Wednesday, December 30, 2009

John Lennon Interview

I just discovered an incredible interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. More HERE.

TA: How do you think we can destroy the capitalist system here in Britain, John?

JL: I think only by making the workers aware of the really unhappy position they are in, breaking the dream they are surrounded by. They think they are in a wonderful, free-speaking country. They've got cars and tellies and they don't want to think there's anything more to life. They are prepared to let the bosses run them, to see their children f*cked up in school. They're dreaming someone else's dream, it's not even their own. They should realise that the blacks and the Irish are being harassed and repressed and that they will be next.

As soon as they start being aware of all that, we can really begin to do something. The workers can start to take over. Like Marx said: 'To each according to his need'. I think that would work well here. But we'd also have to infiltrate the army too, because they are well trained to kill us all.

We've got to start all this from where we ourselves are oppressed. I think it's false, shallow, to be giving to others when your own need is great. The idea is not to comfort people, not to make them feel better but to make them feel worse, to constantly put before them the degradations and humiliations they go through to get what they call a living wage.

The level of radicalism is unbelievable, isn't it? It actually makes me sad to think about modern day protests. There just doesn't seem to be a modern-day equivalent to John Lennon or Martin Luther King. Meanwhile, society seems more interested in reality television stars than substance, and the most vocal "believers" tend to be hardcore religious people. I keep thinking of Yeats' and his widening gyre...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Umar Abdulmutallab: Predictable Terrorist?

People are shocked--just shocked--that alleged terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab received excellent schooling and came from a well-off family. As I explained back in 2008, the most dangerous terrorists will be educated and more likely to be middle-class or rich than poor. See HERE for the post titled "Terrorism: The Unusual Suspects."

The most worrisome part? The alleged terrorist's own father alerted authorities to his son's possible extremism, and the son still managed to evade security checkpoints.

Don't you feel safe knowing the TSA is profiling people based on their passports (which causes my harmless grandmother to get advanced screening every time she travels), but the TSA can't seem to follow up on a direct tip?

In the spirit of Mastercard, I leave you with the following "commercial":

America's military-industrial complex: $626 billion

Having a parent feel loyal enough to alert authorities to his own son: $0 [Note: imagine if the U.S. had accidentally killed one of the parent's family members--would the father still do the same thing?]

Having a random passenger on a plane brave enough to physically handle a potential terrorist: $0

Percentage of military's budget that saved Americans from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab: 0%

Believing that killing poor people in the Middle East will make us safer: unknown cost

Keeping America safe while maintaining Constitutional principles: priceless.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Current Wealth Distribution Threatens Democratic Process

Why is the unequal distribution of wealth problematic? Because it can destroy democracies.

Right now, the top 1% in America pay about 40% of the tax revenue. Far from being shining philanthropists, the reason for this particular distribution is because the top 1% make so much more money than the bottom 99%. Such a massive concentration of wealth allows rich people to single-handedly finance PACs; to use their influence to raise money quickly for their preferred candidates; and to buy all-important television airtime for their preferred candidate. As a result, modern-day candidacies require fewer people and more mass media. A candidate no longer needs all corners of his/her jurisdiction to ascend to political office--a few well-off friends can introduce a potential candidate to an entire jurisdiction by buying television ad spots.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday Break

I will not be blogging for a few days. Even dedicated bloggers ought to be able to enjoy the holidays, free from imagined and real obligations.

Merry X-Mas/Happy Holidays! For fun, I recommend reading the last chapter of any Malcolm Gladwell book, especially Outliers. He tends to put his best stuff in the last chapter.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Which States Make It Easier for Banks to Collect on Mortgages?

Ever wonder about recourse and non-recourse states? Well, neither did I, until I came across this post:

http://www.mortgagereliefformula.com/recourse/

It appears that the following states make it easier for creditors/banks to go after homeowners personally to recover the difference between the amount owed and amount received in a sale:

Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Autistic Intelligence and Asperger's Syndrome

Two of my female cousins (twins) have autism, so I've always been curious about autism and Asperger's Syndrome. I browsed through some information about Asperger's Syndrome and autism for fun. Here are some random observations:

1. "Autistic intelligence" has been defined as the ability to see the world from a very unique perspective, often by focusing on details other people overlook.

2. Apparently, many people with Asperger's Syndrome also have high incidences of manic-depression.

3. According to some experts, the best jobs for people with high-functioning Asperger's Syndrome are library science, accounting, engineering, and computer science.

4. Autistic children are 2.5 times more likely to have engineers in their family.

Interesting stuff, but no one seems to know why autism or Asperger's Syndrome affects some kids but not others.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Military Spending Sucking Money from Domestic Programs without Making Soldiers or Americans Safer

The U.S. Senate recently passed a $626 billion defense bill that does not include Obama's $100 million request to close GTMO. The Senate measure also includes $2.5 billion to fund 10 C-17 cargo planes assembled in Long Beach, Calif., which were not requested, and money for nine more F-18 Navy fighters than Obama requested.

Since America is running massive deficits, neither you nor I will be paying the $626 billion to expand the military-industrial complex. The bill will be paid by your children and their children--if we're lucky. Also, every single dollar that goes into military equipment programs is either printed (thereby weakening the American dollar) or diverted from domestic federal programs like education, transportation, civilian jobs, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.

Where is Eisenhower when you need him? What happened to all the honest, fiscally-conservative Republicans? One Ron Paul isn't enough to save this country from itself. At least we have Senator Feingold, who said, "I strongly oppose this fiscally irresponsible and misguided bill. While the bill includes many good provisions, it will also fund a massive troop surge in Afghanistan that will overburden our troops and will likely hurt, not help, our efforts to eliminate the global threat posed by al-Qaida and its affiliates. And it is stuffed with earmarks and wasteful spending, such as $2.5 billion for 10 C-17s that the Defense Department does not want and $130 million for a Presidential helicopter program that has been canceled."

Below are two excellent links explaining federal budget expenditures in 2008:

http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=1258 [This link is titled, "Policy Basics: Where Do Our Federal Tax Dollars Go?".]

http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=125 [This link is titled: "Federal Spending, 2001-2008: Defense Is a Rapidly Growing Share of the Budget, While Domestic Appropriations Have Shrunk"]

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Is QB Rating System Discriminatory?

NFL football fans: one study claims that black QBs are underpaid and under-represented in the NFL because the QB rating doesn't include rushing/scrambling yards.

In other words, statistics indicate that black QBs tend to scramble more (remember Randall Cunningham?) than non-black QBs, but this additional yardage doesn't show up in their QB rating, perhaps giving the edge to pocket QBs.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Aid to Africa: Success or Failure?

HERE is an excellent post on aid to Africa. It might seem as if money sent to Africa is going into a black hole, but in reality, the money is saving millions of lives. The problem is that when nations increase fertility, they must also increase jobs. African nations are not doing well when it comes to creating jobs, but their economic incompetence doesn't mean international aid isn't accomplishing its purpose.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Intuit Shareholder Meeting (2009)

I attended Intuit's (INTU) annual shareholder meeting in Mountain View, California on December 15, 2009. Upon entering Intuit’s building, shareholders were offered complimentary copies of either Quicken Premier or an Investments and Rental Property tracking software. Intuit also offered shareholders Peet’s coffee, Odwalla juices, mineral/bottled water, and various pastries.

I won’t hide my fondness for Intuit. I’ve been using Intuit’s products for years, and I think the company is a godsend for small businesses. CEO Brad Smith--who looks similar to Matt Damon--handled most of the meeting, which included a thirty-minute presentation. Below are the highlights of his presentation:

Although Americans have experienced high unemployment, small business formation has not trended upward, possibly because small businesses lack access to bank capital.

Intuit has acquired Mint.com and PayCycle, an online payroll service.

80% of Intuit’s sales come from word-of-mouth, i.e. personal recommendations.

1/3 of U.S. tax returns are filed using some Intuit software.

Intuit's major competition is the pen-and-paper (people don't use computers to do their taxes).

1/12 Americans are paid with Intuit’s payroll services.

Intuit is trying to improve first use and first year user retention. [Intuit users tend to remain loyal customers, but the difficulty is getting them to break old habits and learn new how to navigate a new piece of software.]

Intuit is focusing on emerging markets, such as India, and healthcare. The CEO mentioned that the average patient gets three medical bills before returning a payment, but Intuit’s software reduced turnaround time significantly. Cigna and other select healthcare providers use Intuit’s software, so it is not yet available to all patients or medical offices.

The Q&A session began with a shareholder questioning Intuit’s stock price. The shareholder compared Intuit’s stock price to Adobe’s (ADBE) over the past ten years. During that time period, Adobe shares have increased over 100% in value (10% annually), while Intuit shares have returned about 15%, or just 1.5% a year. The shareholder implied that R&D expenditures–which he cited at between 16 and 17% of revenue–were too high.

