29 May 2015

Utah Does A Good Job Responding To Homelessness

Utah has a reputation, rightly earned, for being a conservative state.

But, Utah's Mormon heritage can give this conservatism a populist twist.  It is tops in the nation in its funding of elementary education, and it is also notable for its commitment to the "Housing First" approach to responding to vagrancy (also known as "chronic homelessness").

Lightning Strikes

A tree that is a half a block from my house made the TV news when it was struck by lightning on Wednesday night in a very weird way.  The strike spiraled around the trunk, rather than going straight down.  These kinds of lightning strikes are not unheard of and sometimes spare the tree entirely.

When you have a prophet in the neighborhood, weird things happen.

Cutting Off Methadone For Incarcerated Individuals Is Counterproductive

One of the main ways to end a destructive addiction to opium class drugs like heroin is to get methadone treatment, which prevents withdrawal but doesn't provide the same high.  But, the predominant policy in the American criminal justice system is to immediately cut off methadone treatment for people who are receiving it, or to do so in a quick phase out.

A new study in Rhode Island confirms that this policy is a bad one.  Cutting someone off from methadone while incarcerated dramatically reduces the chances that they'll keep trying to quit when they get out.  It also greatly increases the chance that they'll suffer a heroin overdose when they return to using a drug they've lost tolerance to at the doses they used to use.  Reduced post-incarceration ER costs alone more than outweigh the cost of providing methadone to inmates.

Methadone treatment is also highly effective, reducing the death rates of people in treatment relative to those who remain addicted by 70%.

Also, the knowledge that methadone treatment (which is harder to withdraw from than heroin use itself) will be withdrawn if you are incarcerated, reduces the number of people who try to get off heroin using the treatment.

In addition to all of this, the painful withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping methadone treatment are themselves a form of punishment often inflicted on people incarcerated while awaiting trial, and a form of coercion to force inappropriate guilty pleas for criminal defendants receiving methadone treatment (who are, of course, the ones who are at least trying to fix themselves).

The policy of withdrawing methadone treatment immediately, or phasing it out, for incarcerated individuals is wrong in pretty much every respect and should be reversed immediately.

"Good Character" Is A Function of Nuture

Some traits have more of a hereditary influence than others. As a parent or teacher working with children, the sensible thing to do, at least naively, is to focus your efforts on the traits that have little hereditary influence, where what you do makes the most difference.

What are these traits?

It is widely recognized that the specific religion and language that a person acquires are a product of nurture, although more generalized traits like respect for tradition, religiousity, and learning disabilities that impact language acquisition are significantly hereditary.

According to a December 2, 1986 article by Daniel Goleman of the New York Times, reporting on results from the Minnesota Twin Study:
The need to achieve, including ambition and an inclination to work hard toward goals, also was found to be genetically influenced, but more than half of this trait seemed determined by life experience. The same lower degree of hereditary influence was found for impulsiveness and its opposite, caution.

The need for personal intimacy appeared the least determined by heredity among the traits tested; about two-thirds of that tendency was found to depend on experience. People high in this trait have a strong desire for emotionally intense reltionships; those low in the trait tend to be loners who keep their troubles to themselves.

''This is one trait that can be greatly strengthened by the quality of interactions in a family,'' Dr. Lykken said. ''The more physical and emotional intimacy, the more likely this trait will be developed in children, and those children with the strongest inherited tendency will have the greatest need for social closeness as adults.''
A study in 2006 also affirmed the environmental basis of traits identified in the 1986 study such as need for personal intimacy (called "love (valuing close relationships)" and "prudence (choosing actions with care)".

A 2006 study added:
* "humor (seeing the light side of life, liking to laugh"),
* "humility/modesty (not overvaluing self)",
* "citizenship (being a good team member)",
* "integrity (presenting oneself in a genuine way)",
* "kindness (helping and taking care of others)", and
* "vitality (feeling alive and excited)"
to the list of environmentally influenced traits.

To generalize, while many aspects of personality are influenced very little by parenting and education, a group of traits that can be generally described as "good character" are not very heritable at all and have a strong nuture component.


28 May 2015

Denying The Establishment Clause

A Colorado teacher is suing his school district claiming the district's only high school "operates largely to promote the evangelical Christian ideals" of a local church that operates in the school. Robert Basevitz's lawsuit against the Fremont Re-2 School District was filed Tuesday in federal court in Denver. . . . Randy Pfaff, the pastor of The Cowboy Church at Crossroads, said he will not apologize for being in Florence High School. 
"I don't believe the Constitution was meant to keep God out of the schools. That's absolutely absurd," Pfaff told The Denver Post on Tuesday in a phone interview. "This nation was founded on Christianity."
From the Denver Post.

This case is typical of church and state separation lawsuits, and arises in one of the most conservative counties in the state that is home to one of the largest prison complexes in the country.

The striking point of the story to me is that Reverend Randy Pfaff shares the common Evangelical Christian conservative view that there is no such thing as a First Amendment establishment clause (something that the North Carolina state legislature has also futilely attempted to do), and that: "This nation was founded on Christianity", which are deeply at odds with the legal and historical reality respectively.

The First Amendment, with a free exercise clause, but not the establishment clause, however, is a very different balance of freedom of religion that the one that the United States has adopted.

This disregard for reality extends beyond law and history.  Among scientists, many have some form of religious belief, but very few, relative to the general population are Evangelical Christians, because the bridge between theology and scientific truth is particular wide for this religious group.

For better or worse, Evangelical Christianity of this type is largely an American invention.  It is almost entirely absent from Europe and probably makes up a minority of non-European, non-American Christians.

It is, however, a vital faith, suffering far less of a decline than mainstream Protestant Christianity in the United States and Europe in recent decades.

Against Consensus

L.A. Kauffman has a fascinating historical and practical article about the use of consensus decision making by grass roots activists, together with related notions like Feminist process, something I am familiar with from my college days at Oberlin College, and its antecedent, consensus decision making by Quakers.

The bottom line conclusion, that consensus decision making can be dysfunctional outside of small groups, is correct, but I do fault her for failing to recognize that extent to which some of the other decision making processes are fellow travelers with consensus decision making, but do not actually involve a consensus requirement.

She states:
The complex liturgy of consensus process — from the specialized language and roles (“facilitators,” “vibes watchers,” “progressive stack,” and more) to the elaborate hand signals (“up-twinkles,” “down-twinkles,” and the like) — has functioned as much to signal and consolidate a sense of belonging to a certain tradition as it has to move decisions forward.
But, many of these specialized features of "Feminist process" aren't necessary consensus based and weren't used in connection with a consensus requirement most of the time when I used them.

The "progressive stack", for example, applies to how discussion was organized.  In a progressive stack, people who want to speak are identified so that they don't have to keep their hands raised, but rather than being called upon to speak in chronological order, someone who has said less in the conversation is given priority over someone who has already participated in the conversation a great deal.

