Commentary from a practical perspective
page includes posts from the site's fourth week, January 27- February 2, 2002 in the usual
reverse order. Each day's posts are perma-linked here.
The relentless pursuit of nihilists
Several years ago, the City of New York and other municipalities decided to deny graffiti writers any lasting monuments to their vandalism. The transit authorities made the effort to remove any trace of graffiti and other unwanted stuff at the end of each days run. "Taggers" would then have nothing to show for their crimes, and would eventually stop or at least reduce their bogus attempts at artistry.
For newer systems, such as Washington, DCs Metro, the management made this approach part of their original maintenance standards.
Combined with other efforts, this relentless pursuit of nihilists paid off. Metro has been a stunning success since it opened, and the New York system is far safer and popular now than 20 years ago.
The point is that a sustained commitment to preventing these daily insults to the common good is a key ingredient to restoring the publics support for their community.
The recent hacking against the folks at cornerhost.com reminded me of these success stories.
Michal Wallace posted a note describing the steps he took to deal with the damage caused by hackers who broke through and screwed up several sites. Hes going well beyond mere technical fixes:
Good for him. Use every possible tool to ferret out these Internet nihilists, and push the local or federal law enforcement folks to join in the hunt.
Glenn Reynolds calls these hackers "bastards." I prefer "little sphincter geeks," but thats just a difference in style. No matter what they're called, theyre no better than the graffiti sprayers who selfishly create visual blight. The same no-tolerance approach taken against subway vandals should be applied to their computer counterparts.
As another American said earlier this week in a related context, "Lets roll."
No easy answers on domestic abuse
Collin Leveys Opinion Journal piece today discusses the novel approach taken by Kentucky Judge Megan Lake Thornton in trying to deal with domestic violence cases:
Ms. Levey says that some domestic violence and womens groups are in an uproar about the judges decision to try to force abused women to understand their own obligation to take seriously the restraining orders that they asked for in the first place.
This issue doesnt offer any simple solutions.
Judging from the range of punishments shes meted out, Judge Thornton is obviously looking at each situation individually. The problem is bigger than that: How do you convince adults to accept their responsibility?
In the early to mid-1980s, I served as an assistant city solicitor. Our municipal court handled traffic charges and more serious misdemeanors, such as assaults. There were two full-time prosecutors, and a few of the rest of us handled the caseload when either of them were off sick or on vacation. Each courtrooms typical morning calendar would be 40 defendants with 90 charges, with about 5 cases actually going to trial.
Periodically, Id prosecute a case where the boyfriend beat up the girlfriend. (Family Court heard the case if they were married.)
Compared to other cases, I always wanted to go after these guys, and make sure there was some jail time.
Call me old-fashioned, but you just dont hit women.
Even so, the women would come to the office before trial, begging to have the charges dropped.
We would hear explanations like these:
"Hes learned his lesson."
"I really love him, and hes my kids' daddy. He cant go to jail."
"We worked it out, and its okay now."
And on and on. Sometimes the pleading would take on a desperate tone, which would really set off the alarm bells.
I learned that the office practice was to go a bit on your gut instinct, and a bit on a "one-drop" basis. If you felt there was a continuing threat, then tell the woman you werent dropping the case, no matter what she said. Otherwise, youd tell her you would drop the charges one time, and the very next time there was a problem, there would be no dropping anything.
It was by no means a perfect solution. I was rarely convinced that dropping the case carried absolutely no further risks to the women. On the other hand, her testimony was crucial to gaining a conviction, and a reluctant witness whose story became ever more unbelievable wouldnt help.
Im really sympathetic to the judges dilemma. These cases are never easy, especially when the victim cant seem to understand theres no excuse for what was done to them.
If you'd like to read something far less serious, here's this week's golf column.
Some mandates are hard to swallow; or
The Washington Post today reported yet another defeat of the open container law proposal in the Virginia House of Delegates, continuing a long tradition in that liberty-loving commonwealth.
Open container laws prohibit any open cans or bottles of alcohol in the passenger compartments of cars and trucks. They are intended to reduce the risk of drunken driving incidents and injuries.
