Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Stopped by a Cop

Stopped by a Cop

I got pulled over by a cop at 1:30 AM Friday night (well, really Saturday morning). Nothing significant — burned-out taillight. Plus which my license plate had attracted his attention. It officially reads “TANGOI”, but I’ve used little bits of yellow reflective tape (the exact same color as my yellow Green Bay Packer Wisconsin license plate) to modify the “I” into an exclamation point. As it happens, this is illegal in Wisconsin, and this was the 3rd officer who’s pointed this out to me over the last 5 years. So far, tho, it hasn’t cost me any money or jail time, so I make it a point to drive safely and sanely, so as not to attract undue notice, while continuing my criminally exuberant promotion of my favorite dance rhythm.

But what I really wanted to write about was the nice pamphlet the officer gave me, entitled “What Should I Do If I Am Stopped by the Police?: A Guide for Our Community”. It contains some good advice and useful information. I suppose you could probably stop by the cop shop and pick one up, but otherwise about the only way you have of finding out what’s in it is to get stopped by the police yourself.

I am here today to spare you the trouble. The text of the pamphlet is reproduced below:

= = = = = =

[photo of UW Police Chief Susan Riseling]

A University of Wisconsin - Madison Police Officer has just stopped you. We realize that this experience is a significant emotional event in your life. We can assure you that the officer will complete all necessary business and release you as soon as possible. In most instances this will be 15 minutes or less. The following are some suggestions on how to act and help the officer complete his/her duties.

As members of the UW-Madison Police Department, we have developed this guide to help you understand why you might be stopped by an officer, and how you can expect to be treated. It’s important for you to understand what you can expect when an officer stops you.

We also want you to know that you have the right to compliment or complain about an officer’s actions. If you have questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We want to hear from you.

What Should I Do If I’m Pulled Over in my Car?

If you are driving a motor vehicle and an officer signals you to stop, you must pull over. That’s the law.

Stay in your car, and if it’s dark, turn on the interior light. Do not leave your car unless directed to do so by the officer. Relax, don’t make any sudden movements or reach for items inside the vehicle which could be construed by an officer as a potential threat to his/her safety.

Keep your hands on the steering wheel. [Note: Understanding without having read the pamphlet that the officer might well want to know where my hands were, I rolled down my window and leaned both forearms on the sill, with my hands dangling outside the car. But I probably wouldn’t have done this in February.] Wait for the officer to approach your vehicle. The officer will begin by identifying him/herself and that they work for the UW-Madison Police Department. Next the officer will explain to you why you were stopped and ask if you have any reason explaining your behavior regarding the violation for which you were stopped. (A UW officer will always inform you of the reason that you’re being stopped.) The officer will then ask you for your driver’s license. If you don’t have your license with you, verbal identification will be requested. Please provide the officer with the requested information. [What they don’t mention is that, if you just hold up your wallet with the driver’s license visible in it, they will ask you to remove the license and hand it over sans wallet.]

Moving traffic violations are the most common reason for stopping a vehicle. However, you may also have been stopped for a registration or equipment violation. A criminal investigation may be another reason for being stopped or your vehicle may match the description of a vehicle that was involved in a crime.

At some point during the stop, the officer may ask you and any passengers to step from the car for a variety of reasons. Please follow the instructions the officer gives you.

Our actions during a traffic stop are guided by the fact that many police officers are assaulted and killed each year during traffic stops. Our goal is to protect you, the motorist, and to ensure our own safety. We feel that it is important for you to know that most of the UW-Madison Police Department’s traffic stops are video/audio recorded.

If You Are Issued a Citation

Don’t argue at the scene. You have the right to contest a citation before a judge at a later time. This doesn’t require the service of an attorney. Please refer to “A Traffic Citation — Your Rights & Responsibilities”, a pamphlet that will be provided to you along with the citation for further information on handling the citation.

[photo of officer approaching vehicle]

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. When a car is stopped, it appears that the officer is “sneaking up” on the driver. At night, the officers shine their lights into the car. Why is that?

A. Officers are trained to minimize their exposure to traffic and potential danger from within the vehicle. At night, the bright lights illuminate the interior of the vehicle, which is another safety consideration for the officer.

Q. If I’ve only been pulled over for a traffic offense, why do other police officers show up?

A. It is not uncommon for officers who are in close proximity to back each other up, even if they aren’t requested. This is just routine for safety reasons. It is also possible that the initial or secondary patrol vehicle may be a field-training unit, which consists of two officers.