The hand signals are nothing more than a "straw vote", used in all sorts of consensus decision making forums (like juries) and in all sorts of non-consensus decision making forums (like political caucuses).

The notion of divorcing the role of a "facilitator" from that of the true group leader, is an idea as old as having a Speaker Pro Temp in the U.S. Senate, which is certainly not a consensus based organization, although Senate rules like those of grassroots groups, often place greater importance on giving everyone a full opportunity to participate than the parallel rules of the U.S. House of Representatives or Robert's Rules of Order.

Feminist process norms that are widely followed in activist groups are more a rejection of Robert's Rules than they are an affirmative endorsement of true consensus based decision making.

Also, even traditional rule based decision making systems that call for votes in the ordinary case, often acknowledge that the process can be speeded up on many matters with "unanimous consent" (another U.S. Senate favorite), with decisions by "acclimation" (used for example, in rare instances, in electing a Pope), and in voice votes, all of which can function as consensus matters.  For example, many decisions in political conventions involving thousands of people entitled to speak and vote are made by unanimous consent in practice.  The same is true of most votes in most small civic organizations (e.g. churches and family reunions committees).

Of course, one of the main ways of generating consensus is "tradition", something that Quakers and many other small non-governmental organizations have, but that large grass-roots organizations may lack.

26 May 2015

Sleeping Beauty Papers

Most academic papers are published and get most of their citations (if any) in the first five years.  But, a few papers are published, go unnoticed for many years, and then get a surge of citations.  These are called Sleeping Beauty papers.

Some papers have languished more than a century unnoticed, only to then get a surge of citation popularity.

The study doesn't mention the case of fractals, but something similar happened to that entire discipline.  The papers making critical insights were published in obscure Russian journals by a lone investigator and then picked up many decades later to give birth to what is now a thriving subdiscipline within mathematics.

22 May 2015

Phrase Of The Day: "A Goldilocks Problem"

* A "Goldilocks Problem" is one where the solution requires finding middle ground that avoids to opposing extremes.  You don't want too much, or too little, but only the "just right" amount of the targeted quantity. Here is an example from Vox.com:
In other words, national age is a Goldilocks problem. Country populations shouldn't be too old, and they shouldn't be too young. To avoid demographic problems, a country's age needs to be just right.
* Off topic, but still relating to language, a heard a recent radio account for someone who had determined (it doesn't really deserve to be called a "study"; a pre-existing online calculator was used) the reading level of the lyrics for 225 recent number one Billboard hit songs (that were at number one for at least three weeks) by band and by genre using software applying standard reading level tests.

The most sophisticated song had a reading level of 5.5 (Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California”) (readable by a mid-year fifth grader); the most sophisticated artist was at grade level 3.95 (readable at the level of a third grader at the end of the academic year). The most sophisticated lyrics by genre was country music which was in the low 3rd grade level. Some hits (e.g. Three Day's Grace's "The Good Life") were below the first grade level.

By comparison, Charlotte's Web has a reading level of 4.4, an ordinary daily newspaper is typically written at a 5th grade reading level, the first Lemony Snicket book ("The Bad Beginning") has a reading level of 6.4, and the standard for "functional literacy" which is also often used as a standard "floor" for people who want to set a rigorous reading level standard for high school graduates, is frequently set at the 9th grade reading level, about the same reading level of George Orwell's book "1984" which is reading level 8.9.  Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea has a reading level of 10.0.  An unabridged translation of "Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra has a reading level of 13.2. (All references to reading levels for books from here).

For what it is worth, I think that this is mostly a function of reading level tools that are insufficiently sophisticated themselves to accurately measure the reading difficulty of poetry (which is what music lyrics are), because these metrics place undue weight on factors like short sentences, insufficient weight (for poetry) on word difficulty, and typically no weight on subtle factors like the use of metaphor, double meaning, and references to experiences that children may lack.  After all, the average song ranged from an average of 250 to a bit less than 700 words each by genre (rock has the least; R&B and Hip Hop which includes rap, has the most), so there isn't much room for long sentences by the virtue of the lyric form.

The Flesch-Kincaid readability level score, for example, depends entirely upon the average number of words per sentence and the average number of syllables per word in a piece, which may be correlated with readability in ordinary prose, but is a poor instrument for measuring the sophistication of music lyrics.  (The song "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" from the musical Mary Poppins, in contrast, would by treated as profoundly sophisticated by this measure (9.1), since a large share of the words in the song have fifteen syllables.)

Of course, another factor dumbing down the analysis is the focus on number one hits, which by definition must be accessible to maximally large audiences.  Songs with smarter or more difficult lyrics, like art movies relative to blockbuster movies, tend to have smaller audiences.

This 653 word blog post has a reading level of 10.3.  Yesterday's renewable energy post had a reading level of 13.2.

21 May 2015

Renewable Energy Almost Price Competitive With Oil And Gas

A Brief Introduction To Electrical Power Generation

Outside of Alaska and Hawaii, oil hasn't been used in meaningful amounts to generate electricity in the United States for decades.  Two of the main climate friendly alternatives: nuclear power and hydropower have stalled for independent reasons related to their perceived environmental impact and safety (and inherent limits on how much hydropower can be generated from geography).

Natural gas has increased its market share largely because it makes meeting environmental regulations easier and is cheap to use to produce power once you buy it, but natural gas is more expensive to harvest and more scarce than coal, although its prices have been less subject to geopolitics because it has historically been hard to transport without pipelines.  The residual is coal, for the very simple reason that it is cheap because it is abundant and inexpensive to strip mine.

Until a decade or two ago, other renewables made up a negligible share of the electricity generation mix.  But, in places like Colorado and New Mexico there has been a dramatic upturn in wind and in solar use.  This has both driven and been driven by, falling prices for solar and wind powered electricity generation.

Renewables Have Gotten Much Cheaper In The Last Few Years
Over the last 5 years, the price of new wind power in the US has dropped 58% and the price of new solar power has dropped 78%. . . . Utility-scale solar in the West and Southwest is now at times cheaper than new natural gas plants. . . . 
We see the latest proposed PPA price for Xcel’s SPS subsidiary by NextEra (NEE) as in NM as setting a new record low for utility-scale solar. [..] The 25-year contracts for the New Mexico projects have levelized costs of $41.55/MWh and $42.08/MWh. That is 4.155 cents / kwh and 4.21 cents / kwh, respectively. Even after removing the federal solar Investment Tax Credit of 30%, the New Mexico solar deal is priced at 6 cents / kwh. By contrast, new natural gas electricity plants have costs between 6.4 to 9 cents per kwh, according to the EIA. (Note that the same EIA report from April 2014 expects the lowest price solar power purchases in 2019 to be $91 / MWh, or 9.1 cents / kwh before subsidy. Solar prices are below that today.)

