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December 22, 2014


This Kevin Drum piece is pretty good. I'd disregard the last paragraph though.


Oh, I was serious. Not a chance of it happening, though.

But, think of it as a kind of rough psychology test, perhaps psychological screening would be in order. Assuming the results wouldn't be employed backwards, like that police force barring people who are too intelligent from joining the force.


Why that show, in particular? I've never seen it.

It routinely showed, in an approving manner yet, the police behaving extremely abusively. Slamming people's faces into the concrete, things like that. My immediate reaction on watching an episode was, "My God, if this is how they act when they know a camera is on them, how do they act when there isn't a camera?"

In addition to disqualifying those who watch COPS, should we perhaps disqualify those who watch Blue Bloods?


Explain, please. I know nothing.

Blue Bloods is a series (CBS, I believe) centered on a family of NYC policemen. The Grandfather (Tom Sellik) is Police Commissioner. The great-grandfather was Police Commissioner before him, and still offers up opinions on how things ought to be done.

The two sons are both NYC policemen; and one tends to play fast and loose with the rules (he waterboarded someone, in a toilet, successfully in order to find a bomb , in a recent episode). And the daughter is an Assistant DA.

The police are almost uniformly well intentioned, although it does toss up the occasional bad cop, who all the rest instantly take down. And good triumphs, using whatever means necessary.

It seems to me part of the problem is that a portion (maybe large) of the people who want to be police officers are not the people we want to be police officers. That is, it attracts a certain personality type that we would, generally, not want in a position of authority over others - or at least not in a position of authority that involves the things police officers get involved in (they might not be fun as your boss in a desk job either, but they aren't running around with deadly weapons as part of their employment).

There is kind of a parallel with an all volunteer military. Not sure it's a good thing to have an army made up of people who want to be soldiers. Perhaps it's the least bad option, but doesn't make it a good option (and another reason to not go launching military operations).

This all applies no matter how many cop shows/military movies an applicant has watched (which is what the last block quote is getting at).

I'd say the bigger problem in this genre is the all voluntary government. Just as a general rule, applicable to virtually any field, the people who want power over other people are exactly the sort who shouldn't get it.

Maybe we ought to give Athenian election by lottery a chance. Holding public office ought to be more like jury duty than a career. Something you get dragged into for a term, and then escape, not the family business. Just require every citizen to put in 4 years or so working for the government, with a random chance of ending up in the legislature instead of the DMV.

Just require every citizen to put in 4 years or so working for the government

just in case anyone missed it: Brett wrote that.

I sometimes get the impression (forgive me if I am wrong) that Brett is not so much against government as against politicians and bureaucrats.

Granted, in current practice the two may not be readily distinguishable. But philosophically the two positions would be very different.

The trouble with the all-lottery government, as I understand it, is that it ends up giving even *more* power to lobbyists, or other self-serving, no-accountability outsiders who stick around long enough to know more about what's going on and how to accomplish things than the citizens who are assigned to the task.

It's the same downside as term limits for elective office: you end up with decision-makers who have no expertise, no accumulated knowledge (because they don't stay around long enough to accumulate it), so they rely on "helpful" outsiders to show them the ropes.

I would be all for that idea, if it was practical these days. Most positions would require some kind of qualifications that the average citizen does not possess*, esp. when positions would be chosen by lottery. Plus there would not be enough positions for everyone in a government of manageable size, if the duty would last longer than a few months.
What could be done is to reserve a part of the legislative bodies for citizens chosen at random. Still it would be just a minority that serves that way. And one would have to do something against them licking blood and becoming 'professional'. There would have to be a rule that these people could not become regular candidates for at least a certain number of years.

*Like I would miserably fail if asked to repair a car, although I have doctorate in engineering (technical chemistry to be precise)

"just in case anyone missed it: Brett wrote that."

Yup, I wrote that. Government cannot exist without taxation, government is, for the foreseeable future, unavoidable, so we must have taxation.

What is more fair than taxing everybody an equal number of years, and once they've paid it, leaving them alone?


