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December 18, 2007

Great moments in law enforcement
Posted by Patrick at 02:46 PM * 246 comments

In New York City, police are putting out decoy purses and wallets, and then arresting people who pick up the objects and fail to immediately give them to a cop.

In Rancho Cordova, California, police are pulling over law-abiding motorists in order to surprise them with $5 Starbucks gift cards, supposedly in order to “promote the holiday spirit and enhance goodwill between the traffic unit and the motoring public.”

Who thinks this stuff up? Are they retarded? Do we have a nationwide problem recruiting people of normal intelligence for police work?

I don’t know about you, but if I found a wallet on the sidewalk, the first thing to occur to me would probably not be to pester a scary-looking, armed-to-the-teeth New York cop about it. I have in fact found valuables, such as wallets and phones, and I’ve generally managed to return them to their proper owners. I’m appalled to discover that this behavior will now get me arrested in my home town. (Not that the NYPD’s little program has any valid basis in law. As a judge in Brooklyn noted, New Yorkers actually have ten days to return found property, and there’s no requirement that it be turned over to a police officer. Will this fact affect anything? Gosh, interesting question. Since evidently Presidents and Vice-Presidents no longer have to worry about silly “laws,” I can’t see why police will.)

As for Rancho Cordova, sure, good idea, what could possibly go wrong? I can’t wait for the first time one of these jolly holiday pull-overs results in a driver panicking, a scared cop who thinks someone’s reaching for a weapon, shots fired, and a passerby suddenly dead. Does Starbucks know about this little tie-in? Are they on board for it?

On the Boing Boing thread about Rancho Cordova, one commenter observed that it’s “like the bully ruffling your hair at break.” Quite right. It’s the kind of country we’re becoming. We’ve created a culture in which the stupid are consistently triumphant, and the rest of us just keep our heads down.

Comments on Great moments in law enforcement:
#1 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 03:33 PM:

These seem to be new illustrations of the principle that the police service examination is designed to weed out the competent.

#2 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 03:33 PM:

Also, in Arizona police are using new technology that scans license plates and compares them to a list of lawbreakers, and then pulling them over on the spot if they are.

In Florida, police broke down the door of the wrong house, causing the homeowner to fire at them with a shotgun in self defense. He hit two vest wearing police with his shotgun, but the SWAT team that entered (thinking they were raiding a drug dealer) riddled his house with semiautomatic fire but thankfully didn't hit anyone (two adults, two teens).

#3 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 03:41 PM:

I saw this while I was in Germany, I was appalled.

And I also figured it had to be something less than legitimate.

#4 ::: Tucker ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 03:46 PM:

"The policeman isn't there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder." --Richard J. Daly

Except in NYC and Rancho Cordova, where the policeman is now there to create disorder.

#5 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 03:47 PM:

In the Rancho Cordova case: i can easily imagine, say, being late to a final, or an airplane flight, or something, as a result of the fact that the police officer decided to stop me to reward me with an unwanted starbucks card.

I wonder if, theoretically speaking, you could sue the police department for damages caused as a result of being late for something because you were stopped without legal justification?

#6 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 03:47 PM:

In one discussion on this NY police 'sting,' people suggested running a sousveillance version. Make up 20 or 40 wallets or purses- ones with a realistic amount of cash and/or devices- and give them to cops. See how many come back to their owner intact.

If I found a purse, I'd assume that the owner is quite possibly close by (that they just left the station) and could be reached with a few minutes of phoning. I'll also assume that any nearby cop wouldn't have time to make those calls. Because of that latter fact I'd not want to just hand the purse over without helping out first. But not, I guess, in NYC.

* devices for purses might include cell phones, small cameras, flash drives, usb headsets.

#7 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 03:52 PM:

When I was in college, I worked at one of the campus lost-and-found offices. The campus police used to give *us* lost items that were turned in to them -- our offices were right next door, and we had the time to track down the owners.

I don't think there are many circumstances when I'd assume that the policeman was the logical person to give a lost item to. The station manager, the store manager -- if I handed it in to an authority figure, I'd go with them. And that's assuming the lost item didn't include a handy cell phone with a "Home" entry to try calling.

(Tangent: it's a really good idea to make sure your cell has some entry like "My work number" or "Home" or "If found please call" on it. It makes it a lot easier to track you down than a cell phone full of entries like "John" and "BootyDawg" and "K. Chuzzlewit".)

#8 ::: MikeB ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 03:56 PM:

As I said in the Boing Boing thread: I cannot believe that Starbucks knew that the cops were going to start forcing their gift cards on people -- and, whether or not it was okayed by some clueless soon-to-be-former Starbucks employee, the company is surely putting a stop to it as I speak.

I cannot imagine a more effective way to kill a brand. It would literally be better (albeit marginally so) to have the Unibomber turn out to be a Starbucks drinker.

#9 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 03:58 PM:

Kathryn #6: I really like the idea of turning the tables on this idiocy.

I hate what I see this country becoming. I HATE it.

#10 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 04:00 PM:

Do we have a nationwide problem recruiting people of normal intelligence for police work?

Just to be fair, I'm sure these policies weren't invented by ordinary police officers, and equally sure there are probably quite a few officers who agree with us about how stupid the policies are.

On the other hand, here's a disgrace which I bet required lack of judgement and decency up and down the chain of command.

#11 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 04:04 PM:

The Rancho Cordova story amazes me. (The NYC one too, but that seems a much more comprehensible form of unlawful idiocy.) I've read that the two things cops hate most are domestic disputes and random traffic pull-overs. The former because an abused wife will often turn on the cops trying to arrest her husband. The latter because it's just so unpredictable -- the guy you think you're pulling over for having a broken tail-light could also have a trunk full of cocaine and a pistol on the seat next to him.

#12 ::: Nathan ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 04:05 PM:

Two things.

The NYC Transit Authority recently ran a little test on themselves. They had various people hand over "lost" items to various Transit employees. Something like three out of 27 items ever made it to the lost and found.

Also, NYPD has been running commercials "If you see something, say something", exhorting citizens to alert the police to suspicious packages. The commercial goes on to say "Since (some date) "x" many people have seen something and said something". I'm dying to know out of all those packages the cops were sent to investigate, how many times was there anything bad there.

#13 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 04:10 PM:

Who thinks this stuff up? Are they retarded? Do we have a nationwide problem recruiting people of normal intelligence for police work?

Cops. Yes. And it's complicated - smart will not get you promoted quick, ruthlessness, self aggrandizement and backstabbing will.

I don’t know about you, but if I found a wallet on the sidewalk, the first thing to occur to me would probably not be to pester a scary-looking, armed-to-the-teeth New York cop about it.

If you see something, say nothing!

#14 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 04:16 PM:

John L@#2: That second case is here in Minnesota, actually. Well, could be a lookalike.

#15 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 04:16 PM:

Nancy at #10, actually, according to the AP story, the Rancho Cordova idea originated with a traffic officer.

#16 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 04:17 PM:

If I found a wallet, I'd pick it up, take it home, and look up the phone number of the person whose driver's license was in the wallet. Then I'd call them, and arrange to return the wallet. It would never occur to me to give it to a cop. I guess I'll avoid trying to be a good citizen while I'm in NYC next week.

#17 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 04:18 PM:

There is, in fact, a nationwide shortage of people who both want to become police officers and are capable of meeting the requirements. Every city in the Bay Area is constantly hiring, but something over 70% of Academy candidates wash out either in the training program or in their first year on duty.

#18 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 04:25 PM:

Welcome to the Idiocracy.

(It's not too late to emigrate to friendly, peaceful Scandinavia! Do it now, before it becomes illegal.)

#19 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 04:29 PM:

Yngve@18: It is for some of us. At least, the last few times I've checked out rules for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, I'm too old (or under-educated, or whatever; my main loss of points on their rating system is due to being over 50, though).

Haven't checked Scandinavia though. And I'm not actually that eager to give up and get out.

#20 ::: alkali ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 04:35 PM:

As for Rancho Cordova, sure, good idea, what could possibly go wrong?

"Make that cappucino a decaf; I've just been tased."

#21 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 04:52 PM:

The Rancho Cordoba thing:

This reminds me of a PR attempt by the Hell's Angels a good number of years ago. They had a bunch of business cards made up that said, "You've been aided by a Hell's Angel. When we do right, no one remembers. When we do wrong, no one forgets."

They were going to go around helping random motorists fix flat tires and so on.

Now imagine you're a citizen on a lonely road, fixing your flat or checking a map or some such. Here comes a bunch of bikers in leathers, looking like, y'know, Hell's Angels. They circle around and pull up behind you. What's your next move, citizen?

As you might expect, it all ended in sadness and the Hell's Angels never did get their good publicity.

#22 ::: vito excalibur ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 04:53 PM:


I know one person who tried for months to get through the hiring process for the Oakland P.D. - not even to get hired, but to get to the tests which would theoretically tell them whether they could hire her. They kept cancelling the tests or rescheduling and not telling her. Indirect way of not hiring women, or sheer incompetence? Either way, she's got another job, and I've got a lot less patience for police departments which claim to be understaffed.

#23 ::: Dan ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 04:53 PM:

Do we have a nationwide problem recruiting people of normal intelligence for police work?

When police officers in Conyers, GA see a car with valuables left in plain view, they'll tag it with a huge yellow sticker advising drivers to take better security measures.

So, to answer your question: Yes.

#24 ::: Gavin Edwards ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 04:55 PM:

I was in the jury pool in New York City for one of these cases, approximately two years ago.

From the questions being asked of the potential jurors, I got a pretty good sense of the facts of the case and the lines of argument: a young woman had picked up a purse at a department store (H&M, I think) and left the store with it. The purse was part of a sting operation (by the store? by the cops?) and so the young woman was arrested. It didn't seem as if those events were in dispute--I believe there was even security-cam footage--and the defense attorney was pushing the "Did you ever return found property? Did you do it immediately, or did you bring it home to deal with it?" angle. I don't know how the case turned out--always a frustration when one doesn't make it onto the actual jury.

Personally, if I'm at a place of business, like a department store or a restaurant, and I found a bag or a wallet, I'd turn it in to a clerk or a greeter. If I found a wallet or a phone on a park bench, I'd probably take it to track down the owner (maybe immediately on my cell, depending on whether I was in a rush and how much detective work was required from the wallet's contents). If I found something more cumbersome (like a larger bag) on a park bench, I'd probably leave it there, hoping the owner would return soon. If I saw an abandoned bag in the subway, I'd alert a token clerk on the "if you see something, say something" principle. I find it hard to imagine a situation where I would turn in lost property to a cop, though; it just doesn't seem like the most effective move. What are they supposed to do with a handbag while walking the beat?

#25 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 05:00 PM:

I know what it is. NYPD has been infiltrated by Discordian Terrorists. Prove me wrong!

#26 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 05:00 PM:

It's annoying, patronizing, and authoritarian for a cop to be "rewarding" me for my good driving. The only "reward" I want from a cop is to be left the hell alone.

#27 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 05:10 PM:

It's been my experience that a number of inadequate projects and programs are developed by individuals seeking recognition they can't obtain through other means and are often approved by those who have succeeded in proving the Peter Principle.

As to the wrongful entry and the link to the wrongful detention, it appears that Nixon's No Knock policy was merely a hint at what was to come and we knew it then. I still recall a shootout between a gun collector in his home and the police who entered without knocking or identifying themselves. One would have thought such incidents then would have been engraved in stone as lessons in what not to do.

Unfortunately, we get people into position who don't understand those lessons and whine until the current lawmakers give in and allow them more power only to see them make the same mistakes again. Then they just can't understand why it happened and conclude that our Constitution is at fault and needs to be loosened even more.

#28 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 05:13 PM:

It's really not authoritarian for law enforcement to reward as well as punish; while this specific example is, uh, quite stupid, I could imagine a more sensible program like: don't get any traffic convictions, and you go in the draw to win $500 of petrol. (Or whatever)

Swift seemed to think it'd be good if the law didn't only interact with citizens in a punishing capacity, and I felt he made some good arguments. I certainly don't think it's authoritarian. Patronising? Depends on the program. Annoying? Depends on the program. But there's no intrinsic reason why law enforcement shouldn't indulge in some positive reinforcement.

#29 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 05:14 PM:

These are not stupid operations, pointless stunts dreamed up by the morons in charge of these local police forces or departments, they're just daily little demonstrations that say "we're watching you, so you better keep in line".

#30 ::: TroyLiss ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 05:23 PM:

"Pulling over good driver" campaigns aren't new. Up here the Edmonton Police Service carried one out in 2001. Instead of $5 Starbucks certificates, the cops gave out a total of 10 "tickets" for a dinner-for-two at a not-inexpensive local restaurant. I don't recall any huge outcry over it, but a certificate for around $60 is likely a better tension reliever than a free coffee.

Dan@23: The EPS is also working on stickers for cars with valuables, but I think they're trying to make small transparent ones to put in the driver's field of vision. They already make huge yellow cards that people can put in their windows announcing that all valuables have already been removed.

#31 ::: Dave Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 05:24 PM:

Lydy@16: I'd do much the same thing, except I'd probably try and call them then and there (cell phones are useful, after all)

Or I'd try and find the Lost and Found.

Whyever would I go up to a cop who's just going to direct me to the Lost and Found anyway?

#32 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 05:27 PM:

Keir @ #28: But there's no intrinsic reason why law enforcement shouldn't indulge in some positive reinforcement.

If "positive reinforcement" requires pulling someone over, THERE DAMN WELL IS!

#33 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 05:32 PM:

In Boston, just call the bomb squad. They'll be happy to blow the object up.

#34 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 05:35 PM:

Lila #32: My goodness, hear, hear. If I get pulled over, I go through a whole lot of unpleasant emotions, intensified in this case by the fact that I don't know why I got pulled over, and I've seen that video of the guy getting tasered because he didn't sign the ticket he didn't understand. So I'm freaking out. Until, that is, the cop laughs, tells me I'm on candid camera, and gives me a coupon for a small coffee I can use to calm my nerves. Thanks a lot, asshole. Positive reinforcement, where are you?

#35 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 05:38 PM:

Lila has hit the nail on the head. Pull me over and I'm not happy. I'm annoyed (if I've been popped for something I did) or pissed off (if I wasn't doing anything wrong {e.g. the fix-it ticket from a cop who mistook a damaged running light for a bum-turn signal. Cost me time and energy, to get a non-violation fixed, after all, all I had to do was go to the inspection station, prove that my turn signal worked [thus "correcting" the violation] and pay the $10 inspection fee}).

If the reward for my good driving was substantial, it might make up for my adreneline rush, and the pain of righteous indignation thwarted, but a $5 Starbuck's card... nope.

My time is worth more than that.

#36 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 05:45 PM:

Even if I wasn't made late, I would be mightily peeved to be pulled over for a measely Starbucks card. (I have GERD and can't drink coffee anyways.)