[Indeed, this happened in my case. I suspect it was because, when the 1st officer ran my plates, they came back as registered to a Saturn, not my Ford Aerostar, making me look like a possible car thief and worthy of extra attention. I explained to the officer that the Saturn’s plates probably read just plain “TANGO”, without the exclamation mark. He was satisfied that I was in my own vehicle upon seeing my auto registration.]

Q. Why does the officer sit in the car for so long. What are they doing?

A. Technology now allows an officer to verify your driving status and check your vehicle registration directly from the patrol car. Because this information is accessed via computer and dependent upon its reliability, unanticipated delays may occasionally occur. While it may seem as if the officer has kept you waiting for a long time, in reality it’s normally only for a few minutes.

I’d Like To Speak with Someone Regarding the Officer’s Actions. What Should I Do?

Your comments are very important to us. If you would like to compliment or complain about an officer’s actions, please:

 • Complaint: Call us and ask to speak with a supervisor, or request that a complaint form be mailed to your address. Once you receive the form you may complete the form as instructed and return it to the UW-Madison Police Department.

 • Compliment: Can be made by mail or call and ask to speak with a supervisor.
Professional Standards
1429 Monroe St.
Madison, WI, 53711
(608) 262-2957

Officer’s Name ___________________

Officer’s Badge Number ___________

Respect • Integrity • Compassion • Honor

[aerial photo of UW Campus]

= = = = = =

Strange tho it may sound, it was actually quite a pleasant experience being stopped by a cop. The officer was extremely professional and very polite. I learned about my bad taillight, and I picked up this cool brochure. After I get done posting this, I’m going to take them up on their offer to send in a compliment.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Illogical Language

I was listening to the radio the other day when a commercial came on for Charter Communications, imploring listeners to sign up for their complete bundle of services, including cable TV, telephone, and high-speed Internet. The commercial concluded with the disclaimer “All services not available in all areas.”.

Think about that for awhile. “All services” -- that would be the 3 aforementioned components. What about them? They’re “not available”. Really? Just missing in a few blind spots, I suppose? No, “in all areas”. All of their services are not available in all possible areas. Then what was the point of the commercial? Why are they trying to sell us these non-available services, which will continue to be non-available no matter where we move? Why pay good money to advertise something the audience can’t possibly buy, no matter how much they may want to?

The answer, of course, was that the idiots who came up with the language of the commercial -- or possibly their lawyers -- do not understand the relationship between logic and language. The word “not” is used to negate whatever immediately follows it. That’s a rule of logic, and it’s also a rule of language.

Or at least it should be a rule of language if we want to use language as a tool to communicate effectively. Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that we do not. Consider the much older example of “All that glitters is not gold.”. Again I ask, “Really?”. All that glitters cannot possibly, ever, under any circumstances, be gold? This is the logical equivalent of saying “Gold never glitters.”. Do we really believe that? Was that really what the writer intended to say?

It’s not as if the ideas that were (almost surely) intended could not have been expressed well. Take a look:
 • “Some services not available in some areas.”
 • “Not all that glitters is gold.”

I contend that sloppy language leads to sloppy thinking (or maybe it’s the other way around -- in any case the 2 are related). George Orwell’s essay on NewSpeak at the end of 1984 was in many ways the most chilling part of that dystopian novel. In a world where you really cannot express the difference between war and peace, because the words for them mean exactly the same thing, language has ceased being a tool for human betterment and has become an instrument of human oppression.

H. G. Wells remarked that civilization was a race between education and catastrophe. In examples ranging from “collateral damage” to “destroying the village in order to save it” to “jumbo shrimp” to “Fox News” to “All services not available in all areas”, I detect education falling a little further behind.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Big Brother Tries to Look Out for Madison Teachers

Voice of the People
The Capital Times
PO Box 8060
Madison WI 53708-8060

The Madison school board just barely approved the new teacher contract. The Cap Times reported that a rationale given by at least 1 of the 3 “no” voters was that they wanted to devote more money to teachers’ salaries (and, by implication, less to benefits like health care).

Let me explain things in round-number terms that even a 5th grader could understand. Suppose a teacher earns $50,000 a year, and the school board is willing to provide that teacher with a 4% increase. In other words, the board is willing to spend 2000 additional dollars on that teacher.

Now, does this mean that the teacher gets $2000 worth of benefits? No. Why not? Taxes. (Stop me if I’m going too fast here.) The feds take 25%, the state gets 6.5%, and Social Security gets 6.2% of that $2000, leaving the teacher with the remaining 62.3%, or $1246.

