30 November 2005

Institutions and Abuse

Situations when someone has power over someone else in a total fashion, from group homes to foster homes to prisons to orphanages to mental institutions are inherently prone to abuse. So, it isn't too surprising that it cropped up in a Kansas group home for the mentally ill. It is never the less outrageous than when these are institutions that are inherently at risk for this kind of problem, that it took seventeen years to root out a particularly egregious case of abuse.

Walgreens Shows Backbone.

Walgreen's pharmacy has disciplined four pharmacists for refusing to fill contraceptive prescriptions for religious reasons. In Illinois, where the actions took place, it is illegal for a pharmacist to refuse to fill a perscription based on the pharmacist's personal beliefs.

Republican Criminals.

If you are like me, you have a hard time keeping track of all of the leading Republicans who are facing or have been convicted of criminal charges or serious scandal. Fortunately, there is a Scorecard to help you keep track.

The list is incomplete, of course. But comments to the post help us out:


Former Congressman Bill Janklow(R-SD) Convicted and jailed for killing a man with his car after blowing through a stopsign at a high rate of speed.


John Rowland(R-CT)Convicted and jailed for graft, had work done on his house and some other bribe related charges.

George Ryan(R-IL) Under indictment for hiring practices.(I notice you had Blagojevich--this one must have slipped your mind)

Jim McGreevy(D-NJ) Resigned under fire sexual relationship with a male staffmember.


Lewis Libby(R)-Assistant to the Vice President, 5 count indictment, perjury, false statements.

Karl Rove(R)-Assistant to the President, currently under investigation.

Larry Franklin(R)-DOD employee, pleaded guilty in espionage case.

Leandro Aragoncillo-46, was a U.S. Marine most recently assigned to the staff of Vice President Dick Cheney, arrested for spying in the Whitehouse.

Kenneth Tomlinson(R)-Former Head of CPB, under investigation.

Armstrong Williams(R)-Investigation revealed that payments to him for propaganda efforts were illegal.


New Hampshire-4 Republican operatives arrested for election 2002 phone jamming scandal. # have pleaded guilty, one is due for trial soon.


Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Don Sherwood had a visit from the Washington police after a 29-year old woman who was not the 64-year old congressman's wife called 911 and complained that Sherwood had choked her. Sherwood said he had merely been giving the woman a back rub. He is one of those holier-than-thou family values conservatives.


Senate President Ben Stevens (R-AK)
Probed for accepting consulting fees from oil services firm Veco. Subject to a recall petition. Son of US Senate Pro Tem President Ted Stevens.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA)
Ethics probe for accepting salary from two men’s fitness magazines while governor, possible kickback from American Media publisher to Schwarzenegger charity and silence money to a woman who had an extramarital affair with Schwarzenegger. This probe may go criminal.

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA)
Probed for bribery regarding financial ties with and favors for defense firm MZM. Pleaded guilty to tax evasion, conspiracy, Nov. 28, 2005.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Tied to Abramoff scandal on loan papers. Recipient of contributions from Abramoff.

Gov. John Rowland (R-CT)
Convicted, imprisoned 2004 for accepting free renovations to his vacation cottage as well as charter flights and vacations from a state contractor, and defrauding the Internal Revenue Service by not paying taxes on the free services.

Attorney General Jane Brady (R-DE)
Accused of helping MBNA Bank of Wilmington skirt campaign finance laws.

Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL)
Probed for campaign donations from MZM, Inc. in relation to Duke Cunningham probe. Currently a US Senate candidate.

Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL)
Recipient of contributions from Abramoff. Probed for corporate ties to Yang Enterprises, involved in over billing state of Florida. Feeney was Jeb Bush’s 1994 running mate for Lt. Gov.

Ralph Reed, candidate for Lt. Gov. (R-GA)
Probed for involvement in Abramoff, Kidan, DeLay Indian casino money laundering.

Gov. Felix Camacho (R-Guam)
Probed for ties to Abramoff and demoting Acting US Attorney for Guam Frederick Black.

New Hawaii PAC and House GOP PAC (R-HI)
Campaign violations filed against a number of GOP candidates for the state legislature and US House for skirting spending limits.

Dalton Tanonaka, former Lt. gubernatorial and congressional candidate (R-HI)
Under FEC investigation for disguising and failing to report campaign loans. Also investigated for possible illegal foreign funding from Hong Kong and Japan.

State Rep. and House Minority Leader Galen Fox (R-HI)
Convicted on federal charges of fondling a woman on a Honolulu to Los Angeles commercial flight.

Rep. Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House (R-IL)
Probed for accepting money from Turkey.

Rep. Jerry Weller (R-IL)
Recipient of contributions from Abramoff. (Weller is also married to the daughter of Guatemalan dictator and mass murderer [300,0000 Guatemalans] Efrain Rios Montt.)

Bob Kjellander, Republican National Treasurer (R-IL)
Under Federal probe for steering investment contracts to Illinois Teachers Retirement Fund.

State Rep. Lee Daniels (Elmhurst), Former House Leader (R-IL)
Under Federal investigation for misuse of state employees for political activity and state contract kickbacks.

Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN)
Under investigation for soliciting campaign donations in return for INDOT (Indiana Dept. of Transportation) contracts.

Thomas Sharp, INDOT Commissioner (R-IN)
Under investigation for soliciting campaign donations in return for INDOT (Indiana Dept. of Transportation) contracts.

Jim Kittle, GOP state chairman (R-IN)
Under investigation for soliciting campaign donations in return for INDOT (Indiana Dept. of Transportation) contracts.

Rep. Chris Chocola (R-IN)
Received DeLay ARMPAC money. FEC investigating.

Adam Taff, 2004 congressional candidate, KS-3 (R-KS)
Indicted for campaign violations and wire fraud.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R-KY)
Criminal probe in a state employees’ merit system scandal. Received contributions from DeLay’s ARMPAC, linked to Abramoff.

Dan Druen, Transportation Commissioner (R-KY)
Merit system scandal, witness tampering. Indicted.

Bob Wilson, Deputy Personnel Secretary (R-KY)
Merit system scandal. Indicted

Darrell Brock, Chairman of Kentucky GOP (R-KY)
Merit system scandal. Indicted.

Basil Turbyfill, Personnel Adviser to KY Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R-KY)
Merit system scandal. Indicted.

Bill Nighbert, Transportation Secretary (R-KY)
Merit system scandal. Indicted.

Dick Murgatroyd, Deputy Chief of Staff to KY Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R-KY)
Merit system scandal. Indicted.

Jim Adams, Deputy Transportation Secretary (R-KY)
Merit system scandal. Indicted.

Cory Meadows, Executive Director, Transportation Dept. (R-KY)
Merit system scandal. Indicted.

Lloyd Cress, Environmental Protection Commissioner (R-KY)
Probed in merit system scandal.

Dave Disponett (R-KY)
Indicted for violation of Kentucky civil service law.

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)
Linked to Abramoff in a case involving a Louisiana Indian tribe.

Joseph Steffen, aide to Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R-MD)

Resigned for starting a rumor campaign against Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley.

Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs - controlled by Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)
Under ethics cloud for awarding a $10,000 contract to conservative Boston Herald columnist to write columns supportive of Romney’s policies.

Lawrence Novak, Vice Chair, state GOP (R-MA)
Arrested by FBI for drug money laundering.

Mike Cox, Attorney General (R-MI)
Failed to pursue felony pollution charges against Graceland Fruit after a major Department of Environmental Quality investigation.

Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI)
Investigated by House Erthics Committee for accepting campaign contributions in return for her yes vote on the 2004 Medicare bill.

Rep. Roy Blunt, House Majority Leader (R-MO)
Investigated for trading illegal PAC money with DeLay through Blunt's Rely on Your Beliefs Fund. Received Indian casino money from tribes represented by Abramoff.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT)
Probed for links to Abramoff.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE)
Received tainted money from DeLay. Refused to return it.

Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV)
Received $25,000 from DeLay's ARMPAC.

Sen. John Sununu (R-NH)
Probed for receipt of money from DeLay tainted PAC.

Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-NH)
Probed for receipt of money from DeLay tainted PAC.

Gene Chandler, State House Speaker (R-NH)
Campaign contributions violations.

James Tobin, Northeast political director National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee (R-NH)
Indicted, conspiracy, GOTV phone line jamming, Sununu 2002 campaign.

Chuck McGee, former Exec. Dir. New Hampshire Republican Party (R-NH)
Pleaded guilty, conspiracy, GOTV phone line jamming, Sununu 2002 campaign.

Allen Raymond, GOP Marketplace President (R-NH)
Pleaded guilty, conspiracy, GOTV phone line jamming, Sununu 2002 campaign.

Tom Wilson, GOP State Chairman (R-NJ)
Probed for his firm receiving $2.7 million from the Burlington County Bridge Commission.

Jeanine Pirro, Westchester County District Attorney and US Senate candidate (R-NY)
Probed for campaign donations from mobsters. Her husband served a year in prison for tax evasion.

Gov. Froilan Tenorio (R-Northern Marianas Islands)
Grand Jury probe, ties to Abramoff.

Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC)
Probed for ownership of shady Russian bank whose other major investor is a former KGB general. Recipient of contributions from Abramoff.

Hayes Martin, Treasurer of Charles Taylor's congressional campaign (R-NC)
Indicted, fraud and money laundering.

Gov. Bob Taft (R-OH)
Misuse of state funds/ethics violations. Convicted, four first degree misdemeanors, pleaded no contest (admission of guilt). $4000 fine and public apology.Two Federal Grand Juries, one state Grand Jury still investigating Taft.

Thomas Noe, Bush-Cheney 04 campaign chair, NW Ohio; Turnpike Commissioner; University Regent (R-OH)
Misuse of state funds for rare coin fund. Indicted by Federal grand jury, arrested in Florida.