On the other hand, it probably takes less time to hand over the card than to run a license and give a ticket. But still, there is the annoyance of having to get back into traffic and all that.

#37 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 05:45 PM:

#28: "It's really not authoritarian for law enforcement to reward as well as punish"

It's authoritarian because it asserts that it's the place of law enforcement to reward law-abiding behavior. If Swift thought this was a good idea, then I suppose Swift thought a bit of authoritarianism was a good idea.

It's inappropriate in precisely the same way as it'd be inappropriate for the security guard at my office building to write up his thoughts on my work habits and invite me to discuss it with him next time I pass his station.

This isn't a subject in which I'm interested in his opinion. He doesn't report to me, I don't report to him, and unless he spots me trying to smuggle valuable equipment out of the building beneath my coat, he needs to keep his hands to himself.

#38 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 05:48 PM:

Dan@ 23: Oh, wow. The thieves should send the Conyers police department a holiday card for highlighting all the easy grab cars for them.

#39 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 05:55 PM:

Re: #10. Just scrolled through the comments following Erla Lillendahl's blog account of her treatment at the hands of immigration/security people--what's with the attention from the Ron Paul enthusiasts? It's hard to believe that they all spontaneously noted this story and showed up to extend their sympathy and, oh by the way, mention that this would never happen in a Ron Paul administration. It's creepier than the obligatory "you did the crime, now do the time" sphincters.

#40 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 06:03 PM:

Laertes's #37 is absolutely correct. The police are not our mentors or guides. The very idea that it's appropriate for them to be in the business of programmatically "rewarding good behavior" is grotesque. Good God.

This isn't to say that it's impossible or wrong for police to engage in acts of mentoring. A cop who forms a personal relationship with a troubled neighborhood kid and winds up pointing the kid in more wholesome directions -- that's a cop who's also acting as a member of his or her community, and it's a big win all around. (For one thing, much of the worst police abuse happens because the cops in question feel no personal connection to the communities they're policing.) But the police are public servants, entrusted with powers and charged with responsibilities. They are not our parents and we are not their children. Police who have lost track of this fact are police who have lost their way.

#41 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 06:05 PM:

I want to revise & extend that last point, re authoritarianism.

It's a little bit authoritarian to even suggest that it's the place of law enforcement to reward law-abiding behavior. (That is, with some reward above and beyond not having to interact with them, which is all the reward I want.)

What's really creepy about this is that it involves a gratuitous exercise of authority. The ability to activate special lights and noisemaking devices and cause a minding-his-own-business motorist to pull over is a pretty heavy power. Using it for such trivial ends is a bit sinister, as if the intent is to condition citizens to accept a firm hand on the reins.

As one commenter at boingboing pointed out, why not just note the licence number and mail the card? We already have that technology.

#42 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 06:08 PM:

Hell. If I'd seen #40, I'd never have posted #41. Now I like #7 better without my later additions.

#43 ::: Jon Sobel ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 06:36 PM:

Starbucks coffee must be cheaper in Rancho Cordova than in NYC. If I found a $5 Starbucks card here I'd probably give it to a homeless person - maybe he/she could buy a pastry with it. A pastry AND a cup of coffee? Probably over the limit.

#44 ::: Amy Sisson ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 06:51 PM:

I just wrote a letter to Bloomberg. Among other things, I pointed out that every time I have turned in cash that didn't have identifying information with it, when I've checked back after the prescribed time period (after which the found property belongs to the finder), there was suddenly no longer any record that I'd ever turned it in. Hmmm, I wonder where it went?

#45 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 07:03 PM:

The point of the Rancho Cordova gig is obvious, and I expect it to spread rapidly.

"Well, your honor, we were just trying to reward this guy for driving well, and then we just happened to see something that led us to search the car."

#46 ::: Elisabeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 07:03 PM:

Grr. I can guarantee you that if I found a wallet, handing it to a cop would not occur to me, not because I'm dishonest but because it doesn't strike me as a "go to a cop immediately" situation.

#47 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 07:10 PM:

Keir, #28: This is actually a very bad application of a valid principle: that people respond better to positive reinforcement than to negative. For example, just about every "how to be a better manager" article stresses that you should reward people when they do things right (yes, even if that's "just doing their job," the occasional kind word does wonders) rather than only coming down on them when they do something wrong.

The important difference here is that managers know their employees, and vice versa. J. Random Driver doesn't know that cop who pulled him over, and has no reason to think that this is going to be anything but an unpleasant experience.

Now, if the cops really wanted to run an effective positive-reward campaign with the Starbucks cards, they'd do it like this: (1) Cop sees driver do something meritorious; (2) cop dictates time/date, license # and a quick description of the circumstances into a voice-operated recorder; (3) every week or so, cop gets a fresh tape and turns in the old one to (4) the transcribing pool, where the description gets typed up and (5) mailed to the license holder with the $5 gift card. NB: The envelope should prominently say something like, "The $CITY Police Department thanks you for being a considerate driver." Driver gets the gift card without the inconvenience and hassle of being pulled over, AND gets the warm-fuzzy of being rewarded for doing something smart/nice. Now that would go a long way toward encouraging good driving behavior!

#48 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 07:17 PM:

The cops here ran a Good Driver Reward Campaign with one of the local radio stations. They'd phone in the make and model and registration number of the car, the radio announcer would announce it and give the driver in question tickets to the pictures. (I assume identities were cross-checked with rego).

It was a charming bit of Christmas cheer, not least because it didn't stop anyone doing whatever they were doing. The idea of cops pulling over good drivers, rahter than, say, targeting bad ones, sems a litle skew-whiff.

#49 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 07:23 PM:

For a while they were periodicallly setting up "are you wearing your seatbelt" traffic check. Basically they blocked the road (in this casse it was State Line just north of 79th St.) and stopped EVERYONE. They routed drivers into a parking lot with four 'lanes,' gave everyone with their seatbelt buckled a McDs Free sausage biscuit coupons and I guess warnings to people not wearing them.

A lady in front of me may have gotten more. The back of her car was slathered in anti-abortion bumper stickers but her two small children were walking around in the back seat...

And they let people know they were going to do this. ahead of time.

#50 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 07:26 PM:

Erik @45:

I would accuse you of cynicism if the same idea had not occurred to me as soon as I heard about this crackpot scheme.

#51 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 07:27 PM:

Sorry, but my suspicious attitude towards people in general would prevent me from turning in a wallet to a cop on the street beat. I can already see the officer smirking and giving a, "thank you for being a good citizen..." then pocketing the cash before calling the wallet's owner. If the wallet's owner is even notified.

There are too many situational statistics and variables to throw into the soup kettle to say why a person would or would not turn in a wallet at any given time. Sorry, but if I found a purse or a wallet sitting around a NY subway I wouldn't be caught dead thumbing through it to locate an owner. I'd pocket it just for my own safety.

The law is not a system designed to test moral character and fibre of it's citizens. Instead of protecting the people these cops have created grand larsonists.

If I ever get pulled over for good driving it better be more than a $5.00 gift card. Venti Iced Caramel Macchiatos with an "add shot" run close to $6.

Erik @45 points out a potential darkside to this "PR" tactic: it allows for profiling under the guise of "PR and Goodwill."

Then again, I just don't like authority figures.

#52 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 08:27 PM:

I'd been meaning to blog about the purse/wallet "sting" combined with this bit of news to show what a no-win situation it really is:

Metropolitan Transit ... had subway riders turn 26 personal items to transit authorities, then tracked how many of the items made it back to the rightful owners. It didn't turn out so well. Only three of the 26 were properly returned. ... The report said that the transit agency's lost property unit received more than 8,000 items each year and that only about 18 percent wound up back in the hands of their owners.

#53 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 08:39 PM:

Odd, I've lost my wallet twice (careless, I know) and both times I got a call from the local police station telling me it had been handed in. Is this a difference in how the US and UK regards its police?

Mind you, the one time I found a lost wallet, I checked the contents for bank cards and turned it in at the bank. I just figured they'd have the address of their customer and would be able to send it on to them or just phone them to come collect it.

#54 ::: Derryl Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 08:46 PM:

TroyLiss, when KDays came in Edmonton each year, the cops would randomly pull over one vehicle from out of province when coming up Highway 2, and reward those folks with several free days in town: hotel, meals, events (mostly around KDays), and probably more. I don't know if they still do it, especially since there is no KDays anymore.


#55 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 08:55 PM:

Last week when I was in Tokyo, I found a wallet lying on the street just outside a convenience store. Since I neither speak nor read Japanese (gods, was I glad to get back home where I was no longer illiterate, that SUCKED), I followed my first instinct, which was to bring it to the cashier in the convenience store. All I needed was a bit of sign language and the cashier understood exactly what was going on. I'm pretty sure she assured me she'd keep it in case the owner came back looking for it. (I figured the wallet's owner would probably retrace his steps trying to find it, and end up back there eventually...)

If the same thing had happened in the US, I would've looked inside for ID and called the owner, and arranged to get it back to them myself. Bringing the cops into it would never be part of the equation.

#56 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 09:29 PM:

What pisses me off about this: how many people who would have returned my stuff aren't going to pick it up if they see it lying there. How many people who aren't those people ride the train during rush hour. How this means that nothing I lose on the train will ever be returned again.

#57 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 10:13 PM:

Rancho Cordova is pretty much local for me, so here's some extra details:

—The cards were paid for by "local businesses." No idea if Starbucks was one of those.

—They've been having a lot of pull-over campaigns in recent months, but most of them are for warnings about seatbelts or the like.

—Several CHP officers have been killed in the line of duty within the last year, at least one shot in an unsolved traffic stop murder less than a year ago... in Rancho Cordova. (Two of the others have been solved.)

—The local newsradio types' take on it is that the Starbucks card is for caffeine to restart your heart after getting pulled over.

—When I was growing up, the way the local fire department would spread some holiday cheer is to dress up on of the engines and take Santa out after dark to pass out candy canes. That sort of thing sounds like a better idea to me— it's hard to be freaked out by a cop car if it's got Christmas lights and a red nose on the hood.

Come on, people. If you've got the license plate you've got an address, so mailing cards with a good driving note is a better way.

#58 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 10:28 PM:

The police in NYC (and here in VA) have been leaving decoy bags in restaurants and the like for a while (and putting signs up about it). The thing is, in a restaurant, there is a "default finder" (the staff) who can be expected to recover genuinely lost items.

If the police are doing this on the street, that's bad news. Its one thing to have the police return lost property, it's another to say that nobody else is allowed to deal with lost property without going through the police, purportedly "lest they fail to return it". And as noted above, the police in NYC are not in good odor with much of the populace these days....

#59 ::: Amy ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 11:17 PM:

#53: Turning it in to the bank may or may not be helpful. I accidentally left my driver's license at my bank not too long ago, in the course of some transaction that required ID. When I came back to the bank a day later to pick it up (after calling to verify that they indeed had it and I hadn't done something even more scatterbrained), they informed me that I couldn't have it back unless I showed picture ID.

Fortunately I had my photo-containing work badge, which they accepted. After I got the license back from them (so they couldn't decide I was too much of a smarty to get it back), I asked why they couldn't just look at the photo on the license to verify my identity. Isn't that the reason we have photos on them in the first place?

They responded that comparing one photo ID to another photo ID is more verifiable.

I managed to refrain from asking them what would have happened if neither photo looked like me.

Long story short (too late!), they may not return the wallet if it contains all of someone's verifiable photo ID.

#60 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 11:23 PM:

Amy #59: They wouldn't let you have your photo ID back without photo ID? Goodness. What bank was that? When I worked at a bank, if someone left their license, we'd immediately look up the person's account information from their name and address and call them, and if that didn't work, we'd use the phone book, and if that didn't work, we'd wait a week and then mail it to the address on the license.

#61 ::: Kendall ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2007, 11:31 PM:

Others have said most of what I was thinking, but three things struck me beyond all that:

Re. the Starbucks cards, isn't it illegal (maybe just in some states) to pull someone over without a legal cause?

Re. the decoy lost items, is entrapment no longer illegal anywhere in the U.S.?

No one ever told me cops were also the lost & found. Quite the contrary; I got the impression cops were supposed to have more important things to do and that folks like us were supposed to be Good Samaritans.

#62 ::: Amy ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 12:09 AM:

Ethan #60: It's only the largest bank in the US in terms of deposits. I don't know if this was a corporate policy or just some oddity of my local branch.

#63 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 12:20 AM:

Perhaps all responsible honest citizens should immediately start handing all found objects in to their local cop-on-the-beat for safekeeping.

A crate of guinea pigs would be semi-canonical but would probably be hard on the guinea pigs.

#64 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 12:21 AM:

We were on vacation a couple of months ago in a small town in Vermont. I stopped at an ATM, and then we walked a couple of blocks to have dinner. While at the table, a couple approached us, and the man asked us if I'd left my ATM card at the bank.

I said I had, and he said he'd recovered it for me and turned it in at the desk of his B&B, which was walking distance from both the ATM and the restaurant.

So I thanked them both and then -- thinking about what the right thing was to do -- I asked the waiter to let me buy the couple either dessert or drinks, their choice.

They thanked me as they left, and we left later. I felt very satisfied and civilized about the whole thing.

When I got to the couple's B&B, I identified myself to the clerk, and she looked chagrined. Seems she'd called the bank and they'd instructed her to shred my ATM.

She gave me the little piece of plastic that had the bank's phone number on it, though.

Sigh. So much for being civilized.

#65 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 01:49 AM:

I agreed that this scheme was stupid, so pointing out that it was dumb as a response to my post is redundant. Vian gives an example of this sort of thing done better.

And, yeah, society-expressed-by-the-State rewards good behaviour all the time -- that's what the George Cross, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Legion d'Honneur are. Oddly, no-one thinks that the Legion d'Honneur is a creeping instrument of state tyranny. This may be because it isn't.

There is no reason to propose that actions similar to, but extending further in scale, the various civilian decorations will lead to the Ingsoc State.

#66 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 02:13 AM:

#63 Joel Polowin: I love that story so, so much. My mom read it to me when I was little, both of us giggling like crazy, and just now reading it again I laughed until I teared up and my abs twinged. I've been buying random books of American folklore to find it again. Thank you.

#67 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 02:42 AM:

Madeline @ 66: If you decide you want "Pigs Is Pigs" in book form, you can find it in this anthology, along with a multitude of other wonderful things.

#68 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 02:57 AM:

Amy, #62: BofA? Well, no surprise there. Their idea of "customer service" appears to be modeled largely on To Serve Man.

#69 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 03:10 AM:

Ulrika @ 25:

I know what it is. NYPD has been infiltrated by Discordian Terrorists. Prove me wrong!

Well, I haven't heard from my cell on the topic, but it could be the Justified Ancients of Mu.

NelC @ 53: I can see that happening in Britain. There's just something about lethally armed cops that puts a little hurdle up against approaching them for non-lethal situations. It's not that I haven't ever done so, in the States; it's that there's that slight nervousness to it, the smile-a-little-harder thing. And I imagine that if I weren't white, it would just be a complete no-go.