The New Mexico plant is the latest in a string of ever-cheaper solar deals. SEPA’s 2014 solar market snapshot lists other low-cost solar Power Purchase Agreements. Austin Energy (Texas) signed a PPA for less than $50 per megawatt-hour (MWh) for 150 MW. TVA (Alabama) signed a PPA for $61 per MWh. Salt River Project (Arizona) signed a PPA for roughly $53 per MWh.

Wind prices are also at all-time lows. Here’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on the declining price of wind power . . . : After topping out at nearly $70/MWh in 2009, the average levelized long-term price from wind power sales agreements signed in 2013 fell to around $25/MWh. After adding in the wind Production Tax Credit, that is still substantially below the price of new coal or natural gas.

Wind and solar compensate for each other’s variability, with solar providing power during the day, and wind primarily at dusk, dawn, and night.

Energy storage is also reaching disruptive prices at utility scale. The Tesla battery is cheap enough to replace natural gas ‘peaker’ plants
Via Marginal Revolution.

In general, renewable energies are seeing technology and mass production drive price reductions that are better than those in the oil and gas industry.

Now, there is a possibility to consider.  While these prices are exclusive of subsidies, it could be that investors are engaging in rent seeking behavior and artificially deflating their theoretically unsubsidized prices because they know that with subsidies, this is a sustainable strategy.  Compare the car dealership that subsidizes its thin profits on new car sales with big profits on its used car trade in sales.

The Peak Oil Threat Hasn't Gone Away

We've seen a modest slump in oil and gas prices due to the advent of fracking and reduced demand in a slumping global economy, but the long term trend is still the inexorable march towards Peak Oil.  The issue is not so much that we will run out of oil and gas reserves, as it is that we will run out of cheap to exploit oil and gas reserves, driving the price of oil and gas ever higher until it reaches a natural limit when extracting oil from recently farmed crops becomes price competitive with oil and gas drilling as a way to produce hydrocarbons.


Coal is a tougher nut to crack.  It is priced where it is not just due to production costs, but because as a product, it can capture the lion's share of the market at whatever price is just a little bit lower than the alternatives.  Falling renewable prices are likely to reduce coal prices which have more room for downward movement than natural gas prices, given production costs.

On the other hand, environmentally and in other respects, coal is awful.  It makes petroleum look good.  Coal produces lots of conventional air pollutants (in addition to toxic and radioactive pollutants that are present in coal in trace amounts) leading to lots of pollution related deaths and permanent harm to the environment including climate change, and it leads to large numbers of production and transportation and generation related accidental injuries and deaths.  If coal were forced through regulation and taxation to bear the full share of the externalities generated by its use, it would be significantly more expensive than what utilities now pay for it.

This Price Shift Is Approaching A Tipping Point

This is a huge deal.  A shift in the relative prices per kilowatt-hour of electricity generation by different means doesn't just shift the market a little.  It is the economic equivalent of a phase change in a substance that crosses a critical pressure-temperature threshold.

Unlike individual consumers of other kinds of energy, electrical utilities are extremely well informed economic actors driven almost purely by economic incentives.  A major shift in preferences by a few hundred firms driven by a transition in relative electricity generation prices, particularly in places where electricity demand is expanding due to urban growth, can dramatically and quickly change the mix of fuels used to generate electricity in a matter of a decade or three.

Energy Cost Trendlines

The author of the piece quoted above, based upon historical trends, argues that "Every doubling of cumulative solar production drives module prices down by 20%." I'm deeply skeptical that this is a sustainable trend, but I don't disagree that there are meaningful economies of scale that are yet to be realized in solar and wind power, and that there is room for at least one or two more major scientific breakthroughs that meaningfully reduce cost or otherwise make solar and wind power more attractive.  Still, we don't need many rounds 20% reductions to make solar power generation much more economically attractive; one or two would be enough to make a huge difference.  So, the trend doesn't really have to be sustainable for very long to make a big difference.

Certainly, we have already come along way.  I remember as a child reading Popular Science in the 1970s during the energy crisis, reading stories about how solar power cost three or four times as much per watt as conventional sources (it was actually more like 150 times as expensive according to the historical trend data linked above) and hoping that someday it would reach parity with conventional sources in cost.

It has taken four decades to reach that point, which is far longer than the optimists thought it would at the time.  But, we have now just about reached that point and that is a big deal, especially in the West and Southwest of the United States, where the natural conditions are best for solar, and where the most important source of energy demand (air conditioning) closely tracks the availability of solar power to meet that demand.

It turns out that almost all of the price reduction has actually come in the last decade:

Graphic from here.

A utopian world with a very large share of renewables in its power grid seems more attainable now than ever.

Storage Cost Limitations For Fickle Solar and Wind Power Generation

However, because both the sun and the wind are fickle, these sources of electricity in the grid are limited to a market share of about 20% in the absence of cost effective power storage (i.e. cheap and efficient batteries or the equivalent), no matter how cheap they are relative to fossil fuels.  While progress is still being made in utility scale batteries, storage renewable energy is still a long way from being competitive with on demand burning of fossil fuels, and is improving more slowly than the cost of generating renewable energy itself when the sun and wind conditions are right.

Battery power needs to drop in price about 77% to be competitive with natural gas and coal powered plants, compared to a mere 16% reduction needed for utility scale solar power that is not stored to be competitive in places well suited for it.  Wind power, in contrast, when it is available, is already about 40% cheaper than power from natural gas and coal fired plants.

The prospects for progress in battery power are also discouraging because battery power is a considerably more mature technology than large scale solar and wind powered electricity generation.  So, one would expect slower progress in this area than we have seen in the last decade in solar and wind power.

Footnote: Transportation Energy Issues

Electricity off the grid is already roughly 80% less expensive source of energy than gasoline or diesel or ethanol for motor vehicles (comparing the cost of powering an mass produced plug in electric vehicle like a Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf or Tesla S per mile to the cost of powering a comparable vehicle with a gasoline or diesel fueled engine).

The trouble is that it isn't easy to get the electricity to the vehicles.  You either need a fixed guide way transit system, either from an electrified overhead wire, or a powered "third rail", or you need cheap, high energy density, compact, and quickly rechargeable batteries or some technological equivalent to that, to store the electricity used to power the vehicle.

Cost and energy density are really the only remaining barriers to widespread use of electric cars.  I purchased a car this month, but didn't purchase an electric one, even though they are widely available and tax credits made one price competitive, because it didn't have sufficient battery range and I anticipate being a one car family for most of the time that I own one.

The Tesla S, which is a mass produced available for sale electric car with a range competitive with gasoline and diesel vehicles (200 miles or so), without compromising meaningfully on what the car can do or carry, illustrates that at this point the technological barrier to widespread electric cars is ultimately far more a matter of cost than energy density.  If we could make electric car batteries for 10%-20% of their current price, electric cars would be dominant at current electricity and oil prices, even without tax subsidies.

