31 July 2007

Unsurprising CSAP Results

The CSAP, like all tests, basically measures academic ability. Unsuprisingly, several years of doing basically the same thing to teach our kids academics is not making them any more or less academically able than last year's crop of kids. As the Denver Post notes: "Ritter called the changes 'statistically insignificant.'"

Equally unsurprising is the "discovery" that kids who did poorly once on the CSAPs tend to continue to do so, while kids who do well likewise tend to continue to do well.

For the first time, the Department of Education provided data that showed how students have performed over time, from 2005 to 2007. Those statistics show most students failed to progress as they moved through grades.

"As you come to us, three years into it, there you are," said Jo O'Brien, head of the state Department of Education's Office of Learning and Results.

The Rocky was slightly more clear in explaining the data, so I'll quote them:

Two-thirds of the third-graders who scored "unsatisfactory" — the lowest level — in reading in 2005 are still at that level, the data show. And more than 20 percent of students who were partially proficient — the step just above unsatisfactory — in 2005 slipped down to unsatisfactory this year.

Only 6 percent of the unsatisfactory students made it to "proficient," the goal under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. That's just 227 kids out of 3,810 unsatisfactory third-graders in 2005.

In sixth-grade math, 84 percent of the unsatisfactory students in 2005 are still at that level. . . .

Anglo and Asian kids were more likely to move up than Hispanic, black or Indian students. Results did not vary significantly by the size of the district. . . .

Only 12.9 percent of third graders slipped from advanced or proficient to a failing level.

In the entire state, only 16 kids went from advanced to unsatisfactory. Not a single child went the other way, from unsatisfactory to advanced.

And, again, unsurprisingly, there is, once again, a large and persistent achievement gap between whites and Asians on one hand, and blacks and Latinos on the other, and also between students who do and do not qualify for free or reduced price lunches. The slight gender gaps with boys doing a bit better in math and science, while girls do a bit better in reading is also long standing.

In short, the CSAPs aren't telling us anything we didn't already know. They have limited use as a tracking device, if you believe that tracking has educational value. But, they tell us very little about the schools in question other than their relative demographics.

I'm agnostic over whether a dramatic change in educational approaches could change CSAP results dramatically, but I'm pretty sure that modest changes will leave us with about the same results, year after year.

Caffeine and Exercise Stops Skin Cancer In Mice

It's good to be a mouse. Caffeine and exercise stopped skin cancer in lab mice.

Then again, it isn't always good to be a mouse. For example, it might be rather unpleasant to be a custom bred schizophrenic mouse.

Trouble In The GOP Tent

You know the GOP is in trouble when a PAC dedicated to "the election to Congress of men and women who hold conservative beliefs on both moral and economic issues" says:

Election eve of 2008 is at best an on-coming train wreck for Republicans in the Senate. Most of the seats up for reelection will be Republican seats. The Democrats seem to be getting stronger and more organized at a time when the Republicans in the Senate seem to have a death wish. The base of the Republican party is becoming increasingly distressed and unsupportive[.]

The PAC also doesn't like how the GOP Presidential nomination race is going stating that "former Mayor Rudy Giuliani who holds the same social positions as do Clinton and Obama. In some areas Giuliani is more liberal than Clinton[.]"

WTF Drug Crime Miscarriage Of Justice

This guy was sentenced to 25 years in prison for possession of prescription drugs for which he had a prescription. Two years later, he's out of prison.

Mark O'Hara left jail without handcuffs Wednesday, two years after he went to prison and one week since an appeals court ordered him a new trial.

He was serving a 25-year sentence for having 58 Vicodin pills in his bread truck. Jurors weren't told that it is legal to possess the drug with a prescription, which he had. . . .

[T]he 2nd District Court of Appeal ruling about his case . . . faulted prosecutors' claims that Florida statutes do not allow a "prescription defense" in drug trafficking cases. Using words like "absurd" and "ridiculous," three appellate judges said the state's position would make patients with valid prescriptions criminals as soon as they left the drugstore.

I can't imagine what kind of train wreck caused this case. Apparently, the trial judge was too stupid to realize that the legal argument of the prosecution was full of it.

Of course, as usual, the prosecutors didn't care in the least about justice in this case or a sensible interpetation of the statutes. They just tried to get a conviction. The fact that the state of Florida tried to defend this conviction on appeal is equally appalling, and a disgrace to that state's government.

Another detail:

He sold two condos, his car and his bread business to pay for the appeal. But the state took the proceeds, according to family friend Eric Mastro, to pay toward the $500,000 fine that came with his conviction.

