Saturday, February 12, 2005

Che Guevara

Del BBC News: Los bolivianos intentan recrear las últimas días de Che.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Madison PD Cracks Down on Noisy Parties

It seems Madison PD has finally decided to take its job seriously and crack down on the noisy party scene. As the Daily Cardinal reports, police--although always vigilant--have been handing out humungous fines of late, mostly due to noise complaints. If this well-publicized event doesn't reduce noisy parties in Madison, a handful of fines most assuredly will.

Now, it's easy to jump to the defense of the poor roommates who now face fines totalling $73,500. After all, partying is widespread. Underage drinking is widespread, too, and disrupting parties will only drive the youngsters back into the dorms to get their alcohol. Also, any previous lack of enforcement implicitely condones the behavior. A sudden jump in the frequency and size of fines does injustice to the rational expectations of party-throwers; if the roommates knew they were going to face large fines, they would not have thrown the party. Then, both sides would be better off since neighbors wouldn't have to endure noise, and police wouldn't have to waste resources policing the parties. But the fact that there was an unannounced jump in the penalty meant that the new desire for quiet in Madison couldn't have been a part of party-throwers' party-throwing calculus. Thus, while MPD may have effected a positive result, it seems less draconian measures would have been, well, less draconian.

But remember, our sympathy for these fellas falls with every dollar that their fine falls on appeal. The article betrays a certain hubris of UW-Madison college students when it comes to drinking. "How dare they limit our right to get together and have a few drinks? How dare they limit drink specials on State Street?" But, this issue has nothing to do with underage kids getting their hands on alcohol, nor with drinking in general.

If the MPD truly wishes to install some order, it needs to make an example of somebody. Whoever this unlucky position falls upon will seem to be treated unfairly. But, if previous warnings went unheeded, then it's hard to feel too much sympathy for the offenders. Recall the UofC bicycle lock-clipping fiasco of last October. People were dismayed until it came out that UCPD had tried hard in Spring 2004 to warn bicyclists of the new policy.

Fundamentally, it's an issue which is based on public order rather than some noble notion of skirting unjust underage drinking laws. It's an issue which touches on being able to enjoy yourself in a mature fashion, respecting those around you. If you throw a party and keep the noise down, your neighbors won't complain. If your neighbors don't complain, then you won't get fined. Thus, just keep the noise down. Simple enough.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Argentina makes a deal with the Devil

The deadline for Argentina's 30 cents on the dollar debt-repayment deal with creditors looms ever nearer. As the article notes, Argentina has managed to rebound from it's 2001-2002 troubles (including the December 2001 default) with 8 percent growth in 2004 and an expected 5 percent growth in 2005.

One has to wonder: what's Kirchner thinking? As the Economist notes, Argentina's offer is about half of what comparable debt-restructuring offers have been in the past. How much of this is short-sighted posturing for popular support? How does Argentina's attitude differ from my desire not to pay off outstanding credit card bills?

Above: Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires, Argentina -- Protesters voice support for stopping payment on the external debt.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

A Visit to Cook County Correctional Facility

Well, there were four walls of Raiford closing in on me
Doing three to five hard labor for armed robbery
I had two years behind me, but I could not wait the time
Every time I thought about it, well I died some more inside.

I had stripes on my back, memories that hurt
For the only time that I´d see the sun shine was when I went to work
Digging ditches for the chain gang, sleeping in the cold
Oh Lord, please forgive me for I could not wait no more.

-- Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Four Walls of Raiford"
[Editor's note: The official website of the Illinois Department of Corrections can be found here.]

Before I go any further, it's worth noting the following: during the tour, there were no shankings, no beatings, and no escape attempts. The Cook County Correctional Facility is more of a holding tank than long-term detainment center; the average stay is a mere 52 days. That being said, it's no surprise that our trip was, though interesting, less than eventful.

The facility, built in 1974-6, hosts about 11,000 prisoners total, a relatively large percentage of which are female (something like 20%). Judging from the cells we passed by, (and not surprising), the population was about 90% black, 5% Hispanic, and 5% white.

It smells like cheap incense and Christmas pine throughout, mingled with cigarette smoke. Prison life, if it weren't for the company kept, wouldn't be too bad. There is a canteen where inmates can purchase things like chips, gym shoes, towels, cards (which are very popular), and cigarettes (which also act as currency). There is a fairly nice library, adorned with surprisingly good art work done by former prisoners. Within their library system, among the most popular items, besides law books, are copies of National Geographic and books of poetry. Hard-bound books are not allowed outside of the library (because, like a surprising number of things, they can be used as a weapon), but prisoners can check out two paperbacks at a time. The library has zero budget, so all books are donated by individuals, public libraries, or bookstores.

