31 May 2013

World still demon haunted.

I think it is a sad day for America. They have fought & fought against this & just like everyone else they caved. Why would they even want to be apart of something that stands against everything they believe in? It is just another way for satan to get a toehold & take away the rights of God fearing Christians. Now the Boy Scouts no longer stand for the things they were originally founded on just like our sad country. It's past time to pray people & pray hard.

- Facebook comment poster Misti Witt of Oxford, Colorado, on May 23, 2013 at 9:48 p.m. regarding a decision of the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay scouts (but not gay leaders) to participate in scouting.

I won't dignify the substance of this comment with a full response (although I did post one this Facebook page).  Suffice it to say that I disagree.  But, the style of the response is really far more interesting.

Most Americans believe in God. Many Americans attend a church, at least irregularly. But, very few actually interpret events they encounter in life through the lens of cosmic struggles in the here and now between Satan and "God fearing Christians."

People in my world, even the pious religious believers in God who regularly attend religious services, just don't practice their religion in that way.  People in my world, regardless of their religious beliefs, don't have that kind of worldview and don't have that way of responding to it. It was a bit of a shock to see that apparently, even in the 21st century on the Internet, there are people who still do see the world in that way.

Most of my most religious extended family members almost all express their beliefs within the context of one of the several Lutheran denominations, or Roman Catholicism, or some subdivision of the Anglican Church.  Even the few who are part of immigrant churches or who are affiliated with Evangelical denominations rarely invoke "Satan" as an active force in current events in the world.

I don't think that individuals who see the world the way that Ms. Witt do are very common.  In particular, I don't even think that individuals who see the world this way make up the bulk of people who are opposed to gay rights.  But, I acknowledge that my perception of this may biased by my own set of acquaintances and mental filters and information browsing habits.

28 May 2013

Ideal Body-Mass Index In One Image (With Nuance)

From here.

The chart shows that:
(1) ideal BMI increases with age from about 18 at age 20 to about 26 at age 70.  For someone my age, the ideal BMI is about 23;
(2) low BMI increasingly becomes a problem starting about age 50 and becomes worse with time;
(3) significant marginal health risks from higher BMI start to kink at a BMI of about 37 at age twenty but drop to about 30-32 by age 70.

Putting together points (2) and (3) the BMI window around ideal BMI that doesn't have much mortality cost gets smaller and smaller from both ends, and the penalties for being the wrong weight are greater, as you get older.

As far as communicating that point goes, I'm not sure that one can do much better than the chart above.

Wash Park Prophet on Angels

I have recently added an article to Wikipedia on the subject of the Elioud, who are children of the angel-human hybrid Nephalim in certain non-canonical religious texts such as the First Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees that were widely used by the Jewish Essenes sect around the time that early Christianity arose. 

It is the ninth new article that I have contributed to Wikipedia, one of which was a biography of a living physicist that was deleted on the ground that he lacked sufficient notability.

24 May 2013

Yes, Not Fixing Bridges Really Does Have Consequences

The Interstate Highway 5 Bridge in Washington State did this yesterday.  Early reports suggest that fortunately, no one died, although several cars with people in them were plunged into the water.

Choking Your Boss So Badly It Leaves Marks Never A Good Idea

Peter Boyles, a well-known and sometimes-controversial radio host in Denver for 630 KHOW, will be off the air Friday after a heated physical exchange with one of his producers, multiple sources connected to the station confirm to 9NEWS.
Employees observed red marks on producer Greg Hollenback's neck within the minutes of the argument, which happened during Thursday morning's broadcast of the Peter Boyles Show.
From here.

On the upside, we don't necessarily expect the same level of temperance from talk radio hosts as we do from a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who not so long ago engaged in similar conduct with a fellow justice.  But, still, we are talking seasoned, middle aged or older, chair jockeys in either case, not twenty-something hockey players, and we really ought to be able to expect better behavior in both cases.  There are some kinds of conduct that are just not O.K. and are far beyond the pale.  This fits that description.

20 May 2013

Colorado Sheriff's Second Amendment Lawsuit Dubious

The Suit

Fifty-four Colorado Sheriff's and various conservative and libertarian advocacy organizations and gun vendors and individuals, under the leadership of the Independence Institute, have joined a federal lawsuit seeking to have laws mandating universal background checks and limiting magazine size unconstitutional under the Second Amendment with this Complaint filed earlier this week. 

Governor Hickenlooper is sued in his official capacity in an action seeking exclusively injunctive relief, in order to overcome the Eleventh Amendment prohibition on suing state governments for money damages in federal court.  One complication politically comes from the fact that John Suthers, Colorado's attorney general charged with defending Governor Hickenlooper (who also signed the bill) in this action is a Republican who probably has great sympathy with the Plaintiffs' argument and a history of backing conservative advocacy litigation in the name of the State of Colorado himself.

The choice of a federal forum seems to be primarily rooted in the fact that the alternative (Denver District Court and ultimately the Colorado Supreme Court) are less likely to agree with them on the merits than the federal courts. The Plaintiffs might be lucky enough to pull conservative judges at the trial court and appellate levels, but are less likely to prevail on this score in the state courts. Also, a win in a federal appellate court would impact more states than a win in the Colorado Supreme Court.

The fifty-five page Complaint contains copious legal argument and analysis of caselaw, which is not normally appropriate for inclusion in such a document, because its P.R. function is as important as its legal sufficiency (and putting forth a legal argument even if it is a losing one protects the people filing it from sanctions for groundless and frivilous conduct).

The Arguments On The Merits

Universal Background Checks

Background check laws have previously been upheld against constitutional challenges and those rulings did not place particular importance on the fact that the law had loopholes for gun shows and the like.  It receives only slight attention in the Complaint.

Simply put, it is hard to argue for a back door way to transfer guns to people who aren't allowed to own guns shielded only by innocence and willful refusal to obtain a background check, as a matter of constitutional right.

This argument is probably dismissed by the court early on and largely forgotten. Indeed, including this law in the lawsuit probably hurts the Second Amendment cause in the long run by establishing a precedent that can be used to limit the right in many other situations.

Sheriff Standing

It also seems likely that not all of the Plaintiffs, and in particular the Sheriffs, may lack standing to sue in federal court, at least once the background check issues is dispensed with in the case.  

The argument that background checks are unconstitutional is central to the standing of the Sheriffs, since this is the source of most of the non-discretionary enforcement costs associated with the lawsuit and those enforcement costs seem to be the basis for their argument that they have standing to sue.  The interstate fiscal federalism consideration that a new state law imposes financial burdens on county governments that enforce those laws is not normally a matter within the province of the federal courts. But, this seems to be the basis for the Sheriffs inclusion in the suit (their inclusion, of course, is to provide law enforcement political cover to a suit that facilities the conduct of mass murderers).

The argument that they have no duty to enforce a law that they believe to be unconstitutional, while true as far as it goes, is also problematic.  Their remedy is generally not to seek a court ruling, and certainly not to seek a preliminary injunction against enforcement; it is to prioritize other cases.  Only non-discretionary enforcement duties create a situation where court intervention is necessary.

I wouldn't be surprised if some of the "new law" that emerges from this lawsuit is a new doctrine restricting advocacy lawsuits like this one by Sheriffs and other local government officials.

The Ban On Large Magazines

The Plaintiffs magazine size argument has both a general Second Amendment argument that large magazine guns are included in the Second Amendment's protections and a couple of weaker arguments to support it. 

* The Push For The "Common and Popular" Standard 

The strongest argument against a limit on large magazines is that the Heller right is based on a right to armed self-defense and oneself and one's home, but the exact scope of that right in terms of what weapontry is appropriate for that purpose is not well developed.  Some plausible standards for which arms are covered by the right could include large magazines.

The Plaintiffs are pushing a "common and popular" standard for including a firearm type within the scope of the Second Amendment's protections, as opposed to some sort of "necessary for self-defense of onself, one's home and one's family" standard, under which fifteen round magazines are something that a reasonable legislature in its wisdom balancing the interests at stake could find to be unnecessary. 

A "common and popular" standard create a high bar for a law like Colorado's and would push every case to a battle of experts at trial.  One would always have to argue over "how common is common" and "how popular is popular" as a matter of constitutional law.  Even the facts themselves, if known precisely, would not provide clear cut guidanc on these questions.

