Thursday, December 29, 2011

When In Danger, Fear, or Doubt...

...Run in Circles, Scream, and Shout.

Extracts from the StarTribune editorial page Tuesday, December 27, 2011:

"Don't experiment with public safety: Towns of Foley, Nowthen pursue dubious policing strategies.

If there's a crime occurring in your neighborhood, or a drunken driver careening through it, whom do you want to respond?

Someone from City Hall? A private security guard who can't make traffic stops, can't pursue fleeing suspects and can use a weapon only in self-defense?

Not likely. With rare exceptions, citizens expect professional law enforcement on the scene as soon as possible when life, property or a community is threatened.

But as the year comes to a close, two small Minnesota towns are on the verge of launching dubious public safety experiments that seem destined to fail these basic citizen expectations…"

"…For centuries, this has been considered one of the most critical responsibilities of local government, a key reason generations of political leaders have shielded it during previous economic downturns.

Foley and Nowthen citizens should also be alarmed that these small communities are bucking warnings from leading Minnesota law enforcement officials and are pioneering this on their own…"

"…The private force would have the power to make citizens' arrests only and could use firearms only in self-defense…"

"…Recent shootings in Grand Marais and Lake City are a reminder that serious crime happens even in peaceful rural communities. Foley and Nowthen shouldn't compromise on the protection citizens deserve."

I encourage you to read the editorial in its entirety.

My response, submitted as a commentary:

Regarding your frantic editorial, “Don't experiment with public safety: Towns of Foley, Nowthen pursue dubious policing strategies,” of December 26, 2011, this is not an argument about choosing whether to have a cop on every corner or giving in to frontier lawlessness. This argument is about whether or not a community chooses to pay extra fees for extra law enforcement staffing.

Residents not served by municipal police departments are entitled to law enforcement services from their County Sheriff’s Office. Service levels and response times are limited by the number of deputies on duty. Depending on the nature of the call, case load, geography, and weather a deputy may be minutes, hours, or days away.

Some communities choose to purchase supplement service – in the form of full-time or part-time uniformed deputies – from their County Sheriff’s Office. This practice creates a visible law enforcement presence and reduces response times. Of course many communities in Minnesota choose not to maintain a police department or pay for extra service from the County Sheriff. Whether funding the County Sheriff’s Office, a municipal police department, or purchasing extra service, public law enforcement has always been funded with local tax revenue.

Professional policing has only been the traditional means of maintaining public order in cities since1829. Before Robert Peel’s London “Bobbies” many communities granted constables limited law enforcement powers. The even older concept of a night watch was a civic responsibility frequently carried out by volunteers.

The small, peaceful communities of Foley and Nowthen have chosen not to pay extra fees for extra services provided by their County Sheriffs’. They have decided to experiment with an idea much like that of the old night watch. Paid protection professionals will patrol, observe, and report incidents of interest to these towns. If these security officers encounter a crime that requires immediate action by deputies with arrest authority they will call 911. These private security officers are not policing, they are providing security services.

Every day security professionals around the world, across the country, and throughout the Twin Cities protect employee populations many times the size of Foley or Nowthen. Even in urban centers security officers routinely accomplish their business objectives without special powers of arrest or the application of deadly force. Unlike relatively recent innovations like public policing, private security personnel have protected private property interests for thousands of years.

It is no surprise that public law enforcement administrators defend their vested interests when asked for advice on these issues. Law enforcement officers and their unions have a clear conflict of interest in this debate that should be obvious to all participants. It surprises me that the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office is at liberty to decide what sort of felonies and misdemeanors it will or will not respond to or eventually investigate. Perhaps this leverage is meant to entice the community to continue to pay for its subscription for added service.

Your lurid editorial closes with the non sequitur “Recent shootings in Grand Marais and Lake City are a reminder that serious crime happens even in peaceful rural communities.” How ironic that these tragic incidents occurred in communities – and in the case of Grand Marais, within the Cook County Courthouse – where the traditional public policing model is still in use.

If Foley and Nowthen are notorious hotbeds of violent criminal activity and public disorder, I have not heard of it, but if the elected representatives in these communities see the need for the sort of services only a sworn law enforcement officer can provide, then they will have find a way to pay for the service. In the meantime the idea of a professional night watch is an interesting one worthy of close examination as we all strive to do enough with less.

