23 March 2017

Cantonese Final Particles

     Cantonese (a subset of Yue topolects shown in purple above) is a tonal language (i.e. the tone with which you express a phoneme determines in part which word you are speaking - the number of tones that exist in Cantonese is controversial), so you can't use tone of voice to express mood - that channel already has a signal in it. Instead, you conclude your sentence with a short word known as a "final particle" (or more than one if the mood or character of the preceding sentence involves finely shaded emotional meaning). It is spoken in and around the former colonial enclaves of Hong Kong and Macau.

Spoken Mandarin Chinese (the official language of modern China), which uses mostly the same Chinese characters as Cantonese in writing, also has final particles, but far fewer of them.

This difference may be due to an Austroasiatic (or Tai) substrate influence on a Sinatic topolect ancestral to Cantonese which may originally have been more similar to Mandarin before migrants speaking this language were exposed to the substrate language.

Race, Class, Mortality and Post-Soviet Russia

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
- "Walden" (1854) by Henry David Thoreau
In “Mortality and morbidity in the 21st Century,” Princeton Professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton follow up on their groundbreaking 2015 paper that revealed a shocking increase in midlife mortality among white non-Hispanic Americans, exploring patterns and contributing factors to the troubling trend. 
Case and Deaton find that while midlife mortality rates continue to fall among all education classes in most of the rich world, middle-aged non-Hispanic whites in the U.S. with a high school diploma or less have experienced increasing midlife mortality since the late 1990s. This is due to both rises in the number of “deaths of despair”—death by drugs, alcohol and suicide—and to a slowdown in progress against mortality from heart disease and cancer, the two largest killers in middle age. 
The combined effect means that mortality rates of whites with no more than a high school degree, which were around 30 percent lower than mortality rates of blacks in 1999, grew to be 30 percent higher than blacks by 2015.
From the Bookings Institute (Hat tip to this tweet).

Some of this shift is also due to the shrinking share of white men without a college education. The effects are much weaker when, for example, the least educated 25% of men are considered.

These working class Anglo men look a lot like post-Soviet Russian men in their mortality trends. The end of the Cold War, the globalization of the economy, and a transition to a more modern post-industrial economy has not been kind to either nation's working class men.

Perhaps the only genuine crisis aspect of current Russian demographic trends appears in increased rates of mortality, which have been especially dramatic among working-age men. In 1992, there was a sharp increase in deaths from nonnatural causes. By 1994, mortality rates for males between ages 15 and 64 were about twice as high as they had been in 1986 (Figure 4). Rising alcoholism and related conditions have figured prominently in this trend. In the mid-1980s, an anti-alcohol campaign championed by Mikhail Gorbachev was responsible for a brief reversal in the mortality trend, but the increase resumed after the campaign was abandoned in the late 1980s.
The tendency of President Trump's core supporters to look more favorably upon Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, than they used to, seems to have something more to it than their leader's personality or mere coincidence. 

21 March 2017

SCOTUS On Patent Law

SCOTUS to Federal Circuit: We Meant What We Told You The First Time

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Federal Circuit again and held that the equitable doctrine of laches cannot be used to bar the recovery of patent infringement damages incurred within the six year statute of limitations. This follows another recent ruling that laches does not bar the recovery of damages for patent infringement incurred within the three year statute of limitations. The decision in SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC was 7-1.

More analysis is available at SCOTUS blog.

This is a rare ruling that is pro-patent holder, even though it reverses the Federal Circuit. Patent holders are now about 4 pro to 17 against to 4 neutral in U.S. Supreme Court litigation implicating patent law since 2005, a period which also included the America Invents Act in 2011 which was a major reform of U.S. patent law.

A Long Awaited Patent Venue Case

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a bigger patent law case where it granted certiorari. In the case of TC Heartland v. Kraft, the petitioner asks the U.S. Supreme Court to reaffirm its 1957 decision in Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., 353 U.S. 222 (1957), which held that venue was proper in patent infringement suits only in state where the defendant is located pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) (which has not been subsequently amended), and not also under the general venue statute for civil cases, 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c) (which has been amended since 1957), that would permit patent infringement suits to be brought anywhere that the defendant regularly conducts business.