Another potentially "natural" limit to the mass production of battery powered vehicles is that these batteries currently require large volumes of rare earth metals which are sufficient to meet currently low level production demands, but would become a powerful limiting factor (and environmental concern) if electric car production volumes dramatically increased.  Of course, if the "better battery" was cheaper and used fewer rare earth metals (indeed, eliminating rare earth metals from batteries is a good strategy for making them cheaper), then this problem could be averted.

A mass shift to electric cars from oil byproduct fueled cars, of course, would dramatically increase the demand for electricity, which in turn, would dramatically favor whatever means of electricity generation was cheapest at the time.  (Actually, this seemingly obvious fact isn't nearly as certain as it would seem, because oil refineries use a lot of electricity to turn oil into gasoline and diesel power.)

To hit the environmentalists utopian sweet spot, we'd like the cheaper battery for electric cars to be invented shortly after renewables secure a definitive edge in the market place for new utility generated electricity.  This "jackpot" result now seems to be within the realm of the possible and even the plausible, although it is hardly a certain, or even more likely than not possibility.

Second Footnote: Solar Energy For Purposes Other Than Electricity Generation

Photovoltaic application (i.e. making electricity with solar power) is not really the most efficient way to turn the sun's rays into useful energy.  This requires turning high entropy heat into low entropy electricity, and overcoming the Second Law of Thermodynamics is expensive in terms of power generation efficiency.

Solar energy, used properly, can be much more efficient in reducing home heating and water heating demand, a measure sometimes described as energy conservation, rather than energy generation, because it reduces the consumption of conventional energy sources like electricity, natural gas and heating oil for someone using it.

Third Footnote: The Impact of Synthetic Oil and Gas From Coal

Coal's undesirable properties have led to a situation where it is used almost entirely as the lowest cost source of electricity generation.  Only a tiny share of all coal produced is used for anything else.

If the legal framework forced this use of coal to bear all of its externalities, the cost of coal fired electricity would be much greater.

There is another way of using coal that is less noxious, although it really hasn't been determined how much less noxious.  One can synthesize oil and methane (or other hydrocarbon gases like those found in natural gas) from coal, and it appears to be easier to contain pollutants from the coal in this synthesis process than it is to do so when simply burning coal at a utility power plant (even with advanced utility technology like smokestack scrubbers).

At some point, the cost of mining coal and converting it to synthetic oil and gas may be competitive with the cost of direct oil and gas production from natural reserves.  Indeed, in the last decade, we flirted with oil price points where synthesizing oil from coal was price competitive (it requires an oil price in modestly in excess of $100 a barrel at current coal prices).

When oil prices eventually reach a sustained floor of significantly more than $100 a barrel (and even before then), synthesizing oil from coal will start to look like an attractive alternative.  If oil prices increased as a result of taxes designed to include their externalities, this could happen sooner rather than later.

I don't know the price point at which synthesizing natural gas from coal becomes competitive with direct natural gas production, but my understanding is that we have flirted with that price point as well during periods of time when natural gas prices were near their modern peaks.

Thus, ironically, increasing the cost of natural gas could make much cleaner uses of coal economically viable.  Synthetic gas production from coal would also effectively place a cap on natural gas prices, even when direct natural gas production costs exceeded that price.

Both these points imply that there are natural limits to the extent that Peak Oil, and rising natural gas prices can lead to an increase in renewable energy production, as opposed to a switch from "natural" mineral sources of oil and gas to synthetic production of oil and gas from coal.  Some additional price reductions in the costs of renewable energy generated electricity, that makes it securely price competitive with synthetic oil and gas products from coal (even when this new technology falls in cost with economies of scale), are also necessary for a transition to take place.  But, current trends don't have to continue very much longer for this to happen.

20 May 2015

Church Attendance v. Religious Identification

Ed Stetzer, writing at CNN in an opinion piece entitled "No, American Christianity Is Not Dead" on May 16, 2015, in response to a Pew Report showing a surge in people who identify as religiously unaffiliated and a 10% decline in 10 years in the percentage of people who identify as Christian in the United States, makes some valid points, but also provides some shocking (to me) new statistics of his own.

He excludes from his analysis Roman Catholics and historically black Christian denominations, focusing instead on trends in Protestant and non-denominational Christianity.

One of his core points is that the people who no longer identify as Christians were mostly not drawn from the population that regularly attend church.  This percentage was 23.2% in 1972 (according to the General Social Survey) and was 19.8% in 2014.  Thus, while there was a 3.6 percentage point drop (a 15.5% decline in "market share") over the 42 years that coincide with most of my life, the decline has not been nearly as dramatic as the decline in identification as Christian.

The long term trend, however, has been very different for Evangelicals, and other non-Roman Catholic Christians.


The percentage of people who identify as Evangelical Christians and attended church regularly in 1972 was 7.9% of the people surveyed (46% of the 17.1% of people who identified as Evangelical Christians at the time), and in 2014 it is 12.5% (55% of the 22.7% of people who identified as Evangelical Christians in 2014).  Thus, over 42 years the percentage of people identifying as Evangelical Christians, the percentage of people regularly attending Evangelical Christian churches, and the percentage of Evangelical Christians who attend church regularly have all increased.

It isn't all roses for Evangelical Christianity.  It peaked in 1994, declined steadily through 2004, bumped up a bit in 2006, and has declined again since then.

Mainline Christians

The percentage of people who identified as Mainline Christians and attended church regularly in 1972 was 8.6% of the people surveyed (29% of the 28.0% of people who identified as Mainline Christians at the time), and in 2014 it is 3.6% (30% of the 12.2% of people who identified as Mainline Christians in 2014).

This picture is decidedly less rosy. Over 42 years the percentage of people identifying as Mainline Christians has dropped by 15.8 percentage points (a 42% decline in "market share"), the percentage of people regularly attending Mainline Christian Churches has dropped by 5 percentage points (a 42% decline in market share), and the rate of church attendance for people who identify as Mainline Christians has remained constant.  The decline in Mainline Christianity has been steady with the exception of a small bump in 1990.


Thus, in 1972, a narrow majority of regularly church attending white Protestants were Mainline Christians (as I was from 1970 to 1992 with the exception of a year in New Zealand where I didn't attend church while I was an exchange student).  Regularly church attending Mainline and Evangelical Christians combined were 16.5% of the population.

In 2014, regularly church attending white Protestants combined are still 16.1% of the population, barely changed over 42 years (the decline in the overall church attendance rate probably comes mostly from white Roman Catholics whose trends tend to mirror those of Mainline Protestants, but have been masked by rising numbers of Hispanic and other immigrant Roman Catholic populations in the U.S.).

But, in 2014, 77.6% of regularly church attending white Protestants (more than three out of four and on track to be four out of five soon) are Evangelical Christians.