UPDATE: The StarTribune published my commentary Thursday December 29, 2011, as an editorial counterpoint titled There is more than one way to protect a town.  The minor editorial changes they made are subtle, but interesting.  Neat.

Reupdate: Be sure to click on the comments tab.  I've taken some shots there by posters challenging my own objectivity, conflicts of interest, and biases.  This one is my favorite:

"It is no surprise that public law enforcement administrators defend their vested interests when asked for advice on these issues."

We can't all be as objective as a director at a private security firm.

Thank you, theoko.  Well played!

Photo credit:

Satirical, Sarcastic, Snarky, or Hilarious?

"An Open Apology to Amy Koch on Behalf of All Gay and Lesbian Minnesotans" is all of the above...

I hadn't though much about Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch's political troubles arising from her "inappropriate relationship" until John Medeiros' open letter reminded me that Koch was active in the effort to deny the benefits of matrimony to gay and lesbian citizens.  Infidelity is the ruin of many a family and I feel badly for the innocent bystanders harmed by the actions of Koch and her paramour.  Still, one wonders if damaging her marriage with heterosexual hijinks has given her any pause with regard to her commitment to protecting the institution of marriage from homosexual commitments to fidelity.

The Four Stupids Rule

Courtesy of Steve Ashburn's Paladin Security Strategies blog...

Which I have added to my follow list.

The Four Stupids Rule reminds me of Larry Niven's shorter and coarser Niven's Law 1a and 1b, which is a good thing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We Are What We Eat

And I consume a lot of podcasts...

My tastes are varied; I listen to astronomy and science presentations, and to current political events in lectures from the RSA, the LSE, and Gresham College (all UK productions, though I am no Anglophile).  I also listen to religious topics; more on that in a moment.  But most often find myself listening to skeptical podcasts: For Good ReasonPoint of Inquiry, Quackcast, Righteous IndignationSkeptics With a K, Skepticality, Skeptoid, The Skeptic ZoneThe Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, and Token Skeptic.

Skepticism is an interesting term and an unconventional hobby.  Most skeptics are not practicing scientists, though many good ones are medical doctors.  Most skeptics are not educators, but many engage in public outreach intended to popularize critical thinking and science literacy.  Many, if not most skeptics are atheists, but not all aim their critical thinking toward religious topics.  There a some skeptics who have hijacked the title to support their denialism of anthropogenic global warming or the efficacy of vaccinations.  There are some who regard skeptics as cynics or reflexive debunkers or both.

I listen to a variety of topics from a variety of perspectives because to do otherwise is to invite confirmation bias, tunnel vision, and stagnation.  I still listen to On Being, but the rebranding seems to have taken even more of the edge off the extremely even-handed work done by Krista Tippett when the show was called Speaking of Faith.  I listen to Reasonable Faith and Unbelievable religion podcasts precisely because I disagree with the hosts on most all issues.  If all I listened to was Reasonable Doubts and Chariots of Iron I might find reinforcement for my worldview, but I want to be careful not to climb into an echo chamber and then lock the door from inside.  We all know people who have done that, but how many of us are aware that we run the same risk ourselves?

Recently I added two podcasts to my listening queue.  MonsterTalk (an official podcast of Skeptic magazine, as is Skepticality) takes a skeptical view of cryptozoology (Nessie, sasquatch, the chupacabra, that sort of thing).  It features, among others, Karen Stollznow, who is also one of the hosts at Point of Inquiry.

The other new podcast is especially challenging.  Skeptiko is hosted by Alex Tsakiris.  His proposed agenda:

"Figure stuff out. Dig into the research data. Explore the possibility that the existing materialistic paradigm might be overturned (and may already be at a tipping point). Talk to really smart people on both sides of the issues. Treat all guests with respect."

Mr. Tsakaris is deeply interested in phenomena such as NDE, OBE, ESP, PSI, PK, and other parapsychology topics.  He regards himself as a skeptic of the "existing materialistic paradigm" but most of the time he comes off as a poster child for confirmation bias.  Interestingly, Tsakaris is no fan of organized religion or evangelical Christianity, but regards parapsychological phenomena as proof of the existence of the soul and evidence that the mind survives death.  He is prone to describe anecdotes and case studies of untestable and unverifiable phenomena as data and evidence.

