30 October 2015

Are There Any Republican Pagans?

Halloween, which is tomorrow, is derived from the traditional pagan festival day of Samhain, one of the four seasonal holidays halfway between equinoxes and solstices, together with Ground Hog Day, May Day, and Midsummer's Day.   Hence, it is a time when we think about the roots of modern practices in pagan traditions.

Earlier this week, the Republican Presidential candidates for the 2016 election had a debate in Boulder (which is a hot spot of neo-pagan practice in Colorado).

For the most part, pretty much everyone who doesn't self-identify as a Christian has a political leaning which is Democratic, unaffiliated, or third-party, because a substantial part of the Republican party favors a vision of the United States as a Christian Nation, the Establishment Clause be damned. For example, very socially conservative and quite economically conservative and anti-communist Muslims tend to identify politically with the Democratic party, because a significant share of Republican officials are openly anti-Muslim.

This tends to hold true for people who religiously identify as pagans as well, who also tend to be politically liberal or libertarian leaning and to care a lot about environmental issues, rather than socially or economically conservative.

The only really prominent conservative pagans are neo-pagan white supremacists who draw upon the Nazi regime's effort to link itself to Nordic and Germanic pagan tradition as a way to booth its nationalist appeal.

Are There Pagan Republicans?

But, are there Pagan Republicans out there in our vast and incredibly diverse nation?

The answer is yes, as this article from the 2009 election season explains.  Indeed, there are even pagan Republican political candidates:
Sexy teenage witches or nature-worshipping environmentalists, not Republican politicians, serve as our popular images of contemporary Pagans. But as fall campaigns for New York City’s City Council heat up, a Republican candidate from Queens has been forced “out of the broom closet.” Given that Republicans are typically linked with conservative Christianity, both the Neopagan community and some Republicans are a bit puzzled by Dan Halloran, who is running on Republican, Libertarian, Conservative, and Independence lines for City Council.

Halloran’s campaign Web site counters the assumption that Neopagans dress and act differently from other Americans. Photos on his official site show a clean-cut and conservatively dressed Halloran speaking out against “Obamacare,” supporting youth baseball programs and the Boy Scouts, and presenting a Police Officer of the Month Award. In contrast, the Queens Tribune story played up his alter identity as Pagan priest by running a photo from his page on the “Paganspace” Web site that shows a blue-robed Halloran kneeling before his ritual tools.

“So, who do you think is going to win that City Council race between ‘Democratic Victor’ Kevin Kim and ‘Pagan Lord’ Dan Halloran?” asked Reid Pillifant in his story in the New York Observer on September 18, 2009. A day earlier, a news story identifying Halloran as a King (priest) of Theodism, a form of Norse Paganism, ran in the Queens Tribune and attracted attention to Halloran’s unorthodox religious identity.
Now, the fact that this is happening in New York City is notable.

In national politics, the Republican party is almost extinct in most of the Northeast Corridor and New England.  At the state and local level where they remain, and among the few remaining Republicans in federal office from the region, many are more socially liberal than their GOP peers, even if they have the backs of the 1%ers on economic policy.  New York City Republicans are among the most cosmopolitan and socially liberal in the nation (albeit with an authoritarian streak when it comes to law enforcement and crime).

New York State, in particular, is also notable because candidates are permitted to identify with more than one political party at the same time on the ballot, and the political party organizations, gutted in an effort to destroy political party machine politics with Progressive reforms, are very weak there.

In a similar vein, Razib Khan, whose blog I regularly read and find thoughtful, is a politically conservative atheist.

The Political Leanings Of Religious Adherents Is Historically Contingent

Certainly, there is nothing inherently liberal about pagan religious beliefs.  We don't generally think of classical Roman political beliefs, the political beliefs of the classical Greek Spartans, the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Hittite kings, or Viking political beliefs, for example, as particularly liberal, yet all were pagan.  In our own day and age, the most prominent political party in the world associated with polytheistic religious practice, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party of India, is a socially conservative political party.

Similarly, most political parties with Muslim affiliations are politically conservative leaning (often in opposition to authoritarian socialist one party regimes nominally of the political left, which they oppose).  And, in China and the former Warsaw Pact countries, atheism is associated with the former Communist regime, while religious movements tend to be associated with reform movements (although the Russian ruling party is trying hard to associate itself with Orthodox Christianity).

Christians are liberal leaning in South Korea relative to other Koreans for reasons rooted in the country's post-Korean War political history that has made South Korea the most Christian country in all of Asia (at roughly 50% Christian).  Christianity attracted adherents in South Korea, in part, because Christians were important civil society actors working to oppose the right wing authoritarian regimes that prevailed in South Korea for many decades, and also because Christians had no taint of Korea's former exploitive Japanese political masters.

Something similar is the case in China, where Christians are also an opposition force that is home to many dissidents from the prevailing one party regime there.

The political leanings of Christians in the United States are also historically contingent.

Today, almost every white person who publicly identifies as Christian in a political context is conservative leaning.

But, most major religious traditions in the United States have both liberal leaning and conservative leaning denominations, the former often geographically Northern, and the latter often geographically Southern (there are also racial splits, with many Christian communities being historically black or serving predominantly immigrant populations).  These splits are present among Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, and even Mormons, for example.  One round of splits took place mostly over the issue of slavery, and a second round of splits emerged more than a century later, mostly over gay rights.

For whatever reason, white Christians with left leaning political affiliations don't tend to invoke their religious views in the public square, although black and Hispanic and other immigrant religious leaders often play more prominent political roles, often from the political left and as community organizers at the grass roots.

This wasn't always the case.

The Civil Rights movement, and earlier, the Progressive movement that brought us Prohibition, fought corruption, and helped push for labor law reforms, featured prominent Christian leaders making left leaning political cases from a religious perspective.  Christians played prominent parts in both the left leaning Abolitionist movement and the conservative pro-slavery movement.  Until probably sometime after the 1950s, doing the "Christian thing" had politically liberal rather than politically conservative connotations.  It meant focusing on mercy and charity, impulses that modern political conservatives disparage as "bleeding heart liberalism".

On the other hand, the Revolutionary and Founding Fathers era of American political history, was one of the most secular periods in politics in the United States, and was also a time of very low levels of religious affiliation nationally, particularly in the American South which was the most secular part of the United States until the Second Great Awakening starting around the 1840s.

One can hope that we may someday return to an era where most religious affiliations are politically diverse.  But, at the moment, religious denominations seem to be the main contenders in the culture wars that have pitted conservative white Christians against an incredibly diverse tent made up of everyone else.

29 October 2015

The Limits of Appellate Relief

As the Arthur Anderson case makes clear, it is frequently true that the reversal of a trial court's decision on appeal is cold comfort to the party prevailing on appeal, who may suffer devastating consequences from the trial court decision that can never be fully remedied, particularly in criminal cases.

Did China's One Child Policy Work?

China's fertility rate decreased by more in the decade before its one child policy was adopted (from 5.9 to 2.9), which is typical of what is experienced in developing countries, than it did after the policy was adopted to 1.7 by 1995.  A best estimate of the incremental effect of the one child policy is that is reduced fertility by only about 0.33 relative to what it would have been due to declining fertility with economic development in any case.

But, as a study reviewed at the link explains, the natural experiment of comparing the socio-economic success of twins born under the one child policy, to singlets born under the one child policy (which was really a one birth policy and not a one child policy), shows that being a singlet rather than a twin resulted in substantial socio-economic, educational and health benefits for the children.

One way to describe this is that the economic circumstances already favored small families in China when the policy was adopted, but that the one child policy counteracted the inertia that would otherwise have been exerted by existing cultural norms about family size that had become obsolete but persisted anyway.

China is now dropping the one child policy, roughly one generation after it was adopted.


I haven't done the analysis, but my intuition is that while a one-child policy would have almost no impact on the autosomal genetic makeup of the Chinese gene pool, that it would significant reduce the proportion of low frequency Y-DNA haplogroups and mtDNA haplogroups in the population, since a one child policy insured that either the father's Y-DNA haplogroup, or the mother's mtDNA haplogroup is not passed to a couple's grandchildren.  High frequency haplogroups would be retained at roughly the same proportions, but the proportion of the population with rare or unique mutations in their NRY-DNA or mtDNA should be cut roughly in half.