There is a discrepancy between the GSS figures and the Pew survey results for 2014.  GSS says 22.7% identify as Evangelical Christians v. 25.4% for Pew, while GSS says that 12.2% identify as Mainline Christians v. 14.7% for Pew.  But, most of these discrepancies come from the fact that Pew is including historically black denominations in its Evangelical and Mainline Christian percentages, while GSS is treating all of the historically black denominations as a separate category (which is probably a more accurate way to describe the reality for most purposes).

Just 1 in 27 Americans identified as Mainline Protestant and regularly attended church in 2014.  And, as I've noted previously in other posts, this trend shows no sign of stopping any time soon because the younger you are, the less likely you are to consider yourself a Mainline Protestant, and the regularly church attending population that remains in these churches has been steadily getting older and older.  The gradual death of denominations without children and young people is nearly inevitable.

In contrast, 1 in 8 Americans identified as Evangelical Protestant and regularly attended church in 2014.

Meanwhile, 22.8% of Americans in 2014, not quite 1 in 4, but more than 1 in 5, no longer even identify a Christian at all, a number that exceeds the percentage of self-identify as Roman Catholic (20.8% in 2014), whether or not they regularly attend church.  Another 5.9% of the population identifies with a non-Christian faith (including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Unitarian Universalists).

People who do not identify as Christians now make up 30% of the U.S. population, and 80% of the U.S. population does not attend church on a regular basis.  Mainline Christians in predominantly white denominations who do not regularly attend church, who tend to be culturally very similar to the "nones" culturally and in their political beliefs, make up another 8.6% of the population.
About 63% of all people who attend church regularly (including historically black denominations and Roman Catholics) are Evangelical Christians in historically white denominations.

I Voted (Again)

I live in a Denver City Council District that had a runoff election this year (District 7).  Ballots went out about a week ago by mail, and must be received back by June 2, 2015 at 7 p.m.

My wife and I got ours in last night.  The runoff election ballot is much easier to deal with as there is only one seat at issue with just two candidates, both of whom have bombarded us with fliers.

19 May 2015

Her Royal Highness Princess . . .

When the name on your birth certificate begins with the four words in the title of this post, you can be pretty sure that your life is going to be good.

Incidentally, she is also currently fourth in line for the throne, quite an accomplishment for someone who isn't potty trained yet.  In the United States, that spot in the Presidential succession belongs to Secretary of State and former Presidential candidate John Kerry.

Third in line to the British throne is His Royal Highness Prince George, who is not yet preschool aged.  The comparable post in the U.S. Presidential succession is held by Senator Orrin Hatch, a grumpy seventy-one year old man from Utah.

Then again, the U.S. has never had to dip further the the first place spot in the line of succession (Vice President) its entire history since 1776, and there are two adults: Prince Charles and Prince William, in line before Prince William's children.

17 May 2015

British Statutes Worth Replicating

The British "Unfair Contract Terms Act of 1977" makes contract terms, that purport to waive liability for one's own negligence and the negligence of one's own agents and employees that causes death or personal injury, void as a matter of law.  The full text of the statute, with separate British and Scottish provisions, is found here.

It also prohibits waivers of a variety of implied contractual warranties in sales by businesses to consumers.

It also limits terms designed to limit liability for misrepresentations to "reasonable" limitations.

These bounds are further expanded by the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations of 1999, that, among other things, interprets all ambiguities in business agreements with consumers against the business.  This statute overlaps with the 1977 Act and implements certain similar EU directives.

By comparison, it is usually possible in U.S. law to waive liability for negligence (although not gross negligence, recklessness or intentional conduct), to waive implied contractual warranties, and to agree to remove the presumption that contracts are interpreted against the drafter.

The Value of Good Manners

My wife sometimes works as a "brand ambassador" which is a title that covers a multitude of sins.  One of the big indicators of how much a particular job will pay is whether the job requires someone who can demonstrate good manners when dealing with upper middle class clientele.

The cutoff in Denver to make it reliably likely that an agency hiring brand ambassadors will get a sufficient number of applicants with the ability to show up on time and demonstrate good manners is about $20 to $25 per hour (for independent contractors).

Thus, simply a capacity to show up on time, well groomed, dressed as required for the event, and to demonstrate good manners in dealing with the public, is worth about two and a half to four times the minimum wage.

Apparently, basic social capital is in surprisingly short supply.

12 May 2015

Guns Make Deaths More, Not Less Likely

There is a widespread scientific consensus supported by solid empirical research that the self-defense benefits of gun possession are greatly outweighed by the elevated risk of suicide, of being a homicide victim, and of accidental death that come with gun possession in the context of ordinary American life.  Consider the following results of surveys of nearly complete sample of published, active academic researchers in this area:
[H]aving a gun in the home increased the risk of suicide (84% agree)... a gun in the home increases the risk that a woman living in the home will be a victim of homicide (72% agree, 11% disagree) and that a gun in the home makes it a more dangerous place to be (64%) rather than a safer place (5%). There is consensus that guns are not used in self-defense far more often than they are used in crime (73% vs. 8%) and that the change to more permissive gun carrying laws has not reduced crime rates (62% vs. 9%). Finally, there is consensus that strong gun laws reduce homicide (71% vs. 12%).
Now, it is obviously not true that possession of a gun is riskier than not possessing a gun in all circumstances.  For example, nobody doubts that a soldier in a battle in a war zone is better off with a gun.  So, surely, it a police officer responding to a crime where armed criminals are present.  But, it is very easy to overestimate the benefits of a gun for self-defense, which must be quite extreme to overcome the risks associated with gun possession.

Fast Track Authority For Trans Pacific Partnership Defeated

I'm feeling a bit sheepish.  For the first time in a couple of years that I write to my Senator, Democrat Michael Bennet (from Colorado), to oppose the Fast Track authority for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty, a position I haven't waivered from holding.

But, just after sending off my missive, I learn that the U.S. Senate already voted to reject Fast Track authority (or strictly speaking, voted to force debate in the face of a filibuster threat made by Senate Democrats) two hours earlier, by a vote of 52-45, in a case where 60 votes were required to debate the proposal.

The initial story from the Denver Post disappointingly doesn't say how he voted.  He joined a bipartisan majority to advance the bill from the Senate Finance Committee to the full Senate for consideration last month.  I had to go to Daily Kos (which is reporting a 53-45 vote) to find out that "All but one Democrat—Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware—opposed the motion to proceed with debate on the bill."

This means that all Presidential race hopefuls in the U.S. Senate are now on record as opposing President Obama's signature trade initiative.

Thus, Bennet voted against cloture, despite his earlier vote in favor of the bill in the Senate Finance Committee.

Good for him.  Despite the fact that I know by definition that he didn't listen to my vote for reasons that are entirely my fault, he did listen to other constituents in his base.