So why do I listen?  Certainly to keep my wits sharp, to make sure my baloney detector is working, and to keep my argumentum armamentarium well stocked.  But also to make certain that I do not become set in my ways of thought, that I remain open to new ideas, and the lenses, filters, and blinders of my worldview do not interfere with perceiving my slice of reality as accurately as possible.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Forbes on Leadership

5 Leadership Tips for 2012 leads to other leadership ideas...

Mike Myatt, author of Leadership Matters...The CEO Survival Manual, has some simple ways to improve your life in 2012.  His post is worth reading even if the only sentence you read is this one:
"Smart leaders recognize it’s much more valuable to step across mental lines in the sand than to draw them."
While crawling around the Forbes website I encountered another titled "Nine books to read before your organization dies" by Stephen Denning.  One of them is free.  Denning has his own book, The Leader's Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century, which I am more likely to read than Myatt's.

UPDATE: I posted as follows to Mr. Myatt's blog and at LinkedIn...

Thank you for this thought-provoking list for leaders at all levels. C-level executives have an added burden; they must decide whether they work for the shareholder or the customer. How they think about this issue will affect their approach to these other five items, any other list, and their leadership style in general. They choose this burden voluntarily, but still I don't envy them.

More Leading Edge Wisdom From The Security Executive Council

The Nine Practices of the Successful Security Leader...

If you're a business security professional this brief paper published by The Security Executive Council ought to be required reading for everyone on your security teams, your peers, and your superiors! All nine are excellent, but I especially like "Winning respect by refusing to exploit fear, uncertainty and doubt." Read this today as you prepare for a successful 2012.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Reason For The Season

From the able mind of Razib Khan...

He says it as well as anyone, except maybe for our classmate Theresa Crawford.  Many of us are so angry about what has gone before, or so frightened by the prospect of an uncertain future, we are unable to pause, reflect, and embrace the fact that the only time we have is now, and the only people who truly matter are our families and friends.  Love and be loved.  There is little else that really matters.  Have a fine Christmas one and all.  

photo credit:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Grenades and Guns and Knives, Oh My!

The TSA is very proud of their recent detection of artfully concealed daggers and inert grenades in carry on bags...

...but why did they let the passengers carrying these items pass through the checkpoint and board their flights after confiscating the contraband?

In November of this year TSA administrator John Pistole touted the detection of thousand pistols in 2011 alone, to defend his organization's mission and its value to the traveling public. But how many cases resulted in criminal prosecution at the federal, state, or local level? How many were forgetful cops and other lawfully armed citizens? How many of these offenders were terrorists or wanted criminals? If none of the detected and confiscated items were in the hands of criminals or terrorists precisely what harm has been averted?  If those who violate these rules are not hijackers or terrorists who precisely is the TSA defending us against?

I reiterated my question to the TSA personnel administering their blog: Has there ever been an arrest, indictment, prosecution, conviction, or imprisonment arising from the detection of a prohibited weapon at a TSA checkpoint? Certainly there must be some they can point us to.  I look forward to their response and will share it when it arrives.

UPDATE: Here's one I found.  Anyone else?

Reupdate: Here we go.  1080 firearms, 689 firearms arrests.  Much better.  Perhaps the TSA should emphasize the arrests arising from their stops rather than parading the grenades and artfully concealed knives, then explaining why passengers carrying them were allowed to board their flight anyway.

Updates continue, with cupcakes:  The TSA is same outfit that prevented a cupcake from passing through the security checkpoint at Las Vegas International Airport because the frosting was gel-like, possessing an almost liquid character because it conformed somewhat to the inside of its container, which meant the entire confection exceeded the three ounce limit, plus it wasn't presented in a one quart ziploc baggy...oh never mind!

Photo credit: TSA

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Winter Solstice 2011

Will not be noticed by the cold and ancient stones on the Salisbury Plain...

But it remains humanity's oldest holiday.

Best wishes all.

Photo Credit (such as I could find it):

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hitchens' Voice Stilled

One of the four horsemen of the new atheist apocalypse, succumbed to cancer Thursday...

Christopher Hitchens, the author of God is Not Great, writer of wicked diatribes against Mother Teresa, and the only journalist I'm aware of who elected to be waterboarded to prove it wasn't torture - and then promptly and publicly changed his mind, died Thursday 15 December 2011, aged 62 years.

Blogs written by persons who knew him better are doing a fine job of eulogizing the man, his courage, and his voice.

Bad Astronomy

Why Evolution Is True

The Rogue's Gallery

Neurologica Blog


Token Skeptic

Sam Harris, another horseman, the youngest

Dan Dennett, another of the four horsemen, the least offensive

Richard Dawkins, the senior horseman (the "Witch-king of Angmar" if you will)

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Can You Hear Me Now?