The kind of taxation you're talking about is called corvée labor, and it is *incredibly* inefficient. The total burden of taxation is much lower if everyone pays taxes in money, which is then used to hire people who can (per good ol' division of labor) specialize in necessary governmental work, becoming orders of magnitude more efficient than corvées. For instance, the road system in pre-Revolutionary France was generally terrible, and it was built by corvées. Roman roads were built by professional engineers and roadworkers, and they lasted for centuries.

Corvée labor was common in many times and places where most people (= peasants) didn't have access to money they could use for paying taxes.

But to accept that corvée labor is inefficient, you have to accept that there is actually some skill involved in what government does. Anyone who refuses to accept that is going to insist that anyone can do the job just as well as existing government employees.

one would have to do something against them licking blood and becoming 'professional'.

... licking ... blood?!???

I think we're experiencing some kind of idiom collision, here.

"hat Blud geleckt", maybe? Get a taste for the job?

I will throw in that I waited for months for The Librarians, a fun premise, a good foundation from the movies, and it has started out great.

I'm not sure that I would trust any library run by people who wanted to be Librarians.

dr ngo:

Actually, that's part of the premise: this crop of Librarians is made of people who didn't want to try for the job, the last time it was open.

NomVid got it right. I was so sure that that idiom was also known in English. Looks like I got that wrong. :-( On the wrong steamboat once more ;-)

I'm quite aware that it is inefficient, compared to an imaginary government that runs perfectly. Possibly even inefficient compared to a real-world government. But efficiency isn't the be all and end all of government, or else we wouldn't have elections, or trial by jury, or many other inefficient features.

Just as the point of a jury of one's peers instead of a professional jury, is to force some part of the legal system to reflect community values even if the people running government don't share them, the point of running a government in the way I propose is to make sure that the people running the government are representative of the people. And to make sure that they see being in government as a not particularly welcome episode in their life, not a thing to prolong and expand.

And, particularly, to make sure that no part of the government ends up run almost entirely by members of one political party, which is exactly what led to the IRS abuses in the first place.

Oh, if all zombie horses were magical ponies!

My objection to embracing Brett's plan is basically in line with DocSci's: it's inefficient, and there is a fair amount of complexity to almost any job.

That being said, the comparison to the judicial system is apt, I think. There is a jury of peers, which I think is an important safeguard in the system, despite its flaws.

But they aren't alone in maintaining justice. A judge presides over trials and decides on questions of law. Attorneys who argue the case are highly specialized. And I question the value of having an untrained or minimally trained stenographer.

But I think he's correct when he says: "the point of a jury of one's peers instead of a professional jury, is to force some part of the legal system to reflect community values"

In the case of the police specifically, having a randomly assembled 'jury' for a rotating civilian oversight board doesn't sound like a terrible thing, although I admit I'm short on the specifics of how such a thing would work...so perhaps it wouldn't.

But I think there are better ways to achieve that in a representative government, where the people can vote their representatives in and out of government. More transparency, term limits for congress, and more representatives.

Maybe we ought to give Athenian election by lottery a chance.

I'm not at all opposed to mandatory public service, although IMO the specific proposal here presents some practical problems.

My question is why anyone in the modern world looks back to places like ancient Greece or Rome for any kind of insight into how to organize public life.

Half the population of Athens were slaves. The only folks who could qualify for selection into public service by lottery were adult free men, excluding foreigners - about 10-20% of the population. Participation in the policy-making parts of government was limited to the wealthy.

Not bad for its time, but nothing I'm nostalgic for.

We should stop using soap, too.

We should stop using soap, too.

Eh. There are worse ides:


@russell: it seems that just about ALL possible variations of government (okay, not 'e-democracy') were tried out by ancient Greek city-states.

And a lot of wacky ideas can work, at that scale. So if you want to staff a village council by lottery, go for it.

If we want the government to more closely reflect the people as a whole, the solution isn't to run in random people to fulfill all of the government's functions. It is to make sure that the legislature, which is intended to represent the people as a whole, actually does so.

One way to do that would be to just select the legislature by lot from the whole population. (Adult citizens only, one assumes.) But, as noted, that leaves them largely at the mercy of professional lobbyists. And we have seen, with term limits, all of the serious drawbacks of that.

