31 May 2007

Child Death Overkill Again

Child abuse is a crime. Losing it and killing your kids in a rage is wrong and should be punished. But, is a developmentally disabled mother who repeatedly blows her top and eventually throws her baby across the room really such a public menace that she needs to be in prison for the next 55 to 75 years? The El Paso County District Attorney, aided by a flawed Colorado law, thinks that she is, even if the prosecutor is willing to waive a shot at life in prison without parole for the woman (which is largely a distinction without a difference in this case).

A Colorado Springs woman admitted this morning she threw her 8-month-old baby so hard that the infant hit her head and died from her injuries. . . .

Preston’s daughter, Bianca Limerick, died in March 2006 from head wounds.

When [the Judge] asked Preston, 37, what she did, Preston said: “I threw her and she hit her head on the bed rail.”

Preston admitted she was “really stressed out” and that her oldest daughter was crying and demanding her attention. That girl, who was 2 years old at the time, lives with family in Illinois.

As for the second charge, Preston admitted she pulled Bianca’s arm so hard, the bone snapped. An associate coroner who performed an autopsy on the baby ruled she had “battered baby syndrome,” an indication of repetitive child abuse.

El Paso County Department of Human services officials investigated two reports of abuse on Bianca, who was reported once to have a face covered with bruises. Investigators tracked at least a dozen old rib, arm and leg fractures Bianca suffered.

Colorado Springs police officers found Bianca dead in a child-safety seat March 15, 2006, in the back of Preston’s minivan. Preston had driven the van with the baby’s corpse in it for at least a day, according to police, including a trip to Denver. . . . Preston suffers from a developmental disability and emotional problems, [Public Defender] Elkins said.

If the woman had lost it and killed an adult stranger, she would have faced mitigated second degree murder charge with a considerably shorter permissible sentencing range: 8-24 years plus 5 years of mandatory parole (with a shot at release after no more than 16 years, i.e. at age 53). Ms. Preston will be lucky to be out of prison in 38 years (i.e. at age 75), even if she receives the minimum sentence, and then will face 5 years of mandatory parole. And, of course, she probably wouldn't have suffered the same personal grief and loss at having killed an adult stranger that she will at having killed her own baby.

This woman is a horribly bad parent who isn't up to the task of being a parent, whom we as a society says is criminally culpable. She isn't a real monster or public threat.

There are monsters who need to be locked up for a long time in Colorado. In today's batch of Colorado Court of Appeals decisions, they include this guy (prolonged multiple rape-murders as punishment for a drug deal payment dispute), and this guy (home invader that assaulted the family, kidnapped them, stole their life savings kept in cash at another location, and raped and sodomized their ten year old). She just isn't one of them. She isn't so bad that we should mandate that she dies in prison.

The argument that all killings and assaults are equally culpable and should produce similar punishments, even when they are domestic in nature, is plausible. But, Colorado's rule, which punishes parents who lose it much more severely than people who inflict comparable harm upon stranger, looks like harsh, wasteful overkill up close.

British Animal Rights Protestors

Animal rights protestors in Britain are different than those in the United States.

Rather than doing the "hey, hey, ho, ho" gig outside fur shops in Cherry Creek North, throwing paint on mink coats and bombing medical laboratories, they take a more "civilized approach." They eat meat from the Queen's favorite breed of dog:

The corgi meat was mixed with apple, onion and seasoning, turned into meatballs, and served with salad.

Of course, the dog allegededly "had died recently at a breeding farm and had not been killed for the purposes of the protest."

Immigration Judging Capricious

The New York Times has brought the nation's attention to an academic study which powerfully shows with hard numbers that the outcome of immigration asylum cases is intensely impacted by the judge appointed to handle the case, and that the role of the Board of Immigration Appeals in limiting this disparity has been eviscerated.

A couple of examples:

The study found that someone who has fled China in fear of persecution and asks for asylum in immigration court in Orlando, Fla., has an excellent — 76 percent — chance of success, while the same refugee would have a 7 percent chance in Atlanta. . . . In the Miami immigration court, one judge granted 3 percent of the asylum cases, while another granted 75 percent.

The cases from the same country, and cases in the same judicial district, are generally too similar to explain such a huge disparity with anything other than a difference in the attitudes of the judges involved. Asylum cases from a particular country involve a core of similar facts about the political regime's actions and intents, and within a judicial district, a roughly comparable mix of cases is assured by the random assignment of judges to particular cases.

All of these judges, of course, are applying the same portion of the same statute, which is purely a matter of federal law, and all of the cases are identified by the same federal agency, the immigration and customs enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security, and prosecuted by the same Justice Department that appoints the judges. The substantive standard for granting asylum has not changed during the period of this study.

While there are disparities between judges in other parts of the law, such as sentencing, I can think of few studies that have identified such huge disparities in such similar cases, particularly in light of the fact that the legal standard applicable to asylum cases, on its face, does not afford vast discretion to the judge.

In asylum cases, it comes down to the luck of the draw, and that luck is politically influenced:

Justice Department officials said last week that the investigation of Monica M. Goodling, a former aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, has been expanded to include her role in helping to appoint immigration judges.

Ms. Goodling testified last week that she had “crossed the line” in applying political considerations to candidates for nonpartisan legal jobs. Immigration judges are appointed by the attorney general, and 49 of 226 current judges were appointed during the tenure of Mr. Gonzales.

In other words, Congress has been frankly told that the administration illegally ignored civil service rules to make polical appointments. In Kentucky, that is enough to lead to indictments, but in the federal government, this is apparently tolerated.

With regard to appeals:

In 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft made streamlined the work of the appeals board, reducing the number of board members to 11 from 23 and encouraging more decisions by single members and without explanation. . . . Asylum applicants who were represented by lawyers received favorable appeals decisions from the board in 43 percent of cases in 2001, the year before the changes took effect. By 2005, asylum seekers with lawyers won their appeals in 13 percent of cases.

This blog (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) and public accounts generally (I can't blog them all), are replete with examples of bad immigration judges and judging, and even Attorney General Gonzales has acknowledged that there are serious problems.

Not surprisingly, the percentage of cases going onto the U.S. Courts of Appeal for further review has surged, and the number of people granted asylum is down 12%.

Surgery Better For Lumbar Pain

Surgery is twice as effective as therapy and drugs at treating lumbar (i.e. back) pain. (Original source here).

The Downside Of Armed Self-Defense

For every story of a heroic grandmother keeping a burglar at bay, there is another tragic story. Sometimes armed self-defense of your home means mistakenly killing someone you love.

30 May 2007

Mad Cow Conservatives

This is not about Marilyn Musgrave. This about about Republicans who are fighting to ban meat producers from testing their cattle for mad cow disease. Who knows, maybe she does too. Why? To protect big business from small business, without regard to risk to human life, plain and simple.

Denver's Old Voters

Denver Politics notes that Denver municipal voters are pretty old (bracketed material inserted, ellipsis in original):

Of the nearly 3,500 votes processed last week, the average year of birth was 1947, or roughly 50 years old. This average was especially high in Denver's poorer neighbor[hood]s, reaching closer to 56 years old.

In fact, citywide nearly 18% of the voters were over the age of 80... and 60 of 'em were born before America's entry into WWI.

In West Wash Park, where I live, the average age of a voter who cast a vote is a youthful 44 years old, which is quite close to the median age of persons eligible to vote in Denver.

Denver's median age is about 35 years old. Of course, those under age 18 can't vote, so the median voter age should be higher than 35 years old, even if voters of all ages participated equally, which they don't, especially in municipal elections which capture the "core" voters. Young voters are disproportionately represented in the "sometimes" voters who vote in Presidential elections, but not otherwise.

School Is Out

At least at my children's school (Denver Public Schools have several calendars with some schools on a year round basis and others on a more traditional school year), the 2006-2007 school year is over, and summer vacation has begun.

Steele Elementary is looking forward to a new principal, and at least three new teachers in the coming year. At least a couple of the new faces are known quantities, having previously worked at the school in different capacities. General assignments to British Primary or Contemporary programs at the school for returning students have been made on a tenatative basis, but we won't know until the eve of the new school year in August precisely which teacher each child has been assigned to for the coming year, in part because the hiring process for new teachers is not yet complete.

Now, we begin a whirlwind of camps, lessons, visits with relatives, birthday parties, and trips to Denver's cultural landmarks.

29 May 2007

Gamma Synthesis

Ordinary green plants turn ordinary light into an energy source for the plant using photosynthesis. Now, it turns out that some fungi can harness high energy gamma rays to help them grow using another process.

Capitol Hill Coffee

The Renegade Crafters have helpfully informed us that Diedrich's Coffee at 9th and Downing Street in Denver's Capitol Hill, a gay institution in the city, has reaffilated as a DazBog Coffee, in that wake of nefarious industry consolidation, and that Safeway's receipts are annoying long. Meanwhile, Eric Goldman reminds us that Microsoft sometimes wipes other companies' software from your hard drive without even asking you about it.

Obviously, not all change is good.

Also, because it looks like I may not get a chance to do so properly, I'll note that Non-Prophet has blogged an article in the Economist on the marriage divide which is much better in terms of raw data than the AP story I recently blogged about the same study. Nutshell: Increasingly, over the last couple of decades, college educated people don't have kids out of wedlock and stay married, everyone else, increasingly does have kids out of wedlock and doesn't stay married.

24 May 2007

A Least He's Not Your Lawyer

You'd think that a partner at a big Chicago law firm who is head of its bankruptcy department could avoid having a judge try to disbar him for insulting a judge in open court. But, that is apparently, an ill considered belief.

