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The predatory, broken municipal governments of St. Louis County

[ 82 ] September 5, 2014 |

Balko is doing some extraordinary and important work here:

“She was crying as I explained the situation to her,” Voss says. “So then started to cry as I explained it her. One of the really frustrating things about what’s happening here is that this system is breaking good people. These are people just trying to get by, just trying to take care of their families.” Voss’s eyes well up as he talks about Bolden. This isn’t just an attorney defending his client. It’s a guy who is concerned about what’s happening to another human being. Bolden is a single black woman with four kids. She has several tattoos. It’s easy to see how cops might target her, or court officials might dismiss her. But Voss points out that she had already earned an associate’s degree in medical assistance. And while dealing with all of the arrests and the harassment, she earned another in paralegal studies.

The Foristell warrant stemmed from a speeding ticket in 2011. As mentioned before, Bolden didn’t show up in court because she didn’t have the money to pay it and feared they’d put her jail. It’s a common and unfortunate misconception among St. Louis County residents, especially those who don’t have an attorney to tell them otherwise. A town can’t put you in jail for lacking the money to pay a fine. But you can be jailed not appearing in court to tell the judge you can’t pay — and fined again for not showing up. After twice failing to appear for the Foristell ticket, Bolden showed up, was able to get the warrant removed and set up a payment plan with the court. But she says that a few months later, she was a couple days late with her payment. She says she called to notify the clerk, who told her not to worry. Instead, the town hit her with another warrant — the same warrant for which she was jailed in March.

Bolden’s bond was set at $1,700. No one she knew had that kind of money. Bolden broke down; she cried, she screamed, and she swore. She was given a psychological evaluation, and then put on suicide watch. She finds that memory particularly humiliating. Bolden would remain in jail for two weeks, until Foristell’s next municipal court session. She wouldn’t let her children come visit her. “I didn’t want them to see me like that,” she says. “I didn’t want them to think it was normal, that it was okay for one of us to be in jail. I missed them so much. But I wasn’t going to let them see me like that.”

While in jail, she missed a job interview. She fell behind in her paralegal studies. When she finally got her day in court, she was told to change out of her jail jumpsuit into the same clothes she had worn for three days straight, and that had been sitting in a bag for the previous two weeks. She was brought into the courtroom to face the judge, handcuffed, in dirty clothes that had been marinated in her own filth. “I was funky, I was sad, and I was mad,” she says. “I smelled bad. I was handcuffed. I missed my kids. I didn’t feel like a person anymore.”

It’s long, but read the whole thing. I confess I was actually surprised when the “three outstanding warrants per household” in Ferguson fact first came to light; it’s now clear in St. Louis County, this is par for the course, and there are far worse examples–the extremely misleadingly named “Country Club Hills” has 26 outstanding warrants per resident. In a long piece filled with rage-inducing anecdotes, one stood out for me:

But perhaps the most gaping divide between having and not having an attorney is that many people think that if they can’t pay their fines, they’ll be arrested and jailed the moment they show up in court. So they don’t show up. In truth, you can’t be jailed if you don’t have the money to pay a fine. But you can be jailed for not showing up in court to answer a charge. So under the mistaken belief that showing up in court broke will land them in jail, people chose not to show up . . . which then lands them in jail.

“That’s probably the single biggest misunderstanding out there,” says Vatterott, the former municipal judge. “We have to do a better job of informing people. I think it should say on the notice that even if you have no money, you need to show up, and it should be made clear that you won’t be sent to jail. But when I bring that up, the prosecutors don’t like it. The arrest warrants bring more fines and make the towns more money.”

In the short run, a democratic revival is clearly and badly needed, and one simply has to hope that perhaps this moment of sunshine on these governments will produce something of that sort. One possible goal to organize around:

Just last week, the ArchCity Defenders petitioned Ferguson Mayor James Knowles to grant a mass clemency for the town’s 40,000+ outstanding warrants for traffic and other nonviolent offenses. That isn’t a structural change so much as a plea for a sign of goodwill. And it’s far from certain it will happen. Vatterott says he’s also organizing talks to push for reforms on other points of agreement, like a uniform set of rules for the courts, making notices easier to understand, and making sure defendants know that they can’t be jailed for lacking the funds to pay a fine.