I've had a lost wallet returned by the community before -- I dropped it along the street and someone brought it into a baker's shop.

Currently I'm dealing with a very nasty foul-up at Paypal. They don't want to let me log in, since I logged in last month from China and that's suspicious. So now they need to verify my account -- by having me follow instructions they're sending in an automatic letter to an address where I haven't lived in three years.

And they still haven't responded to my email support request.

I'd just stop using the account, but I sent myself eighty dollars in it (sending cash to the States and having someone else send it to my account seems to be the most reliable way to put cash in my bank from here) and I'm not rich enough to kiss the eighty bucks goodbye.

#70 ::: Harry ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 04:06 AM:

One of the news reports about the NYPD wallet/purse sting operation is that they've begun putting credit cards into the bait so they can bring felony charges.

#71 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 04:09 AM:

A.J. Luxton #69: I don't know about PayPal, but I've had some luck with other bureaucratic foulups by simply hanging on the phone, patiently repeating, "Let me speak with your supervisor," or variations thereof, until I reached a human being with sufficient rank that he or she was allowed to use common sense.

There was the time, for instance, where in order to change my mailing address over the phone, I had to give some "security information" which included my date of birth. No problem, you'd think -- except, that's when I found out someone had committed a typo when entering my date of birth into their records. I got told, "No, that's not the correct date of birth. Sorry, we can't accept an address change." Moreover, and this had me wanting to kill a systems analyst somewhere, their system would not accept any other validating information. They said they could send me a letter... Hm. Slight logic error there: I was *moving*.

It took half a day to resolve, and covered at least three continents, but I eventually reached a woman who was permitted to believe that I was in fact me, and really did know when I was born better than their database.

#72 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 05:55 AM:

I think it would be a really wonderful expression of everything that makes America great if they instead stopped you and then actually made you some coffee right there! and they could heat it with a Tazer. Maybe a modified Tazer... I'm hoping that MAKE or instructables has some tutorials on how to mod a Tazer into a coffee brewer.

Please construct your own dialogue for this scenario.

#73 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 06:05 AM:

Note Above: I tend to spell it Tazer because I think the Z makes it sound so much more electrifying.

Anyway I think some enterprising municipality should try to combine all offenses into one, so:

They wait until there is a bad accident in the area, then they put the bodies of any traumatized people out as decoys. If you stop and go to the bodies and touch them in any way they tase you for attempted theft and sexual assault and put your data into a public database for later murder by outraged citizens.

If you drive by they stop you and give you a congratulatory coffee certificate for being a good citizen, but only after checking if your car has any warrants on it.

If your car has warrants they engage in high-speed pursuit, drive you off the road and use you as a decoy to see if anyone stops and checks out your body.

Actually, I wrote a poem about this once.

#74 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 07:15 AM:

"No, no, comrade! We haven't come to take you away to Siberia! We just happened to be passing your house at 0300 and thought we would drop by! Free beetroot?"

#75 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 07:46 AM:

What if cars could make a chime sound as well as having horns? If you liked how a fellow driver treated you, you could indicate "Thank you".

#76 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 08:13 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @75: The Car Talk guys have brought up the idea of an 'idiot light'; something you'd flash to communicate to the other drivers "Yeah, I realize I just made a bonehead manoeuvre; sorry about that".

A book on industrial design with a wonderful title: Turn Signals Are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles.

#77 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 09:16 AM:

Personally, I can understand why a lot of folks don't trust the police. I was pulled over late one night in Virginia. The officer wanted to know why I was driving the speed limit instead of going faster. He then asked if I understood that I could. Immediately, I understood exactly what he really intended to do, so I answered no. He wasn't prepared for that and after a brief hesitation released me to continue. Of course I continued to observe the limit. I wasn't going to give him the opportunity to use radar in order to ticket me and fulfill his quota.

Another time, also in Virginia, a state trooper pulled me over for speeding after tailgating my vehicle for two miles at the point where I found a break in the traffic to my right that was large enough for me to slip into because I thought he was trying to get past. When we appeared before the judge, he stated that he first observed me when I was stopped at a toll booth. The judge interrupted him at that point to ask if that was when he decided to ticket me for speeding and the officer actually admitted yes. The case was thrown out of court.

Are these the only incidents I've been involved in? Not on your life. Consequently, I think that pulling over people for driving good is a bad idea. As to the comment about the awards given out by the President, Congress, and other governmental bodies, those tend to be for exceptional contributions to the public good, not for good driving which is an ordinary expectation or ought to be. Likewise, I have to agree with the statement made that it will eventually be used to provide probable cause. Even though authorities might deny that will ever happen, I just don't believe it. When the seat belt law was first passed in Virginia, it was stated then by the lawmakers that it wouldn't be considered probable cause to pull anyone over, that it would only be applicable if someone was pulled over for some other traffic offense. That didn't last long. Now if a cop thinks your seat belt isn't in use, they can pull you over. So I believe that any reward program will likewise be twisted into a tool to be misused for providing probable cause.

#78 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 09:31 AM:

Confession: A few years ago I was out with a friend and we found £30 in cash lying on the floor in broad daylight at an (outdoor) bus terminus (Kingston upon Thames, if that means anything to you). We picked it up before it blew away and then stood around for ten minutes looking to see if we could see anybody who seemed to be looking for something, but no joy.

So we treated it as a case of the universe balancing out (well, I've lost cash before) and went and spent the money on lunch. I felt guilty that the owner could well have been a pensioner (who couldn't afford to lose it), as they're the most likely people in this country to a) pay for items with cash and b) take the bus.

On the other hand...I didn't feel that handing in cash to anybody was likely to get it back to its rightful owner.

We were originally suspicious that it was some kind of sting (and scared to pick it up), as it was SO out in the open; I guess if it had been, we'd have been arrested. I'm not sure what that would have achieved.

Of course, they could draw a circle around the wallets; THAT would be interesting.

#79 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 09:37 AM:

If a cop pulled me over and made me late to wherever I was going, and then presented me with a Starbuck's gift card, I'd be sorely tempted to suggest that he do something anatomically unpleasant with it.

I'd feel the same way if he offered me a gift card to someplace that serves good coffee.

#80 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 09:47 AM:

A.R. Yngve @ 18: The thought actually has crossed my mind a couple dozen times. I'm sure I still have relatives there, too, as every one of my ancestors (six great grandparents and one grandmother) who came to the U.S. came from Sweden. Specifically - I think - the area around Stockholm.

#81 ::: A.J.Hall ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 10:00 AM:

it occurred to me that the police rewarding people for driving correctly wanted to be regarded like the German police in Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men on the Bummel: (1900)

In Germany to-day one hears a good deal
concerning Socialism, but it is a Socialism that would only be
despotism under another name. Individualism makes no appeal to the
German voter. He is willing, nay, anxious, to be controlled and
regulated in all things. He disputes, not government, but the form
of it. The policeman is to him a religion, and, one feels, will
always remain so. In England we regard our man in blue as a
harmless necessity. By the average citizen he is employed chiefly
as a signpost, though in busy quarters of the town he is considered
useful for taking old ladies across the road. Beyond feeling
thankful to him for these services, I doubt if we take much thought
of him. In Germany, on the other hand, he is worshipped as a
little god and loved as a guardian angel. To the German child he
is a combination of Santa Clans and the Bogie Man. All good things
come from him: Spielplatze to play in, furnished with swings and
giant-strides, sand heaps to fight around, swimming baths, and
fairs. All misbehaviour is punished by him. It is the hope of
every well-meaning German boy and girl to please the police. To be
smiled at by a policeman makes it conceited. A German child that
has been patted on the head by a policeman is not fit to live with;
its self-importance is unbearable.

And the problem with that, as Jerome says, is

The German idea of it would appear to be:
"blind obedience to everything in buttons." It is the antithesis
of the Anglo-Saxon scheme; but as both the Anglo-Saxon and the
Teuton are prospering, there must be good in both methods.
Hitherto, the German has had the blessed fortune to be
exceptionally well governed; if this continue, it will go well with
him. When his troubles will begin will be when by any chance
something goes wrong with the governing machine. But maybe his
method has the advantage of producing a continuous supply of good
governors; it would certainly seem so.

#82 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 10:09 AM:

Maybe it's the place, and maybe just chance, but a couple of weeks ago I was standing in a line somewhere or other and, completely unaware, dropped a $5 bill on the ground. A minute or two later someone tapped me on the shoulder, asked me if I'd dropped it, and handed it to me with a smile.

Still, my inclination is the same as everyone else's on turning things into the police: it doesn't occur to me. Some years ago I found a wallet in the park while walking my dog quite early one morning. There was no cash and no credit cards, but there was a driver's license, so when I got back home* I called the number on the license. The wallet belonged to a teenage girl; she and her mother drove over to get the wallet. Sadly, they were fairly sure it had been taken by the girl's boy "friend"; there had been a credit card and $20 in the wallet when she lost it. Sad when you can trust a random stranger more than a lover.

Freaked out much by being pulled over? In 1970, I was living in Westchester County, NY, home of what was then a much-buttoned-down IBM. I was freshly out of the Army, had let my hair grow for more than a year since discharge, and pretty much dressed, acted, and lived the part of the urban hippie. Driving through a small town in the IBM commuter belt I was pulled over by a lone cop on foot. Of course, the stoner reflex was screaming "act straight!" even though I wasn't high, and coffee was the last thing I needed to deal with the adrenaline rush. The cop commandeered me and my car and had me drive him to the scene of some crime or other**, then left me to go on my way. I hyperventilated for awhile before moving on.

* this was before the Age of Portable Phones
** I never found out what was happening there

#83 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 10:36 AM:

meredith@55: the convenience store clerk certainly turned it over to the local police box. Lost and Found is like a national hobby in Japan, it's amazing. I've lost my commuter pass (a few times), my camera, and a bag full of clothes, usually on the subway, and it always comes back to me. I know someone who has had less than 50 dollars worth of yen returned to him after leaving it in a bar.

But even in Tokyo, where the police are very honest in this kind of thing, I woudn't give a found item to any random cop on the street, and it might take me a little while to bring it to the koban. I guess from now on I'll never pick up lost items in NYC (maybe in all of America). What a great system we've got there.

Keir@65, do you really think recieving the Presidential Medal of Freedom is anything like the police pulling you over unexpectedy? I expected the old "If you don't have anything to hide, no problem! If you do, you deserve it!" argument, but that's a new one on me.

#84 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 11:06 AM:

Mind you, the one time I found a lost wallet, I checked the contents for bank cards and turned it in at the bank. I just figured they'd have the address of their customer and would be able to send it on to them or just phone them to come collect it.

I have had this happen, sort of, twice. What the good samaritans failed to realise was that 1: My bank won't return the wallet to me, and two, the information that the wallet has gone missing causes them to, immediately, cancel my cards.

This was a minor nuisance the first time, and a right pain the in ass the second, as I was going out of town two-days later, which meant I had no way to get at money, save to extract all I thought I might need before hand.

I found out the card was dead after I went back to the restaurant, recovered the wallet, and then tried to use my debit card.

#85 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 11:19 AM:

Some comedian (I think it was Gallagher) said that we should have dart guns that shoot those suction cup darts. Whenever you see someone driving like an idiot, you shoot the car. If a cop sees a car with three or more darts, they pull him over and issue a ticket for Driving with Stupidity.

#86 ::: Martyn ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 11:24 AM:

I, too, have had my wallet returned by the UK police, although I have equally returned a wallet I found to its owner. I live in a small town. The police station is open 9-5, Monday to Friday. I'd be still be looking for a policeman.

There are three categories of people totally unfit to comment on anyone's driving - lorry drivers (truckers), taxi drivers and police. 'You're a good driver, sir.' 'How would you know?'

#87 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 11:32 AM:

NelC @ 53

May indeed be a UK/USA difference. Last time I found a wallet (in the UK) I (a) Looked up in Yellow Pages and called the appropriate banks/credit card companies so that if the owner called them they could let them know the cards had been found (and stopped, which is irritating, but I'd prefer knowing they had been found if it happened to me); (b) took it to the local police station the next day.

The time before that it was just a bank card, near an ATM, so I asked for directions to the nearest appropriate bank, then posted it through their letter box wrapped in a piece of paper detailing when & where it had been found.

Terry Karney @84

Yes, I know it's annoying to have the cards stopped when you know where they are - but sometimes informing the bank/credit card company is the only thing you can do (no other ID present). If I found a wallet -with- someone's address/telephone details included, obviously I'd try to contact the person.

#88 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 11:47 AM:

When I moved to the New York area, I was told the following rules* for living in the Big City:

1. The police are not your friends.
2. Act like nothing is wrong.
3. The police are not your friends.
4. Always look like you know exactly what you're doing, especially if you're lost in a questionable neighborhood.
5. The police are not your friends.
6. The police are not your friends.
7. The police are not your friends.

*Or something like them; it was a long time ago.

#89 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 11:50 AM:

Also, I've often surmised that the Good Life entails, among other things, having as few interactions with the police as possible. There are certain limited circumstances in which involving the police is a good move. Finding a wallet on the street is not one of them.

#90 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 11:56 AM:

Keir, way to go with the reductio ad absurdum, there.

If you are given, say, the Congressional Medal of Honor, you have prior notice, and are not interrupted in the middle of your daily tasks and given signals which usually mean you have done something bad. Also they feed you a nice lunch.

Differences in context are real differences.

#91 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 12:04 PM:

JESR @ 90

You also are with a group of other people in the same situation, and press (of various descriptions) around you. The award ceremony is in an auditorium, with your family/friends present, too.
I believe you actually are told about it several months ahead of the actual ceremony. (I know someone I can ask about this. They're on vacation until after New Year's, though.)

#92 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 12:14 PM:

Russ @ 78

I similarly found a £20 note on the ground near a ticket machine at a small railway station in Greater London. I picked it up, waited a few minutes in case someone came hurrying back looking worried, then took it and used it to pay for photocopying for the small charity (Not-for-Profit) I work for (it's 20p per page at the British Library - i.e. 40 cents!). Partly made up for the £40, barely used, photocopy card I lost there a while back...

#93 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 12:25 PM:

#86" There are three categories of people totally unfit to comment on anyone's driving - lorry drivers (truckers), taxi drivers and police. 'You're a good driver, sir.' 'How would you know?'

I have to disagree with the last. British Police Traffic Officers are probably the best trained drivers on the planet.

(disclaimer: I used to have (back when I lived in the UK) a RoSPA silver classification which is basically a Police class 2 license.)

Normal coppers are the usual run of idiots, but the black rats (traffic officers) are damn good. I've been in car on high speed pursuits/deliveries with those guys and they're damn good.

