May 22nd, 2011

Bill James, _Popular Crime_, an excerpt

I'm going to try really hard to make this a Fair Use thing, because I really want this to stay up here and not violate copyright, because I want to convince people that this book is worth running out right now and buying. Because it is. And I rarely say that when I'm only a fifth of the way through a book.

From chapter 9:

"A 2003 study by the National Center for Health Statistics reports that the murder rate in the United States was 1.1 per 100,000 population in 1903, increasing to 4.9 per 100,000 in 1907, then to 6.3 by 1914. This, if true, would make the homicide rate in 1914 essentially the same as it is now, and the rate pre-1905 dramatically lower than it is now." James has already asserted that this cannot possibly be true. What follows is is explanation of why he believes that.

"There were no national crime statistics compiled early in the 20th century, and the rates reported now are based on those homicides which later researchers happened to catalogue." A little later, "Over the last hundred years a large number of events have been re-classified as murder."

And then a long and detailed and very salient list follows:

justifiable homicide
someone breaking into your apartment, you shoot him
"Until about 1970, when parents beat their children to death they very often escaped punishment."
"if a trench collapsed and a worker was killed, that was a tragic accident. Now, it's negligent homicide."

More examples, then, "A hundred years ago, substantial numbers of black people were murdered in the South -- in fact, I would predict that the murders of southern blacks alone, if they could be tallied, might exceed the number of homicides estimated by the NCHS study for the years 1900-1903."
[<-- That, Dear Readers, is a conservative estimate in the generally understood meaning of the term, precisely the opposite of how I blogged that it is typically used.]

More examples:

medical malpractice leading to death
killing of citizens by police officers

And on that topic (I sort of wish he'd expounded on the medical malpractice, because, like the lynching numbers, it, too, would have swamped every officially counted homicide):

"Frank Hamer, who set up the ambush that killed Bonnie and Clyde, has been reported to have personally killed 65 people in the performance of his police duties. (In the 1920s the Texas Bankers Association offered $5,000 rewards to police officers for the deaths of outlaws. This led to several innocent people being set up and murdered by Texas police officers -- a practice which Hamer is credited with having put an end to, busting up the murder ring.)"

Really puts a whole different perspective on any sense of how lawless we are vs. how lawless our great-great grandparents were.

Still more:

strikers killed by hired strike-breakers

And then, on a personal note:

"When I was in high school, the football coach used to work us hard on hot days and not let us have water. Of course, across the country a few kids every year would die from this practice, but ... [ellipsis his] that was just the way it was. Kids still die occasionally from that kind of practice, but when it happens now, it is called reckless homicide. The estimate that there were only 1.1 murders per 100,000 people in the United States at the start of the 20th century is, in my view, utterly preposterous, at least in the modern understanding of the term, "murder"."

And it is that last sentence that makes the book the joy and wonder that it is. He never loses track of how _we_ view something _now_ vs. how someone else viewed something _then_. And he even does a bang up job extracting the parts we and they could agree on (somebody died and there was blood all over the place, say). He's not trying to _be_ objective: he's openly highlighting the difference in perspective and attempting to identify something underneath that that is held in common.

There have been books that I loved up until a point, and then they took a turn for the worse. If that happens, I will come back and say so. But I really do not expect that to happen, and even if it does, the first fifth of this book is worth the price of the whole book.

Printing Plants Closing, Consolidation in Printing Industry

Expect this entry to be repeatedly edited. I'm not even going to bother putting in ETAs; I'm just going to revise it.

A printing plant in Depew that does mass market paperbacks is closing. It has been open since the early 1960s. In the course of consolidation from the 1990s on, it has survived, but no more. Partly this is because of low utilization, partly aging equipment. It had hoped to survive another round because it is close to a Harlequin facility, but that did not pan out.

The flip side of the story, of course, is that if you're weighing two plants figuring on closing one and upgrading another, the one that gets upgraded is happy about it.

Quad/Graphics acquisition of Worldcolor

I feel like I should summarize it, but I don't know enough to understand it. Maybe in a bit.

From October 2010, Transcontinental closing a plant in Boucherville/Montreal:

FWIW, I'm sticking to _really_ big players; these are huge companies (top five in their business in North America) and big plants.

Transcontinental getting into the eBook and eSubscription management business:

Going back further in time (all the way to September 2009!), speculation had it that Transcontinental might buy Quebecor/Worldcolor (which ultimately wound up with Quad/Graphics see above).

I seem to remember seeing some 2002 stuff about Hachette unloading its in-house printing facilities onto Quebecor, but don't hold me to it.

