30 April 2010

Nature And The Demise of Empires

Research on ancient climate events and natural disasters can provide considerable motivation for otherwise mysterious events in ancient history and pre-history.

Two serious Middle Eastern droughts, one of which explains the fall of one of the earliest empires in written history, and a major change in the river system of South Asia that lends credence to some of the geography described in the Rig Veda, are among them.

The Two Big Ancient Droughts

According to Kaniewski, et al., Middle East coastal ecosystem response to middle-to-late Holocene abrupt climate changes (PNAS 2008), based on ancient vegetation traces found in a dig in northwest Syria, there were two doughts in ancient history. A more mild drought from 2200 to 1900 BCE, and a more severe drought from 1100 to 800 BCE.

The Drought The Killed The Akkadian Empire

The first drought coincides closely with the fall of the Akkadian empire (which was the Semitic language speaking immediate successor to the non-Semitic language speaking Sumerian empire, where writing was first invented). The drought hit its peak around 2050 BCE. The Akkadian empire (the first other than the Sumerian and Egyptian empires to be well documented in writing) came into being in 2334 BC and collapsed in 2083 BCE.

Historical and archaeological evidence supports this theory. According to Wikipedia:

Evidence from Tell Leilan in Northern Mesopotamia shows what may have happened. The site was abandoned soon after the city's massive walls were constructed, its temple rebuilt and its grain production reorganised. The debris, dust and sand that followed show no trace of human activity. Soil samples show fine wind-blown sand, no trace of earthworm activity, reduced rainfall and indications of a drier and windier climate. Evidence shows that skeleton-thin sheep and cattle died of drought, and up to 28,000 people abandoned the site, seeking wetter areas elsewhere. Tell Brak shrank in size by 75%. Trade collapsed. Nomadic herders such as the Amorites moved herds closer to reliable water suppliers, bringing them into conflict with farmers. This climate-induced collapse seems to have affected the whole of the Middle East, and to have coincided with the collapse of the Egyptian Old Kingdom.

This collapse of rain-fed agriculture in "the Upper Country" meant the loss to southern Mesopotamia of the agrarian subsidies which had kept the Akkadian Empire solvent. Water levels within the Tigris and Euphrates fell 1.5 metres beneath the level of 2600 BC, and although they stabilised for a time during the following Ur III period, rivalries between pastoralists and farmers increased. Attempts were undertaken to prevent the former from herding their flocks in agricultural lands, such as the building of a 180 km (112 mi) wall known as the "Repeller of the Amorites" between the Tigris and Euphrates under the neo-Sumerian ruler Shu-Sin. Such attempts led to increased political instability; meanwhile, severe depopulation occurred to re-establish demographic equilibrium with the less favorable climatic conditions.

Documents writen after the collapse in the post-Akkadian era described as a curse:

For the first time since cities were built and founded,
The great agricultural tracts produced no grain,
The inundated tracts produced no fish,
The irrigated orchards produced neither wine nor syrup,
The gathered clouds did not rain, the masgurum did not grow.
At that time, one shekel's worth of oil was only one-half quart,
One shekel's worth of grain was only one-half quart. . . .
These sold at such prices in the markets of all the cities!
He who slept on the roof, died on the roof,
He who slept in the house, had no burial,
People were flailing at themselves from hunger.

The Old Kingdom in Egypt (2686 BCE – 2181 BCE) collapsed around the same time, giving rise to the First Intermediate Period in which the Egyptian empire collapsed into two kingdoms, each with declining central authority after having been united in one, that ended around 2080 BCE.

This drought may be responsible for the prohibitions on pig eating that survive today in Jewish Kosher rules and Islamic dietary restrictions according to William J. Burroughs, "Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Age of Chaos," (2008).

Finally, this drought may have weakened the states in Anatolia, allowing the first Hittite city-state to establish itself there.

The Bronze Age Collapse Drought

The second drought (1100 to 800 BCE) coincides with the "dark ages" that followed the Bronze Age Collapse and was worst around 900 BCE. This collapse of Mycenaean civilization (the earliest Greek speaking civilization in Greece) and the Hittite Empire (the earliest Indo-European language speaking empire in modern day Turkey), and attacks by "Sea People" as far as Egypt around 1200 BCE. Another part of the Bronze Age collapse mentioned in the paper is the destruction of Ugarit and the collapse of the Ugarit kingdom at ca. 1190 to 1185 BCE.

Crop failures, earthquakes and a major volcanic explosion in the Aegean (Thera, sometimes associated with the Atlantis myth) preceded the Bronze Age collapse. The greater severity of the second drought, or dating inaccuracies, could explain why its political impact preceded its most intense period signifiantly.

The Demise of the Sarasvati River

The other event or series of events was in South Asia and concerns the Ghaggar-Hakra River which "is an intermittent river in India and Pakistan that flows only during the monsoon season." This river system is probably the same river system that is called the Sarasvati River frequently discussed in the Rig Veda, and was once much more vibrant, Vedic literature also describes its demise. The Harappan civilization also known as the Indus River Valley civilization, was actually far more concentrated in the Ghaggar-Hakra River system than the Indus River. "Over 600 sites of the Indus civilization on the Ghaggar-Hakra river and its tributaries. In contrast to this, only 90 to 96 Indus Valley sites have been discovered on the Indus and its tributaries (about 36 sites on the Indus river itself.)"

In other words, Harappan culture was much more closely tied to the Northwestern part of South Asia from which the Indo-Aryan vedic culture began its association than is commonly assumed based on those of the Harappan sites that are inhabitable today.

Around 2000 BCE-1900 BCE, Harappan settlements move upriver where the river still flows. The Sutlej river which now is a tributary of the Indus River (whose basin more or less defines modern Pakistan) used to be a tributary of the Ghaggar-Hakra River. The Yamuna River, which is now the largest tributary of the Ganges River (which runs through most of the Indo-European language speaking parts of North India), also flowed into the Ghaggar-Hakra River during Harappan times. The realignment may have been due to a major earthquake, or may have been mostly due to declining rainfalls paralleling the cause the collapse of the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia and the Old Kingdom in Egypt. Other evidence suggests that the river collapse (replaced with elaborate canals) may have happened much earlier (around 3800 BCE).

Of course, there could have been one decline in river flow due to an earthquake around 3800 BCE, which grew more severe around 2000-1900 BCE making the river system no longer viable. The fact that mature Harappan settlements remained inhabited until around 2000 BCE argues against the events of 3800 BCE completely drying up the Savasvati basin by themselves, if there are separate events.

The Significance Of The Decline Date

The date of the demise of the Sarasvati River is probably the most reliable physical evidence to date the Rig Veda's composition, and the exact chronology has considerable historical relevance.

The Indus River Valley civilization was one of the earliest homes to farming based on Near Eastern crops, securing them around the same time as the Egyptians, around 7000 BCE, and the more sophisticated Harappan civilization began to emerge around 3300 BCE, reached its peak from around 2600 BCE to 1900 BCE, and then declined after 1900 BCE.

An earlier date for the demise of the Sarasvati River suggests that the increasing sophistication of the Harappan civilization may have been a response to the necessity of finding a way to continuing to farm with less water, and identifies much of the content of the Rig Veda with the Harappans, rather than with Indo-European language speaking invaders from the Central Asian steppe to the North.

In this scenario, if there was an invasion by Central Asia, the Central Asians adopted wholesale much of the pre-existing Harappan myths and religion, rather than importing it to South Asia. The Hittite and Tocharian Indo-European languages in this scenario (which in turn would give rise to the later Centem languages in Europe) would be a pre-invasion of India dispersal stratum, while the Statem Indo-European languages (e.g. Greek, Persian and Hindi) would be post-invasion of India dispersal languages with the distinctive aspects of that wing of the Indo-European languages likely influenced by a Harappan language substrate.

Thus, the transition from a Harappan language to an Indo-European one, might resemble the relative continuity of the contemporaneous transition from the Sumerian language of the Mesopotamian empire to the Semitic language of the Akkadian empire. Indeed, if the invasion took place significantly before the collapse of Harappan society due to aridity, the climate change could still motivate Indo-European expansion movements.

A later date for the demise of the Sarasvati River suggests that its demise may have created a power vacuum which Central Asian steppe invaders filled. A demise of this culture as a result of dried up rivers explains why the Harappan sites do not show the signs of violent destruction seen in other collapsed civilizations. The dry river would have killed the civilization, and any subsequent invaders would have filled it after the fact.

In a late Sarasvati River demise scenario, the invasion looks more like the post-Akkadian restoration of Sumerian culture in Mesopotamia.

The Out of India Indo-European Language Theory

Mainstream linguistic theory overwhelmingly favors a Central Asian origin for the Indo-Europeans, but the notion of a diaspora created by the drying up of the Sarasvati River right around the time that the Indo-European expansion takes place and strong Vedic religious ties to this river motivate a closer look at the evidence.

The drying of the river could also explain characteristic shifts in the disposal of the dead, with a shift from burial to cremation and exposure motivated either by widespread death that made burial economically impractical, or by the spread of disease that made it no longer safe.

The domestication of horses occurred long before the widespread appearance of Indo-European languages, and the discovery of chariots, associated with Indo-European expansion, could have been acquired from Central Asia by the Harappans through trade networks with Central Asia known to exist in the mature Harappan period. Proto-Indo-European commonality of martime language favors a Harappan, who had a vibrant maritime culture, over a Central Asian site for the proto-Indo-Europeans.

In an Out of India theory of Indo-European languages, a late demise of the Sarasvati River would support the idea that this was the motive for Harappans who were the Vedic/Proto-Indo-European people to expand out of Northwest India in all directions, giving rise to a widespread diaspora ranging from the Myceneans of the Balkans and mainland Greece, to the Hittites, to the proto-Indo-Iranians, to the Tocharians in the Tarim Basin (now part of China to the North of Tibet), to the Indo-Aryans originally in the Indus River Valley. All of them would have been people's needing to find new homes after their own had dried up.

