bloomberg: then, now, and forever

If you do this long enough, it gets hard not to repeat yourself.

So with the latest from Mayor Bloomberg in mind, and because I just feel a very strong need to lighten the mood a bit, here's one from the archives:


Bloomberg to propose ban on untimely death in NYC

New York, NY (AP)--New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, no longer content with banning smoking and trans fats, said today that it is time “to just quit screwing around.”

His Honor is proposing a comprehensive ban on untimely death in the Big Apple, stating that it is the “logical conclusion” to his ongoing policy of promoting public health by policing anything and everything that isn’t good for you.

“People have said that the next logical step would be alcohol prohibition,” said the Mayor at a press conference today. “While I think prohibition is an excellent idea—I mean, what harm could possibly come of it?—the fact remains that even in a smoke/alcohol/potato chip-free society, people will continue to die of heart attacks and cancer for no apparent reason.

“And that,” says Bloomberg, “is simply not acceptable in New York City.”

The Mayor was circumspect when asked how he intended to enforce his ban on untimely death. “I can’t say too much about our implementation strategy at this time. However, some of you,” he said, indicating a few portly members of the press corps, “might want to get used to the idea of being banished to New Jersey.”

Anonymous sources in city hall have indicated that the plan is likely to include banishing of all automobiles from Manhattan, including taxis and buses, and replacement of seats on subway cars with stationary bikes that will actually power the trains, which are expected to both eliminate death by auto accident and promote exercise. All windows above the ground floor will be hermetically sealed, and access to balconies and rooftops will be restricted to an army of maintenance robots, all to eliminate death from falling. Elevators will be sealed, for obvious health and safety reasons. Stairwells will be coated in playground foam rubber throughout the city, and helmets will be mandatory to ascend or descend a stairwell. A giant UV light filter will be erected over the city to block out the sun’s harmful rays and prevent skin cancer. All sharp and blunt objects will be confiscated city-wide, which won’t be a problem for the city’s restaurants as only food reduced to portions which are too small to choke on will be permitted within the city anyway. As a final resort, draconian fines are likely to be assessed on anyone determined to have died “before their time.”

When asked why he had not decided to just ban death altogether, the Mayor replied, “Because that would just be silly.”


guns and noise

[Update 5/31: I've attempted to update relevant facts as best I can. While it turns out that yesterday's violence really does make this an exceptionally violent month in Seattle, I think my larger point about statistical noise versus real trends still stands. But feel free to dig into the numbers and draw your own conclusions.]

It's been an unusually violent day here today here in the Emerald City.

Two fatal shootings--unrelated, by all indications--[Ed: SPD now says that the same suspect is believed responsible for both shootings] took place a couple of miles apart from each other within the space of an hour. One was an apparent carjacking, the suspect in which is still apparently on the loose dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head (see below). The other was a thusfar inexplicable attack on a neighborhood cafe just north of the UW. The latter left two dead at the scene, another two more died later at the hospital just down the block from my office, and two one more are is critically injured. The suspect in the cafe shooting is believed to have killed himself about an hour ago in the middle of the street. [Ed: he actually survived the self-inflicted GSW, was brought to Harborview, and died a few hours later.]

This on the heels of a "spike" in homicides in January and February that have a lot of people worried about violence--and gun violence in particular--in our fair city.

Predictably, these sorts of incidents trigger arguments about guns, gun ownership, and gun control. You may be surprised to learn that while Seattle is indeed a pretty liberal town, Washington state's ownership and concealment regime is about as permissive as any in the country, and no local statute abridges it. Which is to say, the law in Seattle favors broad gun carrying, but the culture tends to frown on it. Kind of an interesting state of affairs.

There are a couple of things worth considering here.

1--Seattle, especially in terms of homicide, is a really safe city, especially compared with other American cities of comparable size. Here are the monthly homicide stats from January 2008 thru March 2012:

A couple of things should jump out at you: in a "typical" month there are 1-3 homicides in the city. In 5 of the 51 months on the graph, there were zero. And in the same time period, there was never a month that exceeded 5. Unless I am missing something (and I may be), the four five homicides today put us at 5 6 for the month of May.

This is a very bad day, making for a bad month. But it is not an unusually bad month. [Ed: I guess it is, now.]