I can't help but notice that a whole lot of printing seems to have been going on in Canada. I think this is because of AbitibiBowater (<-- Not a joke. They have a wikipedia entry.) and its predecessors. That is, all other things being equal, if you are printing, you'd like to be close to your input, which is to say, paper. In turn, AbitibiBowater was presumably there because Quebec has (had?) lots and lots and lots of trees (and a government that let you cut them down and pulp them).

All other things are no longer equal. It looks like printers are now trying to be better located from a distribution perspective, rather than a close-to-the-forests perspective. I suspect this makes sense as the sheer volume of paper involved steadily drops.

I'm trying hard not to get sucked into Paper company specific consolidation (like speculation involving NewPage, Verso, etc.).

This next / these next items are smaller players:

Again, aging technology, reduced demand and increasing competition probably resulting in a plant closure. The company as a whole is transitioning to a short-run/four-color future, but that can't save a one-color plant.

Kansas, changes in political alignments and a question

Bill James, author of _Popular Crime_, is from Kansas, and I think that fact matters.

In any event, I've reached his description of the murder of a cop in California that was the basis for Wambaugh's _The Onion Field_. James is an opinionated guy, but he feels _really_ strongly about this one and he's got an interesting take on the "meaning", shall we say, of this story.

"All generalization is dangerous." Nice to see it reiterated, and it's a good spot in the book to do it, too, because James is set to launch. "The Los Angeles police brought some of their own headaches with Smith and Powell by trying to hard to send them both to the gas chamber. ... The police were determined that they should both pay the ultimate price for this offense. That isn't justice. Smith may have fired four shots into Campbell as he died, but the prosecution couldn't prove it. I believe in protecting police officers, too, but it's not right to execute a man because his partner does something stupid. The prosecutors complicated the battle for justice by pushing for something more than justice."

That's just the beginning. James goes on to say that reading Wambaugh's book is the best explanation for understanding "the explosion in crime rates in this country between 1964 and 1976....The Supreme Court decisions of the mid-sixties, though carrying no inevitable harm, established in the minds of lower courts the idea that the primary object of the process was not to deliver justice, but to protect the rights of the accused."

This doesn't seem entirely correct to me. There were lower courts in California headed that way _before_ the Supreme Court decisions he is referring to.

My question involves this statement:

"the Rose Bird court, ruled that the police had violated the cop killers' rights by being friendly with them so as to earn their trust so that they would confess. Such "psychological devises," they ruled, were condemned by the US Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona." I'd love to know if that sentence is true, and is specifically about the onion field case.

In any event, James continues. "The dominant American attitudes about crime and criminals in the late 1950s were far more liberal than those which prevail today. _Birdman of Alcatraz_ assumes a culture that believes in the humanity of the convict. ... The book argued ... that all men are within the realm of redemption. This is admirable -- yet the book was also romanticized, vague, one-sided and false. [new paragraph] _Birdman of Alcatraz_ and numerous other movies [sic he is making the jump here not me] of that era ... portray criminals as complex personalities capable of normal emotions, and often caught in a cruel and inefficient system of justice.... there is a close connection between the worldview encapsulated in these movies and the court decisions of the mid-sixties."

James then argues that while these principles (many of the people inside are victims too and we're responsible for bad treatment of the accused and convicted) "simply stated, are undeniably true" they become "something entirely different when converted into judicial fiats." He then attacks "old liberals" as being "logically preposterous" for explaining the "explosion of violence" from the mid 60s to the mid 70s as the result of demographic shifts. "The damned foolishness of the Warren Court unleashed upon us a torrent of criminal violence which pitched the nation backward into atavistic attitudes about crime and punishment." We won't "regain our footing ... until Liberals ... accept responsibility for the tragic consequences of the Warren Court's runaway enthusiasm for essentially good ideas."

This is what I mean by not making careless generalizations. There's quite a lot of reason to believe that James made this provocative generalization and came to this not-conservative and not-liberal and possibly very-Kansan conclusion very, very carefully. To be clear, I'm _not_ agreeing with him. But I can't help but think he's onto something when he says that prison reform efforts were severely hampered in a timeframe related to cops being severely hampered. And that is a huge problem. "Since 1975 we have allowed the evolution of huge, horrific prisons rules by prison gangs. We have to move past that, and toward a vision of a punishment and reform system based on an effort to salvage those lives that can be salvaged."

I have a very different theory about what caused the problems we currently have with our prison system (I blame Just Say No, mandatory sentencing, and privatization of prisons). But I won't be forgetting Bill James' theory any time soon, and I'll be eying any information that crosses my path to see which way it pushes me.