Monday, December 29, 2014

How Do We Arbitrate Social Contracts?

I haven't been writing much in my blog this Month.  Since I returned from Easter Island I have been very busy working on the report of my research as well as working on the graduate school application process.  Additionally, there just hasn't been news stories about which I felt I had anything of value to add.  Then I saw a very scary picture yesterday.

Hundreds of NYPD officers turned their backs on mayor de Blasio
The picture that I found scary was one of hundreds of police turning their backs on their mayor.  This image scares me for many reasons.  I will list some of those reasons.

The most basic reason that the picture scares me is that it suggests that the NYPD equates criticism with the assassination of police.  De Blasio joined in criticism of the NYPD when people were protesting the death of a man who was choked to death for selling cigarettes.  Then a lone gunman killed two officers in apparent retaliation.  This image of the police turning their backs on the mayor suggests to me that the NYPD considers any criticism tantamount to endorsing the murder of police officers.

The next reason that this picture scares me is that the image suggests a rift between civilian leadership and police forces.  As those who read my blog are aware, I fear the growing militarization of out nation's police forces.  Civilian control of the US military is a fundamental issue protecting our country against military dictatorship.  Military officers are supposed to remain apolitical and respect civilian leadership because that helps defend our democratic system.  Civilian control of the military also helps to maintain the idea of the military existing to defend the people of the USA, rather than the people existing to support the military.  Military personnel swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution.

Over the past several decades US police forces have increasingly become domestic military forces that owe no allegiance to the US Constitution.  With this image it appears that the NYPD owes no allegiance to the civilian leadership of the city of New York.  The question of who the NYPD serves brings me to the biggest reason that this image scares me.

The image of the NYPD turning their backs on the elected executive of the polity they ostensibly serve causes me to fear that the social contract between the police and the citizenry is broken from both ends.  The protests across our country over the past few months have shown that there were many US citizens, especially people of color, who felt that the social contract between the police and themselves was broken.  Of course most of these protests focused on the police as the source of rupture of trust.  Police supporters essentially responded that the failure was on the part of populations that failed to conform to acceptable social norms (obey the law, don't resist arrest, and you won't have trouble with the police).

While most of my writing on the police in recent months has been critical, my personal biases tend to lie more in line with the police supporters.  I see the police as the good guys (with rare exceptions).  I've known and worked with many police officers.  And I suspect that social groups that are pounded with the message from birth that the police are liable to kill and/or victimize them are going to have a hard time trusting the police and behaving in a truly respectful manner.  If you are convinced that a group of people is out to kill you then fear only motivates you to stay in line until you feel that your time may have come.  People who think the police are out to get them can't truly respect the police on a fundamental level.  So I have tended to view instances of potentially excessive force as driven more by a failure of trust than of actual racism or ill will on the part of the police.

When two police officers were assassinated in New York City the possibility of a severely broken social contract seemed very possible.  It was a lone gunman, but coming against a backdrop of nationwide protests and cries of police racism, it seemed like an increasing number of people were seeing the police as the enemy.  Speaking purely subjectively and anecdotally, in my social circles it has seemed in recent years that almost all discussion of the police has been in terms of opposition.  Of course opposition to, and distrust of, law enforcement has a long history in this country.  During the early years of our nation's history there was no provision for formal police forces.

The process of revolting against British authority had so poisoned the culture in the US against law enforcement that professional law enforcement agencies were scarce across much of the country until very late.  The first municipal law enforcement agency in the US was formed in Boston in 1838, more than a half a century after the Revolutionary War ended, and it wasn't until the 1880's that police forces were ubiquitous even in major cities.  If you want more information on the history of police in the US (including things like the evolution of police in Southern states from the Slave Patrols) then I suggest reading more here.  Suffice to say, in the US, law enforcement was more likely to be conducted by vigilantes or private forces until almost the twentieth century.  But as the US grew, the need for order became increasingly pronounced, but the US has never truly found peace with its peace forces.