The fact that no one has successfully challenged the highly regulated state of automatic weapons under federal law, however, doesn't bode well for this challenge which is based upon the same considerations but to a lesser degree in any version of a "necessity" for self-defense argument.  The option of owning multiple loaded firearms undercuts an argument that the magazine size limit is unconstitutional because large magazines are "necessary" for the purposes that the Second Amendment protects. 

In the face of a necessity standard, one would have to make the additional argument that the Second Amendment requires the law to permit less expensive means of bearing arms when more expensive options that accomplish the same ends are available.  Arguing for an expense sensitive standard is not one that I would want to be force to make to a Court.  But, the multiple firearm work around for the magazine limit also weakens that utility of the ban in preventing harm as part of a balancing test if some standard other than necessity determines the outer bounds of the Second Amendment's protections.

There are two other kinds of weaker arguments that are made with respect to the large magazine ban.

* The Americans With Disabilities Act Argument

One is based on the Americans With Disabilities Act claim that argues that people with disabilities need large magazines because they can't reload quickly, which seems dubious.  A scenario that puts together a disabled person, acting in self-defense and exhausting a fourteen round magazine without thrwarting the criminals involved starts to seem like a very far fetched reason for finding a generally applicable ban on magazine size to facially invalid as applied to all citizens of Colorado.  Of course, the easy alternative for this tiny class of persons: to own more than one loaded gun.

Quite frankly, this scenario just seems so far fetched, at least in a facial challenge to the constitutionality of the law itself.  I can't even think of a movie in the orgy of violence that the cinema presents in action and horror movies that presents this kind of situation.  It is hard to see it convincing the judges. 

This seems like the sort of argument that might sound good in a libertarian gun nut bubble but seems like a bit creepy and paranoid to those who are not.

 * The Vagueness Argument

Another is based on a vagueness challenges to certain language in the law. 

This might have some legs as to the "designed to be readily convertable" language of the prohibition that might make it to an evidentiary hearing, although that is still a hard case on vagueness grounds and is more easily resolved with a court determined interpretation of that language that reads it narrowly. 

The suit's broader vagueness attack, however, seems to be grasping at straws - "continous possession" for example, seems no more vague here than in other contexts where similar language has been held not to be vague.

Arguments Not Offered

I'll note that there are arguments other than those arising under the Second Amendment and ADA that might be plausible (e.g. the dormant commerce clause), but are not made here, presumably because the agenda of the Plaintiffs appears to be to make Second Amendment law, rather than simply to prevail on some other grounds. 

Of course, since this was enacted by a state government, arguments based on the limited scope of Congressional authority that have been marshalled to fight gun control laws are not available.

Blasphemy Law In Canada

Jeremy Patrick (University of Southern Queensland School of Law) has posted The Curious Persistence of Blasphemy: Canada and Beyond on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the history and future of the crime of blasphemy. In the introduction, several key questions are examined:(1) What is blasphemy? (2) Why do people blaspheme? and (3) What are the real or perceived harms of blasphemy?  
Subsequently, Part I examines the history of blasphemy and blasphemy-like laws in six jurisdictions around the globe: England, Ireland, Australia, Pakistan, the United Nations, and the United States. The jurisdictions chosen illuminate the fact that blasphemy is a complex concept which can be regulated in a wide variety of ways. These six provide an excellent picture of the varied and diverse ways the concept of blasphemy has operated and an understanding as to why it remains relevant today.  
Part II of this dissertation turns away from a global, comparative examination of blasphemy and instead provides a comprehensive, in-depth study of a single jurisdiction: Canada. This sustained history of blasphemy in Canada, the first ever published, allows for a valuable snapshot of the evolution of the crime into its modern form.  
Part III synthesizes the research and analysis in Parts I and II to answer the fundamental questions: what is the future of the crime of blasphemy in Canada and beyond?
From here.

The article explains that:
In Canada, most lawyers and laypersons alike would be astonished to hear that the country still has a law prohibiting blasphemy on the books. Originally prosecuted as a common law crime, the offense was first statutorily prohibited in 1892 and is currently contained in Section 296 of the Criminal Code:19

(1) Every one who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
(2) It is a question of fact whether or not any matter that is published is a blasphemous libel.
(3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section for expressing in good faith and in decent language, or attempting to establish by argument used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, an opinion on a religious subject.
19 R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46 [Criminal Code].
Although this prohibition is now of dubious constitutionality given the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms several prosecutions for blasphemous libel can be found in Canada’s law reports, and dozens more are hidden in newspaper archives and courthouse files. Indeed, the offense has survived the normal processes responsible for “weeding out” obsolete legislation: critical public attention, repeal bills launched by reformists, law commissions, Criminal Code revision committees, and more. The survival of a criminal ban on blasphemy cannot therefore be attributed wholly to an inattentive legislature.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (aka "CONSTITUTION ACT, 1982, c. 11 (U.K.), Schedule B" provides in the pertinent parts:
Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:  
Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms 
1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. 
Fundamental freedoms 
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association. . .

24. (1) Anyone whose rights or freedoms, as guaranteed by this Charter, have been infringed or denied may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction to obtain such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances.
(2) Where, in proceedings under subsection (1), a court concludes that evidence was obtained in a manner that infringed or denied any rights or freedoms guaranteed by this Charter, the evidence shall be excluded if it is established that, having regard to all the circumstances, the admission of it in the proceedings would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. . . .

33. (1) Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.
(2) An Act or a provision of an Act in respect of which a declaration made under this section is in effect shall have such operation as it would have but for the provision of this Charter referred to in the declaration.
(3) A declaration made under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect five years after it comes into force or on such earlier date as may be specified in the declaration.
(4) Parliament or the legislature of a province may re-enact a declaration made under subsection (1).
(5) Subsection (3) applies in respect of a re-enactment made under subsection (4).
Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, commonly known as the "notwithtstanding clause" allows the Canadian parliament to suspend certain parts of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms including the one containing Canada's freedom of religion, if it does so expressly and intentionally.  But, it has not, in fact, been invoked in the case of Canada's blasphemy laws.

Of course, unlike the American constitution and bill of rights, the Canadian constitution expressly recognizes the "supremacy of God" in its preamble and in Section 1 recognizes that the rights it grants are not absolute.  And, Canada's statute itself may comply by permitting sincere and "polite" blasphemy.  But, this statute is certainly an odd bird and the analysis in the linked article is worth a read.

Ephemera on Monday

* The national animal of Scotland is the Unicorn.  It is much easier to come by the state pets of Colorado, which are shelter cats and dogs.  The Dumb Friends League which I frequently pass by when out and about around town has cats for $10.

* In June, I am moving to a rowhouse in Stapleton (a Denver, Colorado neighborhood) that looks like this (less the "A" pointer):

In addition to its street appeal, it also has the virtue of not being one of the handful of residential units in the metro areas at ground zero in the flood plain if the Cherry Creek dam ever busts.  This is not inconceivable as corners were cut in its construction, so it was not built to specification.  My current apartment and Denver Health are two of the most vulnerable structures if that ever happens.

* 255 Civil Union licenses had been issued in Denver since the law authorizing the marriage in all but name for state law purposes law was passed on May 1 through May 15.  In the same time period Denver issued 245 marriage licenses.  Since Colorado's law took effect, Minnesota and France have joined the ranks of jurisdictions with same sex marriage.

17 May 2013

Partisan Elected Election Officials Still A Bad Idea

In Colorado, statewide election administration is vested in Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican elected to the office in 2008.  Now, he is considering running for Governor in 2014.

Thus, in the hypothetical race of incumbent Governor Hickenlooper, a Democrat, v. Scott Gessler, a Republican, in 2014, the winner will be officially determined by the certification of Scott Gessler, acting with the counsel of the incumbent Republican Secretary of State.

No appearance of impropriety there, no siree!

Then again, suppose Scott Gessler, to avoid an appearance of impropriety, resigns.  This creates its own problem.  Because, if he resigned, his replacement would be appointed by the other candidate in the same race, Governor Hickenlooper.

