November 28, 2014

The truth and nothing but the truth .... but not ...

But not the whole truth, to reference the third phrase to which people are supposed to swear in American courtrooms.

I'll explain what I'm about here.

Recent events, including the Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury's no-bill decision, have put me in mind of a saying by Afghan philosopher and Sufi mystic Idries Shah:
To 'see both sides' of a problem is the surest way to prevent its complete solution. Because there are always more than two sides.
Oh most big events, this is pretty true.

Even if we can distinguish truth from lies (setting aside things that are neither true nor deliberately false, like inaccurate eyewitness accounts that are inaccurate but believed to be accurate), and get only the truth told, we can never get the whole truth told.

None of us has a "view from nowhere." I see no evidence of an omnipotent deity who does, and even if such a critter existed, I see no evidence to see that he miraculously enlightened anybody in the Michael Brown case, the Trayvon Martin case, Benghazi, Edward Snowden or many, many other things.

There are ethical structures, philosophically based, that can be connected to the main political stances in America today.

There's John Rawls' ideas on fairness and redistributive justice, strongly liberal.

There's John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham with their utilitarianism and the greatest good for the greatest number, very libertarian.

And there's Immanuel Kant's deontological ethics, that "it's right because it's pronounced to be," very conservative, especially for social conservative rights.

All three rely strongly on the existence of a dispassionate all-seeing view from nowhere.

Rawls' fairness depends on us being absolutely sure we know what's fair for all involved. And, as Walter Kaufmann has clearly shown, fairness, and redistributive needs (even if not Marxist-based) vary from individual to individual and situation to situation.

So, we have no view from nowhere.

Utilitarianism's view from nowhere depends in part on long-term as well as short-term outcomes, and we are never going to be able to know that.

And Kant's ethics? I already tackled that under the lack of evidence for an omnipotent deity.

Unfortunately, though, humans are are prone to see things in the world in general in bipolar terms as they are in tribal terms.

So, as in the Brown-and-Wilson case, we get two polar "narratives," both of which assume that their own narrative and the other one are the only  two "sides" involved.

And, they're not.

And that, dear readers, is philosophy on the street in action.

Ferguson, Brown and Wilson thoughts

First, it probably fits nobody's "narrative," but this seems to be a reasonable reconstruction of what happened when Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson stopped Michael Brown and eventually fatally shot him.

Note that some of it is conjecture. It will remain conjecture forever, for the most part, as I noted a few weeks back in discussing autopsy evidence.

The reconstruction is based on multiple autopsies, including one performed at the request of Brown's family. And, even The Nation notes that those autopsies aren't inconsistent with Wilson's version of events.

Yes, Wilson may have motive for lying about some elements. So, too, may friends of Brown. Both of them may be lying about some elements. That said, forensic investigation reconstructs a certain amount of things. I've blogged before about how neither "side" is totally right. Beyond that, eyewitness testimony in general is not as credible as people would believe, and that's even without it being fueled by massive shots of emotions. That said, NPR notes that "Witness 14," arguably the most sympathetic to Brown, admitted that, before the final, fatal shots were fired, Brown was moving toward Wilson after being told to stop.

Sadly, even a Charles Pierce is at least partially going down the narrative line. He excoriates Wilson for claiming someone "exactly the same height" intimidated him (taking the statement as true for argumentation), while not noting that Brown outweighed him by nearly 100 pounds and thus isn't the same size.

Second: as for the grand jury? In Missouri, 9 of 12 votes are needed to true bill someone. While it's arguably true that St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch was less than stellar, at least, in not presenting the grand jury with possible specific crimes to commit, it's a bit far in calling him Wilson's defense attorney. More here, as an overview, on what the grand jury had to consider. If you really want to dive in further, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has transcripts of grand jury testimony. Related grand jury info here.

Per Pearce, would we have been better served if Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had appointed a special prosecutor? Maybe, though even then, I doubt there would have been an indictment.

Per the NPR interview, "Witness 14" testimony plus the state's "police deference" law almost surely would have nixed an indictment for involuntary manslaughter. I can't think of a lesser charge that would fit a worst-case scenario interpretation of Wilson's actions, and a charge greater than that had less than zero chance.

In short, we would have had another scapegoat instead of McCulloch.

