Friday, January 06, 2012

On texting, driving, fact checking, murder rates, borderline competency and global security

A few, disparate tidbits:

Houston 2011 murder rate nearly as low as Mexico City
The murder rate in Houston is at its lowest since 1965,  (and nearly the lowest since data began to be recorded), with 198 murders last year compared to a high of 701 in 1981, reported KUHF radio. Still, the murder rate of 9.4 per 100,000 is substantially higher than the statewide murder rate of 5.0 in 2010, according to DPS data (pdf). To put that number into perspective, Mexico City's murder rate is 8.3 per 100,000, so in that light 9.4 perhaps isn't exactly being all you can be. Still, Less Murders = Good. MORE: From Kuff.

After death, inquiry finds most youth at Granbury juvie detention in isolation for unjustified reasons
Now that the new Texas Juvenile Justice Department is up and running, there's no time to lose in exercising its oversight function. Reports the Weatherford Democrat, "A state investigation of the Granbury Regional Juvenile Justice Center following the death of a 14-year-old Cleburne boy in October has raised questions about the role of the facility’s non-compliance with detention facility standards in the boy’s death." Said the paper, a TJJD "report released last week found several violations related to keeping the juveniles in isolation nearly all day on Oct. 10 outside of the physical presence of a juvenile supervision officer. The 11 residents of 'Alpha Pod' were kept locked in their rooms most of the day, not allowed to participate in educational and other activities as required and left without the supervision level required during daytime program hours, the TJJD investigation found." Further, "Investigators found that only one of the 11 residents of 'Alpha Pod' was 'confined for a reason justified by standards, namely the resident’s disciplinary seclusion status.'" In other words, 10 of the 11 kids in isolation at the time of the boys death shouldn't have even been there.

Borderline competency: Good question, no easy answers
Asks a prosecutor on the DA Association user forum, "What do you do with those VERY low functioning defendants who are already receiving services from MHMR and whose competency is borderline?... Seems they are getting more plentiful." While one wag replied, "Send them off to law school?," others including John Bradley noted there are no easy answers, particularly in the wake of budget cuts to mental health services in the most recent legislative session.

Constable resigns in lieu of prosecution
The DA in Lubbock won't pursue criminal charges against a local constable in exchange for his resignation and lifetime ban from serving as a peace officer.

H-Town burglar alarm fees don't pay for city services
In Houston, according to HPD's website, "The cost of responding to alarm calls for service in FY2007 was approximately $11.8 million dollars and exceeded the City's total annual revenues in that fiscal year ($7.99 million dollars) derived from permit fees and penalties associated with burglar, panic, holdup and similar alarm systems."

Balko: Anger vs. Lykos stems from 'efforts to change the culture'
Radley Balko suggests that in the Harris County District Attorney primary, "intra-party anger seems to stem mostly from [Pat Lykos'] efforts to change the culture in the Harris County DA’s office." Exactly. There's an odd nostalgia among her most ardent critics which Grits suspects can never be satisfied. It's a new century, and whatever happens in April or November, Johnny Holmes won't be walking through the door anytime soon.

Problem with texting while driving is the driving, not the texting
Fascinating. Fewer teens are driving and studies say cars are no longer the status symbol of freedom that they once were among young Americans, particularly in cities. Texting while driving is bad, argues Lisa Hymas at Grist, but more importantly, "we need to work urgently on making driving less necessary in the first place." Great line from Clive Thompson at Wired: "When we worry about driving and texting, we assume that the most important thing the person is doing is piloting the car. But what if the most important thing they're doing is texting? How do we free them up so they can text without needing to worry about driving?" How's that for reframing the question? I'm still rather amazed that Gov. Perry vetoed the texting while driving ban passed in Texas this year.

Iran, Pakistan, Mexico, None-Of-The-Above: Which is biggest threat to world stability?
This is nuts to me: From any rational American perspective - certainly for those of us living in border states - the biggest threat to stability in 2012 isn't Iran, surely it's from drug violence and instability in Mexico and Latin America, arguably followed by anti-western sentiment in already-nuclear Pakistan, where our troops are entrenched across the border for the foreseeable future. In Grits' book, I'd put high food prices (at least) third on the list. Why downplay instability in a nation that already has nukes, much less massive corruption and bloodshed on the US southern border, to proclaim Iran the ultimate threat? That's the sort of demagoguery that makes people vote for Ron Paul. Which is more dangerous for world security: A nuclear Iran or a starving Africa?

Fact check this
Greg Marx at the Columbia Journalism Review has an essay articulating numerous criticisms which have been gelling in Grits' own mind in recent months about so-called "fact checking" services like Politifact and the limits of the framework under which they operate, particularly regarding legal issues. I finished his piece and thought, "Damn, I wish I'd written that," which of course is the highest compliment one writer can pay to another. My biggest frustration with Politifact, et. al.: Grits despises the notion that fact checking should be somehow considered specialty work among journalists, implying that most journalists are mere mouthpieces for special interests who don't provide a significant truth filter between their sources and the public. That may be accurate as a practical, workaday matter, but it's not a model to aspire to.


Anonymous said...

I'm disappointed the cell phone texting ban died. I'm about to have the horn replaced in my car due to over-use from waking up idiots driving down the road with their chin in their chest while weaving and texting.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well heaven knows they'd have all stopped if somebody passed a law ... right?

Better idea if you're going for a total ban: Regulate auto makers to require new vehicles are surrounded in a Faraday cage so drivers can't use a cell phone. Don't just repeat the whole criminalize and punish cycle; instead, over time, make it physically impossible to use a cell phone while the car is running.

