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RIP Mario Cuomo

| Thu Jan. 1, 2015 8:10 PM EST

Former three-term governor of New York Mario Cuomo died Thursday, the same day his son Andrew was inaugurated to a second term of his own as governor of the Empire State.

Here is Mario Cuomo's famous speech criticizing Ronald Reagan from the 1984 Democratic Convention.

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Happy End of the Year!

| Wed Dec. 31, 2014 8:44 PM EST

For many reasons—some that you know about, others that you don't—2014 has been, let's say, a less than ideal year in the Drum household. So nobody here is bidding 2014 a fond farewell. More like a kick to the curb, with the hope that 2015 can hardly help but be better.

So that's that. Goodbye 2014. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. And in fairness, it wasn't all bad, as the photo below shows. This is what our new furballs do to cardboard scratching pads. For 2015, perhaps we'll buy them a nice fresh one to shred to pieces.

NYPD Slowdown Not Likely to Tell Us Much About Broken Windows

| Wed Dec. 31, 2014 2:19 PM EST

As long as we're talking about crime today, the New York Times reports that the NYPD's slowdown in citing people for minor violations doesn't appear to be doing any harm:

In the week since two Brooklyn officers were killed by a man who singled them out for their police uniforms, the number of summonses for minor criminal offenses, as well as those for parking and traffic violations, has decreased by more than 90 percent versus the same week a year earlier, and felony arrests were nearly 40 percent lower, according to Police Department statistics.

....Yet reports of major crimes citywide continued their downward trajectory, falling to 1,813 from 2,127 for the week, a nearly 15 percent drop, according to Police Department statistics.

Mike the Mad Biologist thinks this might be a useful natural experiment:

Here’s the thing: this might not be like the sanitation workers strike. Then, it was obvious what the consequences were—mounds of rotting garbage. But what happens if, after a couple weeks of slowdown, there’s no uptick in violent or property (i.e., breaking and entry) crime? That would undermine the current policing philosophy of the NYPD (and many other cities)....If violent crime doesn’t increase, then arresting people for minor violations doesn’t seem like a good strategy.

Helluva experiment. Let’s see what the outcome will be.

Unfortunately, I doubt that this will tell us anything at all. The timeframe is too short and there are too many other things going on at the same time. Crime statistics have a ton of noise in them, and it's hard to draw any conclusions even from a full year of change. You need years of data, preferably in lots of different places. A few weeks of data in one place is basically just a null.

So....yes, it's potentially an interesting experiment. In real life, though, it's not. It's just a howl of protest from the police that will tell us little about anything other than the state of relations between City Hall and the NYPD.

Quote of the Day: Obama's Clean Record Is Evidence of How Corrupt He Really Is

| Wed Dec. 31, 2014 12:39 PM EST

From Jonah Goldberg, explaining the "culture" that causes Hillary Clinton's supporters to attack 2016 primary opponent Jim Webb even if she hasn't asked them to:

She’s created an infrastructure. The incentives are in place. The culture exists. It’s a bit analogous to Lois Lerner at the IRS. She didn’t need to be told by the White House to target conservative groups. She simply knew what she had to do.

I guess this is where we are. Even Darrell Issa's committee report—Darrell Issa's!—was forced to concede that whatever the IRS did or didn't do in its targeting of nonprofit political groups, there's no evidence the White House was involved in any way. This creates a real pickle. What's a good conservative to do?

Answer: simply declare that the White House was involved—in fact, so deeply involved that there was no need for actual marching orders. The very lack of evidence is the best evidence we have of massive, deep-seated corruption in Obama's inner circle. Case closed!

UAB Faculty Senate Considers Vote Against All That Annoying Faculty Stuff

| Wed Dec. 31, 2014 12:06 PM EST

Earlier this month, Ray Watts, the president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, announced that UAB would be dropping its Division I football program, the first university to do so in 20 years. I haven't paid much attention to the fallout, but today the LA Times summarizes the swift reaction:

Watts said the decision was strictly financial: After spending $20 million each year subsidizing an unsuccessful team, it was time for UAB to cut its losses and put academics before athletics.