One Year Left Of Denver DA Mitch Morrissey, Make It Quick Please.

A Denver jury has awarded a former stripper $3.9 million in a sexual assault lawsuit against a wealthy Colorado rancher. The judge presiding over the civil trial called the attack "indescribably brutal," but in 2013 Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey chose to drop the original criminal charge to misdemeanor unlawful contact instead of felony sexual assault. 
The victim, Amanda Wilson, and her attorney, Qusair Mohamedbhai, told The Denver Post the verdict announced late last week was a victory for other sexual assault victims. And they criticized the district attorney's office for failing to prosecute her attacker on more serious charges for the February 2013 attack.
From here.

Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, a Democrat, has been disappointing for a long time, and this particular case certainly isn't the first or the worst of his missteps.

Cases like these are not easy to win, even in a civil lawsuit context like this one, where your case must be established only by a preponderance of the evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt in the criminal context.  So, while I'm not impressed with this particular plea which didn't show much courage I can understand it.

(Also, it is worth recognizing that it is very likely that the $3.9 million award, of which $2.25 million was for punitive damages, could be reduced in post-trial motions or on appeal, that it is so high mostly because there was there was also a significant employment and business partner relationship between them.  The news story also doesn't make clear if it was a federal or state court case which influences what kind of damages can be awarded.  Colorado's state law damage caps on non-economic damages and punitive damages don't apply to lawsuits brought under federal civil rights statutes.)

I brought a similar civil case on behalf of a woman who was assaulted and had property stolen from her by a man she was in a relationship with about a decade ago.  But, I made what in twenty-twenty hindsight was a tactical error in electing a bench trial (allowing for quicker and less expensive trial) rather than a jury trial, although there was no guarantee that a jury in Jefferson County would have been better.  The judge in that Jefferson County case didn't take the assault or theft seriously and essentially treated my client, the assault victim, like a prostitute who wasn't entitled to be free from the assault she suffered (which required treatment in a hospital), and dismissed the case after a bench trial.

While I wouldn't have made the same call that Morrissey did in this sexual assault case, I have far less tolerance for Morrissey's almost complete unwillingness to law enforcement misconduct seriously, even in the face of damning evidence.  And, those cases aren't the only ones where Morrissey's office has displayed bad judgment or made policy decisions I don't agree with. As another example, Morrissey's office has consistently been indifferent to the pleas of victims of fraud - his office will almost never prosecute fraud cases unless all of the evidence is presented to him wrapped in red ribbon, and even then it is inclined to pass the buck to the state attorney general's office or U.S. attorney's office of the United States Justice Department.

The Denver DA's office and Denver's Office of Public Safety may not be a corrupt as their dystopian counterparts in the Batman prequel TV series "Gotham", but they aren't a national model of good government either.

Morrissey is term limited and will be replaced by a successor elected in the general election in November of 2016, and no individual instance of bad judgment has been recall worthy, so letting the political process run its course will solve the problem that he is for Denver's criminal justice system. But, suffice it to say that I'll be strongly inclined to vote against any candidate he endorses in that race.

27 October 2015

GOP Nomination Race Still Wacky

Mr. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, is the choice of 26 percent of Republican primary voters, the poll found, while Mr. Trump now wins support from 22 percent, although the difference lies within the margin of sampling error. . . . Senator Marco Rubio of Florida received 8 percent while former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, are each the choice of 7 percent of Republican primary voters. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio each received support from 4 percent of those surveyed.
Per the New York Times regarding the latest CBS/NYT poll. The no political experience caucus has 55% support from likely Republican voters.

UPDATE October 30, 2015:

Reactions to yesterday's debate in Boulder proves how much debate performance is in the eye of the beholder.  Consider these two differing takes on Marco Rubio's performance:
The big takeaway for us was the damage to Marco Rubio. The Florida Republican took a few shots from moderators and candidates, but he reacted like somebody shot his dog. The question about Rubio has always been about what he’ll do when push comes to shove; if tonight is any indication, Rubio will fall down. A lot.
- Colorado Pols
Marco Rubio has strong performance in GOP debate in Boulder.
- Front Page Headline in the Denver Post.

I more urgent priorities than watching inept pot stirring CNBC news personalities try to herd the cats that are the top ten GOP Presidential candidates (let alone the bottom four GOP Presidential candidates at the opening act "kid's table" table before hand), so I can't offer my first hand impression.  Even if I could, it would be pretty irrelevant. I am definitely not in the target audience of the event: Republican primary or caucus voters and potential GOP donors to the campaigns.

Colorado Pols is coming at the event from a politically liberal perspective - its pretense to be bipartisan went by the wayside long ago.  But, Colorado Pols, as an outsider pundit, does care about making accurate assessments of how events like the debate will impact the race and really have a dog in the fight only at the must subtle and indirect level through concern trolling.  So, I was pretty stunned to see the Denver Post and Colorado Pols reach diametrically opposite conclusions about the winners and losers in the event.

The live blog at Colorado Pols revealed another point with which I doubt the Denver Post analysts would disagree.  Candidates for elected office in debates (and most other media contexts for that matter) make no more than a token effort to observe any sort of rules of decorum usually present in a debate or group discussion context, and likewise insist on spouting their own canned lines rather than attempting in good faith to meaningfully engage with the questions they are asked.

The political tactics of speaking out of turn and ignoring the questions that you are asked in favor of your own message are pretty much ubiquitous and illustrate how deeply order and decorum have vanished a shared political values in our civic culture.

Apparently, this is necessary to succeed in the untamed world of American politics.  But, it doesn't reflect well on us as a political community.

Of course, that isn't the only disappointing political tactic that works in American politics.  A far more longstanding and more deeply troubling feature of American politics, and it is certainly not limited to American politics, even though I wouldn't say that it is universal either, is the tolerance that the voting public has for being fed lines that simply aren't accurate or are gross hyperbole or that demonstrate that a candidate is just plain crazy.

There is still some political price to be paid for being overtly racists or sexist in political rhetoric, although for every two or three people alienated by that, there seems to be at least one potential voter (almost always Republican or Republican leaning) who responds intensely and more positively as a result, which is why Donald Trump is polling so well in the GOP race despite the anti-immigrant slurs that he launched his race with.  But, several Republican candidates in recent election cycles have lost their races over abominable statements they have made about rape.

But, when it comes to science, economics, or other public policy questions, the public doesn't seem to care at all if candidates spout utter nonsense, so long as conclusion, if true, doesn't cause any cognitive dissonance with their pre-existing world view, or desires.

Democracy in America will continue to be fragile until we can develop a political culture where saying things like vaccines cause autism, or climate change isn't real, or deep tax cuts will balance the budget or the Civil War wasn't fought to preserve slavery, makes a candidate unelectable.

22 October 2015

DIA Rail Line Opening Announced

Travelers will be able to take commuter rail from Denver Union Station to Denver International Airport starting April 22, 2016, at a cost of $9. The estimated travel time for the 23-mile trek is 37 minutes. . . . The ticket price is for a regional pass that allows for multiple trips on a single day. . . . the downtown-to-DIA train is known as the RTD University of Colorado A Line[.]
From here.

US and Iraqi Forces Free 70 People Facing Imminent ISIS Execution

President Obama deserves praise for authorizing an operation involving Iraqi forces and 30 U.S. Special Forces ground troops in what turned out to be a successful helicopter based raid to rescue 70 people facing imminent execution at an ISIS prison.  One U.S. Special Forces soldier was killed and four Kurdish militiamen were wounded in the raid. Twenty ISIS troops were killed and six were capture in the raid.

The hostages included at least 20 Iraqi troops, some local residents, and some ISIS fighters accused of being spies.  Kurdish militias participated in addition to Iraqi security forces, despite the fact that no Kurds were being held at the ISIS prison.