16 May 2013

Homeless Alcoholic Men Suffer Many Head Injuries

Men who are heavy drinkers and homeless for long periods of time have 400 times the number of head injuries as the general population, according to a new study . . . These men have 170 times as many severe head injuries as the general population and 300 times as many injuries that cause bleeding in the brain.
The study also looked at head injuries in the general homeless population and among people who are vulnerably housed, meaning they live in crowded, unsafe or unaffordable housing or are in danger of becoming homeless. Both these groups had about 23 times the number of head injuries as the general population, but rates much lower than the chronically homeless. . . .
In the general population in Canada, about 12 in every 10,000 men have a head injury that might involve a brain injury each year. Among the chronically homeless the number is 4,800 every year. Among men who are in low income housing each year, 370 in every 10,000 have such a head injury.
From here.

Thus, about 48% of homeless alcoholic men have a head injury in any given year while only 0.12% of people in the general population experience this kind of injury.

The brief press release did not discuss the source of these head injuries.

13 May 2013

How Different Is Polygamy?

Key parts of the institution of polygamous marriage are far less distant from the mainstream American practice than it was sixty years ago in the 1950s, although others, commonly coinciding with polygamy in practice, despite not being part of its definition, were more common then.

In particular, the rise of non-marital parenting and serial monogamy has created an environment where it is far less unusual for a man to have children with multiple woman who are simultaneous alive and simutaneously have meaningful coparenting relationships with him, just live multiple polygamous wives. We owe some of that legacy to Republican Ronald Regan whose ushing in of "no fault" divorce to California during his tenure as Governor jump started this trend.

Some De Facto Emancipated Kids Thrive

Joel Milgram, a professor emeritus of developmental psychology with a specialization in adolescent psychology, who is the father of a close friend of mine, co-authorized back in 1997 a research paper that was described in news reports with psychologist Nancy Britton, that provided ethnographic accounts of teens who lived independently while staying in school and taking care of themselves.
Statistics indicate that teenagers who live away from their parents without any adult supervision are high-risk to become high school drop-outs. Joel Milgram, a University of Cincinnati professor of education has found that a small number of teenagers and parents choose to live apart yet maintain themselves in high school. The teenagers fell into three categories, those who left on their own, those who were kicked out, and those who agreed to live alone with their parent's consent.

Milgram's research is the focus of a chapter in a forthcoming book. "One of the redeeming qualities for all of the kids in this research was that they all were determined to finish high school. Ironically, though most of them had negative feelings about their parents, they admitted to learning the value of education from their parents," he said.

According to Milgram, a developmental child psychologist who has done extensive research into the cognitive, social, and emotional development of children, there are children of various socio-economic backgrounds who have graduated from high school and improved their situations on their own, without adult supervision. Most of the adolescents lived in relative poverty, with the exception of those subsidized by their parents, and represent a small percentage of kids who were relatively successful.

This kind of situation, of a teen just striking out without formal court involvement, is one that gets a lot of attention in American popular fiction (e.g. one of the lead characters in the early 2000s television show "Roswell" who moves out from the home of a drunk and abusive foster father and a character in the ABC Family television series, "The Lying Game" that commenced in 2011 (the Sara Shepard book upon which the television series is based is quite different)), and even more in manga and anime where it is a common trope and almost a cliche, for example, in the case of the heroine in the hit series "Fruits Basket" by Natsuki Takaya (1999-2006). In a variant on the theme, sometimes a teen lives with another family with no formal arrangement in place, for example, as in the Colorado classic "Plainsong" by Kent Haruf (1999). The trope isn't a new one, for example, it was at the center of "The Boxcar Children" series of Gertrude Chandler Warner that debuted in 1924, and describes the life of the title character in Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (1884).

Part of the popularity of these situations is the simple fictional fact that it is easier to write a plausible tale of youthful adventure without parents on hand to get in the way. It provides a way to explore univeral teen yearnings for autonomy.

It also has a certain personal familiarity for me, as I spent my junior year in high school as an exchange student, living (as intended) with a series of host families, but also living more autonomously and independently than most American young adults for that year.  As a lawyer I have dealt with this situations a small number of times first hand, representing someone involved in the arrangement or its aftermath each time.  For example, in one case I handled, I represented a non-custodial parent of a child who lived alone with parental consent to avoid being uprooted by a move to a new town that would disrupt a stable high school situation for the child's senior year.

Milgram's study calls these teens "unemancipated teenagers", but in Colorado law, which just as in its recognition of common law marriage, and common law name changes, believes in the notion that actions speak louder than words, "emancipation" is a factual reality that exists or does not, with legal consequences, rather than a set of privileges and responsibilities which one receives from a court. In Colorado, rather than going to a court asking for permission to be emancipated, a teen is emancipated by virtue of the fact of living on their own and running their own lives without parental involvement and generally, a court merely acknowledges and treats the situation.*

Because it doesn't fit neatly into a box and is in a gray area between legality and illegality (even the law is sometimes contradictory on the legal status of these teens and it differs from state to state), there aren't good Census records on how often this happens and there isn't much good scholarship on how these teens manage.

In the case of foster children, our current system dumps them into this status and reality, whether they like it or not, when they turn eighteen.  Yet, while it would have seemed borderline deviant for foster kids to live an empancipated life a couple of years earlier, at eighteen, emancipation is suddenly imposed on them, in many cases leading to a rocky start to adult life.

But, there are teens who make the leap and live on their own, and those kids sometimes do manage to get by, and sometimes even thrive. Most of these kids find a cheap place to live, get part-time work, stay in school and keep their grades up. The lives that they make for themselves can be better than the situations they are leaving. Milgram's report on twenty-two kids in this situation in three cities largely parallels my own experience providing legal counsel to people who find themselves with a connection to these situations. 

The kids often live in the shadows, hiding these situations from school authorities, who can put them in an unwelcome foster care situation or return them to a parental household they don't want, if they can't explain why they have no one to sign a parental permission slip or fill out school registration forms for the year.  Large governmental bureaucracies do not mix comfortably with the actual legal rules for which actions are enough to give rise to a change in status without formal paperwork.

More teens in high school who have family or foster home situations that aren't working well might do well in this alternative with the appropriate economic support, greater legitimacy with school and social service officials, and a mentor whom they could turn to without risking their autonomy.  While one likes to hope that parents or legal guardians or foster parents are doing something of value for their teens, sometimes the reality is that they are just proving to be a hinderance or are actively worsening the situation of the teens in their care.

* For child support purposes, a child is automatically emancipated at age nineteen, when a child marries, when a child enters into active military duty, unless the child is "otherwise emancipated" (i.e. de facto self-sufficient and autonomous), with additional exceptions related to written stipulations between the parties, mental or physical disabilities, or completion of high school.  See Section 14-10-115, Colorado Revised Statutes.  Tax laws and a variety of other laws have different, not always consistent definitions.  For example, Colorado currently has a law stating that it will not recognize the common law marriage of a person under the age of eighteen, even if it is recognized in another state, only licensed marriages, which often required parental consent or court approval are recognized by Colorado in the case of minors.

12 May 2013

Quote of the Day

The universe has yet to take my wishes under consideration.
- Jessica Spotswood in her novel "Born Wicked" (2012) at 12.

The Bible Is Mostly Immoral

God is a being of terrific character...cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.

- Thomas Jefferson

If Jews really followed the Torah, and Christians really held up the Bible as their moral guide, the world would be a terrifying place indeed.  Thankfully, mostly, today neither Jews nor Christians act like they did in the Bible.  But, the scriptures that these faiths hold as foundational have little to recommend themselves from a moral perspective, and this casts doubt on the moral legitimacy of these faiths themselves.