Notably, in the Out of India theory, the Harappans don't necessarily have to be the same people as the early farmers of the Indus River Valley from 7000 BC, although they could be and there isn't any strong archeological or historical record of a violent invasion.

Large urban civilizations emerged in Mesopotamia and Egypt at about the same time as the Harappan Civilization did and there could have been an influx of people from Middle East at that time. The Harappan period also coincides with the expansion of trade from immediately adjacent areas in Iran and Central Asia, to a long distance trade system that extended to "portions of Afghanistan, the coastal regions of Persia, northern and western India, and Mesopotamia."

Population Genetics in an Out of India Scenario

From a population genetics perspective, this scenario would assume that Y-DNA haplotypes R* and R1* emerge somewhere between Mesopotamia and Pakistan, that one branch ends up in Pakistan and becomes R2, and that R1a and R1b split in the Fertile Cresent with R1b becoming associated with the Mediterranean/Atlantic expansion of agriculture (probably in connection with the Corded Ware Civilization), perhaps out of the Levant, and R1b being associated with the expansion of agriculture from Mesopotamia to both the Balkans and from their to Central Europe (the Linear Pottery Culture), and to the Indus River Valley civilizatioon where it remains largely confined until the demise of Harappan civilizatioon (with or without Central Asian invaders).

Y-DNA type L shows a strong Harappan area concentration. This could have been an early Neolithic Indus River Valley impact, with sister clade T accounting for a similar wave of migration in the Nile Valley (it is concentrated in the Upper Nile where the first Egyptian state began) and has outgroups that fit Egyptian trade routes at its peak eras.

Y-DNA haplogroup J would emerge in the Near East and quickly be differentiated between J1 associated with herders, and J2 associated with farmers perhaps in the same wave of migration as R1a into Harappan populations, a wave that might have been an early farming wave (ca. 7000 BCE) or might have been a later urbanized civilization wave (ca. 2600 BCE). Alternately, R1a might be an early element of neolithic populations in what is now Pakistan, while J2 might have been an addition that took place around the time of Harappan civilization's expansion, possibly in association with metal working.

The similar Y-DNA haplotypes in Central Asia could have come from via the Balkans, the Caucuses or the Harappans, or all of the above. An Indo-Aryan expansion from Harappa and one from the Central Asian plain both look similar in ultimate genetic outcome.

A hypothesis of population continuity between the Harappans and the earliest Indo-Europeans has some virtues to it from population genetics perspective. The Y-DNA haplotypes R1a and to a greater extent J2 (combined with an absence of herding pastoral nomad associated haplotypes like G, J1, N, and the North African E subtype), are associated with farming as opposed to herding. Continuity of populations from the Harappans, a farming population with strong ties to the Near Eastern farming complex, makes sense. In contrast, in a Central Asian steppe population, one must basically assume that the proto-Indo-Europeans were farmers who transitioned to being herders upon arriving on the steppes.

29 April 2010

MS Probably Not Hereditary

A new twin study finds no evidence of a genetic cause of MS. In three sets of identical twins, one got MS, while the other did not. No gene activity that could explain the MS differed in any of the sets of twins.

Another recent animal study has suggested the ultra-violet light itself, rather than Vitamin D production arising from exposure to sunlight, may have a protective effect, and that lack of light exposure may be one of the environmental factors behind MS.

When It Rains It Pours

I'm really not someone prone to magical thinking. But, some superstitions seem all too true.

Monday through Wednesday, I am in my office for all of my usual hours and a little more. Does the phone ring on anything I've been working on lately? Yes, but not often. The phone was certainly more quiet than usual.

This morning, I decide to work from home in the morning for a change of pace (ah, the joys of telecommuting and being your own boss). What happens?

I come into my office this afternoon, sit down at my desk and my voice mail box is absolutely full of messages. The messages outnumber the number of calls I received in the first three days of the week.

I can think of no rational reason that everyone in the world had a sudden urge to call me on this particular Thursday morning. The voice messages were on completely unrelated matters. But, this is what happened. Go figure. Maybe I should spend a morning out of the office a little more frequently.

28 April 2010

Serfs In Oklahoma

“We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand!”

That makes you something like serfs, yes?

- Barbara O'Brien (the blogger, not the politician) at Mahablog commenting on the latest abortion related legislation in that state that mandates ultrasounds for pregnant women.

GOP Abandons Financial Regulation Filibuster

Republican Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, a relatively moderate Republican Senator, appears to have been the crucial individual to break ranks with his GOP peers in the Senate on the filibuster of a proposal to overhaul regulation of the financial industry, in the wake of the financial crisis. In the face of that change of heart, the GOP knowing that it would lack or soon lack the votes to maintain a filibuster, the GOP will allow the legislation to go forward after two almost party line votes with 57 Democrats (or quasi-Democrats) voting in favor of voting on the bill, and a third that secured 56 votes. So, the proposal largely along the lines of the Obama Administration's plan with modest modifications won in committee will now be debated and mostly likely pass with few amendments.

Voinovich's public reasoning is that negotiations behind the scenes deal with Republicans have gone nowhere. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican Senator from Maine was another individual cited as breaking ranks.The press in the story linked speculates that public opinion in favor of the bill may have also been forcing Republican hands - usually Democrats to force repeated public votes on legislation that is being filibustered.

A fig leaf of a concession also helped move the legislation forward.

Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Banking Committee, said Wednesday he had received assurances that Democrats would adjust the bill to address GOP concerns that it would perpetuate bailouts of banks. . . .

Republicans said they now expect Democrats to jettison a $50 billion fund that would have been financed by banks to help liquidate large failing institutions. The Republicans said they also expect Democrats to tighten language so the bill would mandate that shareholders' stakes in a failing firm be wiped out. The current bill says there would be that presumption.

It is hard to see that the concern about bank bailouts is actually widely held in the Republican caucus (the bank bailouts were conducted on the watch of George W. Bush), but the change certainly doesn't weaken the basic thrust of the bill, and the Republican embrace of an anti-bailout position, may have doomed their chances of prevailing on the legislation as a whole.

SCOTUS Speculation

John Elwood has some speculation on who may be writing the last few cases left from the October and November sessions of the U.S. Supreme Court, based upon which Justices have yet to write opinions from those sessions.

Most of it is of interest only to SCOTUS junkies and law wonks, but the particularly interesting speculation is that Justice Stevens will be writing defendant favorable opinions in the two juvenile life without parole cases pending before the court as his final act before his resignation takes effect.

This would probably render unconstitutional all or most of the juvenile life without parole sentences currently being served in Colorado, allowing Governor Ritter, who has convened an advisory body to consider juvenile clemency, to avoid making that decision, or to look forward looking by granting clemency now and then having the U.S. Supreme Court follow his lead.

Net Job Destruction In Small v Large Firms

Small businesses are often given credit for a disproportionate share of job creation in good times. But, small businesses also often provide a disproportionate share of job losses in bad times, including the current financial crisis, as illustrated by data from the last three job destroying recessions.

Firms with fewer than 100 employees account for about 98% of all businesses, but only about 38% of employment. So, if big and small firms have net job losses at the same rate, a small-to-large firm destruction ratio of 0.56 would be expected.

What actually happened?

[F]or the period June 1990 to March 1992, firms with fewer than 100 employees shed on net 160,000 jobs versus 110,000 from firms with more than 100 employees—a small-to-large firm destruction ratio of 1.46.

For the period March 2001 to June 2003, small firms shed 79,000 jobs while larger firms destroyed 324,000 jobs—a small-to-large firm job destruction ratio of 0.24.

Using the latest available data that cover the period September 2007 to June 2009, small firms lost 467,000 jobs compared with 543,000 for larger firms—a small-to-large firm job destruction ratio of 0.86.

From here.

Thus, job losses in the 1990-1992 recession and the current financial crisis have been disproportionately in small firms, while job losses in the tech bust (2001-2003), were disproportionately in big firms.

This is quite counterintuitive.

The tech boom and subsequent bust were all about the emergence of small entraprenurial firms that got money and failed, so one would have expected job losses to be disproportionatley from small firms in the cycle, but, actually, big businesses took it on the nose then.

The financial crisis has been about the disasterous missteps of big businesses like large financial institutions and manufacturing companies, so one would have expected current job destruction to be coming mostly from big businesses. But, this too is inaccurate. Job destruction right now is coming disproportionately from big businesses.

27 April 2010

Newspapers Still Losing Circulation

Details here.

Is Mrs. Robinson Really That Bad?

[A Nevada] jury convicted Ms. Taylor, 34, of lewdness with a minor under 14 for forcing a 13-year-old boy to touch her breast through her clothing and soliciting him for sex.

Specifically, she "kissed a friend’s child, forced him to touch her breast and asked him to have sex with her in February 2008. Taylor claimed she was intoxicated and doesn’t remember what happened that night. She told jurors she roughhoused with the boy, but didn’t force him to touch her inappropriately."

What is the appropriate punishment?

Under Nevada law, the punishment is automatic: "a mandatory life sentence in Nevada with parole eligibility after 10 years." If released on parole she must register as a sex offender and will be under lifetime supervision.

From here and this original source.

District Attorney Gary Woodbury won't comment on why the charge was brought.

As her attorney explained in an interview: “She is getting a greater penalty for having a boy touch her breast than if she killed him."

The jury, as is typical, wasn't told what the sentence would be in the event of a conviction.

Army Cancels NLOS-LS Missile System

The NLOS-LS Missile System During Testing It Failed Earlier This Year

The NLOS-LS program

The Army has cancelled its Non-Line of Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS), a system that would have shot guided missiles from the back of a military truck. An earlier plan for a loitering attack missile was supposed to have a 124 mile range was cancelled after cost overruns and a failure to perform in tests. The precision attack missiles tested in the current round were to have a range of 24 miles, and have GPS, laser targeting and infrared sensor methods of finding their targets.

