I'm sure most of you read Scott Henson's account the other day of being stopped, detained and handcuffed by the Austin Police Department while walking his granddaughter home from the skating rink.
This kind of thing is well outside my wheelhouse and so I had no intention of piling on APD. I thought APD overreacted badly and showed poor judgment. And I expected it to make some sort of public statement of . . . not remorse, exactly, but at least acknowledgment that it had caused this man and his granddaughter unnecessary distress.
But instead APD has doubled down, and is defending its overreaction as the sort of reasonable and appropriate response it must make to any suspicion of child abduction:
[APD spokesman] Hipolito said that a staff member at the Millennium Center called 911 about 7:50 p.m. Friday reporting a possible kidnapping.
That caller said a white man took a black female child and ran into the woods, Hipolito said. Several staff members left to go look for the man, presumably Henson, and police responded quickly, Hipolito said.
About 10 officers were dispatched, along with a helicopter and a K-9 unit, he said.
Hipolito added that kidnapping suspects may be related to their victims. He said that officers detained Henson and his granddaughter, separated them and called the girl's mother to verify their relationship.
"You have to investigate to determine if the grandfather is supposed to have the child," Hipolito said. "To me, he's making it into more of a racial thing.
This doesn't justify the handcuffing. And it is utter bullshit anyway. If there had been a report by a family member that the child was missing, then of course the police should have checked with the mother. But this incident was triggered by the report of a random stranger, which amounted to little more than "I don't think that little black girl belongs to that white man." Once the deputy constable and APD had verified that Scott was the girl's grandfather, and thus was a plausible custodian, that should have been the end of it. Or does APD really contend that it is SOP to detain and handcuff any adult escorting his granddaughter, niece or cousin until the child's mom can be gotten on the phone? What was lacking here was a reasonable suspicion that Scott had improper custody of his granddaughter.
My five-year old son spotted this high up in our (lone) back-yard tree:
I think it's an eastern screech owl.
My wife thought it was a hornet's nest at first, but then my son said he saw it move. (I honestly don't know how he managed to spot it among the leaves and branches. Or why he was even studying the crown of the tree that closely. I wouldn't notice a puma in a tree.)
This is a bit more exotic than the raccoon I almost ran over yesterday.
When it's 110 outside, I just pretend I'm living in Duluth in January and don't go outside other than to walk to my car. I miss being able to go outside in the middle of the day. I'm sick of sunlight. But the drought bothers me more than the heat. I miss thunder and I miss the smell of wet pavement after a good rain shower and I'm tired of dust and brown landscapes. My almost-three-year old was napping the last time we had a good shower; I'm not sure a storm is within his living memory.
We all know it's bad. We all know it's the worst ever. I guess we should thank Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon (via Joe Romm via Matthew Kahn) for graphical proof. Is this comforting or unsettling?
If you think Austin is growing too fast, just root for more summers like this.
A reader has pointed me to this registered neighborhood organization. (Go to the city registry and scroll down to Super Duper). The organization's "main contact" identifies himself as the "Great and Powerful Oz." The "organization's" declared boundary includes virtually all of Austin and much of its extra-territorial jurisdiction.
Anyone in Austin can form and register a "neighborhood organization" and define its boundaries as arbitrarily as he pleases. The Great and Powerful Oz figured this out and evidently is enjoying a little joke.
Except this joke is costing the rest of us. City code entitles "interested parties" to notice of public hearings before the city can act, and registered neighborhood organizations are "interested parties" when the property falls within their boundaries. This applies not only to Council hearings, but to boards and commission hearings, such as the Board of Adjustment and the Planning Commission.
Notice is expensive. City staff must print and mail a separate notice for each hearing. There can be dozens of hearings per week -- zoning changes, variances, site plan approvals, subdivision approvals, and a host of others. And the Super Duper Neighborhood Objectors and Appealers Organization is entitled to written, mailed notice of each and every one. (If you doubt SDNOAO is entitled to notice, go to the city's GIS, pull up the zoning map, check the circle next to "neighborhood association," and click "identify" on any point on the map.)
The Great and Powerful Oz might object that lots of other organizations get free notice of citywide hearings (e.g., ANC, the Homebuilders Association of Greater Austin, the Homeless Neighborhood Organization.) If they can ask for free notice, why not me?
Rather than attempt to distinguish between "legitimate" and "nonsense" organizations, the City should simply charge notice recipients a fee. I'm sure that applicants are entitled to free notice. Nearby property owners may have a good argument for free notice as well. But everyone else should monitor the city's posted notices like the rest of us, particularly since the typical organization cares about only a small fraction of the hearings. If they want premium service, they should pay for it.
Update: Karl-Thomas Musselman identifies the Great and Powerful Oz as 1993 Special Election City Council candidate Bill Gammon. (The registry lists Oz as William Gammon without further ID.)
1. Frumination works out the highway and parking capacity Manhattan would need to replace its morning rush hour subway capacity:
At best, it would take 167 inbound lanes, or 84 copies of the Queens Midtown Tunnel, to carry what the NYC Subway carries over 22 inbound tracks through 12 tunnels and 2 (partial) bridges. At worst, 200 new copies of 5th Avenue. Somewhere in the middle would be 67 West Side Highways or 76 Brooklyn Bridges. And this neglects the Long Island Railroad, Metro North, NJ Transit, and PATH systems entirely.