#94 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 01:16 PM:

Some years ago, my son's class was discussing why non-white people have a lower opinion of the police than white people. He asked me what I thought and I told him that in my opinion, the opinion of people about the police is dependent almost entirely on how much contact they have had with them. Non-white people on average have had more contact with the police, for whatever reasons, than white people. But it takes only a couple of contacts to lower the average white person's opinion to the same level.

#95 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 01:20 PM:

dave #93: Where I live, if I leave my house, I see a cop breaking traffic laws. In fact, if I see a cop use a turn signal, obey signs, go the speed limit, etc., I'm startled because it happens only very rarely.

I nearly got killed by one the other day at a four way stop. I came to a complete stop, looked both ways, saw no one, started to go, and then had to slam on my brakes because the ass was driving so fast down residential streets that I didn't see him until he was on top of me. No sirens, no lights, just zooming down residential streets not stopping at stop signs for the hell of it.

Truck drivers, on the other hand, in my experience tend towards the very very good, though there are of course exceptions.

#96 ::: Janet ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 01:30 PM:

I turned a found wallet over to the Washington DC police early on a Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago. It held a driver's license, credit cards, and other cards but no money. It was probably stolen from the person and dumped in the alley.

Unfortunately though there were clues that the person had moved to this area, nothing in the wallet had a local address or contact information on it. A Web search turned up only old information when the person was a student in California. There was no telephone directory listing under the name--not surprising since many young people don't have landlines these days.

I would have liked to have been able to contact the person to spare them the grief associated with losing a wallet. I hope the police did get in touch with them. Perhaps the person had reported the theft.

The previous time I found a wallet (which also had no local address in it) I was able to track down the person who'd lost it through a local telephone number of a relative written on a scrap of paper in the wallet.

A policeman came to pick up that wallet from me at work. The police warn victims never to meet anyone who contacts them claiming to have found the stolen item.

#97 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 01:31 PM:

Yes, I know it's annoying to have the cards stopped when you know where they are - but sometimes informing the bank/credit card company is the only thing you can do (no other ID present). If I found a wallet -with- someone's address/telephone details included, obviously I'd try to contact the person.

Here's the thing which torques me.

My bank will cancel the card, when it's returned to them, and therefore off the streets. That seems a cruel way of being kind. They also won't let me have a second card.

I don't fault the folks at Big Sky (very nice restaurant in SLO, with a great brekkie), though since the address was local on my ID, perhaps they might have waited a couple of minutes to see if I might notice it (I was shopping in town, and noticed it with a moderate rapidity).

#98 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 02:28 PM:

I am finding some of the comments in this thread hard to take. Several of the people in my martial arts school are cops. One is a beat officer in San Francisco, one is a homicide investigator in Oakland -- a brutal and thankless job. They are honorable, responsible, intelligent people and they drive with care. Yes, I am sure there are stupid people and bad drivers among the police, but let's not get too carried away here with the negatives.

That said, I agree that both the schemes Patrick comments upon are ridiculous and should be abandoned. Now.

#99 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 02:41 PM:

We occasionally get lost wallets turned in to the reference desk at the library where I work. We make an announcement first, in case the owner is still in the library, "Will so-and-so please come to the reference desk." If there's no response, then we try to call them, using the number in their library record, or looking them up in the phone book if necessary.

Recently, someone who found a wallet on the street brought it to us because the only ID was a library card (ours don't have name and address printed on them, just a signature), and he knew we could look up the number and call the owner.

We've also had a local restaurant owner give us lost keys, because they have a library-card key-tag on them.

No police involved in any of these cases.

#100 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 02:47 PM:

Terry Karney @97

I think the problem here is that bank personnel are no longer allowed any common sense in interpreting the rules (as in: the cards have been handed in to the bank/police/whoever therefore are not lost and not at risk of being used illegally, but the rules don't allow any other action than cancelling the cards).

As another example, we have a problem with our joint bank account, which was set up before we married and is in my unmarried surname (which I continue to use for daily professional life) and my husband's name. Given a cheque addressed to the two of us as "Mr & Mrs" with the single surname, the bank wouldn't accept it, despite the fact that I brought my passport (bearing my professional name), marriage certificate and wedding photos with me. Yes, I know the rules are to stop money laundering, but I took obvious proof of identity and it still wasn't enough (except that the bank manager recognised us and was just about allowed to verify that I was who I said I was).

#101 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 02:50 PM:

Mary Aileen... No police involved in any of these cases.

Tonight on CourtTV, Tales of the Library Police.
"It was an open-and-shut case."

#102 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 02:55 PM:

Lizzy L @ 98: Most police officers are dedicated, honest people -- I think. Most of my interactions with them have been positive, though there have been exceptions. But for turning in property I've found..? I know that I am honest; I don't have the same confidence in the next random police officer I happen to see.

And the notion that found items should be brought to an officer on patrol seems bizarre; it would never have occurred to me. I'd have expected a reaction like "What the [] do I look like, a lost-and-found office?" When I've found things like credit cards, bus passes, and wallets, I've tried to find the owner, except in some cases where the item was, say, lying in a parking lot dedicated to a single store. In those cases, I've turned the item in at that place of business, so that the owner had a chance of tracking it back. When I found a not-personally-identifiable property item that looked like it had some value in a drainage ditch, I called the police department to report the find.

#103 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 03:00 PM:

The problem with cards that someone has turned in to the bank (or wherever) is that though they are safe from that point, they might have been in the hands of someone dishonest before then. They might have been copied, or enough information copied from them to allow later illegal use.

#104 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 03:27 PM:

At the Las Vegas airport, I picked up a black plastic business card holder which I thought had just fallen out of my pocket, as I had one just like it. Later I realized that my card holder was still in my pocket and I had just picked up another which, on closer inspection, had $300 in cash tucked inside it.

Hey! It was Vegas!

Amy @ 59: #53: Turning it in to the bank may or may not be helpful. I accidentally left my driver's license at my bank not too long ago, in the course of some transaction that required ID. When I came back to the bank a day later to pick it up (after calling to verify that they indeed had it and I hadn't done something even more scatterbrained), they informed me that I couldn't have it back unless I showed picture ID.

Fortunately I had my photo-containing work badge, which they accepted. After I got the license back from them (so they couldn't decide I was too much of a smarty to get it back), I asked why they couldn't just look at the photo on the license to verify my identity. Isn't that the reason we have photos on them in the first place?

They responded that comparing one photo ID to another photo ID is more verifiable.

I managed to refrain from asking them what would have happened if neither photo looked like me.

Long story short (too late!), they may not return the wallet if it contains all of someone's verifiable photo ID.

Try this on for size: My wallet was stolen. The perpetrator was later busted shoplifting at Wal-Mart. He showed the arresting officer my photo ID. She took down "his" (my) driver's license information and let him go with an order to appear in municipal court. When he didn't show up, they issued a bench warrant for my arrest. I only learned about this when a copy of the bench warrant showed up in my mailbox...after work hours on a Friday, so I had to wait all weekend before I could go to court to clear it up.

The judge told me I'd have to meet with the arresting officer so she could verify I wasn't the suspect. I asked her why she didn't look at the picture on my driver's license before writing the guy up.

"Oh," she said, "no one looks like their picture."

#105 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 03:50 PM:

You know, I've pointed out that this scheme was a dumb idea. I can't be stuffed arguing with people who can't be stuffed reading what I've said. If you think I'm saying this specific scheme was a great idea, you're not paying attention.

I am saying that, contrary to the Patrick and Laertes position, not all schemes which reward people for doing the right thing are `clearly grotesque', or `authoritarian'.

Now, it would appear to me that not all such schemes are `clearly grotesque'; at least, not to me, vian and Lee.

(Vian and Lee, I could be wrong about your position. If so, ignore that last clause.)

#106 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 03:51 PM:

Janet, #96: The police warn victims never to meet anyone who contacts them claiming to have found the stolen item.

Ouch. I can see the rationale for this, and it makes me sad. I found a wallet once when I was in college, and called the owner (looked up the name in the phone book), and neither of us ever once considered that there might be any reason for distrust in that situation.

I guess if I find another one, I should treat it like a blind date and suggest meeting at some public location for the return.

dcb, #100: This is not an uncommon problem for women who retain their birth names after marriage. It's made worse by the fact that many times the person who sent the check is a relative who simply REFUSES to use any other form of address, as a way of bludgeoning the uppity woman over the head.

#107 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 03:52 PM:

After mulling on the news items in this thread, I've decided that what (most) bothers me about them is that adults are being treated as children. Fairly small children, at that.

With small children we keep an eye out on all of their ordinary behavior*, in part because we don't yet know what a child's ordinary behavior will be. We make rules for children that simply do not account for intentions. If a child is told not to go into the garage alone, then they're not supposed to go into the garage alone. We do not consider if they meant to go in to retrieve laundry or to play with the power tools.

With adults we notice and act on extraordinary behavior, good or bad. We laud acts of heroism. We punish criminals.

But we do not reward ordinary behavior*. We don't get gold stars just for showing up to work. If a company did this, we'd find it creepy, because the company was treating its employees as children.

For the NYC police to assume criminality if a person doesn't hand a purse to the nearest LEO is equivalent to how a mother assumes disobedience if her small child is playing (without permission) inside mom's purse. For the RC police to 'reward' people for ordinary driving is equivalent to a teacher giving out gold stars for working on the macaroni art project.

* simplifying all over the place, because I'm writing quickly.

#108 ::: naomi ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 03:56 PM:

thanks so much for this. now i know why nyc police are visible in my harlme neighborhood only during Xmas time.

#109 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 04:08 PM:

Lizzy L #98: I, too, have some friends who are police officers. They're nice people.

But it's also true that in my life I've had about ten direct encounters with on-duty officers, and every single one of those encounters has been entirely negative.

I'm sure many, possibly most, police officers are good, dedicated people. But there is also a very strong attraction to the job for people who are quite the opposite, and a very real, very large number of police officers who are nasty, nasty pieces of work.

#110 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 05:02 PM:

Oddly enough, despite everything, I don't have an automatic "Yellow alert, this is a police officer and Not Your Friend" reaction.

I am small, cute, white, and female.

I have gone up to cops in the NYC subway to ask a question. They have been, at worst, polite and uninformative, and at best, polite and informative.

Have I mentioned that I am small, cute, white, and female?

And... this latest stupid sting is actually pinging the "Cops Are Not Your Friend. Avoid Them. Don't Trust Them." button on a visceral, not an intellectual "Yeah, I can see that" level. This is Not A Good Thing. Okay, if this goes on... Yes, having that button pinged may be conducive to my survival and liberty, sure. But, that this ping is not paranoia? Not Good.

No matter how many good men and women are serving in the police force, I'm starting to get my brain wired not to trust the police because I just can't take the chance.

Nor can I take the chance of trying to return someone's lost property.

#111 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 05:12 PM:


This is not an uncommon problem for women who retain their birth names after marriage. It's made worse by the fact that many times the person who sent the check is a relative who simply REFUSES to use any other form of address, as a way of bludgeoning the uppity woman over the head.

i'm running into that now, with a gift cheque from mike's grandma. she's very old, very proper, & barely speaks english, so i don't feel the need to press the matter of what my name, in fact, is.

i'm kind of afraid the bank won't take the cheque, but they haven't been too robotty about that kind of stuff in the past. i have a joint chequing account there with a guy who has the surname written on my cheque, & i'm sure i've cashed cheques with my name spelled wrong.

#112 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 05:24 PM:

Nathan @ 12. A couple of days ago I watched a London (UK) cleaner find a pair of gloves left on a seat on a train and just chuck them straight into the rubbish bag. Made me extra glad I'd gone straight back to find my hat when I realised I'd dropped it coming out the station that morning - and made me wonder what else just gets dumped in the trash because personnel can't be bothered to take anything to Lost Property.

Lee @ 106 Yes, you'd have thought they would have accepted this common dual identity of (particularly professional) women by now. In our case it wasn't relatives "bludgeoning the uppity woman" just relatives who thought it would be nice to give us a joint cheque in our joint married name since we were just married.

What annoys me in the banks is the fact that staff do not have discretion to be sensible - even the Branch Manager was not allowed to add a notation to our account stating my two names and that cheques addressed to either name should be accepted (my mother has that, but it was set up decades ago). I could change my name on the account - but then wouldn't be able to pay in cheques made out to my professional name. We could set up a second dual account, with the other combination of names, and transfer money between them, but the rules are too rigid to allow for one person with two names. *sigh*

#113 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 05:25 PM:

#105 Keir: "I am saying that, contrary to the Patrick and Laertes position, not all schemes which reward people for doing the right thing are `clearly grotesque', or `authoritarian'."

That's a pretty dishonest rendering of my actual position, as clearly presented in this tread.

I assume that this was an accident, and that you didn't mean to erect such a shabby straw man. Perhaps I should more clearly explain my position.

It's annoying and patronizing to give such trivial rewards for such trivial reasons. An award for "not speeding" is a trophy for "particpation." There's no connection at all between honoring people for serious achievements and handing out trinkets to anyone who can fog a mirror.

To annoying and patronizing we add authoritarian when it's authority figures doing it. The ability to force people to drop whatever the hell they were doing and pull over isn't a toy. That's serious power, and it should be used only for serious reasons. To use it so frivolously implies that the actual purpose is the exercise of authority itself.

I return again to the analogy of the security guard at one's office building. Imagine if he were to leave his post and tour the office, stopping at each work station to praise the employees for showing up on time that morning. When challenged about it, he's surely protest that there's nothing wrong with praising people. No reasonable person would have any trouble discerning his actual motives. No doubt he's making the DeNiro "eyes on you" gesture at people behind their backs as they pass.

Short version: If you hold a banquet in my honor and award me the Medal of Freedom, I'll think your aim was to make me feel good. If you stop my car and hand me a cupcake because I wasn't speeding, I'll think your aim was to make you feel good.

#114 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 05:36 PM:

Keir, #105: "I am saying that, contrary to the Patrick and Laertes position, not all schemes which reward people for doing the right thing are 'clearly grotesque', or 'authoritarian'."

I made no categorical claim about "all schemes which reward people for doing the right thing." I said that the police have no business running reward-good-behavior programs. I was very clear about this; I even clarified that I was not claiming that individual police can't be effective mentors or community leaders.

You appear to have missed all that, and gone straight for a crude, nasty, and false representation of my position. While loudly complaining about "people who can't be stuffed reading what I've said." You're either remarkably sloppy or you're deliberately being an asshole. Which is it?

#115 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 05:40 PM:

Lizzy, of course there are lots of good cops. I know some myself. If I recall correctly, isn't a Bay Area science fiction writer whom we both know married to one?

The problem is summed up in Lisa Padol's #110, where she says "I'm starting to get my brain wired not to trust the police because I just can't take the chance." Because cops are empowered to use massive force on their own recognizance, it takes very little bad police behavior before reasonable people are forced to behave as if any cop might be a bad one. That doesn't mean subjecting police officers to random abuse, but it does mean being wary and not assuming that police are going to have our interests in mind.