This isn't the only case of its kind in Florida (also here) either:

Richard Paey, a Pasco man who suffers debilitating back pain from an auto accident and botched surgery, is also serving 25 years for possessing larger quantities of prescription pain killers.

Hat Tip to Thinking Outside the Cage.

Federal Prisoners By Sentence Imposed

These Bureau of Prisons numbers show overall, the length of the sentences that people currently in federal prison were sentenced to serve (as of a 2007 updated):

Less than 1 year: 3,227 (1.8%)
1-3 years: 23,096 (12.6%)
3-5 years: 28,209 (15.4%)
5-10 years: 54,459 (29.7%)
10-15 years: 34,937 (19.1%)
15-20 years: 15,953 (8.7%)
More than 20 years: 17,503 (9.6%)
Life: 5,708 (3.1%)
Death: 48

The principle offense of conviction is as follows:

Drug Offenses: 98,039 (53.6 %)
Weapons, Explosives, Arson: 26,279 (14.4 %)
Immigration: 19,464 (10.6 %)
Robbery: 9,578 (5.2 %)
Burglary, Larceny, Property Offenses: 6,903 (3.8 %)
Extortion, Fraud, Bribery: 7,980 (4.4 %)
Homicide, Aggravated Assault, and Kidnapping Offenses: 5,587 (3.1 %)
Miscellaneous: 2,157 (1.2 %)
Sex Offenses: 4,585 (2.5 %)
Banking and Insurance, Counterfeit, Embezzlement: 1,010 (0.6 %)
Courts or Corrections: 757 (0.4 %)
Continuing Criminal Enterprise: 569 (0.3 %)
National Security: 99 (0.1 %)

This mix, is, of course, very different from the mix in state prisons, as the federal criminal justice system focuses on drug, immigration and white collar crime cases.

A quick hit analysis here, shows that federal sentencing is broken. About 34% are first time, non-violent offenders, with drug cases involving people with minimal criminal records making up a big part of that number.

Word Of The Day: Herdic

Denver has all sorts of business licenses. Some, which require the same forms, seem nothing alike, for example: "Ice Cream Vendor/Junk Wagon/Pedal Cab Driver". Others are identified in language so obscure that you have to look it up. For example you might need a "herdic" license.

Go look it up.

Demand Side Management?

Demand side management is one way of addressing the same issues resolved by building new power plants (the new blog "Green Building in Denver" looks promising).

The key point is that power plant construction is driven by peak demand, so you can forego quite a bit of power plant construction by smoothing out peaks by giving power users an incentive to use more electricity when there is a surplus, and less at peak times.

Historically, this has focused on industrial users, and selected thrifty A/C users. But, some uses that are pretty easy to shift (e.g. delayed start functions on clothes driers and dishwashers) also make sense. The trouble is, of course, the culprit number one, which is air conditioning in summer months, is very time sensitive.

Also, while saver's switches on A/C may help, the better options IMHO would be a much stronger pitch for evaporative cooling in homes and cooling towers in larger buildings, as well as improved insulation (which helps keep cool cold in the summer, as well as keeping heat in during the winter). These methods of cooling aren't quite as intensely cold as traditioncal A/C but use far less power.

In Italy, there has been a push to encourage casual dress during summer months, so offices don't have to be kept so cold, so peak power demand is reduced. As one of my former bosses used to say, if the British could conquer the world in shorts, I can practice law in shorts.

Perhaps the best solution, however, is simply to follow the sensible sustainable and low tech solution of Spain and Mexico in places with hot climates -- shut down businesses during the hot midday, and get out and about during the cool evening. A work schedule designed for London doesn't necessarily make sense in a mountain desert.

30 July 2007

The Births Of Nations On Hold

At least two new nations are on the verge of being born.

New Sudan

One, South Sudan (possibly to be named "New Sudan") is likely to come into being around 2011. It is essentially full autonomous already and is acting like its own country, developing its own diplomatic ties via Kenya, and strong economic ties with Uganda. Final details largely concern its control over White Nile water and division of oil wealth. The largely Christian and animist region with relatively fertile farming has been autonomous since about 2005, after a long and deadly civil war that killed about 2 million people. It has sought autonomy from the military influenced, largely Islamic leadership of Sudan.

The Darfur region in the West of Sudan, which has provoked international outrage over genocidal efforts by local Arab militias and collusion with the national government is not part of South Sudan and poses separate issues. The Arab Muslim v. Christian/animist dynamic is essentially the same. But, ethically, Darfur is more mixed (or was before genocidal campaigns killed 200,000 people and sent another 2,000,000 into refugee camps), and economic survival in relatively barren Darfur is a dicey proposition in the best of times.