Third, as for the two people at the center of the storm? We know Wilson had no previous police disciplinary record. We know Brown had no Class A or B felonies, but don't know about lesser felonies or misdemeanors; unfortunately, family court there refused to release information about possible lesser charges, and didn't otherwise comment one way or the other. And, that's not to "smear" Brown; it's to honestly ask about his past.

Fourth, per the Post's live blog of events after the grand jury, senseless rioting (which is, by definition, senseless) doesn't help anything.

Fifth, for folks in a black-majority city who don't like a white-majority city council? This is why, as I blogged a while back, voting in municipal elections is important. So is voting in midterm Congressional elections. If you haven't done that, there's still time to make yourself part of the solution in the future.

Sixth, what can we do to try to keep something like this from happening again?

1. Get the feds to tie police grant money to better training on stop and arrest procedures in general, and civil rights-based conduct in particular
2. As I said in my first blog post link above, have cops wearing on-body video cameras. (Federal grant money could be tied to this, too.) And, sanction cops who "somehow" have their cameras off at just the "right" (wrong) times, as has been the case in Albuquerque. And, on-body video cams protect good cops from slanders, etc. They may not give a lot more help to people who are shot, on criminal cases against police, given the "deference" laws most states have, but they can help more with civil suits.
3. Get a few more people on both "sides" to acknowledge that there are both bad cops and bad young minority (and Caucasian) residents. Along with that, get a few more people on both "sides" to acknowledge there are plenty of good cops, and good youth, of all ethnicities.
4. Get more cities of reasonable size to establish community police boards, and make sure they have necessary teeth.
5. Stop militarizing police departments in general.
6. Again, especially minorities, but more liberal-minded people in general? If you want change, then you have to vote for change at the local government level. If Ferguson doesn't have a black-majority city council and a black mayor by the time we get past 2016 municipal elections, then look in the mirror. And move municipal election dates to general election dates, if you can, to help.

None of these will happen easily, quickly or overnight. Some of them will take pressure from Washington, starting with an acknowledgment by Barack Obama that he is NOT our nation's first "post-racial" president. Actually stopping the hardware militarization of police departments, not just saying it's a possible problem, also starts at his doorstep.

There are other things that can be done, too. Those are just the top relevant ones.

Radley Balko suggests fixing St. Louis County's Balkanized small-town patchwork would help somewhat. What would help more on the incidents he mentions is the Missouri legislature putting a cap on what percentage of its budget a community can make off traffic fines.


My personal belief is that Wilson probably overreacted a bit, but not incredibly at the time of first coming upon Brown. Also, being young, he probably didn't follow best police procedures in some ways and probably could have stood to have better training in some ways. Given that Brown was with others, Wilson probably shouldn't have rolled his window all the way down when he did, and should have waited until backup arrived.

But, Wilson did not extremely overreact, as I see it.

That said, Brown had just strongarm-robbed a convenience store. Yes, when you go beyond theft to committing assault as part of a theft, that's what it's called in Texas, and probably something similar in Missouri. By the time Wilson used his police Tahoe to block off traffic, he knew about the robbery and knew that Brown fit the description.

Per Witness 14, it's arguable that Wilson shouldn't have been presented to the grand jury. Even without "deference" laws, it would not be easy to charge him, and almost impossible to convict.

I know some liberal friends and acquaintances may not like that. Some may not like the fact that, no pun even close to intended, this isn't a totally black and white case.

It's a tragedy, It's a tragedy that could have happened differently — for all sorts of reasons.

It's a tragedy that began with the commission of a crime, though. Especially if Brown had no previous mild felonies, it was a stupid crime just as a blatant theft, even without adding violence to it.


Actually, I'm adding a few more thoughts.

One is that Brown's parents are telling a story that's a fair amount different from grand jury testimony, including that of "Witness 14." I simply don't find his mom, Lesley McSpadden, credible. She also doesn't know how much or how little strength her son had after the first couple of shots. I have edited a news story about an apparently mentally ill person fatally shot by police. Multiple shots hit the person and he kept walking forward, and at least part of this was captured on police camera.

And, no, Michael Brown's life can't be judged by a 17-second video clip from that c-store of robbery, as she says, but, his seeming criminality on that day certainly can be judged by that.

