Sunday, March 20, 2005

Sunday odds and ends

Here's a few items that, in a perfect world, I'd have already mentioned.
  • Why You Should Pay the Toll: Thanks to Crimlaw for catching this Texas-related gem spoof from on the Supremes: "The Court ruled, 5-4, that the police may open fire on vehicles speeding through the TollTag lanes provided they first fire "an attention-getting" warning burst into the air. In Gonzalez v. Texas Interstate Authority, a San Antonio man sued when his car was riddled with bullets after he went through the TollTag lane at 38 miles per hour. Writing for the majority, Justice O'Connor noted, 'While the presence of 187 bullet holes suggests zeal, even delight, on the part of the officers who disabled Mr. Gonzalez's vehicle, their actions were consistent with existing local statutes providing for 'extraordinary measures' when dealing with TollTag lane violators.'" UPDATE: Whoops, that turned out to be a gag. See this correction for more.
  • Virtual Texas Prison Tour: Bas is a college student from the Netherlands who took a prison tour of the Wynne Unit in Huntsville last month with UT Visiting Prof. Michelle Deitch, a longtime criminal justice policy analyst and friend of Texas' reform movement. Bas wrote down his impressions here at some length, including his "uneasy feeling" when he realized "a lot of them just looked like people you meet every regular day on the street." He also felt like: "It is not only the building itself, it is also the smells, the sounds, the air; actually everything there was depressing to me. I do not see how this kind of environment can change the inmates into better beings. Just after being there for a few hours you already feel kind of deformed."
  • Blogging the Aftermath of a Tragedy: Catonya's a regular Grits visitor and commenter, and she has a sad and unique focus for her blog, 2withspirit, which was created to document the aftermath of the death of her husband Rick, who died in a high speed chase with the local police. She's been on a serious quest for information. You can learn a lot about how relatives of the deceased are treated after a high-speed chase death, and what people can and can't know under the law about such incidents in Texas, by reading her blog (short answer: they're treated shabbily, and not given enough information to satisfy grieving relatives). Some days Catonya tells about the results of her latest open records request, while on others she just lets us know how much she misses her husband. It's all illuminating, whether or not you've ever thought much about the aftermath of high speed chases. Click around her lovely and uniquely designed blog, or start at the beginning and read it as narrative - taken as a whole, it's a very powerful piece of writing on a subject not many people have thought more about, except maybe these guys. CrimProf blog this morning said the California Legislature may regulate high speed chases.
  • Probation Reform Heard in Committee Thursday: The media have focused mostly on funding for programs, but perhaps the most important piece of probation reform advocated by the legislative leadership from the Governor on down is reducing the length of probation, embodied in HB 575 by Haggerty, R-El Paso, discussed previously here. The bill was heard on Thursday in the House Corrections Committee. (For more background on the bill, see the fact sheet distributed by advocates, and Grits analysis of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee report from December.)
  • Help Reintegrate Prisoners by Giving ID: Rep. Haggerty had another good bill up in the House Judiciary Committee last week, HB 967, which would help standardize state recordkeeping about inmates. The committee substitute requires the Texas Department of Public Safety to accept as valid a former inmate's prison ID; otherwise, it's extremely difficult for ex-prisoners to get a driver's license. It was favorably received from the dais, but left pending as is common practice. ACLU lege team volunteer "Irish Dave" Piri, of the blog Firebrand Freedom, and Ann from Solutions were there late helping the bill along.
  • Better Solutions on Probation and Sentencing Reform: Don't forget to check out Solutions for Texas for more information on probation and sentencing issues. In just a few months, Ann's site has turned into an amazing resource. E.g., within two days after bill filing deadline, she put up links to all the good sentencing bills, and a comprehensive list of bills increasing prison and jail time.
  • Muni Wireless Skirmish Won, Big Battles Ahead: Congrats to my friends at the Save Muni Wireless campaign for getting the language banning free municipal wireless stripped out in committee. (Rumor has it they got some unexpected help when Michael Dell personally called some of the pro-ban committee members; I'll bet they don't want HIM financing their opposition in 2006 without any contribution limits!) King, though, has said he'll try to add the ban back on the House floor. This is an example of bad ideology translating into bad public policy, driven by a major lobby interest (Southwestern Bell). The premise is that private companies could provide the service, therefore they should. But the libertarian ideology of property rights too often fails to recognize the existence of "public goods," as Adina has eloquently written, or defines them too narrowly for the information era. Cities want to provide free wireless, mostly, because they think it will make their economies grow. So do I.
  • More on Web Activism: I updated Thursday's post on web activism with more from Adina and Jon.
  • Breathalyzers Bashed: Larry Taylor's DUI Blog has been picking apart the science behind breathalyzer tests here, here, here and here, and a good item on how nervousness, itself, can become probable cause for a DUI stop if the driver gets "Black and White Fever."
  • Biometrics Boom: While I've been blogging about potential problems with biometrics as unique identifiers, one finds that elsewhere in the world their use expands unmitigated.
  • Don't Go Here Unless You Like First-Class Blogger Journalism: If you care about food, agricultural politics, or just like reading first rate investigative bloggerly journalism, you need to be watching my college buddy Tom's Bitter Greens Gazette. He's a financial journalist-turned investigative blogger focused on the evils of Big Ag and the merits of smaller-scale regional-focused food production, like what his crew does at Maverick Farms. I've mentioned it before, but if that topic interests you, keep watching; he's publishing stuff I'm not seeing anywhere else.


Catonya said...

Thank you for the mention. It's truly an honor.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

Should have done it awhile ago, and I'm honored to have you here. I actually mentioned you in testimony yesterday, btw - your case generally, of course, since I only know your web handle. It was on a bill by Harold Dutton opening up certain police records. I used you as an example of somebody who couldn't get open records information because the death of the suspect "closed" the case. I need to post on that hearing but haven't had time.