This is one of the few times that the U.S. has participated in ground combat since its withdrawal following the Iraq War, but its departure from a dogmatic limitation of U.S. involvement to airstrikes, training and logistical support. But, it was appropriate in this case.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters, in a statement that makes eminent good sense that:
This was a unique circumstance in which very close partners of the United States made a specific request for our assistance[.] . . . The Secretary assessed the situation on the ground, saw that U.S. forces could make a difference here, could perhaps make this operation more successful, and at the end of the day there are 70 people whose lives were saved as a result of this[.]
This kind of incident also calls attention to the limits of sovereignty doctrines in situations such as the ISIS regime in which Iraq and Syria, the prior intentionally recognized sovereigns responsible for the territory now controlled by ISIS and other rebel groups, each do not control a large swath of their own officially recognized territory in fact.

Debtor's Prison Lives In Colorado Springs

It has long been clear that it violates both the United States and the Colorado Constitutions to incarcerate someone for not paying a debt or fine or court costs, unless it is demonstrated by means consistent with due process that the person not paying is able to pay, but is instead willfully defying a court order to make the payments.

Yet, in Colorado Springs, like many municipalities, the constitution is routinely ignored and hundreds of people have had fines converted to jail time when they are unable to pay them.  The Colorado ACLU is attempting to change this practice, which it has meticulously documented, in Colorado Springs.

Almost Half Of Fully Litigated Patents Are Invalid

A 1998 study of 300 litigated patents found that 56% were held to be valid and that 46% were found to be invalid in litigation.  The was very close to the findings of a 1985 study finding 55% to be valid and a 1994 study finding 56% to be valid which were cited in the 1998 study.

About two-thirds were found to be invalid due to obviousness or prior art, and almost all of the remaining cases involved non-prior art grounds for invalidity under Section 102 of the statute governing patents.  Drug patents are particularly likely to be upheld, while software patents are particularly likely to be invalidated.

Juries are much more likely to hold that patents are valid than judges, although the removal of weak cases in pre-trial motions before juries consider patent validity partially accounts for the difference.

This study, of course, does not reflect recent case law weakening business method patents.

The results are quite surprising given the strong presumption of validity that is given to PTO approved patents.  But, the high invalidity rate could simply reflect the fact that patent infringement cases involving clearly valid patents almost never go to trial, while patent infringement cases where liability is at issue due to questions over the validity of the patent very often go to trial.

Incidentally, intellectual property is one of the hottest areas of academic legal research.  Of the top 50 law review articles in the last 25 years (by citation) on private law,  26 of them (a majority) involve intellectual property.

Intellectual property lawsuits make up a tiny share of all litigation, but the theoretical issues involves are important and we do deal with intellectual property issues (which are rapidly becoming muddy in the digital age) on a daily basis.

20 October 2015

Visionary Legal Scholarship

Rachel Harmon's article "Why Arrest?" is one of those rare pieces of legal scholarship that fundamentally challenges the mainstream worldview upon which a major institution, arrests in our criminal justice system is based.

She marshals unexceptional and widely known facts, together with counterintuitive empirical realities about the way people act in the criminal justice system to argue that good policy dictates that the tool of an arrest should be used far less often, even when the law clearly permits arrests.

There are two main alternatives that she suggests.

One is  a "criminal citation" in which persons suspects of crimes are issued a summons to appear in a criminal court to face charges similar to a traffic ticket for non-traffic crimes.  The utility of this option is driven by the high rate at which people receiving criminal citations appear in court, even for serious crimes, and by the strong predictability with which objective factors can determine that someone is likely not to appear.  This follows naturally from the long known observation that people released on personal recognizance without bail pending a criminal trial are just as likely to show up for trial, for the most part, as people who post-bail.  She also notes that tools like cheap mobile digital photography and mobile fingerprint scanners, can make criminal citations even more effective.

She notes as a precedent the fact that civil actions, like criminal prosecutions today, once used to be routinely initiated with arrests.

Another key alternative, somewhat paradoxically, is the "field detention", in which an officer detains an individual who presents a threat to public order, briefly depriving him of his liberty and perhaps transporting the person to someplace other than a jail, such as a mental health treatment center or homeless shelter or home, rather than booking the individual and charging that individual with a crime.

In her view, arrests should largely be reserved for people with histories of failure to appear at trial, people with significant criminal records, and people who pose such a threat of violence that pre-trial release on bond would also not be appropriate, dramatically reducing the many hidden costs of a policy of the predominant use of arrests as tools in the criminal justice system.

The problems associated with the excessive use of arrests as a criminal justice tool are similar to those associated with our excessive use of pre-trial detention and bail, and the sharing of information from the booking process even when someone is not charged with or convicted of crime leads to increasingly serious reputational harm with real economic consequences.

Her more human vision of criminal justice could make us a more human ad civil society without sacrificing safety and personal security to nearly the degree that our intuition, untrained by empirical evidence, would suspect.

Emily Ryo's article, "Less Enforcement, More Compliance: Rethinking Unauthorized Migration", meanwhile examines the paradox that undocumented immigrants tend to be much more law abiding than native born citizens with similar demographic profiles.  Her key conclusion is that illegal immigration is rampant, even among otherwise law abiding people, because there are a variety of widely held viewpoints which permit people to conclude that undocumented immigration is illegal, but not immoral.  The secret to great compliance, she reasons, is to better align immigration laws with widely held views regarding moral imperatives.

For example, if a temporary guest worker program allowed many undocumented aliens to work on a temporary basis in the U.S. in fields where there are labor shortages and workers face the economic need to support their families in their home countries, it is likely that there would be more voluntary compliance with immigration laws because they recognize the legitimate needs of employers and workers alike.

Liberals Win Majority In Canada

The Canadian parliament's House of Commons has 338 seats in the 2015 election.  The Liberal party won 188 of them, a safe majority.  In 2011, they had 34 out of 308 seats.  Losses were shared roughly equally between the Conservative Party and the New Democrat party.  The Bloc Quebecois gains six seats for a total of ten, while the Greens held steady with one seat.

map of the results show the Conservative party weak almost everywhere except the farm country of the Great Plains and some big city suburbs in Ontario and Quebec.  Liberals dominated in big cities, in the Arctic, and in the Maritimes.  The NDP took rural, small town Canada outside the Great Plains.

Conservatives, with 99 seats, don't even have a 1/3rd majority in parliament, and all of the other parties with seats in parliament are to their left.  The Conservative party in Canada, moreover (aka the Tories), are also still to the left of U.S. Republicans.

Since Canada has a parliamentary system, this means that the Justin Trudeau, the new liberal Prime Minister, is for all practical purposes, king of Canada until the next election, chosen on a date of his choice up to five years from now.  Neither the Canadian Senate, nor the Governor-General would block any serious legislative initiative he offered, and the Canadian Supreme Court, while it finally has judicial review power after more than a century without it, still has less power than the U.S. Supreme Court in practice.

Is the strong liberal comeback in Canada a harbinger of things to come in the U.S. in 2016? I'd like to think so, but realistically, the anomaly in Canada was a collapse of the Liberal party in favor of the New Democrats in 2011, for uniquely Canadian reasons, with this year representing more of a return to the norm.  Basically, there is only room for one liberal party in the Canadian political ecology and the Liberals have grabbed that spot back from the New Democrats.  Canadians a few elections ago went through a similar process to winnow the number of conservative parties in the country down to one after a prolonged regional split of the country's conservative parties.

19 October 2015

VAT Incidence

France provided economists with a natural experiment when it reduced the value added tax rate on sit down restaurant meals.

The result: Firm owners bear more than 50% of the burden of the VAT in France, while employees bear about 30% of the burden.  Prices (i.e. the consumer part of the burden) changed only a little.

Traditionally, VAT has been assumed to have an economic incidence that matches its nominal incidence on consumers, or to be borne entirely by firms.

Hillary Actually Not Dominating Fundraising

"Report says Hillary Clinton dominating fundraising" blared the Denver Post headline.  But, the story itself tells a different story and shows up the Denver Post for its less than even handed coverage of the Democratic primary race.