....These are fighting words in Alabama. After announcing his decision Dec. 2, Watts needed police officers to escort him through a crowd of angry fans outside Legion Field, the school's outdated off-campus stadium, where he met with Blazer players and coaches.

....All of a sudden, almost everyone is a football cheerleader: The City Council passed a motion in support of UAB football; the university's Faculty Senate drafted a resolution of no confidence in Watts.

Look, I get that the football players are angry. I even get that all the boosters who hadn't stepped up before are now swearing that they would have donated millions of dollars to keep the program alive if only Watts had asked them. But the Faculty Senate? At a bare minimum, shouldn't they have had the back of a president who wanted to stop draining money from academics into football, even if no one else did? Yeesh.

Anyway, the gist of the story is that without a consistently losing football program to rally around, UAB is now certain to wither away and die. Why would anyone want to be be a student there, after all? What's left?  A bunch of hoity toity classes and labs and stuff? What a waste of some perfectly nice property in the middle of town.

UPDATE: Apparently my reading comprehension is weak today. As the Times story says, the Faculty Senate is considering a no-confidence motion in Watts, but hasn't actually voted on it yet. That won't happen until January 15.

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Is Broken Windows a Broken Theory of Crime?

| Wed Dec. 31, 2014 11:10 AM EST

The "Broken Windows" theory suggests that tolerance of small acts of disorder creates an environment that leads to rising amounts of serious crime. So if police crack down on small offenses—petty vandalism, public lewdness, etc.—crime reductions will follow. George Kelling was one of the originators of the theory, and NYPD police commissioner Bill Bratton is one of its strongest proponents. Here's what they write about it:

New York City’s experience has suggestively demonstrated the success of Broken Windows over the last 20 years. In 1993, the city’s murder rate was 26.5 per 100,000 people....While the national murder rate per 100,000 people has been cut in half since 1994, the rate in New York has declined by more than six times.

....Broken Windows–style policing was pivotal in achieving these results. Left unchecked, street corners can degenerate into criminogenic environments. The bullies take over. They drink alcohol and take drugs openly, make excessive noise, intimidate and shake down honest citizens....By cracking down on low-level offenders, the police not only made neighborhoods more orderly....In the next four years, annual shootings fell by nearly 3,300 incidents—or about two fewer shootings per day.

....Current crime levels don’t stay down by themselves because of some vaguely defined demographic or economic factor. Crime is actively managed in New York City every day.

So here's the thing: this is almost certainly wrong. Not even controversial. Just wrong: broken windows policing may well have been helpful in reducing New York's crime rate, but there's flatly no evidence that it's been pivotal. It's true that crime in New York is down more than it is nationally, but that's just because crime went up more in big cities vs. small cities during the crime wave of the 60s through the 80s, and it then went down more during the crime decline of the 90s and aughts. Kelling and Bratton can dismiss this as ivory tower nonsense, but they should know better. The statistics are plain enough, after all.

Take a look at the two charts on the right. The top one shows crime declines in six of America's biggest cities. As you can see, New York did well, but it did no better than Chicago or Dallas or Los Angeles, none of which implemented broken windows during the 90s. The bottom chart is a summary of the crime decline in big cities vs. small cities. Again, the trend is clear: crime went up more during the 80s in big cities, but then declined more during the 90s and aughts. The fact that New York beat the national average is a matter of its size, not broken windows.

Now, none of this is evidence that broken windows doesn't work. The evidence is foggy either way, and we simply don't know. My own personal view is that it's probably a net positive, but a fairly modest one.

But this gets us to the core of the issue. Kelling and Bratton write that the "academics who attribute crime drops to economic or demographic factors often work with macro data sets and draw unsubstantiated, far-fetched conclusions about street-level police work, which most have scarcely witnessed." Why such contempt? Because Kelling, and especially Bratton, want to believe that the things they do affect crime. After all, if crime has declined because of demographics or gasoline lead or the end of the crack epidemic, then all of Bratton's work—along with that of the cops he manages—is pretty much useless. He's just been spinning his wheels while huge, impersonal forces have been acting invisibly.