His firm biography notes that he is on the Best Lawyers in America list. I hope that they update that from time to time. He doesn't belong there now.

22 May 2007

The Death Of Notice Pleading

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court in an anti-trust case, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, overruled a 50 year precedent regarding what a Plaintiff in a federal court case has to say in an initial complaint filed under the federal rules of civil procedure.

The old rule was "that a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitled him to relief.” Thus, usually, it was not possible to dismiss a claim for relief on the face of the Complaint.

The official syllabus to the case describes the holding as follows (citations omitted without indication below):

[The] Federal Rule of Civil Procedure requires only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” in order to “give the defendant fair notice of what the … claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." While a complaint attacked by a motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the “grounds” of his “entitle[ment] to relief” requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action’s elements will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all of the complaint’s allegations are true. . . . Asking for plausible grounds does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence . . . The need at the pleading stage for allegations plausibly suggesting (not merely consistent with) agreement reflects [the] threshold requirement that the “plain statement” possess enough heft to “sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.” . . . The requirement . . . serves the practical purpose of preventing a plaintiff with “ ‘a largely groundless claim’ ” from “ ‘tak[ing] up the time of a number of other people, with the right to do so representing an in terrorem increment of the settlement value.’ ” . . . It is one thing to be cautious before dismissing an antitrust complaint in advance of discovery, but quite another to forget that proceeding to . . . discovery can be expensive. . . . It is no answer to say that a claim just shy of plausible entitlement can be weeded out early in the discovery process, given the common lament that the success of judicial supervision in checking discovery abuse has been modest. Plaintiffs’ main argument against the plausibility standard at the pleading stage is its ostensible conflict with a literal reading of . . . : “a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” The “no set of facts” language has been questioned, criticized, and explained away long enough by courts and commentators, and is best forgotten as an incomplete, negative gloss on an accepted pleading standard: once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint. [This] described the breadth of opportunity to prove what an adequate complaint claims, not the minimum standard of adequate pleading to govern a complaint’s survival.

Thus, we move to a brave new world of pleading. The application of the old standard, and the intuitive standard that is to a great extent the "living law" were aptly set out in a recent case from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals:

It is enough to name the plaintiff and the defendant, state the nature of the grievance, and give a few tidbits (such as the date) that will let the defendant investigate. A full narrative is unnecessary. . . .

[T]he belief that complaints must lay out facts corresponding to every “element” of a legal theory [is incorrect]. That is a code-pleading approach, which the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure reject. One pleads “claims” (which is to say, grievances) rather than legal theories and factual specifics. The Supreme Court drove the point home . . . holding that plaintiffs need not allege either the factual or legal “elements” of a prima facie case under the employment-discrimination laws. That conclusion is equally applicable to every other federal claim.

We seem likely to return to an era where a complaint must set forth a factual basis for each element of an alleged civil wrong or breach of contract, something that has long been the better practice, but has not actually been required (although many judges apply the law this way in degradation of the law) for about seventy years.

Even this heightened standard is still far short of the "heightened pleading requirements" that apply in certain kinds of cases, such as those alleging fraud, with a particularly high standard associated with private securities fraud cases.

Never the less, this ruling will have a huge practical impact, simply because it comes up in every single lawsuit ever filed in federal court.

21 May 2007

Zeus Smites Jesus

Yesterday, at the Mt. Cabrini shrine in Golden, Colorado,

a bolt of lightning shot out of the sky and struck their 33-foot statue of Jesus.

The lightning bolt broke off one of Jesus' arms and a hand and damaged one of his feet, sending marble plummeting to the ground during a Saturday afternoon storm.

Poetic justice? Probably not, but good stuff for the watercooler.

This is not the first lightning strike and religion story (consider, for example, here).

18 May 2007

Yet Another Reason To Hate Texas

Here is yet another reason to hate Texas, even Austin, which is often singled out by Texas supporters. They suspended a black kid because he got a buzz cut.

Hat Tip to NewMexiKen.

17 May 2007

Unsolved Mysteries

Some things in life are mysterious, but beneath the dignity of true scientists to investigate.

Consider phone cords. Despite being an attorney, I actually don't use the handset on my phone very often. Probably more than half the time I am on the phone, I use the speaker phone function, and more and more these days, I use e-mail when in the past one would have made a quick phone call. Even when I do make calls on business, more often than not it is on my cell phone, rather than the traditional land line at my desk.

I am not aware of using a telephone handset in an unusual way. I don't touch it at all when I'm not using it. When the phone rings, or I wish to make a phone call, I pick up the handset while sitting at my desk, press it to my ear, and listen or speak. I am left handed and have not purchased any special left handed friendly phone. Still, it isn't as if I am in the habit of pacing around the office while I talk, or nervously fiddling with the phone cord. Admittedly, on a really long call when I am purely listening and don't need to take many notes, I sometimes doodle in the corner of a yellow pad on my desk that I also use to take notes (strictly geometric designs filled in with pen) with my free hand. But, that's it.

Yet, every phone I have ever used at work, for more than a decade, has inevitably ended up with a hopelessly tangled handset cord within a few days of my arrival. If I let it dangle to unwind itself, it will revert to its former state within a day or two, if not hours. If I remove it and buy a new one, again, it will be hopelessly tangled within a day or two, often even a matter of hours.

Nothing in ergonomic engineering, materials science, cosmology, or the mathematics of knot theory, seems to explain this phenomena. And yet it tangles. This great unsolved mystery of life continues. Gah!

16 May 2007

Are We The Evil Empire?

"We have met the enemy and he is us."

-- Walt Kelley.

The link above, once again, recounts U.S. involvement in torture and it insistance on conducting trial based upon evidence obtained coercively. I didn't ask to be a citizen of an evil empire. I voted for the other guy, twice (although I did vote for one of the Democratic enablers, despite urging him to act otherwise).

I've published against it, chronicled and cited the bad judicial decisions that enambled it, named the names of the key enabling players in the legislative and executive branches (closest to home both of the Senators from Colorado, the Republican Congressional representative from Colorado, and John Salazar), and depaired over it. But, the simple fact of the matter is that our government tortures people in our name and is prepared to use testimony coerced in that manner in military tribunals where real due process isn't available and to execute people based upon those verdicts, even for crimes not previously recognized as against the laws of war.

A large share of our soldiers in the field think that torture is O.K., don't believe in the somewhat humane official rules of engagement, have commanding officers who don't care either, and wouldn't report a fellow serviceman who killed or abused an innocent man in the field. The Bush Administration has actively fostered this view, although is purports to prohibit an extremely narrowly defined version of torture, leaving that to our "allies" whom we know do it despite their official protestations that they do not.

We may not be the only country in the world that is so barbaric, but we are the only one other than China, that can meaningfully be called an empire.

We have destroyed our international credibility on human rights, and any sense of international good will towards us. The tragedy that is the Bush Presidency will not be over until his regime of unlawful acts end, are disavowed, are apologized for, and those responsible are tarnished to the full extent permitted by law in the face of an amnesty voted in by a Republican majority in Congress aided by a few traitors to decency like Ken Salazar.

Here in a little office in Denver's Capitol Hill, I am helpless to prevent this, and so are many thousands and millions of other good people of this country. But, at least, we can acknowledge the horrors that our leaders have engaged in, in our name, and disavow them and express the shame we feel that our government has done these things.

Our nation has the power to be a great force for good in the world. I am neither a pacifist, nor an isolationist. Military force is sometimes necessary. Sometimes force is the only response to force used by others. Sometimes, even covert actions are necessary. But, we didn't have to sell the soul of this country to fight terrorism and are less safe because of the manner in which we have tried to do so.

Freudian Psychology

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) is commonly viewed as "the father of psychoanalysis." Many of his big ideas, like the notion that the unconscious mind plays an important role in how people think and act, are so common place and widely accepted that it is hard to realize that he came up with them in the first place.

Today, to describe a psychologists or psychiatrist a Freudian tends to have negative connotations. It is almost a slur and plays into cartoon stereotypes about what psychologists are like. When used to describe a mental health professional, "Freudian" generally refers to someone who places great emphasis on talk therapy, with a particular focus on the stereotypical inquiries into the patient's early childhood experiences -- drawing on the school of psychological thought that emerged in the wake of Freud's psychosexual theory of development.

Freudians who do their jobs well, of course, have moved far beyond Freud's original theories. They are familiar with the latest empirical studies of childhood development and developmental neurophysiology. They have a much more refined understanding of how the brain works. Most are not terribly doctrinaire in how they treat their patients -- taking lengthy case histories and adhering to the common sense notion that a patient should do what works in his or her individual case, rather than presuming that a psychological problem or mental illness can have a uniform and straightforward simple cure the way a bacterial disease or broken bone might. Many modern Freudians no longer even invoke Freud's name in their work.

But, most modern Freudians share an ideology, informed by their increased understanding, that asserts that most psychological problems, and even many manifestations of biologically based mental illnesses, are rooted in flawed early childhood experiences -- often experiences at or before the limited reaches of the patient's own adult memory.

While few Freudians think of the parents of their patient as being morally blameworthy, in the sense that parents have their own limitations, external and internal, and hence can't be expected to be "perfect" under most circumstances, most do believe that parenting "mistakes" are the cause of a great deal of mental health issues later faced by adults. And, in the minds of most Freudians, a parental "mistake" involves failing to meet parenting standards that no reasonable social worker or judge, for example, would ever call neglectful or abusive. Freudians bemoan parents who are too distant, insufficiently engaged in their children's play, too permissive, too stressed, or have high conflict relationships with each other.