This holding has led to widespread forum shopping in patent infringement cases (especially to the Eastern District of Texas which is known for its pro-plaintiff judges and juries in patent infringement lawsuits). 

A proposed bill in Congress to reverse this holding with bipartisan support that has been put on hold while it awaits a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision for the petitioner in this case would be a major blow to patent holders because it would force them to seek much less favorable forums in which to bring suit, and yet another rebuke to the Federal Circuit for botching a seemingly straight forward case of statutory and case precedent analysis.

The Federal Circuit determined that the amendment of 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c) authorized it to revisit the U.S. Supreme Court's Fourco decision. In all likelihood, Monday's oral argument will reveal that the eight sitting Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will almost unanimously disagree with the propriety of this decision and will signal a reversal of the often reversed Federal Circuit on this issue as well.

The outcome is telegraphed in part by the clarity of the issue, and in part because the Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction over federal patent cases, so these cases are never taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve a circuit split where it may easily take either side of the split or some other approach entirely. Usually, Federal Circuit appeals of patent cases signal a likely reversal.

These two cases follow a long string of reversals of the Federal Circuit on patent law issues by the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years.

Exhaustion (update added March 22, 2017):

Another big case, Impression Products, Inc. v Lexmark Int’l, Inc.on the patent law doctrine of exhaustion (which is similar to the "first sale" doctrine in copyright law) was also argued on the day of the most recent patent law decision. The Justices are considering a case to limit that doctrine and thereby expand the rights of patent holders (e.g. to protect makers of proprietary ink cartridges for prints and proprietary coffee pods for coffee makers from products that refill them that are not made under license). Unlike copyright law in which the "first sale" doctrine is codified, the exhaustion doctrine was devised by Federal Circuit judges 25 years ago.
The case involves the doctrine of “exhaustion,” under which a patentholder’s rights to enforce its patent ordinarily are “exhausted” with regard to any particular object at the moment the patentholder sells the object. As applied to this case, for example, Lexmark’s rights to control the use of its patented refillable print cartridges would be “exhausted” when it sells those cartridges to retail buyers, even if Lexmark conditions the sale on the promise that the buyer will not refill the cartridge. That, at any rate, is the argument of Impression Products, which makes a business out of refilling Lexmark cartridges in violation of those agreements. Lexmark’s argument, by contrast, is that modern commerce requires that innovators have the flexibility to devise contracting structures that segment the market into separate sectors, each of which gets a different price commensurate with the uses to which products will be put in that sector.
The argument was to a "cold bench" leaving few hints regarding how the case will be resolved.

19 March 2017

Heritability of Selected Traits

From an article in Nature.

IQ is slightly less heritable than height. Years of schooling is less heritable than IQ. Socio-emotional skills have a significant heritable component but consistently less than height, IQ, and years of schooling. BMI also has significant but lower heritability (although twins are anomalously similar in this trait).

There are environmental effects (note the differences between full and half-siblings respectively who are reared together and apart).

In terms of educational policy, there are two main takeaways. 

First, studies of the educational effectiveness of various approaches that don't control for heredity are inevitably swamped by noise, because heredity is a first order effect in educational outcomes.

Second, while we are powerless to do anything to respond to some hereditary effects on educational outcomes, others beyond predictors of IQ, such as predictors of personality, dyslexia or attention problems can be used to tailor suitable instruction approaches and coping strategies for particular students.

The United States Is Big, Empty And Naturally Dangerous Compared To England

An interesting post at Travel Stack Exchange explains the unexpected dangers, mostly natural, that a long distance bicyclist from England is likely to face in the United States on a cross-country trip.