Nobody wants to believe that. What's more, we don't want people to believe that. Police officers, like all of us, work better if they think that they're having an impact. And their bosses, if they want to keep their trust, had damn well better insist that this is the case. When Bratton says that broken windows works, he's not just saying it because he believes it. He's saying it because he has to. If he doesn't, he'd lose the trust of his officers.

Still, the truth is almost certainly more complicated than Bratton says. Crime is down for multiple reasons, and if I had to guess I'd say about 70 percent is due to big, impersonal forces and 30 percent is due to changes in policing, including broken windows. That may not be a very satisfying explanation, but it's most likely the true one.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, did you know that the link between gasoline lead and crime was the "trendiest crime decline hypothesis in 2014"? I didn't. But that's kind of cool. You can, of course, read more about that here.

2015 Shaping Up To Be an Annoying Year in Tech

| Tue Dec. 30, 2014 6:49 PM EST

The Wall Street Journal is running a feature today called "The Tech That Will Change Your Life in 2015." Sounds great. I'm ready to hear about my future. Sock it to me:

Virtual Assistants You Won’t Want to Fire

“You have an 8:30 a.m. meeting with your supervisor. Last time you met, your heart rate was high. Go to bed early tonight, don’t drink coffee before the meeting and leave home early—traffic will be heavy.”

That’s how much smarter predictive personal assistants like Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana will begin to get....

Seriously? This is what my smartphone will allegedly be doing in the new year? Just kill me now.

As for the rest of the list, call me underwhelmed. Apple watches, Windows 10, yet more fitness trackers, e-credit cards, and an endless procession of "Uber for ____" apps? What happened to my flying cars?

This Is What Your Dog Goes Through When You Leave It At Home

| Tue Dec. 30, 2014 2:03 PM EST

Reddit user nigelandtheghost attached a GoPro to his dog to find out what they did when left the house. Turns out the dog has super bad separation anxiety!

I was pretty sure he was going to play guitar in his underwear or solve crimes or something.

(via Junkee)

Vladimir Putin's Russia: Criticize the Government and Your Family Will Be Locked Up in a Penal Colony

| Tue Dec. 30, 2014 1:59 PM EST

The show trial of one of Vladimir Putin's chief political critics ended today. He was convicted and banned from political office for ten years, but the sentence was suspended and he immediately joined a protest march upon his release. So what happened next?

The police in Moscow briefly detained the anticorruption crusader and political opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny on Tuesday as he tried to join an unauthorized, antigovernment rally, just hours after a Moscow court had given him a suspended sentence on criminal fraud charges. Yet, in a sign of how unwilling the authorities are to make a martyr of Mr. Navalny, they said later that the police were merely escorting him back to his home, Interfax reported.

Well, that's not so bad. Maybe Putin is lightening up a bit. Except for one little thing:

His brother Oleg was jailed for three and a half years for the same offence....Navalny’s supporters said the Kremlin was returning to the sinister Soviet-era practice of punishing the relatives of those it disliked. Upon hearing the verdict, mumbled quietly by the judge, Yelena Korobchenko, Alexei Navalny rolled his eyes and looked at his brother.

....Oleg Navalny is the father of two small children and a former executive of the state-owned postal service. Unlike his better known brother, he has never played a role in the Russian opposition movement. His imprisonment in a penal colony seems to echo the Soviet-era practice of arresting the relatives of “inconvenient” people.

So they let Aleksei go free in order to keep him from being a martyr, but tossed his brother into prison as a hostage to his good behavior. Charming. A spokesman admitted that Putin "had been aware of the Navalny case, but that Tuesday’s ruling 'isn’t important enough to merit a special report' to the president." I actually believe this. For Putin, it's just another day at the office.