Bernadette Noe, Thomas Noe’s wife, Chairman of Lucas County GOP; Chairman of Lucas Co. Board of Elections (R-OH)
Misuse of state funds.

Brian Hicks, Chief of Staff to Gov. Bob Taft, member Ohio University Board of Trustees (R-OH)
Convicted for an ethics violation dealing with his stay at Tom Noe's home in Florida.

Cherie Carroll, Chief of Staff Executive Secretary to Gov. Bob Taft (R-OH)
Convicted for accepting the payment of meals at "fine dining establishments" valued at over $500 from Tom Noe while he was doing business with Ohio.

Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH)
Being probed for involvement with Abramoff, Kidan, and DeLay, Indian casino money laundering. Recipient of contributions from Abramoff and Kidan. Indictment may be imminent.

Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH)
Probe of financial ties to Games, Inc., and proposal to put Ohio State Lottery on the Internet. Received contributions from DeLay’s ARMPAC, linked to Abramoff.

Douglas Moormann, Gov. Taft's Executive Assistant for Business and Industry (R-OH)
Under criminal investigation for accepting loan from Noe.

State Rep. Dan Doyle (R-OR)
Convicted for misuse of campaign funds.

Rep. Don Sherwood (R-PA)
Investigated by DC police for assaulting and choking a 29-year old Maryland woman. Sherwood, who is married and campaigned for office on "family values", also has been sued by the woman, who claims he attacked and choked her in their “love nest.” Sherwood defended himself by stating that he wasn't trying to choke her - he was just trying to give her a “back rub”.

Mike Battles, House candidate in 2002 (R-RI)
Firm, Custer Battles, disbarred from Iraq contracts following allegations of overcharging and money laundering.

Vincent Cianci, Mayor of Providence (R-RI)
Convicted in 2002 and sentenced to 5 years in prison for conspiracy related to Federal charges of racketeering, extortion, witness tampering, and mail fraud. Also resigned from office in 1984 after being convicted of assaulting a man with a lit cigarette, an ashtray and a fireplace log.

Rep. Bill Janklow (R-SD)
Convicted of second degree manslaughter and imprisoned for running a stop sign at a rural intersection near Trent, SD and hitting motorcyclist Randolph E. Scott, killing him. Recipient of contributions from Abramoff.

Sen. Bill Frist, Senate Majority Leader (R-TN)
Under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for insider trading on his Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) stock

Rep. Tom DeLay, House Majority Leader (R-TX)
Probed for campaign finance fraud, ties to Abramoff/Kidan, Saipan sweat shops. Grand Jury, Travis County prosecutor, and House Ethics Committee probing DeLay. Indicted by Travis County District Attorney for 1 count of criminal conspiracy and 2 counts of money laundering. Arrested and booked at Harris County jail October 20, 2005. Recipient of contributions from Abramoff.

Jim Ellis, Director Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC) PAC (R-TX)
Tied to DeLay and Abramoff, indicted.

John Colyandro, Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), DeLay associate (R-TX)

Warren RoBold, Lobbyist and DeLay associate (R-TX)

State House Speaker Tom Craddick (R-TX)
Probed for campaign violations involving TRMPAC and DeLay.

State Rep. Todd Baxter (R-TX)
Investigated for receiving ARMPAC and TRMPAC money from Republican National Committee. To resign from office.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)
Recipient of $10,000 from ARMPAC in 2003. Arrested for DWI in South Dakota.

Spokane Mayor Jim West (R-WA)
Under Federal and state investigation for abusing his office to obtain sexual favors and soliciting sex over the Internet from underage males.


Jack Abramoff, GOP lobbyist Adam Kidan, DC Dial-a-Mattress franchise in DC and Abramoff associate
Indicted for wire fraud, conspiracy Indicted, wire fraud, conspiracy.

Michael Scanlon, former chief of staff to Tom DeLay
Being probed for involvement in Indian casino scandal with Abramoff, Kidan, and DeLay. Indicted Nov. 18, 2005 for conspiracy to defraud Indian tribes. Pleaded guilty Nov. 21.

Steve Rosen, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)
Indicted for criminal conspiracy involving classified national security information.

Keith Weismann, AIPAC
Indicted for criminal conspiracy involving classified national security information.

Larry Franklin, Colonel, USAF Reserves, Dept. of Defense
Indicted for criminal conspiracy involving classified national security information.

Will The Government Lose The Padilla Precedent?

The U.S. Court of Appeals that ruled in the government's favor in the Jose Padilla enemy combatant case is not impressed that the government lawyers who had told them that he was a threat to society who could return to the battlefield and required military detention rather than a civilian jail have now decided that a civilian jail is just fine, shortly after winning.

A federal appeals court on Wednesday delayed the transfer to civilian jail from a Navy brig of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen charged by the government last week after being held by the military for more than three years as a suspected enemy combatant.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, ordered the government to file briefs explaining the request for Padilla's transfer out of military custody into the charge of law enforcement officials in Florida, where he was charged.

The panel said the government must explain why it used different facts to justify Padilla's military detention from those included in last week's indictment that charged Padilla with conspiracy to murder and aiding terrorists abroad.

The panel also asked whether its September 9, 2005, opinion -- which ruled the government had a right to hold Padilla as an enemy combatant without being charged -- should be voided as a result of the request for transfer and the different facts now being presented. . . . .

The appeals court panel said the government had to file a brief explaining the changes in how it was handling Padilla by December 9. Padilla's lawyers were given until December 16 to file their brief with the court.

TABOR and the Courts

Colorado Luis has some wise words on the hidden costs of severe TABOR induced budget cuts in Colorado's court system to which I have added some anecdotes of my own in the comment section.

Medical Resident Hours

There is some fine commentary on the long hours worked by medical residents (which harms patients) here.

The 120 hour a week limit and 36 hour shifts which used to be the norm have been reduced to 80 hours a week and 24 hour shifts (88 and 30 hours, respectively, in certain cases). The "romance" of the long hours (and not at all "rational") is explained.

The Massachusetts Health Care Plan

Massachusetts is considering a mandatory health insurance plan quite similar to one I've proposed in the past.

Under the Massachusetts plan, employers with ten or more employees would have to provide health insurance or pay a tax in lieu of that amount. The unique twist is that everyone else might be required to buy health insurance for themselves (with a subsidy available for lower income people).

As one supporter of the plan makes in the story, a single payer plan would be nice, but it isn't politically viable right now, but universal coverage is more important.

29 November 2005

Washington State Taxes.

Prior to the 2005 election, the state legislature in Washington increased gas taxes in the state to pay for roads. The voters in the November 2005 election backed their elected officials decision. Now, the state legislature has reinstated a state estate tax, similar in many respects to the federal system.

Estate tax repeal advocates thought they would secure uniformity and end the estate tax by repealing the federal version. But, their move to end the state tax credit under the federal estate tax, which had given states a cut of the federal estate tax, thereby establishing an nearly uniform national estate tax syste, has caused states to enact non-uniform estate taxes to make up for the lost revenues (they have to balance their budgets every year, unlike the federal government). As a result, state estate taxes, like Washington State's, now take a bigger bite than they used to, and there are a great many varied state estate taxes, greatly increasing planning complexity, both for retirees thinking about where they would like to retire and for professionals trying to understand the estate tax in their own state (which doesn't receive the careful professional scrutiny that federal taxes do).

Coal Kills.

Forget air pollution. Forget water contamination. Coal mining kills more than 5,000 people a year in China alone, and more elsewhere.

Anxious relatives demanded to be allowed into a coal mine today after an explosion killed at least 134 miners and left 15 others missing, adding to a soaring death toll in China's mines despite a safety crackdown.

The blast in the Dongfeng Coal Mine prompted national leaders to demand stricter enforcement of safety rules in China's mining industry, by far the world's deadliest, with more than 5,000 fatalities a year in fires, floods and other accidents.

If nuclear power were anywhere close to being as dangerous as coal mining, there wouldn't be a single nuclear power plant in the United States.

Fragile I-70

This Thanksgiving, I-70 was closed from the Denver suburbs to the Eastern boundary of Colorado due to visibility impairing snow storms. This is a common occurrance. It has already happened, at least, one other time this year, and it will likely happen again. I-70 through the mountains is also often closed for rockslides and snow.

Considering that I-70 is the main road connecting the East to the West across the continental divided, without deteuring far to the North or South, this is a big deal. If the United States government ever grows truly disfunctional, I-70 in Colorado will probably be one of the very first crucial links in our national highway system to fail.

The High Cost of Patents.

The United States Supreme Court is about to examine the issue, but the rule in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which has exclusive jurisdiction over most patent appeals is that when a patent violation is found that further use of the patent must be forbidden by an injuction.

This makes lots of sense until you see the rule in action, on the verge of doing things like turning out the lights on eBay, or shutting down the Blackberry network nationwide, because one small piece of the respective systems was found to be based on infringing software. Killing the goose that lays the golden egg simply doesn't make sense.

In many similar situations under the law, the normal rule is to allow operations to continue on a profitable basis to be shared by whoever turned out to be entitled to them. But, anti-common sense patent rules may not allow for this kind of approach, allowing holders of minor pieces of the intellectual property puzzle to get more than their fair share of the profits with a threat to shut the entire operation down, something typically only done in the rare cases where the patented idea was used in a profitable operation. Meanwhile, the patent holder bears none of the losses of the many enterprises where the patent is used without permission that fail.

I used to do a little work confirming title to property upon which oil drilling was planned. This is what oil and gas lawyers make big bucks doing. But, oil and gas leaseholders, at least, know that all of their records will be contained in a single office in a single county, with a well established indexing system. Ideas, in contrast, aren't amenable to need legal descriptions. They also come out of nowhere, newly created, so another person with a new idea can't simply ask if they stole the idea from someone or made it up themselves. Even an original idea that someone else had first and patented, is infringing. And so, assuring a right to invent something under current law is much more perilous. If you build a complex system involving hundreds or thousands of component ideas, it is very likely that some of the ideas may be patented and evade a search directly at locating potentially infringing ideas.