I’d love to see outsiders run for office in these communities with such a mass clemency as  a central campaign promise. Of course, the municipal budgets would take a huge hit, and given how tiny and hollowed out the tax bases of these towns are, there aren’t many clear options to replace the lost funds. Which leads to another obvious conclusion:

“There are too many towns,” says Vatterott. There are too many towns, and not enough taxpayers to sustain them. How to fix that problem is another matter. There has long been a movement in St. Louis to merge the county with the city. That movement has picked up steam recent years as advocacy groups like Better Together have pushed proposals to merge a number of public services. But real change would require a good portion of these towns to merge with other towns, or to dissolve themselves entirely. That would require the town councils or boards of aldermen to vote themselves out of a job.


“You have these fiefdoms across the county where a small percentage of people hold power over a small bit of territory,” Kirkland says. “They aren’t going to let go of that easily.” Some towns have begun to share police services, or to contract police services out to St. Louis County. That at least means there are fewer cops per resident to hand out fines. But the cops and courts are still geared more toward generating revenue than promoting public safety.

Here in Dayton, it’s hard to imagine city-county consolidation, given the present political dynamics (racial and otherwise). But it does manage to happen, and happen in places I would imagine it would be impossible, such as Louisville. It’s obviously not sufficient to fix this nightmare, but I wonder if it might not be necessary.


Super Bowl odds

[ 141 ] September 4, 2014 |

I’m a lifelong Seahawks fan, but a fairly casual and not particularly analytical NFL fan. So perhaps someone who knows the league better than I would care to explain why the Seahawks are longer shots for the title than the Broncos?

Three possibilities:

1) Path to Super Bowl in AFC easier than NFC

2) Events of February 2, 2014 were an outlier, not indicative of likely future outcomes in matchups between the two teams.

3) Off season personnel changes improved the Broncos’ roster relative to the Seahawks.

I assume (1) is doing the most work here. It’s not clear the NFC’s greater strength was all that significant in 2013, but of course perceptions matter as much as reality in setting the line. Am I missing something?

Christianity and Same Sex Marriage

[ 207 ] September 3, 2014 |

Horning in on Damon Linker’s turf, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry offers another defense of the “this time is different” argument regarding Christianity and mainstream american social and political norms. He first presents the erroneous view, based on a “misreading of history”:

The false premise goes something like this: Christianity, as a historical social phenomenon, basically adjusts its moral doctrines depending on the prevailing social conditions. Christianity, after all, gets its doctrines from “the Bible,” a self-contradictory grab bag of miscellany. When some readings from the Bible fall into social disfavor, Christianity adjusts them accordingly. There are verses in the Bible that condemn homosexuality, but there are also verses that condemn wearing clothes made of two threads, and verses that allow slavery. Christians today find ways to lawyer their way out of those. Therefore, the implicit argument seems to go, if you just bully Christianity enough, it will find a way to change its view of homosexuality, and all will be well. After all, except for a few shut-ins in the Vatican, most Christians today are fine with sexual revolution innovations such as contraception and easy divorce.

If this is mistaken, how should we understand Christianity?

Christian opposition to homosexual acts is of a piece with a much broader vision of what it means to be a human being that Christianity will never part with. The story Christians have been telling for 2,000 years goes something like this: The God who made the Universe is also, by his very nature, Love, and he made human beings with a very lofty vocation. Humans are meant to reflect His glory in the world; to be like God, that is to say, to be lovers and creators. Everything in the Universe has been put here to be used by God’s children to reflect his loving glory — and to teach them about God’s love. This is particularly true, or so the story goes, of the unique sexual complementarity between men and women. The sexual act is meant to reflect God’s love by fostering a union at once bodily and spiritual — and creates new life.