Some of the points made really stood out (italics and comments in brackets mine; bold emphasis and links in the original), although I have omitted a lot of the detailed discussions of traffic risks particular to bicyclists on different classes of roads including special warnings about the fact that railroad crossings in the U.S. are far less safe than in the U.K.
I think you have no sense of how big and how empty the US is. If the US were as densely populated as England, it would have 2.5 billion people. [The true population of the U.S. is about 319 million people and is highly concentrated in about 100 urban areas.] Unless you are in an urban center, you won't find many people of any sort, let alone criminals. 
The quickest coast-to-coast route is Jacksonville to San Diego, almost 4000 km, three times the distance from Land's End to John O' Groats, 200 hours of riding for a strong cyclist, six weeks on the road. Here is what it looks like about half-way. See any potential muggers? At about three-quarters. [Do click on the links, the immense granular scope of Google Street View, even in the middle of nowhere, is truly remarkable.] (This is the shortest route, not the scenic route.) . . .  
Your big concern will be water. Out west, 100km gaps between sources of fresh water are not at all uncommon, and it would only take a little bit of bad luck (a leaky camelbak shorting out your cell-phone for example) to make dying a very real possibility. 
You'll also have to cross two, and possibly three, major mountain ranges. I don't know if there is any route you could take that would not require you to climb to a pass half again as high as the highest peak in England. [This is probably an underestimate for most routes- the highest peak in England is 3,209 feet; I don't think there is any way to cross the Rocky Mountains in Colorado on a road at less than 8,619 feet or in Wyoming at less than 8,323 feet, although you can get a bit lower crossing Montana or New Mexico. Most of the more heavily used passes are higher. I usually cross the mountains at Eisenhower Tunnel which is 11,158 feet.]
Another response:
Depending on exactly where you are, weather, traffic, vast distances between even tiny towns (often 100+ miles, sometimes much more,) harsh terrain, and/or wildlife will be much larger concerns. Most of those concerns (except traffic) apply more to the Western states. Once you're East of the Mississippi River, things aren't quite as desolate and there will at least be small towns somewhat frequently (though still not nearly as close as they are in Western Europe.) 
Make sure to read up on the normal climate of the areas you'll be traversing in the season you'll be traversing them and also make sure you have some way to keep up with the weather forecasts for where you'll be. Weather in many parts of the U.S. (especially the parts away from the coasts) can change very quickly. Depending on season and where you are, the temperature may be anything from +50 C to -40 C. When I was in North Dakota a couple of years ago, it was +40 C while I was there and they had a snow storm about a week later. Even where I live in the Southeast, temperature swings of 20-30 C over the course of a day or two are not at all uncommon, especially during the non-summer seasons. . . .
Also, in case you haven't spent much time in the U.S., it's worth a reminder that the U.S. is very, very large. The distance from New York City to Los Angeles is a little more than the distance from Lisbon to Moscow. You'll be crossing everything from large mountains to desert to plains to hilly countryside. It typically takes about 3-4 days to cross the U.S. by car at 70+ mph / 110+ km/h. Even by airplane, it's similar to crossing the Atlantic. Crossing it by bicycle is not a small undertaking.
A third response:
Apart from a handful of urban areas, USA is far less densely populated than England (and even many urban areas are so sprawling that the urban area of Atlanta has a lower population density than all of England). In remote areas, you'll find roads where traffic is almost nonexistent.
A fourth response:
Wildlife, including dog packs, is more of an issue in the US than in England. This is very situational, in most areas the threat is about zero but if you're off the main roads and in the areas in the west with evergreen forests the bear threat is small but real. Generally they'll leave you alone but getting between mama and her cubs is a very bad idea. 
Also, in the southwest the distances can be long and the weather can be hot. I would recommend reading up on desert survival before biking between cities in the summer in the southwest deserts. Unless you're on the interstate you're unlikely to have cell coverage, an accident on a side road could be a very serious situation. Now and then we have cases of tourists who head out into the desert unprepared, have some sort of breakdown and die out there. 
On the flip side, winter storms can be a lot worse than you're used to, also. England is surrounded by ocean and the Gulf Stream warms it to some degree. Much of the US is a lot farther from the moderating effects of the ocean and only a small part of it is warmed by ocean currents. 
Finally, our extreme weather events are also worse than anything you're used to. If you're near the ocean in the southeast beware of hurricanes. You're looking at winds of at least 120 kph and the worst of them will be twice this. Rain will be extreme, flooding common. The areas near the ocean are usually subject to a mandatory evacuation in such cases and the areas a bit inland aren't but you'll have problems finding supplies and shelter. In the Midwest you'll also have the threat of tornadoes. They are too unpredictable for evacuation, alerts go out when there is threatening weather, warnings when radar sees a tornado and some communities also have sirens. People take shelter where they can, the well prepared have underground rooms. Winds again start at 120 kph and the record holder was 476 kph. All ordinary houses will be flattened by the strongest of these.
Do keep tabs on the weather forecasts, as others have said. It's not just the temperature swings to beware of, there can be downright dangerous weather. Thunderstorms with strong gusty winds, large hail, lightning strikes, and tornadoes are a common thing in the summer months in the middle and eastern parts of the country.
And finally:
Your two problems are going to be the vastness of the US, an the way our road system works. 
The size of it. I had a family friend come from England and stay with us in Florida. They decided they wanted to see the country so they decided to drive to California. They were totally unprepared for the shear distance and what it would mean. Our country is large enough that you have different eco systems as you travel, specially east to west. Your will have Swamp, plantations, flatland, prairie lands, deserts, mountain ranges, arid zones and coastal areas (just to name a few). There are areas that get 170cm of rain a year and others that get 60ml. 
This is also true for people. In some areas strangers are welcome and invited guests. In others they are an annoyance to be avoided. It all depends on area. . . . 
Even animal concerns are going to be different. Most parts of the US, (even in cities at times) have loads of wildlife. Cougars, snakes, (brown or black) bears, alligator, panthers, crocodiles, bob cats, and so on, are very common in rural areas, some even in cities. Smaller animalas are "worse" if your going to be camping out. Raccoons, Possums, Armadillos, squirels, etc. all will have no problem getting into your food stores. 
Cell coverage doesn't reach everywhere are there are large stretches of road with nothing on them. Your could easily find your self sleeping rough.
The English bicycler responding to these and other responses who had originally been concerned primarily about crime states:
I have been comprehensively reassured. You have not only demonstrated that violent criminals aren't a problem, you've demonstrated why as well. What with all the articulateds, trains, hailstones, tornadoes, hurricaines, thunderstorms, blizzards, droughts, earthquakes, bears, wolves, rattlesnakes, dogs, alligators and whatnot, criminals don't hang around because they think it's too damned dangerous.