Hillary Clinton has brought in more money than any other 2016 Presidential candidate.  But, Bernie Sanders trails by only about 10% if dollars raised in the 3rd quarter and has more donors than she does.

Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have raised much more money than Ben Carson, who in turn has has raised significantly more than any other Republican candidate.

Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz are on the heels of Carson in the fundraising department, and both share the trait of having some prior political experience and somewhat fewer totally batty conspiracy theories floating around in their heads.

Rubio has raised far less than Bush, and so, surprisingly has Trump, who has self-funded his campaign and is finally almost breaking even between money spent and money raised.

The other three Democrats who appeared at the debate are all raising less than 5% of what Bernie Sanders raised, and Lincoln Chaffee pulled in only $20,000 in the 3rd quarter, about 1000 times less than either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.  None of these three Democratic candidates have broken the 2% mark in the opinion polls either.  Lincoln Chaffee was at 0.2% going into the first debate.

16 October 2015

Friday Tidbits

* The producers of the TV series Homeland, were duped by their own paid graffiti artists, but rightly took the slight in good humor with a humble press release, rather than starting a lawsuit.

* I have replaced my stolen laptop with a Mac Air.  So far, so good when it comes to being compatible with other IT hardware and software in our PC dominated office.

* My mail in ballot for the 2015 general election has arrived and for once I have no clue yet.  I have two school board seats to vote up (one at-large and one for my district), there is a state TABOR ballot issue, and there are gobs of local ballot issues in Denver.  I aspire to figure these races out and write about them soon, but have been so busy that I have only a dim idea about the candidates and the issues so far.

* My roof is being replaced due to hail damage early this summer.  Life is noisy at the moment.

14 October 2015

Service Interruption

I am pretty much out of commission for a few days when it comes to blogging, as I was robbed at gunpoint by two men last night on the way home from a late night at the office, outside my Washington Park home and they took my wallet, phone, laptop, some earbuds, and a calculator.  I cooperated and was not harmed, and I was honestly not really even all that shaken up emotionally. I promptly called the police and they've done what they can, trying to get a fingerprint from my car and taking statements, but, realistically, the prospects of finding the culprits (who face 16-48 years prison terms each if convicted) is dim.

I quickly cancelled credit cards and changed some passwords. Aside from the cash in my wallet, there was little of value that they took that could be of much value to them.  My phone is primitive, my laptop was hardly top of the line hardware even though the information on it was very valuable, and I lost nothing irreplaceable.  A few things that were stolen (but not the laptop or phone) were recovered in an alley, about a mile away, the next day.

So, I'm borrowing computers until I can replace that one that was stolen and then get it up and running. Fortunately, the laptop was password protected and almost all of the important files (except for even a couple of years of browser bookmarks that I use as research notes!) live in the cloud, so while it is a great pain in the butt to replace some of the things that were stolen, it is really just a bump in the road for me.  In a few days, I'll be a few hundred dollars poorer, some of which may be recoverable through insurance if I'm bothered to pursue a claim, and back to normal.

Those guys, in contrast, sooner or later, will either get shot or arrested.  Crime literally doesn't pay well. They need to make multiple robberies of this class every week just to make the equivalent of minimum wage. Even if the odds of being caught per robbery are just 0.5% in any given incident (in reality the clearance rate for robberies is much higher, at almost 30%, so the odds are that they'll eventually be caught, if they aren't shot first, is very high).  Or, they could OD on drugs.  One of my recovered items was in a dumpster with a hypodermic needle on top of it, which is probably not a coincidence.

Bottom line:

As much as it sucks to be a crime victim, this time around, I still almost surely have the better side the deal in the big picture of life.

Now, do these guys still belong in prison?


Somebody needs to lock them up before someone who handles the situation less calmly is shot and killed, or raped, or whatever, and real harm is done.  And, I won't mourn them if their actions result in them getting shot and killed by somebody.

But, I won't lose any sleep craving revenge over my petty property loss and mild inconvenience in  this particular incident, even if it does interrupt my blogging a bit.

13 October 2015

The Case For Roughhousing

The modern trend is to have zero tolerance for violence.  And, as Steven Pinker reminds us, this trend has been going on for a long time.

But, have we taken it too far, at least, for kids who are going through normal parts of growing up? This is especially an issue for boys.  Was there a glimmer of truth in the proverb that "boys will be boys" within all of the clear misconduct it was used to gloss over?

I'm inclined to say, yes, that we have grown too intolerant of any kind of physical contact. But, I'm also disinclined to think that much of what we used to consider tolerable violence is rightly considered intolerable.

Corporal punishment for children, and for spouses in the form of legal domestic violence, used to be the norm. Our sense of what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable conduct in sexual interactions has likewise changed greatly. Even respectable men used to waste each others lives in duels in much of the United States, and there are still parts of the country where resolving disputes with fists in the back alley is regarded as manly.

Now, corporal punishment has been largely disavowed outside the Muslim world, even for convicted adult criminals.  But, is long and often dangerous incarceration really a preferable alternative to swift but swiftly completed physical punishment in every case? What if the corporal punishment takes a form, such as castration, that dramatically reduces the change that a violent criminal will reoffend? What can we learn from the fact that some countries manage to maintain orderly societies with shorter sentences and more humane prison conditions?

We used to tolerate hazing and bullies to a much higher degree. Now, even Marines and Army soldiers in boot camp are treated with a certain degree of freedom from excessive unwanted physical contact from their Drill Instructors (DIs) (but some of this may be strictly PR for public consumption and may not reflect reality). Yet, can a certain amount of hazing-like activity product powerful pro-social outcomes? (Via this post).

Our tort system permits very large civil verdicts, through combinations of non-economic damages (e.g. pain and suffering) and exemplary damages (i.e. punitive damages), for physical harms, particularly physical harms that are intentional, relative to the economic damages involved.

There is also the question of proportionality.  Even in cases where inflicting physical harm is clearly impermissible, are the civil and criminal sanctions we impose for that conduct more severe than is reasonably justified, particularly at the less extreme low end of the scale.  Wide public concern for the excess of long periods of incarceration for non-violence crime does not necessarily translate into similar levels of public concern of excessive incarceration terms for violent crimes.

Our distaste for violence in our own lives has spilled over into sports.  We have taught our children the low contact sport of soccer in lieu of the higher contact sport of (American) football, although full contact sports like hockey and lacrosse and rugby don't seem to have experienced similar contractions.

12 October 2015

Hurray For The Young!

It pays to tell younger people when you are having IT annoyances.  My latest annoyance: I would keep inadvertently zooming or shrinking the text and images on my laptop screen and had been ever since I converted to Windows 10.

My assistant, who is much younger and more tech savvy than I am, was able to correctly describe the problem, discover that other people are also having it, find a solution (a tweak in the track pad setting in my computer that I had adjusted when I bought it, but not re-updated after switching to Windows 10), and implemented it in less then ten minutes.

It was such a simple fix to something that had been annoying me for a couple of months and that I personally had spent at least a couple of hours over that time period without avail.  The key difference is that he thought to look at the track pad's role in the problem, while I had been focused only on the display settings in trying to solve it and in trying to describe the problem when describing it to others, and thus was overlooking a critical piece of evidence.

This is interesting, in part, because something very similar is a common problem for non-lawyers dealing with legal issues.  Very often what lawyers have, and non-lawyers do not, which is the focus of both final examinations in law school classes and on the bar exam, is an ability to spot the most important issue presented by a set of fact and to ask questions to elucidate the critical facts which the client had not realized were the important ones.

Angus Deaton Wins Nobel Prize In Economics

Angus Deaton, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics is particularly known for his work in empirically quantifying the relative economic well being of people in different countries, something that conventional domestic economic indicators do poorly because they assume too much that is really particular to developed Western economies.  In particular, he advanced to cause of measuring third-world poverty.  He was on the short list of predicted possible winner.

11 October 2015

Gun Regulation Ideas

Apart from banning guns, what kind of gun regulation ideas are available?