Freudians do not deny the possibility that parenting mistakes can be remedied later in life. Indeed, providing those remedies is their stock in trade. If psychological problems were purely biologically based, there would be no point in talk therapy. If psychological problems were capable of being resolved swiftly with cook book solutions, they wouldn't have much work to do. The inherent link between a Freudian theory of what solves psychological problems, and the large amount of work that resolving those problems leaves that must be performed by a highly credentialed Freudian practitioner, is why health insurance companies hate them so much.

The two big empirical questions underlying critique of the Freudian view are first, whether young children are so easily scarred for life by parenting slights, or whether in fact young children are really more resilient and indifferent to the nuances of their parenting. And, secondly, whether talk therapy works, and if so, if a skilled practitioner really matters.

There is no doubt that many psychological problems and mental illnesses are stubborn, rather than easily changed with a brief conversation. Also, some of the conditions for which studies have shown quick, unskilled talk therapy to be most successful, such as mitigating adult dementia, are progressive, rather than chronic lifetime conditions. But, how do you tell the difference between a condition that is simply hereditary (or perhaps uterine), but doesn't manifest until early childhood because the ability to communicate and think necessary to manifest symptoms of the condition don't exist until them, and a condition truly caused by parental slights?

Almost no adult or adolescent patients can remember those years accurately. Many adult patients lack living parents and siblings who can remember, and many of those people wouldn't have been perceptive enough to have accurate recollections of the psychologically relevant details of those years in any case. Sure, out and out abuse, or truly dire early childhood conditions may be sufficiently documented. But, how do you determine if one's parents were emotionally distant, overly permissive, or stressed, in a manner independent from the symptoms that a patient manifests as an adult? And, even if someone does accurately recall those events in a sufficiently perceptive way, why would they feel impelled to relate them to a mental health professional?

The emerging alternative to the Freudian view is that hereditary and pre-natal circumstances play a bigger role in who we are than we are comfortable admitting, but that while early childhood events can have a great lifetime influence particularly in extreme circumstances (e.g. lead poisoning, neglect, and abuse), most children in non-pathological circumstances are not profoundly shaped by the day to day nuances of how they are raised. A child's future may not be fate at his birth, but notion that the Cinderella's of the world are likely to prevail no matter what their circumstances because of who they are, while other children will be dragged down by their hereditary legacies, even if removed to perfect adoptive homes, is a notion that is gaining increased respect. But for the fact that this idea is contrary to deep seated national ideals of equality, and embraces aristocratic vestiges that are repugnant to our national DNA, this view would probably be even stronger still.

The strong hereditary influence school of thought, ironically, is strongly influenced by several empirically well established aspects of psychosexual development. It is increasingly clear that homosexuality, at least male homosexuality, is cemented before birth. Similarly, studies of children born genetically male but with birth defects requiring male organs to be suppressed and raised as girls, have shown that no amount of concerted conscious efforts by parents to raise a child as a girl can overcome the genetic predispositions of the child.

Another trait heavily studied in the developmental context is IQ. There is strong evidence of a hereditary basis for a significant share of individual variation in IQ.

The Flynn effect, which shows rising IQs for whole populations over time, would seem to be the strongest evidence to dispel the strong hereditary hypothesis. But, increasingly it is becoming clear that Flynn effect in populations comes largely from a decline in poor performance at the bottom of the scale, rather than from major improvements in absolute terms on IQ tests by median or top performers. Thus, the argument goes, the Flynn effect may be explained by great reductions in malnutrition, lead poisoning, and similar environmental harms that mostly afflicted the poor in the past, as societies grow more affluent.

Parenting and environment appear to have have an impact, but, if anything, hereditary effects appear stronger, rather than weaker, over time, as children grow up and have sufficient experiences to grow into their underdeveloped natural abilities or lack the boost provided by constant moment by moment parental stimulation which helps them outperform their natural abilities. And, the biggest impacts appear to be most pronounced when they involve extreme neglect or abuse, rather than mild differences within the range of normal parenting.

If even concerted efforts to impose gender identity, or influence IQ, through parenting are to no avail, why should we believe that parenting has any greater impact on other psychological traits?

Furthermore, to the extent that early childhood parenting impacts are important because they get hard wired into a child's persona, so to speak, as the developing brain grows, what good does it do to try to distinguish between early childhood impacts, pre-natal impacts and hereditary impacts, from a treatment perspective? Either way, a child pretty much is who he or she is going to be by the time he or she reports to the local elementary school for kindergarten or 1st grade, often the first real chance for the public to intervene on behalf of a child having problems.

There are also studies on the effectiveness of talk therapy. Most show that talk therapy does work. But, with a handful of specific exceptions (such as the progressive dementia case), the evidence that one kind of talk therapy is much better than another, or that the professional training of the therapist has much impact on the quality of the result, is weak.

The best Freudians can talk a good talk. They can weave very persuasive, plausible arguments for the profound impact of seemingly slight parental actions in childhood on adult mental health. They can link this to increased scientific understanding of brain development, and can offer engaging anecdotes that encourage a leap of faith to this theory. If they are right, our society is doing a profoundly bad job of raising our children and a radical reform of how we do that, with a big focus on parent education could transform our society into a far more mentally healthy one in a generation or two. But, looking at the fundamental premises of the theory and the empirical assumptions that underlie that theory, it is hard to avoid reaching the conventional wisdom that makes a description of someone as a Freudian professional something of a slur, and sees children as more resilient and resistant to parenting impacts than Freudian theory would suggest.

If the strong hereditary school of thought is closer to the mark, biochemically based psychiatry, rather than psychoanalysis, and preventing of child neglect and abuse, rather than improvements in average parenting quality, should be where our policy be focused if we want to improve our society's overall mental health, and the impacts will not be nearly so dramatic, even if these policies are implemented.

15 May 2007

Confessions Of A Name Challenged Politics Junkie

Campaign 2008 is going to be hard. Very hard. Why?

In Colorado's 4th Congressional District, one of the leading candidates will be Democratic State Senator Brandon Shaffer, who is currently the Assistant Majority Leader, who represents Longmont, Erie, Lafayette, and Louisville.

Meanwhile, in Colorado's U.S. Senate race, one of the leading Republican candidates will be Bob Schaffer who previously served the 4th Congressional District as its Congressman in the seat now held by Republican Marilyn Musgrave (you know, the one Brandon Shaffer wants now).

Much of the time, the two men who share a first initial, hail from the same general part of the state, and who both previously served in Colorado's state senate, will be referred to by last name alone. And, the fact of the matter is, that until you look up close, two early middle aged, not thin, white guy politicians in blue suits and red ties from Colorado's Front Range look pretty much alike, so even a glance at the TV from two rooms away isn't going to help you tell them apart. So, the rule is "c" bad, no "c" good, and visually, glasses bad, no glasses good. We really hope that Brandon Shaffer doesn't discover at this moment in life that he really needs some low powered bifocals.

Now, for me, this is inconvenient fun and games. But, the possibility of confusion at the polls is real, particularly when you consider that the 4th Congressional race will already include one individual Eric Eidness, who has changed parties during his political career and now claim's the donkey's mantle. A less informed soul could easily think that one of the men had a change of heart.

The men couldn't be more different politically, of course. Shaffer is moderate Colorado Democrat who served in the Navy before taking up politics. Schaffer has impeccable conservative Republican credentials.

But, Schaffer does not appear to have the same intense case of "foot in mouth disease" so apparent in his Republican colleagues who currently serve Colorado in the House of Representatives. As a result, he leaves fewer memorable zingers to help us keep the two men straight. A die hard conservative speech on agriculture subsidies or tax policy, is still a speech on agriculture subsidies or tax policy, and it is hard to keep track of someone's political affiliation from his speech once you have fallen asleep. Shaffer, likewise, is neither a gadfly, nor a perennial source of off color remarks in his service as a state senator.

Big Bombs in Iraq

[O]ne of the central battles in this summer of "the surge" is shaping up in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad. . . .

A single infantry company in Diyala lost five Strykers this month in less than a week . . . In one of the biggest hits, six American Soldiers and a journalist were killed when a huge bomb exploded beneath their Stryker on May 6. It was the biggest one-day loss for the battalion in more than two years. . . .

[M]any of larger bombs being encountered lately, including the much-feared and much-hyped explosively formed penetrators (EFPs), threaten not only Strykers but Bradleys and Abrams tanks, as well.

From here.

A war can't be won with technology alone.

The New Chrysler

After nine years as a division of Daimler-Chrysler, the Chrysler corporation is on its own again. Daimler has taken a licking on the deal, losing the better part of the $36 billion it invested in the company.

Even more notable, Chrysler becomes the largest privately owned automaker in the world, and the only major privately held automaker that the United States has seen since the consolidations that produced the Big 3 in the early years ot the 20th century.

It leaves Daimler with 80,735 employees, about two thirds of the number it started with, and is also producing fewer vehicles (about 2.65 million now, down about 10% from where it started).

While the headline portrays the deal as a sale of 80% of the company for $7.4 billion to private equity investors, this appears to be a deceptive characterization, as most of the money will simply be a capital contribution to the company, rather than a payment made to Daimler. Daimler is left only with 20% of the stock in a company whose stock is nearly worthless.

The acquiring company, Cerebrus, also controls GMAC.

