Another War of Jenkins' Ear

Resist The Pointless

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On why we call them “Parkways”

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The New York Times is running a piece stating that cities are being short changed on stimulus funding.  They link to several figures and reports to back up this assertion.  If we take a look at the NYT generated graph, there a few things that leap out.  First is the use of Per Capita to visually display how the money is spent.  According to population figures from the Washington State Office of Financial Management the county would need nearly three times the amount of money to balance out the population disparity between Seattle and next populace place, Spokane alone.  Of course, all of this makes that tacit assumption that population and needs correlate.  Suburban growth has been traditionally viewed as free rider on the cities they border.  Or as the article puts it:

“We have a long history of shortchanging cities and metropolitan areas and allocating transportation money to places where few people live…Professor Gutfreund said that in some states the distribution was driven by statehouse politics, with money spread to the districts of as many lawmakers as possible, or given out as political favors. In others, he said, the money is distributed by formulas that favor rural areas or that give priority to state-owned roads, often found far outside of urban areas.

They cite an excellent study by the Texas Transportation Institution on the cost of congestion in cities.  However, by dint of their population density, Cities can have an adverse effect on their surrounding counties.  Take for example of Upstate New York.  With the rising cost of gas and tolls, increasing numbers of trucks are cutting through local villages to avoid sections of the the Thruway and its toll.  As this press release from Governor Patterson announcing a state-wide study on the issue:

Each day, non-local, garbage-laden trucks leave the interstates and cut through towns across the Finger Lakes and Central New York to save money on gas and avoid tolls and weigh stations. The trucks jeopardize the region’s quality of life by hazardously barreling down small rural roads that are unable to handle their weight.

It then goes on to point out that most of these Trucks come from New York City.  The link between population pressure and garbage seems self evident, so too should the link between truck traffic and wear on a given roadway.  Also one might ask if New York City is hard up for transportation money, perhaps they should scale back the 3.2 Billion dollar PATH terminal?

So where does this leave us; besdies the fact that once again a doubious criteria is choosen to make a graphic easier to read?  Parkways were named for nammed for their intended purpose; one was supposed to park along the road to enjoy nature and perhaps have a good old fashioned frolic.  However, anybody who has driven the Taconic Parkway or tried to leave Stewart Airport quickly realize these roads have evoled into narrow, deer infested lanes whose only improvement seems to be the prepesnity to flood.  All of these shortcomings are becasue of the choosen design astetic.  Hence the defects become apparent with a literal translation of the name.  The TIGER stimulus projects were also nammed in a literal fashion.  These were projects that construction could start on as soon as possible in order to stiumlate the economy.  It stands to reason that most of the proects would be as simple as possible to minizme the often complex regulations that involve dealys in planning and permitts (none of which are being waived) and not be a grand WPA style monstosity.  In retrospect, the deer are starting to appear on the perhiary of this idea.

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Written by mb1066

July 9, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Data, Economics

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The Decline and Fall of Liberty: Cell Phone Data and the Courts

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The NY Times ran an interesting article about cell phone data being used in court room proceedings:

The pivotal role that cellphone records played in these two prominent New York murder trials this year highlights the surge in law enforcement’s use of increasingly sophisticated cellular tracking techniques to keep tabs on suspects before they are arrested and build criminal cases against them by mapping their past movements.

But cellphone tracking is raising concerns about civil liberties in a debate that pits public safety against privacy rights. Existing laws do not provide clear or uniform guidelines: Federal wiretap laws, outpaced by technological advances, do not explicitly cover the use of cellphone data to pinpoint a person’s location, and local court rulings vary widely across the country.

For more than a decade, investigators have been able to match an antenna tower with a cellphone signal to track a phone’s location to within a radius of about 200 yards in urban areas and up to 20 miles in rural areas. Now many more cellphones are equipped with global-positioning technology that makes it possible to pinpoint a user’s position with much greater precision, down to a few dozen yards.

To determine where a suspect’s phone was in the past — as in the Mallayev and Littlejohn cases — investigators use company records that show a phone’s approximate location at the beginning and end of a call.