The YHWH of the Hebrew Bible and his people acting under his guidance are positively wicked.  He commands the Jews to slaughter all of the adults and boys in whole communities and to rape and enslave their virgins, or at least to take similarly genocidal steps in order to grab land for their own selfish gain (e.g. the Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, Amalekites and Midianites, see, e.g., Deuteronomy 2; Joshua Ch. 8 and 10; Numbers 21 and 31; Judges 4:16; 1 Samuel 27:8-9).  He kills the first born children of an entire nation and visits this nation with plague after plague (the Egyptians) because the Pharoh was stubborn as a consequence of the mind control that YHWH placed him under.  The greatest philosopher-poet king ruling in his divine right (Solomon) arranges the death of a woman's husband on the front lines of a war so that he can have her for himself.  His commandment to murder witches has caused thousands of innocent women to be tortured, to suffer, to die over thousands of years (Exodus 22:18).  More people yet have been unjustly stoned on account of his commandments (Deuteronomy 22:22; Leviticus 20:10).  The Bible calls for the death penalty for such offenses as "eating leavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a male engaging in sexual activity with a woman who is menstruating, teaching people about another religion, blasphemy, to working on Saturday, etc."  Men offer up their daughters to be raped (Lot) and their sons (Isaac) to be presented as sacrifices in his name.  Entire families are destroyed for one member's minor sins.  The Torah provides that virgins who are raped must marry their rapists who must pay a minor compensatory fine to their fathers (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).  When he loses his temper, God smites whole villages (Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19) and even almost the whole world (Noah's flood, Genesis 6-9).  He toys with even his most loyal and faithful servants for wager and jest (Job).  The first Jew (Abraham) is married to his half-sister yet offers up his wife as bride to a king to blackmail him and has second class children by his maid as well - this is neither the first, nor the last questionable pairing of the Hebrew Bible.  Esther's answer to a genocidal plot against the Jews is not reconciliation, but counter-genocide. 

These are not tangential or minor parts of the narrative.  These are central elements of it and the worst parts of repeated emphatically, over and over again in new circumstances.  Few societies in all of history have so meticulously assembled a legendary history of themselves acting like maniacal vile monsters.

The fundamentalist Christian defense is not exactly impressive: "one fundamental principle is overlooked by the atheists: God as the Creator of life has the right to take it."  I suppose, by that logic, we should go back to the old Roman law principle that fathers have an absolute right to kill their children without justification too.  (More critiques here).

The lives of modern Muslims are probably closer to that of the Biblical Jews than the lives of modern Rabbinic Jews, and Islam, like Biblical Judiasm, provides a set of commandments about how to live life that only makes sense in a society of iron age herders, if it ever even made sense for them.  Much of modern Islamic fundamentalism is as much as anything a case of the moderating doctrines of the extra scriptural tradition losing its force as more and more moderately literate Muslims are capable of reading the Quaran themselves, and doing so without this intepretative gloss from religious authorities over the centuries to contain its "hard passages."

The Christianity that Saint Paul created, that is ancestral, at least to the European Christianity and Orthodox Christian faiths is hardly better.  His conception of sex and marriage is twisted and wrong.  Celibacy is a disorder, not something to aspire to, and that someone with such a jaded view of marriage should tell those in marriages how to relate to each other is absurd.  He called on slaves to embrace their slavery.  His notion of resurrection is almost surely a gross distortion of what the Jesus movement taught and it appears to be him that made ritual cannibalism a central rite of Christianity.  Would it be so shocking to consider that maybe the authorities threw him in jail again and again and again because he actually did deserve it?

The Jesus of the Gospels is one of the more attractive figures in the Bible, but hardly above reproach.  He and his disciples were charlatan exorcists and faith healers and magicians first, and humane philosophers second.  People came to them greedy for their magic above all.  The distaste Jesus urged his follows to adopt for material wealth and family loyalties would be ruinous for the entire society if people actually followed it.  His focus on the next world was at best counterproductive.  And, a god who thinks that manipulating events to bring about his own son's painful unjust execution followed by a long weekend in Hell should in some way be relevant to the afterlife of billions of people is just more perverse crazy talk.

There are few important figures in the Bible who are not either felons or war criminals.

The New Testament emphasis on the forgiveness that urban people need to function, rather than the vengeance mentality of a herder society is a positive shift, but is only a half measure.

None of the "People of the Book" as Islam calls them have a scriptural code that could function at all today without a thick blanket of religious doctrine to mute or ignore their rough edges.

If God were real, he would be a evil force in the world that Lucifer was right to try to bring down (this reading is mostly rooted in Genesis 6:4-6; Isaiah 14:12-18 and Revelations 12:7-9 as elaborated on by Dante, John Milton, and other writers in the Christian mystical tradition).  The fact that God is not real, however, does not absolve the teachings made in his name of their fundamental immorality.

As people of the twenty-first century, surely we can do better in our search for moral guidance in life than the parade of positively vicious and wrong advice and examples set forth in the Bible.  The Bible's "wisdom" does not deserve respect or reverence from any modern man or woman or child.  It may have made sense for people in the Iron Age Eastern Mediterrean.  It does not make sense for a post-industrial global society.

The moderate web collective "Religous Tolerance.org" based on Ontario, Canada offers a more scholarly take than the fundamentalist straw man version set forth here which states in part:
Almost everywhere else in our essays dealing with Christianity, we compare conservative and liberal Christian points of view. This essay is different. Here, we compare various events in the Bible with current secular and religious standards of morality. This section lists many events in the Bible that are immoral by today's secular standards, including: genocide, murder of people for their religious beliefs, mass murder of innocent children, transferring guilt and punishment from the guilty to the innocent, executing some hookers by burning them alive, etc. They are sometimes called "hard passages" because they seem to portray God as behaving in a way that would be considered highly immoral by most people today.
Some of the early Christian groups, including many in the Gnostic tradition were so offended by what they viewed as profoundly immoral actions by Yahweh that they rejected the entire Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) or even lowered the status of Yahweh to that of a demiurge -- an inferior deity.
The purpose and intent of this section is to show there are some profoundly violent, immoral and unethical passages in the Bible when it is compared to today's secular and religious ethical systems. These passages are casting Christianity and Judaism a bad light. They are causing many potential Christians and Jews to reject the Bible, and may be contributing to the legitimization of violence throughout the culture.
Solving this problem is difficult.
Most religious liberals have long asserted that the Bible was written by humans who were influenced by their tribal culture, regional violence, and lack of scientific knowledge. Most liberals accept that the passages did not reflect the will of God at the time and are not the will of God today.
However, most conservative Christian and Jewish leaders take a very strong stand that the entire Bible reflects the will of God. If they were to teach that some biblical passages violate the will of God then their followers' faith in the validity of the rest of the Bible might dissipate.
Included below is a link to a companion essay which discusses why it is important to change the interpretation of those passages in religious holy books that are violent and unjust by today's standards.
The companion essay argues not just that these passages be reinterpreted, but that they be edited out of the scriptures in which they are found in the tradition of the Jefferson Bible that is currently on display in Denver.  I personally have a very hard time believing that censorship is the answer.

If  you have a strong ideological precommitment to saving Judaism and Christianity as morally legitimate enterprises that should guide us going forward in the modern world, you urgently need to find a way to gloss over the "hard passages" and tame your religion. 

But, if you come to the matter without preconceptions, the answer is easy.  These religious are so rotten at the core that it makes far more sense to simply start over from scratch and abandon them to the wastebins of history, than to try to build an elaborate work around of doctrine to deny what the written word has preserved.

It is partially for this reason that the ranks of the non-religious are surging despite the fact that millions of people are employed full time for pay to evangelize and to sustain the faithful, while virtually no one is employed to try to cause people to abandon their faith and the non-religious movement is terribly disorganized.  The force of ideas is on their side.

Do We Need Anxiety Enhancing Drugs?

It is widely acknowledged in psychiatry that there is such a thing as generalized anxiety disorder - the condition of being constantly to anxious for the circumstances.  There are a number of drugs to treat it.

Studies of unipolar depression likewise point to one common chain of causation being sustained over anxiety, which, if it lasts too long, caused the anxiety/stress system to shut down entirely leading to depression.

But, surely, if many people have a tendency to overreact and become too anxious, other people must have the problem that they aren't anxious enough, that they are calm when they should be agitated with anxiety and driven to take action.  Anxiety, like fear and pain, exists for a reason.  It has an important purpose.  Not having enough can surely sometimes be just as harmful or moreso than having too much.  Surely, inappropriate calm a.k.a. indifference, can be a problem as well.