So another way is to simply make it possible for anyone who is representative to have a shot at willing a legislative seat. Which means, essentially, banning all contributions to legislators and their campaigns.

Have the state fund their publicity efforts, but not allow anyone else (whether officially attached to the campaign or not) to do anything more than speak (aloud) or write (longhand done manually, nothing printed or Xeroxed) to others. Otherwise, the benefits of incumbancy, and the fundraising it enables, become too enormous.

russell, I think people look at Athenian democracy, in large part, because they have no clear idea that some things are simply not scalable. (One would expect an engineer to realize that can be a problem.)

Some things which work fine on a small scale just won't work on a larger one. Just like something the size of a condor, or even just a seagull, simply cannot fly the way a hummingbird does. And democracy of the sort where everybody gets together and talks things over isn't going to work on a regular basis once you have more people than can fill an auditorium.

thompson, that was a very interesting article. Thanks.

I can get particularly stinky if I don't shower, but I'd be willing to give the good bacteria a shot (after a bunch of other people have tried it, with success).

Russell, I think many of the people who advocate Athenian-style democracy know perfectly well every issue you pointed out. They just consider them features rather than bugs.

russell, I think people look at Athenian democracy, in large part, because they have no clear idea that some things are simply not scalable.

Total population of the city/state of Athens, in the classical period : about 300K.

The population of people eligible for selection to public service, about 30-50K.

Population of the US : 315-320 million. Adult citizens make up about 75% of that number.

To Doc S's original post, the thing is that COPS is a fairly popular show, one of the longest-running shows on TV.

If we're going to disqualify folks from being cops because they watch COPS, we're going to thin the available field of candidates pretty quickly.

Cop culture doesn't exist in isolation from the overall American culture. If we have clannish, paranoid police forces, prone to using force to control the folks they are supposed to serve and protect, it says as much about us as it does about them.

I was so sure that that idiom was also known in English. Looks like I got that wrong. :-(

Had you gone with tasting rather than licking, it probably would have transferred, albeit slightly askew.

Don't know if I agree with all of it, but I thought this was an interesting take on current security-related events.

You might be able to guess from the URL for this link what it's about.


The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them.

Desmond Blaize, who retired two years ago as a sergeant in the 41st Precinct in the Bronx, said he once got stopped while taking a jog through Brooklyn’s upmarket Prospect Park. "I had my ID on me so it didn’t escalate," said Blaize, who has sued the department alleging he was racially harassed on the job. "But what’s suspicious about a jogger? In jogging clothes?"

impossible. and even if it's true it's their own fault. if not personally, then it's the fault of their "culture", which somehow causes white officers to pre-judge off-duty black officers. but that's not racism, it's something else. must be.

Racism is in the eye of the beholder, and only when the beholder is Al Sharpton, or so I gather.

My question is why anyone in the modern world looks back to places like ancient Greece or Rome for any kind of insight into how to organize public life.

Who loves ya' baby?

I often find wisdom in Joan Walsh's point of view.
"Right now New York needs a mediator between the police and the communities they serve. It should have been the mayor, but sadly, right-wingers and a lot of police officers are using a terrible tragedy to make sure that no one can find middle ground."

De Blasio had the potential to be a mediating, crossover figure in a dispute that has very little common ground. But his police department antagonists have made that all but impossible. This is tribalism, and by sympathizing with his biracial son — Dante’s mother, Chirlane McCray, is black — de Blasio chose the wrong tribe.

On the night after Christmas, I thought my wife and I had lost friends, our nextdoor neighbors, one of whom is a police officer, over an ill-adivsed discussion (over drinks, no less!) of the Garner killing/death (whichever you prefer) and race in general.

It was nearly impossible to make the distinction between bad police behavior (or plain-old bad cops) and the police in general. Any support for protesters or investigations into potentially wrongful police conduct was taken not just as an attack on police in general (despite my coming from a family full of police, including my own father), but as an approval of the recent murders of the two NYPD officers.

(Please note that I did not initiate this ill-advised discussion, was not home when it began, and was only summoned from another neighbor's house by my wife once it started getting out of hand. Innocent me was just watching some football with a friend, rancorlessly [it's a word - now, anyway].)