Besides, anyone "weaving" while texting could already be pulled over for reckless driving. There's no need for a new law.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if TJJD would get its agency website up and running....

Anonymous said...

Gritsforbreakfast said...
"Well heaven knows they'd have all stopped if somebody passed a law ... right?"

If it had any teeth, most of them would. That's the way it works. Besides, the law just has to outlaw any manual use of the cell phone, and not hands-free operation.

Anonymous said...

Your ignorance of the threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran (theocratic fascists) is astounding Mr. Chamberlain.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

6:26, I'm not ignorant of the threat, just not myopic about it. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in you philosophy.

And 5:51, studies say hands-free is just as dangerous as holding the phone. If you're going to endorse the ban, you don't just get to pick and choose which research to acknowledge and which to ignore.

I still say enforcing laws against reckless driving does all you need to do on this. The ban is feel good, unenforceable legislation that in practice hasn't reduced accidents.

Anonymous said...

Gritsforbreakfast said...
"And 5:51, studies say hands-free is just as dangerous as holding the phone."

I'm not talking about holding the phone to your ear and talking. I'm talking about texting. A HUGE difference. Texting requires you to take your eyes off the road.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sorry, I read your suggestion to "outlaw any manual use of the cell phone" and thought you meant talking, too. If not, my error.

rodmsith said...

i agree most of those cell phone caused accidents are not from real PHONE CALLS but from texting.

might be time to REQUIRE that feature be REMOVED from phones.

just think of all the people and CHILDREN it would SAVE!

of course the phone companies would go ape since a nice big part of their profit comes from all those OVER LIMIT text's

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Actually Rod, the research touted on distracted driving doesn't support that. Talking on your cell phone is supposedly a significant cause of accidents.

I think it's likely overstated, but the distracted driving folks aren't saying texting only is the problem but using phones while driving generally, and the feds want to ban their use entirely.

doran said...

Someone clarify this for me: Once a cell phone call is dialed, punched-in, voice activated or however the call is connected, why is talking to someone via cell phone any more dangerous than talking to someone else in the vehicle, talking to one's self in one of the angry "wish I had told the sob to go get....", practicing lines for a play or for an argument in court that morning (not much difference between those two!), singing along with Willy on the radio or a CD, or singing along with the kids in the back seat? Some of you seem to be asserting that if, while driving, I'm talking directly to someone in the front passenger seat, that activity is significantly less dangerous than if I called that person on his cell phone and talked to him. How can that be, assuming the call is placed, for instance, by someone else in the car?

If the use of cell phones in cars is totally prohibited, or technically prevented, then passengers are also cut off from that form of communication. That seems an unnecessary step to take.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Doran, you're pointing to a conundrum that's bothered me from the get go and which explains much of my own resistance to the "distracted driving" meme. IMO it's MORE distracting, e.g., to talk with one's wife in the passenger seat, where you're not only mentally engaged in a conversation but looking for visual facial cues, etc., much less disciplining kids in the back seat. I've never seen a study that compares those types of interactions with talking on the cell phone, and suspect if we saw it the conversation with a passenger is even more distracting.

Anonymous said...

And let's not forget about law enforcement, have you seen the vehicles equipment? Many departments now have keyboards and montiors which allow officers to write reports, run criminal histories, check license plates and communicate without using the radio. Some departments areusing the computer to dispatch calls. Hopefully nobody is typing a report while driving, but they can and frequently do run LP checks while driving, frequently are dispatched and have to scroll btween screens for details of the call and a map.

RSO wife said...

Just because there's a law against something doesn't mean people will obey it. If that were the case we wouldn't have the highest DUI fatality rate in the US

Anonymous said...

According to a new study by two British insurance companies, driving while sick with a common cold is more dangerous than driving while drunk, and wouldn't you know that cops would agree:

Anonymous said...

08:57:00 AM, I live in Houston and drive 4 hours daily. Yet I never see anyone texting. Occasionally I do see women applying makeup on their way to work in the morning, but even that is incredibly rare. I'm thinking you are an impatient driver who is always running late and sees what he wants to see. If your horn is worn out from use, you probably have road-rage issues and should seek professional help before someone gets hurt.

Stephanie said...

Penultimate = "second to last"

Anonymous said...

1/07/2012 11:17:00 AM said:

"If your horn is worn out from use, you probably have road-rage issues and should seek professional help before someone gets hurt."

Nah. The person with road rage issues is the twit that drops their cell phone on the floor after I slip up on their blind spot, and lay on the horn and almost cause them to run off the road. You oughtta see the profanity they mouth at me.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Ouch, steph, good usage catch. Fixed it. Don't know where that brain fart came from but I fixed it. Oh, the perils of writing without an editor! :)

RSO wife said...

To Anon 8:57. Not sure where in Houston you are driving, or what time of day you drive, but I drive all over Houston on a daily basis. There are people texting, talking, eating, reading the paper and yes, even applying makeup on the streets and freeways around Houston every day. On my street alone there have been 5 accidents two blocks from my house at the same intersection in the last year due to cell phone use.

Maybe you don't see the others doing it because you are too busy on your own cell phone to notice.

Anonymous said...

Grits, if you're talking to someone in the car with you, they are also watching the road (at least to some extent). Also if a tense traffic situation arises they will suspend the discusion without needing to be told; probably.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's sure not true when you're disciplining kids in the back seat, 9:45, and I doubt it's much of a mitigating factor for adults, either. Passengers don't think it's their job to watch the road.

For that matter, IMO the same thing about suspending the conversation when tense situations arise applies to cell phones, too. If the ability to stop the conversation reduces risk for the one, it also does so for the other, but the distracted driving crowd doesn't view that as sufficient mitigation.