Tag Archives: police

Self Driving Cars, Pitttsburg, Uber, and Us, Overlooking the Atlantic

So I’m here in a very nice seaside rented home on an obscure North Carolina island with the family. The kids and grand kids are off in various swimming/biking/exploring modes and rain is forecast. I’ve been working on my congressional campaign, and so distracted from blogging. Nevertheless, there is some new raw material that beg for expression, I’m on the porch watching storm clouds gather for the first time this week, so let’s organize the news of the last month and see if there’s anything that we on the commission need to heed.

Kris retired two years ago and decided that she liked to travel with me as I do locums work. This means that we take a taxi to and from the airport, a truly awkward experience. We call a day ahead, call half an hour beforehand, and still they don’t show up. The drivers are invariably African and hostile until my alcoholic personality disorder kicks in; “Africa, big place, where in Africa?” “Ethiopia.” “The Highlands or coast?” “Oh, you know Africa! The HIghlands.” Kris; “You’re Christian? Did you get kicked, go to Libya?” By this time the guy is wracked with emotion, ready to talk about his family, hopes, past, and we’re at the end of the journey. It costs $13.40. I try to give the guy 15 dollars, if I can find it as it’s often dark or worse yet, raining. Awkward.

Then the people at the airport decreed that Taxis bringing folks from Kentwood had to charge a minimum of 15 dollars. I don’t know how the airport can write a rule like that or even enforce it. We at the city commission should investigate.

This diktat caused me to rebel. I downloaded Uber and we have since had an excellent experience. The price is $7.30, half of a taxi, it automatically goes on my credit card and so is a recorded as deductible cost of doing business, the cars are uniformly interesting (two Priuses) and the drivers are all fascinating (a guy who sold art, several retired executives escaping their wives, an African American who was damned if he would ever work for somebody again.) In creative moments I calculate that if Uber can get us to the airport for 7 dollars, that they can get us to Meijers for 5; maybe get rid of one of our cars……

Then the Economist threw a bomb. It devoted a recent issue to the Uberization of transportation. It’s not what our Uber drivers had envisioned. Uber wants to get rid of all their drivers and instead operate a fleet of self drivers.-enough self drivers to replace most car functions as Americans now use them. They would operate a large fleet, cars constantly running, that would pick people up at their front doors and deliver them to their places of work, doctor’s offices, bars and at Aunt Tillie’s, then go off to pick up yet another customer.. The cost would be minimal, safety high, efficiency nearly perfect.


Then Uber announced that they were testing 4 Ford Focuses that had been modified to be self drivers in Pittsburg.    Pittsburg!   Fifth Avenue is the only straight street in the whole region. They had to build the airport 20 miles out of town where it was flat enough to land a DC4 back in the day. It’s ice and snow, steep grades, intersections where 5 streets come together, narrow, 1900s built streets. Everything is lined with worn out brick or cement. No one would test drive a self driver in that environment.

Unless he knew that his product could handle the job. (I would have said “Had the calm confidence of a Christian holding 4 Aces” (Twain) but can’t make it work.)

Daughter who has lived in P’burg for 7 years is here with us, so we ask about the self drivers; Yep, she’s seen more than one. They exist, ugly, roof has a bubble so distinctive enough for it to be known if they fail somehow.

I’d guess that we’ll know that self drivers are viable, efficient, attractive and cheap enough to go commercial by next spring. How long before you can buy one, or before Uber orders a few 100,000 Priuses modified to self drive? another year? maybe 2? These 100,000 cars will replace a million personal cars in people’s garages and on the parking lots.

We on the commission had better think on this.

Some thoughts.

The cars likely will not be built in Michigan, or if they are, the mechanical parts will be mere commodities lacking attractive luxury pricing markups that would stimulate competition and creativity. Self drivers are computers and software with a metal attached.

Public transit in all it’s forms is doomed. Taxis and buses cannot compete with personalized pickup and delivery in a warm (or air conditioned in the summer) car. Passenger railroads (why do we support Amtrack? This company regularly kills and maims the elites in the NY to Washington corridor;  even as I write, there’s been death and over a hundred injured in Hoboken, NJ) and intercity buses will be replaced in their roles of moving people a few hundred miles to other cities or even to Florida in the winter. School buses, kaput.

Will parking lots, parking spaces on streets and the width of roads be affected? If so, what do we do with the extra space; more buildings next to the malls? Parks that never get used?

Will shopping for groceries, clothing and minor purchases be abolished since things can be ordered on the internet and then delivered cheaply when the resident is at home and ready to receive the goods. So what happens to malls, big box stores and strip centers? A warehouse full of dry goods and staffed by robots will no longer need to be located on our main streets.

Will plunging transportation costs encourage people to live further out in the country? I can’t think of any arguments that would support them wanting to live closer together, so scratch the New Urbanism and Smart Cities. That’s my opinion but maybe others can marshal opposite arguments.