Of course, the oddest part of this picture is that a united front of Democrats have to unite against a Democratic President to achieve their objective.

President Obama has been particularly tone deaf on this issue, an initiative that is a holdover from George W. Bush's administration, commenced shortly before Obama was elected.  He should have let the process die with the administration that conceived it.  Instead, twenty rounds of negotiations have been conducted from March 2010 through July 2014, apparently fueled by a process put in place and a set of shared principles cemented by President Obama's predecessor.

Now, the failure of the bill has tarnished President Obama, and fulfilled the Republican narrative about a President who can't accomplish anything that they helped create, while at the same time leaving them with clean hands as "bipartisan" supporters of the President's trade initiative.  All around, this treaty has been a tactical disaster for the administration.

About the TPP

The administration's official stance on the issue is found at the U.S. Trade Representative's website.

There are basically two kinds of knocks against the TPP.  For more, see a recent article at Salon.com. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren has a forceful and informed op-ed column in the Boston Globe.

A Secretive and Closed Process Controlled By Business Interests

One is process oriented.  The negotiations have been conducted in secret, except for panels of consultants, about five hundred in all, chosen by the administration and mostly made up of executives of big businesses and corporate lobbyists and sworn to secrecy themselves.  Senators have access to the drafts but are also sworn to secrecy. Fast Track authority on the TPP would allow corporate interests to achieve legislative policy gains that they could not have achieved through the ordinary legislative process in a dozen member countries including our own.

This process prevents the administration from credibly defending its position.  For example, the U.S. Trade Representative issued a statement purporting to dispel myths about the Investor-State Dispute Resolution provisions of the treaty, but did not disclose the relevant proposed treaty language itself, so the public can not independently evaluate those claims, and can not take comfort that the U.S. Trade Representative's assertions on any part of the treaty are trustworthy.

Arguments have been advanced that this secrecy is necessary to make the negotiation process work, but a similar process, to draft proposed Uniform State laws, for example, has always been open and encouraged input, while not scuttling proposals except in the small number of cases where there has been legitimate controversy and difference of opinion.

The U.S. Trade Representative's statement also affirms that there will be extra-national arbitration tribunals, without clarifying how those tribunals would in fact be chosen or operate, a matter of great concern given the longstanding history of arbitration tribunal unfairness in domestic contexts:
Investor-state arbitration is designed to provide a fair, neutral platform to resolve disputes. The arbitration rules applied by tribunals under our agreements require that each arbitrator be independent and impartial. These rules permit either party in a dispute to request the disqualification of an arbitrator and the appointment of a new arbitrator if necessary to ensure the independence and impartiality of all tribunal members.
A process for selecting a tribunal to decide very important issues is no substitute for actual existing tribunals with a long track record of wisely resolve disputes in a transparent and fair manner.  Courts with facially fair rules can often be unfair in practice.

It is also notable that administrative negotiating positions in the process, for example, in the case of health care intellectual property protections, have repeatedly appeared to have been dictated by controversy arising from illegal leaks of negotiation materials leading to public outcry.  This is no way to run a fair and public process.  We shouldn't have to rely on Wikileaks to get reliable information about our own country's trade negotiations.

A Scope That Extends Far Beyond Trade To Domestic Economic Policy Of Unknown Content

The other is substance oriented. Rather than merely reducing tariffs and quotas, the TPP imposes substantive economic regulatory stances in a wide range of areas from monetary policy, to labor and environmental regulations, to intellectual property, and more, and appears to vest the ability to order national governments to change their current regulations to super-national arbitration bodies chosen in ways that are not disclosed.

This is a huge amount of substantive economic policy to put in stone, at home and abroad, without full disclosure and democratic participation in the process of making it, and the groups involved in the drafting process don't leave the general public with good cause to believe that those substantive choices are ones that they would agree with, on average.

For example, the TPP appears to favor very strong intellectual property regimes, when the emerging consensus is that the economy would be better off in many circumstances if we moved in the other direction and weakened excessively harsh intellectual property laws.  Intellectual property laws are also often used in Asia as tools to prevent free access to ideas and to suppress political dissent.

Scenes From A Multiverse

If you need an absurd gag comic with a left leaning political twist, Scenes From A Multiverse is your prescription.

11 May 2015

Puerto Rico As A Natural Experiment

Puerto Rico provides a natural experiment for a variety of economic and immigration theories, because it has had a profoundly different legal history than the rest of Latin America in terms of its relationship with the United States for more than a century.

Republican Presidential candidate Jeb Bush has floated the idea of Puerto Rican statehood early in his campaign.


Puerto Rico is organized as a "Commonwealth" within the United States.  This means that, like other U.S. territories, it has democratic self-government, but it has no say in national elections, yet is subject to national laws except where Congress chooses to make an exception.

The U.S. acquired Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War of 1898, and has retained a relationship with it similar to the status quo for this Commonwealth that now has 3.62 million people in the Caribbean since about 1900, when it was granted democratic self-government.  Puerto Rico retains a Spanish language as the dominant language and an associated Latin American culture.

Puerto Rico is in an immigration union with the United States and about 4.6 million people who identified as Puerto Ricans lived in the United States as of the 2010 census.  But, a little less than a third of that population was born in Puerto Rico.  Put another way, about two-thirds of the people born in Puerto Rico live there today, while a third have migrated to somewhere in the United States.  Growth in the existing Puerto Rican population of the United States (outside Puerto Rico), rather than migration from Puerto Rico, has accounted for most of the growth in the Puerto Rican population in the U.S. since at least 1980.

About a third of the people in the United States who identify as Puerto Rican live in the New York City metropolitan area.  About 1.5% of the U.S. outside Puerto Rico identifies as Puerto Rican, predominantly in the Northeast, Florida (4.5%), Hawaii (3.2%) and the Chicago and Cleveland metropolitan areas.  Puerto Ricans make up no more than 0.9% of the population of any state outside the Northeast, Florida, Hawaii and Illinois (1.4%) (which is highly concentrated in the Chicago, whose city proper is home to more than half of the Puerto Ricans in Illinois and where Puerto Ricans make up 3.8% of the total population).  Cleveland proper is 7.4% Puerto Rican and is home to more than 30% of the Puerto Ricans in Ohio (0.8%).

The non-U.S. born population of Puerto Rico in 2010 was 2.9%, less than all U.S. states except North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and New Orleans (South Carolina and Maine are tied).  This is despite the fact that Puerto Rico would naively, seem to be a natural destination for Latin American immigrants, since moving there involves far less cultural change.  States with large Puerto Rican populations almost all also have large percentages of foreign born persons.

Mexico is the dominant source of foreign born persons in many U.S. states (especially in the West, Midwest and South) but accounts for only 2.5% of the foreign born population of Puerto Rico.  In the year 2000, there were about 9 times as many foreign born Mexicans in the United States as there were Puerto Rican born Puerto Ricans in the United States.  Mexico has a population of about 120.29 million people (33 times as great as Puerto Rico).