Both missiles were to weigh 117 pounds each, have a seven inch diameter and a five foot length. Each missile box was to have carried 15 missiles and its own communication system, weigh about 3,150 lb. and have 45 inches width by 45 inches length by 69 inches height. The vehicle carrying the box could by anything larger than a pickup truck and was simply a way to transport the autonomous system.

The infrared sensor capability in the $1.1 billion project, however, utterly failed to hit its targets in Department of Defense tests.

Overall missile reliability is just 61 percent, well below the 85 percent requirement. The missile’s problems appear to be with its infrared seeker; missiles using the IR seeker hit only 5 out of 11 times during tests last year and again this year.

During limited user tests in February, the first operational flight test of the NLOS-LS, only two of the Precision Attack Munition missiles fired hit their targets; two missiles impacted more than 14 kilometers from the target.

It was a spin off of the larger cancelled Future Combat System, a whole array of new cutting edge technologies that the Army had planned to buy, that has been in development in some form since 2002 by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.

It was also to be included with minor modifications in one of the key modules of the Littoral Combat Ship, intended for anti-surface ship warfare, leaving it with only "a single 57mm rapid fire cannon that can range out to nine miles." Other missions of the the Littoral Combat Ship, such as anti-submarine warfare and anti-mine warfare, are unaffected by this development. The major armament for the anti-surface warfare module of the LCS will now have to be reconsidered.

Not Unusual

Unlike major new ship designs, aircraft programs and ground vehicle programs, new missile programs rarely fall into the "too big to fail" category.

This isn't the first missile development program the U.S. military has recently put on hold due to development problems. Lockheed's Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (AGM-158 JASSM) program for a missile to be launched from fighter aircraft was placed on hold in August of 2009 to allow for more testing of the problematic missile program.

Historically, roughly half of the military's new missile programs are cancelled before entering service.

Comparisons To Existing Systems

The missiles would have been comparable in size and lethality to the Hellfire missiles used by U.S. attack helicopters and armed drones against targets such as tanks, but would not be as integrated into its launch vehicle and would have a more sophisticated guidance system (the Hellfire uses a laser guidance system, while this system would add GPS and infrared guidance systems).

These missiles are somewhat comparable in warhead size and range to the 155mm guided howitzer shells such as the M712 Copperhead and M982 Excalibur artillery rounds, which weigh less but get more propulsion of the launching unit that missiles must devote to internal fuel.

These are about a quarter the size of the air to ground Maverick missiles (AGM-65) used by the U.S. military fighter aircraft, about half the size of the MLRS rockets used by heavier Army artillery units, and somewhat smaller than the "small diameter bomb" the lastest of the "smart bombs" used by U.S. fighters.

These missiles would have been larger than anti-tank weapons such as the Javelin and TOW that are currently in service in the Army and would have had longer range as well.

Future Program

Since the problems with the NLOS-LS seemed to be limited mostly to software glitches and the technology related to its infrared guidance systems, the next program filling the niche that the NLOS-LS has vacated could be a less ambitious program, with just GPS and laser based guidance systems, or a new version of this system when the infrared guidance system is ready for prime time after development takes place that isn't on the government's nickle.

Another possibility is that progress in the development of drone helicopters carrying Hellfire or successor missiles could make the niche this weapons system was supposed to fill less critical.

Utah Came Close To Criminalizing Miscarriage

About one in three pregnancies ends via a miscarriage which is not an abortion. Miscariages before a woman is even sure that she is pregant are common. Most miscarriages happen early in a pregnancy, but later miscarriages and stillbirths are not uncommon. Scientific understanding of what causes them is fuzzy. Usually, there is no sure way to know what causes a miscarriage, and the woman who experiences one is full of guilt for what often is a totally random event so far as medical science can exlpain it. Miscarriage is probably the least understood link on the never ending drama of human evolution.

There are rare cases where there is a clear cause (e.g. a trauma to a pregnant woman), but many we don't understand. Pregnant women are a hyper-sensititive population at risk from all sorts of environmental exposures and conditions that wouldn't be considered a serious health risk to others. Neonatal environments have an influence rivaled only by genetics in their impacts on a child's well being, but few of pregnant women manage to do everything right, and our knowledge of what is best has changed frequently over the years.

Public health authorities have also not devoted much research effort in the past to distinguishing between conduct for pregnant women that is likely to be beneficial, that could cause birth defects or congenital disabilities (which may or may not be at a clinical level), or that cause miscarriage. For example, while it is widely known that drinking alcohol while pregnant can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome which has many negative health impacts on a child, it isn't as clear how often and to what extent alcohol must be consumed for this to lead to a miscarriage.

The lack of a good understanding about what causes miscarriage in many cases casts doubt on the wisdom of a Utah bill passed this past February.

Utah’s House of Representatives and Senate have approved a bill which would criminalize miscarriage caused by an “intentional, knowing, or reckless” act, such as drinking while pregnant. The bill is in response to a 17-year-old Utah girl who, while seven months pregnant, paid a man $150 to beat her up and induce a miscarriage. The girl was not successful and gave the child up for adoption. The Utah bill, which would not criminalize abortions obtained legally, is presently awaiting the governor’s signature.

Since abortion itself is a misarriage caused by an intentional act, the law also leaves legal abortion as an act that is legal solely as a specific exception to a general legal rule.

The Governor of Utah vetoed the bill on March 8, 2010 (Utah HB 12 bill text). To my knowledge, there has been no successful effort to override that veto.

Credit Rating Agencies Misled The Market

[T]he e-mail messages you should be focusing on are the ones from employees at the credit rating agencies, which bestowed AAA ratings on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of dubious assets, nearly all of which have since turned out to be toxic waste. And no, that’s not hyperbole: of AAA-rated subprime-mortgage-backed securities issued in 2006, 93 percent — 93 percent! — have now been downgraded to junk status.

What those e-mails reveal is a deeply corrupt system.
. . .

The Senate subcommittee has focused its investigations on the two biggest credit rating agencies, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s; what it has found confirms our worst suspicions. In one e-mail message, an S.& P. employee explains that a meeting is necessary to “discuss adjusting criteria” for assessing housing-backed securities “because of the ongoing threat of losing deals.” Another message complains of having to use resources “to massage the sub-prime and alt-A numbers to preserve market share.”

From here.

We generally protect credit rating agencies for liability, on the theory that a credit rating is merely a statement of opnion intended to show the percentage of bonds with the rating that will default, not whether a bond will or will not default in a partiuclar instance. But, that protection assumes that the credit reporting agencie are worthwhile as a central aspect of the bond market, and as an integrated part of the regulatory structure, because we can trust them to act in good faith.

But, when credit rating agencies don't act in good faith, as they failed to in the financial crisis, the entire bond market falls apart based upon the bad decision making that takes place based upon their misleading information.

26 April 2010

Union Membership Still Falling In Colorado

In late 2007, I noted that:

[I]n 1983 in Colorado, 11.2% of private sector workers (120,298 workers) and 24.1% of public sector workers (57,592 workers) were union members. . . .

As of 2006, in Colorado, 5.0% of the private sector work force (92,589 workers), and 22.8% of the public sector work force (82,564 workers) was made up of union members. Another 10,948 private sector workers and 10,096 public sector workers were in union covered work places but were not union members themselves.

Three years later, the picture continues to look worse for Colorado unions.

As of 2009, in Colorado, 4.5% of the private sector work force (83,789 workers) and 20.9% of the public sector work force (69,435 workers) was made up of union members. Another 12,979 private sector workers and 14,448 public sector workers were in union covered work places but were not union members themselves.

Union membership is down 8,800 workers (9.5% in absolute numbers) in the private sector, and 13,129 workers (15.9% in absolute numbers) in the public sector from 2006 to 2009 in Colorado. This is a drop of 0.5 perecentage points in the private sector and 1.9 percentage points in the public sector.

Union contract covered worekrs are down 6,769 workers in the private sector, and 8,777 workers in the public sector from 2006 to 2009 in Colorado. The percentage of union covered workers who are actually in the union is down in both the public and private sectors as well. The percentage drop in union contract covered workers is not as great as the drops in union membership, but the drops are still significant.

If you had asked me three years ago what I would have expected, I would have told you that I expected private sector unionization rates to continue to fall, but that public sector unionization would increase. I would have been wrong. Absolute losses in public sector union membership are particularly discouraging. I suspect that some of these losses are from an overall decline in United States Postal Service employment, one of the biggest little reported stories of sustained layoffs in the United States. But, the bad news is simply too big to have one cause.

Even with new, presumably more labor friendly members on the National Labor Relations Board, and some diluted version of the Employee Free Choice Act likely to emerge from Congress at some point, from a federal government led by a Democratic President and a Democratic party controlled Congress there is still little room for cheer in the union movement in Colorado.

Federal private sector labor relations law, after all, has little or no direct impact public sector union members. Public sector unions in the state have declined in the past three years, despite the fact that Democrats have controlled the statehouse for the last three years in Colorado. Governor Ritter, of course, has been decidedly ambivalent about the union movement handing state employee's unions wins, while vetoing legislation seen by the labor movement as important. Colorado's courts, however, have struck down as unconstitutional a very broadly written state "pay to play" initiative designed to mute union money in elections.

Colorado's public sector unions have had wins and losses on the political and legal fronts over the past few years, but few people would call the shifts decisive. Colorado has not had the moral equivalent of Ronald Reagan replacing striking air traffic control workers.

Also, as I've pointed out in the past, what public sector unions do, and what private sector unions do is not directly comparable. Public sector unions mediate tensions between management and workers in any already highly regulated civil service environment, and lobby for the interests of workers in the political system that employs them, as much as they focus on fattening member compensation. Private sector unions focus on much more basic protections for workers like creating remedies for arbitrary employment termination, and try to increase their member's compensation.