Here are some suggestions:

Taxes and Fees

* Impose a new 100% federal excise tax on all sales of firearms, firearm parts, and ammunition to be earmarked for trauma care and mental health care at facilities in either the state where the sale took place or an adjacent state.  Create an exemption for the military and law enforcement agency purchases.

This would reduce gun purchases most for the lowest income people who are most likely to commit crimes with guns and would also use funds to mitigate the harm of firearm accidents, firearm suicides and murders.  This could also cause a tipping point in social norms by reducing the number of private firearms owners over time.

* Increase the fee required to obtain a firearm dealer's license and divert funds to the same trauma and mental health care fund.  This would reduce the number of basically private individuals who have a firearm dealer's license, making it harder for such people to make illegal black and gray market sales.

Environmental Regulations

* Require that lead, the soft  heavy metal, be phased out of bird shot because of the environmental contamination that it causes to the pristine wilderness where bird hunting takes place.  Similar regulation is not necessary for bullets because a much larger percentage of bullets hit the target and don't enter the environment.

* Ban the use of exploding targets on public lands which have been shown to cause a significant number of wildfires.

Civil Liability

* Impose full civil liability, on a joint and several basis with shooters, upon anyone who has illegally sold a firearm or ammunition to someone who illegally uses any firearm or ammunition (whether or not it was the one sold) within ten years after the illegal sale.

* Impose civil liability for 50% of the economic damages (i.e. excluding pain and suffering and punitive damages) on anyone whose negligence makes it possible for another to use their firearms or ammunition cause harm to another accidentally, recklessly or intentionally.

* Require gun owners to purchase liability insurance with a minimum policy limit of $50,000 in connection for the negligence liability described above.

* Require someone age twenty-one or older who is legally able to buy a gun to agree in writing in a public record to be fully civilly liability to take responsibility for the ownership of a gun (by gift or otherwise) by a person under the age of eighteen, or by anyone under the age of twenty-one who has not graduated from high school (not including a GED).  The liability would cease when the applicable age and/or background check requirements were met.

Background Checks And Eligibility To Buy Firearms

* Include private sales in the firearms purchase background list requirements.

* Actively confiscate guns already owned by someone added to the firearms purchase background list.

* Expand the list of circumstances that come up in a firearms purchase background check and prohibit someone from having a firearm to include:

** The following within the previous ten years (occurring after the effective date of the law): (a) a bad conduct military discharge, (b) a dishonorable military discharge, (c) a misdemeanor conviction for assault, (d) a misdemeanor conviction for vandalism that was conducted using a firearm or explosive, (e) a conviction for DWAI or DUI, (f) a conviction for drug use or public intoxication, (g) a conviction of a hate crime, (h) a deportation for commission of a crime, (i) a child abuse criminal conviction or civil termination of parental rights due to child abuse, (j) a civil judgment or misdemeanor criminal conviction for a civil rights violation, or (k) a civil judgment or criminal conviction involving local, state or federal firearms regulations.

** Add anyone currently in pre-trial release in a criminal case, or on probation to the firearms purchase background check system.

** Add anyone who pleas not guilty for reason of insanity, regardless of whether a judge or jury agrees, to the firearms purchase background check system.

**  Create a system for identifying people who have attempted suicide and add them to the firearms purchase background check system.

** Immediately add anyone subjected to a 72 hour mental health hold to the list temporarily, which will last for ten years unless contested in a court proceeding within 1 year of release from the hold. In a court proceeding the individual would have to show by a preponderance of the evidence that it is more likely than not that the person does not suffer from a mental health condition that is a danger to himself or others if armed, with the DA representing the state.

** Allow an individual, or their parent, guardian, or conservator to place an individual into the firearms purchase background check system on the grounds that they are developmentally disabled and have an IQ too low to be eligible for the death penalty, or suffer from a mental illness that could make the person a threat to the public if armed.

08 October 2015

Owning, Renting and Sharing

There are basically two ways to be more economically efficient, by which I mean getting more beneficial use ("utility" in economics-speak) out of the same resources.

One is with technology, and the other is by sharing.

Americans love to become more economically efficient through technology.  They like robot filled factories that produce more widgets with fewer employees.  They like hybrid electric cars that get more miles to the gallon.  They like more efficient tools, like e-filing that lets a lawyer or paralegal in a few minutes without killing a forest full of trees do the job of copying and delivering legal documents to a court and the other parties that used to full time employees who did nothing but run photocopiers, stamp and address envelopes and deliver them to the post office where more employees hand deliver the packages of documents with a three day lag, and racing to court house clerk's offices with copies to file stamp to prove delivery as the close of the business day looms.

But, sharing, while considered old school and low technology, offers some of the low hanging fruit when it comes to getting similar or better economic benefits without technological advances.

Suppose that our factory is making not widgets, but treadmills.  Sharing treadmills in gyms and community centers can allow everyone who wants to use a treadmill to do so, even if your factory produces only a tiny fraction of treadmills it would otherwise, compared to having everyone who wants to use a treadmill buying one themselves.

The most energy efficient, mass produced, gasoline fueled car in America today is the high tech hybrid Toyota Prius.  But, per passenger mile traveled, a 1950s era old bus running a quarter full is more fuel efficient, and if it is running full, it is also probably less polluting per passenger mile traveled.

E-filing is efficient, but you can get almost as efficient in the process of disseminating legal documents with pre-printing press technology, by putting up a big cork board in a room in the courthouse and having people who are filing legal papers tack their filing to it for all to see, sharing the single written copy.

Americans, however, do not love sharing.  College students clamor for single rooms.  Many building codes won't allow apartment buildings to be built with bathrooms or showers that are shared by more than a single family outside specialized contexts like dormitories or campgrounds or private or community center gyms.  You could house people in climate controlled storage units that currently rent for about $200 per month, if you could find ways for people to share kitchen and bath facilities at an affordable price for a modest additional fees.  In Europe, you see significant amounts of hostel housing on something similar to this basis.  If the residents were Boy Scouts, or members of the same church, or upper middle class people for one reason or another, or just very homogeneous culturally when it comes to the values involves in sharing space so personally and intimately, this would even work.  Many people alive in Japan have lived in housing where the only available baths and showers were in shared bathhouses outside their homes.  But, our experience in the highly heterogeneous society of the United States is informed by bad apples who abuse common facilities like these, and also by a history of affluence that has allowed us for a long time to pay the price of the economic inefficiencies that come with privacy and with the prevalent use of private property that is rarely shared.

Americans underfund our community centers, and buy lots of private household treadmills.  We rarely take the bus and often drive in single occupancy vehicles owned and usually used only by the single user. We have historically preferred to put legal notices in individual newspaper sections that nobody reads that are delivered to hundreds of thousands of people to posting legal notices on a cork board in a public place frequented by almost all of the people who would read them in the newspaper.

Certainly, there are people who use certain kinds of property regularly and for almost all of the time that anyone else might want to use it instead, and sharing isn't viable for that kind of property.  I spend a large share of all ordinary work hours for ordinary people working in my office, and frequently and without warning also used it in the evenings and one the weekends, when few people need office space.

I use my laptop computer all day long at work, and many hours at home.  I wear my belt and my shoes all day long, and sharing clothes is also complicated by the fact that people come in lots of shapes and sizes.  No one else in my household, or for that matter, for a few houses along up and down my block, would find that my clothes fit them.  So, opportunities for sharing clothes with someone else in the same time period are greatly reduced.

But, lots of individual ownership of consumption property is wildly inefficient.  Most people who own boats use them personally fewer than thirty days a year.  The same is true of most vacation homes and pied a terre apartments in New York City who make up a substantial part of all of Manhattan's housing stock.

Sharing is much cheaper.

My father used to talk about the efficiency of the Army motor pool.  You could use the car you needed for the trip you were going to take, on demand, and return it to the motor pool when you were done, while others used the same vehicle when you didn't need it.

As small family of modest means can share a single bathroom workably and a one bathroom house is much less expensive than a three or four bedroom house.

Car pooling is much cheaper than driving single occupancy vehicles to work, so long as you can find a stable group of people with whom to pool your rides.