Of course, at 325 square feet per parking space, all these cars would need over 3.8 square miles of space to park, about 3 times the size of Central Park. At that point, who would want to go to Manhattan anyway?
See the neat map at the bottom of his entry showing how much land Manhattan would have to devote to parking. Commuters of course would abandon Manhattan long before things reached this state. But Manhattan would not be Manhattan in either case.
Pointer from a reader.
(NB: Tyler Cowen thought this was interesting enough for a link . . . to Kottke, who merely quoted a snippet of Frumination's entry. Jerk. (Cowen, not Kottke.))
2. A Detroit neighborhood reverts to prairie (images from DetroitYES):
3. Professor Chris Nelson, Director of the Metropolitan Research Center at the University of Utah, projects that the homeownership rate will fall to 63.5% by 2020, sparking intense demand for rban infill and redevelopment. (Via Calculated Risk; no link to paper available.)
I think our homeownership rate is too high, a result of tax subsidies and land-use policies. It ought to drop. But it won't drop by several percent. Richard Green, a professor at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California (and no conservative), fisks Nelson's study.
Matthew Kahn wonders whether blog reading crowds out book reading. He believes there are two types of blog readers: the nerdy "Wikipedia" types who like variety and suffer from slight attention deficit order, and the "deep readers" who want to dig deep in a few subjects. He speculates that books are substitutes for the Wikipedia nerds and complements for the deep readers.
I read more books since I've started reading blogs. I don't buy more books, but I read more of the books I do buy. I've always bought books on impulse but then let them sit on a shelf. The real reason I read more books now, I think, is that I blog myself. Books stimulate ideas for new posts, of course. But, more importantly, I can only say the same thing a few times without getting bored. I long ago exhausted my own stock of ideas so I have to rip off others'.
What does my blogging crowd out? Baseball. Football. I used to watch two or three baseball games a week. I don't anymore.
Some TV, but, honestly, not that much. My prime TV watching time has always started at 10 pm with the Simpsons. I used to watch TV before 10, but I can't really remember what I watched, so I guess I'm watching TV more "efficiently."
Blogging crowds out some work. I used to hustle harder for new business when I was slow. I haven't sat down to estimate my lost earnings from blogging -- that might make me quit (blogging, that is, not work). Still, work is work; there hasn't been too much to take from there.
I think my blogging has mostly crowded out dead time. I don't know whether I used to just sit around staring blankly at a wall or what, but when I do the math, the time I spend on blogging and reading exceeds -- by a lot -- the time I used to spend on activities since crowded out.
Reading their posts, I was reminded of my own experience with the jail's shoddy policies -- as an attorney, fortunately, rather than as an inmate.
Way back when I was a cub lawyer in Houston, a partner in my firm was appointed counsel for a Harris County jail inmate who had filed a pro se civil rights lawsuit. The partner promptly appointed me. The client was a Muslim who wanted to observe Ramadan, which required him to fast during daylight. The jail fed inmates during the day, though, and refused to bend the rules to accommodate this inmate. It thus gave him a blunt choice: forget about Ramadan, or starve yourself for a month. The jail also refused to let his imam drop off a Koran; it required inmates to order all books straight from the publisher.
By the time we were appointed, the federal judge, Sim Lake, had already entered a temporary restraining order requiring the jail to feed our client before sunrise and after sundown. Our job was to prepare for the permanent injunction hearing.
So I deposed Harris County Sheriff Johnny Klevenhagen. This was only my third deposition, and I must not have done it right, because I pissed off Klevenhagen so badly that he walked out midway through the deposition. And did not return. The county attorney and I just stared blankly at one another. He shrugged. I left.
To this day, I don't know why Klevenhagen got so mad. (Really, I do.) The line of questioning was innocuous enough: "Q. Don't you have inmates who spend all day at court? A. Yes. Q. Don't you have to feed them? A. Yes. Q. How do you do that? A. We prepare sack lunches for them. Q. You mean, sandwiches in plastic bags and such? A. Yes. Q. Well, why can't you set aside a couple for my guy to eat?" And he walked out soon thereafter.
We had a status conference with the judge a few days later. I told him about the deposition and the sheriff's answers (and sudden departure). The judge listened patiently and then turned to the county attorney. "You know, I'm not going to tell you how I will rule, but you need to settle."
And so the county promised to feed my guy before and after sunrise, let his imam give him a copy of the Koran, and kicked in $5,000 for his trouble.
I'd like to chalk this up to my Dershowitz-like skills but, really, this was a no-brainer. The standard, if I recall, required the jail to balance its administrative convenience and security concerns with the inmate's legitimate religious interests. Since feeding my client created no inconvenience or security concerns, the jail had no excuse. It was not a close call. The county attorney knew it, but had to put up a fight because that's what his client told him to do.
I wasn't really surprised, then, to see that the Harris County jail still can't get things right.