Saturday, December 12, 2009

Feed-your-head Friday

Okay, so I stole the idea from Science Friday on NPR. So sue me. And yeah, I'm a day late. No cookie for you.

How snakes slither:

The Catch-22 list again, ack

Never mind how Joe Heller might feel about this ugly use of the title of his great novel. I'm wondering who's being served by our annual 22 Days of Prescott's Most Wanted (cue musical theme ripping off Highway Patrol).

If you thought a lot of these mugshots seem familiar, there's little wonder, just look at the dates. Many of them have been on the list for years.

Adam Stevenson, wanted since 2004. Manuel Acosta, 2002. Miguel Franco and Claudio Lopez, 2006. Hector Reyes, 2002. Joel Medina-Ortiz, 2006. Domingo Valdez-Anguiano, 2004. Others have no dates, but I'm sure I've seen them before, and not this year.

Yavapai Silent Witness, which is the primary source of these stories, carries the list. The Courier ran that list on May 1 of this year, and it contained all the same names as were on last year's Catch-22 list, one going back to 1998, one wanted for "prescription fraud," another a probation violation, locations from Holbrook to Wickenburg.

What does it mean when the annual push to "catch 22 felons in 22 days" focuses on the same people year after year? Maybe it means that there really aren't enough bad guys out there to scare us with. Averaged over ten years, that's only 2.2 per year.

I've seen and written about the tilt toward Hispanics we see on this list. Add in that the editors have at least ten years of bad guys to choose from, and the racial-profiling angle really lights up.

But what concerns me more is the suspicion that reportage is drifting over into newsmaking and adjusting public perceptions of reality for political purpose. Cherry-pick 22 uncaught, mostly Latino felons from over ten years, dump their mugshots and precious little else one by one on the front page over three weeks, and you might create the impression among those who aren't paying close attention that there's a lot of crime going on around here by scary brown people. Which spreads unwarranted fear, which sells newspapers and, not incidentally, Republican candidates for office.

Now note today's editorial, defending it as "a new list" of "the most violent offenders currently at large." Prescription fraud. Hmmm.

City use of pulverized glass on streets raises questions

Lots of people are clearly hopping mad about the glass-in-the-streets story, but a different factor comes to mind for me.

The point of recycling glass, going all the way back to the first new-era mandatory bottle deposits in Michigan in the '70s, was to keep the glass out of the environment and make more new glass with it, since it is so easy to recycle cheaply. It's not waste, it's a resource.

Recall a couple of years ago, when Mr Norwood removed the City glass containers from supermarket parking lots, calling the operation unprofitable? Now we see what should be reasonably valuable materials crushed and spread on our streets. We've come full circle, only where citizens were once the litterers, now it's our government.

The angle I'd have liked to see in the Courier's story isn't who's to blame for this little incident, but rather why a City asset is being systematically wasted in this manner. Has the raw-glass market crashed, leaving municipalities with worthless piles of glass? Have we failed to build the necessary market-to-manufacturer infrastructure to make recycling worthwhile? Are other materials similarly in glut or nearing it? Or are our administrators just unwilling to make it a priority and deal with it? There are many interesting questions of vital public interest to be asked here.

This is from, which tracks prices on recyclables, and this chart covers curbside-gathered materials over the past two years. I dunno much about interpreting these data, but it looks to me like prices track fairly well with the economy overall, and they're up substantially over a year ago. To me that means the City is wasting public assets of increasing value into our environment, not unlike burning a ten-dollar bill to light a cigarette.

I can see the amped-up Hollywood treatment now -- a film about Prescott City government with Heath Ledger as Steve Norwood.