Why then, are there no pro-anxiety or anxiety amplifying or enhancing drugs out there for them?  Are people who have insufficient anxiety simply not diagnosed because the DSM-IV doesn't acknowledge the problem, or because people who have it and are disabled as a result are misdiagnosed?

10 May 2013

Witch Hunting In Iran

People are still persecuted for being witches in much of the world in the second decade of the 21st century (as I've pointed out in many previous posts at this blog). 

This happens in Iran too.  But, in Iran, unlike many of the other places where this happens, many of the witch hunts, and much of the sorcery rhetoric is transparently political at the level of national and international politics.  In contrast, in most of the world, witch hunts seem to be driven mostly by the petty social dynamics of local villages and neighborhoods decoupled from any larger political agenda.
Mehdi Taeb, a senior cleric in the Iranian government, recently addressed some students at an Iranian religious school and explained to them that the major reason so many nations have gone along with the latest round of sanctions against Iran was because Israel had been using magic to persuade the leaders of these nations to back sanctions. Without the Israeli witchcraft, the sanctions would not exist. Taeb explained that the Israelis have used this magic before, as in 2009, against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he was running for president. Many Iranians openly opposed Ahmadinejad, who won anyway. This, to Taeb, was proof that devout Moslems could defeat the Jewish magic.
What’s interesting with this observation is that, two years ago, Taeb and his fellow clerics tried to get rid of Ahmadinejad and his zealous (against corrupt clerics) associates. One method used was to send the police (which the clergy control) to arrest key Ahmadinejad aides and accuse them of witchcraft and sorcery. This led to street brawls between fans of Ahmadinejad and Islamic hardliners. Clubs, knives, and other sharp instruments were used. There was blood in the streets. All because of a witch hunt.
It is almost stunning how similar Iranian politics tactics today resemble those that would have been familiar to Bronze Age Persian Princes thousands of years ago, so far back in history, in fact, that legend starts to blend freely with factual historical accounts.

It is hard to know what Iranian elites think of this nonsense.  Iran is not a third world country and, unlike petrokingdoms like Saudi Arabia, it has an economy that reaps a great deal from the labors of an ample middle class (by West Asian and North African standards anyway) rather than oil wealth that takes only minimal indigenous cultural and economic sophistication to reap handsome rewards from exploiting (although Iran certainly has substantial oil wealth as well).  Likewise, Iran is not totally isolated from the outside world to the extent of modern North Korea, tribes in the interior of Papua New Guinea or the Amazon, or Cold War Albania. 

Many people in Iran, including many people who fan the flames of witch hunts there, must surely know that this is nothing more than absurd and malevolent mischief.  But, the tool probably wouldn't be used at all if nobody believed it.   And, it is hard to know who in the somewhat isolated society does and does not believe.

Commentary on Marriage v. Citizenship

The following new law review article's abstract (from here) deserves interlineated commentary, because it is so wrong in so many specifics.

While the "Big Idea" in this article of comparing marriage status and citizenship status has some merit, the author's premises shows a weak command of citizenship law, and hence an impaired analysis of what the analogies considered imply.  This article is a good example of the michief that a "hedgehog" can create in "fox" territory.

The article is Govind Persad, What Marriage Law Can Learn from Citizenship Law (and Vice Versa) (Law & Sexuality, Vol. 22, 2013) (emphasis added, bracked bold material inserted editorially).
    Citizenship and marriage are legal statuses that generate numerous privileges and responsibilities. Legal doctrine and argument have analogized these statuses in passing: consider, for example, Ted Olson’s statement in the Hollingsworth v. Perry oral argument that denying the label “marriage” to gay unions “is like you were to say you can vote, you can travel, but you may not be a citizen.”
    [This isn't unprecedented.  New Zealand allows non-citizen residents to vote.  Many nations, including the United States, place no travel restrictions on non-citizens that are more onerous than those placed on citizens.  Only a handful of U.S. constitutional rights such as the right to vote and the rights under the privileges and immunities clause are dependent upon citizenship; most apply to "any person."]

    However, the parallel between citizenship and marriage has rarely been investigated in depth.

    [This may be true in the U.S. context, but not necessarily in general.  The first section of the Civil Code of most countries is entitled "Of Persons" and groups the concept of personal status of all kinds as a single concept to be applied generally.  Also, of course, the two concepts are frequently deeply intertwined with marital status in many contexts being pivotal in determining citizenship status.  For example, historically, at least, the wife of a French citizen automatically became a French citizen herself by operation of law without any further bureaucratic action at the moment she was married.]

    This paper investigates the marriage-citizenship parallel with a particular focus on three questions prompted by recent developments in law and policy:

    1) Should we provide second-best statuses? Some couples — in particular gay and lesbian couples—have been offered permanent statuses, like civil unions, that bear legal privileges but fall short of full marriage equality. In contrast, similar differentiations within citizenship are generally resisted.

    [This simply isn't true, even remotely.  The United States has multiple statuses.  The U.S. constitution's provisions related to the Presidency distinguish between "natural born citizens" and naturalized citizens, and also distinguishes between U.S. citizens based on their parallel state citizenship status.  Citizenship law also makes a distinction between "U.S. citizens" and "U.S. nationals" (such as residents of certain U.S. territories outside any state) who have slightly different rights when a territory gains independent as its own sovereign outside the United States.   The status most analogous to a Civil Union is probably lawful personal resident status (i.e. "green card holders").  Holders of a wide variety of other visas, some of whom are "resident aliens" and some of whom are "non-resident aliens" (and in times of war, sometimes "enemy aliens") have a variety of more limited rights that vary by visa type.  At the bottom of the heap, apart perhaps from enemy aliens, are "illegal" or "undocumented" aliens, and "persons without a country."  Official representatives of another nation, such as ambassadors, likewise have a constitutionally defined special citizenship status that permits them to have certain rights within the United States.  The U.S. Supreme Court also held just this month that U.S. citizens of one state may be treated differently legally from U.S. citizens of another state in matters that are not "core" privileges and immunities such as the right to make a state FOIA request.  It is not clear that this is fully hierarchical either.  A current hot spot in legal distinctions based upon citizenship-like status is the increasing practice of affording resident non-citizens privileges that are denied to non-resident citizens (such as in state tuition rates at public colleges run by a state).  Long arm jurisdiction concepts similarly, unlike general jurisdiction, apply laws normally applied to a jurisdiction's citizens or residents to others as if they were citizens or residents.]

    The history of citizenship may presage the increasing unacceptability of differentiations within status in the gay marriage context.

    [If the analogy were followed faithfully, the opposite conclusion would follow.  In this particular instance, it is likely that the author has reached the right conclusion for the wrong reason, but a stable national divide on this issue, like the one seen over slavery is not unthinkable.]

    Meanwhile, the history of marriage equality efforts may help present-day citizenship advocates choose legal strategies.

    2) Should statuses be a gateway to rights?

    [One of my law professors used to say that every right flows from some premised status.  The question is not really whether statuses should be a gateway to rights, as it is which statuses should be gateways to which rights.  For example, in the area of child custody, we have moved from a regime in which maternal marital status governed rights to one in which primacy is afforded to genetic relationships and bona fide social relationships for the most part, almost to the exclusion of maternal marital status as a factor in many cases.]

    Some early gay rights advocates unsuccessfully argued that advocates should challenge the primacy of marriage, rather than seek access to the institution. Advocates attempting to expand the rights of current noncitizens face similar choices: should they seek to give current noncitizens greater access to citizenship, or challenge the reservation of important rights to citizens?

    [True.  In both circumstances, a mixed strategy has been employed in a fairly path dependent way dependent upon what is possible in practice, often in the absence of any clear policy reason for choosing one approach rather than another.  Ideally, the nature of the right ought to be logically linked to the status from which it derives and frequently it is more just and equitable to define the status that is relevant as broadly as possible - affording it to all "natural persons" (e.g. the right to be present in a public space), or even to "all persons" (e.g. freedom of speech).]

    3) Can status relationships be plural? Many critics of dual and multiple citizenship argued that allegiance to multiple states was immoral, unadministrable, or both.