On the whole the comments made are accurate and sensible. The United States is vast. Huge expanses of the United States are empty farmland, empty mountain forests and deserts. There is far more wildlife, even in cities, than in England and some of it is dangerous. Indeed, even domesticated animals like cows, and herbivores like moose, can pose serious threats. And, we take the ecological diversity for granted.

You forget how inured you become to the ways to safely deal with unmonitored train crossings, extreme temperature changes, hail, torrential thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, wildfires, floods, earthquakes, sunstroke, and wild animals from mosquitos and ticks to alligators and bears - let alone traffic related risks.

There are crime risks in rural America. Several commentators noted that people can be much more insistent on property rights in the United States and can use guns to make their point. No one pointed out the fairly serious risks associated with hitchhiking these days. One person did point out risks that can be present in the impoverished rural South to someone who looks out of place, and another pointed out the need to be careful in one's political discussions on certain topics in "Red States", and a third pointed out issues particular to Appalachia. Everyone agreed that parts of many U.S. cities can be problematic. 

But, since rural America has so few people, and since for a cross-country bicyclist crimes per square mile matter more than crimes per capita, de-emphasis on the importance of violent crime risks in these situations in rural America is appropriate. Predators don't gather where there is very little prey.

The sheer emptiness of much of the United States is one of the important reason why fixed rail transit is more of an economic challenge here than in Western Europe, Israel, India and East Asia.