CEO Smith responded that Intuit’s R&D expenditures were in line with competitors’ R&D expenditures, and the reason Intuit’s stock price hasn’t performed better is because of a disconnect between the company’s expectations of growth and Wall Street’s expectations of growth. While Wall Street believes Intuit will likely grow only in the single digits, Intuit believes it will achieve double-digit growth, which should justify a higher multiple. Since Intuit already has a high share of the American market relative to competitors who offer similar products, there doesn't seem to be much room for domestic growth, and significant growth in international markets will take time.

I suggested that Intuit create an Audit-Defense software that would provide consumers with peace of mind in case of an audit. Right now, there are many consumers who have envelopes and/or folders filled with business expense receipts, as well as separate envelopes for canceled checks. Many consumers would appreciate a product that allowed them to ensure their receipts matched expense data entered in Quicken and/or TurboTax. Intuit could easily create a software program that reconciled consumers’ physical receipts and canceled checks with their expense entries on Quicken and/or TurboTax. This proposed product should include a mini-scanner to allow users to scan and upload jpegs of their business-related receipts so all of their data would be in one convenient place in case of an IRS audit. CEO Smith responded that Intuit was already working on something similar to my idea called QuickReceipts.

I also asked how Intuit planned on making money from its Mint.com acquisition. I sometimes read Mint.com's blog, but I don’t usually click on any ads on the website, and I don’t pay any money to use Mint.com. CEO Smith said that Intuit planned on making money through referral fees from Mint.com’s “ways to save” engine, which is similar to the way Google makes money from its AdWords program.

I mentioned that Intuit's biggest threat probably wouldn’t be another competitor, but its own potential mis-steps. Perhaps Intuit should make a more tangible assurance of its security capabilities. Why not advertise that if anyone actually gains access to a user's personal data, Intuit will pay the affected user $100,000? Why not put its money where its mouth is, and win over the remaining online skeptics? For example, LifeLock has a $1 million guarantee against identity theft. If Intuit had a similar policy, wouldn't more consumers trust the company and feel more comfortable rejecting the old pen-and-paper method? Intuit would probably argue that it would be foolish to issue a worldwide challenge to hackers, and there is no such thing as an "unhackable" database. Intuit's cautious approach is probably the right one, but without a guarantee, how will it convince the pen-and-paper holdouts to use its software?

I respect and admire Intuit, but I can also understand why Wall Street is hesitant to bid up its shares. Intuit runs its company like engineers who happen to have MBAs–conservative and focused on consistent growth without unnecessary risk. Wall Street must imagine Intuit to be a leaner Microsoft (MSFT), if Microsoft owned only its Office software suite–a highly profitable company with low maintenance products, but nothing revolutionary or indicative of a major paradigm shift like an iPod or a Google. If Intuit wants Wall Street’s respect, it needs to spend its ample cash and roll out riskier initiatives.

In conclusion, Intuit may believe it is growing adequately each year, and therefore has no need to make radical moves, but New York money managers probably view Intuit as a stodgy company that refuses to take risks. Indeed, one has to wonder why Intuit couldn’t invent something similar to Mint.com instead of having to buy it. Isn’t it a little strange when a software company’s most touted new product (Mint.com) was made by another software company?

Intuit needs to make up its mind: either be like Microsoft and pay a decent dividend and focus on consistent growth, or act like a growth company and use its cash to invest in new ventures or riskier acquisitions. Taking the middle ground–safe and steady–won’t gain Wall Street’s respect, even if Intuit is clearly an amazing company with good management.

Disclosure: I own an insignificant number of Intuit shares. I am also a user of its software.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Victor Davis Hanson Explained in Just 8 Steps

I just finished reading a Victor Davis Hanson speech (from a Hillsdale College transcript). I used to read some of his WSJ articles, and although I respected his intelligence, I was never really impressed with his work. I finally figured out why--most of his articles follow the similar themes, so once you've read one of them, you've read them all. Below are his eight major themes:

1. Western culture is superior because of x, y, and z.

2. Western culture has created the highest standard of living for its citizens worldwide. For example, a poor person in a Western country is typically better off than a poor person in a country that does not follow Western culture.

3. The West's enemies have not followed Western culture. As a result, their citizens are generally worse off when compared to Western citizens.

4. The West values human life more than non-Western countries.

5. Some of the West's enemies are beneficiaries of "unearned capital," such as oil and natural gas reserves. The West needs these natural resources, so its enemies are able to import some of the West's technological advances, but without the West's system of checks-and-balances.

6. The West will have problems battling outside enemies because its system of checks-and-balances, its high valuation on individual human life, and its openness--all of which are responsible for the West's success--will also hold it back when confronted with a serious enemy. [Note: Hanson assumes all wars require the loss of individual Western human life. With drones and WMDs, the West may one day be able to wage war without suffering many losses.]

7. Western culture allows anti-war activists and other relatively comfortable residents to restrict the West's ability to defend itself. The West's enemies have no such problems because their systems are not open and do not have a system of checks-and-balances. Meanwhile, the West's enemies will--using their unearned capital--continue taking some of the best products of Western culture without incorporating the very Western system that is responsible for the creation of these sought-after products.

8. The West's enemies, if allowed to attain high-level technology, such as nuclear weapons, will use these weapons against the West. It is naive and foolish to think otherwise, because these non-Western countries are run by religious fanatics who do not operate under a system of checks-and-balances.

My problem with Mr. Hanson is that paragraphs 1 through 7, even if true, do not necessarily lead to 8. It may be true that countries that follow Western culture will have economic advantages over countries that do not follow Western culture. At the same time, the previous statement does not necessarily mean that non-Western countries will, if given Western items, destroy the West. In short, nothing in paragraphs 1 through 7 logically leads to paragraph 8. At the end of the day, Mr. Hanson is really saying that certain countries are different than we are (and inferior) and therefore they will attack us. I don't follow that kind of "logic."

Mr. Hanson also seems to have devised a belief system that allows the West to feel morally comfortable attacking the rest of the world. Paragraphs 1-7 are stealthily insidious in a way you may not have noticed--they assume that a child born in a non-Western country is worth less than a child who happens to be born in a Western country. In short, Mr. Hanson seems to believe that the accident of birth determines the worth of a human being. I have traveled to several "non-Western" countries, and the parents I have seen in Iran, Costa Rica, and Singapore love and value their children just as much as parents in Europe and North America. I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Hanson's implicit allegation that a child who is not lucky enough to be born in a Western country is worth less than other children.

Moreover, Mr. Hanson forgets that most people do not consider Western culture and civilization to be superior or even enlightened until after the 1700's. To the extent that Western culture is inherently superior to all other cultures, one might ask why such superiority has only manifested itself within the last 300 or so years. To believe in Mr. Hanson's pro-Western approach, one must ignore previous Egyptian, Khmer, Mayan, and Peruvian civilizations and accomplishments.

As for the non-West's "unearned capital," Mr. Hanson forgets the debt that Western civilization owes to the rest of the world. For example, the West and Westerners did not invent algebra or other conditions precedent to our modern-day technological advances.

I can't help but wonder: why do so many smart Republican writers usually end up making pro-war arguments? Why aren't there more anti-war Republicans like Ron Paul in Congress?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Controversy Ahead: Interview with White Pride Proponent

The link to the following interview contains an open discussion about race and could potentially offend people that are sensitive when it comes to such issues. If you fall into that category, I would recommend not reading any further. HERE is an interview with “White Pride” fighter Melvin Costa on the Sherdog forum:

First and foremost I want the people out there not to mix up love for my own with hate for others. I don't hate any other race. I love my own. That's what I'm about pretty much; the advancement of my people, my culture, my heritage.

Is Mr. Costa a racist? Apparently, Mr. Costa has been banned from participating in MMA fights because of his swastika tattoo and/or ideological beliefs. Mr. Costa says he was in prison for many years, and the swastika tattoo stands for the "purity of my people's blood," not hate.  Mr. Costa also quotes now-President Obama, who said, "I'm for consonance in all my people, putting in civic duties for my people, and advancing my people." He compares his views to President Obama's statements.

I don't know whether Mr. Costa is a malevolent racist--he never says in the interview that he believes "whites" are superior to anyone else or that he wants laws enforcing racial segregation. He appears to agree with voluntary racial segregation, but does believing in voluntary segregation make him a racist? Keep in mind that most parts of America right now are de facto segregated by race.

Also, how should we characterize people who believe Western culture is superior to other cultures? Would we call pro-Westerners ignorant or racist? Probably not--there are many PhDs and Wall Street Journal writers who are proud of Western culture and who believe it is the best culture. In fact, most pro-Western proponents probably believe Western culture transcends race, even though it was made exclusively by people they consider "white."  (The definition of "white" has changed over time in America, a fact I sometimes wonder whether white supremacists fully appreciate.)

In any case, some people might say the difference between a Melvin Costa and a Victor Davis Hanson is eight years of college, but that's a horribly unfair comparison. Mr. Hanson, of course, does not favor racial segregation and does not make comments based on racial pride. Perhaps if Mr. Costa removed his tattoos and talked about his love of Western culture instead of his love of "white" persons, he would become eligible to fight in major MMA events. Removing the tattoos certainly seems like the first step in re-gaining his MMA eligibility.  Beyond that, Mr. Costa could shift the debate into the free speech arena, where he could argue that a company like Dana White's Ultimate Fighting Championship has no business deciding whom to hire or deploy based on someone's non-violent personal views, and that no company ought to pick and choose participants based on tattoos.

