Hear No Evil, See No Evil

The New York Times has an interesting article about Members of Congress not engaging in “town hall” meetings during this summer’s recess.  Apparently congressional Democrats, at least, are gun shy about appearing at unscripted public meetings after having to face angry voters last year.  So, rather than trying to figure out how to effectively and persuasively answer the likely criticisms of such voters, they have decide to avoid open meetings altogether and instead appear only at controlled functions. 

After reading the article, I checked the official websites of the two Columbus-area representatives, Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy of the 15th District and Republican Pat Tiberi of the 12th District, to see if they had any information on upcoming “town hall”-type meetings.  Rep. Kilroy’s website contains several links that allow you to get controlled information about Rep. Kilroy — on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and “Mary Jo TV” — but no apparent information that I could find on any upcoming live appearances that are open to the general public.  (Her website does, however, include a “Recovery Act online quiz” that states that “the evidence is clear — and growing by the day — that the Recovery Act is working to create jobs, prevent a second Great Depression, and lay a new foundation for an economic prosperity shared by all.”  I’m stunned that any politician would be touting the “stimulus bill” at this point, but maybe her website isn’t updated regularly.)  The website of Pat Tiberi, who represents us here in New Albany, also does not seem to provide information on any public appearances in the coming weeks.

Perhaps there is a stronger tradition of public meetings in New England or early primary states like Iowa than there is in Ohio.  In any case, I think it is useful for Members of Congress to interact with the general public in unscripted settings.  It is pathetic and, frankly, craven for Members of Congress to be ducking such interaction simply because they don’t believe they are going to like what they will see and hear when they meet their constituents.

Relying On The Naked Eye

Last week the Ohio Supreme Court issued an interesting decision, City of Barberton v. Jenney, that reflects a bit of the clash between human and machine.  An Ohio driver challenged a speeding ticket that he received.  The State relied on the officer’s visual estimation of the driver’s speed, which was that the driver was exceeding 70 mph in a 60 mph zone.  The driver argued that a police officer’s visual estimation, standing alone, is insufficient to sustain a speeding conviction.  The Supreme Court rejected that argument.  It held instead that an officer’s visual estimate is sufficient if the officer is trained, is certified by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy or a similar organization, and is experienced in visually estimating vehicle speed.

This decision seems pretty unremarkable to me — except for the fact that the argument that police officers must use radar devices was made in the first place.  In the days before radar guns, of course, police officers had to rely on visual estimates of speed to issue tickets.  The Supreme Court opinion notes that the police officer in the case had received specific speed estimation training, and in order to be certified by the OPOTA he needed to demonstrate that he could visually estimate a vehicle’s speed to within three or four miles per hour of its speed.  Courts also permit lay witnesses to testify about similar matters based on their visual perception.  And, as the Supreme Court noted, the police officer’s credibility always will be subject to challenge.  If the jury concludes, after hearing all of the evidence, that the officer’s testimony is not credible or that the officer’s estimate was unreliable, it can find the defendant not guilty.

The fact that mechanical devices can perform certain functions that humans also have performed does not mean that humans no longer can, or should, do so.