    [The United States embraced multiple citizenships right in the constitution in with individuals simultaneously being citizens of the United States, citizens of the U.S. state in which they reside, if any, and sometimes in the cases of Indians who are taxed, also citizenship in an Indian tribe.  Under modern U.S. law, dual or multiple citizenships in different countries exist when one qualifies as a citizen of multiple countries under each respective country's citizenship laws subject to certain acts that have the effect of proclaiming an allegience to one country to the exclusion of another, such as becoming a commissioned officer in a country's military, or formally renouncing citizenship in the United States.  Generally, the point is forced only when the ambiguity or multiplicity truely is immoral, unadministrable, or both, rather than at the point where the existence of a dual or multiple citizenship initially arises.  To a great extent this is governed by "bureacratic" logic with unintended consequences in a system with multiple inconsistent bureaucracies, rather than a single overarching system.]

    More recently, polygamous marriage has become a topic of legal and political discourse, first as a foil in anti-gay marriage arguments and later as a political possibility in its own right. I will consider whether polygamous marriage advocates can profitably draw on arguments for multiple citizenship, and how multiple-citizenship advocates should responsibly respond to the analogy with polygamy.
    [This isn't a very helpful analogy and doesn't obvious lead to any very helpful conclusions.  Indeed, one of the essential difficulties involved is that there is more than one way to be polygamous or polyamorous and these ways of being polygamous are not necessarily mutually compatable with each other.  Rather than treating polygamy and polyamory as unified coherent legal structures, the current trend has been to divide and conquer by decriminalizing the relationship, analytically segregating issues related to children addressed in a marriage neutral way from issues related to property and maintenance, and honoring otherwise contractual and property title form without regard to the status of the parties as polygamous or polyamorous much as one would in cases involving unmarried distant relatives - much as same sex couples did prior to civil unions and same sex marriage.  In principle, one can create a legal structure that looks a lot like a particular conception of polygamous marriage, for example, without a statute enacted specifically to address it.  But, the intuition about what makes sense in any particular instance where marriage is a necessary factor - like Social Security benefits is hard, short of ignoring the existence of the relationship, without more clarity and consensus about what understanding the people involved in the relationship have of their relative obligations.  At best, if one must be general, one needs to give courts broad equity jurisdiction to tailor remedies to the relationships in fact.]

Why do U.K. divorce trends differ from those in the U.S.?

In the United Kingdom, divorce and marriage statistics show a somewhat different pattern from those seen in the United States:
Where one or both spouses are marrying for the second time, couples marrying today face an estimated 31% risk of divorce during their lifetime, compared to an estimated 45% risk of divorce amongst couples where both spouses are marrying for the first time.
The first marriage divorce rate is quite close to the U.S. rate, but the second and later marriage lifetime divorce rate in the U.S. is well over 50% leading to an overall average for all marriages of about 50%.

Also, long term marriage in the U.K. have not lost their stability over time:
[T]he divorce rate for couples after they have been married for ten years or more was the same as it was in the 1970s, 80s, 90s and 2000s. A couple who married in 2001 have the same chance of getting divorced after ten or more years of marriage as a couple who married in 1971[.] 
The U.S. trend, starting in about the 1970s, was for the rate of divorce to increase across the board for at least two decades, followed by a social class divergence sometime in the 1990s, with divorce rates (and couples who lived together and had children not marrying at all) at greater rates for working class families while marriage rates recovered and divorce rates fell for college educated couples.

The reasons for the discrepencies aren't entirely clear.

Is the difference due to the social welfare system?

I've explored the hypothesis in many previous posts, that economics is the most powerful driver over large scale trends in marriage and divorce rates, with the likelihood that a husband is unable to be a reliable breadwinner, who earns more than a spouse, and the reality that the spouse is economically dependent upon him, powerfully driving average divorce rates.

One plausible possibility is that the key factor is the social welfare system in the U.K. which differs greatly from that in the United States.  There are several ways this could play out.

Few instances of extreme economic hardship puts less pressure on fragile marriages

The most extreme pressure on a marriage is the sustained unemployment of one or both spouses leaving them unable to support their household.  It is much easier to let the forces of marital interia continue uninterrupted when one's basic economic needs are being met than in periods of great economic hardship that threaten lack of access to health care, homelessness, difficulty paying for food, and the like.  Economic hardship is also a major driver of child abuse and neglect which when it happens is often a powerful push for a spouse to leave a marriage with the abusive or neglectful parent.

The U.K. has a much stronger social safety net than the U.S.  As a result, once people meet the threshold of basic interpersonal compatability once the romance of being newlyweds wears off, U.K. couples are far less likely to face the acute economic stresses increasingly faced by American working class couples who have increasingly faced frequent bouts of unemployment with a very thin and time limited social welfare system to support them over the last forty years or so.  In contrast, upper middle class families, who have reaped the lion's share of economic growth in the 1990s and 2000s in the United States (in contrast to a pattern of shared gains from economic growth in the post-World War II period) have been far less exposed to unemployment risks and have had sufficient savings during this mostly prosperous period to whether the brief periods between good jobs that they did experience.

In the absence of this kind of extreme economic hardships, more divorces in the U.K. are driven by interpersonal incompatability and couples that marry at an older age, including necessarily, on average, couples in second marriages, are less likely to be swept off their feet into these kinds of relationships and more likely to be able to work through them when they arise, because they are more mature.

In the United States, in contrast, where economic hardship drives many divorces, the same vunerability to unemployment that often caused the first divorce is disproportionately represented in the pool of people who are divorced and is likely to recur.

Less pressure to remarry improves the quality of the remarriages that occur anyway

Another factor in the difference, also related to the presence of a stronger social safety net, may be the reality that in the U.S. the need for someone who is divorced to remarry and quickly for economic reasons is far more intense than it is in the U.K. 

A newly divorced single mother with a young child in the United States has a much more difficult time supporting her household than someone like the author of the Harry Potter series of books, J.K. Rowling did - writing her first book while living in public housing and surviving on welfare after leaving her bad marriage in Portugal.  For example, homelessness is a far more real possibility for a woman in this situation in the U.S. than in the U.K.

The upshot of this reality is that many people who would enter into hasty remarriages with spouses deemed acceptable with fairly low standards out of economic necessity in the U.S. might not have remarried at all, or would have the luxury of being more discriminating in a choice of a second spouse in the U.K. than in the U.S.

A greater emphasis on unemployment benefits gives economic value to an unemployed man

A third way that this could play a role is that social welfare benefits are structured differently in the U.K. than in the United States.

In the U.S., eligibility for unemployment benefits is very restrictive, unemployment benefits are short in duration, and the amounts are meager.  Typically, unemployment is available only to employees who are laid off and not to workers who are fired for any meaningful cause, or who quit even if they do so because the conditions of their employment are intolerable.  Once unemployment benefits commence, they can be terminated for fairly trivial failures to pursue work opportunities or for securing almost any new work even if it leaves the worker no better off than receiving unemployment benefits.  The benefits typically last no longer than six months and the amount is typically a quite small percentage of income over a prior time period (reduced greatly if the worker was employed for only part of that time period) subject to a cap that makes this percentage even smaller for anyone who was earning a really solid wage before loosing their job.  These benefits, unlike most other social welfare benefits, are also subject to state and federal income taxation with the former taking a particularly large bite in many Southern states.  The benefits generally do not include any health insurance coverage.

As a result of the features, in normal times, only a small fraction of the unemployed are eligible for unemployment benefits at any given time and those benefits are inadequate for those who are eligible for them.  Household without a husband who is additional potential wage earner in them can access other means tested benefits, like food stamps, WIC, Medicaid and ordinary welfare (TANF, the last time I looked up the acronym) just as easily as households with one, or even more easily. 

For example, the reality of long waiting lists for Section 8 public housing benefits in the United States mean that these benefits are available mostly only for those families who are in poverty continously for a long sustained period, which is not a typical pattern for an intermittently employed working class man who tends to have periods of somewhat higher than poverty line benefits for a while cycling with periods of poverty, requiring a household to constantly reapply for welfare benefits with each new cycle and falling out of line for benefits like public housing benefits that have waiting lists.

In contrast, in most European welfare systems, including that of the United Kingdom, unemployment benefits are more generous, easier to qualify for, and last longer.  So, even when a husband is temporarily unemployed, rather than providing nothing at all, in a welfare system with generous unemployment benefits, the husband's access to these benefits makes him an economic asset to the family rather than an economic zero who increases their cost of living without providing any economic contribution of his own.