I'll leave you with another reader's comment: "I've never understood the concept of being proud of complete genetic randomness."  Indeed.

[Note: this post has been updated since its original publication.]

Interesting Article on Foreign Basketball Player

I really enjoyed SI's article on Arsalan Kazemi. See HERE.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Father Jon Sobrino: Hero

Once in a while, I am reminded of my deep respect for the Jesuits. They combine logic with compassion in ways that no one else seems to be able to emulate. HERE is an article written by Father Jon Sobrino, about the world's neglect of the poor.

[M]ost of humanity...die fast in war and more slowly in the poverty caused by war. We need only look at Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine; at health disasters like malaria and AIDS; at ecological problems like flooding and erosion; at natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, where the majority of the dead are those who cannot afford strong housing. The poor live on the sides of the mountains, next to rivers, or along railroad tracks. Anything can happen, and does. The majority of the earth’s people die innocently and cruelly, often after a life of great suffering. And they die defenseless. Who is risking anything to bring them down from the cross?

May God bless Father Jon Sobrino, who narrowly escaped being murdered by an El Salvadorian government death squad in 1989.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

TSA and National Origin Profiling

According to a document inadvertently leaked by the TSA, "Individuals with a passport from Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, or Algeria should be given additional screening."

It's not racial or religious profiling per se, but it appears government policy has the effect of subjecting many Muslims to a higher level of scrutiny than other passengers. Except for Cuba and North Korea, all the other countries on the list have Muslim-majority populations.

Another Popehat Quote

From Popehat.com's Patrick:

This is the problem with the Western left: they can see a noose with perfect clarity when the hangman is a conservative. But when the noose is placed by their fellow leftists, they’ll call it a necktie every time.

Patrick sounds like he's channeling Neil Postman, who believed Huxley's Brave New World was more likely than Orwell's 1984.

Friday, December 11, 2009

In Defense of Meg Whitman's Voting Record

Judging Meg Whitman's fitness for governor based on her voting record is like choosing an NBA coach based on how he voted for his favorite NBA All-Stars--it's irrelevant, because the job doesn't involve voting. In Meg's case, the relevant record would be her performance running a large, diverse California organization that must contend with state laws and regulations. (Anyone hear of a little company called eBay? Its finances are better than California's, and it hasn't regularly run deficits/losses.)

A governor doesn't vote anyway (s/he may veto bills, but s/he does not vote as part of the governor's job duties). Also, Meg's personal voting record wouldn't be public even if she had voted.

Below, Patrick and I battle it out regarding Meg's voting record:

Patrick: I do not believe corporate governance has any bearing on ability to run this state or any other. Cal has a very arcane budget process. We need professional politicians who know how it works and can make deals. We need to repeal term limits and eliminate the use of initiatives for budget decisions. While eBay is a great company, running eBay is not preparation for running the state. As I see it, there are currently no acceptable choices for governor at this time.

My response: California's political process is actually really simple--a minority can hold up a budget until their demands are met, which forces the majority to work with them and make concessions. Instead of cutting spending, however, previous/career politicians have been punting state expenses into the future or coming up with accounting tricks to mask the expenses. It's reasonable to believe that if we get another "experienced" politician, we'll get more of the same. We need someone who is honest and tough, not a career politician who will give us more of the same. We also need to cut government spending, which has been out of control for quite some time.

Patrick: a majority of the budget is controlled by spending rules passed via initiative. These initiatives have tied very particular amounts and sources of tax dollars to particular programs. They cannot be changed and the funds cannot be moved around. The discretionary portion of the budget where deals can be made is actually very small compared to the whole. The budget is a mess because we have allowed lay-persons to vote on it. Voting in an amateur corporate figure head will not fix this problem. We need to repeal the whole initiative process and allow the budget to be fixed by politicians who know what they are doing.

Me:
California's Supreme Court Chief Justice agrees with you. You both believe the problem is the initiative process--which has nothing to do with any candidate's personal voting record. Maybe you should vote against Meg if she refuses to support repealing the initiative process. That would make more sense.

Patrick: [starts to move away from his original complaint about Meg's voting record] Her anti labor and anti environment positions are as equally objectionable as her lack of political experience.

Me: Well, that's different. There is nothing illogical about voting against someone b/c you disagree with her (alleged) anti-labor and anti-environment views. As for the lack of political experience, you might want to reconsider that argument if you voted for Obama or Bush II--neither of whom had political executive experience before becoming President.

Patrick: Lack of political experience as an executive is one thing, and I agree Obama had none (he did have legislative experience at both the state and federal level). A complete lack of political experience is another thing. I just don't think being a CEO qualifies you to be governor. [Me: a good analogy would be, "Driving an automatic transmission doesn't mean she also knows how to drive a stick shift."] If she spends some time as a big city mayor or in the state debate first she would then be qualified.

Me: Okay, you are saying you prefer a candidate who has some experience in politics. That's not illogical. But thank goodness you've stopped citing Meg's personal voting record--which is irrelevant--to support your choice. Peace.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Google Case Law Search

Did anyone know about this? You can search case law for free on google! See HERE.

Obama's Nobel Prize Speech

Obama's Nobel Prize speech was underwhelming, except for this part:

So let us reach for the world that ought to be--that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. Somewhere today, in the here and now, a soldier sees he's outgunned but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protester awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.

See HERE for transcript of the entire speech. Gotta love CNN's transcripts.

How Safe Are Police Jobs?

How safe is it to be a police officer? [Update: the shorter version is here.]  I tried to answer this question based on the following charts--BLS Chart 1 and BLS Charts 2. I focused on injuries and fatalities.

Injuries: nationwide, there were 14,500 total recordable police injuries in 2008. Assuming the U.S. has between 435K and 800K police officers, officers have about a 3.3% chance of being injured each year. [Note: see end of post for updated stats on the number of local and state law enforcement.] The BLS's injury stats are similar to the FBI's stats (about 15,000 injuries in 2008); however, I am skeptical about relying on injury stats because it is unclear exactly what qualifies as a recordable injury. Different police departments probably report different kinds of injuries. While I don't think police officers are filing reports on paper cuts, I also don't think every recordable injury is necessarily serious. For me to rely on injury rates, I would want to see only serious injuries recorded, such as those that drew blood, led to an ER visit or sprain/fracture/break, or required physical rehabilitation or cortisone shots. I would also prefer to see injuries that occurred while an officer was patrolling a beat listed separately from other stats (I personally feel that patrol officers have dangerous jobs, and the data ought to differentiate between a desk job and a patrol job). Due to privacy rights, I don't think such detailed medical stats are available to the public.

Fatalities: as morbid as it sounds, dead bodies might be the best statistical evidence to determine a job's safety. In death, there is no middle ground, and no room for varied interpretation--you're either dead or you're not. The BLS has compiled fatality rates based on occupation, but my knowledge of statistics isn't good enough to tell you whether the method it uses to calculate fatality rates is reliable. As I explain below, I have concerns about some of the charts on the BLS's website.

According to one BLS chart, 111 police and sheriff's patrol officers died on the job in 2008. When total hours worked are factored in, the BLS comes up with a 15.6 fatality rate. There are 133 categories of different occupations listed in this particular BLS chart. If 66 of the occupational categories have fatality rates below 15.6, then you could contend that being a police officer would be one of the safer jobs. However, only 28 occupational categories had fatality rates higher than 15.6. When I accounted for a possible error rate of 1.7 (meaning I would include any fatality rate 14 or above), just 33 categories had higher fatality rates. See HERE for stats. Based on this single chart, it appears that being a police officer is not one of the safest jobs; in fact, it is only in the 25th percentile for non-fatal occupations.

At the same time, the BLS chart used above is hard to follow, because its categorization of various occupations seems subjective. For example, 3 of the 130 occupation categories are listed only as "Government" "Federal," and "State" occupations. It's impossible to tell what jobs/fatalities were included within those categories, or why the statistician didn't lump those occupational deaths into another more specific category. In short, there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason in the categories chosen, and it's impossible in some cases to figure out why a particular job/fatality was placed in a particular category. Consequently, the cited fatality rates may be unreliable because they depend on a statistician's subjective assessment about where to include certain deaths. For instance, would a farmer's death go into "farmers and ranchers" or the "farming, fishing, and forestry" category? If we lump farmers/ranchers with "farming, fishing, and forestry," then the total hours might be reduced, and the number of deaths might increase. As a result, the fatality rate listed for "farming, fishing, and forestry" would be higher because of a statistician's decision, not the actual safety of jobs within the occupational category.

Furthermore, in that particular chart, only one category exists relating to police ("police and sheriff's patrol officers"). Meanwhile, the BLS chart splits professional service positions--which are generally safer--into several different categories. It's like having five separate categories for food services (tacos, hamburgers, etc.) and just one for police services--the fatality rate for the single occupation category is likely to be higher than comparative categories. In short, the previous BLS categories seem too broad and subjective to be particularly useful.