I recently travelled from Denver to Pueblo, Colorado and back on business (240 miles roundtrip including some minimal driving around downtown Pueblo for a few days). Apart from cities like Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Monument, Castle Rock and exurban to central Denver, most of the trip you pass through absolutely empty desert, even along a major interstate highway like I-25. And, even some of the cities along the way, like Pueblo and Monument and Castle Rock aren't all that big.

It would cost $750 million to build high speed rail from Denver to Pueblo, but it would have to be very fast indeed to make that price worth the increase in speed you could get relative to I-25 where speed limits are mostly 75 miles per hour on flat, straight roads, and a significant share of the traffic is going at 80 to 90 miles per hour. Apart from construction zones and urban rush hour traffic, moreover, the interstate isn't all that crowded on that route. If high speed rail wasn't at least 175 miles per hour, it would be hard to justify, and the cities along the way are quite sprawling, so often you'd need to rely on a rental car, a car share, or dubious and hard to understand local bus service to reach your final destination which limits the benefits conferred by the high speed rail part of the trip.

17 March 2017

Economic Development Is Valuable Even In The Absence Of Full Liberty

Between 1995 and 2014 GDP per capita increased almost 400% in China and child mortality fell by 76%
From this Tweet by Max Roser.

China's current per capita GDP is just under $6,500 U.S. dollars.

For sake of comparison GDP per capita in the U.S. in 1995 was $38,678 in constant 2015 U.S. dollars, while it was $50,727 in 2014 in constant 2015 U.S. dollars. If it had increased 400% it would be about $154,712, which is more than three times as high as it is today.

Working in the other direction, GDP per capita would have to be $12,681 in constant 2015 U.S. dollars in 1995 for the U.S. to have experienced the same rate of economic growth as China and have its current GDP per capita. In 1947, on a constant 2015 U.S. dollar basis, U.S. GDP per capita was $13,437.

Basically, China has had as much economic growth on a percentage basis since 1995 as the U.S. has had since 1945. It had 70 years of U.S. percentage rate economic growth in 20 years.

The growth rates China has experienced in the last 20 years are roughly the same as the one's a hypothetical backward economy in an alternative universe in Charlie Stross's Empire Games book attempts to achieve by borrowing modern technology from our universe.

Of course, in both cases, the incredible economic growth is made possible only by borrowing technology wholesale and leapfrogging over intermediate technological phases, rather than innovating technological from scratch to improve productivity.

13 March 2017

Commercial Speech Cases Aren't Very Ideological

Commercial speech cases are the focus of this Article. We find no evidence of ideological influence within the full set of those cases, in the sense of judge votes tracking ordinary policy disagreements. The results make commercial speech cases look like gun rights cases - and unlike abortion rights, establishment clause, and affirmative action cases, which are consistently ideologically charged in our models.
Via the Legal Theory Blog.

Destroying Evidence Is Expensive

I'm pretty sure that the attorney malpractice policy of the law firm for Boeing won't even begin to cover a the $1,200,000,000 sanction award it received for destroying documents in a dispute over the award of a major government contract.  Presumably, the sanction is payable to the company that lost the competition for the Air Force contract.

Of course, it goes without saying that Boeing will attempt to appeal the judge's decision.
An Alabama federal judge on Thursday granted a sanctions bid against Boeing, invoking the Joni Mitchell song "Big Yellow Taxi" in an order finding the company intentionally destroyed documents related to its long-running dispute with defunct Alabama Aircraft Industries over a $1.2 billion U.S. Air Force contract.
Via a Law360 newslettter.

08 March 2017

U.S. Deploying Ground Troops In Combat Roles In Syria

The United States has crossed a line in its military involvement in the Syrian civil war, as part of its war on ISIS and other military factions in that conflict that the Obama administration adamantly refused to cross.

I am honestly stunned that this major escalation of U.S. involvement from providing air support to allied troops and providing training and intelligence support to allied troops, to being ground combatants in one of the most complex civil wars in decades, has not even been mentioned by major news outlets, only to be picked up by specialty magazine Military.com.