#116 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 06:11 PM:

This discussion reminds me of the annual tradition of NPR and other journalism outlets running April Fool's hoax stories.

Because, you know, trust in journalists isn't quite low enough -- we also have to play gotcha games to make sure that any few remaining people who might believe anything we have to say are disabused of their trust.

#117 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 06:25 PM:

If its any consolation, my dad was in the police here in Scotland for 30 years and has a low opinion of them. Like any large organisation, a percentage of bad ones can be very active, and the Peter principle rules.

#118 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 06:38 PM:

Patrick #115: I'm not Lizzy, but yes, you are recalling correctly.

#119 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 06:40 PM:

Lizzy: I know a lot of cops (they are over-represented in NG MI). I trust, most of, them.

But cops as a whole... no.

1: I have had too many (and one was enough) unpleasant interactions (false arrest; because I was trusting, that was the first one, there have been others).

2: One does not prepare for what an opponent will do, but what he can do. Cops have a lot of power, with very little oversight, and; as a result, what restraints there are, are, on the whole, self-imposed.

3: Given that, the safest course of action is to assume the cop isn't Dudley Do-Right.

I'd love to be in a place where I could have a default position of trust for cops, but I've known too many people who've been screwed over to give them the blanket grace I did when I was 18.

#120 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 06:43 PM:

In fact, Laertes*, it was an accident, and I apologise for misrepresenting your position. I stuffed up, I shouldn't have done it, and I'll try not to do it again in the future.

I think your position as clarified is fair enough and perfectly sensible, even though I'm not sure I agree. I think you're too strict on what counts as trivial, given that there is a large number of people who can't follow the traffic regulations.

However, I certainly agree with your other point, that when such schemes are just a reminder that the cop is the man with the power, who can do good things to you or bad things to you, and right now it's a good thing, but...; then it's wrong.

* I can has cupcake?

#121 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 07:31 PM:

Patrick and Terry, thanks for your responses. I think one reason why I felt the need to say what I said was that I have my own degree of cognitive dissonance on this topic. I also have had specific bad experiences with cops individually and collectively. I don't have much faith in the ways city police departments approach the application of justice. "Let's trust them, they're the police" is not my default position. Nevertheless, I don't want to assume that any specific police officer I meet is necessarily stupid, corrupt, or an asshat; any more than I would assume that of, say, a specific banker -- though come to think of it, I've met at least as many asshat bankers as I have cops...

#122 ::: bentley ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 07:54 PM:

I've found wallets twice, both times in my neighborhood (suburbs, not city). The first time, it was right outside the owner's front walk, so that one was easy. I found the second one a few blocks away and I recognized from the photo on the driver's license that it belonged to one of the security guards who patrols that area. I tried to phone the owner but I couldn't find a phone number either in the wallet or online. I could've mailed it to the address on the driver's license but I was worried that perhaps the guard had moved and I didn't want that particular wallet to end up in the wrong hands. See, this wallet was an identify thief's dream wallet: driver's license, credit cards, social security card, security company ID card, gun license, AND birth certificate. I took it to the police station and the dispatcher called me within the hour to say the owner was very relieved it had been found and would it be okay to give my name to the owner (who had asked).

#123 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 09:01 PM:

I've gotten good points on my license twice (back when I worked and drove a lot more) because I managed not to run into idiots.

Richard Brandt, #104, I don't remember what you said a few days ago that made me click on your name and look at your website, but you look a lot like my brother Rick (he doesn't have his glasses on). I'm waiting for the pictures they took last month -- my niece has grown up amazingly in eight months.

#124 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 09:33 PM:

I think if I were returning money to its owner, I'd be unable to avoid playing with their head first. "Can you describe the bill?" "Whose picture is on it?" "What's the serial number?" etc.

#125 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 09:43 PM:

dcb: I have been told, by several people (including one who wrote under a pseudnym and received checks that way) that the bank will accept checks under other names than are on the account.

Stories such as yours are definitely to the contrary, which is why I kept my maiden name as a second middle name (though the Social Security official at the extremely over-busy place I went insisted I couldn't do that, so it's my "first last name" on my tax records. Bleh.) I still have art out there under my maiden name, so I wanted to keep it for artistic endeavors. But the combination of the two last names is fairly silly, so hyphenation wasn't an option.

At any rate, my suggestion is that you see if they can make a note on your records to accept checks made out to [your name + husband's name] as well as the name on your account. If they don't have the wherewithal to deal with that, you might want to look for a bank that does. (I use credit unions, myself; they have a better track record of treating me like a person instead of an income source.)

#126 ::: karen ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 09:49 PM:

I'm working on a partial resolution of the congnitive dissonance problem Lizzy mentioned. The problem, I think, is that cops are taught that their lives depend on being in control of any interactions with people. Which they are taught to do by dominating people. Now, that's often crudely effective, I imagine, around drunks and people prone to physical violence (where cops get called in, anyway, families=different). But it's just shortsighted, out of line with what we say the US is all about, deeply offensive and avoidable. There are better ways to take control, but people go with what's easy and familiar to them.

So I have a lot of sympathy for the poor schmo who expresses his training, at least when considered from a distance. And as another small white female I treat cops as courteously as paramedics, firefighters - presuming they're the good kind until I see differently. But some cops just seem to love the domination part. Scary, disturbing, and of course, the police force can't exactly weed these bullies out for being good at what they're trained to do.

It's sort of like the Liar/Truthteller puzzles, but not quite close enough to work in a link to the XKCD strip.

#127 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 09:58 PM:

In the US, I wouldn't turn in a lost wallet to the cops, because it seems like it would be a waste of the police department's time to deal with such petty matters. Like the time that a purse literally dropped in front of me early one morning (the owner'd left it on top of her car while getting gas, and it slid off the roof as she passed me. I just looked up her ID in the purse, called her, and she came by my house to pick it up. No need to involve the cops.

In Tokyo, I probably would turn it into the cops, because I know they have an infrastructure to deal with it: I've managed to lose TWO mobile phones (oops), and both times I got a postcard shortly after from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police saying, hey, we have your mobile phone, come on down to our central lost-and-found office in Iidabashi and get it.

#128 ::: /b ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 11:25 PM:

re: getting pulled over for "good driving"

It's just a dodge to pull over anyone over, regardless of probable cause (e.g., speeding, broken tail light, etc.) I've often heard that drivers following the law to the letter are often slightly over the blood alcohol limit, are carrying weed, ...

#129 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2007, 11:29 PM:

Patrick, #115: Because cops are empowered to use massive force on their own recognizance, it takes very little bad police behavior before reasonable people are forced to behave as if any cop might be a bad one. That doesn't mean subjecting police officers to random abuse, but it does mean being wary and not assuming that police are going to have our interests in mind.

This is in fact the selfsame mechanism that causes women to be wary of men. The only significant difference between a bad cop and a garden-variety rapist is that the former has actual legal authority status, while the latter is dependent on physical superiority and/or social conditioning. And if the would-be rapist is an authority figure, even that line gets badly blurred.

#130 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 01:16 AM:

Over a hundred comments and no one has noted the resemblance of the NYC pick-up-wallet-get-arrested scenario to...

...the reports of US Army snipers in Iraq "baiting" a targeted area with weapons or ammunition? (Any Iraqi that picks up the planted item gets shot.)

#131 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 03:04 AM:

I read about the Starbucks-for-not-speeding program on another message board I frequent. It's a site for dog trainers who use operant conditioning. Everyone thought it was a great idea and a wonderful program - rewarding good behavior on a variable reinforcement schedule is the strongest method of increasing a desired behavior.

I mention this only because I think it's interesting the way that different worldviews give different responses to the world. (And I will gladly stipulate that OC trainers have a VERY different worldview!)

#132 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 06:01 AM:

B. Durbin @ 125

This may be another trans-Atlantic rules difference. The branch manager explained that these were the rules, set in place to prevent money laundering (theoretically), and send down from head office; he was not allowed any leeway in interpretation. And this was in a Building Society (which I think is probably like your Credit Unions) not a high street bank. Some day, if I have the energy, I may try writing to head office and taking it up at that level.

Different countries may decide on different regulations,. and I suppose different banks/building societies may interpret the regulations differently, but I'm far from being the only person with this problem. I actually have no ID at all under my married name - driver's licence, passport etc. are all under my original/professional name, and I'm not going to change name and confuse anyone looking for any of my publications...

#133 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 06:33 AM:

I lived in California for a year, '99 to '00 (I'm English).

In that time I had several unpleasant encounters with the police, and one pleasant; what made me think about them is what Karen said at #126.

I have an opinion that British police are generally more likely to be successful in defusing a situation rather than escalating it, or possibly just start out from a less agressive stance. I made the mistake of trying to talk to officers in the US as though I would be assumed to be a reasonable adult, which led to a near arrest when I jaywalked to get away from a chap trying to start a fight with me outside a pub. I tried to explain what had happened to the officer on the other side of the road rather than simply apologise and move on, and was offered the choice of going home or going to jail more or less as soon as I opened my mouth.

On another occasion we were stopped on the way home from the pub, an interaction which consisted of being ordered against the wall and searched (with no explanation) and our details taken.

All of which makes it less bizarre to me that I met people who would drive drunk rather than walk home, because they were more likely to get stopped if they were walking home drunk.

On the positive side, when I was stopped for driving on the wrong side of the road after a week in the country (I went one lane too far to turn left on an 8 lane highway) and got out of the car to talk to the (female) officer, I was lucky. I only learned later how much credit to give her for not actually drawing her firearm, and remaining polite (if vocally forceful) at that point. She even took the large green piece of paper that is the UK driving license in her stride (these days you can get an additional ID with a photo on it, but not then).

Sorry - this post is much longer than I meant it to be; I just wanted to say that I'm sure there are good and bad officers, but generally I found the difference in approach between UK and US police to be that I felt immediately like a criminal/naughty child when speaking to officers in the US. On the other hand, if every time I stopped someone I thought there was a reasonable chance they'd be armed, perhaps I would default to an aggressive stance too.

#134 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 09:01 AM:

#116, Mitch Wagner -

I don't know about the "gotcha games" being a problem on April Fool's day.

The one NPR April Fool's story I remember was about a salmon farm that, after raising the fish, cooked them in the water with a powerful microwave beam, then harvested the pre-cooked fish, packed them and shipped them to stores.

I tend to think that anyone who can listen to that story without their "What the HELL?" alarms going off needs a lesson in not blindly trusting journalists.

As you say, many news sources are not trustworthy most of the time. Accepting stories without any critical thinking at all is foolish, and should be discouraged.

#135 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 09:12 AM:

Re my 134 -

It occurs to me now that Mitch wasn't upset about the cost to the public of the lost trust generated by the April Fool's stories, but instead worried about the way it makes the position of the news source less strong. My last post really makes that point for him, if that's his intent. The possible difference is that I'm seeing it from the public's perspective, where it is a potentially good thing, and he's seeing it from the journalist's perspective, where it is a bad thing.

Mitch never said that "many news sources are not trustworthy most of the time." He said they're not trusted. Big difference.

I'm sorry for the misread, Mitch.

#136 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 10:08 AM:

The cops pulling someone over for starbucks cards is a ruse..
It gives an excuse to look for anything in plain sight, or to check for the Smell of booze etc..
Or to threaten to call the dogs if you don't agree to a search etc..
They are not stopping you to give you a ticket, they are stopping you to reward you, which in someones eyes probably removes the need for probably cause.. Yes I am very cynical about these dunder heads..

#137 ::: Manny ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 10:27 AM:

I once found the non-valuable contents of a wallet scattered down the sidewalk near where I lived. There were family snaps, a union card, a note in a kid's handwriting, stuff like that. Of course, I collected it all. I even looked in a trash can and found the last handful of items. Clearly this stuff should be returned to the owner.

My dilemma: I lived in a rough neighborhood and the block I found the stuff on was a well-known stroll. I figured the guy had been rolled by a hooker. So how should I return it?

I didn't know what story the guy had already told his family about the wallet, so I couldn't just drop it in the mail with a note saying "I found this stuff on Block X." If he had told some really wild story, even a postmark on the envelope could blow it. Just having the missing pictures appear could get him in deep doo with his wife.

Eventually I hauled over to the main post office for the city and mailed it off with no return address, but a note that said "I found these on the sidewalk." And I sent it to the local chapter of the union on the card.

My friends thought I was crazy, that I should have just let the guy take his lumps. I wasn't protecting him, though--it was the kids in the pictures I pulled out of the trash.

#138 ::: Bruce ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 10:56 AM:

AS an ex-law enforcement officer, I find much of the reports here otherworldly in nature. Most of the officers I have worked with and currently work with in security are honest and want nothing more than to help you.

As in any group within any society, there are good guys and badguys, and I really think the U.S. Police departments put too much emphasis on body fitness and not enough on other areas, but even the hotheads are honest.

Of course, having been raised with guns, I don't find people who carry them scary in the least.

And even if you turn the wallet in to the police, they may not be able to find the owner even if they have the drivers license. I know that we had severe restrictions in getting on NCIC for just any reason.

As for the girl who was arrested by Immigration, I tend to call bull****. Why, Because that is not the way we were trained in Customs and border protection to handle people. (yes, I worked for that infamous organization)

The telling part to me was the ankle chains (we never had them issued) and the bowl of "gruel" she said she finally recieved to eat. (No one would give a prisoner a bowl of anything, they would recieve water and a sandwich)

#139 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 11:09 AM:

I dunno - I like the NPR All Things Considered April Fool pieces. I loved the one where they said that Starbucks was going to put in coffee pipelines, pumping streams of coffee to various store locations.

Since ATC presents more than just hard news, I don't think the gags lessen journalism's rep.

#140 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 12:40 PM:

I hear ya, Bruce. As a citizen who occasionally deals with cops, I find the stories my friends in Law Enforcement tell to be otherworldly. People attacking officers? Shootouts at traffic stops? Maybe there's a few crazies out there, but the vast majority of us are just trying to get through our day without getting in a gunfight with anyone. Why does LE have to treat all of us with suspicion just because of a few bad apples?

#141 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 12:52 PM:

Juli @ 131, the dog-training equivalent of pulling a driver over to give him/her a Starbucks card would be something like throwing a cup of water in the dog's face and then giving him a dog biscuit.

#142 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 01:06 PM:

... And using increasing amounts of "negative reinforcement" if the dog reacts badly to getting the water in the face in the first place.

#143 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 01:21 PM:

Instead of wasting energy on dubious rewards, I wish the police departments in question would devote more personnel to simple patrolling and showing presence. Who hasn't thought, "Where are the police when you need them?"

Laertes -- I think it's a shame, too, that so many in law enforcement seem to treat people with too little consideration. However, if they have experienced incidents in which someone unexpectedly acted badly, putting them in danger, then a large part of the suspicion is probably visceral. Unfortunately, treating people with suspicion tends to evoke similar behavior -- a self-fulfilling prophecy.

