Authoritarian Superintendent of the Month — feedback

Golly, tons of reaction — on all sides — to cyber-libertarian Jeff Shallit’s nomination of South Shore District School Superintendent Pynch-Worthylake as “Authoritarian High School Superintendent of the Month.” (Apologies for the delayed posting; it’s been a busy week.)

Chris McCormick writes:

I figure someone’s right to express their opinion is balanced by my right to ignore them; the principal’s reaction just valorizes the ‘victim society’ where we want to whitewash all differences and offending symbols…remember Lenny Bruce [language NSFW]? “It’s the suppression of the word which gives it the power, the violence…”

Jeannie Eyking:

I have been aware of Superintendent Pynch-Worthylake’s work for about 10 years.  From everything I’ve heard, I understand her to be an intelligent, brave, and discerning professional and leader.  When I read your blog this morning, I thought there must be more to this story than first presented.  The editorial in the Cape Breton Post made the story more complete for me.   My conclusion is the her decision was not only reasonable, but brave.

The young people in our schools are arriving with all sorts of things written on their shirts, much of which promotes disrespect. What was written on Swinimer’s shirt was not benign. The phrasing is significant. “Life is wasted without Jesus”  is a judgment of what you should be and do, not an expression of what I choose for me.  This is no small point. Tolerance and free speech can only be protected, if we have the intelligence to sort out the difference.  The principal and Nancy Pynch-Worthylake tried to do that.  I applaud them both.

A reader whose family includes a retired Anglican minister, passed along antidote apparel depicted at right:

A reader who is not from the Annapolis Valley or Bridgewater writes:

It’s obvious Jeffrey Shallit does not live in the Annapolis Valley or Bridgewater, because if he did, he’d know that no matter how strongly you felt it, you’d never say anything like this: “Swinimer’s t-shirt expresses a moronic and wrong sentiment, and he sounds like the typical evangelical jerk who can’t keep quiet about his own ‘good news.’”  Because the fall-out from evangelicals, of which there are many who attend Baptist, Pentecostal, and break-away Protestant churches in the Bible Belt of Nova Scotia, would not be worth it. Shallit, safe from the wrath of God in Waterloo.

Reader Dana Doiron thinks the The Cape Breton Post got it right:

Proselytizing at school and suggesting that the international students at his school were damned (I spoke to students and parents) were the issue.  The t-shirt was just the most recent manifestation to which the complaining students could point. Parents, teachers and religious leaders (and, politicians) should help students learn tolerance and empathy not just the assertion of individual rights. The student’s dad may have taken the best step toward resolving this issue by removing his son from school today to go home and change shirts.

What Shallit was reacting to, given the information available at the time, was Swinimer’s suspension for the sin of wearing a T-shirt expressing minority religious views. If Swinimer was browbeating fellow students, or proselytizing disruptively on school time, that’s another matter. Wearing a slogan the superintendent doesn’t like is not grounds for dismissal in a democracy.

Crime as altitude – feedback

Contrarian friend Gus Reed doesn’t think altitude maps add much to our understanding of complex social issues:

These graphs don’t meet the minimum standard for clarity. Your pal Edward Tufte would be appalled. What is the scale of the z-dimension? Are we to suppose that the high peak for narcotics is on the same scale as the high peak for prostitution? Absolute numbers? Percentages? Logarithmic? I’m suspicious that McCune is mixing his units.

And I don’t like the fundamental assumption that it’s OK to smooth this kind of data. Consider the three hills of prostitution down by Fisherman’s Wharf. They are almost certainly hotels, yet they have volume and give the impression that prostitution is a spreading neighborhood crime wave. Better to use some more accurate and consistent visualization like dots (as on the SFPD KML files from which this is taken).

Furthermore, as some commenter about halfway down McCune’s post says, the unit isn’t crime, but incident reports. It would be instructive to map donut shops, say, as a reality check. Or distance from police station. Are they maps of crime, or just maps of cops?

This kind of simplistic use of numbers is fraught with pitfalls. It makes a complicated phenomenon into a simple problem of location. It usually turns out that peaks are located over poor neighborhoods, and it encourages a two-dimensional approach to crime. It’s easily fudgeable. Give me some numbers — “the use of hyperbole on Boulardrie Island” — and I can make it look very bad for you. At the very least, we are entitled to know what the z-scale is.

Chris Macormick, more a fan of visual thinking than Gus, makes the same point about underlying poverty, and offers this poverty map of the Bay area, by Catherine Mulbrandon of, as corroboration:

Zoom in on downtown SanFrancisco, and the correlation is evident, albeit at low resolution:

Chris writes:

Altitude maps of crime are interesting as a way to see patterns easier than perhaps numerical rates do. However they disguise other patterns in the same way, eg. class, policing.

Disgaggregated crime statistics show spatial variations in crime, whether they’re presented visually or numerically. But when comparing income distribution in SF to crime distribution some loose associations are available:

  • Prostitution is tightly localized in several poor areas
  • Narcotics is more widespread but also in poor areas
  • Theft is more widely distributed and extends in rich areas
  • olicing is probably more prevalent in poor areas, especially for the victimless crimes of sex and drugs, and
  • he crimes depicted are by definition lower class crimes.
  • I would like to see a map of tax evasion, price-fixing, insider-trading, embezzlement, tax fraud, environmental pollution and other cozy crimes of the powerful… Just saying.