Michael Shear and Lisa Rein wrote that the lead sponsor, Del. Harry R. "Bob" Purkey, has thus far tried unsuccessfully for over a decade to pass some version of the legislation:
Other delegates argued that the prohibition had too tenuous a relationship to DUI concerns:
Perhaps the reporters didnt have enough space, but they left out an interesting and ironic aspect of the story.
By failing to pass the open container legislation, the Virginia legislature essentially accepts a Federal mandate that reduces the state's flexibility in spending Federal transportation funds. That runs counter to the way most state legislators feel about Federal funding requirements.
Under Federal law (23 U.S.C. Section 154) states are "encourage[d]" to enact open container laws. If they dont, a set percentage of otherwise relatively unencumbered Federal-aid highway money must be transferred to a separate grant program related to highway safety.
This edict is simply another little reminder of the federal/state government version of The Golden Rule: whoever has the gold, makes the rules.
Section 154's penalty for non-compliance is certainly not as draconian as an outright cut in funds, but it nonetheless reduces the states' options, especially during an economic downturn.
When money is tight, earmarking money for certain uses makes other budget choices more difficult.
Thus far the prospect of being forced to use some Federal-aid money in a particular way has not led to universal acceptance by the states. A chart on the National Highway Safety Administration website shows that sixteen states and Puerto Rico have yet to adopt the open container law, leading to a forced re-allocation of $53,698,276 during FY02. That figure will double next year, assuming no states amend their DUI statutes.
Given the precarious fiscal condition that many states find themselves in right now, it will be interesting to see how long they continue to stand on principle about this particular mandate and its "incentive."
Luckily for me, it's only a short drive to The Dogfish Head for a six-pack of Shelter Pale Ale. I can always wait until I return home before I pop the first top.
Havent I read you somewhere before?
The great plagiarism debate continues. A Glenn Reynolds reader sent in a quote from Leonard Pitts great piece from September 12, and compared it to Rep. Gephardts post-State of the Union address, as quoted in Kausfiles.
Two extremely unrelated points:
First, the increasingly popular search for textual parallels, which the Internet makes so easy, reminds me a bit of concordances, most often used for Bible study. These are handy tools for critical analysis. For instance, passages from the four Gospels are set up in side-by-side columns. Readers can quickly see how each author depicted similar events, or where only one or two Gospels include the particular story. The discovery of the empty tomb after Christs resurrection is a good example, at Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20.
Until I took a college course on The English Bible As Literature, I had no idea concordances even existed--neither did Rachel Sinai, a fellow classmate. Our professor, a Quaker, told us that we were the perfect students for her class, because we had absolutely no preconceived notions about the Bible, King James version or otherwise.
Rachels prior exposure was limited to the Torah, and for me, Bible study just wasnt part of the Catholic pedagogical tradition for parochial schools in the early 60s. It was all news to us.
The exegetical debates, especially from students raised in a different religious tradition than Ms. Sinai or me, were frequently fierce.
Second, I frankly confess to having mixed feelings about plagiarism, based on personal experience.
Several years ago I won a hotly contested lawsuit, complete with extensive briefing and argument.
Significant passages from the courts decision looked just a little too familiar. A quick check showed that the opinion directly copied a sizeable portion of one of my briefs.
I cant say I was outraged. Quietly pleased, yes. Outraged, no.
Taking the Plunge
My 15-year-old nephew Ben really likes bowling, and hes pretty good at it.
Hes won a gold medal, in fact, in the Delaware Special Olympics.
The Delaware Special Olympics organization is the beneficiary of The Lewes Polar Bear Plunge, a fundraiser that takes place this coming Sunday just off the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk.
Last year over 1,500 swimmers plunged into the frigid Atlantic Ocean far enough to dive in completely, and then rushed back to their towels, bathrobes, and laughing friends with far more sense.
The Plunge took about 35 seconds, and raised over $250,000.
Last year my younger daughter joined her buddies in her middle school honor society for the Plunge. For the two prior years, however, she and I ran into the water together.
Im leaning toward going back in the ocean this Sunday.