I can’t do this entire topic justice in a small blog post. The relevant question is whether there is an expectation of privacy. The US District Court dealt with this issue in US v. Skinner (2007 U.S. Dist Lexis 97237; I’m excising citations):

Generally, a defendant can claim little expectation of privacy in a cell phone that he utilizes in public. Encarnacion-Montero, (in dicta, noting that no expectation of privacy can be claimed for cell phone calls which were monitored while the defendant was on public streets). As to cell phone signals, a cell phone can only be used to locate a person if the phone is within the person’s possession and the user has turned the phone on. … Moreover, these signals are knowingly exposed to a third-party, the cell phone company, when a party uses the phone. … This third party exposure diminishes an expectation of privacy. Therefore, if the cell phone’s possessor intended to keep the phone’s location private, the possessor could turn off the phone, which would disallow signal transmission. …

Treatment this broad is not unanimous, as the NYT article says. I understand why civil libertarians are concerned; the biggest red flag of all appears in defense of how this data is used:

Civil libertarians do not oppose using cellphone surveillance to solve crimes or save people in emergencies, but they worry that the legal gray area is enabling it to happen without much scrutiny or discussion.

“The cost of carrying a cellphone should not include the loss of one’s personal privacy,” said Catherine Crump, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation after the Justice Department did not respond to a Freedom of Information request for data. Federal and local law enforcement officials argue that people who obey the law have nothing to fear from cellphone tracking.

My emphasis. Arguments like that are scary – you can use that logic to justify anything. So it’s important to have so check on it. No one has any problem with looking up this data with a warrant, but in practice they haven’t always been required. So , this is an area of the law that could uses for standardization, and high profile standardization to set the privacy expectation. Eventually, this is something that will perhaps go to the Supreme Court (a Court of Appeals is supposed to rule shortly).

In the end, this looks like a reasonable cost to a cell phone; after all, everyone knows where land lines are at all times. There’s little reason to expect a higher level of privacy to a phone that can move. But access to that information should be regulated to ensure it is being used for a good purpose.

Written by John Whitehouse

July 5, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Posted in Data, Law

Who is John Crudele?

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I’m a Post reader and have always been one.  When I’m not wearing my Mets hat, people often will register their disbelief in the form of something subtle like voice inflection. One of the major reasons I read past it’s first page is for “Taking Stock” by John Crudele.   True to his chosen milieu the headlines are a little bombastic at times, however, he will offer real analysis behind common reports such as this weeks announcement from the Commerce Department that personal savings has risen from “zero” to a sizable amount. John, as he always does, explains what forces drive the figures released.  In this case, it turns out the formals are sensitive to amount of tax paid to Treasury.  This is of course down as of late, argo:

Since the computers believed people still had the money (because Treasury didn’t have it) and since they are not spending that money, it must mean Americans are saving more.

If you like little tidbits like that, he’s worth the 75 cents alone.

Written by mb1066

July 2, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Data, Economics, News Media

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New Data from the Census

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Ask him why villages need home rule

Ask him why villages need home rule

The U.S. Census Bureau has just released 2008 population estimates beyond the county level to include “minor civil divisions” and “incorporated places.”  These are commonly known as cities, towns, and villages although this can depend on the home rule particularities of each state.

Why is this so important?

In between the breathless anticipation of the next shark attack or firework mishap that will bookend this upcoming holiday weekend, local media tends to revert to its more traditional role of boosterism which of course has habit of becoming a zero sum game of hand-wringing over which town will get the new WalMart.  It’s nice to see the WSJ keep that “small town” outlook on the national level:

U.S. cities that for years lost residents to the suburbs are holding onto their populations with a mix of people trapped in homes they can’t sell and those who prefer urban digs over more distant McMansions, according to Census data released Wednesday.

The article then goes on to tell two anecdotal stories to back up this assertion up. Similar articles will no doubt spring up from sources who might have better things to worry about then “smart growth” pulling up the housing market. An article from Detroit makes the very valid point that

State and federal money to communities, most notably federal Community Development Block Grant funds, are based on population.

Either as evidenced green shoots for the economy or the greenbacks of increased government spending, this data will be increasingly in the public eye.

Written by mb1066

July 1, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Data

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