We can also judge not only stress, but a bit of the character of McSpadden by possible armed robbery of her own, along with her boyfriend, also called Brown's stepfather, over relatives selling Michael Brown related merchandise. Family dysfunctionality can't have helped young Brown's life. And, that link is the first time I've read that story, in part because my life hasn't been living and dying on each day of Michael Brown coverage.

Wilson, even if not telling every bit of truth, is absolutely right that officers are trained not to try to pull unrestrained or unsubdued suspects into their vehicles.

Second is that, yes, I don't know what it's like to be African-American facing a nearly all-white police department. I also don't know what it's like to be a police officer. And I and a lot of people don't know what it's like to be a black police officer in such a community being called a race traitor. I have seen the black police chief of this community being accused by the black mayor pro tem of letting his mixed-ethnicity police force deliberately "pick on" black drivers.

Third is that grand juries don't work the way the Browns' lawyer claims. He and they are welcome to pursue legal remedies that play out that way via the civil system.

Fourth is that, while I like a fair amount of Charles S. Pierce's writing, too often, he follows or creates "narratives" himself. They're usually Democrats vs. Republicans, or when they're more generic liberals vs. conservatives, they don't step outside the boxes to third-party politics, or independent, critical thinking. His rejection of Wilson's comments on Brown's size indicated to me that, on this, he's going to double down on a stereotypical narrative line, and keep digging the whole deeper the more he writes.

For example, Pierce scoffs at Wilson's statement that it was his job to observe and monitor Brown, not arrest him. Actually, Wilson's exactly right. Until backup cops arrived, that was exactly his job.

I've read Pierce writing about small-town newspaper work before. Based on this and related things I've seen in his writing, I'm going to uncharitably but straightforwardly assume he knows enough about police work to know Wilson is correct and that his scoffing is a form of lying.

So, Charlie, your Esquire link comes off my blogroll. I can have people like a Ken White of Popehat, whom I disagree with even more, or a Ted Rall, as long as they're going to try to be reasonably straightforward.

Pierce, and others, are at least halfway right to raise anj eyebrow at Wilson saying that Brown appeared "demon-possessed." At a minimum, Wilson could have used better language.

At the same time, in light of grand jury testimony, again referring back to Witness 14, it does appear that Brown was non-responsive in some way, perhaps even "out of control." While Wilson didn't use the most correct language for that, that appears to be what he's saying.

This, in turn, spins it back to Pierce. Contra other insinuations, I think this shows that either Wilson wasn't "coached" much before the ABC interview, or else that he had bad coaching.

As for people who have asked (often rhetorically) why Wilson didn't say more before Nov. 26? Er, because the grand jury hadn't voted yet, and he didn't want to say anything that might cause him to prejudice himself in their eyes.

As Brown's parents have not yet indicated whether they will or will not file a civil suit, if Wilson is wisely advised, you won't hear much more from him. And, since at least the Ferguson PD, as well as the city of Ferguson, could be targeted by such a suit, even with sovereign immunity, nobody else from the city there will be saying much more.

And now, yet another bit of fun?

The family-requested first autopsy of Brown? Don't put so much stock in it; it was done in part by someone with mail-order certification. No, really. And, that Caribbean medical school he was "going to attend"? Accredited by nobody other than the government of St. Kitts, and primarily reliant on distance learning. In addition, he's lying about university affiliation he doesn't have.

Finally, there's a lot of better cases of police shootings than the Brown cases, including white-on-white shootings, that are poster cases for police reform, than is the Brown/Wilson case.

As for why I'm primarily focusing on the liberal narrative rather than the conservative one? Well, I'm a liberal, and my real-life and online world friends are generally liberal, not conservative, so I am running into more details of the liberal one.

November 26, 2014

My second take on the 2015 baseball #HOF ballot

The full ballot is here. And, I blogged Monday some initial thoughts about who I think gets in, who I think makes progress, etc.

Now, briefly, since Adam Rubin of ESPN, among others, are already releasing their proposed HOF ballots, I'll submit mine, even though I am of course not a BBWAA member.

1. Randy Johnson
2. Pedro Martinez
3. Craig Biggio
4. Jeff Bagwell
5. Mike Piazza
6. Mike Mussina
7. Tim Raines
8. Curt Schilling
9. Alan Trammell
10. Jeff Kent

Fans note two missing names, of course.