2--Year to date comparisons are not meaningful in this data set. SPD has a practice of comparing the stats of the year to date with the same totals from the same time period the year before. I have no idea why they do this. I suppose it would make sense if there existed some predictable fluctuation of crime over the course of a year. If only we had a way to test this hypothesis...

Same data set as above (minus the first three months of 2012), but this time the data from each month are represented by the box and whisker plot...basically, the line in the middle of the box gives you the average, and the box and whiskers indicate the range of values. If there is a consistent trend over the year, then some months should clearly look different from others. We might be able to infer that Aug-Jan is slightly more violent than Mar-Jun, but this may just be noise. Note that July, the only month for which there is a 5-homicide month in this four-year period, also had at least one zero month. April and September are similarly noisy, ranging from 0 to 4.

There really is no discernible pattern, here.

Why does this matter? Because when we compare January and February of 2012 (4 and 5, respectively) to January and February of 2011 (1 and 1), it looks really bad! It's a 350% increase in the homicide rate! But unless there is a good reason to think that January/February of 2012 ought to look like January/February 2011 (and there isn't, really) the comparison is completely arbitrary. Similarly, when we compare May 2012 (5 and counting) with May 2011 (big, fat zero), May 2012 is literally infinitely worse. But this means exactly nothing.

3--These are really, really small numbers and there aren't very many of them. I don't want to get too deep into statistical theory, here--mostly because I am ill-suited to do so--but suffice it to say that if you want to know whether one set of numbers is statistically significantly different from another, it takes more measurements to determine a smaller difference between the sets, with any reasonable degree of certainty.

I don't want to minimize the horror experienced by victims of violence, here or anywhere, today or any other day. And there may very well be a disturbing trend underway in Seattle. But the fact is that we will not know that until more time goes by.

In the meantime, if someone wants to make an argument that easy access to guns makes gun crime more likely, by all means do so. While I'm personally OK with private gun ownership by responsible, law-abiding citizens, I find many of the pro-gun arguments appalling (in particular, the assertion that there is no relationship between having a gun, and using a gun, and not having a gun, and not using a gun.) I also think some more reasonable allowances ought to be made for local regulation...what's fine and dandy for Cle Elum really may not be appropriate for Capitol Hill.

But...if someone wants to lay the recent violence here on our permissive gun laws, they also have to contend with all of the peaceful months we've had--recently!--under the exact same regime.

(All data shown were compiled into graphs by me, based on numbers obtained from SPD. For some reason, SPD only published annual totals in 2010, so I got my numbers for 2010 from this Seattle PI piece. I cannot attest to their accuracy.)


this is how it starts...

George Romero, call your agent:

Witness Larry Vega was riding his bicycle Saturday afternoon off the MacArthur Causeway that connects downtown Miami with Miami Beach when he saw the savage attack, he told local news media.

"The guy was, like, tearing him to pieces with his mouth, so I told him, 'Get off!'" Vega told Miami television station WSVN. "The guy just kept eating the other guy away, like, ripping his skin."

Vega flagged down a Miami police officer, who he said repeatedly ordered the attacker to get off the victim. The attacker just picked his head up and growled at the officer, Vega said.

As the attack continued, Vega said the officer shot the attacker, who continued chewing the victim's face. The officer fired again, killing the attacker.

It would be good to know if it took a head shot to finish him off. 

This does beg the question, though: if zombies overran Florida, would anyone really notice?


But when the GOP affirmatively declares that there is no such thing as a secular decision, that there is no place and no decision and no policy which is not subject to religious and theological influence ... it seems to me that we have to examine how a candidate's faith affects their politics - by the GOP's own reasoning.--Sully

I look forward to be lectured about how Mr. Romney's religious associations aren't an appropriate arena for criticism and scrutiny.



in which i make a (nearly) completely groundless prediction

People will look at today's IPO as the beginning of the end of Facebook. Not because the share prices fluctuated wildly before settling a mere $0.23 above where they started, but because today will be the day when Facebook had to start answering to shareholders.

I think the astronomical valuation of the company is absurd. To be sure, they have built a global social network that I never could have imagined being the pervasive entity it has become, when I first saw an undergraduate's FB page at the University of Arizona, c. 2005. And they have adroitly parlayed that ubiquity and the data its users so readily provide into the promise of endless ad revenue.

But I think the business model has peaked.