Over the past hundred years or so we have become, as a nation, more accepting of the need for law and order; but that acceptance has never truly been unambiguous.  One can contrast the US's history with law enforcement with our neighbors to the north, Canada.  Canada did not have a Wild West the way that the US did.  Canada had organized law enforcement in the form of Mounties.  The US had self appointed "lawmen" who got into shootouts with people they didn't like.  Hark A Vagrant has a very fun comic relating to these historical differences.
I'm sure that the punishments were more severe than sitting in a corner in real life, but the relationship to officers of the law was radically different in Canada and I believe still affects Canadian cultural on a very basic level to this day.
The differences between Canadian attitudes toward the police and US attitudes continues to be pronounced.  When I was living in Canada in 2005 the Mayerthorpe Tragedy occurred.  Four Mounties were killed in the line of duty.  It was a national tragedy.  In Ottawa, where I lived, thousands of miles from where the tragedy occurred, flags were lowered to half-mast.  It was the worst single day loss of life for the RCMP in modern Canadian history.  Even the name "Mayerthorpe Tragedy" speaks to the radically different attitude toward the Mounties.  Mounties are federal police, would the death of four FBI officers be a cause for national mourning?  Mounties are seen as heroes, US policemen are all too often viewed as violent predators.

I don't believe that the difference in the way people in the US and Canada view their law enforcement is because Canadian police are all angels and US police are all devils.  I believe the difference is because the US never truly established a national trust with the forces of law and order, and the uneasy trust that grew over the first half of the twentieth century (especially after the end of Prohibition) has eroded dangerously since the Vietnam war.

Now in a time when police are more militarized than ever, and anti-cop sentiment is a seething current in our country, some people are seeking to wage war on the police.  Two days ago, at the memorial for the two officers killed in New York last week, hundreds of police officers turned their backs to the mayor.  With this gesture the police communicated that they also saw the public, and those who would criticize them, as the enemy.  The NYPD seemed to tell the world that the feeling was mutual.

We cannot repair the relationship with law enforcement if the police see the public they are supposed to serve as the enemy.  But the social contract goes both ways.  We cannot repair the relationship with law enforcement if the public views their protectors as the enemy.  It seems that the social contract between the public and the police has been horribly ruptured, at least in New York, and it is not clear how to repair that trust.

The severity of the fracture of trust is further underscored by another image, also apparently from the memorial two days ago.
But it appears that one officer did not turn his back
And this image might be even scarier.  In a sea of white faces turned away from the mayor, a black officer did not turn his back.  This image seems to simultaneously magnify the severity of the breach of trust represented by the NYPD turning their backs, and to further confirm the perception of the issues as one of race.  The narrative of racism feels like it is acting as a runaway train eradicating any hope of constructive discussion.

Yesterday a story came up on my Facebook feed of a black plainclothes NYPD officer being shot and killed by other NYPD plainclothes officers.  It is a real story, and true, and reported by the New York times, but it is not current.  The story is five years old, and as tragic now as it was a half decade ago.  But such is the power of social media's ability to engage in News Necromancy, that when people get upset about an issue, all the previous stories that confirm a bias can be revivified and made new.

Even the image of the black officer not turning his back has traveled via social media.  I have not been able to find the source of the image.  I don't even know if it is real or if it was taken at the memorial.  But this unattributed image is moving through social media, and while it is a troubling image, it underscores the difficulty facing us if we want to repair our society.

Emotions are running high.  Social media creates an environment where every tragedy gets rolled into every tragedy and it is impossible to parse what is going on.  While emotions run high it is nearly impossible to even try to discuss issues like use of force and institutional racism.  Everyone just yells past everyone else, unhinged individuals assassinate police, and the police set themselves in opposition to civil society.

It is a scary situation.

It is a situation that must be repaired.

But I don't know how to repair this situation.  When a social contract is broken, how can it be arbitrated?  If a contractor breaks a contract they can be sued.  Who can we sue when the public and the police are both in breach of contract with each other?

We need police.  And far more than the individuals in uniform, we need trust in the police.  There will never be enough police to keep everyone in line.  Our society works because we believe in it.  We trust that our system should work.  Laws are obeyed because people agree they should be obeyed.  Even our money only has value because we agree it has value (US currency is fiat money and is intrinsically worthless).  Our entire interconnected world functions because of trust.  That trust is built on order, and in an urban society the municipal police are a fundamental cornerstone of that order.