Well, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens get on my ballot when they:
A. Give at least a halfway sincere confessional. I don't know more than halfway sincere, but I want that. Feel free to throw Bud Selig and owners under the bus if you want.
B. Some "how I did it" explanation as a practical matter to help refine the testing process in some way and provide a bit more insight on how prevalent (or not) PEDing was and still may be.

That said, do I expect either leopard to change its spots enough to do that? Er, no!

And, it's not just players. I've said similar about the managerial Three Amigos — managers Joe TorreTony La Russa and Bobby Cox, and especially the first two — who entered Cooperstown last summer. I suspect they knew more about some of their players than they have let on.

As for greenies vs. roids? Apples vs oranges, and more, as I've blogged before.

One outtake from there, per the piece it links to?

Arguably, steroids, as well as (prescription-strength) greenies, have been baseball verboten since 1971, since they weren't "over the counter," at least not by legal sales:
Ken Davidoff makes a good argument for distinguishing between steroids use prior to and after baseball’s formal adoption of drug testing in 2005.  I give Davidoff credit for taking a nuanced stand on what I consider to be a complex issue, and for successfully resisting my instinct to paint everyone as either a steroids hawk or a steroids dove.  But I don’t agree with Davidoff’s selection of 2005 as a cutoff date.  Baseball first explicitly banned steroids in its 2002 Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Moreover, the non-prescription use of prescription drugs has been banned by baseball since 1971 .  ... But if Davidoff is looking for a bright line date to distinguish between tolerable and intolerable use of anabolic steroids, I’d suggest that he use the date February 27, 1991 – that’s the date that federal law placed anabolic steroids in Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act, making non-prescription possession of anabolic steroids a federal crime.

The author of that piece also tries to disentangle prescription amphetamines from over-the-counter diet pills. There are no over-the-counter steroids.

It's otherwise not a perfect standard, but, in broad outlines, I'm far from alone in holding to it.

Second note: Some may not like Curt Schilling. Fine.

It's the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Saintly.

We have a virulent racist, in Ty Cobb, who was part of the inaugural class and is still on baseball's top 30 or so all time players. We have a racist owner who started the Yankees on their route to fame in Jacob Ruppert and another, more genteel one, who probably kept the Red Sox held back, in Tom Yawkey.

And worse, as I've blogged before, including the cheating with the ball of the likes of Gaylord Perry and Don Sutton.

We also have two highly alcoholic managers in Joe McCarthy and John McGraw.

At the same time, we've got more saintly players than Schilling on my lists ofbatters and pitchers who are in the Hall but shouldn't be.

And, speaking of, Rubin gave me a laugh by saying he'd vote in Edgar Martinez and Lee Smith if he could.

Uh, no. Both would immediately enter my list of players who need to be voted back out. Martinez is a borderline no. Smith isn't even close.

Way to demonstrate your lack of baseball knowledge, Adam.

So, no, Craig Calcaterra, other than the fact that Rubin fills out all 10 slots, this is not a more-or-less perfect ballot, especially not if Gar and Big Lee are his two standbys. (I've already Tweeted Craig I'll eat his hat if John Smoltz breaks 50 percent this year.)

#Obamacare: If Chuck Schumer is a 2016 Democrat, I'm more Green than ever

So, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-Wall Street) is saying that Democrats in 2008 didn't have a mandate to pass Obamacare?

Really? I could have sworn that I heard both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton discuss national health care ideas of some sort or another in multiple Democratic debates and their campaigns in general. I could have sworn I heard Obama mention something about it in the general election.

As for not tackling the recession? Hey, Chucky boy, did you push Obama to keep his stimulus package below $1 trillion? Yes, as the survey shows. Even worse, we know you pushed Obama to name one of the chief architects of the recession, Tim Geithner, as his Treasury Secretary.

Either admit that you, like Obama, didn't take the Great Recession as seriously as you should have, or shut up.

Right now, you're blaming a non-issue as part of the cause of a problem which you helped cause.

Obama on ozone — still a difference-splitter who doesn't get it

President Obama's new announcement on tighter ozone regulations typifies six years and counting of his presidency.