The private sector is also, of course, much larger than the public sector in Colorado.

One can look for short term causes of the declines in unionization in Colorado in the past three years, particular employers that have laid off workers, particular union organizing campaigns that failed, particular laws or cases that changed the legal environment. But, to some extent that misses the point.

The decline is part of a long term trend. Unionization rates are at record lows across the United States, have fallen to levels not seen since the 1920s, and have been falling for half a century. The post-industrial economy, apparently, will look more like the pre-industrial economy than it will like the industrial one.

The Great Depression brought breadlines and rent strikes and angry rallies by unemployed workers. The Great Recession has brought us birthers, the Tea Party, and protests against tax credits to make it easier to obtain health insurance.

Laid off auto workers are going quietly. A major recall of Japanese cars from Toyota that would draw Americans into foreign car lots was widely anticipated by economic futurists. Tom Clancy uses such a recall as one thread of many destabilizing the country. The Japanese business manga writers of "Japan, Inc." predicted much the same thing. The reality turned out to be more timid. Crowds of loyal customers swooped in to get recall inspired deals, and a month after the news broke, Toyota's sales trends were still better than Chrysler's. Korean based Hyundai snapped up "cars for clunkers" stimulus program participants. Half of cars (excluding light trucks) made in the United States are now made by "foreign" automakers.

Colorado has seen plenty of job creation in the past quarter-century, but union organizing has not captured many of the new jobs.

The life long careers unions existed to support seem scarce these days in the private sector, especially outside management. While some industries, like banking, have been consolidating headlong (and bank tellers, for whatever reason, have rarely sought to unionize), others, like construction, seem as fragmented as ever, or more so. And, the union movement in America has long been focus on the benefits to be secured from unionizing big shops or whole industries.

When I was in law school at the University of Michigan, close to the heartland of the automobile industry, the big discussion in labor law was about union busting. But, a decade and a half later, this diagnosis seems mismatched. Certainly, there is a virulent anti-union movement in conservative politics. Certainly, there are union busters. The Denver Post editorial page writes one screed after another denouncing the evil of unions like some 19th century partisan rag. But, the anti-union rhetoric seems oddly irrelevant, like reading translations of Saint Augustine railing from his Roman North African diocese against heresies and pagan practices nobody even remembers ever existed.

Incidents like a recent deadly oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, or deaths in yet another American coal mining accident used to rouse support for unions to force management to behave. Now, the instictive response is to wonder why federal regulators have been so ineffectual, and answer that Republicans appointed people who didn't believe in regulation to oversee the work. The need for stronger unions to protect worker safety, or failure of those already in place to do so, simply isn't a part of the discussion anymore.

When is the last time you remember a French style transit workers strike in the United States bringing the nation to a standstill? How many people even know what a general strike involves? Somehow, the American union movement seems to have become a solution nobody seems to remember how to apply to the nation's problems.

If the Democratic party, which has in recent memory received most union support, has any consolation, it is that the Republican method of getting boots on the ground to support its cause, politically involved evangelical churches, have also been lackluster: declining themselves or distancing themselves from a politics that has turned out to be toxic. Republican support for religious causes has also done more to alienate other parts of their base, than Democratic support for labor has to alienate the Democratic base.

23 April 2010

Beer or Bread?

Set the wayback machine for 10,000 B.C. What does the world look like?

Agriculture hasn't been invented yet, though people brew beer from wild grains and are starting to notice that if you plant the seeds, they'll come up in the same place next year, making it easier to brew beer. (What, you think people invented agriculture for bread?)

Law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds writing here.

The Battle of Britain and the Welfare State

[T]he single largest social experiment in Great Britain during World War II [was] the official evacuation of between 800,000 and a million children, mostly unaccompanied, from London and other cities of Great Britain in order to transfer them away from aerial bombing of industrial centers. The evacuations occurred in three waves - the first (and largest) occurring before bombing began, between September 1-3, 1939; the second after the beginning of the “blitz” in 1940; and the last when the V-1 and V-2 rockets attacked London and the southeast of England in 1944. . . . The greatest effect of the wartime experiment . . . was on overall social policy. Evacuation of chiefly poor children from the inner cities to the more affluent countryside exposed the persistence of poverty to the nation. Shining a light on the “dark places” in turn helped to inspire the post-war construction of the welfare state, including national health insurance.

From here.

The evacuation provides the frame for the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis whose prestige as a Christian apologist was also greatly enhanced by his BBC lectures during that period making him one of the world's earliest prominent televangelists.

Credit Rating Agency Reform

The Center for Economic and Policy Research has an idea for ending conflicts of interest in credit ratings for publicly held companies so simple, inexpensive to implement and elegant that it just might work:

If the selection of the rating agency was assigned to a neutral party, like the Securities and Exchange Commission or the stock exchange on which the company is listed, then the agency would have no incentive to tilt its report in favor of the company.

It isn't on the table. But, while CEPR attributes this to special interest lobbying, I had never even heard the idea suggested by anyone, and wouldn't rule it out until it has had a fair hearing. The political world is not so intelligent and rational that it is aware of all possible solutions, and this may be one good idea that has a chance once put on the table.

Of course, SEC selection might prove distasteful to financial types who see socialism behind every corner, and privately owned and nearly monopolistic stock exchanges aren't immune to regulatory capture by their member companies. But, the idea would still be an improvement over the status quo.

Qwest To Leave Denver

Denver based Qwest, a Bell Telephone successor company, is being merged into by a little telephone company you've never heard of (CenturyTel) and will be moving its headquarters to the sleepy town of Monroe, Lousianna in a year or so. The news is not good for downtown Denver where the company is a major tenant and source of headquarters jobs likely to be cut in the deal. Qwest employs about 8,000 people in Colorado, and many hundreds or thousands of those jobs will soon be gone.

In a way, the move makes sense. The cost of doing business is almost certainly lower in Monroe than it is in Denver, and the whole point of the telecommunications industry is that it is irrelevant where you are actually located.

Qwest has not been a paragon of good corporate management. It has a former CEO in federal prison for fraud and more former executives being prosecuted. Its stock price remains down more than 90% from its peak. And, cable companies and cell phone companies, like Comcast and T-Mobile are starting to eat into its core phone services business. Qwest doesn't have a wireless network.

The purchase also largely hastens the inevitable. Qwest has already cut half of its employees in the last decade. It was going to have to cut more in any case as its landline based business shrinks. It narrowly avoided bankruptcy in 2002. It had already announced plans to move 1,200 of the 2,600 jobs provides downtown out of its prime downtown office space in February. This is about 1 in 40 downtown jobs, if I recall correctly.

In theory, investors should be eager to provide funds to any management team that can do a better job for shareholders than the existing team, even if they are little known. The new owner plans to cut $575 million a year in operating costs. In practice, some of the bigger little fish eats big fish transactions, like the acquisition of MCI by WorldCom and Chrysler by Cerebus Management, have ended badly. But, in our economy, anyone who can find someone willing to lend them enough to buy a publicly held company and pay a control premium can buy one, and generally, this is a good thing. Terminating poorly performing companies is almost always politically unpopular, but they can be a major drain on the economy.

The challenge for Denver will be to decide how to fill the hole that Qwest leaves behind in jobs and civic support. This is a tall order at a time when the nation as a whole is in an economic slump, but Denver is still stronger the most.

One place that downtown Denver may look, at a time when central cities have become popular again, while suburbs and office parks are out, is the Denver Tech Center which provides employment to about 35,000 people in the kinds of companies that might see a move to former Qwest office space as a step up.

22 April 2010

Random Points of Thought

* The FDIC is selling $2 billion of Treasury bonds whose payments are intended to be primarily financed through toxic and non-toxic bank assets (performing and non-performing construction loans) that it acquired from failed banks. The face value of the underlyinng assets is $4.5 billion. Thus, the FDIC is basically taking a $2.5 billion loss on those assets, although if they overperform the benefit accrued to the benefit of the FDIC.

* Genetically, some of the closest relatives to the Berbers of North Africa are the Saami of Northern Scandinavia. The Berbers, together with the Yakut of Northeastern Siberia and the Fulbe of the Sahel in Africa, share closely related versions of mitchondrial DNA lineage U5b1b. This lineage is not the only close connection. Lineages of mtDNA lines H1, H3 and V are also closely related in the two groups.

In 2005, when the paper linked above was written, it was assumed that this link flowed from the retreat of modern humans to Iberia, Italy and other Southern European locations when glacial ice in Europe reached its furthest extent around 18,000 years ago followed by the expansion of those populations from those refugia afterwards. Ancient Basque DNA from the pre-historic era discovered since then now suggests that the V haplogroup of mtDNA actually is more likely to have had a source in North Africa and flowed to the North from there.

More generally, there is increasing genetic evidence that Europe was populated by Neaderthals who had very little genetic impact on the modern humans who arrived around 45,000 years ago and had replaced them by the last global maximum of the arctic ice pack around 18,000 years ago, who themselves retreated from much of Europe at that point. Modern humans who were hunters and gatherers from a genetically distinct population then repopulated Europe has the ice pack retreated, only to in turn be replaced by herders and farmers when plants and animals were domesticated and expanded beyond the Near East around 8,000 years ago.

The is very little trace left of the first round of hunter-gatherers in the genetics of modern populations, and the share of the population tracing maternal roots to the later round of hunter-gatherers has declined dramatically. Maternal lines that made up more than 80% of the population in the upper paleolithic after the last glacial maximum according to ancient DNA evidence, now account for about 11% of the European population, and the total genetic contribution of pre-farming/herder European hunter-gatherers to Europe's population is estimated to be about 20% or less.

* General Motors has paid off the balance of its loan from the federal government, although the federal government remains a major equity holder in the company, an amount that is North of $5 billion. Maybe socialism is underrated.