We've since patched things up, but it was dicey for a bit. There are just some subjects you can't discuss rationally with certain people, given the emotional and personal investment they have.

You can't even do it all the time in this forum, which is one of the most rational I've encountered. Forget about other parts of life and the larger world out there.


Sounds like a really bad business. Do you have any idea where this level of defensiveness comes from -- that is, is this something that bubbles up from individual police departments, or something that's coming into them from up top, or what?

Any support for protesters or investigations into potentially wrongful police conduct was taken not just as an attack on police in general (despite my coming from a family full of police, including my own father), but as an approval of the recent murders of the two NYPD officers.

I mean, that's a pretty extreme level of bad faith.

I'm thinking it is a gang mentality. I've recently been defriended by a few people that have been special to me since high school. I foolishly commented on Facebook about how absurd the Ferguson police looked in their camo outfits and I clearly went to far when I said: Some cops might think it makes their job easier to be the biggest baddest gang on the street, but when intimidation stops working, what does that leave you with? One of the exfriends (a retired sheriff deputy) threatened me with violence after that question. I have since learned to keep my mouth shut in mixed company.

everybody's violence is done for the Right Reasons.

I think part of it was the impaired logic and intensified emotion that comes from drinking, but I think it also stemmed from a general attitude that members of police forces have nearly universally. I guess, as jeff put it, it's a gang mentality.

It's somewhat understandable, given that cops regularly have to back each other up against all manner of dysfunctional people. It just gets applied too broadly, to the point that it becomes a part of one's basic mentality toward everyone and everything.

My neighbor isn't otherwise an irrational person. He's also one of the mellowest cops I know, not particularly macho at all.

It's just a place you can't go if you want to stay friends. It's way too touchy of a subject.

That raises an interesting question. How do you change the culture in the police departments so that they do not see themselves that way?

It clearly is possible to have a police department which sees itself as embracing the old "Protect and Serve" motto. As part of their community, rather than just an embattled (and unappreciated) group of hired hands.

The question is, how do we get back to that mindset?

In my opinion, the protocols under which police operate are too reliant on the assertion of dominance and control. Anything short of passive submission is seen as threatening.

This seems to work in most cases, though it's usually not compared to anything else. Some number of people will respond to the assertion of dominance and control with passive submission. The question is, what would these people do otherwise?

A smaller number of people, particularly if they feel as though they've been harassed endlessly in the past, will return aggression with aggression.

Perhaps there are situations where an officer is only saving himself from some amount of wiseassery (it's a word, now) rather than anything that's actually threatening. That may be more than offset by returned aggression elsewhere.

Maybe protocols that avoided the escalation of potentially violent situations would be good not just for reducing the need to use deadly force, but for community relations and a more healthy outlook among the police themselves.

jeff wrote:

"but when intimidation stops working, what does that leave you with? One of the exfriends (a retired sheriff deputy) threatened me with violence after that question. I have since learned to keep my mouth shut in mixed company."

Apparently intimidation HASN'T stopped working, given that your mouth is now shut by the former deputy sheriff's intimidation.

Vladimir Putin could use that guy on his staff.

Stalin lives.

Armed law enforcement officials, even former ones, threatening violence toward their acquaintances, neighbors, family members over mere words require an invite into the street to settle the thing by any means they choose, when they intimidate.

Conservatives, Republicans, Libertarians, and of course, law enforcement, who have been systematically arming themselves to the gills in recent decades, have a built-in ace card -- the force of arms -- to play when arguing with liberals, the latter of whom are mostly unarmed, with the exception of maybe hunting weaponry and the karate brown belt now hanging in the attic.

Hearing "shut up" from an armed piece of conservative garbage, and retired cops are surely armed, is a death threat, make no mistake about it.

Time is money, money is speech, time is speech, and bullets are words protected by the First Amendment.

If that's how they want to play it.

And they are going to.

Happy New Year.

I see that New York City's finest have gone on strike against the Mayor, with traffic, loitering, and other petty ticketing down by 95% in recent days.

Where is the conservative outcry for the Mayor to do a Ronald Reagan and fire the lot of them with no turning back? Then hire new cops, disarm them, increase their pensions and benefits and send them into the streets to do some real community police work.

