Political Animal


CAT BLOGGING MEETS SCRABBLE? BLOGGING….Today was Marian’s birthday, so I got her one of those deluxe Scrabble? games with the built in lazy susan and the nice raised board that keeps all the tiles straightened out. I was sort of hoping it would be motorized and have a built-in Scrabble? computer, but no luck.

This is how we usually play, supervised by the cats to make sure we don’t cheat. I managed to eke out a victory in the first game, which I suppose was ungentlemanly of me, but the birthday gods took revenge in the second game and thrashed me to within an inch of my life.

And how old is Mrs. C? She’s not telling, I imagine. Of course, since the state of California makes its birth records available online, you could find out here if you only knew her maiden name. But you don’t, do you? So her secret is safe.

And yes, she did get a bit more than just some upgraded technology for our nightly Scrabble? festivities….


MORE ON RACIAL PROFILING….I got a few emails about my post on the LAPD racial profiling report that suggested I should take a look not just at the rate that police conducted searches after traffic stops, but at the result of the searches.

The LA Times story didn’t report this, but they did have a link to the raw report, so I decided to go the extra mile and take a look at the figures. Among drivers who were pulled over, here are the percentages who were searched along with the subsequent police action:








3165 ? 4.6%

6428 ? 9.4%

61344 ? 89.8%

1596 ? 2.3%

685 ? 1.0%


6986 ? 18.8%

5771 ? 15.6%

29782 ? 80.3%

1568 ? 4.2%

1357 ? 3.6%


14900 ? 18.9%

9201 ? 11.7%

66501 ? 84.5%

3667 ? 4.7%

1823 ? 2.3%

It turns out that in one sense, the critics are correct: these are hard numbers to draw conclusions from without more information. Still, while some of the figures look less troubling than they do at first glance, others seem to indicate rather strongly that racial profiling is indeed alive and well in Los Angeles. Here’s what I took away:

  • Police searched blacks at about four times the rate of whites, but also found contraband at about four times the rate, which makes the search rate seem defensible on non-racial grounds. On the other hand, they found contraband on Hispanics at only twice the rate of whites, which makes the 4x search rate look pretty dubious.

  • The arrest rates seem even more troubling, since this is a good indication of whether anything serious was going on. For both blacks and Hispanics the search rate is 4x the white search rate, but the arrest rate is only about double. This seems to indicate that the LAPD’s “suspiciousness radar” was tuned rather higher for blacks and Hispanics than for whites.

It’s true that data like this needs careful study, certainly something more careful than an amateur like me can give it. On the other hand, it does seem to indicate that the LAPD treats blacks and Hispanics with rather more suspicion than is justified, and race seems to be a part of it.

POSTSCRIPT I: One last comment: my snarky remark about affirmative action in yesterday’s post had a serious side to it: conservatives typically claim that, yes, there is probably still some racism in our society, but the best way for the government to respond is to just set a good example and be absolutely color blind. Eventually society will follow.

But if that’s true, then why isn’t it equally true for racial profiling? The liberal response might be, sure, maybe blacks commit more crimes than whites, but the best way to respond to this is to ignore it and have police act in a completely color blind manner. Eventually the problem will solve itself.

Which is it?

POSTSCRIPT II: There was one other problem analyzing the LAPD report: the numbers were screwy. For example, out of 3,165 whites searched, the box for “nothing found” was checked 3,208 times. This seems unlikely. What’s more, there was no overall number for searches in which something was found, so I had to add up the figures myself ? but it was unclear if that was the right thing to do. Bottom line: take everything here with a grain of salt.


THE ECONOMIST TAKES ON TORTURE….The Economist is a magazine that I both enjoy and respect. This week their lead editorial was titled “Is torture ever justified,” a subject I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, concluding that “Torture is barbaric and unworthy of us. We should not tolerate it. Period.”

So I opened the magazine with trepidation, but was gratified to find this:

The prohibition against torture expresses one of the West’s most powerful taboos?and some taboos (like that against the use of nuclear weapons) are worth preserving even at heavy cost. Though many authoritarian regimes use torture, not one of even these openly admits it. A decision by the United States to employ some forms of torture, no matter how limited the circumstances, would shatter the taboo. The morale of the West in what may be a long war against terrorism would be gravely set back: to stay strong, the liberal democracies need to be certain that they are better than their enemies.

George Bush has said that the fight against al-Qaeda is a battle for hearts and minds, not just a matter of military power. Though critics focus on his sabre-rattling, Mr Bush has been consistent in his claims to be defending human rights and democracy, and he has persisted in reaching out to Muslims, though he rarely gets credit for this. To keep the moral high ground, he needs to bolster public disavowals of torture by specifying the methods American interrogators can employ, by enforcing the limits, and by desisting from handing prisoners over to less scrupulous allies.

Unfortunately, the issue of official torture has gotten very little attention since the original Washington Post story about it last December, and it’s nice to see The Economist ? which has been a strong proponent of regime change in Iraq and has taken a pro-American stance on the entire war on terror ? take it out for a stroll in the sunlight.

American conservatives, who have lately prided themselves on their moral clarity, seem to have lost their voice on this issue, but as The Economist puts it, “To evade the question is hypocritical and irresponsible.” It is indeed.


DOES NORTH KOREA HAVE A BOMB?….Mario Carino writes to point out another oddity in the whole North Korea situation: do they have a bomb or don’t they?

I’ve been wondering about that myself, but figured my ignorance was just due to my usual cavalier approach to reading the daily news. But no:

“Don’t be quite so breathless,” Secretary of State Colin L. Powell cautioned one interviewer who expressed alarm on Sunday. “Yes, they have a large army, and, yes, they have had these couple of nuclear weapons for many years, and if they have a few more, they have a few more, and they could have them for many years.”

….But, despite administration claims, it is not so clear-cut that North Korea is already a nuclear weapons power. In early 1993, the CIA began circulating an analysis that North Korea may have obtained enough fissile material to produce one or two bombs. But, even today, that analysis is the subject of dispute, with some experts dismissing it as little more than a “back of the envelope” calculation. It is based largely on the amount of plutonium that would be needed for a nuclear weapon and how much North Korea is estimated to have diverted from its nuclear facilities.

In other words: who knows? In any case, apparently the North Koreans haven’t admitted anything, which seems odd since they’ve copped to just about everything else.

North Korea is indeed a morally bankrupt dictatorship and certainly will get no defense from me. But I am nonetheless curious about the basic facts of the situation and whether those facts show that they are technically in violation of their treaty obligations. In a post yesterday I quoted Sebastian Holsclaw as suggesting that building a bomb violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but now that doesn’t appear quite as clear. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if they had, but I wonder if the adminstration has more proof of this than they’ve been willing to publicly release?

POSTSCRIPT: Yes, I know that most people refer to North Korea as the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), which is their official name, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. They are neither democratic, concerned about people, nor a republic, and one out of four just isn’t good enough.