Thursday, May 21, 2009


Now, I'm all for using empirical data (aka "evidence-based" methods) to shape public policy, but just because some doctor to writes a test does not automatically pass the threshold of acceptable public policy utility:
LOS ANGELES -- In more than 40 years of studying this city's street gangs as a social psychologist, Malcolm Klein says his home was burglarized nine times. Now, the retired University of Southern California professor is offering the city what he hopes one day will help stem crime: A test that he says could predict if a child is destined to join a gang.
We'll leave aside the questionable wisdom of a man whose house has been robbed nine times, but there is something creepy and very (Philip K.) Dickish about commenting on anyone "destined" to be criminal. It isn't as if we're talking about hardened sociopaths who are incapable of feeling any sort of empathy or remorse:

The screening, intended for children between 10 and 15 years old, asks a range of questions on issues ranging from past relationships to drug use to attitudes toward violence. One question asks test takers if they recently had a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend; another asks test takers if they are kind to younger children.
I can only imagine some of these questions:

13. You get a "D" on an English exam. Do you:

A. Tell your mother that you'll do better next time and follow through
B. Come to grips with the fact you'll be wearing a name tag for the rest of your life.
C. Say "Hey Mom, look! I didn't fail!"
D. Smack a ho.

27. What is the best meaning of the following sentence: "The gentleman left his domicile in order to collect his remuneration from gainful employment."

A. The guy escaped from his nag of a wife to get his money he owed his bookie before he went to the bar.
B. The man left his home to pick up his paycheck.
C. Donde esta la bibliotecha?
D. That nigga done left his crib to get his n's from them hoes, cuz a nigga needs to be gettin' paid, yaknowhumsayin?!?!?

70. If you've gotten this far on the exam, the chances of you being a gangsta are slim because:

A) You've demonstrated an ability to read
B) You have followed through with an assignment, which is a sign of responsibility
C) You showed up for school today
D) All your clothes are not the same color
E) All of the Above

In all seriousness, this is a quote from the city's "gang czar" (How many czars does it take to run a democratic republic these days?):
"We were not relying on data," says Rev. Jeff Carr, an evangelical minister who is the city's "gang czar," leading outreach and prevention efforts. "We had gang-prevention programs, but no criteria to determine who was in a gang." (emphasis mine)
Well, failing to identify individuals who, wear certain colors every day or perhaps...I dunno...PERMANENTLY SCAR THEIR AFFILIATION ALL OVER THEIR BODIES may be indicative of a less-than-effective anti-gang strategy, so I can see why some in the community may want to try a new approach.

But why this test, with no remote proof of effectiveness?
This year, the test is being given to children for the first time, and officials say they will use the results to determine whether some of the city's $24 million annual budget for gang prevention is being spent on children who aren't at high risk.
Yes, folks, it's just another way to allocate money. Shocking, I know. Get an academic with an impressive résumé (albeit with a less-than-stellar home insurance rating) to create an arbitrary measure and we'll figure out how to fiddle with the budget because Raoul and Jaquan have recently broken-up with their Boos and harass their little brothers.

Just because eHarmony can come up with a test for romantic compatibility doesn't mean some retired Ph.D can determine with any degree of certainty who ends up bangin' and who doesn't. (Nor, might I add, is gang affiliation alone a sufficient indicator of criminal violence.)

If you want to decrease gang activity, eliminate their most lucrative business: end the damned drug war. Will gangs completely go away? Probably not--but without the money to keep operations afloat, the majority of the gang--those non-sociopathic, non-murdering members just looking for a sense of belonging and a little money to go with--will be much more likely to revert to legitimate means of living.

Added music bonus:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dumb and Dumber at the Golden Dome

I work in DC, a town steeped in the great tradition of thoughtless bullshittery. Most people here make their money swapping, repackaging, and peddling bullshit. DC is sustained on other people's capital--some given voluntarily, most taken coercively--the latter being redistributed according to political will. An honest living, this ain't.

But, every now and again--in spite of the most recent election cycle reminiscent of a hundred year stint in purgatory--the folks in DC decide to export the sole Beltway product to the rest of the country. Most recently, the president decided he was going to take a steaming pile of excrement to the American Mecca of Catholic Academia--and erstwhile home to the greatest team in college football--the University of Notre Dame.

There was much hullabaloo about this trip, given his stance on abortion and the Catholic church's less-than-flexible position on the issue. Personally, I thought it was blown out of proportion, but whatever. Coming from a church that has yet to excommunicate Ted Kennedy, who apparently prefers his abortions in two-for-one auto-aquatic specials, I don't see why extending an invitation to the sitting POTUS is such a big deal. (And I'm going to guess there won't be protests when the Pontiff himself meets with him.)

And while I admire Obama's preference to take controversy head on--or at least to appear to do so, whereas the last administration tended to cover its ears and scream loudly "LA LA LA LA CAN'T HEAR YOU LA LA LA LA!"--the decision to make an overtly political statement during any graduation ceremony, let alone bringing up the A-word at a Catholic ceremony, was just tactless.

The only thing worse than his decision to address it directly was the manner in which he did it. Using his trademark and insincere conciliatory rhetoric, Obama spoke of finding a "common ground" between the pro-life and pro-choice movements and refrain from "demonizing" their respective oppositions. (The word choice was apparently borrowed from a Catholic priest, but still probably not the best idea given that Catholics believe in demons)

If you were to approach the speech knowing nothing of the debate--which, among other things, has poisoned our federal judiciary selection process to an absurd degree--such a comment sounds reasonable, diplomatic, and thoughtful. But really, how much "common ground" do you think exists between those who believe "abortion" to be another word for infanticide and those who believe it is none other than a constitutional right? (FWIW, I subscribe to neither of these positions.) Such a nonchalant treatment of what is a fundamental debate--not of nuance, but essentially of whether or not the government should sanction legal murder--would be laughable if not so obscenely insulting. Again, this isn't my position, but (ostensibly) by addressing a Catholic audience, cutting slack to baby-killers is what he was suggesting.

He can no more bridge this gap in so careless a manner than he could solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict by buying the world a Coke and singing Kumbaya. More and more, (and I admit, this may be a speechwriter issue) Obama seems less to be a thoughtful man dedicated to confronting serious issues than he does a well-trained actor taught to "feel my pain" while pursuing an inflexible agenda entirely divorced from the sort of administration he campaigned on.

Graduation ceremonies are not the time or place for political speech. What Notre Dame probably wanted, and should have received, was an apolitical and vacuous speech that Obama usually excels at. It is, after all, a ceremony whose musical theme is quite literally Pomp and Circumstance.

It isn't a matter of picking sides in the abortion debate--and not at all because I believe both sides are deeply flawed. And I know presidents have explicitly talked about policy at graduations before, but THIS ideological stance at THIS instiution was simply an exercise in poor judgment. If he wants to engage the Catholic Church on abortion, that's fine with me--but he shouldn't have broached the subject, and in such a cavalier manner to add insult to injury, at a graduation ceremony.

Mood Music Monday

I can't find an embeddable version, but I heard this song (again) over the weekend and just love it.

Enjoy your Monday.