#144 ::: TroylLiss ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 01:42 PM:

Lila @ 141: The perceptual divide seems to be over what people consider to be negative reinforcement. Is it getting a traffic ticket, or is it being pulled over? It seems like the police departments and people who champion the "good driver" programs think getting pulled over is a neutral-to-mildly-unpleasant experience, roughly on par with the positive experience of a free coffee. Maybe it seems like that when traffic stops are a routine part of your day.

Obviously, most of the posters on this thread don't share this view. Personally, my experiences with police have been more positive than not, but if I were being pulled over for a "good driver" award, it had better be for more than a crappy cup of coffee.

#145 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 02:10 PM:

Bruce --

It's not the presence of firearms, it's the body language of in relation to the firearm.

Someone with "this is a tool of the trade" body language isn't scary, even when they're toting around the front-half-through-the-back-half sorts of stuff Terry mentioned awhile back.

Someone with "this makes me important" or "I am the man" body language is scary irregardless; when that sort of body language is tightly associated with the firearm they're carrying, it's decidedly scary. That's someone with good odds of deriving self-worth verification from using the firearm.

#146 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 02:12 PM:

Laertes @140: Why does LE have to treat all of us with suspicion just because of a few bad apples?

Here are two possible explanations:

1. Humans are notoriously bad at reasoning under conditions of prior uncertainty. For a cop conducting a routine stop in the USA, the probability of them being shot is extremely low for any single incident -- but the personal cost of that outcome is extremely high. They're simply doing what all humans do with respect to high cost low frequency events -- overrating its probability. (This is exactly the same reason why people play the lottery: the probability of an eight-digit payout is tiny, but the payoff is so huge that people keep going back to it.)

2. The origin and purpose of policing in the USA differs from the origin and purpose of policing in the UK, or in other European countries. As I understand it, policing in the USA arose from demand for law enforcement by property owners and businesses (especially enforcement of the laws they'd lobbied for); in the UK it evolved as a public service organization that enforced laws but also protected the public: in continental Europe (under the pre-Napoleonic monarchies and then under the Napoleonic order and subsequent monarchies) the police arose as a tool of monarchical power to enforce laws and maintain the power of the state. These all give rise to subtly different attitudes to the jobs, and at risk of getting it completely wrong, I'd speculate that American policing is not about serving the public, but serving the authorities by enforcing the law. And because they don't have a monopoly on armed force, they can't afford to be even as easy-going as Jerome K. Jerome's notional Prussian policeman.

#147 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 02:33 PM:

I think I fumbled the point I was clumsily trying to make, which was:

The very same people who say "hey man, don't blame cops for treating all people with suspicion, there's some crazy ones out there" are baffled when people view all cops with suspicion because there are a few crazy ones out there.

It's not a mystery, and it's perfectly reasonable.

#148 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 02:57 PM:

Throwing water in a dog's face sounds like the emergency drought condition water-use restriction version of waterboarding.

#149 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 02:58 PM:

We do operant conditioning too (horses, cats, dogs and each other). I think it's a bad idea.

Why? Because I don't know anyone who sees being pulled over as a good thing. I don't think the moments of being pissed off because one wasn't doing anything are going to be reversed by a giftcard to starbucks.

As for Bruce... if you stay welcome. But my stories are from personal experience, knowing lots of cops (from local, to FBI, DEA, Customs and Border Patrol [and back in the days when they were independent agencies too). My dad is a deputy in Tennessee.

Cops have power, power tends to corrupt. Cops further have a very, US and THEM attitude.

They also have guns, and a lot of discretion (with very little oversight; see, e.g. the cop who told the Airman to get up, and then shot him for it. Yeah, a jury acquitted, but that's the burden we have to look at. The Utah trooper who tasered the motorist was given a pass. I've not heard anything about the poor pole who was killed at the airport, but the list isn't short of cops who've gotten away with bad shoots).

If being cautious of people who have the power to take away my liberty (at the very least) for a number of days is "otherworldly" then I wan't to see your world transplanted here.

#150 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 03:01 PM:

Here's a different peeve, Law Enforcement.

I hate it. I hear it all the time, "Law Enforcement had to...", "The men, and women, of Law Enforcement."

Pfui. They are the police, or the cops (at times, "the Man," or just pigs) but that arcane use of the passive membership in a beaureaucratic entity is grating.

#151 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 03:06 PM:

Bruce @138 -
AS an ex-law enforcement officer, I find much of the reports here otherworldly in nature. Most of the officers I have worked with and currently work with in security are honest and want nothing more than to help you.

Unless you find a wallet on the street, and decide to take some other means of getting it to the owner. Then they might arrest you, right?

Or if you're photographing from a train station, and happen to be from India, which to the police looks like $middleastern-swarthy-terraist. Then they also might arrest you.

Or... See where we're going? If you don't know why people mistrust cops, how have you made it through this post and the responses?

#152 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 03:07 PM:

Terry @ 149

I think one of the problems in trials of police is the assumption on the part of a lot of (usually non-poor white) people that the cops are 'good guys' and thus right. (This is frequently expressed as 'they wouldn't have done x to him if he hadn't deserved it', or as 'anyone who has been arrested must be guilty, because they wouldn't arrest someone who's innocent'.)

#153 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 03:31 PM:

#138, Bruce

As in any group within any society, there are good guys and badguys, and I really think the U.S. Police departments put too much emphasis on body fitness and not enough on other areas, but even the hotheads are honest.

I don't worry about whether the police I deal with will be honest. I do worry about whether they'll be a hothead. An honest hothead can put you in jail for being difficult obstructive without compromising their integrity, because you tried to explain argued. I'm *more* afraid of hotheads than of dishonest cops because I think they're more common, and harder to catch.

#154 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 04:10 PM:

P.J. : there are lots of problems in the trial of police officers.

Not least among them, they are trained to testify. When they go on the stand, they look good.

Add to that, the cultural assumptions on the part of so many that cops are, fundamentally, honest, and they get a lot more credit than John Q. Citizen.

Toss in some publicity (where the cop will be presented as being crucified for "doing his job, one in which he could be gunned down at any momennt,") and the like and the odds are long against a conviction.

Which futher insulates them from restraints on power.

#155 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 04:19 PM:

Laertes @140: Why does LE have to treat all of us with suspicion just because of a few bad apples?

In addition to the reasons suggested by Charlie@146, I'll suggest another: sample bias. By the nature of their work, cops are exposed to people who genuinely are crooks, no-good scam artists, shiftless weasels, and so forth to a degree out of all proportion to their actual occurence in the general population. On top of that, one of the signal characteristics of the North American Shiftless Weasel is an ability to generate bogus, but superficially plausible excuses for whatever they've just been caught red-handed at --- to the point that Reasonable People with an honest explanation for whatever they're doing start to sound like more of the same.

This is also a possible reason why some rich people assume that everyone around them is trying to get into their wallets, and why even responsible landlords can seem at times to view all tenants as homewreckers who are trying to weasel out of the rent.

That's not all that's going on, of course. The overwhelming majority of international travellers passing through U.S. airports are on perfectly legitimate business, and yet at the immigration desks, Bad Attitude is absolutely rampant. It's hard to put that down to anything other than power-tripping, and other uniformed services probably have more than their share of that as well...

#156 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 04:22 PM:

Marilee @ 123: If you ask me, he looks about as much like me as the guy who got caught with my wallet

B.Durbin @ 125: I have been told, by several people (including one who wrote under a pseudnym and received checks that way) that the bank will accept checks under other names than are on the account.

The Colorado Springs fans tell me that in their experience, their banks these days don't care about much on the check except the amount, including who it's made out to or whether or not it's signed. I'm not sure whether this explains why the Denvention membership form never mentions who to make out checks to, nor could I find that info elsewhere on their website.

#157 ::: flowery tops ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 04:49 PM:

Flying to Canada via Hawaii a year or two ago, I was subjected to some power mad petty beaurocracy (now that's a terrible word - looks wrong no matter what I do with it) at the hands of Homeland Security. I was travelling on an e-ticket, so didn't carry printouts with me (because everywhere [both in Aus and in Canada] else, having my passport and booking numbers was sufficient) and ran up against the wall of implacable unreasonable authority. How, I asked, did he think I got on the plane at Sydney, if I didn't have a ticket? He shrugs, doesn't care, pulls me out of the lines and I am separated from the rest of the passengers and made to wait while someone else gets my ticket stuff from my airline. While waiting, I discover that where I've been told to wait is apparently some kind of security risk, because seconds later some dead serious security guy is all over me wanting to know why I'm sitting there and he isn't inclined to be polite or patient. It was, frankly, terrifying. I am a fat, cardigan wearing Australian citizen! Do I really seem like a potential threat? or is just fun to bully people?

#158 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 05:03 PM:

flowery tops @ 157

I suspect a lot of those in DHS are wannabe officious pr*cks and bullys. They certainly don't seem to be people who should be in positions where they interact with the public.
(I know at least one of them was a pr*ck before joining DHS/TSA; he worked with a friend. The stories are enough to convince me: planning emergency supply setups with no feminine supplies, but lots of cigarets, was one of them.)

#159 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 05:11 PM:

PJ @ 158: Sounds like a swell guy. Something tells me that in an actual emergency, he wouldn't last very long.

#160 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 07:10 PM:

Charles Dodgson @ 155 ...
In addition to the reasons suggested by Charlie@146, I'll suggest another: sample bias. By the nature of their work, cops are exposed to people who genuinely are crooks, no-good scam artists, shiftless weasels, and so forth to a degree out of all proportion to their actual occurence in the general population.

... and is, indeed, something that many of us are guilty of to one extent or another. I know that I'd happily suffer on my own for days, rather than go through the misery of calling our helpdesk -- and have a strong bias that assumes people calling me either have a problem they think I can solve (or they can pawn off on me), or want to sell me things...

This does result in some very surreal conversations while the actual topic of conversation is negotiated.

#161 ::: Gabriele Campbell ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 08:58 PM:

AJ Luxton #69

Well, what do you expect from a company that thinks GRR Martin is a terrorist.

#162 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2007, 09:10 PM:

The current issue of the Austin Chronicle has about five articles pertinent to the topic of this thread.

#163 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 12:26 AM:

1. Re: being pulled over as positive reinforcement - I have never enjoyed being pulled over, but it hasn't been a big deal, either. (I'm white, female, and generally non-threatening.) I did bring up the idea that being pulled over is, in itself, strongly aversive to many people, which led to a fascinating discussion on Premack, poisoning the cue and other such topics. Most of them were thrilled because the police were trying to use positive reinforcement. The application is flawed, but the theory is good. (Taking the program at face value, not as an excuse to stop and search without a warrant.)

2. Re: banks taking checks in other names - My daughter's surname is the same as my ex-husbands. I never changed my own name, but about a month ago the mother of one of my daughter's schoolmates had occasion to write me a check. She used my first name, and the last name she had. It so happened that ex and I had other business at the bank, so we explained the situation to the teller, and asked him to let me deposit the check into my account. No dice. We went up several layers of management. Everyone was sympathetic, they all understood what had happened and agreed that we were on the up and up. However, they said that if they knowingly took a check made out to an alias, Homeland Security could/would close them down. I had to contact the other mother and get a new check. All this, I may add, for less than $20.

I feel SO much safer.

#164 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 03:43 AM:

Summer Storms, #159: I suspect that in a genuine emergency, he'd be personifying the Corporate Rules-lawyer in Leslie Fish's "The Day It Fell Apart":
Two staff members grabbed him and tied him to a door;
He gave us blood transfusions 'till he hadn't any more.

#165 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 06:14 AM:

Juli Thompson @163: Re: banks taking checks in other names

Years ago while writing checks to pay some bills, I transposed my utility payment check into the long distance provider envelope, and visa versa.

The long distance provider returned the check made out to the utility, pointing out the mistake.

The utility provider cashed the check made out the other company, with no problem.

Which struck me as surprising, but a friend suggested that the utility probably had some sort of bulk check processing deal with the bank, where the bank processed the checks for less than their usual fee by skipping steps like actually verifying that the check was made out to the entity depositing it. Strikes me that the fees my bank charged me for my checking was for the service of doing that work on my behalf.

In this world where corporations are said to be legally equivalent to persons, actual persons seem to have second class status.

#166 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 09:03 AM:

Re: my Paypal difficulties, I've heard their phone service is good, but since I'm in China, I might lose a lot of money by the time I actually got someone on the phone.

To all those police advocates: the problem isn't that cops aren't all bad.

Look, let's say you go to the doctor for a minor problem and have to get it tested for cancer.

There are lots of cancers that won't usually kill you -- certain slight malignancies with 95% survival rates -- but you still don't want cancer, and being tested for it means you might have it.

Being pulled over is like this, more or less: you know there's going to be a lot of hassle, and there's a very *slight* chance you might die. Less slight if you're not white and/or not from a family that's taught you to speak with an middle-to-upper-class accent.

I'm one of the fortunate ones; I was taught by my family to trust the police; I can do the smile-nod-hello-officer thing and mean it -- hell, I buy them ice cream if I think they look too uptight -- and even I get a rush of pure fear when I'm pulled over.

As Charlie Stross says, high cost, low frequency -- it's a natural response.

This can turn into a vicious cycle. One of the things cops are taught to notice is nervousness. Criminals are often nervous. So is anyone who's had a bad experience with a police officer: which includes a LOT of people of color.

People who're afraid of cops will notice when the cop is on edge. The cop will notice when the person they pull over is afraid. Each person's body language, unchecked, will likely cause the other person to get jumpier. Add in little things like 'my cousin smoked pot in this car last week, can he smell it?' and is it any wonder how many meaningless shootings occur yearly?

#168 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 09:48 AM:

flowery tops @ #157: beaurocracy (now that's a terrible word - looks wrong no matter what I do with it)

One for the spelling reference?

Actually, what I find helps is to take it in stages: it's a lot easier to get "bureau" right by itself, and once you've got that you're in the home stretch.

#169 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 10:15 AM:

The chime I mentioned upthread isn't available, but there's an LED emoticon for your car.

When I proposed a chime, I wanted just one alternative to the horn to keep things simple for drivers. The LED emoticon has five messages.

I worry that someone will get the bright idea of drivers being able to text at each other.

#170 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 12:20 PM:

I worry that someone will get the bright idea of drivers being able to text at each other.

I reckon there's room for some sort of short-range intervehicle communication system, possibly voice-activated, though the possibilities for abuse would need to be pretty thoroughly examined.

#171 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 12:32 PM:

Bruce: There were a couple of serial killings here in Hawaii about 25 years back, where the police were pretty sure that the killer had been dressing as a cop and pulling over cars with women driving alone late at night - they had gotten several reports of it. They never built a case against anyone and the killings stopped; maybe he moved somewhere else.

#172 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 12:34 PM:

The message that LED sign is missing is, "Turn off your brights!!"