Not satisfied, I looked at another BLS chart. This particular chart listed 133 fatalities under "police protection," which is significantly different from the 111 figure cited in the more generalized chart. See HERE. Even with this discrepancy, the numbers in the chart seem more reliable because they are more specific, and the occupation categories are more detailed. However, these more detailed numbers are useless out of context, because a fair analysis must include the number of people employed in each particular job category. (Having one death out of a million employees is much less statistically significant than ten deaths out of fifteen total employees.) Unfortunately, the BLS does not include the total number of employees in the same chart as the number of workers annually injured within each occupation.

Below are the results of the more specific numbers, in order of most dangerous jobs to least dangerous jobs:

Construction (1,005)
Natural Resources and Mining (MSHA-regulated?) (836)
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting (661)
Transportation and Warehousing (797)
Professional and Business Services (410)
Subcategory: Lawyers (11)
Manufacturing (406)
Admin and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services (340)
Public Administration (includes police, firefighters, environment quality, economic programs, etc.) (315) Subcategory: Police Protection (133)
Subcategory: National Security and International Affairs (53)
Retail Trade (290)
Mining (non-MSHA regulated?) (175)
Wholesale Trade, i.e. Wholesalers (175)
Other Services (everything from nail salons to dry-cleaning) (173)
Accommodation and Food Services (146)
Health Care and Social Assistance (131)
Arts and Entertainment, and Rec, i.e., Sports, Resorts, and Gambling (99)
Real Estate and Rental and Leasing (81)
Educational Services (76)
Utilities (51)
Information, i.e. Media Services (48)
Finance and Insurance (24)

To conclude, police officers appear to have a 2% (FBI stats) to 3.3% (BLS stats) annual injury rate. I wonder: if different people get injured each year, then wouldn't a police officer's risk of injury after ten years of service (assuming the officer has never been injured) rise to at least 20%, and then after 20 years, to at least 40%? Or is it like flipping a quarter, where the pattern of the previous flips doesn't change the 50/50 likelihood of either heads or tails on the next coin flip?

[My sister explains that from a statistical perspective, the percentage would not go up. "It would be 2%/year no matter how many years you work. Think of it this way: if 2/100 people get injured in 1 year, in the next year, the other 98 people won't have a 4% chance of getting injured since they'll have the same 2% chance (this will include the 2 people already injured). The 2% is the injury rate/year. So if we worked for 50 years, the percentage wouldn't go up to 100% because there's no way of knowing if you'll get injured or if you won't get injured again."]

In any case, as I pointed out earlier, due to privacy rights and different police department procedures for reporting injuries, it is difficult to rely on the recordable injury stats. Days off post-injury isn't necessarily an accurate benchmark, either--I remember one parking meter officer took several weeks off after being slapped by someone who didn't appreciate being given a ticket. I wish we had more detailed injury stats for police officers, but I can't seem to find them anywhere. All we know is that officers have a 2 to 3% chance of being injured on the job. (For a reliable analysis of job safety, I agree I would need to analyze job injuries among all occupations, but I just don't have the time to do so, especially when I question the reliability of the injury data itself.)

Also, if we use the lower 435,000 total police employees number (I estimate that there are between 435,000 and 800,000 police protection employees), and assume 131 fatalities per year, then the annual fatality rate for police officers would be 0.3%. If we use the higher 800,000 number, then the rate goes down to just 0.016%. It's important to note that the majority of annual officer fatalities are caused by car accidents. (Jobs involving long periods of driving are more dangerous than jobs that don't require driving.) Thus, to the extent that we worry about violent felons or general people attacking and killing police officers, the stats seem to show that an officer is most in danger when driving his/her own car, not when interacting with the public. (Of course, I am assuming that the annual numbers for injuries and deaths remain somewhat constant, and a quick glance at previous year numbers indicates my assumption is not unreasonable.)

Until the BLS lists the number of people employed within each of its listed occupational fatality/injury categories and also categorizes "recordable" injuries in more detail, there is no easy way to fairly judge the relative safety of any particular occupation. Right now, though, I'd say a police officer working in a random location has a low chance of being killed on the job, especially if s/he isn't driving.

Overall, my impression is that people concerned about safety definitely want to avoid jobs in construction, mining, truck driving, logging, and animal production/husbandry jobs (ever get kicked by a horse?). Large furniture-making jobs (which probably require steel and hot liquids) don't seem safe, either.

Update: my sister points out that a) you must take into account injuries, not just deaths, in calculating safety; b) just because officers don't die at higher rates doesn't mean their job is safe--it probably means their technology and training allows them to avoid injury and death; and c) the statistics do not show the whole picture because officers have a wide variety of jobs--some work at a desk, some patrol the streets, some work in vice, etc. Therefore, a truly accurate assessment of risk requires even more detailed statistics, because a properly done "danger analysis" (my words, not hers) depends on the particular city (Santa Cruz or Detroit?), the kind of job (vice squad or filing reports?), etc. In the end, she says, it's hard to generalize. (I also realized that national numbers would not be as accurate or reliable as local numbers. An officer in Saratoga, CA is probably much safer than an officer in Detroit, MI, regardless of nationwide stats.)

My sister's argument can be summarized as follows:

1. To analyze a job's safety, you must analyze both injuries and deaths.

2. Absent reliable data on both injuries and deaths within a particular profession, you cannot use the word "safe" to describe any particular profession.

3. The data you cite--both FBI and BLS--is unreliable because the stats relating to injuries within the police profession are incomplete and/or not sufficiently detailed to be reliable.

4. Therefore, you cannot argue, using FBI or BLS stats, that any police job is safe or unsafe.

My sister advised me to be softer in my language and not use the word "safe" when discussing police officers' occupational hazards. She said it would be better for me to say, "Because of great technology and training, officer deaths are actually rare compared to what is commonly believed." She said on any sensitive topic, I have a better chance of engaging people and getting them to change their minds if I don't try to be controversial.

I've always known my sister was smarter than me. I'm glad I finally got to post an example that supports my belief.

My sister's arguments are different from other people's arguments, where people would basically say, "I have personally seen officers get injured, and/or based on my own experience, I know they have a dangerous job; therefore, your statistics are crap." When attacking statistics or data, you must allege that the data is objectively unreliable or irrelevant or being applied improperly. Here, anecdotal evidence is particularly ineffective, because the statistics I cited presumably include injuries and/or deaths people have seen or heard about. My sister, in contrast, did not rely on anecdotal evidence--she alleged the data I was using was unreliable because it may under-report actual incidences of injury. (She was reversing my own argument--whereas I said the injury stats are unreliable because there could be no guarantee that recordable injuries included only serious injuries, my sister said the injury stats are unreliable because there is no way to guarantee that all officers would report all injuries. Moreover, just because an attack did not create a recordable injury does not mean an attack wasn't dangerous--it may mean that the only reason an injury did not occur is because of an officer's training and weapons.) [My response would be that the FBI statistics list all assaults against officers, including whether the assaults caused a recordable injury; therefore, there is no need to speculate about the total number of assaults against officers.]

Other people (not my sister) alleged that the mere fact that officers wore bulletproof vests and carried guns and tasers proved their job was dangerous. I really disliked this particular argument. If KPMG decided tomorrow that all of its accountants will be assigned bulletproof vests and given guns and tasers, does that necessarily make accounting jobs more dangerous or more safe? Of course not. What if the government's stimulus package allowed local police officers to buy machine guns and F-22s? Does that mean their job is extra-dangerous now?

I suppose what people meant is that the only rational reason officers would be required to wear vests and have guns and tasers is because rational people would not decide to wear or buy vests unless they believed the vests and guns would come in handy. I still don't think that argument passes muster. It's the old chicken-and-egg problem. What if officers and the public over-estimate the actual job-related danger and decide to go overboard just to be extra-safe? There's nothing wrong with supplying officers with vests and guns because we think these items will help them stay safer, but the act of giving them vests and guns doesn't mean there is a statistically higher chance that an officer is actually in danger.

So, in conclusion, most people should be able to agree with the following: one, patrol officers probably have a higher risk of getting injured than other professions, but we cannot know for certain until the injury stats begin to list officer injuries in more detail and by specific position; and two, because of great technology and training, officer deaths nationwide are thankfully rare compared to what is commonly believed.

Update: John Seiler has an interesting book review here, where he lists the most dangerous jobs, as complied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

1. Fishing-related workers.
2. Logging workers
3. Pilots and flight-related workers
4. Iron and steel workers
5. Taxi cab drivers
6. Construction workers
7. Farmers and ranchers
8. Roofers
9. Electrical power workers
10. Truck drivers and sales-related drivers
11. Garbage collectors
12. Law enforcement

Bonus: here is another link/article on police officer fatalities and risks.