Chrysler is a company that clearly has issues. Why do you do stupid thinks like running an ad for the Dodge Durango, one of the least fuel efficient SUVs on the market today, in Sunset Magazine (with a readership full of left coast latte drinking liberals0 that touts its fuel efficiency? There are reasons you might want to buy a Dodge Durango. For example, many dealers here in Denver are selling them for $11,000 below MSRP because they can't get them off the lot otherwise. And, some people really do need a gigantic V8 engine and enough room to carry an entire board of directors off roads around the oil fields in a single vehicle, I suppose. But, why advertise and emphasize the one point that the vehicle is deplorably bad at, in a magazine targeted at people who also read Consumer Reports and will discover your fraud, when gasoline has crossed the $3 a gallon mark and it racing towards $4 a gallon?

Somebody at Chrysler, indeed apparently almost everybody in the design team, is deeply convinced that every American deeply wants a 400 horsepower sedan, so they can rumble louder while they are stuck in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic in a vehicle named after small arms ammunition. I don't happen to know anyone like that, but I admit that my social circles are not a representative sample of the general population. Fresh designs were long overdue at Chrysler which had previously been known for its uninspired lingering old models. But, do they not have focus groups in Detroit? The company has, meanwhile, made no serious efforts that I'm aware of to develop hybrid drive cars, or otherwise meet needs of the coming twenty-teens that might differ from those of the 1960s.

Without the pressure of SEC reporting, quarterly targets from analysts, or the need to satisfy the whims of a CEO who sets his own salary, maybe Chrysler can turn itself around. But, the new buyers didn't escape legacy costs that are ruinous, bad designs, aging plants, or a weak corporate culture, so it is hard to see how this will happen.

14 May 2007

New World Worms

Only two genera of Lumbricid earthworms are indigenous to North America whereas introduced genera have invaded areas where earthworms did not formerly exist, especially in the north. Here forest development relies on a large amount of undecayed leaf matter. Where worms decompose that leaf layer, the ecology may shift making the habitat unsurvivable for certain species of trees, ferns and wildflowers.

From here (for a more scholarly source see here; hat tip to a fellow soccer dad who cited National Geographic as a source).

ARH and FCS slashed.

ARH is the Armed Reconnaisance Helicopter program of the Army, and the less amibtious successor to the cancelled Comanche helicopter, which in turn is the successor the Kiowa helicopter. FCS is the Future Combat System, a big plan to replace all sorts of artillery, drones, vehicles, tanks, communications systems and weapons now in use, as part of an integrated system. Both are over budget and behind schedule research and development programs with timelines to slow to support the current war effort. The budgets for these two programs are being slashed in the House of Representatives right now according to Defense Tech.

The big trouble in the helicopter program is a surprise, as this was billed by Bell Helicopter as a nearly off the shelf, technologically unambitious program about a year ago. It was supposed to be a model of how much better Army procurement was than that in the Navy, Marines and Air Force. But, unit price bloat apparently caught up with the program, as prices per helicopter went from $5.2 million to just under $10 million. It appears that Congress will be asking the DOD to start over from scratch on the program by reopening the bidding on the program, killing the current ARH-70 program, but there is a fair reading of the news coverage that could imply a Deep Water style change of management of the program instead.

One wonders if Bell didn't overplay its cards by assuming that it had wiggle room to bloat cost under a GOP administration in wartime (perhaps with the promise of improved features), and then found itself outflanked by Democrats who preferred a competing bidder or simply didn't have any loyalty to Bell after the election.

The trouble with the Future Combat System, in contrast, is entirely predictable. It was an overambitious, unfocused, pie in the sky, big budget venture from the start, and is poorly understood even by those who are inclined to favor new advanced weapons for the Army. The idea of replacing everything a service uses in a single contract, echoed by the Coast Guard's Deep Water program, has again proven itself to be unworkable. The Army has been distancing itself from the seven years behind schedule original FCS model in any case, under the rubric of "spiral development" which amounts to breaking the FCS program up into individual weapons programs and developing them one at a time.

Incidentally, the Marine's Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program has also been sent back to the drawing board due to programs in the narrow, but technologically ambitious program. I suspect, however, that the Marine's track record of saving the Osprey, another narrow but ambitious program, will ultimately produce some EFV successor that works more or less as billed.

Is it too much to hope that top civilian officials and military brass will learn from these lessons and start to favor less technologically ambitious, focused, single product programs that are less likely to go overbudget or fall far behind schedule? Or, will it take the deep cuts looming on the horizon in the Joint Strike Fighter (i.e. F-35) program, which tried to be all things to all services, in order for this lesson to become conventional wisdom? My intuition is that the F-35C for navy carriers may never see more than a trial production run, and that the F-35A for the Air Force to replace the F-16 will see significant unit cuts before the program ends.

12 May 2007

Onion Sends Up Oberlin

The Onion has a noice story allegedly relying on a report from Oberlin College Women's Studies professor Barbara Klein. It is entitled: Women Now Empowered By Everything A Woman Does, which while not true, like most Onion articles is frighteningly close to the truth.

As recently as 15 years ago, a woman could only feel empowered by advancing in a male-dominated work world, asserting her own sexual wants and needs, or pushing for a stronger voice in politics. Today, a woman can empower herself through actions as seemingly inconsequential as driving her children to soccer practice or watching the Oxygen network.

While Barbara Klein is a fake, the Oberlin Women's Studies program is very real. In fact, when I was in student government there, one of my greater achievements was helping to authorize allocating a new faculty slot to women's studies through a joint faculty-student committee in charge of such decisions.

11 May 2007

Less Divorce, Less Marriage

Divorce rates (relative to the population) are at a 37 year low, continuing a steady decline since 1981. "The rate peaked at 5.3 divorces per 1,000 people in 1981." Now it's 3.6 per 1,000 people. This doesn't necessarily mean that marriages are more stable.

The 1981 peak is partially a result of pent up demand as "no fault" divorce became available state by state. People whose marriages were all but dead for many years were finally able to untie the knot.

Fewer Divorces From Fewer Marriages

But, the long term decline probably has more to do with fewer marriages being formed living fewer to fall apart. Divorce is a lagging indicator of the number of marriages entered into, because most divorces take place within seven years of a marriage.

The number of couples who live together without marrying has increased tenfold since 1960; the marriage rate has dropped by nearly 30 percent in past 25 years; and Americans are waiting about five years longer to marry than they did in 1970.

By the way, while the ratio of marriages to divorces indicate that about half of all marriages end in divorce, and half of all divorces take place within the first seven years, that isn't quite as bleak as it sounds. Half of marriages do not end within seven years. Describing the same facts more optimistically, about 75% of marriages last at least 7 years, and about half of marriages last until death parts the couple. Marriage is still a very stable relationship compared to other relationships in our society. And, a good share of the early divorces are childless marriages, something that imposes a far lower cost on society than divorces involving children.

Proving that even a broken clock is right twice a day, however, Patrick Fagan of the Heritage Foundation accurately points out the problem with the status quo:

Cohabitation is very fragile, and when unmarried parents split, for the child it might as well be a divorce.

The Socioeconomic Marriage Divide

The research cited in the link above is also correct that there is an emerging marriage divide along class lines. Educated middle class couples get married and stay together. But, for the working class, marriage is a fading institution. Marriage is still to a great extent an economic institution, and financial pressure on families puts pressure on marriages.

(The article claims that middle class marriages are also more stable, but I have some doubts about data interpretation there, it may simply be that less affluent couples get married less in the first place, and even if middle class marriages are more stable, it isn't clear to me that the trendline of the ratio of middle class v. less affluent marriage stability is clear.)

Health Insurance, Taxes, Gay Rights and the Marriage Divide

One of the strongest economic incentives to marry is health insurance. I personally know couples who married years before telling their parents because the economics of health care necessitated it. These days, the health care benefits of marriage outweigh the tax benefits. Federal income taxes aren't a major concern to members of the working class and of the middle, middle class, and there are few benefits to marriage for double income couples in high tax brackets.

The health care benefit motive partially explains why middle class people, who have jobs with health insurance marry, while those who lack health insurance don't marry. If you lack health insurance, the next best thing is Medicaid. And, it is far easier to qualify for Medicaid if you aren't married than it is when you are married.

Health insurance benefits are also a major economic impetus behind the gay marriage movement, although certainly not the only one, and indeed, close after health insurance benefits for gays, is respect from the health care establishment for the relationship in matters like visiting hours and contacts with medical professionals treating a partner. The gay community had these lessons thrust upon them by the AIDS epidemic, and this has helped fuel the larger gay rights movement.

Who Bears The Costs of Cohabitation?

The down side of declining marriage rates falls largely upon women who leave cohabitation relationship who have children in the relationship. While child custody and child support laws have been modernized to the point where they are indifferent to the marital status of the parents, marriage provides a divorcing spouse with claims on the couple's property and with rights to alimony that are absent in an unmarried couple.

The lack of property and alimony rights would be fine if modern unmarried couples wer mostly made up of two adults with careers involving comparable earning capacity and a roughly equal division of how the couple's property is owned. But, the reality is that most couples, while hardly fitting the stereotypical housewife for life stereotype, also are a poor fit to the feminist ideal of economic equality of the sexes.

Most women who have children spend time away from their original careers to raise children, either no working at all for a while, or working part-time or in less demanding jobs to make it easier to be a good parent. Most men who have children don't. As a result, women who have children usually make an economic sacrifice in their lifetime earning capacity on behalf of the couple, something that property rights and alimony try to compensate a woman for in a marriage, but something that women outside of marriage who have children can rarely recapture.

The truth of the matter is that property rights and alimony in marriage are already inadequate. On average, women see a big decline in their economic well being when they divorce, relative to that experienced by men who take a modest hit at best, and often end up better off. The hit is even greater for women in a cohabiting couple.