Current standard is 75 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency wants that cut to 60 parts per billion.

So, after kicking this can down the road a couple of years, as in:
The E.P.A. had planned to release the new ozone rule in August of 2011, but as Republicans and powerful industry groups prepared to go on attack against the plan, Mr. Obama decided to delay its release, fearing that opposition to the regulation would hurt his re-election chances in 2012.
what does Dear Leader now opt to do?

Exactly split the difference with a proposed standard of 65-70 ppb. As if that's going to magically get some Republican representative, senator or governor to give him a man hug and an environmentalism bromance.

The proposed ozone rule comes as the longstanding battle over Mr. Obama’s use of the Clean Air Act to push his environmental agenda is erupting in Congress and the courts. The ozone rules are expected to force the owners of power plants and factories to install expensive technology to clean the pollutants from their smokestacks. 
Next year, the E.P.A. is expected to make final two more historic Clean Air Act rules aimed at cutting planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Those rules, which are intended to curb pollutants that contribute to climate change, could lead to the shutdown of hundreds of power plants and freeze construction of future coal plants. 
The Republican-majority Congress, to be led by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the incoming majority leader, has vowed to block or overturn the entire group of rules. In a separate development, the Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to take up a challenge led by industry groups against another E.P.A. rule intended to curb emissions of mercury from coal plants. 
“We’re facing a series of regulations, and the cumulative cost of compliance and the burden of permitting is significant,” said Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council, a group which has lobbied aggressively against the rules. “An industry such as ours is poised to make significant investments in growth, but these regulations make that harder.”

Splitting the difference, Mr. Dear Leader, will stave off none of this.

That said, except for a neoliberal angle of more government investment in solar power research and development, I think Obama's even loss of an environmentalist than Bill Clinton. 

November 24, 2014

The #RedSox make no sense to me

Hanley Ramirez;
the Sawks' new
Manny Ramirez
(in their outfield)?
Apologies, Rush.
Signing both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez is what makes no sense.

San Pablo is overrated by many on defense. He had a negative dWAR in 2012 and 2013. He's only a mild career plus on total zone runs and a career zero on defensive runs saved. And, he's below league range factor. He has a career dWAR of just 0.9, and has never won a Gold Glove, let alone a Fielding Bible award. Glove quality may remain solid, but range factor will likely only continue to decline.

Ramirez? We know he's bad on defense. So, the Sawks are allegedly going to put him "out to pasture," so to speak, keep Xander Bogaerts at short and let Ramirez play the outfield. Turning him into a corner OF will be more fun yet. We'll either get to watch him figure out the Green Monster for a full year, looking even more futile than namesake Manny Ramirez, or else remind Sawks fans in right that Dewey Evans should be in the Hall and Hanley Ramirez never will be.

At the plate, Ramirez has about average pop for an AL corner OF. Not worse than, but not more than, either.

Pablo Sandoval, a
poor man's Ortiz
in three-four years.
Beyond that, just a month ago, Ben Cherington et al, including sports writers, were talking about the surfeit of outfielders there. Does this mean they're back-shelving Jackie Bradley? Will Daniel Nava be a non-tender in arbitration and get free agency? It surely means they're not resigning Yoenis Cespedes, but he's on contract for one more year. So is Shane Victorino. And Mike Napoli.

And, on contract for more than 1 year? Allen Craig. And Brock Holt seems to be out of the mix?

This also seems to give credence to the rumors that Boston coaches and manager John Farrell didn't like Cespedes, who is a near-equivalent of Ramirez at the bat, a natural outfielder, a much better defender, and two years younger.

I mean, it looks like Cherington is just throwing crap at a wall to see what sticks. Usually, in such cases, it's crap that sticks. We'll see if this set of moves is any different in about 6-9 months, but I predict there will be crap sticking to a wall called the Green Monster.

Also speaking of crap, given how Cespedes has already been kicked, I can't wait to hear the anonymously sourced comments after he's traded. And, no, Sawks fans, he's not going to draw nearly as much in trade as you think. Officially being coronated a backup outfielder, plus that backbiting from last month, guarantees that.

Well, if nothing else, we will have a good laugh, and an ongoing debate about the worst Ramirez outfielder in Boston history.