The best we could do for Gobry is to grant that both narratives presented here are just so stories imposed on a far messier and more complicated reality. (His focus on the formal teachings of Christianity regarding men’s and women’s sexuality glosses over the different actual treatments they received at the hands of Christianity as practiced, which poured its energy into social control of one gender’s sexual activity to a far greater degree than the other’s). But even if we grant his historical story, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Setting aside concerns about the empirical claims Gobry makes for the moment, let’s grant that American Christianity’s “homosexual is sinful” view is properly understood as unchanging for 2000 years, while the previously widely held “the bible justifies American slavery” view was only a few generations old, a theology of convenience ginned up to justify and bolster that particular institution. From an anthropological perspective, I’m not at all sure why the age of the dogma is all that relevant to the hold it is likely to have on the individual believer. That historical difference is unlikely to be felt deeply be the believer, who’s been taught to believe it’s old as dirt by his parents and grandparents, the community he lives in, and the institutional church of which he is a part. He is not a historian of religion. The newer vintage of that particular commitment may, in some way, make it more vulnerable to social change. But merely gesturing toward an age difference doesn’t come anywhere near doing the work necessary to explain why.

One question worth asking, if we’re trying to choose between the two narratives presented above: which narrative better explains the changes of the last 20 years? What’s happening, of course, is that Christians–as individuals and, with a lag, as institutions, are changing their views to match mainstream American views on same sex marriage. I would put it even more strongly: Christianity isn’t just catching up, it is driving the change in the content of mainstream views. Even with 100% support from non-religious people and religious minorities, same sex marriage would have gone exactly nowhere without substantial Christian support.

The only way people taking Gobry’s position can dodge this completely obvious fact is to play a bit of no true Scotsman: we’re talking about evangelicals, or traditionalists, or some other label that carves out a slice of American Christendom as fundamentally different from the rest of it. But this doesn’t work, either, as the narrative he rejects can explain this just as easily. Like America itself, some Christians are liberal and some conservative. It’s extremely normal for liberals to accept social change with greater rapidity and ease than conservatives, and same sex marriage fits this general pattern very well. liberal Christianity changed first, now it’s conservative Christianity’s turn. And, low and behold, nearly half of self-identified evangelicals under 30 support same sex marriage.

I grew up attending church, and one of the very first ideas presented there that struck me as strange and implausible was the notion that Christianity is in some sense counter-cultural and oppositional to mainstream values and lifestyle of ‘the world’. By even by the age of 10 or so, I could see this notion was utterly farcical. Everyone I knew seemed to identify as Christian, and have no problem integrating that identity into an utterly normal mainstream American lifestyle. The position Gobry tries to stake out here requires treating that attitude as uncontested dogma, rather than a contingent empirical claim.

As a concluding note, let me just note how insulting the argument here is to conservative Christians themselves, when coming from people who do, in fact, view gay and lesbian people as full and complete human beings, deserving of the rights that come with that status. It’s essentially a demand for a kind of moral affirmative action, suggesting we should treat anti-gay Christians as permanently morally disabled by their religion, and make exemptions to anti-discrimination laws and norms we would never contemplate for religious racists. But a cursory glance at the social change surrounding this issue makes it perfectly obvious Christians as a group suffer no such disability. It’s extremely condescending to pretend that they do.

….Richard Hershberger with a comment the content of which should have been in the original post, in support of the “age of doctrine/practice not predictive of successful resistance to change” argument:

The argument that the antiquity of the doctrine makes it stronger does not stand up to examination. The prohibition of divorce is just as old, and with a really bitchin’ proof text, for those who think proof texting is the pinnacle of theological debate. Yet supposedly conservative American Evangelical churches have largely thrown in the towel on this one, few making more than token gestures against divorce.