Universal health care removes economic pressures to jettison husbands without health insurance

Universal health care in the United Kingdom also creates different incentives than those found in the United States.  In the U.S., middle class jobs frequently provide health insurance, and those in poverty or near poverty can receive Medicaid coverage, but health care is universal (mostly via Medicare) only for the elderly and the low income disabled.  In the U.S., a large share of working class jobs don't provide health insurance and health insurance is very expensive for the self-employed.

Because health care is so expensive in the United States, being poor and thus qualifying for Medicaid coverage provides a benefit that would cost something on the order of $6,000 to $12,000 to obtain with private insurance for a household that has few prospects of securing a middle class job that provides health insurance.  If the household includes a husband who has a working class job that doesn't provide health insurance (at least intermittently), or who is self-employed and has ups and downs of income, this very valuable economic benefit is not available to the family.

In contrast, in the U.K. and in almost every other developed country, health insurance is universal.  This means that a husband who can find a working class job or obtain some self-employment income is adding value to the household, rather than putting its source of valuable government health care benefits at risk.

The availability of universal health care also makes it far less risky to be self-employed.  For example, as a self-employed person, I pay about $12,000 a year for very high deductable ($5,000 per person per year) health insurance coverage for a family of four.  And, if I can't make the pay the premium for even a month or two, I lose it and it becomes quite hard to obtain a comparable new health insurance policy.  This means that I need great confidence that I can afford to pay $1,000 a month more than I would have otherwise needed every single month to make it possible to take the risk of pursuing self-employment.  At the margins, this means that many people who would have higher average income from self-employment can't afford to do so because the income isn't sufficiently regular every single month.  The minimum base of monthly income drives the decision more strongly than the average income.  This means that the poor in the U.S. are more prone to favor welfare reliances over marginal self-employment (and almost no U.S. or foreign welfare system requires beneficiaries to seek self-employment), which again reduces the economic value of having a husband who is able and willing to work but can't find a job in a household.

Other possibilities

There are many other possibilities.  For example, in the relevant time period, the U.K. was rapidly secularizing, while the U.S. remained far more religious. 

The U.S. may value independence and freedom more than the authority respecting British do, leaving couples in the U.K. to put up with marginal marriages out of respect for community norms.

Divorce laws could play a role.

There are surely other possiblities as well.

09 May 2013

Criminal and Family Law Bills Passed in the Colorado General Assembly In 2013

The legislative session of Colorado's state legislature ended yesterday. 

This post summarizes bills that passed both houses of the state legislature and are expected to be signed by the Governor, but some of these could be vetoed or pocket vetoed.  Since both house of the state legislature are controlled by Democrats, the Governor is a Democrat, and bills that have been opposed by the Governor have mostly been killed before passage, vetoes of these bills are unlikely, but not impossible.

A law implementing a marijuana legalization initiative (Amendment 64) that decriminalizes for state law purposes, a law establishes driving while stoned limits, laws imposing a variety of modest gun controls (universal background checks, limiting access to large capacity magazinesdivesting control of firearms already owned from people not allowed to buy new ones, limiting availability of online concealed weapon permit classes), and of course, the Civil Unions bill, have captured the headlines. 

But, there were other big reforms passed this session as well in the areas of criminal law and family law that are quite notable.

A variety of measures allow for more lenient sentencing for non-violent criminals and would reduce the number of people in Colorado who are incarcerated before and after convictions.  The wrongfully convicted were given a right to compensation.  In the family law area, an alimony formula (the legal term is "maintenance" in Colorado) dramatically reforms the nature of the core substantive entitlement to maintenance in almost every divorce case.

 (This post does not constitute individualized legal advice. Read the linked legislation and confirm that it became law and consult legal consult rather than relying on this post alone before relying on statement made here.  I do practice family law but my practice does not include criminal law.)

Criminal Sentencing and Pre-Trial Incarceration Reforms

* SB 13-250 overhauled the sentencing laws for drug offenses.  In general, the law equalized sentences for all non-marijuana drug offenses (rather than punishing offenses involving some kinds of drugs more heavily than others), and dramatically reduced sentence lengths for low level offenses with a strong preference for treatment for mere drug users. 

* HB 13-1160 increases dollar thresholds for theft offenses and consolidating select stand alone theft offenses.  In effect, this means more leniency in marginal larceny cases (as opposed to burglaries and robberies).

* SB 13-229 downgrades the offense of a juvenile walking away from a community corrections type arrangement from a serious felony to a minor misdemeanor, narrows the definition of the most aggravated subtype of burglary offense, and addresses a variety of technical criminal justice system issues (e.g. who has to sign an indictment).

* HB 13-1242 allows people who have made technical bail bond condition violations to receive probation (the law remains the same for those who commit crimes while on bond or fail to appear at court).

* HB 13-1156 makes diversion programs more widely available for adults charged with crimes.

* HB 13-1236 requires pre-trial services to screen people awaiting trial in order to minimize pre-trial incarceration in the bail process, which is likely to greatly reduce the number of people who are not released while awaiting trial simply because they are poor.

* HB 13-1254 adds new ways for cases to be referred to restorative justice programs.

* HB 13-1060 increases maximum fines in municipal courts.  In practice, this is likely to shift a significant number of minor offenses tried in the state court system where a full misdemeanor sentencing regime applies to local government revenue driven municipal courts where fines and/or very short sentences of incarceration are the norm and the collateral consequences of a conviction are much more modest.

Other Criminal Justice Reforms

* HB 13-1210 clarifies that the right to a public defender extends to initial plea negotiations as a court recent held as a matter of constitutional law (Colorado previously had a law specifically denying defendants this right in certain cases).

* HB 13-1230 compensates people who were wrongfully convicted of crimes who are later exonerated without regard to fault.

* HB 13-1109 clarifies that automatic restraining orders in favor of crime victims remain in effect against convicted felons while the felon is on parole.

* SB 13-123 eliminate the collateral consequences of crimes that the Governor pardons and expands the ability of convicts to seal criminal records (which also impacts the collateral consequences of a crime).

* HB 13-1166 effective August 7, 2013 removes the crime of adultery (which has been anomalously "prohibited" without any penalty or offense classification every since no fault divorce was adopted in the state) from the books, and removes the crime of  "promoting sexual immorality" from the books in Colorado.  The prior crime had made it a crime to "for pecuniary gain, furnishes or makes available to another person any facility, knowing that the same is to be used for or in aid of sexual intercourse between persons who are not husband and wife, or for or in aid of deviate sexual intercourse, or who advertises in any manner that he furnishes or is willing to furnish or make available any such facility for such purposes[.]"

* SB 13-227 terminated the parental rights of rapists when this causes a child to be conceived.

* HB 13-1163 provides for public funding for rape kits out of law enforcement budgets, even if the victim receives one from a private medical provider and does not press charges at the time.

* HB 13-1022 allows the Court Clerk to summarily dismiss driving without proof of insurance charges upon presentation of proof of insurance on the date charged without the involvement of the DA or a judge.

* HB 13-1077 allows someone in a driver's revocation hearing to challenge the legality of the traffic stop giving rise to the revocation hearing (e.g. for lack of probable cause/"driving while black" cases).

Family Law Reforms

* HB 13-1058 establishes presumptive alimony award amounts and durations based on the length of the marriage and relative incomes of the parties which must be considered by the judge but can be deviated from in the discretion of the judge for any of the reasons existing under current law effective January 1, 2014, and adds guidance to judges seeking to modify alimony awards when the obligated former spouse retires.  Under prior law, permanent alimony awards were governed by a multi-factor test that amounted to an instruction to the judge to "do the right thing."  In essence, post-decree maintenance awards are presumed not to be permitted in marriages of less than three years.  The presumptive duration of the award starts at a little less than a year in three year marriages, reaches 50% of the length of the marriage after twelve and a half years of marriage, and is ten years in marriages of twenty or more years.  The presumptive amount is 40% of the income of the higher income spouse less 50% of the lower income spouse.  The guidelines are not binding and various circumstances that justify deviating from them are set forth in the statute.  The minimum criteria for eligibility for maintenance are basically unchanged.