#173 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 12:49 PM:

Every year or so, they arrest a few people here in LA for impersonating cops and shaking down people (mostly for money). Usually they're targeting either people with out-of-state plates or recent immigrants, both groups where they have a better chance of getting away with it. The usual line seems to be 'you're breaking the law, but if you give us X we won't ticket/arrest you'. (Needless to say, the real cops are happy to catch them, and unhappy that it's usually been going on for a while before they find out about it.)

#174 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 01:36 PM:

I reckon there's room for some sort of short-range intervehicle communication system, possibly voice-activated, though the possibilities for abuse would need to be pretty thoroughly examined.

Ten-four, good buddy.

#175 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 02:41 PM:

Bruce, Clifton -- Yeah, that was the first thought to flash across my mind as well. Not the specific incidents in Hawaii, but it's not an uncommon MO. The idea of a woman getting out of her car when pulled over by a man with no uniform or badge (I'm sure it would have been mentioned in the story if he'd had either) makes my blood run cold -- she got lucky.

Suggestion for those who might find themselves in such a situation: if he can't produce ID, don't get out of the vehicle; instead, pull away from him and head for the nearest police station as you dial 911 to report what's going on. (Another case where the ubiquity of cellphones gets you out of a standard horror-movie plot.)

#176 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 05:44 PM:

#138: As for the girl who was arrested by Immigration, I tend to call bull****. Why, Because that is not the way we were trained in Customs and border protection to handle people. (yes, I worked for that infamous organization)

Your faith in your former organization is unfortunately contradicted by the reality of multiple, long-standing stories of exactly such stupid behavior by border control personnel. Like this story from a few years back, one of a couple I read about:,,1231089,00.html

Doing this in the first place: stupid.
Doing this to journalists who will go home and write about it for their readers: incredibly stupid.

#177 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 05:55 PM:


I think the Icelander's story may very well be bs: there seem to be no sources for it besides her. You'd think that if there was any basis for it (even given that it is DHS/TSA/INS), the feds would be putting out press releases justifying their actions, or at least trying to minimize the story. That silence is telling me that she's probably made up the whole thing, likely to explain missing her scheduled flight home.

#179 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 09:03 PM:

"I think the Icelander's story may very well be bs"

Indeed. Also, I hear she has granite countertops.

#180 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 09:53 PM:

In my neighborhood (where I know my daily police officers on sight) if someone tries to make me pull over and they're not marked like a real police car OR of they act like they're following me way too closely, I drive straight to Central Patrol and had 911 dialed in but not sent on the Cell Phone. Only had it happen a couple of times, and the follower peeled out once we were in sight of the police building.

#181 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 12:42 AM:

#177: Argument from Incredulity? Not very convincing, especially given, you know, DHS's documented track record.

#182 ::: flowery tops ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 02:24 AM:

Paul A @ 168:

Goodness, I got those letters in entirely the wrong place. No wonder it didn't look right.

In other news, I just read about this: Unco-operative shopper, tasered by police.

Didn't someone die after being tasered just the other week? What's with all the tasering that's going on?

#183 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 02:28 AM:

flowery tops #182: What's with all the tasering that's going on?

We're in a transitional period--soon, it won't be newsworthy at all.

#184 ::: flowery tops ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 02:34 AM:

ethan @ 183:

Goodness, I remember that happening in Sydney regarding shooting deaths. Seemed like they never happened, and when it did it was wildly newsworthy - gangland killings, or inexplicable drivebys, or crimes of passion, and then over time it got worse until just before I left Sydney and it didn't really impact anyone that there had been five or six people died within a few kms of where I lived. Yikes.

(And this is entirely unrelated, but I always smile when I see your name. My best friend in high school's little brother was named Ethan and he was gorgeous, so funny and smart [and he taught me how to pick filing cabinet locks with a paperclip]. Now he's a bushland regenerator and pulls out his mother's roses whenever he visits her.)

#185 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 02:53 AM:

Ten-four, good buddy.

Euwwww, no, spare me, I meant some kind of line-of-sight affair that could help to compensate for the lack of the body language used to, eg, defuse potential conflict between pedestrians. Needs to be pretty much universal to be effective, though, which is kind of a problem.

#186 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 04:21 AM:

I was looking at Nancy's car-emoticons link and noticed something interesting on the site: 100-watt-equivalent home LED bulbs. I've been saying for a while now that I think incandescents are on the way out, probably to be replaced by LEDs; I suspect that this is the start of a trend. They're expensive now (although over the long life of the bulb, they save money compared even to fluorescents) but in time I imagine the price will come down.

#187 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 11:02 AM:

flowery tops @ 182

If you get to the last paragraph of the story about the shopper, it turns out she just got a worrying call from her husband about their child and stepped out of the store for privacy. So she's worried and upset and then this police officer twice her size starts hassling her. I'd probably be aggravated and uncooperative in that situation too!

#188 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 11:06 AM:

Re. USA Immigration, particularly the story of the journalist linked @ 176, I'm getting worried about the next time I fly Trans-Atlantic on a job-related visit. Last time I arrived (which was at LAX in August) I was quizzed about the purpose of my visit (to attend a conference), when I had last been to the USA, and why I'd visited that time (spring, to talk with colleagues). Then he asked whether I was giving a presentation at the conference? (yes) and was I getting paid for it? (no - I'm not at the keynote-speaker stage yet!). I was concerned at the time, and am now extremely worried, that if my answer had been yes, I would have got similar treatment to that journalist, and been deported for entering the USA intending to work, without a work visa. If this is so, then the whole international conference system is going to break down.

#189 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 11:29 AM:

dcb at #188:

Actually I remember a story some years back where that happened, could be a faulty memory on my part but yeah, that could foul things up. Actually at my last work I skipped all American conferences partly for this reason, but also because I just didn't want to go through any American customs bs of lesser variety.

Then again most of the time I don't like traveling at all.

#190 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 11:30 AM:

dcb #188: No, it won't break down, exactly. It'll relocate. There are plenty of other countries where international conferences can take place. If the US keeps up the current trend of increasingly visitor-unfriendly border procedures, a lot of international conference schedulers are going to wake up to the fact that their conferences will be better attended if held elsewhere.

Americans will have to do more travelling outside the States. But, you know, that's fair.

And they do say travel is broadening.

#191 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 01:28 PM:

The international conference system is already changing. This year the Latin American Studies Association shifted its conference from Boston to Montreal (at some cost to the organisation) because that was the only way that a fair number of Latin American scholars (including Cuban scholars) would have been able to attend a conference in North America. The previous conference had been in San Juan de Puerto Rico, and that has resulted in a number of Latin American scholars (including all the Cubans) being denied visas. ("Porque George Bush cree que soy talibán" as a Cuban who attended my presentation put it.)

Of course, this meant that the conference was opened by the Governor-General of Canada, speaking fluently in four languages. I'm not sure that either the Governor of Massachusetts or the President of the United States would have been up to that.

#192 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 02:34 PM:

Fragano, 191: Spanish, French, English and...Portuguese?

#193 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 03:31 PM:

TexAnne #192: Si, oui, yes, & sim.

#194 ::: flowery tops ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 03:42 PM:

dcb @ 187:

I know, I read that part and groaned.
I really dislike the sort of behaviour inequality in those interactions, ie the cop/authority figure can be rude, aggressive, unreasonable, and the citizen must be polite and passive or be vulnerable to arrest or entasering.

#195 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 01:24 AM:

dcb, #187, the police officer was a female. I didn't see any size comparison in the article.

#196 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 02:30 AM:

David Goldfarb (186), the "Brightstar" description is misleading. A 100 watt bulb produces about 1,750 Lumen. The 10 watt "Brightstar" produces 400 lumens. It is the equivalent of a 23 watt bulb.

On the broader issue, can't add much to what has already been said. I can add a data point.

I on climate justice issues with a number of international non-profits. Every member I talked to said emphatically said they will never attend meetings in the U.S. (under current policies) -- both because of the certainty of unpleasant experience in immigration, and because of the small but real risk of deportation or arrest. A large minority of them make a point not to even book flights to Canada or Latin America that route through the U.S. -- paying extra to avoid U.S routing. (Google Maher Arar to understand this last point.)

#197 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 02:47 AM:

I hope that the fannishness profiling template is marked down as "considered harmless" so that it won't adversely affect future US Worldcons.

#198 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 04:02 AM:

I remember in the phoned in meetings on an international standard I was involved in (not going to specify which one as these meetings were of course confidential) there was a proposal that the international meetings of those working in the standard should be switched from the U.S to Canada because of the inconveniences involved. Some people argued quite vehemently against that saying that if anything they had noticed that it was harder for Americans coming back from overseas than for foreigners so nobody should have any concerns. The discussion was shelved at the time.

#199 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 07:27 AM:

Gar Lipow@196: Huh. A quick googling supports your statement. Teach me to take a catalog discription at face value!

I've sent ThinkGeek an e-mail questioning the discrepancy. I'll report back on what they reply.

#200 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 10:34 AM:

Bryan @198: It's a matter of time before attending a foreign conference --or even traveling abroad without Official Government Orders --is considered "psuspicious behavior" in itself.

After all, if they're not revealing Secret American Information, they're probably taking orders from those undemocratic "furriners"...

#201 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 10:46 AM:

Gaah... and now I've p-ed in my scare quotes!

#202 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 12:30 PM:

Re the Icelandic tourist's story: the scariest thing to me about such a situation is that NOBODY could substantiate your story except the Homeland Security officers themselves. No lawyer, no witnesses, no phone calls....

And given the recent CIA videotape flap, not even the likelihood of a video or audio record you could subpoena.

#203 ::: ankh ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 12:42 PM:

Leave the package on the sidewalk and call the police officer's attention to it, maybe. But then if they know it's a sting they ignore it and you're still in a moral puzzle. If they don't know it's a sting they, what, call the bomb squad and hold you for questioning?

Pick it up? No way.

Pick it up and carry it toward a police officer? Good way to get shot as a suicide bomber, eh?

#204 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 06:40 PM:

Marilee @195 "the police officer was a female. I didn't see any size comparison in the article."

Marilee, in the comments section, several people who had seen the video of the episode commented on the relative sizes of the people involved. The consensus was that the policewoman was about 50 kg heavier than the shopper. My "twice the size" may have been a slight exaggeration, since I don't know the size of the shopper, but as I'm an under-50 kg woman myself, that's the picture those words indicated to me.

#205 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 09:46 PM:

dcb, #204, sorry, I hadn't read the comments. That does sound like a big weight difference.

#206 ::: Dai Alanye ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 12:20 AM:

"Since evidently Presidents and Vice-Presidents no longer have to worry about silly “laws,” I can’t see why police will."

While I agree with the general point of this post, the quoted sentence appears to be an example of BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome.)

Ruby Ridge did not happen under Dubya, nor the Branch Davidian slaughter, nor--for that matter--the relocating of Japanese during WW II. Not all bureaucratic errors can be ascribed to Bush and Cheney.

#207 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 09:26 AM:

Marilee @ 205

No apology required.

I just checked the comments again and realised I'm guilty of not reading carefully enough - it was 50 lb, not 50 kg weight difference (that's why I stress to veterinary students to double-check weights before working out anaesthetic drug doses - are we talking pounds or kilos? Get it wrong one way and you've given more than double the required dose, the other way, you've given less than half the dose needed.)

Whichever, several of the comments from those who had watched the video noted that the policewoman was much larger than the shopper - also that the shopper was backing away with her hands up in surrender when she was tasered.

I was once stopped by a store security guard and accused of shoplifting, because (a) an unidentified shopper had pointed to me and said that's what I was doing, before leaving the store herself (possibly to draw attention from her won activities?); and (b) I was "hurrying" out of the store after paying for my purchases. Yes, I was indignant. I was hurrying because I had to get home and feed the animals before it got dark - a perfectly reasonable reason to be rushing; I'd just paid for the thing's I'd got, and I was being accused of stealing. Even without a child to worry about I was angry.

#208 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 09:32 AM:

Dai 206: No previous President has ever announced that they will not obey certain laws in the process of signing them. Other POTUSs may have broken the law (I'd hazard that every single one did at some point), but this one is on record as blatantly, publicly, and explicitly disregarding laws which are meant to apply to every American.

Sorry, your kneejerk "Clinton did it too" won't wash here. We're increasingly living in a police state, and it's not irrational to think the police feel a growing sense of impunity for their behavior.

#209 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 09:34 AM:

Only comment from Dai Alanye. 'Dai' means "enough" in Hebrew; what's 'alanye', anyone know?

If s/he doesn't reply, we can call hir Draivbai Alanye!

#210 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 09:49 AM:

Xopher, it may be Dai's only comment in this forum, but he's got a non-trivial online presence. ("Dai" is a Welsh form of "David".)

#211 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 10:02 AM:

Xopher@209 - Hebrew translator at your service: "Dai" indeed means "enough!" or "stop!" or "a sufficient amount" - but "alanye" is not Hebrew.

The word "aleinu" (on us, on top of us, upon us) (composed of "al" for "on", the "-ei-" infix for pluralization, and the "-nu" suffix which also indicates pluralization, so that it's stressed as really-really plural) sounds and looks similar, but you'll need another etymology for "alanye", as it doesn't follow any of the forms of Hebrew words (known as "mishkalim", which means "weight" or "meter" for nouns and adjectives, and "binyanim" or "structures" for verbs).

#212 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 01:55 PM:

Xopher, #208: If you want to get philosophical about it, there's a good case to be made that the current state of America can be directly traced to Gerald Ford. If Nixon had come to trial, we'd have had a clear-cut precedent about whether or not the office of the President is subject to the rule of law. (And there's no real doubt any more that Nixon was only willing to resign because he knew the fix was already in.) All that mealy-mouthed BS about "the country is tired of it" and "it's time to move on" only meant that the Republicans were tired of it and didn't want to see one of their own actually held to that oath he swore. And we've been paying for it ever since.

#213 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 02:06 PM:

Well, yeah, but Dai was trying to use the old "Clinton did it too" bllsht. Not the case.

#214 ::: Greg M. ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 05:21 PM:

Dai@206:"Ruby Ridge did not happen under Dubya…"

Funny that. Ruby Ridge was in July of 1992--under George *H.W.* Bush. George Bush the Elder.
Question for Dai. Did you know that, and were you dishonestly attempting to imply that President Clinton was responsible, or were you just generally ignorant of when Ruby Ridge took place?

2nd question: The use of "Bush Derangement Syndrome" is part and parcel of an argument in bad faith--implying that criticism of what by all accounts is a pretty bad President is illegitimate. I assume you're a Bush supporter. What criticisms from those on the left would you accept as legitimate? (Note the phrasing of the question: no weaseling here with regards to Harriet Miers or immigration. I'm genuinely curious what criticisms from us would *not* cause you throw around dishonest rhetoric.)

#215 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 07:59 PM:

Xopher: And I can't think of another president who has admitted to breaking a law (FISA) and proudly proclaimed he intends to continue doing so.

Much less one who had, not more than a few months before, told Congress they didn't need to change that law at all (we know, now, why he didn't feel it overly constraining).