For one thing, the weather prediction for February 3 is not as harsh as it was in 2000.
On that frigid Sunday, just before the start, my daughter and I and about 1000 others stood shivering in the wind. An 18-degree chill factor searched for every opening in the bathrobes covering us.
The water temperature was 34 degrees Fahrenheit, or as I like to say, about 6 degrees from solid.
To add to the fun, the tide was out, so we had to stand in wet sand, hopping from one foot to the other so that the bottoms of our feet wouldnt go entirely numb before the Plunge.
The horn blared, and we all rushed forward. As the water hit my legs past my knees, I felt the air whoosh out of my lungs. It was a major effort simply to breathe.
I pressed on for what seemed like 50 yards, and dove in. The icy water stung the top of my head, and didnt feel too good on the rest of me, either.
I think my legs didnt actually touch the water as I ran back to the beach. I thought I was in a Warner Brothers cartoon.
The bottoms of my feet were wooden planks, about 1/8 inch thick. It took about 20 minutes before I started feeling a tingling sensation, and about an hour to return to normal.
Ever since our first Plunge, my daughter and I cant stop laughing when we watch Leonardo DiCaprio hanging onto that plank in the North Atlantic, after the Titanic sinks. For us, that little bit of artistic license about the effects of freezing water on humans is just too much.
If youd like to contribute to this years Special Olympics, just click here for more information. If you can take the Plunge yourself, that would be even better.
Ill let you know Sunday how it went.
Our Friends at the EPA
The EPA announced today that President Bush is seeking $21 million in his FY03 budget request to expand on the agencys watershed initiatives.
Watersheds are essentially vast drainage areas, defined by hydrology. The maps developed for this effort take into account the obvious topographical elements that show where water flows. Not so obviously, the hydrologists also trace the groundwater sources for large bodies of water, such as bays and estuaries. Groundwater flows are not nearly as intuitive as the surface water elements that together make up a watershed.
Heres how it plans to use the money:
On a separate page at its website, the agency goes into a bit more detail:
It may be a bit early for optimism, but it looks like the EPA learned a lesson or two from its checkered history. That history included far too much of a one-size-fits-all, centralized command approach, with expensive litigation as the rule rather than the exception.
The problem with that regulatory enforcement concept, which this initiative recognizes by omission, is that most water pollution comes from so many diffused sources. When bays and estuaries are fed predominantly by groundwater, its especially hard to figure out where all the gunk is coming from that leads to algae blooms and other fun stuff.
Once you step away from point sources, it's hard to figure out who to sue.
Its also true, though not often admitted by some in the environmental movement, that the dollars spent on cooperative watershed protection efforts in the first place are a far better use of taxpayer money than years of litigation against what are euphemistically called "potentially responsible parties." The potential is the real, in my experience, and fault plays little or no role in that designation.
The fun part of this news story was the discovery of another delightful acronym. I learned that the EPA has an Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds, or OWOW for short.
Today's Top Two Headlines
The business staff at Miss Cleos Psychic Readers Network agreed to an injunction against some of their more questionable debt collection practices.
They probably saw it coming.
The folks at the Psychic Network were trying to collect on disputed charges from some of their customers. Is it possible they mistakenly relied on Miss Cleo for the initial credit report?
Said the liberal New York Times, hopefully. (homage to the authors of the Tom Swift novels.)
This "news" story runs above the fold, at the favored top left location in the paper version.
I don't like it when a newspaper commissions a poll, interprets its results, and then publishes their interpretation of their own poll as if it were news.
I don't care whether the paper is liberal or conservative. It's not news. These polls are a created entertainment product, masquerading as a real story, and designed to push an agenda.
This one has some interesting elements:
These two stories are related:
If the Times and other newspapers want to publish these creative articles, they should at least run them in a "Polls" section, and not in the news portion of the paper. Maybe there's some space near the horoscopes.
Official small print disclaimer: This is, after all, a personal web site. Any opinions or comments I express here are my own, and don't necessarily reflect the official position of my work as a government attorney or any of my clients.
That fact may become obvious later on, but it needs to be said here anyway.
© Frederick H. Schranck 2002