Puerto Rico is largely free of U.S. federal income taxation, although they are part of the federal Social Security and Medicare system.  They do not receive many of the federally funded welfare benefits, however.  In the big picture, two of the main federal programs that Puerto Rico does not fund, but arguably benefits from, are national defense and interest of the national debt.

Essentially, Puerto Rico satisfies the converse of the "no taxation without representation" motto, not paying tax, but not receiving much representation either.  If federal income taxes were applied to Puerto Rico, however, it would generate little income and perhaps even a net bonus to Puerto Rico, because it is much less affluent than any U.S. state.  According to the 2015 World Almanac, Mississippi's per capita personal income is $34,478; Puerto Rico's is $14,905.

In a non-binding referendum in 2012, 46% of Puerto Ricans favored the status quo, and when asked what change they would like if the status quo was changed, statehood was twelve times more popular than independence (61% to 5%) while the balance favored greater autonomy within a Commonwealth-like structure.

Lessons Learned

1.  Echoing the experience of the immigration union in the European Union, substantial disparities in personal income (more than 2-1 compared to least affluent U.S. states) has not produced a tidal wave of migration to the U.S., although it has produced migration levels greater than in any country with limited immigration.  The rate of migration of Puerto Rican born persons to the U.S. is about 3.7 times the rate of migration of Mexican born persons to the U.S.  If the Puerto Rican model held true, free immigration between the U.S. and Mexico would result in about 24 million more Mexicans migrating to the U.S. than the current number.

Also, migration is something that is path dependent and builds upon historical patterns.  As a result, intranational migration and immigration has the least impact on places with the least history of migration.

2. Free immigration, massive tax subsidies, the stable U.S. currency, and the protection from political risk that comes from being subject to U.S. federal law and within the U.S. military's sphere of protection, have not completely equalized the per capital personal incomes of Puerto Rico and the rest of the United States over 117 years as a U.S. colony.  Local culture is at least as important as economic and legal policy in determining national wealth.

But, Puerto Rico does compare favorably to the rest of Latin America.  Puerto Rico has a per capita GDP (nominal) of about $28,000 compared to about $16,000 in Uruguay, the highest ranking Latin American country.  It is just $1,400 or so behind Spain, and is ahead of South Korea by $1,800, according to the World Bank (2013).  The CIA World Fact Book (2013) reports a low figure for Puerto Rico ($23,500), but still high enough to be the most prosperous Spanish speaking economy in the world other than Spain, and not too far behind Spain.  Mississippi, the U.S. state with the lowest per capita GPD (2012) is at about $29,000, a much smaller gap than the gap in personal income per capita.  And, since it joined the E.U. Spain hasn't been subject to higher federal economic decision making on monetary policy, trade, immigration and more, just as Puerto Rico has been.

3. Colonial lack of democratic representation at the national level may be unfair from a political theory perspective, but isn't that unpopular, so long as it doesn't come with a tax burden and there is considerable democratic autonomy.  Puerto Rico has been spared a great deal of political turmoil and non-democratic government found in almost all of its independent nation peers.  Economically and in terms of stability, Commonwealth status has been a good deal for Puerto Rico, compared to the likely alternatives if it were independent.

08 May 2015

Humanists! Welcome to the Mile High City.

The American Humanist Association, of which I am a member, is having its national conference in Denver this year from May 7 to May 10.  Alas, work and family obligations prevent me from attending.  But, welcome to the hood.

06 May 2015

Practicing Law In A Field Of Misery

I'm only happy when it rains
I'm only happy when it's complicated
And though I know you can't appreciate it
I'm only happy when it rains

You know I love it when the news is bad
Why it feels so good to feel so sad
I'm only happy when it rains

Pour your misery down
Pour your misery down on me
- Garbage, "I'm Only Happen When It Rains".

Unlike the protagonist of the song, I don't take joy in misery.  But, it wouldn't be an obvious conclusion from my choice of career and specialties as an attorney.

I do a considerable amount of probate law, which is a handmaiden of death, I handle guardianship and conservatorship cases which become necessary when one's mind goes to pot with old age to a point that has been known to drive people to suicide.  And, I handle divorce cases, surely one of the most miserable experiences one can have in life.  I have had a mini-tidal wave of such work recently. By comparison, the business to business warfare of commercial litigation, which I also practice, is positively cheery.

Now, these "misery specialties" are more tolerable second hand than they are to live though.  Rather than engaging directly with the emotionally intense elements of these situations, the lawyers tend to mostly deal with the commercial and property aspects of these difficult times.  But, inevitably, the raw emotional stories of these cases can't be completely avoided and impact your own emotional state if you have even a twinge of empathy in your psyche.  It can be like constantly living on the fringe of a horror movie.

Perhaps it is little wonder then, that lawyers suffer from mental health conditions at an above average rate relative to the general population.  It is harder to stay sane and mentally thriving when constantly exposed to stress and toxic emotions, than it is when a person's finite resilience is rarely tested.

There are different ways of coping.  One can focus on the positives are providing practical help to people in a time of need, and finding positive solutions.  One can reassure oneself that at least this isn't your problem personally, and distance yourself from it.  One can, as alluded to above, focus on the less emotional components of the job.  One can chase positive compensation for negative on the job experiences in one's personal life.

Many funeral home and mortuary operators I've met in my practice cope by developing their own special grim brand of gallows humor.

Death and incapacity are basically inevitable.  While judicially granted divorces are less than two centuries old (and no fault divorces are less than two generations old), in Western cultures, people who need to figure out how to deal with troubled marriages have been with us for almost as long as the institution of marriage has existed.  Somebody has to do the dirty work, and lawyers, collectively, have signed up to be the untouchables to do it.

05 May 2015

Denver Municipal Election Results

The results of the Denver Municipal Election will be available at the Denver Clerk and Recorder's election result webpage, sometime in the next few minutes (since the polls close at 7 p.m.).  Since the ballots are short, computer scanned, and were mostly turned in long before elections day, the initial preliminary results may be decisive.  (Data on incumbency from here).

There are 351,520 active registered voters in Denver, and probably about 20% of them voted.  So far, 69,338 votes have been reported. which will not include all votes cast today, but probably will include all votes cast yesterday and probably some votes cast this morning.

The twelve first round winners:

The clear first round winners, including four new faces, are:

Michael Hancock (Mayor) (incumbent) (4 candidate race 79.98%)

Timothy O'Brien (Auditor) (open seat) (2 candidate race 54.02%)
Precinct by precinct results shown here.