We cannot, as a society, simply accept the failure of trust in the police.  Nor can we simply blame the collapse of trust on the police.  Police officers daily risk their lives to maintain order, but in order for the police to be able to keep the peace they require the trust of the public.  We all of us, each and every one, bear a share of the burden of keeping our society functioning.

The most concrete suggestion I can offer toward repairing the ruptures in our society is to engage in actual conversation.  Do not demonize police.  Do not demonize minorities.  Do not demonize conservatives.  Do not demonize liberals.  We need to try to find points of agreement and build from there.  If we want a functioning society we have to agree on what constitutes functioning.  If we want police that protect us we need to agree that we want police to exist.

Maybe the first step could be agreeing that we want police to protect us.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fantoni HB 02 Review: First Impressions

I just bought a new knife, a Fantoni HB 02.  Since these sorts of knives always seemed to be photographed with guns I pulled out my Great-great-grandfather's rifle for some of these photos.

This knife is the most expensive knife I have ever purchased, coming in north of $200, but my first impression when I got to hold it was that it is worth the money.

The knife came in a nicely designed box with a foam pad and a card with the details of the knife.  The knife is so light that when I first picked up the shipping box it felt empty.  

When I picked up the knife I was immediately struck by how different it felt from any other pocket knife I've ever owned.  The first thing I noticed (besides the weight) was how intensely grippy the G10 handle scales are.  The titanium frame feels very light, but the knife handle still feels very solid.  The blade blade has zero wiggle.  The lock has no give or wiggle when engaged.  The lock doesn't over or under engage, even when I snap the knife open.

The other thing that I notice is that the detent (the little ball on the liner-lock that engages with the tang of the blade which helps keep the blade from opening accidentally) is really firm on this knife.  So stiff that it's actually a little hard to get the blade open.  The plus side of this is that I really don't think anything is going to make this knife open accidentally.  But I am hopeful that use will make this knife a little easier to open.

The other things that feel potentially problematic on this knife are actually also kind of positives.  The fantastically grippy G10 combined with the very strong pocket clip make this knife a little difficult to get in and out of my pocket.  I'm worried about the amount of wear that this might put on my pants.  I may need to do a little light sanding of the handle scales under the clip.  We will see.

I am looking forward to seeing how this knife performs over the next month or so while I work on my final review for the knife.  I'm not planning on altering anything about the knife until after that.  I am pretty excited about this knife, it is beautiful and feels fantastic.

This knife is full of neat little touches.  If you look closely at the jimping along the handle you can notice that the grooves get deeper the closer they get to the end of the handle.

Speaking of the jimping, the jimping on the thumb ramp is fantastically grippy.  When you place your thumb on the ramp there is zero slipping.

The knife fully opened.  The ink on the pocket clip is actually slightly iridescent.  At some other angles the ink looks very dark, but I didn't like the way any of the photos that showed this turned out.

Another photo that just fits with the normal photo types.  It seems like every review of a knife has this photo.

This photo shows of the centering of the blade.  Right down the middle.

This picture shows some of the other nice subtle touches.  Firstly, the clip is titanium, which is pretty groovy.  You can see the paint on the clip showing up dark in this angle.  The holes in the clip for the screws are beveled so that the screws are countersunk flush.  And one of my favorite subtle touches, the titanium frame is slightly evenly larger than the G10 handle scales.  This provides a little extra grip, but mostly it just indicates that the scales were ground and smoothed separately from the frame, just a nice touch.

Even though this is a fairly small knife, there is enough handle even for someone with fairly large hands like myself.  This isn't the grip that I would normally use obviously, but I just wanted to show how nicely sized the handle was.   But the handle is not so large that one needs large hands for it to be comfortable.
I just love the shape of this blade, and the stonewashed finish on the blade is simply gorgeous.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Kershaw Cryo G10 Review

I have an updated version of this review you can find here.

