Blow, Kristof and Collins

In “Romanticizing ‘Broken Windows’ Policing” Mr. Blow says some communities are being asked either to accept collateral damage in the war on crime, or complain about excessive force only to have criminals roam free.  Mr. Kristof, in “Chemicals In Your Popcorn?”, says here’s how lax U.S. regulation risks consumer health.  In “Old Age Versus Geese” Ms. Collins addresses the return of Sully Sullenberger and the Miracle on the Hudson.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There has been a recent spike in violent crimes, particularly shooting, in major cities in the United States. What precisely is fueling it is hard to know. There are more theories and conjecture than there is data. There may in the end be many contributing factors.

But that isn’t stopping the tough-on-crime, fear-mongering iron fist-ers from engaging in wild speculation and the revisionist romanticizing of “broken windows” policies — including the notoriously heinous and morally indefensible, not to mention unconstitutionalas-practiced, stop-and-frisk.

One of the most pernicious and slanderous theories is that protests over police officers’ excessive use of force, or “police bashing” as some prefer to call it, is responsible for the uptick.

As the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald put it last week in The Wall Street Journal, “The most plausible explanation of the current surge in lawlessness is the intense agitation against American police departments over the past nine months.”

Actually, “most plausible” is simply theoretical argumentation and not corollary proof of anything. And, it seems to me that this has the effect, intentional or not, of conflating protests with criminality, of smearing the blood running in the street onto the hands holding the placards, of shifting the burden of law enforcement from those charged with it to those who simply want equity in its application.

One facet of these theories is that criminals have simply been emboldened as officers become more diffident, fearing prosecutions for run-of-the-mill policing, or more sinisterly and conspiratorially, are purposefully engaging in “slow downs.”

First, I think it is actually a good thing for officers of the law not to assume that they will be above it. Each of us, including officers, should consider our actions, particularly use of force, before engaging. This is good and right. But if there are any officers intentionally restraining themselves from doing normal police work because citizens have protested over perceived excessive force, then those officers are guilty of a dangerous, unethical dereliction of duty.

As for protesters and police, it seems to me that most simply want the people sworn to protect and serve them not to feel impervious to accountability in cases of perceived overreach, particularly when it results in the death of a citizen.

People in general understand that police work is hard and that there are criminals in society. They understand that ours is a gun culture and that some of those criminals will gain access to guns. They understand that police will sometimes encounter those armed criminals and will have no choice but to use force, including deadly force, to ensure their own safety and the safety of society at large.

Recently, The Washington Post and The Guardian separately published extensive reports on the killings of people in America by the police. The Post identified “at least 385 people shot and killed by police nationwide during the first five months of this year” and The Guardian found that 408 deaths “were caused by gunshot” over the same period.

And yet, only a handful of these cases have spawned large protests or sustained national media coverage.

People have an intrinsic intelligence about such things. Outrage isn’t constant or random. It is conditional and precise.

The cleaving occurs and the hackles are raised when the person encountered is not engaged in a crime, or is fleeing, or is not armed and therefore poses no perceivable threat.

Furthermore, why is there such a racial skew in those particular kinds of force?

As both The Post and The Guardian pointed out, unarmed African-Americans were more likely to be shot and killed than whites or Hispanics.

People in these black communities, it seems, are being asked to make an impossible choice: accept the sprawling, ruinous collateral damage — including killings of unarmed black people — in police departments’ wars on crime, or complain about excessive force and attempt to curtail it only to have criminals roam free.

And there is one important distinction to make here: the criminals don’t work for the people; the police officers do. It is right and proper for citizens to demand accountability from people whose salaries they pay.

Mac Donald summarized:

“Contrary to the claims of the ‘black lives matter’ movement, no government policy in the past quarter century has done more for urban reclamation than proactive policing. Data-driven enforcement, in conjunction with stricter penalties for criminals and ‘broken windows’ policing, has saved thousands of black lives, brought lawful commerce and jobs to once drug-infested neighborhoods and allowed millions to go about their daily lives without fear.”

Watch carefully the rhetorical sleight of hand here. “Urban reclamation.” From whom for whom? “Proactive policing.” Some are dragnet policies that swept up hundreds of thousands of black and brown men in stop-and-frisk, although nine out of 10 had committed no crime. “Saved thousands of black lives.” This assumed that the drop in the murder rates from the 1990s and before was entirely attributable to policing and not also to cultural shifts, like the end of the crack epidemic. “Allowed millions to go about their daily lives without fear.” This depends in large part on the darkness of your skin and the economics of your community.