Update on June 14, 2012: according to the United States Census, in 2010, there were 946,196 police protection jobs in local and state governments.  This figure does not include federal police jobs, such as the FBI.  More here: http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/governments/cb11-146.html

Update on July 20, 2012: from Washington Times article, July 19, 2012: according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, a "total of 53 officers across the country have been killed since January [2012]." According to the same article, "Among those killed, the leading cause of death came from traffic-related incidents; 18 officers died in crashes during pursuits or routine patrols, while three were struck by traffic during a stop." Also, "Approximately 800,000 law enforcement officers currently serve across the country, according to the Fund. In 2010, the FBI reported that about 53,000 officers were assaulted in some way, being threatened or injured in the course of their official duties."  

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Another Debate on Officer Safety

Question: how safe is it to be an American law enforcement officer? Below are edited portions of a debate that took place recently on Facebook.

Erica: [on her Facebook wall] In honor of the four murdered Lakewood Police Officers in Washington, tag yourself in my profile pic and make it your own profile pic. The blue line represents all law enforcement who daily protect this nation. The black background was designed as a constant reminder of our fallen officers. Please change this to your profile pic until after their funerals which will be held on Tuesday.

Matt: Erica, we all feel terrible about the ambushing of the Washington police officers. It's important to note, however, that being a law enforcement officer is one of the safest [least deadly?] jobs in the country. In 2008, according to the FBI, only 41 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty in the entire country. When it comes to being killed on the job, police officers generally have one of the safest jobs in America. [Note: I should have said that officer deaths are extremely rare, not that police have "one of the safest jobs in America"--that would have been a more accurate statement.]

Marie: I respectfully disagree with your opinion. Just because more law enforcement officers are not killed on the job does not make it generally safer. There was the SJPD officer earlier this year who got into a wrestling match with a parolee who did not want to go back to prison. He ended up taking the officer's gun and shooting at the officer. The officer was able to escape, the parolee hid out in a gas station until the MERGE unit got there. The parolee took the easy way out and saved the taxpayers some money. And let's not forget the daily scuffles that occur with people who either don't want to go back to jail or prison, hate cops in general, or are high on drugs or drunk. The poor Lakewood officers were just sitting there report writing and enjoying some coffee...then there's the four Oakland police officers who stopped a parolee who was wanted for attempted rape, and looked what happened to them. I fear the day the police chaplain shows up at my door. I think that many in the law enforcement community, or those people who have loved ones in law enforcement would balk at your opinion that it is generally one of the safest jobs.

I'm sure the family of Jeff Fontana would also disagree with you.

Michael: Stating that Police have one of the safest jobs in America is one of the most ignorant and unsubstantiated statements I have heard in a long time. Given the current string of violence against officers, it is also incredibly insensitive.

Me: Marie, for every instance you cite, other ppl can cite a Phuong Ho or a Johannes Mehersle. [Note: for the record, there may be circumstances in both of these cases that indicate either an accident or the justified use of force. I'm not making any judgments until all the evidence is made public.] We tend to think of officers' jobs as dangerous because whenever an officer is killed, it becomes front page news. In reality, the FBI stats show that officers have a higher chance of being killed in auto accidents than by any perp. I do, however, agree with you in one respect: anyone with a job requiring random interaction with the general public--taxi drivers, gas station attendants, 7-Eleven owners, officers, etc.--has to deal with potentially dangerous people. Officers, b/c of their training and ability to use weapons (tasers, guns), usually end up alive and well.

Mike, I specifically cited the FBI stats, so I'm not sure where you get the "unsubstantiated" part. Here is a direct link to those stats, in case you're interested in actual numbers instead of speculation:

http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/killed/2008/feloniouslykilled.html

I'm also not sure how I'm being insensitive or ignorant when I'm basing my statement on objective evidence. The families of officers ought to feel much better knowing the truth--that the chances of an officer being killed or injured while working is thankfully small. If you want to believe in a myth based on what the media chooses to aggrandize, that's your choice. Personally, I don't see any benefit in making the families of officers feel more scared than justifiably necessary.

Denise: It's good to know that you can read. Unless you have worked as an officer then you have no idea that the true dangers we face on a daily basis. Typical lawyer...

Me: Denise, I've presented objective, reliable evidence supporting my position. You've responded with name-calling and ad hominem attacks. Perhaps you see some benefit in unjustified fear-mongering, but I don't...

There have been many countries with strong police forces--1940's Germany, the USSR, Iran, etc.--but few countries where the majority of citizens have been intelligent enough to value lawyers as well as police officers.

May God bless the families of all Americans--especially Americans who have died while serving their country. [Note: I was trying to show appreciation for all Americans who risk their lives serving the public, not just police officers, but in retrospect this entire comment sounds preachy.]

Marie: Both cases you site have been tried in the media, not yet in the courts. But you bring up another interesting point. Criminals are innocent until proven guilty, yet law enforcement is always guilty until proven innocent, and even then, their professional life is basically over because of the trial by media.

Your stat about felonious slayings of officers, does not address the massive amounts of other causes of fatalities: electrocution, car crashes, poisonings, hazmat...There are very few occupations where so many hazards exist, ON A DAILY BASIS. [Therefore,] "One of the safest jobs" is a flawed statement!

I have had to go to the emergency room to see my husband because of on the job incidental exposure to PCP, I've had my husband call me in the morning and say "It's not me" when a young officer was killed in cold blood after a "routine" traffic stop. You can cite all the numbers you want, but until you a walk a mile in their shoes, please feel free to sleep safe at night knowing that there are people out there who would take bullets, get maimed, and leave families behind, working for strangers just like you to keep them safe. [Note: I never said there were no risks to being a police officer, just that we should examine the likelihood of the risk of injuries or deaths
.]

Me: I want to give Marie some more info. The FBI also publishes the number of officers killed due to accidents (i.e., no malicious intent): in 2008, only 68 law enforcement officers were killed in accidents while performing their duties in the entire country. The majority of those officers (39/68) were killed as a result of automobile accidents.

You keep citing instances that are obviously emotional to you, but the FBI has already included those deaths and accidental deaths in their statistics. If the FBI stats leave out relevant info, please let me know. To prevail in a discussion, you have to attack the other person's data, not bring up anecdotal evidence that is already included in the data cited by the other side. Maybe we need better reporting of officer injuries. In other words, maybe the stats don't include PCP exposure and other harmful injuries. Under-reporting of injuries/deaths is one way of criticizing my position, but no one has actually attacked the FBI's data. Perhaps none of us thinks the FBI's data is unreliable.

Marie, I think what you are saying is that officers have to put up with things most people don't. In other words, a secretary at a law firm doesn't usually deal with incidental exposure to PCP. I get that. But determining whether a job is safe depends on how many people are actually injured or die, not by potentially dangerous incidents. For example, doctors and nurses deal with contagious and deadly diseases every single day. However, if the stats show that only 200 nurses out of 800,000 nationwide die and 15,000 are injured from contact with patients (only a 0.025% chance of death and less than a 2% chance of injury), wouldn't you agree their job is one of the safest ones in the country? [Note: I make the same mistake again--using the phrase, "one of the safest," without comparing the "danger" rates to another profession's.]

Denise: Sorry I couldn't respond quicker, I spent the evening out in the rain/snow protecting and serving the citizens of the city I work for...

Matt- I looked at the data from the FBI and based on the injuries portion, it states that 11.3 officers per 100 will be assaulted in some way. That means I work for a 90 person department. My chances of getting assaulted this year will be approximately 1 in 10. A 10% chance of being assaulted--that doesn't seem very safe to me. It should also be noted that approximately 75% of the nation's departments gave the FBI data for this study. I think your timing stinks about how safe my job is, considering it's in the wake of remembering my fallen brothers, but thanks for re-assuring me and my family. I am sure they will sleep better because of the FBI statistics say my job is safe. [Note: Denise makes a relevant point. Denise has attacked the completeness of the data I've cited, which is a legitimate way to criticize the other side's position.]

Jen: I'm sorry but the FBI doesn't know their head from their *ss. They are nothing but glorified accountants. I have the highest respect for my brothers and sisters that risk their lives every day so that we rest a little easier. How dare you disrespect the job or an officer but spouting off some statistic you got off the FBI website. As a current Criminal Justice student and future law enforcement officer, I read daily how officers are killed in the line of duty, commit suicide, or have alcohol/drug addictions just to deal with the evil things they have seen that we can't even imagine. Four officers lost their lives, while drinking coffee, because our justice system failed us. Maybe you should look up those statistics.

A total of 1,640 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty during the past 10 years, an average of one death every 53 hours or 164 per year. There were 133 law enforcement officers killed in 2008, the lowest annual total since 1960. Click on the link for more accurate statistics.

http://www.nleomf.org/facts/enforcement/

Me: [Here, I let my inner snark out, but only a little bit.]

Marie, as admirable as your husband is, he doesn't create his own salary. He requires "desk jockeys" like me to produce something and generate taxes, which support you and your husband. It's interesting that you and Denise are so contemptuous towards someone who essentially helps pay your bills.