The trouble is that for sharing to work you need everyone or very nearly everyone in the group of people that participate have sufficient social skills to behave appropriately in public.  Two or three troublemakers on a bus can turn a ride into an unpleasant experience at best and a safety threatening nightmare, at worst.  The same is true of school classrooms or public swimming pools or public bathrooms.

Even the most elemental and small scale forms of sharing that are nearly universal do not come without some strife.  The single biggest source of conflict between the current generation of school aged children and their parents, and a major source of conflict between spouses or other couples that cohabit, involves disputes over household chores and standards of household cleanliness.  Intentional communities like college co-operative housing and co-housing projects, find that their members spend inordinate amounts of time in meetings and discussions over household management.  One of the oldest forms of sharing, polygamy, is famous in practice for infighting between sister wives.

A society needs an immense amount of social capital, culturally shared norms about public behavior ("civic virtues"), and group cohesion for sharing solutions to work well.  A deeper examination of who has those norms and how those norms are developed is a topic for another day.

Between the highly inefficient but conflict free approach of individual owners of property that isn't intensely used by a single owner, and the highly efficient but socially demanding regime of sharing, there is the intermediate bridge of renting.

Much of what people are describing as a "sharing economy" is really a new, pervasive rental economy made possible with technology.

Take the Car2Go program.  In this program, there is one Smart Car per hundred subscribers (about 35,000 subscribers and 350 cars in Denver, for example).  Subscribers go up to any car on the street, or reserve one for only a bit more than the brief period of time needed to get to it, swipe their card, get in, and drive where they want.  They pay by the minute (more or less) with all costs from fuel to maintenance to insurance to car payments to parking covered by the payment.  When their done, they leave the car anywhere within the "home" region for the car (previously about 50 square miles but soon to be reduced to about 24 square miles).  Downtown, a Car2Go Smart Car may be used 19 times a time, although the program works less well at its fringes where a car may go unused for a couple of days at a time in a lower density residential neighborhood.

Several other "car share" programs work on similar principles, as do a "bike share" program in Denver and many other cities.

AirBnB, a short term residence renting exchange, is similarly a rental based economy that is facilitated in ways that previously might not have worked, using the Internet.  Before AirBnB there were real bed and breakfasts that turned homes into temporary housing on a fee for service basis.

Homeowners and small contractors rent pickup trucks and rarely used expensive major tools from Home Depot so that they can access resources that would otherwise only be available to larger scale contractors who can make these expensive tools earn their keep by using them regularly.

Between the private plane and a commercial flight, there are charter jets that allow you to rent a private plane and a pilot for a few hours or a few days, rather than buying the entire jet and keeping the pilot on salary, something that only the biggest corporations and wealthiest multimillionaires could afford.

Renting from a single owner of property can resolve many of the difficult political and social skills issues involved in sharing property that aren't present in ownership, while still allowing multiple people to use something valuable.

One can even describe many financing arrangements as a form of renting.

As a footnote for further consideration, lets get back to sharing.  One of the keys to making sharing work in a society that isn't highly homogeneous and lacks universal strong civic virtues is exclusion. In a society where only 10% or 50% or 80% of the population is cohesive enough to make sharing a gym a viable solution, sharing is still possible, so long as the people in that society who are capable of sharing form private clubs that exclude people who lack the shared social norms necessary to make sharing work.

For example, before the condominium form of ownership allowed people to separately finance, tax and alienated units in multifamily housing buildings and minimize sharing by placing a corporation called a homeowner's association in charge of common elements of the building, pro-social New York City residents used the sharing based solution of cooperative housing units with a single mortgage for the entire building to achieve similar ends and limited the downsides of sharing through exclusion by carefully interviewing and vetting prospective fellow cooperative housing co-owners. Exclusion is one of the most natural ways to solve the sharing problem and unlock the immense economic efficiency that sharing can product, if private ownership or rental based solutions aren't possible or desirable for some reason.

American discomfort with the exclusion (for a variety of entirely legitimate deep historical reasons like our legacy of slavery that gave way to de jure segregation that breed anti-racist distrust for private sector attempts to recreate de jure racial segregation, and collective memories of anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism that affects many American's recent ancestors), which are necessary to make sharing work in many of its more heterogeneous communities, is one reason that many Americans (especially in communities that aren't homogeneous ethnically) are so uncomfortable with sharing solutions and opt instead to rent and own to what would otherwise be economically inefficient degrees.

Instead, Americans prefer to either exclude in only subtle, non-de jure ways (like ethnic identity clubs that in principle aren't allowed to discriminate against members who aren't part of that ethnicity), or to actively inculcate social virtues that facilitate sharing with active policing of anti-social conduct (e.g. Americans have used relatively strict enforcement of traffic laws and tort remedies for careless driving by international standards in order to develop widespread norms of safe driving habits in the use of commonly shared road resources that have produced adherence to traffic law in the U.S. that are unrivaled almost everywhere in the world except Scandinavia and Japan).

But, because these aren't particularly efficient solutions to the problem of sharing with people are abuse their use of the shared resource, we remain a less sharing people than we might be.

(There is also an alternative view on these conundrums focused on clannishness and its opposite, with a partially biological route associated with inbreeding, but that perspective is beyond the scope of this post.)

07 October 2015

Co-Creating Post-Christian Culture

The United States is more secular now than it has been at any point the early 1800s before the Second Great Awakening (ca. 1790-1860 CE, flourishing from about 1820-1855 CE) that gave birth to the uniquely American variety of Evangelical Christianity.

The United States now has tens of millions of secular people, who more or less independently came to the same decision to leave Christianity (for the vast majority of secular Americans are former Christians), at about the same time, for similar reasons, on a grass roots basis.

But, they are collectively faced with an omnipresent question, "now what"?  How shall I live my life from day to day?  What traditions shall I honor?  What do I believe?  What is moral and what is not? Into what worldview to I frame my experiences?

We have models abroad for how to live in a more secular society.

Europe experienced a similar surge in secularism a generation or two before the United States did, and is now to a great extent a post-Christian society for whom the state religions of their ancestors are now shared cultural legacies, rather than faiths lived on a day to day basis.  Churches are empty, or filled with immigrants and the elderly who haven't experienced a similar transition.

Japan, while not precisely a secular society, has also never been dominated by Christianity or Islam. Individual Japanese individuals can transition from a state in which superstition was taken more seriously, to one in which superstition is taken less seriously, without as much of an abrupt change of worldview, like a child gradually outgrowing childhood superstitions, one by one.  Japan provides another model of how to have a society that does not live in the shadow of Christianity.

Communist countries that once made up much of the world also consciously and actively collectively disavowed religion, and now that Communism had become obsolete in Europe and much of the rest of the world, and become untethered from its intellectual foundations in places like China, religion is creeping back.  But, a multitude of former Communists have not returned to religion after abandoning the religion of Communism and now face a religious vacuum of their own in which they too must craft of new set of folkways.

The process of creating new folkways is democratic in the small "d" sense of the word.  No choices about how to live are neutral and so everyone must participate in formulating their own, whether or not they want to do so, both individually and in relation to larger, often grass roots, social movements.

This transitional period won't last forever.  Folkways, traditions and norms that are congealing into a new culture right now will solidify over time and may have become rigid for an indefinite future of many centuries within a few generations from now.

It will be natural to answer many questions, particularly as they pertain to metaphysics, with science: the evolution of all life from a common ancestor billions of years ago; an understanding of biodiversity and neurodiversity informed by genetics, the Big Bang and its associated cosmology, a universe where everything is governed by laws of nature exemplified by the Standard Model of particle physics and general relativity, or their successors, a blurring of the mind-body duality, an understanding of how much of what happens in the world is random or at least amoral.

Other questions aren't as amenable to consensus scientific answers.  Science can tell us a lot about gender and sexuality, but it can't tell us, by itself, what kind of personal and intimate relations to develop, even if it can inform our understanding of the choices we make.  It can't tell us how to govern ourselves or raise our children, even though its methods can inform those choices as well.  It can't tell us who to trust, or who to love, who to chose as allies, or what battles and wars we should wage.  It can't tell us when to forgive and when to bear a grudge.  Even if science and the scientific method can inform many of these aspects of our lives, it hasn't reached that point yet, and the questions we face in life must be answered, now, immediately, with the knowledge that we have and not the knowledge that we hope some day as a species to acquire.