As for conferences... the US does (or plans to, I forget where it is in the process) require all planes which overfly her airspace to land, and process all passengers through customs; even when the plane isn't otherwise going discharge any passengers in the United States.

#216 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 10:06 PM:

the US does (or plans to, I forget where it is in the process) require all planes which overfly her airspace to land, and process all passengers through customs

That, to me, seems to be way the h*ll out of line.
Why should non-stop flights have to become one-stop to process people through US immigration who aren't planning to visit the US on their trip? I know if I were one of those people, I'd do my best after that - and before it too, if I could - to avoid any flight coming within reach of the US government.

#217 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 10:34 PM:

The U.S. currently requires that airlines hand over passenger lists for all flights that pass through U.S. airspace. And it seems likely that the airlines' private "no-fly" lists are including U.S. government no-fly data, though the airlines refuse to disclose how they're creating those lists. I haven't heard anything about any plans to require aircraft to stop to process passengers through customs, and this strikes me as something that would get some media attention. Source, please?

#218 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 12:55 AM:

However, what the U.S. will do is process passengers on planes that stop in the U.S. - even if it is just for refueling. That is how Canadian citizen Maher Arar got sent to Syria and tortured. His plane stopped in the U.S. even though no one changed planes there.

#219 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 04:59 AM:

I hope we don't find out in the small print that all of NAFTA is a free-torture zone. It seems like Airlines these days could provide additional value and legitimately charge extra by promising to avoid US airspace under all circumstances.

#220 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 05:52 AM:

wouldn't that be torture-free zone? free-torture zone sounds like you can have your torture without cost.

#221 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 08:25 AM:

As in "free-trade zone". A torture-free zone would be great, but a NAFTA-wide free-torture zone would make flying anywhere over NAFTA territory have the same horrible consequences for people like Maher Arar as merely flying over the US did. I hope I'm being more clear here: torture-free zone good, free-torture zone bad. A free-torture zone would give multiple governments the ability to torture without consequences. Doubleplusungood.

#222 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 08:43 AM:

ok sorry for the misunderstanding. I don't think that kind of rule would apply to NAFTA though, more like a backwards EU decision.

#223 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 11:27 AM:

bryan@198: That's an interesting claim (that citizens returning to the U.S. have a worse time than foreigners entering); I've never had trouble returning, but HMMV.

Fragano@191: I wouldn't expect the current MA governor to have the same four languages (although there are a lot of Portuguese immigrants and descendants in our fishing industry), but assuming he can't manage four would be a mistake. (Or did you not hear Romney's gone?)

Lee@212: no real doubt in your mind, maybe; since he was told he would certainly be impeached and would probably be convicted, resigning ahead of proceedings would have looked like a better deal without a bargain.

#224 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 12:55 PM:

CHip #223: You're right, I shouldn't have made that assumption about Governor Patrick. Bom nadal!

#225 ::: Samuel Tinianow ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2007, 01:58 PM:

Do we have a nationwide problem recruiting people of normal intelligence for police work?

Is this news? Police work offers mediocre pay and benefits, along with the substantial risk that you will be maliciously hurt or killed on the job by a total stranger. Plus, because it doesn't necessarily require a college education, people automatically assume that anyone who does such work is stupid. Do you have to wonder at the fact that that's exactly what we end up with?

#226 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2007, 01:14 AM:

#177: You'd think that if there was any basis for it (even given that it is DHS/TSA/INS), the feds would be putting out press releases justifying their actions, or at least trying to minimize the story.

Uh-huh, Reality check, from Boing Boing:

"TSA is as unpopular as the IRS

"The TSA is now tied with the IRS for least popular government agency in America, according to an AP poll. They're even less popular than FEMA -- the bunglers who brought you the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
"Nearly 9,000 such complaints flowed into TSA between January and October of this year, and the agency made a selection of them available at the request of The Associated Press.

"'Screeners are 'just rigid, intransigent, inflexible, unpleasant, and they always have the fact that they've got the security of the nation that they're falling back on,' said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. Stempler said he has no way of telling whether TSA has addressed any of the hundreds of complaints it receives each month."

Oh yeah, people are just making things up.

#227 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2007, 07:35 PM:

#225: as discussed here during the last bomb panic in Boston, police salaries in large cities are not small; IIRC, increasing number of cities do require college degrees. More relevant is the fact that these actions weren't just individuals making dumb decisions; they went some distance up the command hierarchy, which should have \some/ requirement for intelligence.

Or, this could be seen as one of the differences between intelligence and wisdom; intelligence "solves" a given problem, wisdom says that the solution is short on real-world inputs.

#228 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2007, 09:29 PM:

When it's getting public notice, if the feds still aren't talking ... is it real or are they too embarrassed to say anything? Have you noticed, in the last four or five years, any tendency for these people to be embarrassed by anything they've done? I mean, look at Katrina. Look at Abu Ghraib, for Ghu's sake. They'll lie up, down, backwards, and sideways, if there's any chance at all that something illegal might get pinned on them.

I still think her story is bs. (Also, remember that TSA and DHS now include some respectable (or formerly respectable) groups, like the Coast Guard and the air traffic controllers.)

#229 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 05:14 PM:

Greg M #214:

ISTM that there was previously a "Clinton Derangement Syndrome," with the same basic symptoms--otherwise sensible people convinced that Bill Clinton was the devil incarnate, was to the left of Mao, was personally involved in seeing the kids of the Waco wackos incinerated, etc.

Now, W has been, as far as I can judge, a truly horrible president. But I think there is a knee-jerk reaction that's common among people that attributes all kinds of bad stuff that has been going on for years to Bush, as there previously was to Clinton.

The reality behind this, I think, is that the country is broadly moving in nasty directions on many fronts. Normal people seem to have less power over their lives over time, police state meausures march ever forward, the middle class gets squeezed from all sides, the culture seems to be seriously messed up in various ways, etc. It's natural to attribute all these things to the current bozo in charge if you don't like him, even when they're things that have been going on for decades.

Eight years ago, a certain set of people were muttering darkly about Clinton having had his enemies murdered by his cocaine dealing friends, spying on his enemies, using the IRS to investigate his enemies, etc. The same group now steadfastly defends their President against all those moonbat liberal wackos who claim he's planning a coup, spying on all the citizens, planning to kick off an unwinnable war with Iran, etc. I think this may be an explanation for this odd phenomenon.

#230 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 05:21 PM:

Fragano #191:

Every year, we have this discussion about Crypto (the big annual cryptography conference in Santa Barbara). I expect sometime in the next ten years or so, if things don't change, we'll relocate it to Canada.

This is painful for a lot of reasons. When the conference was started, both having a conference and doing research in the area was an act of disobedience toward the US government, which explicitly tried to suppress such research outside of NSA. The folks who established the conference were taking a risk with their careers, potentially even risking jail. (Several researchers were threatened with jail if they discussed their research with anyone; as far as I understand it, these threats had no basis in law, but were still apparently pretty intimidating.)

#231 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 05:32 PM:

I don't think it's safe to assume that if Al Gore had been in office in September 2001, things would be utterly different. Well, maybe he's not the best example, but it's an old axiom of historians that politicians tend to become captives of the situation and the moment. Look at LBJ as an object example.

I can also well see an outcome in which Gore made a reasonable, measured response and was subsequently hounded out of office by the yellow press.

#232 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 05:49 PM:

C. 231: I think it IS safe to assume things would be utterly different had Gore been in office in 2001. He wouldn't have had to out-dick his father wrt Iraq, for example.

And that's leaving out the fact that his administration probably wouldn't have been completely asleep at the wheel when it came to security, and the 9/11 attacks might have been stopped.

Even if you assume that 9/11 still happened, and that somehow he had an attack of stupid and invaded Iraq for some incomprehensible reason, he would not have used 9/11 as an excuse to promote a police state in the US; he'd be thinking about the carbon footprint of all those jets and tanks; and I daresay he'd have given a listen to the science (in this case military science) and committed enough troops to do the job right.

Also, a brief lesson in the three Rs: No Rumsfeld, no Rove, no Roberts.

And even if everything else were the same, it would make a profound difference in terms of foreign relations if we had a POTUS who wasn't a COMPLETE WALKING PENIS.

Had Al Gore taken office in 2001, we'd be living in a completely different, and probably much better, world.

#233 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 06:12 PM:

re 232: Greatly different, I do not dispute. Utterly different, no. Yes, I don't think Gore would have invaded Iraq; that's clearly something that popped Minerva-like from Bush's head. Would he have acted in Afghanistan? Murkier. Would he have prevented 9/11? I don't think so. Would he have totally avoided anything like the TSA? That's a very difficult question.

Presidencies routinely get run over by presenting issues that obscure the ones that they rode in on. Bush himself is an example. 9/11 is the kind of event that requires a strong response, even if in hindsight the best reaction is extremely muted (and I would say that in this particular case a muted reaction was the best choice, because I think that even without a governmental response it is not a repeatable act). I am not saying that I know what Gore would have done. I am saying that trying to predict what he would have done is too speculative to be credible, for the most part. Indeed, utter difference presumes an opposite autocracy on "President" Gore's part, that he should be immune to political winds.

Mind you, I'm not in the least trying to defend Bush. I think he has been disastrous.

#234 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 06:43 PM:

xopher, Wingate: you're both leaving out that Cheney came into office with the explicit intent of gathering power to the executive branch. (Cheney himself, not some anonymous aide talking about outflanking the "reality-based community".) Also, Gore shows signs of being wise enough not to waste our time with Hoover-style security theater, and is educated enough to quote Roosevelt if necessary against the thuggish branch of the Republicans if they pushed it.

Speaking of Hoover -- did anyone else see the wire-service report that when the Korean war started he presented a list of 12,000 people he wanted to intern as security risks? Maybe some day we'll get his name off that federal building in DC.

#235 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 07:57 PM:

Xopher #232:

Did Al Gore oppose the Patriot Act? It certainly had the overwhelming support of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and I don't recall much criticism in the mainstream press (though there was plenty on the net). I'm curious what evidence you see that says that Gore would not have responded to 9/11 with police state measures.

Other than his explicit statements at the time, what can we use to predict what Gore would have done? Under the Clinton administration, we saw the Clipper chip pushed very hard, along with CALEA bills (guaranteed wiretap access for cops and spies) including proposals to allow up to half a percent of all ongoing phone calls to be wiretapped. After the TWA 800 disaster, we saw the picture ID requirement introduced for flying, and when the investigation concluded that it was an accident, the security theater (which coincidentally solved a business problem for the airlines) somehow remained in place. On the other hand, the Clinton Administration didn't impose all that much in the way of police state measures after the Oklahoma City bombing, though I think they did approve more surveillance and infiltration of right-wing groups.

I'm not convinced. Gore would probably have been a better president than W, but that's a really low bar. But post-9/11, it would have taken a strongly anti-police-state leader to resist police state measures, and there just aren't many of them in government these days.

#236 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 08:19 PM:

Albatross #230: The US seems to be run by people who mistake current for eternal. The world is not a fixed place, and power is not a fixed thing.

#237 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 08:23 PM:

C. Wingate (#233): I think Gore would have gone into Afghanistan; with international support and serious domestic pressure to Get The Folks Responsible, he might even have done so (instead of doing Bush's "Ooh Shiny, Let's Attack Iraq").

A Fall 2001 European Affairs article on the role of NATO and Article 5 after 9/11 is interesting in a sad, Cassandra-like way: "Finally, as the Europeans see U.S. determination, some of them worry that Washington may overreact militarily, cause substantial civilian casualties, or even use the crisis as an excuse to expand its goals - for example, to go beyond toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan, as part of seeking to capture and eliminate Osama Bin Laden and his network. Expanded U.S. goals could include the overthrow of Iraq's Saddam Hussein and perhaps even attacks on Iran or Syria." Sigh.

albatross (#235): Good points all; the anti-Clipper/CALEA work that the EFF was doing back then is less well known than I think it should be (though I admit bias).

That said, the post-1994 Republican Congress (and various press outlets; imagine Fox News, for example) would certainly have been screaming their heads off about "overreaching" and "civil liberties" if a D-Pres were doing half the things GWB's done.

#238 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 12:10 AM:

re #234: Yeah, I am leaving Cheney out, though in a sense he can be folding into Bush as a sort of two-headed freak of a presidency.

re #237: "Depressingly Cassandra-like" just about hits that on the head. I've also seen a fair amount of commentary from the policy rags to the effect that Iraq as a distraction has had a negative impact on Afghanistan.

#239 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 12:43 AM:

I don't know if Al Gore would have ended up doing insane police-state stuff in response to 9/11, though I doubt it, but I sometimes doubt 9/11 would have happened had he been president--not because he would have stopped it, but because bin Laden would have known that he didn't have someone in the White House who would react exactly as he wanted.

#240 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 09:43 AM:

re #239: From what I recall, the act was hardly that calculating. It seemed to have been done more on the basis of "we can do this big hurt to our enemies" rather than as an integral part of a finely honed strategy.

#241 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 02:20 PM:

ethan #239:

AQ launched several attacks against us while Clinton was in office; I doubt very strongly that OBL and company cared all that much which president was in charge. Also, I doubt that AQ could have predicted exactly how W would respond ahead of time, since a lot of that depended on the mood of the country, how things worked out politically, etc. He might have decided to invade Iran instead, or been pushed by domestic political considerations to invade Saudi Arabia despite any wishes of his. His rush to war might have been stopped politically--it wasn't, but how would you predict this a couple years ahead of time?

#242 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 02:46 PM:

C. Wingate #240: Are you sure? Terrorism is by its nature calculating, and more interested in the reaction it will generate than the damage it causes directly. If there is information to the contrary, I missed it (which would not be a novel event), and I apologize, but what you describe doesn't seem likely to me.

albatross #241: Am I the only one who expected Bush to find a pretext to go to war with someone during the 2000 election? Surely I'm not. And there is a vast difference between the attacks on international and military targets that preceded 9/11 and 9/11 itself.

I don't know, and I'm not even sure I suspect, that the 9/11 attacks wouldn't have happened if Gore had been president (maybe postponed for the next completely batshit head of state), but it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility. I'm probably wrong.

#243 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 02:49 PM:

I of course didn't mean that I expected Bush to go to war during the election, that doesn't make any sense. I meant to say that during the election I expected him to once he was president.

#244 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 02:59 PM:

ethan 243: Aren't scope ambiguities annoying? Hard to spot, too.

#245 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 03:22 PM:

"Am I the only one who expected Bush to find a pretext to go to war with someone during the 2000 election? "

I guess not:

surely everyone knows that one.

#246 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 11:18 AM:

Xopher #244: Some of the ins and outs of using a language are awfully stupid-making. That's one of them for me.

bryan #245: Exactly! If you want to provoke a holy war, who better to attack than an insane, reactionary warmonger who's come to power on the backs of fundamentalist Christians? Gore doesn't fit that description.

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