28 November 2005


While I am fortunate to not have the acute peanut allergy suffered by 1.5 million Americans, which causes 50-100 deaths per year (even a kiss exposing an allergic person to peanuts can be deadly), I do have a newfound sympathy for that kind of condition, as I just discovered the entirely unpleasant experience that is an allergy to a common antibiotic.

I've had other allegies before of the sneeze and wheeze variety, but nothing so intense (don't worry, I'm not at need to go to a doctor immediately stage, am scheduled to see one in the very near future, and will be one the mend soon now that the problem has been identified). Yuck! This is the main reason that there have been so few posts today. It is hard to type when you itch like hell.

Push Hard Push Fast

The guidelines for administering CPR are being simplified and changed.

[T]he American Heart Association now urges people to give 30 compressions -- instead of 15 -- for every two rescue breaths. . . . the advice is the same for all ages -- 30 compressions -- and you don't have to stop to check for improvement. What's important is to keep the blood flowing. . . .

More than 300,000 Americans die from it each year. About 75 percent to 80 percent of all cardiac arrests outside a hospital happen at home, and effective CPR can double a victim's chance of survival.

"The most common reason many people die from cardiac arrest is no one nearby knows CPR . . . For the bystander that witnesses a collapse, the main danger is inaction."

More than 9 out of 10 cardiac arrest victims die before they get to the hospital, the heart association estimates.

27 November 2005

Musical Illusion

They have found a way to convert an organ playing in Finney Hall at Oberlin College (a space and instrument with which I am intimately familiar) and make it sound as if it were played in Chartres Cathedral in France.

Does Our Economy Need Poverty?

One of the deep underlying economic issues at the root of the debate over whether it can work for San Francisco to mandate health insurance, over whether it makes sense to require a "living wage" rather than the record low minimum wage we have now, and whether the American economy is equipped to handle globalization, and a whole host of other economic policy debates, is whether our economy needs poverty to survive. Put in the affirmative, the question is whether it is possible to have a sustainable high wage economy (i.e. one not propped up by low wages elsewhere).

A big part of this question is the exploitation v. indifference issue. In an exploitation scenario, which comes close to the Marxist idea, the rich are wealthy because they exploit and take economic fruits from, the poor. In an indifference scenario, large pockets of poverty don't receive anything much from the rich, but the rich receive very little from the poor either.

Significant parts of the poverty we see in the world today more nearly flow from indifference than exploitation. For example, with the exception of mining for precious metals, uranium and oil, very little American wealth derives from the labors of the poor in Africa. Certainly, corporate America does little to make life in Africa better -- it is selfish both in preserving its wealth for itself and in guarding precious intellectual property, like drug patents. But, it also doesn't derive much profit from Africa.

In the same way, corporate America isn't exploiting, so much as being indifferent to the inner city ghettos that their downtown office towers loom over. It doesn't make its money from the ghettos workers or its consumers in any significant amount, even though it rarely steps up to the plate with sufficient force to make life there better.

This matters because it implies that where poverty is caused by corporate indifference, rather than exploitation, that the rest of the economy will not be harmed, indeed, it will be helped, if a way to end that poverty can be found. That kind of poverty is not something our economy needs, it is something that arises through some combination of gap in the web of social responsibility (keep in mind that not working alone is no justification for poverty, most Americans, including children, the elderly and homemakers do not hold a paid job of any kind), and a failure to find high productivity activities for the people who are trapped in enclaves of poverty to engage in.

In contrast, at both the international and domestic level, the working poor may very well be exploited, in the sense that the profits from their efforts may go to benefitting others when different social arrangements could give them a bigger piece of the pie. Internationally, the biggest concern involves unsafe, unenvironmentally unsound factories in places from Mexico to China to Vietnam that pay very low wages to their workers compared to those paid in the places where the goods produced are ultimately used. Domestically, the big concerns are in the low wage service sector (in areas like child care, janitorial work, fast food work and retail sales) and in construction and agriculture, where undocumented immigrants are often paid under the table and receive substandard wages (while driving down wages in those industries generally).

How important quantitatively those forces are to the economy is unclear. What would a society where chicken factory workers and burger flippers made $12 an hour plus health insurance look like? Clearly, consumption would be more expensive, but how much of an impact would it have on the average family budget?

Also, exploitation is a sensitive word. Many of the people doing that work feel that they receive an honest wage for honest work and get by well enough, if modestly. From a quality of life perspective, the Chinese factory worker or phone bank worker in India is much better off than the subsistence farmer in Niger who is entirely ignored by the outside world. And, likewise, many undocumented workers cleaning rooms in Aspen or doing construction work in Washington Park would be inclined to say that they have a better life than single parents without work living in public housing in Five Points or Lincoln Park, in Denver. Being "exploited" is not necessarily worse than being ignored by and apart from the larger world economy.

Similarly, there is real room for debate over whether, in the absence of offshoring and immigration (legal and illegal alike), those jobs would be filled by the people in the United States who are poor now. Would our ghettos be thriving working class neighborhoods instead? In a place like Flint, Michigan, one is pretty tempted to say yes. But, in much of the United States, that is a hard call to make.

The question won't be answered in this post, but I do think that it is the right question to be asking. Also, it is worth noting that it is not a question that can necessarily be answered from first principles of economic theory. It isn't a question about how markets in general work. It is a question of what is doing on within those markets empirically. But, in the absence of an answer, it is hard to make good policy, so it deserves more attention.

Hunting Trends

Guns are out, spears are in.

The Very Long Journey

For a couple of decades, one of the defining themes in science fiction has been the post-apocalyptic world. Recent incarnations include the movie series based on the video game "Resident Evil", and the movie "Serenity", based on the Firefly TV series, but from "Mad Max" to "Judge Dread" to "The Postman" to "The Handmaid's Tale" to "The Matrix" trilogy, to "On The Beach" and on and on and on, it has been a recurring theme. A good part of that has been motivated by the emergence of weapons of mass destruction. And stories like these have helped focus our collective consciousness on preventing these tragedies. But, I think that it is about time for science fiction, hard science fiction anyway, to consider another major theme, which I call the Very Long Journey.

Real interstellar travel, when it happens, if ever, is going to be a very slow affair. There are basically two ways to approach it. Either put everyone in suspended animation, or make the trip multigenerational. The appeal of the latter approach is that it lets us explore one of the major developing philosophical debates our society is facing right now -- the clash between traditional free market oriented approaches to policy making and communitarian thinking.

Free market economics is in its essence transactional and open system oriented. It cares about individual purchases or decisions, sometimes lots of them, but stuggles at a philosophical level to even have a sense of the common good. The common good is no more than trying to increase average happiness. There is no room to think about the aspirations of a community, per se. Free market economics looks at the world like a landlord evicting a tenant does. "My job is to make sure that this relationship is fair to me, what happens after the eviction is over isn't my responsibility." Allowing people to be thrown away by their employers, by their landlords, by the banks that hold their mortgages, by parents who no longer want to deal with their children's problems now that they are adults, by a society that no longer wants to deal with someone who won't obey the law or for some reason stops looking for work, is a standard free market system solution.

But, from a communitarian view, an eviction isn't simply about relieving the landlord of a tenant who hogs the landlord's resource without paying for it. It recognizes that the tenant has to live somewhere and that society has to find some place for everyone to live, even if the status quo must be addressed because it isn't fair to the landlord. The person who is laid off needs to find work somewhere else Somebody has to deal with everyone's problems. The free market mostly puts that responsibility on the people who are victims of social change. But, leaving those individuals to simply fend for themselves only works when disappearing opportunities are closely matched with new ones.

Indeed, the entire contract law system, as well as our system of corporate law, is based on the idea that everyone is in the black, which in turn makes transactional approachs possible. If people refuse to pay their debts because they are unjustifably stubborn, rather than because they can't afford to pay, our system of contract lawsuits, where creditors are paid on a first come, first paid basis out of the debtor's assets works fine, because everyone will get paid in the end. Likewise, excluding a corporation's creditors from a say in decision making in the entity in which they have invested works fine when there are enough assets to pay those creditors in full, and allowing a corporation to issue new stock without consulting existing shareholders works fine when the new shareholders pay a fair market price for their new shares, increasing the size of the pie in direct proportion to the amount of stake they have after the new shares are issued.

But, when individuals and entities encounter scarcity, because someone has more debts than assets, or when a building project goes bad and mechanic's lien holders must fight over the value left in the partially completed project to get paid, the law goes from a transactional approach to a wholistic one. These proceedings go beyond the scope of traditional free market economic theory, where there is a zero sum game. In a zero sum game fairness requires a centralized allocation of the remaining resources according to well defined rules and negotiation, and requires involving far more people in decision making than one sees in a transactional system.

A space ship bound to colonize a distant world, a century away perhaps, in contrast, is the classic closed system, as is the colony formed when they arrive. Equipping the next generation to be able to take care of itself is a matter of life of death, and people are scarce. If it incarcerates someone, for example, that person's efforts are denied to the community. Lost skills can't be replaced, so education is crucial. Immigration, emmigration and trade can't buffer and mitigate the community's failings. The community must live sustainably. The community has needs as a whole to which individual may have a duty to put in front of their own needs and desires. If only a handful of people in the community are qualified to be neurosurgeons, someone must step up to the plate to do it, even if none of them particularly wants to do so, or the intellectual resource will be lost. Even if no one wants to grow the community's food, the task needs to be done. The degree to which we impact each other's lives is far more stark in this context than it is on spaceship Earth, even though it is just as real in our own world if you think big enough.