Ground troops are far more in harms way than air support, so casualties are likely to rise. And, putting troops on the ground in Syria greatly increases the likelihood of unintended encounters with combatant factions in the conflict where the U.S. has not made a clear policy decision that the faction is a friend or a foe. These could include encounters with Russian forces and forces of the Syrian regime that we have condemned for war crimes.

Despite President Trump's decidedly warmer stances towards Russia than President Obama's administration, there is still no indications whatsoever, that U.S. and Russian forces are able to "play nice" with each other in this complex conventional military encounter. They have not coordinated well with each other in this conflict in the past.

06 March 2017

Jury Privacy Overcome By Clear Racial Basis In Colorado Case

A landmark new U.S. Supreme Court ruling today holds that the usual rule that jury deliberations cannot be considered for any purpose is overcome by the rule that racial bias in the judicial system is prohibited. It was a 5-3 decision (with Justices Thomas, Alito and Roberts dissenting). As the official syllabus to the case explains (emphasis added):
A Colorado jury convicted petitioner Peña-Rodriguez of harassment and unlawful sexual contact. Following the discharge of the jury, two jurors told defense counsel that, during deliberations, Juror H. C. had expressed anti-Hispanic bias toward petitioner and petitioner’s alibi witness. Counsel, with the trial court’s supervision, obtained affidavits from the two jurors describing a number of biased statements by H. C. 
The court acknowledged H. C.’s apparent bias but denied petitioner’s motion for a new trial on the ground that Colorado Rule of Evidence 606(b) generally prohibits a juror from testifying as to statements made during deliberations in a proceeding inquiring into the validity of the verdict. The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed, agreeing that H. C.’s alleged statements did not fall within an exception to Rule 606(b). The Colorado Supreme Court also affirmed, relying on Tanner v. United States, 483 U. S. 107, and Warger v. Shauers, 574 U. S. ___, both of which rejected constitutional challenges to the federal no-impeachment rule as applied to evidence of juror misconduct or bias. 
Held: Where a juror makes a clear statement indicating that he or she relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a criminal defendant, the Sixth Amendment requires that the no-impeachment rule give way in order to permit the trial court to consider the evidence of the juror’s statement and any resulting denial of the jury trial guarantee.
Pena-Rodrigues v. Colorado, Case No. 15-606 (U.S. March 6, 2017).

There was a split in authority on the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled. As the official syllabus explains:
Some version of the no-impeachment rule is followed in every State and the District of Columbia, most of which follow the Federal Rule. At least 16 jurisdictions have recognized an exception for juror testimony about racial bias in deliberations. Three Federal Courts of Appeals have also held or suggested there is a constitutional exception for evidence of racial bias.
Justice Kennedy, in classic Kennedy style, resists the temptation to let consistency be the hobgoblin of small minds and instead concludes that (as summarized in the official syllabus):
This case lies at the intersection of the Court’s decisions endorsing the no-impeachment rule and those seeking to eliminate racial bias in the jury system. Those lines of precedent need not conflict. Racial bias, unlike the behavior in McDonald, Tanner, or Warger, implicates unique historical, constitutional, and institutional concerns and, if left unaddressed, would risk systemic injury to the administration of justice. It is also distinct in a pragmatic sense, for the Tanner safeguards may be less effective in rooting out racial bias. But while all forms of improper bias pose challenges to the trial process, there is a sound basis to treat racial bias with added precaution. A constitutional rule that racial bias in the justice system must be addressed—including, in some instances, after a verdict has been entered—is necessary to prevent a systemic loss of confidence in jury verdicts, a confidence that is a central premise of the Sixth Amendment trial right.
The case also sets forth a clear statement regarding what threshold must be met to trigger the application of this new rule. 

01 March 2017

Battle of Mosul Still In Progress

Iraqi forces outnumber ISIS troops 10-1 and have far superior military equipment at their disposal. But, four months and two weeks after the fight began, the fight for Mosul, which was secured by ISIS in 2014, is still far from over.

Today was the first day the Iraqi forces finally managed to isolate ISIS forces in Western Mosul, which it still controls, from other ISIS territory. But, at the pace at which this battle has been proceeding, it could easily be two or three months before the city can be fully retaken.