As a result, I personally favor more enforceable and certain alimony rights that tend to produce larger awards within existing divorce law, and also favor a rethinking of the concept of alimony that mostly decouples alimony from marriage, instead looking mostly at economic sacrifices made by co-parents for the benefit of their children when making awards, separate and apart from the actual costs associated with having children in your custody a certain number of nights per year.

Are Working Class Women Economically Irrational?

This doesn't necessarily mean that working class women are being economically irrational when the cohabit rather than marry.

Marital property rights mean little when the couple is unlikely to ever own real estate or accumulate significant financial assets.

Also, cohabitating couples, like married couples, often break up in financial hard times. Getting significant alimony on top of child support from a man who is unemployed or marginally employed in a short term marriage is an iffy proposition, even if the woman has made a great economic sacrifice by leaving a career to stay home with young children for several years. For a working class woman, the deadweight transaction costs of a divorce, like attorneys fees, often outweigh the economic benefits they can expect from a divorce and can also delay their prospects of marrying someone else who comes along and can provide for them financially, something often worth more than trying to squeeze more money from an ex-spouse whose income earning capacity is dubious.

The Assumptions of The Consevative Argument

Conservatives largely claim, at least, to be pro-marriage. Putting aside the mystery of why this would lead them to oppose gay marriage, this stance does have underlying empirical assumptions that, if true, makes a pro-marriage stance sensible.

One empirical assumption of conservatives is that marriage makes couples more likely to stay together than cohabitation. While marriages are more stable than cohabitation relationships, this doesn't mean that the assumption is right. Equally plausible is the theory that the fact of being married has little to do with relationship stability, and that couples in relationships which are already stable in the first place are more likely to get marriaged. If marriage, per se, is a weak factor in keeping couples together, the argument for it is undermined.

If this assumption is wrong, the impact of a breakup is irrelevant to policies designed to support marriage per se.

A second empirical assumption of conservatives is that parents staying together is good for children. This is a very sensitive issue. There is probably not a single classroom at my children's elementary school that doesn't have some children whose parents have divorced.

My wife went to school this week as a volunteer to help children in one of my kid's classes make mother's day gifts. One of the children insisted on making two sets because she "had two mommies" (in this case a mother and a stepmom, although there are some children at my kids' elementary school who are parented by lesbian couples). She was surprised by this, not because there was a child with "two mommies", but because there was only one in that class.

No one disputes that contentious divorce proceedings themselves are bad for children. And, conservatives are right in observing that contentious child custody fights between cohabitants who break up are pretty much just as bad for children. Avoiding those fights is hard, however, because if there is a breakup, there is no magical, one size fits all default resolution that can be imposed without a careful examination of the facts of the particular case.

But, the hard question is whether a bad marriage or cohabitation relationship is also bad for children, maybe even equally bad or worse. Now that China has liberalized its divorce laws, the business of consulting with adults to tell them if their marriages are so bad that they should get divorced is a growth industry, one that it wouldn't hurt Americans to copy.

At some extreme, no one doubts that a deeply physically abuse marriage is better severed than maintained, even for the children. But, there is a huge divide over how bad a marriage should be before the virtues of staying together for the children are outweighed by the virtues of separating for the benefit of both the couple and the children. There is also little doubt among all but the most extreme participants in the debate that children are better off when parents stay together in marriages that are a little bit bad for the parents.

"No fault" divorce relies on adults along to make that decision, imposing a variety of moral hazards (i.e. incentives to help yourself at the expense of others without repurcussions) that equitable property division even in theory, only partially addresses. If parents think a lot about their children's needs before deciding to divorce, this isn't empirically a big issue, if parents disregard their children's needs when deciding to divorce, this is potentially a huge issue.

There is a lot of research out there on the topic, and much of it has serious methodological flaws and is distorted by political agendas of the researchers, often unconsciously. Still, I think it is fair to say that on this point, conservatives are mostly right. The weight of the research tends to show that staying together for the kids, in even pretty bad marriages, is better for the kids than breaking up. (No research in the United States, for obvious reasons, explores the issue of whether plural marriage in a single household would be preferrable to the kids than the de facto plural marriage in separate households that is created by court imposed co-parenting arrangements.)

Still, the cause of the harm from a breakup is also hard to determine. We know, for example, that poverty is bad for kids too. Does the harm to kids from a breakup have more to do with trusting one or both parents into poverty, and thus putting kids into a poverty ridden household at least part of every week, as opposed to spending all of there time in a non-poverty ridden pre-break up household? If so, alimony and child support reform and a stronger social safety net could mitigate the harm of breakups.

The bottom line then, is that there may be some benefit to encouraging marriage, because there may be something to the notion that they do help couples stay together. But, strengthening the stability of all kinds of relationships, particularly by providing financial stability, would probably be better, and so might be mitigating the harm caused when there is a break up, which while currently significant, doesn't necessarily have to be that way if we develop better norms for meeting children's needs in post-breakup relationships.

10 May 2007

Justice Lied To Congress As Late As Feb 23

A letter from the Justice Department to Congress on February 23, 2007 falsely stated that Karl Rove wasn't involved in the U.S. Attorney firings. E-mails with Rove withheld from Congress show it.

Even Republican Senators are growing more and more outraged at the brazenness with which Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department has lied to Congress.

Cure Worse Than Crime

Why should an 11 year old crime victim be compelled to testify in a court case in a manner more punitive than the likely punishment his 13 year old assailant will face?

The 11-year-old boy was led from his school in handcuffs, held overnight in a juvenile detention center, and hauled into court in shackles and an orange prison jumpsuit.

His crime? Missing a court date to testify as the victim of an assault.

The Minnesota court and the county in which it is located is trying to make a point that the Indian tribe of which the 11 year old boy is a member is subject to its authority. It chose the wrong way to do so.

Why Didn't Anyone Do Something?

This morning on KALC 105.9 FM, the morning show personalities were talking about the case of Chandler Grafter, a seven year old boy who died of malnutrition. The refrain was familiar. "Why didn't anyone do something?" Of course, people did notice that this boy was emaciated. His grandmother tried to contact social services, for whom a "gut feeling" and a young boy's generalized fear of a stepfather, wasn't enough to act.

Child abuse and neglect cases are the only time this question gets asked. People ask why no one intervened in longstanding domestic violence situations. More than once in my life I've been in situations where I've heard the screaming fights of neighbors, although none that I know of reached the level of physical violence. People ask it about the loners who go amok and cause mass killings. People ask when a young woman who have never seen a doctor or midwife or nurse ends up giving birth in a bathroom and drowning thier newborn child. They ask it when neighors see a violent crime in action and fail to report it, even though they aren't afraid of the killers. They ask it in mental illness cases, and in cases of elderly people who die in their homes from falls, unable to summon help from a phone a few feet away, but impossibly distant for them.

Sometimes people do act. Sometimes a community's social capital is strong enough to intervene productively. The novel "Plainsong" by Kent Haruf is a beautiful ode to a rural Colorado community where informal community actions works. The Fort Dix attack plot, averted by the intervention of a low level employee at a local Circuit City store, is another. Family members and school teachers and neighbors and bystanders do intervene sometimes, even often.

But, we don't has any systemic grassroots early warning system. Our society doesn't have Mental Health Crisis Block Captains. The political machines like New York's old Tammany Hall where individuals, unbound by bureaucratic rules, found people jobs, and solves community problems, in exchange for loyalty, are dead. We don't have and don't want the neighborhood level Communist party officials of China, whose giant cities work more like huge collections of rural villages (or at least used to until very recently) rather than like modern Western cities of comparable size. We don't have the community policemen found in Japan who make it their business to know their beat so well that an annual visit in your living room from your local constable is the norm, and that same constable keeps a log to keep track of such non-criminal details as what young man is dating what young woman in his neighborhood.

In Denver, police stations are assigned single digit numbers, each having many police officers responsible for tens of thousands of people. Social services is largely complaint driven, with no pro-active intelligence gathering organ actively seeking out those who need help but aren't inclined or able to ask for it themselves.

We are, as one commentator on a blog I was reading recently put it, a nation closer to the libertarian ideal than almost any other in the world. Japan has lower taxes and a smaller government, but that masks a pervasively structured and ordered underlying, highly homogeneous society. Switzerland has greater gun ownership, a more citizen based democracy, a weaker central government, and strong private enterprises, but also far more intrusive government regulation of daily life, more democratic control of private actions from fellow citizens in your local area, a stronger social safety net, and much higher expectations of involvement, military and civil, from its citizens, in public life. Singpore has a seemingly laissez-faire economy, but very little private land ownership (almost everybody rents their homes from the government) and draconian criminal codes enforced by corporal and capital punishment unrivaled outside the Islamic world. Hong Kong might be closer, but it remains to be seen how long its extreme lassiez-fair economy will survive under Chinese sovereignty. The Germans are famous for their Prussian heritage of micromanagement of private affairs. The French have a historical legacy of government driven industrialization and of local affairs managed by cenral government appointed prefects and central government ministries rather than locally selected school boards and municipalities that have historically been weak.

If Richard Florida, author of the book "The Creative Class" is right, and on this point, at least, I think that he is, the very economic and social vitality of our nation is to a great extent a product of our free wheeling unregulated society. Economic development is greatest not where "social capital" is strongest, but where it is tenuous. The networking that drives implemented innovation thrives on numerous shallow ties, not fewer deep ties. If we tried to implement a Japanese model of intense police supervision of our private lives, and strongly government encouraged social norms, our economy would collapse for decades until we learned to engage in the well organized, methodical, wide ranging, slow informal deliberative process that is necessary to bring about change in that society. In our society, we rely on mavericks to fuel Schumpeter's engines of Creative Destruction. In a high social capital society like Japan's, you need wizards of office and local politics instead.