And, yes, then disarm all New Yorkers in the five boroughs and watch murders, accidental gun deaths, cop killings and killing by cops plummet even further.

Let's watch cop killers, ex-cops, the armed criminal element, and the NRA join together to shut down the city to get back their guns.

You wanna commit suicide in New York? Jump off the Brooklyn Bridge or the Empire State Building like a man.

Try to land on a conservative and make the streets even safer.

I just wonder what sort of credibility you could manage to get out of an on-line threat for the purpose of pressing charges. Questions like, "Are you serious? What exactly are you proposing to do? Do you know where I live?" might get a response, in writing and verifiable, that could land even a retired sheriff's deputy in court, possibly followed by a conviction.

Of course, you might have to worry about the threat being made good before any of that can happen.

I'd say it's probably not a good time to push people's buttons, just to make a point.

Yes, it sucks that that is so, but it's probably better to live to make your point another day.

I did not take the deputies threats very seriously, he is a very big guy but not in good shape and a fight between us would resemble my border collie teasing the old bull at my in-laws ranch. The possibility of bullets didn't come to my mind. I actually felt kinda sorry for the old guy, he was so bummed by his team not being properly respected. I must add, back in his day on the force we did have some pretty serious gang warfare in our city and it did take bravery to be a cop.

99% of cops are good, brave Americans.

Put a gun in their possession and that drops to 97%.

Guys with guns not being respected -- basically al Qaeda, or Republicans, or Putin.

Off come the shirts.

Guns and dicks are interchangeable.

Women with guns: pretty much protecting themselves from guys with guns and dicks.

(numbers are very rough estimates)

99.99% of dogs are loyal, true, brave companions and helpers.

0.01% of dogs are rabid.

Bravery doesn't make you a good person. Would that it did. It makes you a courageous one. The 9/11 hijackers were brave. Many violent criminals are brave. Soldiers who are war heroes may be brave, but so may be those who are war criminals. Physical courage and moral courage are not the same things, and a willingness to put yourself in danger is a clear demonstration only of the former.

Bravery is necessary for someone to be a good police officer, but it's in no way sufficient.

(This has been another edition of Banal New Year's Eve Cynicism, brought to you somewhat circuitously by the front-page article in January's The Atlantic.)

Our old pal Gary Farber linked this on fb. It more or less gets at what I was trying to say earlier about police protocols, but also goes into broader issues not necessarily involving escalation/use of force.

So this police protest, unwittingly, is leading to the exposure of the very policies that anger so many different constituencies about modern law-enforcement tactics.

First, it shines a light on the use of police officers to make up for tax shortfalls using ticket and citation revenue. Then there's the related (and significantly more important) issue of forcing police to make thousands of arrests and issue hundreds of thousands of summonses when they don't "have to."

Can't Pay Your Fines? Your License Could Be Taken


Thanks for that link. That's pretty atrocious (bold mine):

Next, state lawmakers added hundreds of reasons that had nothing to do with unsafe driving. Eger found that at least 18 states will suspend someone's driver's license for failure to pay the fines on nondriving traffic violations. And four states will suspend it for not paying parking tickets. Among the other reasons: school truancy, bouncing a check, not paying college loans, graffiti and littering.

Specter of Debtors’ Prisons Looms Over Americans Who Just Can’t Pay: “You Can’t Squeeze Blood From a Turnip”

As of October 25, 2013, 40 states, 4 territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted driver’s license laws supporting SSS registration.
Laws Linking SSS Registration To State Driver's License Applications

Jill Lepore always has an interesting story to tell.
"Buying on credit has been, for at least the past half century, pitched to the American people as a civic responsibility. "

Just poking around on CharlesWT's link, I just wanted to point out that we have NPR, a federally subsidized media outlet (that's good), reporting on state and local governments and private contractor corporations partnering on the despicable practice of dinging citizens for fines, pursuing them by private profit-making means (essentially bounty hunters) and throwing them in state and local jails, some of which are probably privately operated, for being poor.

Incidentally, the New Yorker also reported on this practice last year.

What a country!

We have no shortage of asses to stick our infinite number of heads up.

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