On one hand, this may call for a certain degree of compulsion, something which is the anethema of a free market system. The early American colonies had to adopt a no work, no eat system, because they didn't have resources to support people who didn't contribute. On the other hand, this calls for a greater recognition of the need to be compassionate towards and rehabilitate people. If someone's job is obsolete, you can't simply jettison them into space because they can no longer justify taking up space. If the only neurosurgeon in the community gets in a fight an breaks someone's arm, imprisoning him as punishment could cost all of his patients their lives, but simply ignoring the infraction could lead to anarchy.

Earth is going to start looking more and more like the space ship. Western economies based on cheap goods made possible with cheap foreign labor (through outsourcing and the exploitation of immigrant labor drawn from poor countries) can last only until the other countries develop and their own labor costs rise as a result. Rising demand and decreasing supplies of fossil fuels are going to require us to be far more parsimonious in how we use energy to meet our needs.

Trade won't end. But, trade between equals will replace trade cross the barriers between rich countries and poor ones. Mexico used to see itself as a low cost alternative to expensive American labor, but now, is increasingly looking over its shoulder at China. The Chinese standard of living is growing so fast, that China's supply of cheap labor will soon dwindle, sending international capitalists to places like Africa and New Guinea to build their next round of sweatshops to provide cheap labor for the rest of the world. But, that itself will only last so long. Poor countries inherently develop more rapidly than wealthy countries in the long run, because poor countries can develop simply by copying proven methods for being more productive, while developed nations must invent new ones, many of which fail (as events like the Dot.com bust remind us).

Scientific advances won't end either, but that doesn't mean that technological advances can continue unabated indefinately at the same pace. Computer technology isn't that far away from natural limits imposed by fundamental physical laws of the universe. Decoding the human genome is a massive undertaking, but it is also a one time deal. Once you have mastered it, you've completed that project. The future of science may not consist of simply refining the final digits of physical constants, as they thought at the end of the 19th century, but our understanding of the universe is sufficiently complete that we can be pretty confident that freshman physics and chemistry students are going to be studying pretty much the same stuff in 2105 as they are now, even if the texts that the seniors and graduate students are working with, while recognizable, are significantly different.

Over the course of the 21st century, our society is going to have little choice but to slowly shift from one focused on using scientific advances, population growth, cheap labor and cheap energy to fuel growth, to one focused on creating a sustainable society in a world where energy is more scarce, the physical world is well understood, the world population is stable, and almost everyone's labor has considerable value. This doesn't mean that we are looking at an egalitarian future. If anything, the tendency in stable societies is for rigid aristocracies to emerge. But, it does mean that the sloppy carelessness about the consequences of our actions that our current society built on excess makes possible will have to be replaced by a more wholistic approach that acts delicately to maintain a fragile societal balance in a time when our economy has far less slack in it.

Koreans Freaked Over Foreign Food.

Koreans in South Korea, like anyone else, have anxieties. Some are common place. Crime and old age, for example. But, it is rare that a concern not on the list of the usual suspects becomes a near universal concern in a country. Right now, in South Korea, that fear is the fear of imported foods.

The figures come from a June survey of 33,000 households released on Friday by the National Statistical Office. . . .

Food safety was another major concern, with clear differences in degree between domestically produced and imported food. Some 50.1 percent said they thought domestically-cultivated agricultural products are contaminated with pesticide, but that already high percentage was dwarfed by the 87.8 percent who worried about imported products. Given that the survey was conducted before parasite eggs were found in Chinese kimchi, the figure is now probably even higher.

Some of this may be bird flu driven, given that South Korea is so close to the epicenter of the epidemic in China. Whatever the reason, it bears note and further examination.

A larger sample in the same survey also looked at attitudes towards the handicapped.

On the question regarding handicapped people, 89.1 percent of the respondents answered that they did not discriminate against the handicapped. However, 74.6 percent of the same pool answered that other people besides them discriminated against the handicapped.

A total of 71 percent of the handicapped that answered the survey said that society discriminated against them.

My own limited experiences with Korean culture indicate that this is a real problem. The sense that a disability is a source of shame, rather than a fact of life, is intense.

Kudos to THS

I went to Talawanda High School, and now, that high school is earning notice for adding a course of geometry and algebra applications, designed to make math relevant and build mathematical intuition.

Another Ghost.

My Denver is full of ghosts. The woman shot dead in the parking lot of the Capital Hill Wild Oats. Seho Park in the parking lot of the Korean grocery store. The man whose family I represented in a wrongful death action after a complex traffic accident sent him plunging into the Platte River near Alameda Street. The woman murdered in Observatory Park. Frank Ortega in the Denver Jail.

It isn't that I believe that any of them have a physical or metaphysical presence in the places where they died. Almost none of the places bear even the slightest trace of what happened there. But, they exist in my memories, in my sense of those places, as I move about Denver every day. Now, there is another.

Denver police are investigating the death of a man found Friday floating in the Platte River below the West Alameda Avenue bridge. . . .

While police would not reveal why they suspect foul play, one man who saw the body pulled from the river said the man's nose and face appeared to have been smashed. . . .The body was tentatively identified as that of a 65-year-old man . . . a worker at the Valverde Yacht Club bar said he recognized the man as a homeless person who had lived in a riverside encampment.

Most people never even hear these stories. This one rated a handful of sentences, buried deep in one paper and isn't even mentioned in the Denver Post. But, I read the paper more or less daily, and for whatever reason, they stick with me. Not all of them, but an occassional one. This one impacted me because that same spot already had one of my mental ghosts in residence and because it concerned a homeless man, a group of people who have been in my thoughts lately.

Denver is a big enough place that the darker parts of its character can be overlooked if you don't pay attention to them. This doesn't mean that Denver doesn't have a darker side. It has simply faded away in the monotony of the never ending tragedies.

26 November 2005

Will An Ambulance Be There For You?

The demise of Colorado's no fault auto insurance is killing Colorado's emergency medical system.

Statewide, 43 percent of ambulance services for vehicle crashes went unpaid in 2004, a 120 percent increase from 2001[.] . . In the same period, coverage of medical costs by auto insurance dropped 40 percent at hospitals in the state. Those hospitals estimate they lost $81 million in revenue as a result[.]

When you stop paying for services, they go away. Somehow, Republicans in Colorado don't understand that fact. They think you can eliminate insurance coverage for emergency medical care and slash government spending (as a failure to pass Referendum C would have implied) and things won't go to pot. It doesn't work that way.

Mental Illness and Guns.

How do you keep mentally ill people from buying guns without compromising their privacy, when privacy is key to causing them to seek help in the first place? And while we are at it, what about people in the process of getting divorces who already have guns? On one hand, there are people out there who are ticking timb bombs. On the other, the process of getting the word out faces real practical difficulties. These difficulties are one of the factors that make more general approaches to gun control make more sense. Open access to guns is a problem when you know for a fact that people who shouldn't have them can get them.

Digital Scrapbooks.

Digital scrapbooks are the latest trend, following fast on the heels of the Dolling trend, and requiring somewhat less technological savy. Non-digital scrapbooking has been the main cause of my own family's amibilance about converting from a film camera to a digital one, we now use both. We'll see if it catches on in our house. There is something to be said for getting away from a screen now and then.

Universal Health Care From The Grass Roots.

San Francisco is considering a universal health care mandate, which is being vigorously debated in the comments of this blog.

Buy Nothing Day.

Dex has some worthwhile observations about the ultimately futile notion of making the day after Thanksgiving "Buy Nothing Day.", which he presents in the context of Boulder's never ending existential struggle between independent authenticity and wealth driven pretension. (Although I won't join his understated suggested that being a tax protestor is a better alternative to bring about social change).

White Oleander

The movie White Oleander, based on a book that my wife has read twice (the book has a title and cover that draw interest well), was on the video menu in our house this evening. The nutshell version: Astrid's single mother kills her latest boyfriend, sending Astrid into a whorlwind of mostly bad foster care experiences puntuated by visits to her mom in a maximum security prison.

The movie could have chosen to be about many things. For example, it could have been about sex. But, it chose to make that a minor sideshow. It could have been about the horrors of foster care life - but the movie chose to omit one of the two most horrid foster care episodes in the book and makes little effort to place blame for what goes wrong. It could have been about flaws in the criminal justice system. But, it wasn't. It would have been easy to make a book about a ruined girl, but the tragedies in her life, from beginning to end, while helping form her, do not truly maim her. The optimism of youth prevails over crutches she could blame for defeat.

What the movie did choose to delve into a length were beauty, love and identity. This was plenty.

Children's books spend a lot of time trying to tell them that beauty doesn't matter and that what is inside is all that counts. White Oleander begs to differ, and Michelle Pfiefer and Rene Zellwiger certainly help illustrate the point. Astrid is beautiful and it transforms her life. Every foster home we see epitomizes different visions of beauty: the view of a white trash ex-stripper, the view of Los Angeles glitterati, the view of a tough girl in a juvenile institution, a goth view. Astrid starts the story ripening into her beauty, drawing unwelcome attention at times, fostering jealousy, and setting her apart.

She always sees herself as an artist, and her juvenile hall boyfriend is one, with his own voice, as well. Seeing oneself as an artist is a transformative thing. One of my daughter's friend in elementary school is the daughter of artists and sees herself as one herself, and it defines the girl's existence. It gives her purpose and focus and a sense of self-worth. It isn't hard to see how it could do the same for Astrid.

As an artist, beauty is her pallette. She may not feel entitled to decide what breakfast cereal to eat, but she has no qualms about being an arbiter of who is and who is not an artist. She is continually reinventing her own image, as a mirror of those around her, as she slides from role to role to role. The story opens with her mother pushing her to understand why she finds a piece of art beautiful, and closes with an evaluation of her own life so far expressed in her art.