Is there a middle ground? Is it possible to develop an organic grassroots early warning system that catches individual malaise in modern American society, without squelching the not just de jure, but de facto freedom that makes our economy and society an innovative hub for the world? Would a system more alert to childhood and marital problems than the one he grew up in have squelched Albert Einstein's genius? Would we have had the Beatles if the British educational system had had a greater ability to push John Lennon to pursue its recommendation that he take up a mechanical trade? Would we be able to deliver packages cheaper overnight if business plans were judged by the likes of Harvard Business School professors who gave his business plan poor marks, instead of by wildcat venture capitalists who were willing to defy conventional wisdom to give it a try?

I believe that we can find a middle ground that protects our society's libetarian ideal freedoms in vast swaths of our economic and social lives, while intervening to find help for children, the mentally ill, the vulnerable elderly, and subjugated spouses. We can have a society that allows consenting adults to set up and participate in S&M clubs, while protecting battered wives who find themselves unable to report the abuse they are suffering. We can have a system that permits constructive intervention by the state or community in circumstances short of violations of criminal law proven beyond a reasonable doubt, without unduly sacrificing freedom of conscience and individual autonomy.

Parents can have the authority to raise their children, even eccentrically, without necessitating that that authority be entirely unquestioned, or that their parental rights be absolute.

Freedom to make choices that are undeniable stupid and against your own interests, because you are ill informed or deceived, is not something that the public is willing to, or should be willing to, fight to defend.

I don't have a five point plan or chart with boxes and arrows that lays out exactly how the grassroots early warning system I'm intimating in this post would work. This post is a mission statement. It is a recognition of the need on a broader and more all encompassing basis than most single issue activists in these areas are ready to think big enough to push for, while at the same time a recognition of the risk and potential for problems inherent in the ideal if implemented poorly. This system cannot be, as social services tends to be now, a boogey man that cows parents into submission through fear. It should not be punitive in nature, either overtly, or as a back door way to punish where an open admission of an intent to punish would not be permitted. I don't have all those details worked out, but I think, that with the kind of mission statement set forth here, that it is possible to create.

09 May 2007

The New Iraqi Air Force

The new Iraqi Air Force is buying, sensibly, cheap new counterinsurgency (COIN) aircraft. One leading contender is a variant of the American made T-6 single engine trainer, similar to one used by the Greek Air Force. The requirements for the contract are shown here (omissions not indicated expressly):

The USAF plans to acquire a Commercial-Off-The Shelf (COTS) aircraft modified to perform COIN operations.

The COIN aircraft must be a lightly armored, 2-seat, turbo-prop aircraft capable of locating, tracking, identifying, and engaging a variety of targets with a suite of Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) sensors and laser-guided/unguided air-to-ground weapons/missiles. Further, it must be able to share data and imagery with other COIN aircraft and current IqAF Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Counter Terrorism (CT) aircraft. Finally, it must incorporate an IR threat detection and countermeasure system and be capable of performing a dual role as an advanced fixed-wing flight trainer aircraft.

Mission Concept: The COIN aircraft will provide the IqAF with a critical offensive and operational over watch capability in the COIN fight. It will also have a dual role as an intermediate/advanced single-engine fixed-wing trainer aircraft.

The COIN aircraft, capable of being manned by either a crew of one pilot, or a pilot and a sensor operator, will arrive in an area of interest with the ability to receive data and imagery from other IqAF surveillance, CT, and COIN platforms. Whether cued by an external sensor or its own sensor suite, the COIN aircraft will be able to find, fix, identify, track, target, and engage emerging and time-sensitive targets. It may have a variety of laser guided precision weapons and non-precision weapons at its disposal in order to create effects tailored specifically to the unique situations it will encounter in the COIN environment.

FWIW, the U.S. could use a few more planes in this class as well. The A-10 and the AC-130 are the closest matches in existence in the U.S. Air Force right now, and some attack helicopters and more traditional and expensive full fledged fighter craft (most notably the F-15, F-16, AV-8B, and in the future the F-35A and F-35B) fill these roles.

08 May 2007

Does The Second Amendment Apply To The States?

Most gun control laws are enacted by state and local governments. Are those laws subject to the Second Amendment? Maybe not. Here is part of an interesting SCOTUS blog post on the subject, in light of today's denial of rehearing en banc in a case holding the D.C. gun law (where federalism issues don't apply) invalid under the Second Amendment:

[T]here is a definite conflict among the Circuit Courts on the meaning of the Second Amendment, and the Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue since a somewhat ambiguous decision in 1939 (U.S. v. Miller). . . .

While the Fifth Circuit Court has ruled in favor of an individual right theory, it did not use that theory to strike down any specific gun control law. By contrast, the D.C. Circuit ruling was the first to apply that theory directly in nullifying a gun law. Every other Circuit Court to rule on the issue has rejected the indiviual right theory, largely based upon the Supreme Court's Miller decision. There is also a 10 to 7 split among state appellate courts on the issue.

Moreover, there is also a direct conflict over the Second Amendment as it applies specifically to the D.C. gun law -- the city's highest local court, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, has upheld the same law by embracing the collective right theory. It reiterated that position as recently as last week, in the case of Andrews v. United States (D.C. Court of Appeals docket 02-1043) -- a ruling that the city government had brought to the Circuit Court's attention last Friday, before rehearing was denied. . . .

Because the case of Parker v. District of Columbia deals only with the Second Amendment as a federal issue, it does not raise the question of whether the Second Amendment applies at all to state and local government. The Supreme Court last faced that issue in 1886 in Presser v. Illinois, finding that the Amendment only applied to the federal government. That would not be an issue in the Parker case in the Supreme Court, but a state or local case would be almost certain to arise to test it.

The position of the U.S. Supreme Court on this constitutional issue, like almost all others, boils down to what Justice Kennedy things about it. Justice Thomas is a clear vote to adopt an individual rights theory, something he suggessted the Court do in 1997. Justice Alito would likely agree. But, how Justice Kennedy would rule in this case is anybody's guess.

While I would prefer to see the U.S. Supreme Court take this case and find that the Second Amendment does not confer an individual right, as long as Presser v. Illinois remains good law (dicta to that effect in the instant case would be good enough), it doesn't really matter that much, it simply makes gun control a state issue. I certainly don't see any obvious reason that the current incorporation theory, which asks if the due process clause of the 14th Amendment requires that a provision of the Bill of Rights be applied to the states, should lead the high court to apply the Second Amendment to the states.

Indeed, originalists on the court, while they might favor an individual rights theory of the Second Amendment, might likewise, be particularly inclined to uphold Presser v. Illinois as it resolved the issue not long after the 14th Amendment was adopted, and hence is likely to reflect the original intent of the drafters of that Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Many conservatives, indeed, bear hostility to the incorporation doctrine that applies the Bill of Rights to the states, in general.

If a loss in Parker v. District of Columbia in the U.S. Supreme Court with a dicta upholding Presser v. Illinois gave the movement either for statehood for the District of Columbia, or the annexation of all or most of the District of Columbia by Maryland, the push it needed to pass, would that be such a bad thing?

Another California Three Strikes Injustice

A federal appeals court upheld a mentally ill man's three-strikes sentence of 25 years to life Wednesday for shoplifting two bottles of liquor from a Southern California market, a sentence that a dissenting judge called "barbarous.''...

Joshua, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, had been convicted of robbery five times since 1974 and had been in and out of prisons and mental hospitals in the decades before his shoplifting conviction[.]

From here.

The only factor that provides even a glimmer of hope for attacking this sentence on federal constitutional grounds is that there is a history of mental illness involved. But, equally egregious cases under California's three strikes law involving non-mentally ill defendants have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the past.

Everyone knows that California's three strikes law is broken; but there are enough cowards in power in California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, among them, who has talked the talk but then thwarted a reform measure, that the problem hasn't been fixed yet.

Colorado Compared

While Colorado has its own habitual offender statute, a sentence like this one for this offense, would be impossible, regardless of the Defendant's criminal history.

A theft of two bottles of liquor with a combined value of $62, as was this case here, would be a class 3 misdemeanor in Colorado, punishable by up to six months incarceration at a local jail, and a hefty fine. This would be the likely punishment for the same offense that resulted in 25 years to life for Joshua.

Multiple thefts in a six months period can be aggregated, however.

Under changes to Colorado criminal law that will take effect this summer, the cutoff for felony theft will increase from $500 to $1000. There is no provision in Colorado for sentencing a habitual offender who commits misdemeanor theft as a felon.

Minor Felony Thefts In Colorado

Crossing the $500 pre-July 1, 2007/$1000 post-July 1, 2007 felony threshold if the total amount is under $15,000 ($20,000 as of this summer) is a non-violent class 4 felony in Colorado, normally punishable by two to six years in prison, plus three years mandatory parole, plus a hefty fine.

In Colorado, probation or reduction of a sentence below the ordinary minimum sentence isn't allowed if the offender had two prior felony theft from a store convictions in the last four years (a factor that wouldn't apply in Joshua's case).

The sentencing range for class 4 felony theft in Colorado if you are on parole at the time is 4-12 years. Where the amount stolen was small and there were mitigating factors, as it appears that there were in this case, a judge would be unlikely to impose the maximum sentence within that range.

The longest punishment for a felony theft, for which Joshua would be eligible if he committed felony theft, in Colorado, applies when one has four prior felonies. The habitual criminal sentence in that case for a class 4 felony theft would be 24 years in prison (one year less than the minimum sentence in California for petty shoplifting by an offender with at least two prior felonies). With two prior felonies the habitual criminal sentence for a class 4 felony theft would be 18 years.