* Forget Marx and union-management conflicts. The new class warfare is between the "Lower Upper Class" (a.k.a. Upper Middle Class) and the rich according to Washington Post journalist Matt Miller.

In the same vein, while the children of the rich and famous are routinely admitted to selective colleges to which they could not have been admitted on their own merits, a preference more common than affirmative actions at many elite institutions, admissions policies based on a narrow conception of academic ability that deny the rich an edge do little for black and low income students. The beneficiaries of a policy of meritocracy over plutocracy in college admissions are largely the children of the upper middle class.

* You can't make these things up:

Why should an African-American vote Republican?

"You really don't have a reason to, to be honest - we haven't done a very good job of really giving you one. True? True," Republican National Chairman Michael Steele told 200 DePaul University students Tuesday night.

* When I was a lawyer in New York State, I once had a real estate deal involving property once owned by Millard Fillmore, complete with his affidavit affirming that he did not have a common law wife, and a chain of title that went back even further and was complicated by a spat of unrecorded deeds executed in Taiwan. So, I sympathize with this little e-mail story, whether it is true (which I doubt) or not:

A New Orleans lawyer sought an FHA loan for a client. He was told the loan would be granted if he could prove satisfactory title to a parcel of property being offered as collateral. The title to the property dated back to 1803, which took the lawyer three months to track down. After sending the information to the FHA, he received the following reply.

(Actual reply from FHA):

"Upon review of your letter adjoining your client's loan application, we note that the request is supported by an Abstract of Title. While we compliment the able manner in which you have prepared and presented the application, we must point out that you have only cleared title to the proposed collateral property back to 1803. Before final approval can be accorded, it will be necessary to clear the title back to its origin."

Annoyed, the lawyer responded as follows:

(Actual response):
"Your letter regarding title in Case No.189156 has been received. I note that you wish to have title extended further than the 206 years covered by the present application. I was unaware that any educated person in this country, particularly those working in the property area, would not know that Louisiana was purchased by the United States from France, in 1803 the year of origin identified in our application. For the edification of uninformed FHA bureaucrats, the title to the land prior to U.S. ownership was obtained from France, which had acquired it by Right of Conquest from Spain. The land came into the possession of Spain by Right of Discovery made in the year 1492 by a sea captain named Christopher Columbus, who had been granted the privilege of seeking a new route to India by the Spanish monarch, Queen Isabella. The good Queen Isabella, being a pious woman and almost as careful about titles as the FHA, took the precaution of securing the blessing of the Pope before she sold her jewels to finance Columbus' expedition... Now the Pope, as I'm sure you may know, is the emissary of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and God, it is commonly accepted, created this world. Therefore, I believe it is safe to presume that God also made that part of the world called Louisiana. God, therefore, would be the owner of origin and His origins date back to before the beginning of time, the world as we know it, and the FHA. I hope you find God's original claim to be satisfactory. Now, may we have our damn loan?"

The loan was immediately approved.

In practice, a chain of title a decade or two long is usually good enough to establish title by adverse possession, so this is just silliness, but it is still a cute story and property students are still taught about the more obscure property law doctrines cited. Adverse possession does not run against sovereigns and the typical cases that have to resort to very old titles involve Indian tribes or governmental entities.

* Loop quantum gravity as a fundamental theory of physics alternative to string theory continues to soldier on. This attempt to find a quantum version of general relativity claims to have developed quantum style equations that yield the Einstein equations in the large distance classical limit. The big difference between loop quantum gravity and either conventional quantum physics or general relativity, is that loop quantum physics involves a structure of time-space itself that is fundamentally discrete rather than continuous, rather than having quanta moving within an infinitely fine background.

Their t-shirt equation isn't quite E=mc^2, but still comes in high on the mathematical beauty contest scale:

⟨Wv|ψ⟩ = (fγψ)(1)

fγ is a map from SU(2) spin networks to SL(2,C) spin networks. The subscript shows the dependence of this map on the Immirzi parameter.

Also of interest in the world of fundamental physics are relatively promising efforts to find a practical way to computationally work with the quantum physics of the strong force that binds atomic nuclei together, using what are called lattice computations to compute exact solution of Yang-Mills equations. This is a break through because the computational difficulties involved in the equations that govern the strong force are much more formidable than those that govern the electro-magnetic force (known as QED).

21 April 2010

Rewarding Failure

Mike Vickers, the assistant defense secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict is one of the few Bush administration DOD holdovers.

His current agenda includes providing foreign advisers to the Yemeni government.

Vickers rose to his current post based upon his work in "Charlie Wilson’s War" (i.e. the U.S. sponsored insurgency in Afghanistan when the Soviets were in charge, and "his advisory experience in El Salvador during the 1980s."

Charlie Wilson's War helped precipitate the collapse of the Soviet regime that led first to anarchy and civil war, then to the Taliban and then to Al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan and then to 9-11, and then to U.S. constabulary involvement. This has success written all over it. It also put advanced anti-aircraft missiles in the hands of fundamentalist Islamic terrorists that proved to be a bane to U.S. anti-terrorism planners for decades.

U.S. involvement in El Salvador in the 1980s at a cost of about $6 billion supported a government that sponsored right-wing death squads that killed about 70,000+ people including half a dozen Jesuit priests whose government employee murders were identified but not prosecuted by the regime we supported. It didn't end until the U.S. pulled out. Investigation after the fact revealed that our side committed 85% of the atrocities in those twelve years. The turbulence of the 1980s also produced mass refugee and economic migrant relocation to the United States. The politicians we helped massacre en masse are now in charge in El Salvador anyway. What part of this is a good thing?

Obviously, Vickers didn't do this all by himself. He did it with the help of Ronald Reagan. But, he handled the details and knew what was going on and should have known better.

Vickers was also neck deep in parts of the Bush Administration anti-terrorism policy that we regret like a tolerance for extra-legal torture that didn't work and probably helped drum up opposition to the United States and made the terrorism threat face by the U.S. greater and harder to fight, while undermining U.S. support from our usual Western allies.

Success is not a prerequisite to promotion in the United States military, however, and politically the "indirect approach" that Cold Warrior Vickers favors has one big virtue: If you don't look like you're playing, you can't look like you're losing.

Still, I find it appalling that we have someone like Vickers with a record of catastrophic failure in U.S. Special Operations, in charge of Special Operations in the Obama administration.

I despair to see what will become of Yemen in a few decades, but with Vickers handling that part of the operation, it isn't likely to be good.

Banking Concentration Recent

From 1935-1990, the biggest three banks in the United States had 10%-15% of all U.S. banking assets. Since 1990, commercial banking has grown dramatically more concentrated, with the three biggest U.S. banks now holding more than 40% of all U.S. banking assets, up four-fold from 1990.

Notably, this correlates strongly with a time period when pay for top executives in the banking sector soared, while pay for the top executives in the "real economy" increased much more slowly.

I've had doubts that mere size was a major problem in commercial banking, which is much more heavily regulated than investment banking. But, I'm coming to have my doubts.

Tuna Poses Serious Mercury Risk

One of the major long term health risks in food, particularly in vulnerable populations like pregnant and nursing women and children, is mercury pollution from eating fish. But, some kinds of fish pose much more of a risk than other kinds of fish.

Very Low Risk Seafood 43% of market - 9.1% of mercury inputs
Medium Risk Seafood 49% of market - 41% of mercury inputs
Moderately High, High and Very High Risk Seafood 8% of market - 40% of mercury inputs

Very Low Mercury Risk Seafood
Oysters and Mussels
Freshwater Trout
Ocean Perch and Mullet

Below Average Mercury Risk Seafood
Atlantoic Mackerel
Anchovies, Herring and Shad
Flounder, Sole and Paice
Atlantic Croaker

Above Average Mercury Risk Seafood
Pacific Mackerel (Chub)
Atlantic Tilefish
Canned Light Tuna
Spiny Lobster
Snapper, Porgy, Sheepshead
Freshwater Perch
Haddock, Hake, Monkfish

Moderately High Mercury Risk Seafood
Carp and Buffalofish
Sea Trout
Lingcod & Scorpionfish
Sea Bass
Pacific Croaker
American Lobster
Freshwater Bass

High Mercury Risk Seafood
Canned Albacore Tuna
Spanish Mackerel
Fresh/Frozen Tuna
Orange Roughy

Very High Mercury Risk Seafood
King Mackerel
Gulf Tilefish
Tuna Sushi/Bluefin Tuna

On average, mercury risks are highest in top of the food chain predator fish and are greatest in the largest types of those fish, because mercury accumulates and becomes more concentrated in fish as it works its way up the marine food chain.

Not All Tuna Poses The Same Risk

About 15% of bigeye, bluefin and yellowfin tunas served in sushi restaurants and a few percent supermarket sushi tuna has twice the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency action level for mercury, and the average is around the U.S. EPA action level. Restaurant sushi tuna has on average 50% more mercury than sushi tuna sold in supermarkets, and is much less likely to have more than twice the EPA action level of mercury. Of fresh tuna species, on average, bluefin tune has the most mercury, then bigeye tuna, and then yellow fin tuna.

Canned tuna has less mercury but is still a serious concern, because it accounts "for at least one-quarter of domestic seafood consumption" but the risk in this case also varies by type. White tuna is mostly albacore, which poses a greater mercury risk and poses a risk similar to store bought sushi tuna, while light tuna is mostly shipjack tuna which poses a lower mercury risk. The average level of mercury in solid and chunk white tuna is right at the EPA action level and more than four percent of it exceeds twice the EPA action level. Light tuna averages a mercury contamination level of a little more than half the EPA action level.

A 55 pound child can safely eat one serving of canned white tuna every two weeks, without facing too much mercury contamination, and can safetly eat one serving of canned light tuna less than once a week.