This is the biggest substantive change in Colorado divorce law since the enactment of the child support guidelines in the 1980s.  It is likely to dramatically reduce the uncertainty regarding alimony awards in divorce cases in Colorado.

* HB 13-1204 updates Colorado law regarding marital agreements (i.e. prenups and postnups) signed on or after July 1, 2014.  Mostly, this formalizes and clarifies that these are only valid if there is adequate financial disclosure as defined in the statute and the spouse has access to a lawyer as defined in the statute.

* HB 13-1200 tweaks custody modification laws for cases involving deployed armed service people.

Irish Exodus

According to BBC radio this morning, 7% of the population of Ireland has emigrated in the wake of the Irish financial crisis.  This is comparable, for example, to the demographic impact of Hurricane Katrina on the population of Louisiana.  This was facilitated largely by the laws in the European Union permitting unrestricted immigration within its boundaries.

Hospital Billing Still Dishonest

The Denver Post reports on the continuing saga of dishonest hospital billing.  The story relies on federal data collected on the matter.

08 May 2013

The Libertarian Case For Strong Centralized States

Mark S. Weiner's The Rule of the Clan makes a libertarian case for a strong central state. In it, he directly challenges what many libertarians currently believe. . .

How should Weiner's thesis be evaluated from a libertarian perspective? A terse summary of his arguments would be as follows.
1. A decentralized order is possible. Indeed, it is natural for human societies to achieve such an order, rather than degenerate into the Hobbesian war of all against all.
2. The natural decentralized order is, however, highly illiberal. It requires a set of social norms that bind the individual to the clan. Under the rule of the clan, peace is broken by feuds, commerce is crippled by the inability to put trade with strangers on a contractual basis, and individual autonomy is sacrificed for group solidarity.
3. In the absence of a strong central state, the rule of the clan is the inevitable result. In order to graduate from the society of Status to the society of Contract, you must have a strong central state.
From here.

The implication is that a libertarian should want a strong yet minimal centralized state, putting it in a post-modern era of political progress, rather than simply hearkening to a past that wasn't as glorious as it is sometimes imagined to be.

Another way of conceptualizing the issue is that one can only get to a workable and just libertarian society from a set of initial conditions that we don't have at the moment, although we may be closer to attaining than we were in the Middle Ages, for example.  Making a society like that work in a modern society requires a rather elaborate set of well functioning private institutions and also a set of very widely held societal norms, that may not yet be present today. 

Regardless of how they are governed (public or private), you can't have a functioning modern society without well managed farms, factories, water and sewer and transportation and information exchange infrastructure, an educated populace that is adequately self-disciplined, people who can assure that buildings have sound workmanship and financial arrangements are honest, a widely enough shares lingua franca, adequate means of protecting a place from hostile foreign states, people with the skill set to stop violent individuals, and so on. You can't just decree a set of legal rules and minimal institutions for people used to living in some other kind of legal order and expect this alone to produce a good society.

I am not a libertarian, of course.  I'm just a plain old liberal.  But, the insight is a valuable rejoinder to those who would hobble the functioning of government entirely in the belief that it would produce an anarcho-capitalist utopia.  The reviewer responds with the following:
In The Machinery of Freedom, Friedman envisions a society of Contract without a central government at all.
I will concede to Weiner that many populations, today as well as in the history that preceded liberal democracy, are and have been subject to the rule of the clan. I believe that he is correct in highlighting the ways in which this is likely to hamper the ability of citizens of Western societies to understand, communicate with, and relate peacefully to those cultures that retain considerable clan-based norms. Because of this, I strongly recommend The Rule of the Clan to readers of all political persuasions.
However, if I were Weiner, I would stop there. The claim that only a strong, activist central government can maintain the society of Contract and keep us from reverting to the rule of the clan requires more evidence and analytical support.
Personally, the notion of a "society of Contract" is in my view both question begging when it comes to defining its boundaries, and a pipe dream for a variety of other practical reasons as a realizable form of political organization, as opposed to a heuristic against which public policy measures can be evaluated.  But, an acknowledgement of the risks present in every historically attested society without strong centralized states has considerable value of its own.

07 May 2013

Guess What the Air Force's Chief of Sexual Assault Prevention Was Just Arrested For

Congress and the President have recently expressed great concern about the extremely poor handling of sexual assault cases by the United States military.  Incidents like the ones referenced in the plagiarized title of this post help to explain why that might be the case.
Yesterday, police in northern Virginia arrested the Air Force’s chief of sexual-assault prevention — for sexual assault.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, was “arrested and charged with sexual battery,” according to the Arlington, Virginia police department. According to the arrest report, Krusinski drunkenly “approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks.”
Until today, Krusinski, a lieutenant colonel, was the chief of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program. An Air Force spokesman, Maj. Eric Badger, told Danger Room that the Air Force removed Krusinski from his position within the program, “immediately upon learning of the arrest.” (It’s worth mentioning that the Air Force did not initially confirm Krusinski’s arrest when Danger Room spoke to a different spokeswoman, Jennifer Cassidy; and deferred that confirmation to the Arlington police.)
Unexplained actions by multiple generals, even a female one, setting aside sexual assault convictions secured in courts-martial, in the midst of Congressional investigations of the issue, also have something to do with this reality.

The military justice system has always been broken.  But, every once and a while, the military's values grow so out of touch with those of our country that we are reminded of that fact.  The status quo is simply unacceptable.

Cease and Desist Letters Are Often Foolish

The Popehat blog explains at length why it is frequently counterproductive to try to use cease and desist letters as a tool to combat negative publicity.

Autistic Kids Tend To Have Nerdy Parents

Background Features of the Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP) are disproportionately prevalent in parents of a child with autism, highlighting familial patterns indicative of heritability. It is unclear, however, whether the presence of BAP features in both parents confers an increased liability for autism. The current study explores whether the presence of BAP features in two biological parents occurs more frequently in parents of a child with autism relative to comparison parents, whether parental pairs of a child with autism more commonly consist of one or two parents with BAP features, and whether these features are associated with severity of autism behaviors in probands.

Method Seven hundred eleven parents of a child with an autism spectrum disorder and 981 comparison parents completed the Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire. Parents of a child with autism also completed the Social Communication Questionnaire.

Results Although parental pairs of a child with autism were more likely than comparison parental pairs to have both parents characterized by the presence of the BAP, they more commonly consisted of a single parent with BAP features. The presence of the BAP in parents was associated with the severity of autism behaviors in probands, with the lowest severity occurring for children of parental pairs in which neither parent exhibited a BAP feature. Severity did not differ between children of two affected parents and those of just one.

Conclusions Collectively, these findings indicate that parental pairs of children with autism frequently consist of a single parent with BAP characteristics and suggest that future studies searching for implicated genes may benefit from a more narrow focus that identifies the transmitting parent. The evidence of intergenerational transmission reported here also provides further confirmation of the high heritability of autism that is unaccounted for by the contribution of de novo mutations currently emphasized in the field of autism genetics.
 From here.

The result confirms previous studies along the same lines (the Broad Autism Phenotype was defined in 2004). As noted here:
Some of the common symptoms of broad autism phenotype include being shy socially, having a hard time making friends, the inability to read body language, having an obsessive behavior, being compulsive, and preferring routine to spontaneous actions.
Obviously, "broad autism phenotype" is a term of art, but in ordinary plain English, I'm hard pressed to think of a word that describes  it better than "nerdy" (other than the more derogatory term "dweeby").

Many mental health conditions are associated with a family history of individuals who have subclinical symptoms of mental conditions themselves, often similar in kind to the person who has them.

This study doesn't explore the nature v. nuture nature of the intergenerational transmission of autism spectrum symptoms, but a variety of other evidence suggests that genes are far more important than parenting in this regard (although the Early Start Denver Model of treatment, which is basically a nuture oriented approach, has shown some positive results).  At a minimum, the consensus view is that autism is either purely genetic, or flows from a (genes x environment) interaction for which some genetic component is almost always necessary.  Autism like symptoms with a purely environmental cause would probably be classified as a subtype of child abuse symptom rather than as autism per se._