While these sentences are harsh, they don't approach the severity of California. Felony theft never qualifies for Colorado's life imprisonment habitual offender statute, which covers only serious violent crimes or the very most serious (class 2) non-violent crimes.

It is also worth keeping in mind that there is probably only one judicial district in the state, the one presided over by Republican District Attorney Carol Chambers whose district includes Denver suburbs Arapahoe and Douglas counties, where a district attorney would typically exercise discretion to seek a habitual offender sentence in a marginal theft case involving a man with a long history of mental illness. Almost every other district attorney in the state would accept a plea to a less severe non-habitual offender sentence in such a case.

The dissent notes that in federal court, someone convicted of stealing a billion times as much as this fellow did, receives a shorter sentence.

07 May 2007

Yoga IP

This Daily Kos diary on Yoga IP caught my eye. The text is better than it might appear at first glance. Most of the Yoga intellectual property is for trademarks, presumably for Yoga businesses, copyrights (presumably on particular wording in Yoga books, not the moves themselves), and Yoga accessories (seems excessive, but maybe there are some that aren't obvious -- also patents, since they are short lived, tend to be the least worrisome).

Still, some specific examples, shows the unnecessary ease with which trademarks can be obtained.

Punctuating Jesus.

NewMexiKen appropriately asks why there isn't a comma in "Jesus Christ", recapping a post from a couple of years ago, before I started reading his blog.

People With Issues On Capitol Hill

The May issue of Life on Capitol Hill, a neighborhood newspaper in Denver has several stories about how mental health and substance abuse issues play out in daily life here. (It has no website; an appalling short coming for a free neighorhood newspaper.)

* * * * *

In "Inmate suspected in Denton murder", by Rory Seeber (front page), it recaps the decision of the Denver Police Department to name John Lee Carson, 31, as a suspect in the 2005 murder of Brenda Denton, at the time of her death, a 38 year old criminal justice and psychology student at Metropolitan State College who lived in Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood.

He is currently serving an eight-year sentence in the Buena Vista Correctional Facility for two unrelated 2005 assaults, which occured afte Denton's murder. . . . Accused murderer Caroson has been judged to be mentally ill and has spent varying amounts of time in psychiatric hospitals in the past decade. A drug-user said to be a former acquaintance of Denton's, he was on three years of supervised probation for stabbing a man when Denton was murdered.

If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times -- preventable tragedies, which is what more and more of them become as we understand them better, are something that public policy can address. This is one of them.

* * * * *

In his "it's always Something" column, Don Becker describes (at page 37) an incident with his schitzophrenic neighbor and friend who started playing music "REALLY LOUD 24/7" when she stopped taking her meds. The incident, which resulted in observation in a locked mental ward after a police call five days after it started, is described lovingly and carefully through Becker's eyes. He notes that his neighbors "looked at me expectantly, as though it was tacitly assumed that I was the unofficial Mental Health Crisis Block Captain." He is in jest, of course, but the idea isn't a bad one, as is his skepticism of the current response which is "Sending a Denver police officer with a deadly weapon to haul Crystal off to the psych ward."

There were no tragedies in this case, but the pervasive undercurrent of the story is that this kind of thing is a challenge even to the healthy civil society of a neighborhood like his at 13th and Washington in 2007, a question that was punctuated by an unstated and unanswered question, "what would be better?" Maybe we need official or unofficial Mental Health Crisis Block Captains.

The other subtle point worth noting in the column is that for all of their alleged anonymity, dense urban neighborhoods have more community than they are given credit for having.

* * * * *

Finally, Vanessa Martin in a story entitled "Drug Court handles non-violent offenses" (front page), discusses the reopening a a revamped Drug court in Denver that handles 40%-60% of the 2,200 to 2,500 felony drug cases filed in Denver District Court each year. The program puts defendants in a diversion program within five days of their arrest allegedly freeing up to 130 jail beds a day "for more serious offenders."

The program puts offenders in treatment, does random drug testing, calls for community service, requires payment of fees and costs, and requires regular court appearances before magistrates (as well as a guilty plea). The program last 9 months for those who play ball, and at least two years for those who screw up (plus immediate sanctions). The program claims that 50%-65% of graduates get off drugs. It handles relatively minor possession cases only and the plea is accompanied by a deferred judgment allowing successful graduates to avoid a criminal record.

In short, at least something seems to be going right in Denver in taking a more sensible approach to drug problems.

Criminal Justice In Nicaragua

Via How Appealing, a case study of an American convicted of rape and murder in Nicargua in a system quite unlike our own.

Haunted Dreams

Every once and a while, maybe once every several years, you get one of those dreams that lingers with you long into the morning, long after the details are gone. This morning was one of those days. Sometime after falling back asleep at 3 a.m. after awakening for no particularly good reason in the middle of the night, and the mad rush of getting the kids to school by 8 a.m. that starts a little more than an hour earlier, came one of those dreams.

My wife noticed I was a bit out of sorts, not all that unusual for me as I am definitely not a morning person. I described it to her as being haunted by a dream in which I was up close to a pogrom in what seemed like contemporary small town America. I don't know if pogrom is really the right word -- I wasn't consciously aware of which group was being attacked or why precisely the attacks were being carried out. But, it was a mass extermination effort directed at a group of people by an angry semi-organized, but not government-directed mob. In the dream, I was neither oppressed nor oppressor, maybe a friend of a victim, I'm not sure. But, it was up close and personal. It was dark. Homes were burning. Worse things were implied or taken in by sound or smell, rather than sight. People were fleeing into trees or a swamp or both. It had started innocently enough, a gathering of friends reminiscing for an evening, and somehow, the horrors swirled into being happened upon somehow, maybe upon a return to a friend's home.

More than three hours later, I can still feel the echoing emotions, although almost all of the details have thankfully, faded away in the piercing daylight.

Where do these dreams come from? Why? Some interesting recent scientific studies have show that sleep helps people teases out distant, hidden relationships involving information they've recently encountered, without them even knowing that they've done so.

Dreams are fascinating and also, indeed perhaps because they are, obscure.

While I am a die-hard skeptic by and large, I've had a small number of deja vous experiences that have seemed at the time as if they were preceded by prescient dreams. But, they have never been consequential -- the longest episode what a high school economics lecture where I felt sure that I knew exactly what words the teacher was going to say, and just how he was going to say them, a little in advance, all though the lecture. Most have been brief and even less consequential.

I feel at the time as if I remember having dreamed the moments before, despite the fact that they often, maybe even usually, involve people that I didn't know at the time I think I dreamed them in unforeseeable circumstances -- prosaic interactions at a job I hadn't even applied for at the time, for example. Usually, the moments feel as if I dreamed them a few months to a few years prior.

If my perceptions were accurate, it are a fascinating proof of principal and of the nature of the universe, but practically they are completely useless. The vast majority of my dreams never manifest and almost all of them are swiftly forgotten. I have never acted on such a dream, never even had enough context to make any sense of one.

04 May 2007

State House Adjourned.

It's over for another year.

Cities and The Planet

This opinion piece which argues we have too many cities and thus are harming the ecology of the planet is just plain wrong. People in cities have a much smaller footprint in terms of impact on the planet per capita, than those who are not in cities.

This isn't intuitively obvious. People in a big city do have a great ecological impact.

The article, for example, notes that the Sears Tower uses as much electricity as a medium sized city. But, the Sears Tower also probably has as much, if not more, office space than a medium sized city and it probably uses far less energy to heat those offices and probably uses less energy to get the people in those offices to and from home.

In fact, people in cities eat up less open space, use less energy and pollute less in the process of transporting themselves to places they need to go, use less energy to heat the spaces they occupy, use less water to maintain lawns, and in general, have less ecological impact per person. This is why New York City is at the bottom and not the top of per capita energy use.

This planet may have a maximum carrying capacity for people. But, population growth levels off or ends without strong government intervention as countries grow more prosperous in any case. Mexico, for example, has seen its per woman fertility go from 6-7 kids per woman per lifetime, to just over the replacement rate, in just about a generation.

We do have to reduce human impact on the planet. But, trying to prevent urbanization in fundamentally a counterproductive way to address that problem.

Scott Adams On Spinoza and Einstein

I just finished reading a (rather boring) historical romance, "The Witch of Cologne" by Tobsha Learner, that features Spinoza as a character, so I feel compelled to pass along the observations of Dilbert writer Scott Adams on the topic.

Hat Tip to NewMexiKen, who points out some delightful observations about Wikipedia to boot.

General Motors: Almost Non-Profit

General Motors made a $62 million profit in the first quarter of 2007. This may seem like nothing to sniff at, until you realize that they had to sell 2.26 million vehicles to produce this profit. That's right, shareholder pick up just $27.43 per vehicle that is sold by the biggest of the big three automakers.

As the link above explains, there is a lot that goes into the General Motors bottom line -- extraordinary transactions like a partial divestment of the GMAC financing business (hit hard by the subprime residential mortgage crash), the sale of its equity ownership of Suzuki Motors at a profit, and a restructuring of its European and Asian divisions, all skew the figures. But, even excluding "special items" the automaker still made only $94 million (i.e. $41.59 per vehicle).

General Motors is worse at home than abroad. GM's North American operations "still lost an adjusted $85 million on its core operations. A year ago, GM reported an adjusted loss of $251 million in North America." GM increased the per vehicle sales price by about $1,000 in North America, a move that was accompanied by a 192,000 vehicle drop in North American production. Less than half of GM's vehicle sales are in the North American market; while I don't have exact North American sales for the first quarter at hand, it looks like GM loses more than $85 per vehicle sold in North America. This isn't too surprising. MSRP has become a joke at GM dealerships, with even marquee "high profit" products like its redesigned pickup trucks "discounted $2,453 on average and are sitting on dealer lots 81 days."