Much to my dismay, the layout of the cells was more camp-like than prison-like. There are no long rows of jail cells, no iron bars. There were three levels of jail cells which surrounded a commons area, in which sit several metal picnic tables and off of which is a locker room-style shower facility. Like I said before, if it weren't for the all the sketchy-ness, it would have kind of a camp feel to it. Two to three prisoners occupy every 10x6 cell, which is impressive considering that on occasion (though very rarely) they stay locked down for 23 hours straight.

Inmates receive three meals a day, which are eaten in the commons room, not in a cafeteria; breakfast and dinner are served hot, while lunch comes in a brown paper bag. Hotdogs are the favorite, and will often be served five or six times in a given week (with beans, with a bun, etc.) This, the superintendent noted, is due to the preference of inmates. Chicken is also popular. Somewhat fittingly, just like many college campuses across the nation, the dining services are run by Aramark.

The facility had a surprising a lack of guards. Nationwide, jails/prisons/bootcamps average 1 guard per 4 prisoners, but CCCF has 1 guard for every 15 prisoners. (It turns out that in New York it's about 3 guards per prisoner, and that the median is a good bit higher than 4). Due to liberal politicians (actually, the superintendent chalked this fact up to "political correctness"), guards are not allowed to carry guns. Nor are they allowed to carry clubs. Nor even large flashlights. They approach problems by attempting to reason with the prisoner (*cough* more liberal nonsense *cough*); this is followed if the prisoner "chooses to take it to the next level", by the use of various wrestling-type holds.

Our first thought was that it might be a safety issue, and they didn't want prisoners somehow getting a hold of a gun or club or something. I've read that this is a major concern in the higher security facilities. But the captain we talked to said he would have liked to carry a club or large flashlight or at least something. Nonetheless, he said they made do with old-fashioned skin. What I gathered was that the restriction was due to the acute fear of prisoner abuse.

Interestingly, though, he said the bigger concern of the prison guards was contracting TB/hepatitus/AIDs/etc. They aren't allowed to quarantine or even mark prisoners who are infected. Now, while this might appear to be a health hazard for prison guards and prison inmates alike, the ACLU has tied the hands (via HIPAA) of prison officials in this regard.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Raise your hand if you thought Freud was a ... reactionary?

Economists are wont to assume that, by virtue of technological progress, things are getting better over time. One critic, however, comes from a most unexpected corner: that of renowned psycho-analyst Sigmund Freud. Yes, it true. The same man who attributes sexual fetish as the basis of much of human relationships.

Freud writes that, with technological progress and the inexorable march of civilization comes ever-new wants and desires. While not a particularly new (it goes back at least 100+ years to Rousseau), the hypothesis carries particular weight coming from such an important figure in the history of psychology. Moreover, Freud is more focused with the effect of civilization's constraints on the individual mind, it's ability to find happiness, and the resulting neuroses. He writes,

[T]his subjugation of the forces of nature, which is the fulfillment of a longing that goes back thousands of years, has not increased the amount of pleasurable satisfaction which they may expect from life and has not made them feel happier... One would like to ask: is there, then, no positive gain in pleasure, no unequivocal increase in my feeling of happiness, if I can, as often I please, hear the voice of a child of mine who is living hundreds of miles away or if I can learn in the shortest possible time after a friend has reached his destination that he has come through the long and difficult voyage unharmed? Does it mean nothing that medicine has succeeded in enormously reducing infant mortality...?

But here the voice of the pessimistic criticism makes itself heard and warns us that most of these satisfactions follow the model of the 'cheap enjoyment' extolled in the anecdote--the enjoyment obtained by putting a bare leg from under the bedclothes on a cold winter night and drawing it in again. If there had been no railway to conquer distances, my child would never have left his native town and I should need no telephone to hear his voice... And, finally, what good to us is a long life if it is difficult and barren of joys, and if it is so full of misery that we can only welcome death as a deliverer?" (Freud, Civilization and its Discontents)

Furthermore, any attempt at counterfactually putting ourselves will prove inadequate:

We shall always tend to consider people's distress objectively--that is, to place outselves, with our own wants and sensibilities, in their conditions, and then to examine what ocacsions we should find in them for experiencing happiness or unhappiness. This method of looking at things, which seems objective because it ignores the variation in subjective sensibility, is, of course, the most subjective possible, since it puts one's own mental states in the place of any others, unknown thought they may be... [One cannot] divine the changes which original obtuseness of mind, a gradual stupefying process, the cessation of expectations, and cruder or more refined methods of narcotization have produced upon their receptivity to sensations of pleasure and unpleasure. (Freud, Civilization and its Discontents)