Another one is Sabbatarianism, which has an even more bitchin’ proof text. For some four centuries following the Reformation, this was a bulwark of Protestant respectability. Boys playing baseball on Sunday was considered in all seriousness a police matter, accompanied by denunciations of these sinful days. The churches threw in the towel on this one about a century ago. There is a joke that Yankee Stadium wasn’t the House that Ruth Built: it was the House that Sunday Baseball built. Nowadays Sunday football is practically a sacred rite among Evangelicals, whose churches might quietly wish their members were in church that day rather than in front of the TV, but who are not so foolish as to push the matter, knowing they would lose. The shift is so thorough that it is hard to convince people that this ever really was a big deal.

ESPN’s creepy nonsense

[ 124 ] August 26, 2014 |

ESPN is veering into Robbie George territory here. Like George, their desperate search for a reason gay people living normal human lives and doing normal human things ought to be viewed as a problem has caused them to stumble across a strategy that makes them look incredibly creepy, with what appears to be an unhealthy obsession with other people’s genitalia.

Let’s review a set of uncontroversial, widely known facts:

1)      Across the country, there are many tens of thousands of locker rooms, located in YMCAs, public swimming pools, and high school and college gyms, and commercial gyms and fitness centers.

2)      Very few of these establishments have policies banning otherwise eligible gay men and lesbians from using locker rooms and shower facilities. Even fewer have separate shower facilities for them.

3)      Many gay men and lesbians are not closeted, making it possible, if not likely, that many people who use these locker rooms are aware of their potential co-presence in the locker rooms.

4)      (1), (2), and (3) somehow don’t seem to produce any significant controversy to speak of.

Given the above, what does it say about those who pretend Michael Sam’s presence and/or comportment is the St. Louis Rams locker room is a source of newsworthy controversy? We’re being asked to assume either that a) Michael Sam is uniquely incapable of professional, non-sexual behavior, or b) Professional football players as a group are uniquely homophobic (not to mention unprofessional) relative to the population of gym-using Americans.

Whichever set of assumptions is motivating the ESPN journalists and producers pursuing this non-story, there’s some rather ugly bigotry lying behind it, whether it’s directed primarily at NFL players or gay men.

Honig on Salaita

[ 30 ] August 24, 2014 |

As is so often the case, Bonnie Honig’s letter to the UIUC chancellor regarding the firing of Steven Salaita is illuminating and provocative; she asks what it would mean to read Salaita’s tweets not with an eye on the alleged boundaries of acceptable discourse, but with empathy:

This is what I thought at the time this story first broke: Here is a man of Palestinian descent watching people he may know, perhaps friends, colleagues, or relatives, bombed to bits while a seemingly uncaring or powerless world watched. He was touched by violence and responded in a way that showed it. In one of the tweets that was most objected to (Netanyahu, necklace, children’s teeth), Salaita commented on a public figure who is fair game and who was promoting acts of terrible violence against a mostly civilian population. I found that tweet painful and painfully funny. It struck home with me, a Jew raised as a Zionist. Too many of us are too committed to being uncritical of Israel. Perhaps tweets like Prof. Salaita’s, along with images of violence from Gaza and our innate sense of fair play, could wake us from our uncritical slumbers. It certainly provoked ME, and I say “provoked” in the best way – awakened to thinking.

Sunday beer thread: 50 states by beer

[ 247 ] August 24, 2014 |

Thrillist ranks the states by beer. A few assorted thoughts:

1) This is a pretty good list, all things considered.

2) I’m not quite enough of a Washington homer to seriously dispute the top 3. (I think CO/WA is a close call, but the case for CO at #3 is pretty solid). I’ve also had enough MI beers at this point to feel at least a little confident that its placement in the top 5 is pretty much indisputable. But I can’t accept MI over WA. It’s just not conceivable. I can see how the mistake would be made–if you compare the top breweries in terms of visibility and distribution, MI might appear to be stronger (Bells and Founders a great deal better than Redhook and Pyramid). And there are some impressive and innovative breweries coming out of Michigan these days, including Jolly Pumpkin and North Coast. But my sampling of smaller regional MI beers, while quite strong, doesn’t stand up to Washington’s offerings. Here, working from memory only so I’m sure I’m forgetting something important and deserving, is a first draft at a no particular order top 10 for Washington: Old Schoolhouse; Black Raven; Maritime Pacific; Reuben’s Brews; Boundary Bay; Two Beers; Airways; Bale Breaker; Big Time; Valholl; Elysian. Of the smaller MI breweries I’ve sampled multiple beers from, only one or two (Kuhnhenn, obviously) would I seriously consider placing on this list. WA beer is much closer in quality to the big three states than a midwest or east coast beer drinker might realize because the other big three export some of their best beers widely; in Washington it’s really only Elysian, among the stronger breweries, that has any notable distributional reach. I suppose I should go be a proper beer tourist in Traverse City, Grand Rapids, and Ann Arbor before I’m express too much certainty here, but I’m not seeing it.

