Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"If . . .we start getting blood on the highways, we may have to go back."

So quotes ADN reporter Nathaniel Herz, Alaska representative Craig Johnson, on the reassigning of the Alaska Troopers highway patrol unit to general patrol jobs.

I noticed this phrase because I think language matters.  Blood on the highway.  Sounds like a custodial job, cleaning up stains on the road.  The human beings who are hurt, maimed, or killed are erased and all that's left are blood stains.  It's a minor issue, unless people start spilling fluids on the road.

But the words you use, the details you focus on reflect what you hear, see, and think.  A Psychology Today article begins:
"The closest one person can get to understanding another person's thoughts is to listen to the words that he or she speaks or writes. Certain words reflect the behavioral characteristics of the person who spoke or wrote them."
A Scientific American article begins:
NO ONE DOUBTS that the words we write or speak are an expression of our inner thoughts and personalities. 
But both articles go on to focus more on the grammatical function of words than what I'm addressing here.   Rep. Johnson's callousness about the human cost of accidents is a signal.  No, it's not the only clue we should use, but it's worth putting into the evidence file on Johnson.

Nor am I saying the switch in duties for these highway patrol officers is a bad thing.  I suspect driving up and down lonely stretches of highway is costly and yields relatively little in documentable achievements for the Troopers.  Things that don't happen - like accidents because people know the troopers are around - often don't get measured.  And technology can track people violating the rules very efficiently as I learned in California when I used what I thought was a car pool lane that turned out to be a toll lane.  But Anchorage folks thought having cameras track speeders around schools was 'unfair' and got that policy withdrawn.  While I suspect most drivers would love to have those crazy drivers who pass at high speeds on curves on the Seward Highway caught, they wouldn't like cameras catching them going 75 mph.  But I digress.  This is about language.  And to some extent about gathering evidence so that we don't judge public officials on just one incident.  I did watch Johnson on the State Affairs committee when I covered the legislature in Juneau in 2010.  He's rational as the title quote suggests - it's simply a cost benefit analysis between 'blood on the highways' and redeploying troopers.  I don't recall Johnson displaying much emotional connection to issues.  The most significant piece of evidence I picked up on Johnson that year was in the legislative travel disclosures.

 Johnson reported the, by far, most costly sponsored travel for 2009:
"11-20 10-27 Rep. Johnson  $17,974 Saudi Arabian Government; NCSL requested Speaker of House to send an Oil and Gas representative to participate in a study tour. This was a trade mission to Saudi Arabia with the goal of increasing relations between USA and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; airfare, lodging, meals and ground transportation; Riyadh, Damman, and Jeddah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia"
I'd also like to compliment Nathaniel Herz whose work I've noticed as he covered the Anchorage Assembly for the last couple years or so.  He does a great job of reporting both the facts and the context.  And he's doing the same in Juneau now.  His choice to highlight this particular quote in this article - I'm sure a lot was said in that committee meeting that isn't in the article - says to me that he thought it as interesting as I do.  And I'm a little jealous of him down their in Juneau with the whole legislature offering him such an array of newsworthy action and a chance to see the lawmakers close up and personal.

And I've been impressed to see articles (such as Jan 19 and Feb 5) with a joint by-line of Herz and Pat Forgey of the Juneau Empire.  I don't recall that sort of cross-paper cooperation before.   Of course, some of the responsibility goes to the owners of the Alaska Dispatch News, which has a lot of reporters covering state and local news.

OK, I can't help adding one more thought about the article.  It mentions that this highway unit was formed in 2009 with federal money.
"It was entirely funded by the federal government at first, though now the state has to pay about half its cost."
One of the key arguments Parnell used against expanding Medicaid was that the state would have to pay part of the costs after the original federal money was gone.  That didn't seem to be a problem when it came to getting  money for law enforcement.  And this shows that the program can be cut if we can't afford it down the line.

1 comment:

  1. People who don't understand words,

    …should be prevented their use.

    Craig Johnson promoted legislation that would make federal agents subject to arrest for enforcing future federal gun laws on Alaskans, so you can pretty much be assured Johnson has no comprehension of what words actually mean.

    Johnson is a feckless and shiftless right wing extremist drone.

    He shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the public policy process.


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