Kershaw Cryo G10

And here is what the other side looks like when it's closed

I actually wrote most of this review in Easter Island.  I wrote the review to post on Amazon, but I was pretty happy with the review, so I thought I would also post it here on my blog.

I am really debating giving this five stars, but I can't quite do that.  Maybe 4.5 stars.  This knife was not quite exactly what I wanted, but it was as close as I could get for less than $200.  So that makes me pretty happy about the purchase. 

For the price this is an excellent choice.  For the sake of simplicity I will start with the Cons that make this not a 5 star purchase for me.


Too short:

Another quarter inch of blade and handle would make this a much better fit for me.  I have pretty big hands, and this does not fill my hand.
Opening Mechanics:
The assisted open seems unnecessary, it also makes the thumbstuds totally superfluous.  The thumbstuds are a hazard on this knife.  They make it harder to get out of your pocket, tear up the pocket, and if you do try to open the knife with the thumbstuds it is very easy to cut your thumb due to the amount of force needed and the small size of the knife.


Stiff.  Everything about this knife is stiff out of the box, and use doesn’t change that much.  The assisted open is stiff.  The thumbstuds are too stiff to use.  The frame lock is stout and stiff.  But the blade is stiff when deployed.  The stiffness also seems to translate to a solidity when the knife is deployed.  I would ideally like easier deployment, but this is not a big deal on this knife.


Out of the Box Sharpness:

This knife came literally shaving sharp.  I had been working with trees the day it came in the mail and had some pitch in my arm hair, so I decided to see if the knife would shave off the pitch tangled hairs, it did no problem.

Edge retention:

Very good.  I know that 8Cr13Mov is not the most amazing steel, but I have been impressed with its performance on this knife.  I have had this knife for a month and have been using it very heavily and the edge has remained nicely sharp. 

Cutting ability:

I am actually in Easter Island as I write this, and I brought this knife with me since I figured its small size would avoid any legal difficulties for a pocket knife.  I am in a fairly remote location, and the accommodations require we do food prep ourselves, unfortunately all the knives provided were extremely dull, so for the last few weeks I have been using this pocket knife to do all of my cooking on top of regular EDC duty.  This knife has performed far better than I would have expected.  I had already found the knife to be surprisingly good for field duty, I didn’t think it would be any use for the kitchen, but it has performed admirably.  I had not expected to be using this knife so heavily while in Chile, and so I deliberately neglected to bring a whetstone in order to better discuss the edge retention on the review I’ll do on my blog when I get home, so I have been very grateful for how well the edge has stood up to a lot more use than I anticipated.  The edge is not razor sharp any more, but still significantly sharper than any knives available to me here.  It’s still sharp enough to handle tomatoes cleanly without serration, I’d call that usably sharp J
Update:  The edge stayed very sharp until two days before I left Easter Island.  Two days before I left I barbecued.  The cut of meat I barbecued was a big chunk of beef that had a lot of connective tissue and fascia.  I decided to separate the connective tissue.  Trimming the meat off of the connective tissue puts a lot of wear on an edge, so I was not surprised that it really dulled the knife.  The knife was still sharper than anything else in the kitchen afterward, but it had lost the fine edge.  It still cut a tomato, but with a little squishing.  Still for a knife that I bought for less than $40 I think this was tremendous performance and edge retention.


Feels nice in the hand, but light in the pocket.  Good for hiking and everyday activities, but with enough heft to feel right for heavier use than its size might indicate.


Solid.  Rock solid.  If you try to use the thumbstuds the lockup can get sticky because it causes the frame lock to engage late, but with the assisted open the lockup is neither too late nor too early.  It’s like Goldi-Locks, just right.

Grip and Jimping:

The G10 scale gives this knife good grippiness.  Sadly the jimping seems to be more decorative than functional.  The jimping on the blade in particular does not stand out sufficiently from the handle and is not sharp enough to provide good grip.  But the blade is short enough that choking up on the blade is not a real issue.  Still, a nice looking satisfyingly grippy handle.


For the price, this is a hell of a knife.  I strongly recommend it.  Great for Every Day Carry.  I only wish it was a little bigger.