Arguments like these dance around delicately to keep people from seeing what they really are: racial pathology arguments. They are based on there being something intrinsically amiss in blackness or black culture that can be altered or corrected only by overwhelming, unrelenting force. It is an argument as old as the ages, some variant of: It takes the bullet and the billy club and the bench warrant to bring these people into obeisance.

What is almost never mentioned as contributing to criminality is the intersection of violence with concentrated poverty — rather than the racial pathology, which is the last redoubt of the intellectual seeking support for cultural condemnation.

How you view “broken windows” policing completely depends on your vantage point, which is heavily influenced by racial realities and socio-economics. For poor black people, it means that they have to be afraid of the cops as well as the criminals.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

What do a pizza box, a polar bear and you have in common?

All carry a kind of industrial toxicant called poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, that do two things: They make life convenient, and they also appear to increase the risk of cancer.

The scientists I interviewed say that they try to avoid these chemicals in their daily lives, but they’re pretty much unavoidable and now are found in animals all over the planet (including polar bears in Greenland and probably you and me). PFASs are used to make nonstick frying pans, waterproof clothing, stain-resistant fabrics, fast-food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, firefighting foam and thousands of other products. Many are unlabeled, so even chemists sometimes feel helpless.

This should be a moment when government steps up to protect citizens. But from tobacco to lead paint to chemicals, industry has used donations, obfuscation and lobbying to defer regulation until the human casualties are too vast to be hidden.

PFASs are “a poster child” for what’s wrong with chemical regulation in America, says John Peterson Myers, chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences, a research and publishing group in Virginia. PFASs are just about indestructible, so, for eons to come, they will poison our blood, our household dust, our water and the breast milk our babies drink.

Warnings of health risks from PFASs go back half a century and are growing more ominous. In May, more than 200 scientists released aMadrid Statement warning of PFAS’s severe health risks. It was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed journal backed by the National Institutes of Health.

The scientists cited research linking PFASs to testicular and kidney cancer, hypothyroidism, ulcerative colitis and other problems.

Arlene Blum is a chemist whose warnings about carcinogens have proved prophetic. In recent years, she has waged an increasingly successful campaign against modern flame-retardant chemicals because of evidence that they also cause cancer, but she told me that PFASs “are even a bigger problem than flame retardants.”

The chemical industry acknowledges that older, “long-chain” PFASs are a problem but says that it is replacing them with “short-chain” versions that should be fine. It’s true that there is less evidence against the short-chains, but that’s perhaps because they have been studied less.

Americans expect that chemicals used in consumer products have been tested for safety. Not so. The vast majority of the 80,000 chemicals available for sale in the United States have never been tested for effects on our health.

Any testing is being done on all of us. We’re the guinea pigs.

Congress may finally pass new legislation regulating toxic chemicals, but it’s so weak a bill that the chemical industry has embraced it. The Senate version is better than nothing, but, astonishingly, it provides for assessing high-priority chemicals at a rate of about only five a year, and it’s not clear that the House will go that far.

Yes, of countless toxicants suspected of increasing the risk of cancer, obesity, epigenetic damage and reproductive problems, the United States would commit to testing five each year. And that would actually be progress.

For safety reasons, Europe and Canada already restrict hundreds of chemicals routinely used in the United States. Perhaps the danger of tainted brands and lost sales abroad — not the risk to Americans — will motivate American companies to adopt overseas limits.

Scientists are already taking precautions and weighing trade-offs in their personal lives. R. Thomas Zoeller, a biology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, says he now avoids buying nonstick pans. Rainer Lohmann, an oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island, told me that he is replacing carpets in his house with wood floors in part to reduce PFASs.

Simona Balan, a senior scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute, avoids microwave popcorn and stain-resistant furniture.

Dr. Blum says she avoids buying certain nonstick products and waterproof products, but reluctantly uses a glide wax for backcountry skis that contains PFASs. “Every time I spray it on, I realize the chemicals will be in my body for a very long time and on the planet for geologic time, perhaps longer than mankind,” Dr. Blum said. “But I do enjoy a good glide when I ski.”