3) I haven’t had enough beer from WI or VT to have a strong opinion here–I’ve had virtually nothing from Wisconsin, as New Glarus is hard to find around Dayton. Vermont beers I’ve actually had haven’t really impressed (and no, I’ve never managed to get my hands on Heady Topper). But by all accounts these are states much like WA, so I’ll withhold judgment.

4) I am very skeptical about PA ahead of NY. And the growth in OH, thanks in part to some minor changes in the law, is really impressive these last few years. The greater Dayton area had zero breweries in 2010, and we’re months away from double digits now. (I’m writing from the tasting room for Warped Wing, the best but by no means the only strong contender of the new Dayton breweries.) Several new Cincinnati Breweries, in particular Rhinegeist, are excellent.  If we’re not ahead of PA today, we probably will be soon.

5) We now have an additional reason to feel sorry for esteemed LGM commenter Anderson.

“just do what I tell you”

[ 162 ] August 19, 2014 |

Sunil Dutta, a former LAPD officer and current professor of (ugh) “Homeland Security,” on interactions with police officers at the Washington Post:

And you don’t have to submit to an illegal stop or search. You can refuse consent to search your car or home if there’s no warrant (though a pat-down is still allowed if there is cause for suspicion). Always ask the officer whether you are under detention or are free to leave. Unless the officer has a legal basis to stop and search you, he or she must let you go.

Great! But wait–just a few sentences earlier in the article:

if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you…

Evidently the Washington Post doesn’t employ editors, because if they did, Professor Dutta would have been asked to clarify which of the above statements he’s actually serious about. I have a pretty good guess.

Spokane, too

[ 47 ] August 19, 2014 |

Unfortunately, Seattle isn’t the only major city in Washington whose sole daily newspaper hackishly promotes the political and (percieved*) economic agenda of the family that owns it.

* I say perceived because it turns out the race and class biases of rich white people are misleading: public transit is not, in fact, bad for retail.

What’s wrong with white people?

[ 57 ] August 18, 2014 |

“Fully 65% of African Americans say the police have gone too far in responding to the shooting’s aftermath. Whites are divided: 33% say the police have gone too far, 32% say the police response has been about right, while 35% offer no response.

Whites also are nearly three times as likely as blacks to express at least a fair amount of confidence in the investigations into the shooting. About half of whites (52%) say they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the investigations, compared with just 18% of blacks.”

More here.

National identities have consequences

[ 97 ] August 6, 2014 |

Newishlawyer, in the comments to my previous post:

I think there is an unwarranted assumption that Zionist=Likkuidnik in general.

I consider myself a Zionist. I have never been a fan of Likkuid or Hamas. I’m absolutely on the side of people like Rabin. Yet sometimes it feels like when I say I support the idea and right of a Jewish state to exist, people think of me as a Likuidnik.

I would say that Israel should do a unilateral withdrawal and still people in settlements “best of luck” unless it is with help to move back to Israel proper.

On one level this is a fair point. There is no reason to assume that all Zionists support Likud’s policies.

That said: if you support creating a religiously ethno-nationalist and democratic state, you can’t simply disavow any responsibility for the conduct of a right wing nationalist party. In democracies, one faction never retains control forever. The ideology, conduct, and treatment of perceived enemies of the nation we find in Likud seem pretty typical of right wing nationalism generally (they seem worse because the occupied territories and Hamas belligerence provide some unique opportunities for bad behavior). You simply can’t count on a state with a religious ethnonationalist identity that isn’t going to have a belligerent conservative faction in charge occasionally.

