Inside Tom's Head - June 2020
02 Jul 2020
It feels like way more than a month ago that I wrote my May post. Between the US deciding that politics is a valid reason to abandon our most effective responses to COVID-19 (masks and social distancing) and the protests that sprung up in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police, it has felt more like a year.
This is the first month where I made an effort to keep track of what I read online, but I was surprised at how long this post ended up being. There are a couple of things that could probably have been their own posts, and I think that the protests ended up creating a lot of stuff to read and think about. If these end up being consistently this long, I’ll have to either split them up or do a better job of pruning them down. In any case, here’s a brief overview of what I’ve been thinking about for the past month.
Washington state has been gradually reopening. Back when they first announced their plan and talked about having at least 3 weeks between phases, it sounded pretty reasonable. However, the reality on the ground (for me, at least) is that 3 weeks feels way too fast, since it takes a while for businesses to get up to speed with a new phase and longer still for people to adapt (shopping, eating out, etc.). My understanding is that the 3 week period is to see if the new phase causes an uptick in cases, but since the virus can take up to 2 weeks to show symptoms that means that they are making decisions based on incomplete data (since not everyone is going to go out and start doing more stuff immediately after we enter a new phase). I’ll take slow and safe over fast and dangerous any day.
The institution of policing is broken. A big part of that is that policing in the US was heavily influenced by 19th century slave patrols. Another part of this is that white supremacist groups have made efforts to infiltrate law enforcement organizations. Finally, police spend a lot of their time on non-violent crime, with things like traffic stops taking up the vast majority of police time (some estimates put it at about 4%).
Although I would prefer to live in a society where there is no need for police, I don’t see that happening in the next few years. However, if we don’t try to move in that direction now, it will never happen. There are lots of ways people are talking about this, but without getting into the weeds on terminology, here is what I hope to do in the immediate future:
- Get a sense of how much money my community is spending on police. The police budgets of the three small intersecting cities where I live plus the county sheriff (and jail) budgets add up to about $80,000,000 for a population of less than 300,000 people. I have a hard time believing that we can’t find a better way to spend that money.
- Contact my representatives and ask for oversight. As far as I can tell, none of the law enforcement agencies release any sort of annual report explaining what they do. For an $80,000,000 enterprise, it seems odd that they apparently feel no need to explain what they are doing and why they should be funded at the level that they are.
- Ask my representatives to increase the use of speed cameras. In Washington state, they are legal in school speed zones. It turns out that traffic cameras do a pretty good job at reducing dangerous behavior and the fewer police that we have doing traffic enforcement, the fewer of them will be killing people for minor infractions.
- The book The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale is an excellent overview of how policing works in our country, and offers many suggestions about ways that it could be improved. However, after going through just about every aspect of what is wrong with US law enforcement, one has to ask, what’s left? I listened to the audiobook, which was quite good.
- About Face is an excellent short webcomic (you can read it in a single sitting) by Nate Powell about military, law enforcement, and far-right aesthetics.
- Examined Worlds has some questions that white people should ask themselves. I would add that if you find yourself comfortable with all of your answers, you should examine them more closely. These questions are meant to be difficult and uncomfortable.
- The Case for Ending All Traffic Stops
- We Don’t Need Cops to Enforce Traffic Laws
- It’s not clear that police actually deter dangerous driving anyway.
- Report: City Must Get NYPD Out of Street Enforcement — For Everyone’s Safety
- Just Because They’ve Turned Against Humanity Doesn’t Mean We Should Defund the Terminator Program
- If traffic safety is the goal, police don’t appear to working towards it
- I saw a quote or a comment somewhere that pointed out that if a broken tail light is a real concern, wouldn’t it be cheaper and better to just pay to replace people’s tail lights than pull them over? Anyway, the DSA did something along these lines a while back, seems like a positive piece of activism.
- And it looks like cops are not great drivers themselves. Acting as though you are above the law (even if that is pretty much accurate) isn’t a good way to engender trust in your community.
Stuff I’ve Been Working On, Here and Elsewhere
- Not a whole lot going on for me. Going back to work and the protests kind of sidetracked me, mentally.
- I’m going to start linking books via WorldCat and movies via The Movie Database (since IMDB is owned by Amazon now and I’m not comfortable with corporations profiting off of volunteer work that was intended to create a free resource).
- No new fiction, but I have a piece of flash fiction that I’m hoping to post sometime in July (I wrote it quite a while ago).
- I shared my Netrunner Mobile Random Card project with Reddit and got a pretty good response. On their suggestion, I posted it on GitHub as well. I haven’t had time to do much work on it last month, but I hope to make some progress in July.
- I didn’t get around to recommending anything. I still have hope to be able to do it on a regular basis. The rest of the world just needs to calm down a bit first.
New Stuff Elsewhere
- Olympia’s parking plan looks pretty good.
- An oral history of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”
- A look at the connection between zoning and racism where I live. I would be surprised if this wasn’t the story in most places. Another post from the same blog, looking more closely at a specific section of Olympia and showing how current zoning affects race. If you’re interested in the history of zoning, I would recommend a series of articles on the Urban Kchoze blog: Euclidean Zoning (no, not that Euclid) and Japanese Zoning (presented as an alternative to our system).
- Passive Voice is for Cowards
- Since it appears to be pretty bad for your mental health, I’ve been reducing my presence on social media for a while now. I hadn’t gotten around to deleting my Facebook profile, though, since I still used Messenger. However it seems that the company lacks the will or desire to curb misinformation from our president and climate-change deniers. Time to delete the ol’ Facebooky.
- Somehow it doesn’t seem that surprising that Bon Appetit has some problems with race.
- Thinking about what school will look like in the fall reminded me of an article I saw a while back about how we could see huge improvements in academic achievement simply by putting good air filters in schools. Heck, even if it didn’t boos academics, it would probably be worthwhile.
- Hasan Minhaj had a good episode on ranked choice voting. It won’t fix all of our problems, but it’s a start. I recall hearing or reading somewhere a few years ago that no one can agree on what the best voting system is, but most of them agree that ours is just about the worst.
- One of my favorite books is getting a sequel!
- I listened to the first episode of the Asian Enough podcast with John Cho, and it was quite good. I’m looking forward to future episodes (there are already a bunch out, I just haven’t gotten to them).
- My partner and I have been doing Khan Academy with our son over the summer. I had spent some time doing math on the site and been impressed but wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of language arts, but I’m honestly blown away. As with the math, the presenter clearly has a passion for the subject, which makes for engaging and fun videos. In addition, I really appreciate how they don’t speak down to the kids, the material feels age-appropriate while still being honest and challenging. Even as an adult who is relatively familiar with our language, I’ve learned stuff. Their bonus video on the origin of mutant plurals is an excellent example of what I’m talking about. Also, while I’m on the subject, Salman Khan’s book, The One World Schoolhouse was excellent and is worth reading in this time of rapid change in our education system.