The foil of the mother against the loves in her daughter's life is instructive too. We don't believe the mother what she claims that loneliness is life's natural state, and that we should fear latching onto others because we want kindness, despite the endless betrays and broken relationships that play out before her. The story deglamorizes love, recognizing that we need it and that it changes lives, while also recognizing that it is not happily ever after and that platonic loves can be as powerful as the steamer kind.

Of course, I would be remiss without mentioning the religious subplot in Astrid's developing identity. Astrid's mother is an atheist or something close, and wants her daughter to follow in her footsteps. Her words in support of this are ones I can agree with, although nothing eats into your credibility like offering your words from a vistor's yard in a maximum security prison where you are serving time for murder. The mother's scorn is as acute for the superstitious New Age yuppie foster mother, who never the less does Astrid a lot of good, as it is for the Assembly of God hypocrite ex-stripper that has Astrid baptized, who does Astrid a great deal of harm (although even in this there is some good). And, the mother's scorn is poetically justified. Both women turn out to be deeply flawed. Little wonder then, that Astrid scorns the next good church going couple that comes along for an impropriately dressed woman tripping over her high heels. All the nightmares of an atheist parent play out here -- your own advice discredited, and your child is immersed in every other person's nonsense. But, neither the mother's controlling nature nor the foster parents follies ultimately seem to take hold. The daughter grows up to be some semblence of her mother's dreams even if it takes the mother a while to come to terms with that fact.

This story doesn't shy from class as well, and being a foster kid leaves your class maleable, but fundamentally as far down as you can go. Astrid's boyfriend makes the point all to well when he notes that the worst punishment that can be inflicted upon them is to send them where they already are now. Most of us live our lives with a single upbringing. Astrid has half a dozen mothers who come from entirely different places.

Perhaps it is Astrid's constant stark need to define herself as she must be infinitely adaptable, that helps form her character. Most of us struggle to some extent with who we are because, while we are rooted, with don't have well defined choices to make.

What are we left with when it is all over? The Hollywood ending is nice, particularly after such tragic fare. And, it isn't easy to make a big movie with nothing that couldn't be true, with nothing so sensational that it wouldn't escape from the inner pages of the B section in the newspaper. The versimilitude is impressive. Ultimately, we leave Astrid not with an identity, so much as a method or an attitude. She has little choice, if she is to maintain some sense of santity, to take the traumas of her life in stride, matter of factly and to take life as it is dealt her, not without an agenda of her own, not without some sense of what can be hers, but as facts instead of ultimate defining truths.

All of the music in the movie came from the rock genre, but her take on life is closer to country music. The airwaves have a crossover hit, "You'll Think of Me," by Keith Urban right now with the memorable line, "take your cat and leave my sweater" told from the perspective of a man whose relationship has ended and is moving on with his life. This is how Astrid lives. She's gotten good at moving on. And, perhaps that is the take home message of White Oleander. We need to accept where we are in our lives as facts and move on, looking forward, living day by day and making the best of what we face in life.

25 November 2005

Showing Your ID on the Bus.

Facts: A woman whose final destination is not a federal facility is riding an RTD bus in Lakewood, that happens to make a stop in the federal center in Lakewood. She is not seeking to leave the bus. She is ordered to show ID without any particularlized suspicion and arrested for not doing so. Has she committed a crime?

The story was picked up on Daily Kos, and she is being represented by the ACLU in the case. A usual, I agree with the FBI. Riding a city bus to a non-federal destination does not justify a suspicionless demand for ID.

Drunk Driving Still Kills.

You know that drunk driving kills. Occassionally, however, a dose of graphic detail serves as a good reminder. This time, a drunk driver heading into the mountains near Red Rocks killed a grandmother, and left another in the hospital for a long time.

Have a designated driver who really doesn't drink. Take your friend's keys. Do what I have done once, and rudely stay overnight without warning at the party you promised to drive home from, because you are too drunk to drive safely home. Call a cab, it is a lot cheaper than a DUI ticket. Remember that the legal limit is 0.08 BAC, not 0.10 BAC as it was a few years ago. If you don't know how many drinks it takes for someone of your weight to get to 0.08, you shouldn't be driving. For most women, anything more than two drinks is too much. For most men, anything more than four drinks is too much. If you are small, generally speaking, that means one drink for women and two or three for men. Coffee plus booze does not equal safe to drive.

Have a happy, but safe, holiday.

Thank Yous To Google and Blogger and Others

This site would not be possible without Blogger, which makes its computer resources available for free to host it (while still retaining for profit status, I might add). It also provides a significant share of the traffic through its random next blog function. Google is the other single biggest source of traffic at this site, providing 12.7% of the traffic on this site and viewers who are typically actually interested in what they find here. This site was also today, ranked first in the world for the search term "religion rant". So, that deserves its own thank you.

I also thank the couple of dozen blogs and websites that have linked to this site (you know who you are), and my hearty core group of regularly readers (I know who many of you are) and regular commenters (even the conservative one from the left coast).

I thank my dad for providing the laptop from which most of the posts on this blog are made as an early birthday present this year, particularly considering that he isn't nearly as big of a Democratic party donor as Jared Polis, who provided Talk Left with her laptop. And my wife, for starting to learn to tolerate my blogging habit.

And, finally, I thank the blogs, nonprofits and mainstream media sources to whom I link, without which this site would not be possible (as well as the fair use privilege in the copyright laws, which is central to the existence of this site).

Charitable Deduction Revisited.

I've mentioned growing doubts about the charitable deduction before at this site. If you want facts and figures, the Tax Profs Blog has a digest of a report from the Tax Foundation summing up the concerns. The summary for those who don't have time to read it:

From the perspective of economic efficiency, it turns out it's hard to justify the current size and scope of the federal charitable deduction. Most 501(c)(3) public charities now benefiting from the deduction are neither charitable, in the sense of relying mostly on altruistic gifts, nor are providers of what economists call "public goods." . . . . the charitable deduction's benefits are highly regressive [and] most 501(c)(3)s actually rely mostly on program revenues—e.g., tuition from college students or admission fees at art galleries—and government grants for funding, casting doubt on the notion that they wouldn't be privately provided in the absence of a federal tax subsidy for them[.]

Robert Ingersoll On Thanksgiving.

Julie O. at They Get Letters have some appropriate thankful thoughts from Robert Ingersoll. Go read them.

I've Heard It All Before.

The musical "Shenandoah" opened in January of 1975 (it was based on the 1965 Jimmy Stewart movie), more than thirty years ago. The subject was the Civil War. The lyrics from one of its songs, sung by the widowed West Virginia patriarch who is the protagonist of the musical, entitled "I've Heard It All Before", are below:

Stand and show your colors. Let's all go to war. Lord will surely bless us. I've heard it all before. I've heard it all a hundred times. I've heard it all before.

They always got a holy cause to march you off to war. Tyranny or justice, anarchy or law. We must defend our honor. I've heard it all before. I've heard it all a hundred times. I've heard it all before.

They always got a holy cause that's worth the dyin' for. Someone writes a slogan, raises up a flag. Someone finds an enemy to blame. The trumpet sounds the call to arms to leave the cities and the farms. And always, the ending is the same, the same, the same, the same.

The dream has turned to ashes, the wheat has turned to straw. And someone asks the question: "What's the dyin' for?" The living can't remember, the dead no longer care. But next time it won't happen. Upon my soul I swear. I've heard it all a hundred times. I've heard it all before.

Don't tell me "It's different now." I've heard it all, I've hard it all, I've heard it all before.

Alito and CAP.

One more reason to oppose Judge Alito, who is George W. Bush's nominee to replace Justice O'Connor on the United States Supreme Court is that he was a member of Concerned Alumni of Princeton (formed the year he graduated in 1972) and bragged about it in an 1985 resume. What kind of organization was this?

In a 1973 article in Prospect, a magazine CAP published, Shelby Cullom Davis, one of its founders, harked back to the days when a gathering of Princeton alumni consisted of "a body of men, relatively homogeneous in interests and backgrounds." Lamented Cullom Davis: "I cannot envisage a similar happening in the future with an undergraduate student population of approximately 40% women and minorities, such as the Administration has proposed." Another article published that same year bemoaned the fact that "the makeup of the Princeton student body has changed drastically for the worse" in recent years--Princeton had begun admitting women in 1969--and wondered aloud what might happen if the university adopted a "sex-blind" policy "removing limits on the number of women." In an unsuccessful effort to forestall this frightening development, the executive committee of CAP published a statement in December 1973 that affirmed unequivocally, "Concerned Alumni of Princeton opposes adoption of a sex-blind admission policy."

Judge Alito is an immoral man who does not belong on the United States Supreme Court.

Hat tip to T. Rex's Guide to Life (who also notes on the continuing topic of the sea change in politics in the United States right now that "Democrats now have a ten-seat advantage over Republicans for state legislative seats nationally controlling 3,662 state legislative seats to 3,652 for Republicans.").

Giving Thanks.

I would have written this post yesterday but, I fell asleep in a "food coma" yesterday afternoon and didn't wake up until the next late the next morning. Our delicious family feast at home featured a fresh young turkey (cooked by me, the rest, except for the potatoes, was prepared by my wife), a ham (a la crockpot), mashed potatoes (one of the less inspired efforts in my cooking career), a rice stuffing, acorn squash, green beans, a fancy fresh cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and a sweet apple and pear stew, complimented by glasses of Beaujolais (we had planned on a Riesling, but needed the Beaujolais to cook the sides and having two bottles of wine and a bottle of port all open on the same day offends our neo-depression sensibilities). Needless to say, it was more than enough for a family of four. I killed one of our household appliances in the process, but that is the price one must pay for great rewards, I suppose. (Less charitably, one could view it as a stupidity tax, not unlike the lottery). Delightful sequels, like poached pears, await in the coming days, as we couldn't fit all of our best options into one day. (Incidentally, if you are into TV and movie sequels, you'll like this site).