Debra Johnson (Clerk and Recorder) (incumbent) (2 candidate race 84.09%)

Debbie Ortega (City Council at Large) (incumbent) (5 candidate race vote for two)

Robin Kneich (City Council at Large) (incumbent) (5 candidate race vote for two)

Rafeal Espinoza (City Council District 1) (defeating the incumbent in a 2 candidate race 66.8%)

Paul Lopez (City Council District 3) (incumbent) (unopposed)

Kendra Black (City Council District 4) (open seat) (3 candidate race 57.38%)
Precinct by precinct results here.

Mary Beth Susman (City Council District 5) (incumbent) (unopposed)

Paul Kashman (City Council District 6) (open seat) (2 candidate race 54.66%)
Precinct by precinct results here.

Christopher Herndon (City Council District 8) (incumbent) (unopposed)

Albus Brooks (City Council District 9) (incumbent) (3 candidate race; 67.14%)

As used above, "unopposed" means "unopposed" by non-write in candidates.  The runner up in the at large city council race, Jeffery Washington, trailed by 16,998 votes out of 98,670 cast (two per voter) in that race.

The four June runoff elections:

The runoffs will be in the following four open City Council District races (with the candidate winning the most votes listed firs and the number of candidates referring only to non-write in candidates):

City Council District 2:  John Kidd 34.8% v. Kevin Flynn 22.41% (out of 5 candidates)
** Gap to third place 256 votes from 5,753 votes reported so far.
Precinct by precinct winners shown here.

City Council District 7: Jolon Clark 27.07% v. Anne McGihon 16.5% (out of 9 candidates)
** Gap to third place 84 votes from from 5,504 votes reported so far.
Precinct by precinct winners shown here.

City Council District 10: Wayne New 37.36% v. Anna Jones 32.58% (out of 5 candidates)
** Gap to third place 1,076 votes from 7,904 votes reported so far.
Precinct by precinct winners shown here.

City Council District 11: Stacie Gillmore 38.18% v. Sean Bradley 23.53% (out of 5 candidates)
** Gap to third place 73 votes from 3,085 votes reported so far.
Precinct by precinct winners shown here.

Turnout is likely to be lower in each of these districts than it was in the first round, based upon historical experience.

Denver Municipal Election Ballots Due Today At 7 p.m.

* Ballots in Denver's Municipal Election this year must be received by 7 p.m. today.  It is too late to drop them in the mail, but you can drop them at one of many locations around the city.

Many ballots, including the ones distributed to my wife and I have a misprint saying that they are due in June.


* In other Colorado political news, tomorrow is the last day of the 2015 legislative session, one in which Republicans have controlled the state senate and Democrats have controlled the state house.

As a result of the partisan split of control, many bills, even bills with broad bipartisan support in the third reading vote in the house where the bills were introduced, are being killed in the other house in a tit-for-tat that has been aptly described as mutual assured destruction.  The number of bills passed by the legislature this year may hit an all time low.

04 May 2015

Tomorrow Is The Last Day To Vote In Denver's Municipal Elections

All ballots must be received tomorrow, May 5, 2015 by 7 p.m. to count in the first round of Denver's municipal election.  It is too late to count on a ballot dropped in the mail reaching its destination on time, but there are many dropoff locations around the city.  There is no "in person" voting in this year's Denver municipal election.

There are no ballot issues in this year's election.

* Incumbent Mayor Michael Hancock is opposed only by three nuisance candidates who have raised no money and not mounted serious campaigns who appear on the ballot, and three write-in candidates.

* Incumbent Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson faces opposition from Joan Poston, a microbiologist who hopes to bring her technical savvy to the position.  Johnson is the front runner in the race.

* The city auditor's race pits former state auditor Timothy O'Brien against term limited City Councilman Chris Nevitt.  Nevitt is the front runner in the race and has raised about $293,000 v. about $41,000 for O'Brien in campaign contributions.

* A field of five candidates are pursuing two City Council at large seats which will go to the the top two vote getters.  The incumbents are Robin Kneich and Debbie Ortega.  There are three challengers: Kayvan Kalatbari, a pizza and marijuana businessman, is the only challenger that has raised significant campaign funds (although less than the two incumbents).  Jose Silva is running with a particular focus on police conduct reforms.  Jeffery Washington, an African-American Republican, is running on a fiscal responsibility platform.  Neither Silva nor Washington have raised even $5,000 in campaign contributions.

The real drama in this race will be to see if Kayvan Kalabari unseats either of the incumbents.

There is no realistic chance that any of the five offices above (Mayor, Clerk and Recorder, Auditor and City Council at Large) will be filled in runoff elections.

* There are eleven single member city council district races.  To win in the first round, a candidate must receive a majority of the voters cast in the race; otherwise the top two candidates face off in a runoff election in June.  There could be as many as six runoff elections in June, if no candidate in races with three or more candidates secured a majority in the first round.  The other five city council district races will definitely be resolved in the first round.

In Council District 1, Espinoza faces Shepard and the two candidate race means that one of them will win in the first round.  Espinoza has raised about $35,000.  Shepard has raised almost $99,000.

In Council District 2, five candidates on the ballot and a write in candidate are seeking the office.

In Council District 3, Paul Lopez faces only a write-in candidate and is a shoe in to win.

In Council District 4, three candidates are on the ballot.

In Council District 5, Mary Beth Susman is unopposed.

In Council District 6, Kashman and Adams are facing off for the open seat in a close race including the Washington Park neighborhood.  Adams, a former state legislator leads in fundraising, although both have raised substantial amounts of campaign cash, but Kashman has his history of former owner and editor of the Washington Park Profile newspaper which has covered municipal issues for decades.  This race will be decided in the first round.

In Council District 7, there are nine candidates seeking the open seat left by Chris Nevitt who stepped down because he was term limited.  Anne McGihon, former state house representative for a substantial part of the district, is the strong front runner based on in house polling, despite being only on a par in fundraising with several of the stronger competing candidates.

In Council District 8, Christopher Herndon is unopposed.

In Council District 9, three candidates are on the ballot.

In Council District 10, five candidates are on the ballot.

In Council District 11, five candidates are on the ballot.

03 May 2015

PhD Comics On The Writing Process

PhD Comics aptly captures the writing process for an academic thesis that isn't that different for other kinds of major formal writing projects like appellate briefs.

Key Component Of Human Aging Better Understood

Werner's syndrome is one in which people age almost twice as fast as usual.  Studies of the disease and of the genetics related to that disease, has identified at a cellural and biochemical level why this happens and in the process identifying one of the key mechanisms involved in aging in humans.

The results are reported in Zhang, et al., "A Werner syndrome stem cell model unveils heterochromatin alterations as a driver of human aging." Science (30 April 2015).

Basically, Werner's syndrome mutates genes responsible for a protein called WRN that governs how bundles of DNA called heterochromatin organize themselves, which causes heterochromatin to become disorganized.  This phenomena is found both in Werner's syndrome sufferers and also in people without Werner's syndrome who are advanced in age.

The hope, of course, is that treatments targeting heterochromatin organization could retard or reverse the human aging process.