Do good street lighting, traffic lights and signs mean much to a robot? No, but there will be many years before human drivers no longer struggle with steering wheels and brakes? How important will street maintenance and snow removal be in this pending storm of change?

The accidents that are reported for self drivers in Palo Alto, where these have been standard for years, are almost all caused by humans disobeying the law while the patient self drivers are scrupulous in heeding the law. The patrolling for- and punishing of speeders, drunks, and unlicensed drivers will disappear, so there go lucrative traffic fines, busybody drug courts and the fill in the hours work of lurking for speeders that police do. Also, we should anticipate fewer accidents with their fires and injuries that occupy the fire department.  Maybe we should cut budgets and recruitment.

The latest fad in policing is DDACTS, in which our police concentrate on known high crime areas looking for minor traffic violations and vehicle defects that serve as an excuse to “stop and frisk” the drivers without ruffling constitutional feathers. Gone. Those old Pontiac and Toyota beaters will be soon retired and the traffic in poorer areas will resemble that of the wealthiest suburbs. And all the self drivers will soon have traces of cocaine and marijuana detectable, just as it is on our US currency.

Will our fleet of cars, fire engines, plows, utility trucks self drive? Quite probably, to some extent so we’ll get some cost savings.

The folks who will first use self drivers are the old who are still living in their own home. They can more easily take care of themselves if they have the increased mobility, so forestall moving into retirement villages. So what happens to the explosive growth of these corporations that depend on a aging and dependent population?

I think that air traffic will be relatively spared, so our connection to Kent County’s airport will be an advantage.

Well the rain passed us by, a watery sunshine, temperature 78, moderate wind,  and I see an osprey hunting off shore.  Commission meeting next Tuesday, so gotta get back in the next few days. Life in retirement is hard but yo gotta do what ya gotta do..

“Peace Officer” A Movie with a Message for our Commission and Police.

“Peace Officer” A Movie with a Message for our Commission and Police.

Kris and I hike or bike daily, missing only when it’s pouring rain or too slippery. This happens occasionally in West Michigan, so there came an afternoon recently when we went to Commissioner Arz’s multiplex at Woodland where they have a series of “indie” films for 5 dollars, about our price range. Kris had been keen to see a documentary called “Peace Officer” and I was sold when I saw a picture of Radley Balko, a writer for Reason and one of my Facebook buddies on the promo,

It’s a long movie about the police development and use of SWAT teams. The main character and narrator is a retired Utah sheriff named Dub Lawrence who is currently self employed repairing septic tank pumps, an occupation that he deems superior to politics. He had developed a SWAT team for his county in the 1970s and was proud of his accomplishment until he personally witnessed his team murder his temporarily overwrought son in law. Dub did an extensive years long investigation that showed dysfunctional practices of these units as well as an apparently flawed, self serving investigation by the police force. Law suits have not prodiced any relief for the dead man’s family.

Dub went ont ot investigate at least 2 other botched SWAT team incursions, both done to serve otherwise routine warrants. One, done on Christmas, had armed men invade the home of a reported Army deserter which terrified the family and in which one of the officers told the man that if he had picked up a gun instead of a baseball bat, that he would have been shot. It was served on the wrong individual.

The other SWAT team incursion was to search for marijuana. The man growing some plants in his basement, was awakened from sleep and didn’t hear the police announce themselves. He had a pistol nearby which he used to defend himself. He expended 35 rounds of which 17 hit invading police officers. The police used a ridiculous number of rounds, my recollection was between 500 and 1000, of which 3 hit the man defending his home and 4 killed one of the other police officers. Numerous rounds passed through the home and went through the neighboring home and even into the second house. In the ultimate indictment of the valor of our SWAT team, the miscreant marijuana grower drove a five man SWAT team from his home, and escaped into his garage where he was apprehended by our valiant team. The investigation incorrectly concluded that the miscreant had murdered the police officer.

The film generously allows the involved police, prosecutors and politicians to present their concerns, and many seem to be genuine. One is struck by the clash of what the police investigations had concluded to have happened and easily demonstrated contrary findings.  The flawed investigations in connection with police sovereign immunity leads one to near despair; the police can do whatever they want with impunity.

In Kentwood, we apparently use our SWAT team about 4 times per year. I know of at least one (and possibly two officers) who were fired for misconduct in the last few years. Our chief seems to be fairly clear eyed about such transgressions. On the other hand, our officers have been involved in at least two killings in the last year or so, and both were adjudged  to be justified.


There were only 4 customers at our  viewing of “Peace Officer” so its message is not likely to incite domestic unrest, but it should put our commission on notices to monitor our police and their use of military equipment closely. I’m somewhat comforted by my recollections of being in the army; The use of equipment was desultory at best and we certainly didn’t win my war nor many other wars in the last 70 years using these toys. We who are in a fiduciary position must remember that use of these weapons emboldens police and accidents do happen endangering both police themselves and the citizens that they are sworn to protect.  