I'm going to take this space not actually to review those things for which I am thankful, although there are many, but to look at the concept of giving thanks itself.

Giving thanks is a concept that doesn't translate easily from the religious world to the secular one, and even when you use the same word, you often are not really saying the same thing.

In a religious worldview, the idea of Thanksgiving flows naturally. You owe everything you have, all of your good fortunes to God or to gods. Your well being is ultimately at the grace (another word that doesn't translate well to the secular world) of God. When someone in this world does something that benefits you, it is as an agent of God, not really in their own right. Since your well being depends not upon what you have earned, but upon God's goodwill, it behooves you, and it is your moral obligation, to offer your thanks to God for what you have received. Prayers of thanksgiving, which link your own well being to God's providence and great power, are close cousins of prayers of worship and praise, which acknowledge God's providence and power in general without any linkage to the personal benefit that you and yours have received. One offer a God worship and praise in a more general acknowledgement of your loyalty to God. Even the Christian's Jesus, who was not very obsessive about Old Testament law, recognized that this basic pledge of loyalty to God was equal to the obligation to love one's neighbor as oneself, the part of the New Testament creed which secular people tend to emphasize. Prayers of thanksgiving, likewise, are also the natural counterpart of petitioning prayers, in which one asks for God's assistance in one's own endeavors ("please God, let me make it through this") or for others ("please God, help my neighbor Eunice get better" or "God Bless America"). When God answers your prayers, it would be rude not to say thank you.

Secular notions of thanksgiving exist, but they don't fit into this worldview.

Some are more prosaic and direct than those of religious people. They are thanks to those who actually made what you have possible. When your neighbor Eunice gets better, someone with a religious worldview is likely to thank God for answering their prayers, while someone with a secular worldview is more likely to be thankful that her doctor was paying attention, that researchers developed the drugs that treated her, and that her small business employer made the hard call to provide health insurance for its employees.

In a secular worldview, the "count your blessings" routine associated with the Thanksgiving holiday, that for a religious person are prayers of thanks to God for the providence he has provided you, aren't really a form of giving thanks at all. They are moments of taking stock. They are opportunities to "collect" (a religious term, especially among higher church Episcopalians, that actually translates quite well into a secular world view), and assess where you are, where you are going and how you got there. They are wards against depression, because life could be worse. They are opportunities to remind yourself of what you value, and what you value less, as you decide where you should direct your efforts going forward. What in your life have you worked hard for that, at the end of the day, ranks at the bottom of the list of what you have now and value? Maybe that effort should be abandoned. And, what in your life is very important to you, to which you have devoted few efforts? Maybe you need to refocus yourself on holding on to those things.

These different notions of thanks go a long way towards explaining who is and is not religious. While one important piece of the puzzle, which I've discussed before, is that religion thrives when it protects a threatened culture, another important piece of the puzzle is that people tend to turn to the supernatural when important parts of their life are beyond their control.

Farmers tend to be religious people. And, it makes some superficial sense. While there is plenty of work that a farmer must do, sowing crops, controlling weeds, and harvesting the crops, so much of a farmer's life is beyond his control. A drought or hail storm or plague of vermin can destroy a year's work. Prices vary due to forces that a farmer has no hope of influencing -- all too often tending high when a farmer is most likely to have little or nothing to sell, and tending low when the crop is bountiful. Catastrophic injuries are more common in farming than almost any other injury, and unlike miners or factory workers, a farmer often has little in the way of an organizational safety net to support him when he is a victim of them. Good luck, as well as industry, is a big part of success in farming, and when you can't control your success, devoting time to prayers that might skew the odds of that uncontrollable part of your enterprise is sensible.

In the city, some of the most superstitious people, actors and people who sell big ticket items, turn to supernatural, although less often a traditional "God" for the same reasons. Somebody will get the lead part in the next big play, or sell the cement truck that a construction company in town has finally decided that it needs. But, whether it is you or someone else that ends up getting the deal is often decided by factors as capricious as they are rational. An actor can diligently show up at auditions and network, a salesman can work his contacts, but if the lead in the next play needs to be a sober tall thin man, and you are jolly short heavy woman, you won't get it no matter how hard you try. And, if you are a salesman for one company, and your customers decide that the engineering on your competitor's comparable product is better, there is only so much that you can do to convince them.

One of defining features of modern capitalism is that, outside of government contracting, there is nothing in the system designed specifically to be fair or just in making economic decisions. The capitalist system doesn't care if you work hard or not. You get the same reward for getting a contract because you happen to be a golfing buddy of a customer's CEO as you do if you get a contract because you spend hours making cold calls and honing your sales presentation. You get the same profit for having been the realtor whose business card was the last one to enter a customer's mailbox before he decided to sell his house, as you do if you were chosen by a deliberative process that compared realtors in the city based on the percentage of appraised values they received in sales negotiations.

It is very hard to give up the notion that randomness which is beyond your control isn't being directed by some intelligent force. This notion is what makes intelligent design so attractive to some people. But, wishing something was true doesn't make it so. Prayer and trying not to break mirrors won't win you any auditions or sales calls, even though networking with people in a church might.

Roast Coffee House

West Washington Park has another new coffee house! Hurray! Here's what I posted in a comment over at Mile High Buzz:

Roast Coffee House, at 712 1/2 S. Pearl, is one of the narrowest and newest coffee houses on the Denver scene. There was a coffee house at this location across from Lincoln Elementary in West Washington Park for a while, but it closed and was vacant until a week ago.

The new proprietor, a fellow who was a New York photographer for seven years, now does photography in Denver and plans to exhibit his works from the walls of the shop which a tall man could span his arms across.

The croissants on sale were good (although eating a warm one while driving if you have clean pants on is not recommended), and his motto is that everything must be "Bonafide". Parents from the local elementary school and local business owners are currently the main customers.

In the spring and summer, a private patio in rear will be opened to customers, adding another twist to an already unique space.

The competition for the West Wash Park coffee dollar is fierce. For now, we will hope that most of them continue to stay in business (which should pick up once the Northbound exits from I-25 open up and commuters return to the neighborhood).

23 November 2005

Gender and Spatial Relations.

This is another Science News story, derived from the November issue of Psychological Science. The study in question looked at 547 second graders in Chicago from 15 difference schools. It tested the children's abilities in two kinds of spatial relations tests and a sentence comprehension test, and gathered information about gender and income level.

Boys from upper- and working-class families consistently outperfomred their female counterparts on both spatial relations tasks . . . No sex difference in spatial scores appeared among kids from poor families, and both boys and girls scored lower than their counteparts in he other two groups did. As the investigators expected, no sex difference emerged in sentence comprehension in any of the groups . . .in each economic group, especially high score on spatial relations task were usually boys . . . Similarly, earlier studies have found that more boys than girls achieve extremely high scores in mathematics.

This is explosive stuff that won a President of Harvard University a heap of oppumbrium. Many studies have shown gender differences on spatial relations test, but this is the first to link those differences to family income, suggesting some role for nuture in this difference. Many people would like to believe that differences in spatial relations test performance and math performance between men and women is simply a product of discriminatory child rearing. I don't believe it. Why?

1. School likely doesn't play a strong part in these results. We are talking about second graders, not high school students.

2. The only place where we don't see boys having an edge over girls is among poor boys and girls who don't score extremely high on spatial relations tasks. The theory suggested by the researchers, which seems plausible, is that boys are naturally more likely to have strong spatial relations abilities, but that the deprivation of poverty (including in many cases poor access to toys and few opportunties to explore their neighborhoods) stunts that potential in both boys and girls.

3. There is no good reason to believe that poor families are markedly less gender biased in the way that they raise their children than working class or wealtheir families. Indeed, our intuition would be that higher income parents would deliberately avoid gender stereotypes, while poor families wouldn't care. Of course, on the other hand, one could look at the data and note that poor families are much more likely to be headed by a single mother than more affluent families, and that seeing a mother in a head of household role and not having a father in the family could impact gender biases in child rearing.

4. While my own experience is anecdotal, as a father of a girl and a boy, I was stunned at just how early boys and girls start demonstrating very gender stereotyped behavior, without an conscious effort on the part of either my wife or myself, to establish those stereotypes. At ages 6 and 4, there are already immense gender typical differences between my son and daughter, and those differences started to manifest at least as early as one year of age, when they first started to talk. My daughter, at that age, was facinated by animals. My son, at that age, hardly noticed animals was already obsessed with machines (cars, trains, trucks, construction equipment). The list for each is lengthy, but, while it is only a single case, it does have persausive power.

5. I am aware of, although I can't easily locate a citation to, studies that seem to indicate that spatial relations ability is something that we inherit from our mothers, which is a dominant gene in boys, but far less likely to express itself (perhaps a recessive gene, perhaps something else) in girls.

6. I have also seen studies (again, these are from my pre-internet days) which indicate that spatial relations ability along with musical ability, tend to be some of the earliest maturing aptitudes, with adult levels of aptitude typically reached prior to the first grade, which would indicate a very limited time period in which nuture as opposed to nature could play a role. (In contrast, the same studies show that reasoning ability has usually reached adult levels in women at about puberty, and in men by the time they graduate from college).

7. The mathematics performance of boys and girls starts to see the great disparities around the time they enter high school. This also happens to be around the time that mathematics goes from being far more abstract, to being far more spatial relations oriented (in subjects like geometry, trig and calculus).

8. I am aware of another interesting spatial relations study that looked at sense of direction in men and women, and in particular tracked women's menstrual cycles at the same time. The study found that during their menstruation, men and women performed equally well on sense of direction tasks, while men greatly out performed women who were at peak fertility near ovulation at those same tasks.

