive about the venting that goes both "up" and "down."

I feel kind of bad for these guys. I'm trying to think what the equivalent would be if it were happening to the Left, but it just doesn't work. Is there a Hollywood celebrity with a Gwyneth Paltrowish alt health agenda who wants to lock up white supremacists?

Maybe I lack imagination, but there's just no equivalent. We have our problems, but this really couldn't be one of them.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Some Amendments Are Extra Special

From an unnamed Facebook friend (who's a lawyer, which I think adds a bit to his credibility):

OK, as is typically the case, the NRA and Republican posture on the "no fly, no buy" bill is laughable.

The Democrats' bill allows for anyone prevented from buying a weapon to challenge their inclusion on a watch list. The holdup from the Republicans has been that people might be accidentally or wrongfully placed on a terrorist watch list and therefore be temporarily deprived of their second amendment right to buy a gun, including an assault rifle designed to kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time.

The Republican proposal demands advance "due process," such that within three days of a person on the watch list wanting to purchase a firearm, the justice department has to prove to a judge that they are trying to buy the gun for use in a specific terrorist plot. But that's completely inconsistent with the way law and order works.

Under our constitution people can be arrested and jailed based on the a police officer's suspicion of having committed a crime (remember the lady taken to jail for not using her turning signal), and indicted and jailed without getting to tell their side of the story or anything remotely approaching full due process; that happens after the fact. Same goes for search and seizure.

So, sometimes innocent people are arrested and spend time in jail if they can't make bail and are then later cleared (or never charged), and that's a price we are willing to pay as a society in the interest of collective safety. Republicans presumably are OK with the temporary wrongful deprivation of an American's liberty or property in this fashion, but blanch at the notion of temporarily depriving someone on a terrorist watch list of their purported Second Amendment right to purchase a killing machine.

And really, what's more likely to occur on a day-to-day basis: an innocent person being arrested, or an innocent person being placed on the terrorist watch list deciding to head down to the local fire-arm store for an assault weapon.

NRA = No Rational Analysis.
My friend didn't mention that the Republican plan would mean no person on the list would ever be prohibited from buying a weapon, because if authorities had probable cause to prevent the purchase under that standard, they also would have probable cause to arrest the person for planning an attack. But duh.

I find it amusing (though painful) that all of this may change the fact that there is no process to challenge your status on the no-fly list. If Congress passes some way to reverse the gun-buying prohibition (whether it's the unworkable Republican idea or the Democratic version), there will now be a process: All you have to do is try to buy a gun, and then you'll have a chance to get your name off the list.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Don't Forget About Trump's Taxes

David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and professor at Syracuse University, is essential reading during this election season. He's doing the work no one else is: concentrating on the candidates' taxes.

That includes calling out Bernie Sanders for not releasing his full returns and schedules (while Hillary Clinton has released hers going back decades), and most recently this article on what little is known about Donald Trump's taxes. Especially how little he pays.

It seems Trump appealed two tax decisions in favor of New York State and New York City back in 1984, and that means some of his records from that tax year are public. Trump declared $0 in income on his schedule C, yet manged to have over $600,000 in expenses.

Somehow, the judges in his appeals didn't find his arguments persuasive, and Trump never appealed any of his future audits and penalties. He may have had penalties from the IRS that year, too, but there's no way to know since he didn't appeal it.

It also appears Trump swapped out his return and forged his CPA's signature that year also, but in the grand scheme of things, that's nothing compared to paying no taxes.

Johnston ends by making a point larger than Donald Trump's unwillingness to make his tax returns public:

[up until] the 1920s tax returns were public record and newspapers routinely reported the precise income and tax paid by prominent Americans.

Congress could simply add a one-line amendment to Section 6103 of the tax code, which makes returns confidential, providing that the nominee of any party whose name appears on the ballot in say 10 or more states will have his or her complete tax returns, for as many years as the IRS has copies, posted on the IRS website.
I'm for that. It's time to legally require the level of tax disclosures that have happened voluntarily for the past 40 years in presidential elections.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Signs of Idaho and Montana

Some more oddities from the world of signs along the road.

First, this professionally designed but oddly offensive one from Moscow, Idaho. It's outside a shop that helps women shed the ugly chrysalis that is their naturally occurring skin and hair.

I love this sign, seen at a gas station in Laurel, Montana. It's not just the lost E in HERE or the transposed letters in WIHT. What I love is the line breaks and their unintentional poetry. Just add periods:

Spring is her.
Celebrate with a car.
Wash once a week.

The Chinese restaurant in Butte is offering a BBQ pork bum this week. Get 'em while they're hot.

The Hodgins Drugstore in Moscow, Idaho, also offers toys and train supplies. An admirable effort to stay in business by reaching multiple audiences. But I think "drug & hobby" makes for an odd combination on their sign.

This billboard along I-90 in Montana isn't wrong... but at a glance I didn't see the smaller words. All I got is "Bears Exit Now."

But that's nothing compared to this one:

The Testicle Festival is well known in these parts. I first heard about it a few years ago while driving this same route, but I never managed to get a photo on that trip. Finally, success!