Even if almost everyone becomes effectively non-religious, there is no reason to think that we will not have, as the Ancient Greeks and Romans did, competing philosophies of life that each claim large numbers of adherents and guide the lives of those who follow them.  It isn't obvious at the moment what the competing philosophies will be, but it seems to me a near certainty that they will emerge over some point that is unknowable in the present in some respect that does not decisively disadvantage one view over another.  I wouldn't even be surprised if the new competing philosophical schools track to a significant extent historical patterns of regional culture, religion and political identity.

Perhaps, for example, secular people will fall into camps of optimists and pessimists, with pessimism gaining more steam in places like the former Communist states and the American South, and optimism finding more purchase in Western Europe, the Northeast Corridor and the Pacific Coast of the United States.  Science can certainly not tell us if optimism is preferable to pessimism, or visa versa, and each outlook offers certain advantages in life to its adherents. Ideas like the Gaia hypothesis might be embraced by optimists, for example, while pessimists may breath new life into the Medea hypothesis, since it better fits with their philosophy.

Or, perhaps instead, we will be split between communitarians and libertarians, or between humanists and nihilists, or between people committed to "traditional humanity" and transhumanists.

I don't believe that there is nothing new under the sun.  Cultural innovators among those of us cursed to live in this exciting time may, faced with the necessity of innovation, may come up with new kinds of relationships, new kinds of foods, new kinds of celebrations, and new kind of rituals and beliefs. The more untethered we become from our cultural legacies, the more room there is (and need there is) for cultural innovation.

Rivals of the Hebrew and Navajo language have required mass invention of new words to describe concepts absent from the historic versions of these languages, and a changing world will likewise require cultural innovation to deal with unprecedented realities and circumstances.

The difficult but worthwhile part of the venture it to image and guess what could emerge.  The results will seem obvious and elementary and inevitable in hindsight, but are anything but if we try to imagine the outcomes prospectively with any degree of confidence.

Probability Is A Matter Of Professional Opinion

Different professions describe different probabilities in different ways.  Lawyers are no different, but to draw a graph for them similar to the ones in the link for weathermen, investment bankers, and Mission Impossible Agents would reveal a trade secret, and I couldn't do that.

Aurora Public Schools Broken

The Denver Post highlights a new report from a local non-profit regarding the poor performance of the Aurora public schools. The numbers are bleak and make the often criticized Denver Public Schools look positively competent and effective by comparison.

Only 55% of Aurora's public school district graduate (the state average is about 78%).  Only about 40% of graduates go to college (the state average is about 57%). More than half of those who go to college need remedial work, and 67.3% of college attendees from Aurora Central High School need remedial work (the state average is about 38%).  Only about 10% of Aurora public school district students graduate ready for college and attend college.

By comparison, about 27% of students statewide graduate ready for college and attend college, and about 16% of Denver Public Schools graduates graduate ready for college and attend college. The odds of students who attend college but need to do remedial work graduating with a college degree are quite low.  Colorado, for what it is worth, is quite typical of the nation as a whole.

About 56% of students statewide are proficient or advanced in mathematics, compared to 36% of students in the Aurora public schools.  About 69% of students statewide are proficient or advanced in reading, compared to 46% of students in the Aurora public schools

The fact that the Aurora public schools performs worse in absolute terms than the state average, in and of itself isn't in and of itself a cause of concern about the quality of education that its students are receiving.

The students at the Aurora public school face challenges far more serious than those in the state as a whole.  About 40% of its students don't speak English as their native language and about two-thirds of students than the statewide average are poor enough to qualify for reduced or free lunch programs. It is an overwhelmingly majority minority district (about three-quarters of its students are Hispanic or black), which is correlated with poorer academic outcomes in almost every such school district in the United States for reasons that however problematic they are have little or nothing to do with what the teachers and administrators in this particular school district are doing right or wrong.

What is a cause for concern is that the Aurora public schools do a significantly worse job of graduating students with comparable challenges, and preparing comparable students who do graduate for college, than either Denver or the State of Colorado as a whole. 

Students are still significantly less likely to graduate from the Aurora public schools, than comparable students in either Denver or the State of Colorado as a whole, when they have disabilities, when they have limited English proficiency, when they are economically disadvantages, when they are migrants, when they received benefits under Title 1, when they are non-white, and when they are gifted and talents.  Homeless students in the Aurora public schools are less likely than the state average to graduate (although the graduation rate for homeless students in the Aurora public schools is a bit better than in the Denver Public Schools).

For example, about 95% of students in gifted and talented programs in the state graduate from high school, while only about 75% of students in gifted and talented programs in the Aurora public schools do.  When large percentages of gifted and talented students (usually defined as the 98th percentile or better on standardized IQ tests taken in elementary school), are failing, something is deeply wrong with the opportunities and quality of education that the school is offering.  About 30 high school senior aged kids from the Aurora public school each year who should be well prepared college students on a clear track to a good middle class life or better, are instead ending up as high school dropouts.  A mind is a terrible thing to waste.  The Denver Public Schools, in contrast, have programs that do an excellent job of serving low income gifted and talented students.

About 58% of students with limited English proficiency in Colorado graduate from high school, while only 41% of such students graduate in the Aurora public schools.

Likewise, those students who do graduate from the Aurora public schools are significantly less likely to attend college and significantly more likely to need remedial education than students graduating from other schools.

If the Aurora public schools were performing at levels in the vicinity of Denver or the State of Colorado with students facing comparable challenges, something like 15%-18% of Aurora public school students who graduate ready for college and attend college, rather than just 10%.

While the best team of teachers and administrators in the nation for a district this size with this mix of students would be hard pressed to match state averages in academic achievement, a merely par for the course and average team of teachers and administrators ought to be able to achieve outcomes more than 50% better on a host of indicators than the Aurora public schools is able to manage.

There is also no indication that the Aurora public schools is doing a particularly good job of preparing non-college bound students for the world of work, about 55% of students statewide and about 80% of students in the Aurora public schools. It is certainly failing the 45% of its students who fail to graduate.  There is no doubt whatsoever that the life prospects of high school dropouts in the United States are almost always bleak.  And, there are no signs that the 60% of its graduates who don't attend college leave with technical skills or have the academic competency of typical high school graduates who don't go to college in the state as a whole, or in neighboring Denver.  The Denver Public Schools, in contrast, has a wealth of alternative programs who non-college bound students.

Recognizing that there is a clear problem, of course, doesn't mean that the solution is obvious. Almost surely, there are myriad specific problems and not one overarching problem that explains the whole picture.  But, there is no doubt that dramatic change needs to be the order of the day in this troubled school district.

06 October 2015

If the weather is God's will . . .

So you know how all weather is a sign that God is MAD, BRO, at the liberal heathens? That’s why He mostly sends revenge weather to the bluest of blue states, like Kansas and Florida and Louisiana and Texas. Last week, He was super irate about homosexual relations, as per usual, and since the all-powerful being cannot stop the Supreme Court from decimating traditional goats-for-my-daughter marriage and forcing everyone to rub their same-sex sex-parts all over each other, He sent a fierce hurricane instead.

Bobby Jindal Sorry God Had To Punish Gays With All Those Tornadoes

California Lady Lawmaker Knows What Causes Droughts, And It Is Abortion

Oh, does that sound a little bit crazy insane to you? Well. Shows what you know, because here are two definitely not crazy insane people talking about how yup, marriage equality is the likeliest explanation for Hurricane Joaquin.

Y’all know Tony Perkins already. He’s the president of the hate group Family Research Council. . . Tony was girl-talking and hair-braiding with this other crazy person, named Jonathan Cahn, who is also addicted to announcing grand prophecies that, huh weird, never come to pass. He is a beloved guest of equally dumbass dumbasses, on their radio and teevee programmes, like Tony Perkins and our favorite crazy old uncle, Pat Robertson, and broken-brained Glenn Beck, and so on so forth and et cetera. . . . In his interview with Perkins, Cahn pointed to Hurricane Joaquin as a sign of God’s wrath for America’s legalization of gay marriage, legal abortion and the United Nation’s treatment of Israel, suggesting that the hurricane would strike Washington, D.C., because that’s “where the leadership is.”