So the teachers, not being dumb, figure that they’d rather split that $2000 a different way -- say, $1500 in wage increases and $500 in health insurance. So their take-home pay is 62.3% of $1500 (or $935) BUT they also get the benefit of $500 worth of health coverage which, since it’s paid to the insurance company, doesn’t count as wages and so doesn’t get taxed -- a total of $935 + $500 = $1435, or $189 more value than getting everything paid in wages.

So why don’t they take EVERYTHING in the form of fringe benefits? Because (a) there’s a limit to how much of such benefits any one person can use and (b) you can’t buy groceries with them.

Nonetheless, who’s in a better position to determine the proper mix of taxable wages and non-taxable benefits, the teachers themselves or their “benign” (IE, paternalistic) school-board employers? It’s judgment calls like this that led to the formation of teacher unions in the first place, so they didn’t HAVE to depend on the often misguided “good will” of the bosses.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bridge to Terebithia: More Appreciation

Bridge to Terabithia
More Appreciation

In the 3 months since I wrote my original recommendation of Bridge to Terabithia, based on the novel by Katherine Paterson, it has gone from 1st-run theaters to Madison’s 2nd-run theater, Market Square, where I see by the paper it will continue for at least another week.

It continues drawing in enuf customers to justify its prolonged stay there based on zero advertising beyond word of mouth.

Deservedly so.

As the movie reviewer for WisCon (world’s leading feminist science-fiction convention, held every Memorial Day weekend in Madison) I make a concerted effort to see all the SF and fantasy films that hit town. Naturally, I’ve seen this year’s 3 biggest so far (all of which, coincidentally, are associated with the number 3): Spider-Man, Shrek, and Pirates. I enjoyed them all. Nonetheless, Terebithia remains my favorite film of 2007, in no small part because it is not a sequel, but an original film — a small movie, but one with heart, the very kind of picture I keep hoping Hollywood will make, because (I naively tell myself), there’s an audience for really good story-telling about ordinary life.

It stars nobody you’d heard of 5 years ago, when Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb were literally children. I predict that, 5 years hence, you will have heard of them. I fervently hope that will be partly because you remember having seen them here first.

Occasionally I’ll change my mind about a movie after I’ve taken more time to think about it, and the immediacy of the experience has faded into the past. I still feel bad about my biggest mistake as a film critic, when I gave The Princess Bride only an 8 on my 9-point scale, which in retrospect was a remarkably stupid underestimate of one of the best movies of all time.

But time has not dimmed my appreciation for Bridge to Terebithia, which earned a 9 the day I saw it and still deserves it these several months later.

My goal is to keep a steady stream of customers flowing into the theater so that, at next year’s WisCon, after I’ve awarded Terebithia the Buzzy, I can tell the audience “… and you can still see it on the big screen; it’s playing at Market Square this weekend.”

Your turn.

What Advocacy Organizations REALLY Want

Anyone here old enuf to remember the Rural Electrification Administration? It's about the only example on record of an organization (a government agency, no less) that completed its task, turned in its paperwork, then folded its tent and went out of business.

If you're old enuf to remember that, you probably recall when the March of Dimes (back in the days when a dime could still buy something) was dedicated to discovering a cure for polio. Oops. Somebody DID discover a cure for polio. So did the March of Dimes go out of business? Well, not exactly. You can pretty well reconstruct the rationalizations in your imagination: "We've set up this big structure that's good at raising money. It would be a shame to let it go to pieces when there's still so much else we could do to help out in the world. Besides, gentlemen, we've gotta save our phony baloney jobs!" So the March of Dimes stayed in business, just shifted its focus to something not likely to be eradicated in ANYBODY'S lifetime: birth defects.

The women's suffrage movement did much the same thing after women got the vote: changed its name to League of Women Voters and kept right on truckin'.

The various pairs of public-policy opponents (NRA vs. Handgun Control Inc.; National Right to Life vs. NARAL; Focus on the Family vs. Human Rights Campaign; many more) are co-dependents; they need each other to use as demons because it's good for fund-raising.

The best thing that happened recently to NARAL and Planned Parenthood was the Supreme Court decision confirming that the government could legitimately outlaw partial-birth abortion. Not 24 hours had passed before my in-box was flooded with e-mails imploring me to give, give, give at this critical turning point in our nation's history. You can damn well bet that, if the decision had gone the other way, the pro-life organizations would have been doing the same thing.

In short, if you take these organizations at their word, the best thing that can happen is that they achieve all of their policy objectives. Let us not be so naive. From an institutional standpoint, that would be the WORST thing that could happen.

1st Rule of Bureaucracy: Preserve thyself.