Jen, assuming 800,000 law enforcement officers nationwide, the stats show less than a 2% chance of actual injury from assault. Your own link cites numbers similar to the FBI's (133 officers killed in 2008 vs. 109 killed; and about 15,000 officers injured in 2008 from assaults). It's obvious all of you are emotionally invested in this issue, and it is clouding your judgment. That's fine. You have a right to be unreasonable, and you have a right to believe in something that isn't supported by the actual evidence. (Although I have a feeling you guys would have burned Galileo at the stake if you had the chance.) It's a shame good officers have so many supporters who use emotional pleas instead of reason, but I guess that's sort of like blaming Republicans because Glenn Beck is popular, i.e. you shouldn't judge anything by the unfounded passion of some of its supporters.

Dave: I'm not standing up for anyone here [referring to me], and I think that cops ARE under-appreciated, and I feel sorry for any cop injured or killed in the line of duty, but isn't being a police officer a "choice"? Denise- I know you had several jobs before being a cop but didn't you choose to be one? I'm pretty sure you and every cop out there knew what they were getting into and knew the risks before they became an officer. Officers sign a contract stating that they could be placed in harm's way DAILY. Maybe I'm mistaken but isn't that part of the job? Isn't that why police officers make $25-45 an hour? Officers continually make over 100k a year with overtime. I'd love a job where children love me, women flock over guys in "blue" and I get free coffee all the time, but instead I deal with the same cracked out nut cases the cops deal with but without the gun, badge and taser or my God-given right to protect myself like the police do, but that's my choice. I used to like the fact that the sides of the cop cars said "to protect and serve" now they don't say anything at all, go figure...

Jen:
when you have the nerve to post some statistic that offends my friends that put their lives on the line to protect unappreciative people like you, yeah I get emotional. We can go back and forth all day on statistics but the truth is they are just numbers. Anyone that know about statistics knows they are not always accurate and there is always room for error. I'm sorry but an officer being killed in the line of duty every 53 hours is one officer too many. Why don't you stick to your pencil pushing duties and leave the real world stuff to us big people.

Me: [I couldn't resist publishing my inner dialogue when Jen continued to make illogical comments.]

Jen, you crack me up. You ignore statistics like they're some kind of dangerous flu (OMG, "numbers"), and then you cite statistics you like better :-) Pointing out the truth doesn't mean anyone is unappreciative. I happen to know a few police officers, and I appreciate any American who has a tough job and works hard. Saying a job isn't dangerous doesn't mean it isn't tough. (A job can be safe but still hard to do.) You guys just don't have the basic logic skills to make the distinction, so you resort to name-calling because you (unfairly) think I'm being unappreciative. Like I said, that's fine. It's a darn shame, though, that we don't teach logic in high school. An educated 14 year-old kid from ancient Greece would kick our butts on a symbolic logic test, and that should concern all of us. Without logic, all we have left is name-calling, speculation, and emotional pleas. That's not how great civilizations thrive or survive, especially in a democratic republic, which requires an informed, educated population.

Chantelle: I don’t know you, Matt, but I think you are an idiot. (Yes, I am a name caller, sue me). I don’t think you are an idiot because I don’t agree with your witty rhetoric or the data you’ve laid out for us. You’re an idiot because you took something that was close to someone’s heart and stomped on it. While it is clear you’ve offended many people, it isn’t really about the intellectual sewage you’ve spewed out. It’s the fact that you went there in the first place.

Police officers choose to be police officers. Lawyers choose to be lawyers, and electricians choose to take jobs as electricians. Do police officers know the risks when they make this choice? Of course they do, but it takes courage, dedication, and heart to make that choice. Somebody has to make the decision to be a sheepdog and keep the sheep, like me and you, safe from the wolves. Evil people exist in the world. We all take steps to protect ourselves from the dangers of the world and try to create a harmonious society based on rules, regulations, and laws. We need lawyers to write these laws and we need police to enforce them and keep order. Police officers get to deal with the people who decide not to respect these laws. What part of this isn’t dangerous? What part of the required uniform that includes bullet proof vests and carrying a gun isn’t dangerous? We can discuss statistics all day long, but it is all relative. What other jobs are we comparing this to? US Marines in war torn Baghdad, fishermen in Alaska, checkers at Safeway? I can name a handful of occupations that make police officers job look safe : Loggers, roofers, pilots. The reality is that being a police officer is inherently more dangerous than most jobs out there. While the statistics on how many officers were killed feloniously, died in accidents, or got punched in the face are true, the fact that there are statistics at all makes this job not safe. [Note: I think my brain froze when I read the last sentence.] One death, 10 deaths, 41 deaths, in 2007, 2008, 2055…it really doesn’t matter. Statistics alone are not a true measure of job safety. Statistics mean nothing when someone you love becomes one.

My intention is not to resort to “name calling”, but Matt, seriously….the fact you even responded the way you did to the first post and that you keep stroking yourself about it, makes you an idiot.

Me: Chantelle, I don't think I can change your mind, but I have to try.
I responded to the original comment about the officers' deaths in a way that was really simple: "We all feel terrible about the ambushing of the Washington police officers," but let's not get carried away, thinking this kind of thing is common, b/c it's not. Let's make sure the families of officers understand that all evidence indicates that officers have an extremely high chance of returning home each night, physically safe and sound.

I have no idea how the above comments make me insensitive. In fact, if I wanted to talk like you, I would say, "You are an idiot. What moron likes scaring the crap out of officers and their families by exaggerating the dangers of their job? How insensitive!" As you can see, b/c my comment is subjective, I am just as right as you are when I call you "insensitive." That's why reasonable people don't rely on subjective evidence or name-calling to make a point--it's impossible to show who is right or wrong if people make comments that lack objective evidence.

I felt safe assuming that none of us knows the officers who were murdered, so it's not as if we're talking about friends or family members. Erica posted something to show her sympathy with people who were murdered. I posted something to remind people that such deaths are thankfully rare. We all deal with death differently.


What separates us from the animals is logic and our ability to reason. An animal can feel just like we can. An animal can claim insensitivity. An animal cannot, however, defend its positions or its actions using logic and evidence. It is precisely our ability to use logic that makes us uniquely human. When you disregard relevant, reliable statistics--i.e., objective evidence--in favor of unsupported, solipsistic rhetoric--i.e., subjective opinions--you eliminate what makes you uniquely human.

When you demand that others disregard evidence in favor your own unsupported, personal opinions, you are being supremely selfish. In effect, you are saying that "I, Chantelle, know more than you do about this, and b/c I believe I know more about this topic, I am right." What you fail to realize is that if we all think like you, we no longer have a reliable way of determining whether you actually speak the truth. Separated from logic, the truth becomes just what the majority of people think it is, which may be wrong. Socrates, St. Thomas More, Martin Luther King, etc.--these men suffered b/c of people like you--who believed, in their heart of hearts--that they were right b/c their friends thought the same way they did, and anyone who disagreed with them must be wrong (or, using your language, an "idiot").

150 years ago, educated Americans believed Africans were inferior. They enslaved Africans by force of law and continued to restrict their children through Jim Crow laws. Those same slave-owners disregarded evidence and logic in favor of your brand of "thinking"--that something is right not b/c it is grounded in objective evidence, but b/c the majority of people feel it is true, and therefore it must be true. I am certain American slaveowners also cited their own personal experiences as evidence. I am also sure the police officers who lynched African-Americans did so out of a desire to protect their women and citizens, just like the police who beat Phuong Ho did so b/c they believed they were protecting the public. (By the way, it astounds me that intelligent men like Thomas Jefferson were able to be logical and yet own and mistreat slaves. Jefferson shows that logic may not be enough to ward off evil, b/c a majority of people will always find ways to deem themselves superior to the minority. As a result, we must always be on guard against despotism, and the surest path to despotism is refusing to modify one's belief when objective evidence shows a flaw.)

The Taliban and other despotic groups think just like you. They believe that they risk their lives every single day to protect their people. They, too, are indignant that their citizens fail to understand the real threats against them. Like you, they also believe anyone disagrees with them is an idiot. If you ever think your personal beliefs are sufficient to gauge the truth, just remember the Taliban--they would love a society where personal beliefs continue to stand even when contrary evidence shows such beliefs are false. They would love such a society b/c they cannot be proven wrong with statistics or data. Without evidence and without data, the Taliban's opinion is just as good as yours.

This seems a good time to point out that the reason intelligent people do not inject name-calling into a discussion is b/c it destroys the point of discussion, i.e., to take someone's statement and to determine whether it is true. When I say someone's statement is wrong b/c reliable evidence clearly shows otherwise, it is not the same thing as name-calling. I am citing evidence that is either reliable or unreliable. When Denise talks about the lack of safety in her job, she fails to mention she works in Santa Cruz, CA--one of the safest cities in the entire world [Note: Santa Cruz had zero reported homicides in the past few years]. Obviously, the risks to her are lower than someone in a less affluent, high-violent-crime area--and the number of officer deaths in Santa Cruz over the last ten years supports my point. Even so, she believes--against the evidence--that she works a dangerous job b/c she feels that way. Like you, she has indicated that her own personal beliefs reign supreme over contrary data and logic. Like the Taliban, it is impossible to argue with her, b/c subjective beliefs cannot be proven wrong or right.