Some brands, including Levi’s, Benetton and Victoria’s Secret, are pledging to avoid PFASs. Evaluations of the safety of products are available free atthe GoodGuide and Skin Deep websites.

The chemical lobby is following the same script as the tobacco and lead lobbies a generation ago, throwing around campaign donations and lobbying muscle to delay regulation. The chemical industry spent $190 millionlobbying in the last three years. If only it would devote such sums to developing safer products, rather than to defending its right to produce suspected carcinogens.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Clint Eastwood is going to make a film about Sully Sullenberger, the pilotwho landed that US Airways flight on the Hudson after a flock of geese knocked out both the plane’s engines.

This news is going to lead us into an interesting discussion of the presidential election. We will also try to get in at least one more mention of the geese. Stupid birds.

Both the movie and the election are, in a way, stories about age. Eastwood is 85 — “at the top of his game, not to mention a global treasure,” said a Warner Bros. executive in a press release.

Some of you probably remember the fabled moment at the 2012 Republican National Convention when Eastwood interviewed an empty chair. It may go down in the annals of history as the worst performance ever by a global treasure.

But Eastwood seemed unfazed, and he went back to making movies, including the preposterously successful “American Sniper.” This just goes to prove that we live in a world in which the possibilities for growth or mutation are endless. Making a spectacle of yourself on national television at the age of 82 would seem to be pretty much a career-ender. However, there is nothing like a movie with a $543 million gross to trigger a new beginning.

Sullenberger’s miracle landing was about aging, too. It happened in January 2009. The nation had just elected 47-year-old Barack Obama president after a campaign in which he vowed to replace the stupid, overheated politics of the baby-boom generation with something more cool and transactional. We were all ready for a youth explosion.

Then Sullenberger, 57, brought his crippled plane down on the river while three flight attendants, aged 51, 57 and 58, coolly herded the passengers to a safe rescue on the wing. Suddenly, we found ourselves getting worried whenever we drew a wrinkle-free flight crew. Old was in.

Obama went on to accomplish many things as president, but that new-generation-politics transformation was definitely not among them. Now Hillary Clinton, 67, is the huge favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination to succeed him.

Meanwhile, the Republican field is packed with people like first-term senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both 44. Or Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a 47-year-old who has bragged that he could put off running for another 20 years “and still be about the same age as the former secretary of state.”

The obvious response to that is: good idea.

Rubio has been dropping multiple references to the election as a “generational choice” between the politics of tomorrow and people who are “promising to take us back to yesterday.” This is supposed to be a reference to Clinton, but it conveniently also works for 62-year-old Jeb Bush, one of Rubio’s main competitors.

Or really, for Clint Eastwood, although I have the feeling that any of the Republican candidates would be extremely happy to have Eastwood on their team. As long as he didn’t bring that chair to the convention.

“It’s a rigorous physical ordeal, I think, to be able to campaign for the presidency,” Senator Rand Paul, 52, said about Clinton’s candidacy. Now this is a woman who, as secretary of state, visited 112 countries, traveling nearly a million miles. You can criticize a lot of things about Hillary Clinton, but there aren’t many people better at taking the show on the road.

(Except — did you know that the Rolling Stones are on a national tour right this minute? Yes! Mick Jagger, the man who once announced “I’ll never tour when I’m 50,” was in Minnesota on Tuesday, killing time during a 15-city sweep. Jagger, 71, and drummer Charlie Watts, 74, visited the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where a staff member said they showed particular interest in the collection of American folk-art furniture. It is possible this was not how Jagger spent his time between shows in the 1970s. But still.)

Arguments over age and the presidency go back at least to 1840, when the 67-year-old William Henry Harrison was described as “a living mass of ruined matter” in one rather hostile newspaper editorial. And Harrison did sort of prove that age was an issue, when he died one month into his administration.

However, that was an era when doctors made house calls bearing leeches. Now our arguments over age can be a little more sophisticated.

Would you rather have a president with a lot of experience or one with new ideas? And what, by the way, are those new ideas? It’s going to have to be something more novel than reducing business taxes.

We’re electing a new leader to pilot our ship. Do we care more about quick reflexes or a seasoned response to crises? We can talk forever about redirecting the course. But, most of all, you do want someone who will avoid the damned geese.

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