20 April 2010


Today, being 4/20 is a good day to memorialize things that are wasted. Few things are a great waste than a dead language, and the Americans have many. The list below via Wikipedia, memoralizes these lost culutures, most of which will never merit so much as a television special to remember them for future generations:

South America

Although both North and Central America are very diverse areas, South America has a linguistic diversity rivalled by only a few other places in the world with approximately 350 languages still spoken and an estimated 1,500 languages at first European contact.

The situation of language documentation and classification into genetic families is not as advanced as in North America (which is relatively well-studied in many areas). . . . it is not likely that the number of specialists in SA Indian languages will increase fast enough to document most of the surviving SA languages before they go out of use, as most of them unavoidably will. . .

It is fair to say that SA and New Guinea are linguistically the poorest documented parts of the world. However, in the early 1960s fairly systematic efforts were launched in Papua New Guinea, and that area – much smaller than SA, to be sure – is in general much better documented than any part of indigenous SA of comparable size.
As a result, many relationships between languages and language families have not been determined and some of those relationships that have been proposed are on somewhat shaky ground."

Exitinct indigienous language families in the Americas:

1.Aguano †
2.Alagüilac (Guatemala)'†
3.Andaquí (also known as Andaqui, Andakí) †
4.Andoquero †
5.Arauan (9) †
6.Baenan (Brazil: Bahia) (also known as Baenán, Baenã) †
7.Betoi (Colombia) (also known as Betoy, Jirara) †
8.Catacaoan (also known as Katakáoan) †
9.Charruan (also known as Charrúan) †
10.Chimuan (3) †
11.Cholonan †
12.Chorotega (Costa Rica) †
13.Coahuilteco †
14.Comecrudan (Texas & Mexico) (3) †
15.Cotoname †
16.Cuitlatec (Mexico: Guerrero) †)
17.Coeruna (Brazil) †
18.Cunza (Chile, Bolivia, Argentina) (also known as Atacama, Atakama, Atacameño, Lipe, Kunsa) †
19.Esmeraldeño (also known as Esmeralda, Takame) †
20.Gamela (Brazil: Maranhão) †
21.Gorgotoqui (Bolivia) †
22.Guajiboan (4) (also known as Wahívoan) †
23.Guamo (Venezuela) (also known as Wamo) †
24.Huamoé (Brazil: Pernambuco) †
25.Huarpe (also known as Warpe) †
26.Jirajaran (3) (also known as Hiraháran, Jirajarano, Jirajarana) †
27.Jeikó †
28.Kamakanan †
29.Karirí (Brazil: Paraíba, Pernambuco, Ceará) †
30.Katembrí †
31.Kukurá (Brazil: Mato Grosso) †
32.Matanawí †
33.Mocana (Colombia: Tubará) †
34.Mochita †
35.Muzo (Colombia) †
36.Natú (Brazil: Pernambuco) †
37.Old Catío-Nutabe (Colombia) †
28.Omurano (Peru) (also known as Mayna, Mumurana, Numurana, Maina, Rimachu, Roamaina, Umurano) †
39.Otí (Brazil: São Paulo) †
40.Otomacoan (2) †
41.Pakarara †
43.Panche †
44.Pankararú (Brazil: Pernambuco) †
45.Pantagora †
46.Peba-Yaguan (2) (also known as Yaguan, Yáwan, Peban) †
47.Puelche (Chile) (also known as Guenaken, Gennaken, Pampa, Pehuenche, Ranquelche) †
48.Puquina (Bolivia) †
49.Purian (2) †
50.Sechura language (Atalan, Sec) †
51.Solano †
52.Tairona (Colombia) †
53.Tarairiú (Brazil: Rio Grande do Norte) †
54.Taruma †
55.Tequiraca (Peru) (also known as Tekiraka, Avishiri) †
56.Teushen † (Patagonia, Argentina)
57.Timotean (2) †
58.Tiniguan (2) (also known as Tiníwan, pamigua) †
59.Tuxá (Brazil: Bahia, Pernambuco) †
60.Wakona †
61.Xokó (Brazil: Alagoas, Pernambuco) (also known as Shokó) †
62.Xukurú (Brazil: Pernambuco, Paraíba) †
63.Yuri (Colombia, Brazil) (also known as Carabayo, Jurí) †
64.Yurumanguí (Colombia) (also known as Yurimangui, Yurimangi) †
65.Adai †
66.Alsean (2) †
67.Atakapa †
68.Beothuk †
69.Cayuse †
70.Chimariko †
71.Chitimacha †
72.Chumashan (6) †
73.Coahuilteco †
74.Comecrudan (United States & Mexico) (3) †
75.Coosan (2) †
76.Cotoname †
77.Esselen †
78.Kalapuyan (3) †
79.Karankawa †
80.Natchez †
81.Salinan †
82.Shastan (4) †
83.Siuslaw †
84.Solano †
85.Takelma †
86.Timucua †
87.Tonkawa †
88.Tunica †
89.Yana †
90.Yuki-Wappo (2) † disputed

Living indigienous languagse families of South America:

1.Aikaná (Brazil: Rondônia) (also known as Aikanã, Tubarão)
2.Andoque (Colombia, Peru) (also known as Andoke)
3.Arutani-Sape (2) (also known as Arutani-sapé)
4.Aushiri (also known as Auxira)
5.Aymaran (3)
6.Barbacoan (8)
8.Botocudoan (3) (also known as Aimoré)
9.Cahuapanan (2) (also known as Jebero, Kawapánan)
10.Camsá (Colombia) (also known as Sibundoy, Coche)
11.Candoshi (also known as Maina, Kandoshi)
12.Canichana (Bolivia) (also known as Canesi, Kanichana)
14.Cariban (29) (also known as Caribe, Carib)
15.Cayubaba (Bolivia)
16.Chapacura-Wanham (9) (also known as Chapacuran, Txapakúran)
17.Chibchan (Central America & South America) (22)
19.Chipaya-Uru languages (also known as Uru-Chipaya)
19.Choco (10) (also known as Chocoan)
20.Chon (2) (also known as Patagonian
21.Cofán (Colombia, Ecuador)
23.Culle (Peru) (also known as Culli, Linga, Kulyi)
25.Guaicuruan (7) (also known as Guaykuruan, Waikurúan)
27.Harakmbut (2) (also known as Tuyoneri)
28.Hodï (Venezuela) (also known as Jotí, Hoti, Waruwaru)
29.Huaorani (Ecuador, Peru) (also known as Auca, Huaorani, Wao, Auka, Sabela, Waorani, Waodani)
30.Irantxe (Brazil: Mato Grosso)
31.Itonama (Bolivia) (also known as Saramo, Machoto)
33.Je (13) (also known as Gê, Jêan, Gêan, Ye)
34.Jivaroan (2) (also known as Hívaro)
36.Kaliana (also known as Caliana, Cariana, Sapé, Chirichano)
37.Kapixaná (Brazil: Rondônia) (also known as Kanoé, Kapishaná)
39.Katukinan (3) (also known as Catuquinan)
40.Kawésqar (Chile) (Kaweskar, Alacaluf, Qawasqar, Halawalip, Aksaná, Hekaine)
41.Kwaza language (Koayá) (Brazil: Rondônia)
42.Leco (Lapalapa, Leko)
43.Lule (Argentina) (also known as Tonocoté)
44.Maipurean (South America & Caribbean) (64) (also known as Maipuran, Arawakan, Anahuacan)
45.Maku language (also known as Macu)
46.Malibú (also known as Malibu)
47.Mapudungu (Chile, Argentina) (also known as Araucanian, Mapuche, Huilliche)
48.Mascoyan (5) (also known as Maskóian, Mascoian)
49.Matacoan (4) (also known as Mataguayan)
50.Maxakalían (3) (also known as Mashakalían)
51.Mosetenan (also known as Mosetén)
52.Movima (Bolivia)
53.Munichi (Peru) (also known as Muniche)
54.Muran (4)
55.Mutú (also known as Loco)
56.Nambiquaran (5)
57.Nonuya (Peru, Colombia)
59.Paez (also known as Nasa Yuwe)
60.Pano-Tacanan (33)
61.Panzaleo (Ecuador) (also known as Latacunga, Quito, Pansaleo)
64.Puinavean (8) (also known as Makú)
65.Quechuan (46)
66.Resígaro (Colombia-Peru border area)
68.Saliban (2) (also known as Sálivan)
69.Salumã (Brazil)
70.Taushiro (Peru) (also known as Pinchi, Pinche)
71.Ticuna (Colombia, Peru, Brazil) (also known as Magta, Tikuna, Tucuna, Tukna, Tukuna)
72.Tucanoan (15)
73.Trumai (Brazil: Xingu, Mato Grosso)
74.Tupian (70, including Guaraní)
75.Urarina (also known as Shimacu, Itukale, Shimaku)
77.Warao (Guyana, Surinam, Venezuela) (also known as Guarao)
78.Wayuu (Venezuela and Colombia)
79.Witotoan (6) (also known as Huitotoan, Bora-Witótoan)
80.Yaghan (Chile) (also known as Yámana)
81.Yaruro (also known as Jaruro)
82.Yanomaman (4)
83.Yuracare (Bolivia)
84.Zamucoan (2)
85.Zaparoan (5) (also known as Záparo)

Living indigienous language families of Central America and Mexico and not U.S. or Canada:

1.Bribri (Costa Rica)
2.Boruca (Costa Rica)
3.Chibchan (Central America & South America) (22)
4.Guaicurian (8)
5.Huetar (Costa Rica)
9.Maratino (northeastern Mexico)
10.Mayan (31)
12.Mixe-Zoquean (19)
13.Naolan (Mexico: Tamaulipas)
14.Oto-Manguean (27)
16.Quinigua (northeast Mexico)
18.Tequistlatecan (3)
19.Totonacan (2)

Living indigienous language families of the U.S., Canada and Greenland:

1.Algic (30) 180,000 speakers; Northeast U.S. and Eastern Canada
2.Caddoan (5) 65 speakers; Great Plains
3.Chimakuan (2) 10 speakers; Washington State
4.Chinookan (3) 7 speakers; Pacific Northwest
5.Eskimo-Aleut (7) 110,000 speakers; Artic
6.Haida 320 speakers; Alaskan coastal islands and neighboring Canada
7.Iroquoian (11) 26,000 speakers; Northwest United States
8.Karuk 335 speakers; California
9.Keresan (2) 7971 speakers; New Mexico
10.Kiowa-Tanoan (7) 5535 speakers; Southeast United States
11.Kutenai 10 speakers; Idaho-Montana-British Columbia
12.Maiduan (4) 5 speakers; Northern California
13.Muskogean (9) 26,103 speakers; Southeast United States;
14.Na-Dené (United States, Canada & Mexico) (39); 200,000 Northwest and Southwest U.S.
15.Palaihnihan (2) 8 speakers; NE California
16.Plateau Penutian (4) (also known as Shahapwailutan) 301 speakers; Pacific NW;
17.Pomoan (7) 255 speakers; NW California;
18.Salishan (23) 100 speakers; Greater Seattle
19.Siouan-Catawban (19) 33465 speakers; Central Plains of United States;
20.Tsimshianic (2) 2170 speakers; British Columbia coast;
21.Utian (15) (also known as Miwok-Costanoan) Dozens of speakers; California
23.Uto-Aztecan (33) (United States and Mexico) 1.95 million speakers; Southwest U.S. and Mexico
24.Wakashan (7) 1,063 speakers; British Columbia Coast;
25.Washo 252 speakers; CA-NV border
26.Wintuan (4) 5-6 speakers; Sacramento Valley;
27.Yokutsan (3) thousands of speakers; California
28.Yuchi 5 speakers; Southeast United States
29.Yuman-Cochimí (11) (United States and Mexico) 1,741 speakers; Grand Canyon and Baja California;
30.Zuni 9551 speakers; NM and AZ

Racial Stereotypes Linked To Fear Of Strangers

Racial stereotyping, but not gender stereotyping, is absent in children with Williams Syndrome, a condition generally associated with a lack of fear of strangers along with many other symptoms. The implication is that racial stereotyping and fear of strangers are closely linked neurologically, but that gender stereotyping has a different source.

19 April 2010

Intellectual Ancestors

Rajiv Sethi has another pitch perfect post, this time on the subject of who one claims as one's ancestors. Some highlights:

Rod Dreher, himself a product of the American South, came to the . . . realization while traveling overseas:

"I'd spent several weeks traveling around Europe the summer before my junior year in college, and came to understand after being around all those fellow white people that deep down, we Americans have been deeply shaped by the black experience. . . for a white Southern boy like me to spend six weeks in the Heart of Whiteness was to feel my own Americanness to the marrow for the first time. . . and to surprise myself by recognizing that the main reason I was so different from these people who looked just like me was because I had been raised in a culture profoundly shaped by black Americans."

Ta-Nehisi Coates is right to insist that the question of how we claim our ancestors is "more philosophical than biological." And it is entirely appropriate that he began his post with a quotation from Ralph Wiley, who answered Saul Bellow's famous taunt "Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus?" with the brilliant and wise retort "Tolstoy is the Tolstoy of the Zulus -- unless you find a profit in fencing off universal properties of mankind into exclusive tribal ownership."

It is a concept I've danced around but rarely written about for a long time.

I was thinking about it at a performance of the Cleo Parker Robinson dance troupe last weekend at the historic Shorter A.M.E. Church building in Five Points (incidentally, a dramatically different neighborhood than it was when I came to Denver a decade ago as a result of massive infill development that has changed the character of the neighborhood).

Pre-intermission, the performance had a heavy pan-African component. Post-intermission, it drew much more heavily on the African-American experience in which about three-quarters of the company had their roots.

The dancers in the latter half had a much stronger sense of intention in their movements and were drawing on a shared body language vocabulary. In the first half, you could easily imagine them being painstakingly taught the choreography without understanding at the same level of depth what messages those body movement conveyed. The dancers captured the gross level movements in both cases, but in the more contemporary pieces drawing on their own experience captured the fine details that can't be conveyed with words or by example. But, their very deep understanding of their movement in the second half of the dance showed perfectly an insider's knowledge of the unwritten body language element of the African-American dialet; nuances that an outsider like me can see and know are authentic from experience without having any hope of reproducing them myself.

Your biological ancestry can give you access to the cultural legacy of your ancestors; but that legacy isn't automatic. It must be transmitted.

I've also thought about my own intellectual ancestry claims, the most obvious being that I speak English and have a perspective on my cultural inheritance that results from that language, despite the fact that in 1847, none of my ancestors spoke English. Most of the high culture of my ancestors, I've acquired since going to college or later, although a childhood of church and family reunions filled in some gaps. I am a city boy whose parents made the leap from rural to urban America; from mono-cultures to multi-cultures. They grew up in a world without rock music, pizza, interstate highways, computers, the pill, Chinese restaurants or Jews, and were both first generation college students. They made the transition very gracefully, and as a result, I have very different claims of intellectual ancestry than they did.

This is not to say that they were insular. My grandfather is famous in family lore for insisting that my father receive proper instruction in Latin at his local rural school (his graduating class had about a dozen members), and politics were debated vigorously. All but one of the seven children in their generation went on to be first generation college students, and my father saw the world in the military in a way that I did not.

I thought ahout it again reading recently about the Etruscans, the last non-Indo-European language speaking community in Europe to see their language vanish (the Basque still retain their non-Indo-European language). Their culture of the 9th century BCE onwards is one in continuity with the Villanovan culture before it from about 1150 BCE. But, it shows a huge break with the Terramare culture before it. Religiously, they probably had more in common with the Romans than with the Old European megalith/fertility cult culture we associate with the Minoans, and incorrectly and anachronistically, with the Celts.

While the Etruscans retained their language, they did so by adopting wholesale a whole package of proto-Celtic cultural practices from cremation to iron use to farming practices to the organization of their society. Their language survived because they laid claim to much of the intellectual ancestry carried to them by early Indo-Europeans before the Indo-European cultural package could be used to destroy them. This is why the Etruscans made it into the history books, while the other non-Indo-European cultures of Europe vanished with barely a mention; we know them only by the objects and some of the place names that they left behind.

The Navajo did something similar in the United States; quickly and completely adopting the horse, the gun and sheep herding that were not part of their pre-Columbian tradition, in a way that has allowed their people to survive as a people and their language to remain the most widely used of the pre-Columbian languages of North America. This Na-Dene language family, moreover, has provided the missing linguistic like that connects the Americas to Siberia.

New Zealand's Maori did something similar on first contact with Europeans and also survived with their people and language intact, at the cost of a dramatic transformation of their own culture.

Biology strongly suggests that the Ethiopian Jews acquired their religion by conversion rather than from Jewish ancestors, but does that make them less Jews? Your cultural ancestors are not fully yours to choose, but that does not mean that they are carried by or determined by your biological ancestors.

It takes a humanities expert and a fine taste for cultural detail to sort out precisely from where the ancestry we claim derives, and their is something to be said for learning the answer to that question. There is something delightful, for example, in parsing out the roots of early Christianity in Sumerian myth, a brief episode of Egyptian monotheism, Temple Judaism, Zoroastrian doctrines that pre-Christian Jews were exposed to in Babylon, Platonic philosophy, and Greco-Roman pagan cults of Mithras, Dionysus, and perhaps even the Manicheans. The modern
Christian scripture are derived from writings Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

But, it doesn't take any kind of expertise to actually acquire it. That comes naturally and especially in modern America, rarely has much to do with one's biological ancestry.

16 April 2010

Young Homo Erectus Find Date Probably Wrong

[A] team that first announced in 1996 that sediment at two H[omo] erectus sites on Java dates to between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago. . . based on analyses of radioactive elements in fossil-bearing sediment, suggest that H. erectus survived well into the era dominated by modern humans. . . But a new analysis [by the same team], based on measurements of radioactive argon’s decay in volcanic rock above and below the fossils, puts H. erectus’ age on Java at roughly 550,000 years. It’s not clear why these estimates differ so dramatically and which one is more accurate. . . A new analysis of sediment on Java suggests that animal fossils on the island date to between 200,000 and 150,000 years ago, providing a[nother] possible framework for when H. erectus lived there[.]

From here.

An earlier Java man fossil date would largely rule out the co-existence of pre-modern human and modern human hominins outside Europe and the Near East where Neanderthals and modern humans co-existed for about eighteen thousand years, outside the island of Flores, where a species of hominin commonly called "hobbits" believed to be a homo erectus species that underwent a dwarfism event in an island environment.

An earlier date also makes it necessary to determine why Homo erectus went extinct in Indonesia, although there are many possible explanations, such as the Toba volcano event around 69,000-77,000 years ago (before modern humans arrived) or some similar earlier event in that geologically active region.

And, while we're talking volcanos lets note that iceland's currently errupting volcano has been predictive of its larger neighboring volcano, Katla's eruption within months to a decade afterwards, the last three times it errupted in 920, 1612 and 1821-1823. So it is a good bet that Iceland will have another big volcanic erruption there sometime soon. This is very unlikely to be a Toba class errruption, but it could still be very serious for Icelanders and everyone else in the path of the ash it spews out.

Bureaucrats Who Act In Bad Faith

Federal banking examiners found serious problems at Washington Mutual Bank at least five years before its 2008 collapse, but their supervisors showed little concern ... During those five years, examiners constantly warned of "less than satisfactory" loan underwriting, the "horrible performance" of its subprime-backed mortgage securities and the failure of WaMu executives and federal regulatory supervisors to do much about it.