The NTSB gets surprisingly serious about distracted driving...

In the aftermath of their investigation of a 2010 fatal accident involving a semi, a pickup, and two school buses, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has come down very hard on cellphone use while driving.  Their refreshingly crisp recommendations include:

To the 50 states and the District of Columbia:

(1) Ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers; (2) use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration model of high visibility enforcement to support these bans; and (3) implement targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and enforcement, and to warn them of the dangers associated with the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices while driving.

The response has been prompt and predictable.  It's unenforceable, it's not fair to me, and my gut tells me the science is wrong.

I'll bet none of us are in favor of drunk driving. Yet, in many studies drivers are as impaired by the use of personal electronic devices (including hands free) as they are by an illegal blood alcohol concentration. Distracted driving has joined DUI and speeding as a major risk factor for accidents, injuries, and fatalities. Impairment is impairment.

I agree a ban on hands free devices is all but unenforceable.  It's pretty hard to tell if the driver in the next car is on a conference call, singing along with Lady Gaga, or yelling at their kids in the back seat.  But what part of not allowing people to drive as though they're drunk or traveling at 20 miles per hour over the speed limit strikes us as unfair or unreasonable?

What we choose to do on our own time in our own cars is between us, our screaming passengers, our insurance company, and perhaps the local police.  But now that the NTSB has taken a stand it seems to me the challenge will arise when an employee is involved in an accident attributed to PED use while on the job or operating a company vehicle. If company business practices require use of a PED while in motion then OSHA and/or DOT will get involved, insurers run for cover, and litigators will have a field day. If company policy prohibits PED use in motion - and business practices reflect a commitment to the policy - then perhaps the employer will have some legal recourse.

I suppose the precise text of the NTSB recommendation "Ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers" give law enforcment and other emergency services personnel some wiggle room with regard to radio handsets.

As for the science, we know that speed enforcement reduces the number and severity of accidents, even though there are some drivers who are safe as houses at 160 mph. We know that DUI enforcement reduces highway carnage, even though almost all of us know someone who once had too many drinks and still got home safe.  Yeah, my gut tells me texting is obviously worst, hand held next, and then hands free, but the research suggests they're all pretty distracting.

After reading some of the studies that support the NTSB's new recommendation I'm going to try to hang up and drive. If you call me and get a message saying that I don't answer the phone while I'm on the road I hope you'll understand.  There's way too much data out there telling us we're not nearly so good at multitasking as we think we are.

Some of us are old enough to remember life before personal electronic devices became 24 hour leashes. We managed to survive without cellphones then, just like our parents did before telephones, or our grandparents did before cars.  We're going to be okay even if we have to unplug for an hour or two a day while we pay attention to the road and our neighbors on it.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Day That Will Live In Infamy...

December 7, 1941...

In a geopolitical sense the attack on Pearl Harbor was predictable, perhaps even inevitable.  The precise timing was certainly a surprise though.  The war in the Pacific was a vicious conflict waged against a brutal foe.  The good guys won, but not without paying a heavy price.

These days Americans drive cars and watch TVs made by Mitsubishi, the same company that manufactured the infamous A6M Zero fighter.  And Japanese travelers fly around the world on airliners made by Boeing, who also made the B17s destroyed at Hickam Field that morning, and the B29s that delivered the atomic bombs that ended the Second World War four years later.

We honor the dead, who are forever young.  We pay our respects to the living, who number fewer and fewer with each passing year.  The wheel turns...

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 5, 2011

Charley's Aunt

Now showing at the Guthrie's McGuire Proscenium Stage...

The Guthrie does a very nice job with this family friendly farce.  I'd never heard of Charley's Aunt or its playwright Brandon Thomas, but I'm glad to now be acquainted.  Many of the actors are younger than the usual Guthrie production and they seem to have a fine time with it.  Among them Thallis Santesteban is especially winsome.  Remember, you can purchase rush seats at a deep discount a half hour before showtime.

Photo credit: T Charles Erickson

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hugo by Martin Scorsese

Which is titled Hugo Cabret in more sophisticated markets, is simply wonderful...

Words fail me, but here are a few: kind, gentle, wondrous, jaw-dropping, clever, lovingly crafted, magical, and the nicest movie I've seen all year.  If you love movies see Hugo