When you criticize me without offering a single shred of objective evidence, you do not attack me--you debase yourself. Millions of people have sacrificed their lives to get us here: a nation where people should never confuse unfounded personal opinions with the truth; where reasonable people realize they must use objective evidence to support their opinions; and where reasonable people do their best to avoid the morass of "groupthink."

Denise: Fact: I am a sworn officer for the city of Santa Cruz. Non-fact--that I "feel "unsafe doing so. The reality is I feel safe performing my duties; however, this does not make the job I do any safer. The reason I that I am safe is because if the training, experience, protective vest, and tools I carry including a gun. The fact that I wear a bullet proof vest and carry a gun to work would lead someone to believe that my job is dangerous than most.

You stated that "When Denise talks about the lack of safety in her job, she fails to mention she works in Santa Cruz--one of the safest cities in the entire world. Obviously, the risks to her are lower than someone in a less affluent, high-violent-crime area."

Fact: According to data provided from my department to the CA Department of Justice and then to the FBI, Santa Cruz is consistently above the national average for crime rates. While I do not work for the most violent city, I do not work for Mayberry or as you state "one of the safest cities in the entire world."

Here are two links to support my above statement:

http://www.ci.santa-cruz.ca.us/index.aspx?page=60

http://www.city-data.com/city/Santa-Cruz-California.html

You are correct that the odds of me being killed feloniously in the line of duty are very slim. But I do not know of another profession where more people have been killed "Feloniously" than law enforcement. The very fact that we have statistics for this would lead someone to believe that being a police officer is rather dangerous.

There are other factors that make a job dangerous than just the number of felonious deaths. I provided data from the FBI study in my second post about the number of officers than had been injured, roughly 10%. I do not claim that my job is the most dangerous, but I can cite actual events that have occurred at my department, that help support why this job is dangerous. While I have come home with only minor scrapes and bruises over the course of my career, other officers have not been as fortunate. About a month ago one of our officers was apprehending a fleeing suspect. During that foot pursuit, he was injured and was out of work for 3 weeks. He is currently on light duty. In April this year my department had it's first officer involved shooting in years, a SCPD detective located a stolen vehicle with two people inside of it. They decided to flee and hit the officer with the car. The officer suffered minor injuries. They were later apprehended and uninjured. Currently there are several more officers than are going to be out of work due to injuries suffered while working. I can cite several other examples if need be but I think you get my point.


[I sent her an email thanking her for the information and her commitment to public service.]

[Michael, in a message calling me "arrogant and agitating," said that I had to compare police fatality/injury stats with other occupations to prove that police services is "one of the safest jobs." He's right, even though he wrongly cited OSHA as the agency with the relevant stats (OSHA appears to list general categories of injuries, not injuries by occupation). The BLS publishes the relevant stats, and I'm just beginning to work my way through them.]

Update: I finally had a chance to research the BLS stats. My findings are HERE.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On India

Why India has a long way to go before I will believe in its long-term economic success:

We live in a democracy, but it is not for Muslims. We live in silent dictatorship.

-- an Indian Muslim lamenting the failure of inter-faith cooperation, in today's New York Times


There are 161 million Muslims in India.

Is Being a Cop a Safe Job? (More Than You Might Think)

File this under Counter-Intuition 101. In 2008, according to the FBI, only "41 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty" in the entire country. Thankfully, it is rare for a police officer to become seriously injured or to die on the job. For more, see HERE. [Updated links here for 2010: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/leoka/leoka-2010/officers-feloniously-killed and http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/leoka/leoka-2010/officers-feloniously-killed]

The FBI also publishes the number of officers killed due to accidents (i.e., no malicious intent). In 2008, only 68 law enforcement officers were killed in accidents while performing their duties in the entire country. The majority of those officers (39/68) were killed as a result of automobile accidents.

Depending on what types of law enforcement officers are included (corrections? sheriffs? BART cops? city? fed?), there are between 430,000 and 800,000 law enforcement officers in the United States [I know I should have a citation for this, but I can't find a reliable source, so I included a range of numbers based on the various stats I viewed]. [Update on 7/20/12: see HERE: "Approximately 800,000 law enforcement officers currently serve across the country."]

109 fatalities (41 + 68) out of 800,000 means police officers have less than a 0.014% chance of dying on the job each year. Of course, this percentage does not include the number of times an officer is assaulted by a perp or random stranger. Even so, law enforcement families should sleep soundly--a 0.014% chance of dying while working means officers have safer jobs than most people commonly think. Of course, that doesn't mean the job isn't tough. Being a street cop is a stressful job, and I wish we'd lower public employees' long-term benefits so we could put the money towards hiring more officers and reducing the number of continuous hours that individual officers spend on duty.

This is no idle debate--the more people who (incorrectly) think officers' jobs are overly dangerous, the more likely the public will allow officers to use excessive force against citizens. Also, if officers overestimate the actual danger they are in, they will use less patient methods of interacting with citizens. That impatience may make you the next Phuong Ho (an unarmed SJSU student who was beaten by police officers because of their failure to properly assess the actual level of the threat against them while Mr. Ho attempted to look for his glasses).

If, however, the public understands that officers have a tough job because they work excessive hours and suffer from sleep deprivation, then we can fix the problem by hiring more police officers, reducing hours spent on patrol, etc.--steps that will increase an officer's chances of accurately assessing the true level of a threat before resorting to force. But without understanding the actual problems of the job, we will focus on the wrong item--danger--which will increase friction between the public and the police as police continue to use impatient, violent methods of subduing/controlling citizens.

Advancing the truth--that police jobs are tough, but safer than people commonly believe--will mean better safety for all citizens, and better mental health for all police officers.
Also, the more people who understand that it is rare for an officer to be killed on the job due to their excellent training, the more qualified applicants we will receive. Speaking the truth about officer safety is a fight worth having, even if it's a controversial one.

Monday, December 7, 2009

WSJ Letter on Quran: Religion and Randomness

I've written about religion and randomness before, but I don't think I've published the following post. Here you go:

From the WSJ's letters section, A18, December 10, 2008:

One of the most important verses in the Quran reads, "Those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good, they have their reward with the Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve." (Surah 5, verse 69) ... I know of no other religion as inclusive as Islam. In Sura 2, verse 256, the Quran commands, "Let there be no compulsion in religion..." -- Donald A. Jordan, Doha, Qatar

Some people allege the Quran appears to be more inclusive than Christianity. See, for instance, Matthew 11:27:

All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.

There are, however, two ways of interpreting this verse. One interpretation equates it with the Quranic verses above, which require belief in the one Abrahamic God and therefore also Jesus and Judgment Day to achieve piety. Another interpretation is more restrictive and can be used to argue that only Christians are able to achieve God's good graces. Certainly, there are plenty of verses in the Torah, Bible, and Quran to lend support to any particular philosophy, but any competent analysis of religion must consider the following:

Religion is determined, most of the time, by the accident of birth. For example, if you are born in Israel, you are most likely to practice Judaism or secularism rather than Buddhism. You can cite similar examples ad infinitum--e.g., if you are born in Malaysia the year 2009, you are most likely to practice Islam rather than Judaism; if you are born in Poland, you are most likely to practice Christianity instead of Islam, etc.

But as far as a child is concerned, being born in a particular place is an accident. Therefore, a system that requires belief only in one particular religion to achieve piety is basing a child's fate primarily on chance and parental decision (or, in some cases, another "accident"). Yet, no reasonable philosophy can elevate chance or other people's random actions as primary factors in achieving piety. Therefore, unless God is unreasonable, either all religions or no religion is required to achieve piety or good graces.

In short, assuming God is just, no just God would allow the accidental factor of birth to play such a substantial (and almost determinative) part in a person's fate or opportunity to achieve piety.

In addition, if God predates religion, and religion is required to achieve piety, then all human beings prior to organized religion had no chance of achieving piety. But this conclusion is absurd. Some human beings prior to the introduction of religion must have acted in ways that we would now consider religious or that allowed them to fall into God's good graces.

Therefore, assuming God is just and reasonable, a person's behavior and actions--not his/her religion--must be the primary factors in determining his/her piety.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Movie Map?

Some movie fans might enjoy this graph. It reminds me of a D.C. Metro map.

Bonus: HERE is a hilarious article about Christmas from David Sedaris.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates

CNBC and Columbia University recently held a townhall meeting with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. I saw both of these men at a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting. I remember Buffett lighting up a room with his energy, while Gates seemed nondescript. Here is the transcript from the meeting. Below is a portion from the transcript where the men describe what they admire about each other:

BUFFETT: Well, I would say what I really most admire about Bill is the view he has about what he should do with the wealth he's accumulated. I mean, as he said, he was very lucky. He was born in the right country, at the right time, with the right wiring and all of that sort of thing. In the end, he knows he's a beneficiary of a terrific society, and not everybody gets the long straws like he and I did. So he is -- and he has this view that every human life worldwide is the equivalent of every other human life, and he's backing it up not only with money, but backing it up with his time. And his wife, Melinda, is backing it up with her time. And they are really going to spend, you know, the last half of their lives or so using both money, talent, energy, imagination, all improving the lives of 6.5 billion people around the world. That's what I admire the most.