One examiner said he was derided by colleagues as "the housing 'bubble' boy" for his "gloom and doom" predictions for some risky loans, and another complained that critics of subprime loans were called "chicken little."...

Former OTS Director John Reich, who served from 2005 to 2009, referred to WaMu Chief Executive Kerry Killinger as "my largest constituent" in a 2007 e-mail.

That attitude pervaded the upper levels of the agency ...

From here.

Porter Goss, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, in 2005 approved of the decision by one of his top aides to destroy dozens of videotapes documenting the brutal interrogation of two detainees. . . Shortly after the tapes were destroyed at the order of Jose Rodriguez Jr., then the head of the CIA's clandestine service, Goss told Rodriguez he "agreed" with the decision, according to the document. He even joked after Rodriguez offered to "take the heat" for destroying the tapes.

"PG laughed and said that actually, it would be he, PG, who would take the heat," according to the document, an internal CIA e-mail message.

Current and former intelligence officials said Goss did not give prior approval before it happened . . . The e-mail messages also reveal that top White House officials were angry the CIA had not notified them before the tapes were destroyed.

From here

In both of these cases, neither Office of Thrift Supervision Director John Reich nor CIA Director Porter Goss, both of whom were senior Bush Administration officials, are likely to face criminal or civil liability. It is the job of the OTS director to decide which regulatory concerns to prioritize and which to make a lower priority, and to judge the credibility of his field officers. The documented actions of Porter Goss took place after the CIA misconduct was a fait accompli and has wide discretion to determine how he will discipline his subordinates.

Indeed, if there was criminal or compensatory civil liability for these kinds of actions, it would be much harder to get qualified people to fill these jobs. No federal bureaucrat has personal resources that would be even a drop in the bucket compared to the harm caused by failing to properly regulate Washington Mutual, one of the biggest bank failures in history. When the pressure is on the Central Intelligence Agency to push hard to stop terrorists, it is almost certain that someone, somewhere will cross legal lines and Jose Rodriguez Jr. who actually ordered that tapes be destroyed without approval from his boss and despite a court order probably could face punitive contempt of court sanctions. This breach of the law did untold damage to American civil liberties, and the CIA's credibility as an agency to adheres to the rule of law at home and with our allies.

But, both men also failed to carry out their duties in good faith. The nation's top thift regulator is supposed to enforce federal law regulating thrifts like someone who believes in those laws and to take sincere input from his field agents that is backed up by real evidence seriously. The director of the CIA is supposed to immediately fire people who violate court orders and symbolically show a commitment to the rule of law at the very top of the organization instead of reassuring a subordinate who has blatantly violated the law. And, of course, their boss, in this case, President Bush, is supposed to appoint people who take their duties serious and try to carry them out in good faith. All of them swore an oath to uphold the law and the constitution when they were appointed.

Impunity or Execution?

In China, when a senior bureacrat did something like this connected to a major scandal which is discovered after the fact in an inquiry, he is routinely sanctioned criminally with a long criminal sentence or executed. Maybe the Chinese have higher standards than we do. But, China is also not a nation known for its law abiding and faithful public servants. Countries like Denmark and France, known for their competent and non-corrupt civil services give their bureacrats job security and fat benefits packages, while rarely seeking after the fact retribution and certainly never putting ex-civil servants in jail for long terms or executing them.

The problem of bureacrats acting in bad faith exists in the private sector too. The Securities and Exchange Commission, standing in the shoes of the customers of Goldman Sachs, is suing the investment banking firm and one of its vice presidents for breaching its duty of loyalty to its customers in conduct that was discovered after the fact. But, the owners of Goldman Sachs have no meaningful remedy for the misconduct of the executives who in theory reported ultimately to them, and in general, investors under the management friendly corporate law regime of Delaware that has become the de facto national standard for publicly held copmanies, have no meaningful remedy either through the board of directors election process or through civil suit against self-dealing and bad faith conduct by the executives who are supposed to be acting in their best interest. When investors protest misconduct by selling their shares, they simply let someone else be exploited by management instead of them.

In general, senior bureaucrats can engage in bad faith conduct with impunity, risking only the loss of their jobs and even more rarely a bad reference or public censure (which in a partisan political environment or big business rarely has major negative consequences for them), and they risk losing their jobs only when their boss is seriously outraged by their conduct.

Job Security At The Top and the Importance of Clarity

Moreover, the person at the top of a big business or large political organization bureacracy, while subject to stern selection criteria to get the job in the first place, is generally very hard to remove. No President has ever been involuntarily removed from office except through death (with the arguable exception of Richard Nixon who resigned under a threat of impeachment when implicated in criminal misconduct by his subordinates). CEOs of public held companies are generally involuntarily removed from office only in the case of the purchase of the company in a hostile takeover, incompetence or major personal involvement in actively malfeasant conduct.

In both the political and business spheres, clarity matters more than severity. Absolutely clear affirmative misconduct is likely to get one booted if it is known, even if the magnitute of the offense discovered is minor.

Watergate itself, probably wouldn't have had any electoral impact, for example if the plot had not been unraveled. But, the Smoking Gun tape that showed Nixon knew about the coverup forced him to resign. Nixon's policy mistakes surely hurt the country far more deeply, but that wasn't the direct cause of his removal from office. But, the apparently clear coverup by Nixon made his position untenable. Clinton was impeached and tried (but ultimately acquitted), based on a misleading statement about a sexual affair of no policy importance in a deposition unrelated to his Presidency.

Dennis Kozlowski, the CEO of publicly held Tyco and his CFO Mark Swartz were sentenced to long prison terms for using corporate funds for personal perks, even though they probably could have secured authorization from the board of directors for increased personal compensation and no one would have faulted them for using compensations as they pleased once the funds were in a personal checking account. The prosecutor, jury and public were more motivated by instances like a $2 million birthday party he threw for his wife on the Italian island of Sardinia and a $6,000 shower curtain allegedly purchased with company funds than they were with the more obscure but far more economically important conduct he engaged in that may have inflated the sale price of their more than $575 million of stock in the company.

The Failure of the Status Quo

The punishment long after the fact through the courts approach to bad faith conduct by bureacrats can be emotionally satisfying, but it doesn't work well. Indeed, in terrorum severe penalties for tempting easy to commit violations of any rule rarely do. It doesn't work for CEOs, it doesn't work for directors of federal government departments, and it doesn't work for people on probation or parole.

The immediate supervisor of the OTS agent investigating Washington Mutual didn't support the agent because he knew that his boss didn't want to enforce the laws that the OTS was charged with enforcing if it could avoid doing so.

The CIA aide who destroyed the detainee tapes did it because he felt it was in the best interest of the CIA and the President and that he probably wouldn't be severely punished by his boss for doing so.

Tyco's CEO and CFO thought that their positions gave them carte blanche to use company assets as their own without repurcussions, because big business boards of directors are usually so timid.

Nixon is famous for saying that if the President does it, that it's legal.

The immediacy of repurcussions for failing to carry out one's job in good faith, and the good faith of one's supervisor matter far more than the severity of a distant and uncertain punishment for misconduct.

To stop senior bureacrats from acting in bad faith, they need to have a boss with a capacity to investigate quickly and act decisively who provides the right expectations. The hard question is how make this happen during periods with good leaders and mediocre leaders.


The solution is probably to provide greater accountability at the top to the extent possible. CEOs and Presidents need to know that there will be immediate negative repurcussions if they fail to live up to their responsibilities.

In the case of publicly held businesses, this may mean redesigning the process by which corporate directors are elected and increasing the independent resources available to directors to carry out their job as the CEO's boss, so that directors are more responsive to shareholders than to management, and so that they have a capacity to be effective in carrying out their responsibilities.

In the case of the federal government, this may mean making it easier for Congress to remove executive branch political appointees from office, easier for the judiciary to remove officials who fail to fully comply with court orders or their legal obligations, and making it easier for regulations contrary to a statute's intent to be swiftly overturned. A status quo that is easier for Congress to alter may discourage manipulations of that status quo by executive branch manipulations.

For example, the Senate might give up the power of a Senate minorities to delay or thwart a Presidential nomination, in exchange for the power to remove their appointees by a simple majority vote not subject to the filibuster. Similarly, an end to the legislative filibuster in the Senate or the creation of a requirement that regulations be approved by Congress before they become effective (both features of Colorado's legislature) might discourage executive branch efforts to promulgate regulations contrary to Congressional intent.

Of course, Senators and Representatives are hardly immunity to the disease of acting unaccountably and failing to act in good faith. Campaign finance is often blamed for this problem, but a lack of political party power over its members, and the incentives of the current system for the opposition to use scandal as a political tool and for the party in power to defend members who appear to have engaged in impropriety may be just as serious.

Giving political parties the power to fill vacancies when their members resign from office, as they do in Colorado, and to refuse to allow unfaithful incumbent elected officials to run for re-election under their banner for political reasons rather than for cause, something that parties usually lack (but which a Colorado political party recent did when an elected legislature voluntarily resigned from her party) might give parties who are in a better position to do so than the opposition, an incentive to discipline their own members when they fail to act in good faith. More people would have an interest in seeing the conduct stopped than in tolerating the conduct.

Then again, there is also much to be said for making it easier for members of the same political party to challenge incumbents, which political parties tend to strongly discourage, and for making it easier to recall elected officials. Measures intended to have the first result have been widely adopted but rarely successful, in part because it is easier to organize an insurgent campaign against an incumbent without a lot of financial backing within a political party than it is to do some via a process more open to the public. See, for example, the current Bennet v. Romanoff and Norton v. Buck races in Colorado for the U.S. Senate nomination in the respective political parties. The latter has worked well at the local level in Colorado in places with small populations, where collective action is less difficult to coordinate, but has not worked nearly so well in larger political entities.

Giving elected legislators more staff resources or better pooling those resources, similarly, might make them less reliant on lobbyists whom they are now dependent for information on the never ending torrent of legislation that comes before them.