General Motors is still selling cars and trucks at under cost. It loses money selling vehicles, and makes back the loss from its 49% stake in GMAC which, while losing money on its subprime mortgages, still rakes in considerable dough financing vehicles. This is a dubious business model.

This does beat the losses of many prior years. GM lost $2 billion in 2006 and $10 billion in 2005. But, an automotive manufacturer is supposed to have something more than 0.1% to 0.2% profit margin. They are not a non-profit venture.

Even excluding "special items," General Motors is returning just 17 cents a share this quarter (that would be 68 cents a share on an annualized basis) on shares whose price dropped to $30.69 each after the announcement. Earnings of just 2% of stock price aren't impressive. General Motors investors, collectively, would have been better off if the company had sold the assets for the price placed on the business by the stock market and invested the proceeds in Treasury bonds.

Simply put, until GM gets a handle on product quality and fuel efficiency, competitors like Toyota are going to keep eating it for breakfast. The real question is, which will happen first? The bankruptcy, or even discontinuation of operations, of one of the big three American automakers (Daimler Chrysler appears to be eyeing a divestment from Chrysler) or a turn around in product quality for all three American automakers.

It isn't obvious to me that it is easier to turn around any of the existing big three automakers, than it would be to simply start over from scratch with a new American automobile maker: one unburdened by legacy costs for laid off employees which results from declining market share, outdated and overcapacity manufacturing plants, and a stagnant corporate culture. The foreign competition beats the big three automakers even when the competition is also making its vehicles in the United States with American workers.


The assessment above has very real implications for America's most beleaguered city, Detroit. If my guess is right, the motor city is going to see things get worse before they get better. A further collapse in the American auto industry that seems written on the wall right now, may take two to five years to play out, and Detroit's health is probably a lagging indicator of the automobile industry's health. It is a reasonably safe bet that Detroit's population and fortunes more generally will decline from 2000 to 2010, and again from 2010 to 2020. Maybe, Detroit can finally hit bottom after many decades of painful contraction by the twenty-teens, but the future of Motown does not look bright at this juncture.

The Myth Of French Decline

In this French election season, many have argued that France is facing an economic decline or stagnation. This may be true for the very rich in France, compared to the very rich in the U.S. and U.K., but there is a cogent argument to be made that this is not true for the bottom 90% in France, whose lot has improved or stayed even with their peers across the channel and across the Atlantic.


One of the recurring faults of religious scholars is a focus on scripture rather than the living faith that the religious practice. Perhaps that is why, despite having an intensive religious education, I'd never heard until today of the Amidah described by Wikipedia as " the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy."

It is a prayer that every student of Christianity, Islam and of the larger monotheistic religious tradition should know, and know well. It is something of a missing link in the evolution of Christian doctrine, for it comes from the "mishnaic period." What and when is this?

The Mishnah (Hebrew משנה, "repetition"), redacted circa 200 CE by Yehudah Ha-Nasi (יהודה הנשׂיא / "Judah the Prince"), is the first written recording of the oral law of the Jewish people, as championed by the Pharisees, and as debated between 70-200 CE by the group of rabbinic sages known as the Tannaim. It is considered the first work of Rabbinic Judaism and is a major source of Rabbinic Judaism's religious texts: Rabbinic commentaries on the Mishnah over the three centuries after its composition were then redacted as the Gemara (Aramaic: "Tradition"), and joined with the Mishnah to form the Talmud.

In other words, the Mishnah, which is the theological embodiment of the transformation of Judaism from the Temple based, sacrifice oriented religion of Jews in what Christians call the "Old Testament" was developed contemporaneously with the books of the Christian "New Testament", and like the "New Testament" had its roots in the Mediterranean Jewish community. Some have described the Amidah a prayer developed as a substitute for the sacrifices of Temple Judaism.

When was the New Testament written: "The original texts were written in Koine Greek by various authors after c. 45 AD and before c. 140 AD." Some scholars place the starting date for New Testament composition as late as 70 CE (a significant date as it marks the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and the transformation of Judaism from the Temple period to the Rabbic period). Apocryphal New Testament works have been dated through 170 CE. The contents of the New Testament canon were just starting to solidify in the period from 140 CE to 180 CE, and were not definitively settled even as late as 300 CE.

In short, the Amidah would have been in the consciousness of almost every active member of the Jewish community from which the early Christian church was emerging at the time the New Testament was written. How could it not have influenced the religious writing of these authors?

So what is in the Amidah? According to Wikipedia:

The nineteen blessings are as follows:

1. Known as Avot ("Ancestors") this prayer offers praise of God as the God of the Biblical patriarchs, "God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob."
2. Known as Gevurot ("powers"), this offers praise of God for His power and might. This prayer includes a mention of God's healing of the sick and resurrection of the dead. It is called also Tehiyyat ha-Metim = "the resurrection of the dead." . . .
3. Known as Kedushat ha-Shem ("the sanctification of the Name") this offers praise of God's holiness. . . .
4. Known as Binah ("understanding") this is a petition to God to grant wisdom and understanding.
5. Known as Teshuvah ("return", "repentance") this prayer asks God to help Jews to return to a life based on the Torah, and praises God as a God of repentance.
6. Known as Selichah, this asks for forgiveness for all sins, and praises God as being a God of forgiveness.
7. Known as Geulah ("redemption") this praises God as a rescuer of the people Israel.
8. Known as Refuah ("healing") this is a prayer to heal the sick.
9. Known as Birkat HaShanim ("blessing for years [of good]"), this prayer asks God to bless the produce of the earth.
10. Known as Galuyot ("diasporas"), this prayer asks God to allow the ingathering of the Jewish exiles back to the land of Israel.
11. Known as Birkat HaDin ("Justice") this asks God to restore righteous judges as in the days of old.
12. Known as Birkat HaMinim ("the sectarians, heretics") this asks God to destroy those in heretical sects who slander Jews, and who act as informers against Jews.
13. Known as Tzadikim ("righteous") this asks God to have mercy on all who trust in Him, and asks for support for the righteous.
14. Known as Bo'ne Yerushalayim ("Builder of Jerusalem") asks God to rebuild Jerusalem and to restore the Kingdom of David.
15. Known as Birkat David ("Blessing of David") Asks God to bring the descendant of King David, who will be the messiah.
16. Known as Tefillah ("prayer") this asks God to accept our prayers, to have mercy and be compassionate.
17. Known as Avodah ("service") this asks God to restore the Temple services and sacrificial services.
18. Known as Hoda'ah ("thanksgiving") this is a prayer of thanksgiving, thanking God for our lives, for our souls, and for God's miracles that are with us every day. The text can be found in the next section. . . .
19. Known as Shalom ("peace"); the last prayer is the one for peace, goodness, blessings, kindness and compassion. Ashkenazim generally say a shorter version of this blessing at Minchah and Maariv.

Final Benedictions
Prior to the final blessing for peace, the following is said:

We acknowledge to You, O Lord, that You are our God, as You were the God of our ancestors, forever and ever. Rock of our life, Shield of our help, You are immutable from age to age. We thank You and utter Your praise, for our lives that are delivered into Your hands, and for our souls that are entrusted to You; and for Your miracles that are with us every day and for your marvelously kind deeds that are of every time; evening and morning and noon-tide. Thou art good, for Thy mercies are endless: Thou art merciful, for Thy kindnesses never are complete: from everlasting we have hoped in You. And for all these things may Thy name be blessed and exalted always and forevermore. And all the living will give thanks unto Thee and praise Thy great name in truth, God, our salvation and help. Selah. Blessed be Thou, O Lord, Thy name is good, and to Thee it is meet to give thanks. . . .

Concluding Meditation
The custom has gradually developed of reciting, at the conclusion of the latter, the supplication with which Mar, the son of Rabina, used to conclude his prayer:

My God, keep my tongue and my lips from speaking deceit, and to them that curse me let my soul be silent, and like dust to all. Open my heart in Your Torah, and after [in] Thy commandments let me [my soul] pursue. As for those that think evil of [against] me speedily thwart their counsel and destroy their plots. Do [this] for Thy name's sake, do this for Thy right hand's sake, do this for the sake of Thy holiness, do this for the sake of Thy Torah. That Thy beloved ones may rejoice, let Thy right hand bring on help [salvation] and answer me... May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Eternal, my rock and my redeemer.

I won't belabor the point (or eat up any more of the morning) by exploring the links between the Amidah and the New Testament in detail. But, it isn't hard to see that many elements of the Amidah are found in the Christian New Testament, and in particular, are emphasized in portions of the Gospels found in later, but not earlier Gospels, like the reference to the House of David. Many references commonly notated in Christian scholarship as references to the Hebrew Bible are probably indirect and come to Christian scripture through the Amidah, rather than directly from their Biblical sources.

The tradition of praying the Amidah three times a day while facing Jerusalem is similarly probably behind the pillar of Islamic practice of praying five times daily towards Mecca. This prayer also probably closely linked to the Christian monastic schedule of daily prayers, and behind to similarly structured Catholic prayers like the Rosary.

As a concluding point, an acknowledgement of the historical religious importance of the Amidah to all three of the "People of the Book" faiths, also shines a spotlight on Ben Sira. This rather obscure extracannonical Jewish religious writer is not the direct author of the Amidah, but it strongly echos his earlier writings which were known at the time and are referrenced at points in the Talmud. Thus, Ben Sira's influence on the modern religious scene is much greater than had been previously understood.