Cahn said God was probably sending wind and rain because America has “crossed a gigantic line” and “overruled the word of God massively” because it “legalized the killing of the unborn in 1973 and now we have the striking down of marriage.” . . .

In case you missed it, instead of destroying Washington DC and all the line-crossing evildoers therein, the hurricane instead did a bunch of damage to the Bahamas before dying out in the middle of the Atlantic. Maybe Bermuda is to blame for the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage and abortion. Or maybe God sucks at geography.

The United States did not escape God’s wrath completely, however. He sank a cargo ship, El Faro, which was carrying, according to its owner, nearly 300 trailers and cars, at first considered a sign that He would like us to stop dirtying up His planet with our fossil fuels-consuming vehicles. A spokesman for the Almighty, who preferred to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak on this issue and God can be super vengeful, later clarified that the El Faro was destroyed not because of gay marriage or abortion — both of which he loves, obviously, since He created them and personally performs millions of abortions every year — but, rather, in response to Citizens United.
From Wonkette.

Post Number 7665

This is published post number 7665 between this blog and its companion blog Dispatches At Turtle Island.  The first post was published on July 3, 2005, more than ten years ago.

My July 2006 posts have been labeled.  Eleven months to go.  This is not a trivial task, however.  For example, I blogged more in October of 2005 than I did in the entire year 2014 at this blog, and more than I am likely to blog this year at this blog.

Glendale 180 Project Approval Was Secured Only With Sham Voters

I give props to fellow Colorado attorney Tim Flanagan, whom I have had dealings with in various cases, for fighting the good fight against the City of Glendale in court, in connection with its Glendale 180 project.

The City of Glendale is in Arapahoe County, has under 5,000, almost no single family housing, and is entirely surrounded by the City and County of Denver.

Glendale sold one square foot of vacant brown grass at a corner of a municipal park to five different people (two of whom were city employees), in order to stack the ballot in an August 4, 2015 election to establish a 14.3 acre downtown development authority, and a previous effort to establish a previous special district.

These sham property owner votes allowed it to outvote the three other land owners in a proposed new taxing district (only one of whom, Staybridge Hotels represented by Flanagan, pays property taxes) on a vote to establish a the new taxing district, which passed by a vote of 7-3, two of which were cast by Staybridge which owns 23% of the land in the proposed DDA (71% is owned by the Glendale, which it feels makes its actions morally justified).

The only three actual residents of the proposed DDA (who were registered to vote at Staybridge Hotels addresses) didn't vote, although their failure to vote may simply be because those individuals no longer live at the addresses where they were registered to vote (which is not uncommon for people who list an extended stay hotel as a residential address).

Yet, under election laws that have generally held to be constitutional, property owners may be given a vote in certain kinds of local government elections (in this case, apparently on a one parcel, one vote basis), notwithstanding the usual one man, one vote rule of constitutional law.

Apparently, this little known practice is common in Colorado:
The creation of small landholders is a common mechanism by which to form metro districts in Colorado and meet the ownership requirements laid out in state law, according to Ann Terry, executive director of the Special District Association of Colorado.
Another private taxpayer, the owners of a rug shop, were stripped from the district after making a stink over the City's plan to use the power of eminent domain to take their 6 acre property (they were offered $11 million and turned down the offer), to prevent it from voting against the proposal.  The rug shop owners were pleased to avoid the eminent domain seizure risk, but their removal from the district did gerrymander the group of remaining voters.

Flanagan is arguing on behalf of his client that this cheap trick improperly circumvents TABOR's requirement that new taxes be approved by voters.  The methods used by Glendale are obviously a dirty trick, even if they are common.  While Glendale is free to do what it wants with the 71% of the land it owns, imposing a tax on a single land owner approved with fake voters doesn't sound like a legitimate way to go about doing it.

The larger merits of whether Glendale should be able to use the power of eminent domain to assemble property to make it suitable for business development (one of the main purposes of the DDA is to allow Glendale to use the power of eminent domain to force Staybridge to sell property to it) are also controversial.

Eminent domain is permitted for public works (e.g. pipelines and roads), and to abate urban blight, but it is a long shot to call that part of Glendale blighted, even if it could arguably have a higher and better use in connection with the Glendale 180 plan. But, it is not generally permitted to permit private profit for future land developers.  Usually, property assembly is left to private developers who lack the power of eminent domain.  Those private developers then seek to have the property rezoned for a project once it is assembled, not by a governmental entity.

On the other hand, eminent domain power exists in order to curb "rent seeking" by holdout property owners that get more than their fair share of the total investment in a project by insisting on prices far in excess of the value of their land in its current use that are only possible to realize if they cooperate.

On the law, Staybridge probably faces an uphill battle.  But, it is a fight worth fighting, the legal theory advanced is not frivolous, and even if this battle it lost, it may convince the Colorado General Assembly to change the law of eminent domain going forward in the State of Colorado.

This case could also easily influence the national debate over the use of the eminent domain power to facilitate urban planning in a manner similar to the landmark Kelo v. City of New London case (545 U.S. 469 (2005)), in which the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision "held that the general benefits a community enjoyed from economic growth qualified private redevelopment plans as a permissible "public use" under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment."  The City won the Kelo case, but energized opponents of this kind of used of the eminent domain power in the process, resulting in tighter restricts on this kind of taking under federal law, and under state and local law in many places.

05 October 2015

American Apparel Files For Chapter 11

One of the big stories of the second half of the 20th century was the demise of the U.S. based manufacturing of clothing.  American Apparel is one of the few that has sought to reverse that trend, but has struggled to do so.  Even after it emerges from bankruptcy, it will be hard pressed to compete.

Today, it filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11, with a reorganization plan pretty much in hand when it filed and expects to have approved within six months.  The case is In re American Apparel, Case No. 15-12055 in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware.  On Friday, its shares closed at 11.2 cents a share for a market value of $20.5 million, following an announcement in August that it did not have enough cash to last the next twelve months.

It has about $200 million in assets and about $400 million in liabilities.  Secured creditors will provide about $90 million in debtor-in-possession financing and 95% of them have already signed onto the reorganization. The secured creditors group includes "Standard General, Monarch Alternative Capital, Coliseum Capital, Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Pentwater Capital Management, all hedge funds or investment firms specializing in distressed debt."  More than $200 million of unsecured bondholders will be converted to equity.  All shareholders, and probably junior unsecured creditors (if any) as well, will be wiped out.

More than 42% of the stock was held by former CEO Dov Charney who was fired for misconduct in December for reasons include sexual harassment and has lawsuits outstanding against the company. His shares, however, were collateral for hedge fund Standard General which also owns $15 million of bonds from the company, making it the company's biggest creditor before the reorganization, and its biggest post-reorganization shareholder, apart from $70 million in new equity investment in addition to debtor-in-possession financing from secured creditors.

The company has about $600 million in revenues from 8,500 employees at six factories and 230 stores in the U.S. and 17 other countries, but has lost $340 million over the last five years through this year and $45 million so far this year (almost 10% of its sales).  Much of the losses are attributable to interest payments (interest payments will fall $24 million a year under the reorganization), but almost surely not all of the losses are attributable to interest payments, so it will still need to become more profitable after the reorganization.

The company has been unresponsive to consumer demand, producing the same clothes all year around and had relatively high prices relative to its competition.

Mostly from here and here and here.

U.S. is more lethal than violent

The U.S. assault rate is somewhat below average, and it has a sexual assault rate of about twice the mean (but not the highest) among OECD countries.  But, only Mexico and Estonia have higher murder rates, with the U.S. at more than twice the mean.  The U.S. is on the right track, with its murder rate having fallen about 50% from the peak during my lifetime.  But, one key distinction between the U.S. and its peers is likely lax gun regulation.