Science News this week reports, based on the November 1, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, another similar study that found that even women with no apparent symptoms of PMS had more negative reactions to words presented to them in a study on the eve of their periods, than they did at other parts of the menstrual cycle. Likewise, studies have shown "nearly 80 percent of epileptic women have more seizures than usual during the phase of the menstrual cycle when their blood concentration of progesterone declines and that of estrogen increases. Other studies showed that women with a condition called premenstrual dysphoric disorder experience severe anxiety and depression during the same phase." So, the study on sense of direction may not be a freak study.

This kind of phenomena would dramatically impede learning many spatial relations oriented subjects because subjects like mathematics and physics and chemistry are all highly sequential, and a tendency to stumble in those fields for a few days a month, when the subjects are usually taught over an extended period like a semester or year, makes that pace problematic for girls.

9. The fall out from the passage of laws banning gender discrimination in both educational institutions and almost all types employment is suggestive. For example, the percentage of law students who are women has gone from about 2% to a majority since the 1970s, producing a similarly dramatic shift in the gender make up of younger lawyers. In constrast, the change in the percentage of women who are engineers or physicists has been far more modest.

10. Given the scientific literature that precedes this study, and its design (incorporating both spatial and non-spatial measures), it is hard to argue either that the girls received inferior upbringing overall, or that

This doesn't mean that there aren't any women who have a knack for spatial relations. Boys outnumber girls among high performers on those tests, but they aren't absent from the group of high performers entirely. One of the most talented math majors at Oberlin College while I was there was a woman. There are certainly great women in science. But, probability and individual possibility are different things.

Global Warming 2050

According to Science News (digesting the November 17th Nature), the consensus results of the best available computer models looking at the impact of global warming on precipitation by 2050 are in:

Most of these models agree that average water flow will decrease in the western United States, the Mediterranean region, the Middle East and southern Africa. Flow increases appear likely in East Africa, central and Southeast Asia, and the northern latitudes of Eurasia and North America, including the eastern United States. . . . "Areas that are already wet are likely to get wetter . . .Areas that are already water stressed are likely to feel it more in the future."

An accompanying map shows the most intense drying centered around Colorado-Nevada-Utah, the Southern tip of South America, Northern Iraq-Eastern Turkey-Northern Iran, and the shores of the Mediterranean. Areas that rely on water from snowmelt are also likely to be particularly hard hit by drying trends. The most intense moistening is centered around Paraguay-Uraguay, Kenya-Tanzania-Rwanda-Burundi, India, Southeast Asia and Indonesia, and Southern Siberia.

Much of Colorado is already marginal for agriculture. As my cousin in Akron, Colorado who is a dryland farmer explained, you grow different crops in different areas based on moisture, and the crops that are grown in Eastern Colorado are the crops that grow in the very last band on cultivation before it is impossible to farm at all. Even a modest drying trend would make horticulture in Eastern Colorado impossible.

My earlier, more Colorado centric post, based on the same study, is found here.

Iraq's New Navy and Air Force

Iraq has both a Navy and an Air Force, although they are both puny.

The Air Force, will 200 people in it, has "three C-130 transports, 14 small recon aircraft and 21 helicopters", but at least six recon aircraft and 11 helicopters are grounded for maintenance problems. Some of the helicopters that do operate, moreover, are used only for training.

The Navy (including the Marines) has 700 people in it with "five Predator class patrol boats, 24 aluminum speedboats (dual outboard engines) and ten rigid hull inflatable boats. Three al Faw Patrol Boats are to be delivered by the end of the year, and three more next year." These craft also have maintenance problems. While Iraq doesn't have much of a coast, the key point is that this is little more than a police department not capable of responding to any meaningful military threats.

Approval Ratings

Not All Terrorists Are Islamists

Not all terrorists are Islamists. At least one is a white Denver firefighter who likes to go to gun shows and make automatic weapons. The domestic terrorism organization with which he was linked was not identified, but dimes to dollars, it is not one of the environmental organizations, like the Earth Liberation Front, whom the Department of Homeland Security has put at the top of its list of domestic terrorism threats (a list that suspiciously excludes anti-abortionists, militia groups and other conservative domestic terrorist movements).

Rank Has Its Privileges

When an ordinary home in Denver is burglarized, they have you fill out a police report, perhaps make a cursory glance at the scene, and that is about it. But, when the chief of police's home is burglarized, the crime lab dusts for prints, the prints are compared to records, addresses are followed up on, possible directions of flight are discovered and arrest warrants are issued.

Peter Lewis, the 20 year old man named, very likely is a burglar who made the mistake of robbing the wrong house. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with carefully investigating a routine burglary and tracking down the person who did it. Indeed, the success of the police in this case makes a strong argument for beefing up the investigative resources of the police (which must devote most of its resources to things like traffic enforcement and routine patrols and responses to 911 calls) and investigating a much larger proportion of crimes.

The death penalty or any other harsh sentence for crimes, does little to deter crime, since people who commit crimes don't expect to be caught and most of the time, they're right. But, increasing the chance that a criminal will be caught could have a very significant deterrent effect.

22 November 2005

The Acting White Effect

What does a good study design and a 90,000 student sample size tell you about popularity v. grades among students in grades seven to twelve?

Fryer showed that "acting white" seems to be a real problem, but not one affecting all minority students. Good students at private schools aren't any less popular than minority students with lower grades. Nor do students at predominantly black public schools pay a social price for higher grades. That result, Fryer says, shows there isn't a pervasive bias among blacks against achievement, or an "oppositional culture" created in response to white racism.

But at integrated public schools, minority students face a special problem, according to Fryer's study. Unlike their white classmates, whose popularity steadily increases as their grades go up, minority students with higher grades end up with fewer friends.

For blacks, this effect is noticeable among B-plus and A students.

For Hispanic students, the drop in popularity is even more pronounced, affecting students who average at least C-plus grades
. . . .

As a result, Fryer says, minority students face a cruel choice at precisely the kinds of suburban schools that are supposed to be eliminating their disadvantages. "When blacks are forced to pay a social price for getting good grades," he said, "there are going to be some black students who won't achieve their full potential."

Culture matters, often a lot. But, the data above don't point to any easy solutions. They also don't answer another key question, which is whether public schools that try to act like private schools, the Denver School of the Arts, or charter schools, for example, see less, more or about the same amount of "Acting White Effect" as other public schools, a fine distinction, but one that turns out to be quite important from a policy making perspective.

Who Says The Catholic Church is Pro-Life?

When a Catholic school in New York State fires an unmarried woman who got pregnant and decided not to have an abortion, it encourages abortion. Actions speak louder than words. Abortion should be safe, legal and rare. This means we should encourage contraception and provide pregnant women and women with children with the support necessary to prevent economic pressure from forcing their hand. This school failed on that point.

Jose Padilla Indicted

In an act of gamesmanship, Jose Padilla has been indicted and will be transferred from military to criminal custody after being held for three years as an enemy combatant. The decision seeks to leave standing a ruling favorable to the governments ability to, on the President's whim, hold U.S. citizens captured in the United States as enemy combatants, which was being appealled to the United States Supreme Court, by rendering the issue moot.

The charges also represent, at least, a fourth interation of U.S. claims about what Padilla did wrong. Initially, the military claimed that he planned to explode a dirty bomb in this country, then they claimed that he planned to burn a U.S. apartment building. Then, the government claimed that he wanted to return to the battlefied. Now, he is charged with conspiracy to carry out terrorism attacks overseas.

"The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist with the intention of fighting a violent jihad," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at a news conference. . . .

Padilla faces life in prison if convicted on the three charges - one count each of conspiracy to murder, maim and kidnap people overseas, providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy. . . .

The charges against him and four others allege they were part of a North American support cell that sent money, assets and recruits overseas "for the purpose of fighting violent jihad." The others indicted are: Adham Amin Hassoun a Lebanese-born Palestinian who lived in Broward County, Fla.;, Mohammed Hesham Youssef, an Egyptian who lived in Broward County; Kifah Wael Jayyousi, a Jordanian national and U.S. citizen who lived in San Diego; and Kassem Daher, a Lebanese citizen with Canadian residency status.

Hassoun also was indicted on eight additional charges, including perjury, obstruction of justice and illegal firearm possession.

Hassoun, a Palestinian computer programmer who moved to Florida in 1989, was arrested in June 2002 for allegedly overstaying his student visa. Prosecutors previously described him as a former associate of Padilla.

Of course, the governments conduct thusfar in the case raises a whole host of procedural questions. For example: Is Padilla entitled to credit for time served? Should speedy trial calculations be made from the date he was arrested in Chicago? Is the case in any way "fruit of the poisonous tree" by involving evidence gathered as a result of interrogation of Padilla while in custody without the presence of an attorney? Is the habeas corpus petition really moot, or should it be considered as a recurring issue relevant to future proceedings and likely to escape review (much like abortion cases) if the administration pursues its current litigaiton tactics? Can or should Padilla file a civil rights suits for his treatment thusfar? What is the timeline and is a statute of limitations implicated? What kind of bail is appropriate to set in the case?

From the government's point of view, even if their case falls apart, obtaining a United States Court of Appeals ruling in their favor, and preventing it from being overruled, if they succeed in that goal, may be victory of enough.

Talk Left has links to the original documents in the case.