GATES: With Warren, there are a lot of things you could pick, you know, his integrity as an example for the world. His sense of humor. But I think I'd pick his desire to teach, his desire to teach things that are complex and put them in a simple form so that people can understand and get the benefit of all his experience, all his models of how the world works. He loves to teach. And he does it meeting with students. He does it in his annual newsletter. He does it when he's talking to me on the phone. It's a real gift that I admire incredibly.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Accuray Annual Shareholder Meeting (2009)

I attended Accuray's (ARAY) annual shareholder meeting on November 20, 2009. The Palo Alto, California law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati hosted the meeting. The law firm provided coffee, orange juice, pastries, and fruit for shareholders.

Accuray sells "CyberKnife," which is used to remove tumors. CyberKnife allows doctors to remove tumors using non-invasive radiation instead of traditional surgery. According to the company, CyberKnife is a "robotic radiosurgical system [that uses] high doses of precisely delivered radiation to destroy tumors anywhere in the body where radiation is indicated."

Over 70,000 patients have been treated with the CyberKnife system, mostly for tumors outside the brain (although brain tumors account for approximately 40% of CyberKnife treatments). Because CyberKnife is a complex product, it requires a large upfront investment from hospitals and/or surgeons. As of September 30, 2009, there were 180 CyberKnife systems installed worldwide, with 117 in the Americas, 20 in Europe, 21 in Japan and 22 in the rest of Asia. A single CyberKnife system costs approximately 4 million dollars. During the meeting, the CEO indicated that in the future, the European Union would be the fastest growing market for Accuray's products.

Accuray's stock performance has been disappointing, and large individual shareholders may feel that the problem is management, not the product. One shareholder, Marilyn Adler, came spoiling for a fight. As the wife of one of the company's founders (Dr. John Adler, Jr.), she began criticizing Accuray's CEO Euan Thomson immediately. She demanded to know why the Board of Directors--absent from this meeting--includes financial experts rather than doctors familiar with cancer research. She accused management of not buying/holding shares because they themselves didn't have confidence in the company (CEO Thomson denied this particular allegation). As he was being subjected to Mrs. Adler's passionate verbal volleys, CEO Euan Thomson appeared as tense as a Buckingham Palace guard. Clutching his glass of water in one hand and a folder in the other hand, CEO Thomson actually got up from his chair during Mrs. Adler's comments, prompting her to say, "I'm not going to let you off so easily."

Afraid the meeting would be over and the CEO would immediately exit the room, I began asking some questions to keep CEO Euan Thomson, General Counsel Darren Milliken (a fellow SCU Law grad), and CFO Derek Bertocci present at the table.

I asked why CyberKnife is more effective than general surgery or other products. The CEO, relieved to get a neutral question, explained that CyberKnife is highly accurate and can better track the patient as s/he moves. Most surgeons use rudimentary tools allowing only a single rotation of radiation treatment, whereas CyberKnife uses a robotic arm with multiple and fluid rotations. Also, CyberKnife’s imaging capabilities do not require the patient to be subjected to an uncomfortable frame. In contrast, if a surgeon wants to use traditional methods to operate in a patient's brain, s/he would typically screw a rigid frame into the patient's skull. This frame would restrict the patient's movement during surgery. The patient would then remain in a fixed position, which limits the angles of treatment and tumor removal techniques. (After reading up on CyberKnife's technology, it struck me that it was something akin to Linux or RedHat--perhaps revolutionary from a technical standpoint, but lacking the broad-based acceptance required to actually cause a revolution in the marketplace.)

I asked the CEO how the amendments to the Stark Law (The Ethics in Patient Referral Act of 1989) would affect his business (see pages 42-44 of the 10K for more information). In a nutshell, the Stark law restricts a physician from referring patients to services or programs in which the physician holds a financial interest. The CEO looked surprised for a second, but General Counsel Milliken immediately jumped in. GC Milliken indicated he believed the Stark Law amendments would not impact sales.

I asked about an unusual line in the 10K, on page 31: "Since the software component is significant in our solution, we are bound by the software revenue recognition rules for our business." I asked what this sentence meant, and whether the company was engaging in accounting gimmicks to boost short-term revenue at the expense of long-term growth. CFO Bertocci said the sentence related to SEC rules on software sales. Basically, it sounds like Accuray must amortize its software sales over several years (spread out its revenue) instead of reporting an immediate lump sum profit when it sells a CyberKnife system. To use a simplistic example, if I buy a business software program for 100 dollars and I intend to use it for five years, I can't deduct the 100 dollars immediately--I have to deduct 20 dollars a year for 5 years, because I plan on using the software for 5 years. However, the CFO also said that sales under the post-2006 CyberKnife contracts allow Accuray to record revenue as soon as the product is "shipped, installed, and accepted" by the customer. I am not an accountant, so I didn't ask how the 2005 contracts differed from the 2006 contracts. As with any company that relies on software sales, I am now concerned Accuray seems able to record short term revenue using methods that might inflate quarterly results. (Note: see the very end of this article for the company's take on the SEC accounting rules.)

I asked why Accuray seemed focused on international markets. CEO Thomson said international markets were growing faster and it was easier to get reimbursed for sales. He said that in the States, hospitals and doctors must negotiate a price with insurance plans each time they use CyberKnife, because Medicare and other insurance plans do not have a pre-set price for a CyberKnife treatment. The CEO indicated the company spends lots of money lobbying Congress to resolve these issues. From my own research, it appears that hospitals may bill each CyberKnife treatment at between 40,000 and 90,000 dollars--obviously a wide range of reimbursement rates.

Ultimately, reimbursement prices and issues should be fixed with time. Medical groups and insurance companies don't want to advocate or reimburse a treatment method unless they are certain it is safe. To analyze whether a treatment is safe, they usually want at least five and sometimes up to fourteen years of data on post-op patients. Due to CyberKnife's relatively new technology and large upfront costs (around 4 million dollars per system), there just haven't been enough patients who've had CyberKnife surgeries to generate a large supply of post-op data. Over time, probably in about seven years, there will be plenty of data showing the effects and efficacy of the CyberKnife product, which should make reimbursement easier if the results are positive.

Based on other comments and questions at the meeting, Accuray is focused on marketing its products through hospitals and physician networks. When questioned about why Accuray didn't use more patient testimonials in advertising, CEO Thomson said he intended to build a "clinical case at hospitals" and didn't want to use patients in a way that would seem "tacky." When Mrs. Adler continued to question the Board of Directors' lack of medical experience, CEO Thomson responded that the Board "is not going to sell" the CyberKnife product.

Mark D., a former CyberKnife patient, made several comments during the meeting. He said he had a good experience with CyberKnife. He believes using CyberKnife instead of traditional cancer treatments caused "fewer secondary effects," such as less radiation-induced nausea. He also indicated CyberKnife treatments could be completed more quickly than traditional cancer treatments, which would save patients money. The fewer treatments needed, the cheaper it can be for the patient, because if s/he lives in a rural area and needs multiple cancer treatments, s/he would have to spend money commuting long distances or staying in a hotel.

Overall, I am conflicted about Accuray shares. On the one hand, I like the product, but I am concerned about reimbursement problems. Insurance companies will probably fight tooth and nail to deny a CyberKnife treatment if a patient can use a cheaper cancer treatment. It saddens me that patients may not be receiving the best treatment possible because of bureaucratic hurdles, but the realist in me understands the situation. I will keep a close eye on Accuray shares and hope to hear good news about the company.

Disclosure: I own an insignificant number of shares of Accuray (ARAY).

Note: prior to publication, I sent my article to Accuray. I have included some of their comments below:

On the SEC software revenue recognition rules: "This rather complex yet conservative accounting approach to revenue recognition applies to older contracts. Per the SEC, Accuray had to defer the recognition of revenue for these legacy agreements until all contractual elements were satisfied. At that point, revenue for the system and service could be ratably recognized over the remaining length of the contract. This is a accounting method used by software companies. While most of this legacy revenue has been recognized, the company will continue to recognize the remaining deferred revenue over the next two years. It is important to note that these contracts stopped being written in 2005, with subsequent contracts subjected to a more standard revenue recognition policy."

On CyberKnife's competitive advantages: "The CK has the ability to track the location of the tumor throughout treatment, with the robot automatically correcting for movement and thereby keeping the radiation beams directed at the tumor. The result is accuracy in the delivery of radiation to the tumor while minimizing the involvement of healthy tissue. Traditional radiation therapy systems are mounted on a gantry, which limits the number of beam angles. Since CK uses a robotic arm with almost unlimited beam angles, the tumor can be 'painted' with radiation beams more effectively. This also helps to spare healthy tissue."

On reimbursement issues: "Throughout most of the country, Medicare and most private insurance companies have set reimbursement rates for CK procedures. There are some exceptions and the company is providing assistance to address these issues."

Bonus: interview with Dr. John Adler, Accuray's founder, HERE.