Furthermore: Likud’s current policies reflect the composition of the political coalition they lead, which includes a parties that represent a fast-growing and influential anti-modern ultra-orthodox population*, and a recent immigrant group who came from political cultures without a the liberal traditions that promote treating members of the outgroup with equality and respect. The increasing size and power of both of these populations is hard to divorce from Zionism, and they also make the likelihood of a political coalition for the kind of liberal Zionism newishlawyer would like to support increasingly unlikely to emerge. A Jewish Israeli state as part of a two state solution once seemed the best and most reasonable path to peace to me, along with most of the world. That, along with newishlawyer’s policy preference of unilateral settlement withdrawal, are all but dead now, and demographic changes that follow directly from the commitments, policies and priorities of Zionism are a non-trivial part of the reason why.


*Thanks to rewenzo below; this is not the untra-orthodox political party; that is Shas, which is not currently part of the governing coalition. Insofar as their growing presence makes a governing liberal political coalition less likely to emerge a weaker version of my initial point stands.

What’s different this time?

[ 156 ] August 5, 2014 |

I’m intrigued by the number of pundits who previously professed strong support for Likud’s policies are experience a crisis of faith this time around. (Prominent examples: Linker, Sullivan, Chait, Klein.) Don’t get me wrong, this is a very welcome development–the fewer “what else can they do?” dead-enders the better–but I’m curious what’s motivating it. What new information does the current war provide that the 2011 and 2012 iterations (to say nothing of the staggeringly inhumane treatment of Gaza over the last decade, or the refusal to lift a finger to meaningfully curb settlements) did not?

One possible answer is that the quiet part is being said rather too loudly, as calls for ethnic cleansing becoming rather more frank and unambiguous, and coming from more prominent sources. But I don’t know.

Update: readers inform me that Sullivan’s position is not new, and that he has been a critic of Israeli foreign policy for some time, and he doesn’t belong on the above list. I’m only an occasional reader, but upon reflection this seems correct; his inclusion on this list was inappropriate. I’ll leave the link up because it’s worth reading.

“Sex Demons”

[ 144 ] July 16, 2014 |

If you  enjoy bad things happening to bad people as much as I do, you should be following the implosion of the Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, which began a couple of years ago but has really picked up steam in 2014. More and more former members are going public about their bizarre and abusive treatment at the hands of Driscoll and co. The bad publicity from the twin plagiarism and use of church money to pay for NYT best seller list manipulation didn’t help, but the creepy and abusive treatment of followers seems to be the main mover here as the money is drying up and layoffs are taking place, and Driscoll is ordering his followers to stay off the internet.

For many years I lived a few blocks away from his flagship location, during the Church’s baffling, depressing growth. Once, on a drunken bar boast, I went to see one of his sermons, and was completely unprepared for the depths of misogyny he packed into his rambling 75 minute sermon. At any rate, the purpose of this post is to recommend Stacey Solie’s longform piece in Crosscut, from which I learn “Sex Demons” is more than just a deep album cut from the third Spinal Tap record:

Blogger Matthew Paul Turner has posted another disturbing account by another exile of Mars Hill, a woman who under the psuedonym “Amy” describes what it was like to get marital advice from Driscoll.

“Once, when I shared with Mark that I felt neglected in my marriage, he told [me] that I was being a nagging wife and that I needed to suck it up. That was something Mark preached about a lot — the nagging wife.”

Later, Driscoll told her and her husband that she was beset by sex demons.

“Mark stared hard at Amy and began yelling questions at her ‘sex demons’. His fierce glare seemed to look past her as he screamed his questions at her face. He asked the demons what their names were. He asked them about sex. He asked them about Amy’s past sexual sins. He asked them about Amy’s current lustful thoughts. He asked them if they were planning to destroy marriages in his church. And then he asked whose marriages were they planning to destroy and how.


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