Internal Revenue Code Section 199

Recently enacted Internal Revenue Code Section 199, which provides a tax break for the part of an entity's income related goods producing activities is one of the most complex, ill conceived sections of the tax code ever created. Here's how RIA, one of the professional tax publishers, opens up its description of the section in a marketing newsletter directed at tax professionals:

The Code Sec. 199 domestic production activities deduction was enacted to help offset the repeal of the extraterritorial income exclusion, "reduce the tax burden on domestic manufacturers, and make investments in domestic manufacturing facilities more attractive." (Committee Reports to the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-357, 10/22/2004)). It certainly will yield tax breaks for the many businesses, large and small, that "manufacture, produce, extract or grow" a host of tangible products entirely or in significant part within the U.S. It also will be a boon for domestic film-makers, those in the construction business in the U.S., and engineering and architectural firms providing services for U.S. construction products. . . . The Code Sec. 199 deduction, which is effective for tax years beginning after 2004, poses a formidable challenge for tax professionals and their clients. It creates a new vocabulary of detailed and difficult tax concepts, rules, conditions, exceptions, exceptions to the exceptions, de minimis rules, and safe harbors. It also requires many businesses to put new accounting systems in place to distinguish between qualifying and nonqualifying activities and the deductions relating to each. What is more, the rules governing the Code Sec. 199 deduction are still a work in progress. Early in 2005, IRS's initial interpretation of the sparse statutory language and Committee Reports' description was issued in Notice 2005-14, a 100-page document that generated a flood of questions, suggestions, and criticisms. In late-Oct., 2005, IRS followed up with 136 pages of proposed reliance regs and an 88-page preamble that significantly altered some of the rules in Notice 2005-14 and expanded and elaborated on other rules. . . . In an effort to make it easier to understand the Code Sec. 199 rules, [RIA's] Tax Planning & Practice Guide avoids the use of confusing acronyms carried in IRS's official guidance, and adopts a simplified approach to the complex terminology of Code Sec. 199.

This, of course, comes from an administration and Republican controlled Congress that purports to want to simplify the tax code. It sounds like their strategy is to make the Code so impossibly complex that there will be support for reform. Call me naiive, but I don't think that trying to make the system better by making it worse is the best strategy.

Vagrants in Denver

Denver has a homelessness problem. Most cities do. In fact, Denver really has multiple homelessness problems, with different solutions.

The fact and figures and debate are confused by terms that have shifting meanings. Just as the literacy debate has waivered between a narrow definition of illiteracy meaning people who can't read, and a broader definition "functional illiteracy", which means people who can't read at the 9th grade level and who can't read well enough to handle the more sophisticated aspects of daily life, homelessness has multiple definitions as well. Most people who think about the homelessness issue in the general public think about the narrow definition, vagrants who sleep outdoors or in shelters out of necessity. But, there is also a broader definition that includes people in transitional housing, people staying with friends without a home of their own, and people staying in low rent motels or RVs until they can find a permanent place to live.

My focus today is on vagrants. It is an almost archaic term, but has a pretty well defined meaning. Vagrancy is an issue I can't help but think about almost every day. My office is near a church based homeless shelter or outreach program. To be honest, I couldn't tell you exactly what services they provide. But, I do know that a lot of vagrant men congregate in the area where I work on a daily basis at certain times of the day to receive services.

Let's not mince words. Encountering vagrant men is scary.

One recent morning I was walking towards my office and let loose with an "Oh shit!" when I realized that I had forgotten to put on my tie that morning and didn't yet have a backup stowed at work. Only then did I notice a man sudden peak out from under a blanket in an out of the way corner who I hadn't even noticed, wondering if I was talking about him. At 8 a.m. on a chilly morning when the guy is half asleep, I wasn't exactly fearing for my life at that moment, but his look was exactly the stereotype you have of someone mugging you as you walk down a dark alley after working late, and needless to say, I'm careful with locks at work and I am very aware of my surroundings when I leave the office, especially in the evenings.

On another afternoon this week, I walked to a nearby post office to mail some legal papers that had to go out in the mail that day, and on the way back to the office encountered a somewhat heavy middle aged man, who was flapping his arms, trying to sing a Tom Petty song and moving well into that ill defined region we call our personal space. Did he make a verbal threat or display a weapon or anything like that? No. He didn't even ask for money. But, encountering an apparently mentally ill man who suddenly, without any apparent reason, takes a direct personal interest in you and tried to engage you is uncomfortable, to say the least. It violates basic, unwritten social norms about how you interact with people in public that normally provide a comfort zone in public settings.

When you routinely see vagrants in your neighborhood, whether it is the place where you work, or the place where you live, you worry about them breaking into your car to steal things, you worry about being mugged, you worry about your building being broken into, and you worry about anything left outside being stolen. Concerns like these are a big factor that drives many employers to office parks, like the one in Greenwood Village where I last worked. These offices are in unwalkable neighborhoods far from residences or commercial areas, in places where no one who doesn't work or visit the office has no business being there and in considered trespassing. They are isolated and boring, but they are also very safe. Suburban housing tracts, and in particular, the kinds of gated communities you find in places like Greenwood Village and Cherry Hills, in metropolitan Denver are in part motivated by the same kinds of fears.

The fear is not unjustified. These men are scary because they are able bodied men with nothing to lose and enough physical harm you if they choose to do so. They aren't that different from a Jean Valjean stealing bread in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, or for those of you with fewer literary aspirations, the Bruce Wayne of Batman Begins who steals to support himself after having rejecting his fortune and leaving for Asia. These are men who don't have the very basics of what they need and these are also men for whom a jail term is a definite improvement.

Jail offers a bed, heat, regular meals, showers, television, serviceable clothing and provides better protection from violent assaults than sleeping on the street. A well timed misdemeanors conviction that puts a vagrant man in jail for several months during the coldest months of the year is a material step up in life for them, rarely aggravated future sentences, and puts them in jail, where the fellow inmates tend not to be as bad as those in state prisons. For that matter, even Third World jails generally have better material conditions than the life of a vagrant in a major American city in the North where it gets cold at night in the winter. If someone has to be a victim in order for a vagrant man to get into jail, well, those are the breaks.

In contrast, if you are a vagrant man in Denver this winter and the usual shelters are full, your best option is to go to a "collection site downtown" on a night where the temperature is expected to drop below 28 degrees Fahrenheit or significant precipitation is expects (making staying outdoors unsafe), where you are bused with groups of about 40 homeless men to shelters where you are required to stay inside until 5 a.m., at which point you are bused back downtown at 5 a.m. for a hot morning meal. You sleep on the floor, typically in a large public room, with sheets and blankets as available, and perhaps some coffee or hot chocolate provided by volunteers. If the night is warmer than that and clear (and all but about 20 nights are year in Denver fit that profile), you look for a spot under a bridge, behind some bushes, or otherwise out of the way to lie down, perhaps under a borrowed or stolen blanket to sleep, if you can't find a spot in a shelter (and there are regular shelter spots for, at most, half the vagrants in Denver). Food is at shelters on a supply available basis or at fast food places purchased with money received from begging.

Needless to say, it is hard to get a job, find medical care, deal with a mental illness, or wean yourself from alcoholism or a drug addition, living that kind of life. The main welfare program, TANF (Temporary Aid To Needy Families, formerly known as AFDC for Aid To Families With Dependent Children) doesn't cover single "able bodied" men. The waiting time to get public housing or a Section 8 housing voucher, even if you qualify, is typically months or years. Qualifying for disability payments under Social Security and the SSI program when your difficulties primarily involve mental rather than physical health (and not always standard clinical mental illnesses like schitzophrenia) is time consuming and not always possible. Most vagrant men qualify for Medicaid and food stamps, but many have trouble managing to fill out the requisite forms. Unemployment insurance last only about six months, pays only a modest percentage of your prior income, usually isn't available when you quit a job or are fired for good cause, and isn't available if your prior job was irregular contract work. Some states have a welfare program that provides very limited cash assistance to vagrant men, often under the rubric of "general assistance", but I'm not aware of such a program in Colorado. Denver used to have flophouses that provided an inferior small place to sleep cheap, but these places, now rechristened "single occupancy hotels", have been largely shuttered and torn down to the point where they Mayor has had to embark on a ten year program to build more.

The incentives in the current American system, where you get treated better if you commit a crime than if you don't, are screwed up. And, the solution is not to treat crimimals and people accused of crimes worse. Jail is far more expensive than providing the basics of life to someone Incarcerating someone costs on the order of $20,000-$30,000 per year, depending on the facility. Pairing people up as room mates in studio apartments and providing them with funds sufficient for basic groceries, local phone service and other necessities can cost less than $6,000, per person, per year. And, if someone has no employment and are able bodied, they are capable of doing work in exchange, even if they are often the dregs of the work force in terms of on the job behavior and skills. We can't expect vagrants to be good at long term budgeting, but a college student/company town model could work well.

We should, at least, be able to say with confidence that every able bodied man always has an opportunity to leave a law abiding life. We could, if we could guarantee vagrant men 25 hours a week of work at minimum wage, sign them up for Medicaid, provide a place to stay in a studio apartment with a roommate (the going rent for a studio apartment in Denver is about $450 a month), a mail slot, local only phone service, heat and electricity (paid for with $270 a month taken out of their pay checks), another chunk of money (perhaps $200 a month, maybe less with food stamps paying part of the cost) taken out of their pay checks in exchange for a cafeteria meal card (that buys food in bulk and hires program members to do the grunt work for minimum wage), and frequent pay periods to help them budget the rest of their money (perhaps $2-3 a day of walking around money). If jails and prisons required 40 hours a work from convicted prisoners, this would even be a situation better than jail and much cheaper for society (even if the make work jobs in the program cost somewhat more in payroll than they generated in revenues). But, we can't even say that. That is a shame.

Equally important, the status quo is bad for the city. A vagrant is a desperate man with idle hands. He scares people and that keeps people out of the city. A guy with a regular part-time job and an apartment who isn't hungry, who has a secure place to keep his meager possession during the day, and has some access to medical care doesn't present the same kind of threat, even if he is still living, perhaps by choice or perhaps because he can't handle anything else, a marginal life. Even if the government can only find work for a former vagrant with marginal skills and abilities that generates $2.50 an hour in revenue and has to pay $5.15 an hour, paying $3,000 a year per person on the streets to give them an incentive to get off the street and stay out of jail is a price worth paying.