Cops; Preventing Crime, or the Criminal Justice System? Seeing Miscreants through Crosshairs.

The commission will be presented with a proposal to allow the police to use a federal grant to put “scopes” on their AR 15s. (Bushmasters, were M16s in Vietnam and now changed only slightly and still used by our armed forces as M4s.) There is an additional proposal to replace pistols, for what purpose, I know not.

This use and appearance of military weapons in the hands of police makes me uncomfortable; the round from these weapons is an ultra-high velocity, 22+ caliper bit of metal. Its trajectory  tends to be erratic at distance and it bounces around off hard objects until it stops. It can kill at a half-mile and carries to nearly two miles. I don’t know how many homes in Kentwood a round will penetrate, but the second house down is a reasonable guess.

Also, why would one put scopes on these weapons? It allows them to be used at 400 yards out or even further. Where in our town is such a shot necessary or possible? Do we want snipers, whose only role is that of an executioner, in our town?

An ordinary shotgun loaded with slugs is effective out to 100 yards, the round flattens when it hits something and is extremely effective in keeping the peace.

Our police have acquired military hardware because some national policy was adopted after a mass shooting 20 years ago, They are gradually being trained in its use and philosophy of seeing others as enemies. But the police  business was envisioned to be preventing crime, of watching the societal scene and stepping in to apprehend criminals, not serving as the judge and jury for perceived transgressions. The insight that the police are our masters and not protectors is fostered by pictures of cops with tanks and body armor confronting rioters in Ferguson and other backwashes.

We in Kentwood should avoid these appearances; they could get us into serious trouble if some unanticipated social tinder is lit and the police sent to control the situation are filmed with murderous hardware in hand.

Serious Thoughts on Commerce on South Division, how its Expansion Parallels and Complements that of our Ford Airport.

Published as a comment on Mlive:

Talking about studies that have been cobbled together. Here is one that I generated, and offer gratis; I refuse to let my work be contaminated by pelf.

The prostitutes along So. Division have increased their business by 2 million dollars per year. They attract an additional 5 million of business to local bars and stores, the increased auto traffic from Johns cruising uses one million dollars worth of gas and the indirect costs on the autos is 3 million. There is of course the use of streets that I estimate accelerated the deterioration to the tune of 1 million. Added to this is the increased medical care costs from VD which I recon at 4 million. Then there is the associated crime and need for police; this is serious money, probably 100 million.

So prostitution adds at least 116 million dollars to the West Michigan economy.

Crime, public safety, police and so much more

Crime stats are not always reliable due to reporting variances both by victims who feel that police won’t help and also by police, some of whom, frankly, want to shine their CVs by under-reporting. Nevertheless, the incidence of crime has generally been falling since 1980 and violent crime since about 1970. No explanation offered.

This has occurred in the face an increasing number of human activities that are now deemed criminal. In California, I understand that taxpayers are allowed to do only that which is permitted, but Michigan has not yet deteriorated into such a pretentious muddle. We still are allowed to do anything except what is forbidden but the forbidden continues to expand.


This is not an effect of more or better policing (the broken window dates from 1993, community policing and data driven policing more recently so those have had no discernible effect), nor has the patronizing preaching of the pubic school, universities and media perfected the American soul. The population has aged and that probably reduced the population of young men who are likeliest to break the law. Criminalizing attitudes when committing violent crimes as when we invoke circumstances to upgrade to hate crimes and long prison sentences have not correlated with any diminution of crime.

Law, the good kind that people will respect, grows out of the practices, the beliefs and the day to day lived lives of the people. The crime of theft does not exist in a society where everyone steals. Marriage, as defined by the government becomes a dinosaur where 40% of kids are born outside of wedlock.

In Kentwood, no one wants capricious and violent gangs roaming the streets or parks. Folks who steal or rob stuff, even in the parks department and Justice department are arrested and punished. In Kentwood, violent crime has been stable or falling; there may be an effect from the more aggressive stance at detection by the current chief.

But how many of our taxpayers use marijuana, or gamble on the internet, out of sight, vaguely worried about the knock on the door?

I think that the decriminalization of drugs would have the greatest impact on lowering crime stats. The internet is certainly going to increase private initiative, the so called”permissionless enterprises” like Uber, Airbnb, prostitution and off the books commerce that might verge on the black market and termed criminal, if only the authorities could find them. (The Economist featured a hooker on the front cover and a long article on the liberation of the sex trade some months ago. I  saw it as a spoof of the synthetic laws that we have evolved, but….)

Probably we could lessen our expenses in police “protection”and eliminate non-violent and non-fraudulent acts like drug abuse, gambling, prostitution and the like from the criminal prohibitions without effecting the public safety.