FB has already gotten a lot more clunky. I know, every few months, people bitch and moan about this change or that, and threaten to leave, and never do. But absent a tangible product other than user data and ad space, Facebook is going to get either a lot more invasive, a lot more ad-driven--but more likely, both--when shareholders start demanding real returns.

I may or may not be right about what people will be willing to put up with . But I am very, very, confident that you will not recognize the place two years from now.



Alex Pareene:

If the “electable” face of libertarianism is a fratty anti-gay, anti-choice nitwit like Rand Paul, I will stick with socialism, thank you. And I wonder if the Paul family’s plan is to promote “liberty” or to promote the Paul family.


I am a gullible fucking idiot for wasting a Saturday (even a shitty rainy one like it was) on this guy. If (when) I get a call from Rand Paul's people, they are going to get an epic barrage of profanity before I tell them to take me off their list and never, ever call me again. 


paul spokesman: "no chance" of endorsing gary johnson

Disappointing. But not terribly surprising.

$41m is a lot of sensitivity training

Seattle Times:

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn warned Monday that it could cost up to $41 million a year to pay for the U.S. Justice Department's proposed remedies to curtail excessive force in the Police Department, issuing a dire-sounding memorandum outlining severe consequences for the city...

Among the costliest items would be the promotion of 54 officers to sergeant to satisfy Justice Department concerns over adequate supervision.

To be fair, DOJ disputes the Mayor's estimates, and no one in the city budget offices have really checked his math yet. McGinn has every political reason to lay as much blame for future financial pain over this on the feds, and the feds have no compelling reason to get the numbers right (because they don't have to pay for any of this.) The truth almost certainly lies somewhere in between.

I don't know what the pay scales in SPD are, but it is no surprise to me that personnel costs make up the bulk of any initiative the SPD is looking at. The parking lot by the East Precinct contains an awful lot of very nice, very new cars...much nicer, in fact, than 95% of the cars parked in the (fairly affluent) surrounding neighborhood. (As in Lexuses, Beamers, and a whole lot of $40-50K SUVs and tricked out trucks.) That's a lot of overtime.

I'm sure there are issues of inadequate supervision and training at work here. But the figure I keep coming back to in thinking about all of this is this one:

Only a fraction of Seattle officers use force more than once a year, with 789 officers using no force at all during 2010 and 44 officers out of more than a thousand using force more than five times that year.

Certainly, some cops are just working rougher beats. But that cannot be the only thing happening. Other analyses have indicated that a very small population of the Department account for a very large proportions of the excessive force complaints.

It seems to me a more effective (and less costly) solution is not more SPD sergeants, but rather more former SPD officers.


color me shocked

So it turns out the kind of guy who grows up to run a company that extracted value from other companies by downsizing them to profitability (or by simply selling them off in pieces), goes on freeway drives with the family dog strapped to the roof of his car, has a political career marked by nothing so much as a craven willingness to appease whomever it takes to achieve his immediate goals, hires a capable (if wrong-minded) foreign policy spokesperson only to quickly hang him out to dry the moment some people object to his sexual orientation...was kind of a dick in high school.

This ain't news, folks.


leading from behind

My first thought was, "we really could have used you on this earlier, Mr. President. Like, yesterday, for example."

But of course, Mr. Obama's game is politics. That isn't to say that his professed opinion (today) on marriage equality isn't genuine--I suspect he was merely updating us as to how he has felt about this for a long time--but surely it is no accident that his VP floated a trial balloon on the subject this past weekend. Nor is it an accident that his "evolution" has reached this point early exactly a year about 18 months after the intersection on this chart:

Really, he has nothing to lose coming out in favor of marriage equality. It is difficult to imagine anyone who would consider opposition to equality a litmus issue was up for grabs in the presidential election. This isn't exactly courageous, is what I'm saying.

File it under "doing the right thing, eventually."

But it is still the right thing.


this week in science

--Ice cream headaches may tell us something about the biology of migraine.

--Martian sunsets are often blue.

--Return of the zombie ant fungus. 

the test, ct'd

So far...failing.


didn't see that coming

 It's May Day in Seattle, so workers of the world, unite and smash some shit. Or something.

 These guys decided to stick it to Niketown. Naturally, at least one of them was wearing Nikes at the time.

Some days, the planet-killing asteroid just can't get here fast enough.