The other is Kosovo. There, about 90% of people in this autonomous region of Serbia are ethically Albanian Muslims, and only U.S. led NATO intervention and U.N. peacekeepers have prevented Serbian massacres (Serbia, of course, sponsored genocide largely directed as Bosnian Muslims in the Bosnian civil war, and is largely Orthodox Christian religiously).

Serbia has based its claim to Kosovo largely on a desire to protect sites important to Serbia historically and to protect a Serbian minority in Kosovo, but as much as anything else, it is a matter of national pride to hold onto Kosovo, as Serbia has been willing to cede almost everything be sovereignty in interminable negotiations over the province's status. The international community has held off on granting Kosovo independence over Serbia's objection essentially entirely due to Russia's objections. But, the international community is manuevering diplomatically to circumvent Russia's objections and give Kosovo the independence that its residents overwhelmingly desire.

Montenegro recently left its nominal federation with Serbia.

The situation in Bosnia, by the way, while stabilized for now, is still unfinished business. The U.N. still keeps the peace, and in practice, Bosnia is essentially two countries -- a Serbian region (mostly to the East and North), and a Muslim-Croat federation (mostly to the West and South). This division has religious dimensions as well. Croatia is largely Roman Catholic.

From an outsider's view, the obvious thing to do seems to be to grant Kosovo independence, while permitting the Bosnia Serb autonomous region to merge with contiguous Serbia proper (possibly merging a couple of islands of isolated Bosnian Croat federation territory on the Croatian border with Croatia). But, apparently, it isn't that easy, as the international community doesn't want to open the cauldron of changing national borders without mutual consent or appearing to reward genocidal tactics.


One reason that the situations in Sudan and Kosovo matter in the larger world is that they create precedents for the international community that are relevant in the Middle East.

The Kurdish region of Iraq is in a similar de facto autonomous, but legally non-sovereign state to Kosovo and South Sudan, and like these two other regions would very much like to be its own state. Also, like South Sudan, water and oil right negotiations are relevant to its autonomy.

Independence for these regions would strengthen both the Kurdish case and the argument that the rest of Iraq ought to be partitioned as well.


These aren't, of course, the only restive autonomous regions in the world.

In the developed world, politics seem to have calmed a number of autonomous areas by granting them sufficient autonomy. Quebec, Puerto Rico, Basque Spain, Castille, Galacia, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all seem willing to accept their lot for now. Taiwan's love-hate relationship with China seems to be swinging towards the love side, and Hong Kong seems to be managing despite the restoration of Chinese sovereignty over it. Cyprus, however, still seems to be taking baby steps towards harmony.

This isn't to say that all is well in the world. Columbia's central government and the region controlled by the FARC seem to be in a standoff. The last that I heard, Muslim majority areas in the Southern Philippines were as committed to a violent struggle for independence as ever. Strife between Muslims and non-Muslims also appears to be at the root of autonomy motivated strife in Thailand and Nigeria. Other West African nations have also experienced civil war and regional tensions rooted in splits between those in the Muslim North and those in Christian/animist Southern regions, but with civil wars reduced to a simmer or ended in Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast, and averted in Mali, these fracture lines may not emerge again for some time. Of course, Israeli-Palestinian tensions continue unabated as they have for many decades now.

Kashmir in Northern India is not at peace, nor are the "tribal" regions of Pakistan content with their status vis the central government although political approaches have softened their usual disregard for central authority. And, the Kurds of Turkey still want out of the nation to form their own Kurdish country.

Somolia is largely a country without a government but seems to be well along in the process of reconsolidation with Ethiopian backing of a weak national government. Regional and religious separationist movements in Algeria and Morocco-Western Sahara seem to have quieted down lately. Unrest in independence minded Aceh, Indonesia is apparently easing, but I've heard no indications that Sri Lanka is near the end of its long standing bloody civil war.

Maoist insurgencies in Northeast India also appear to be alive and well, and while not an issue of national boundaries, the Maoist insurgency in Nepal also appears to be in full swing. Tibet appears irrevocably conquered by China with insurgency and independence efforts their crushed and migration from the East underway in part in an effort to wipe out the region's distinct identity.

Then, there are other messes left behind in the wake of the Soviet Union's dissolution. Russia appears to have strong designs on Belarus. Ukraine is deeply divided, largely on an East-West axis. Moldova also appears to be divided on similar lines, despite the fact that it is itself tiny. Chechnya still longs to be free of its Russian yoke. And, the other splinters of division in the Caucusus are too complicated to follow without a program. As Wikipedia explains:

The nation-states that compose the Caucasus today are the post-Soviet states Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan; and various parts of Russia. The Russian divisions include Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai, and the autonomous republics of Adygea, Kalmykia, Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Dagestan. Three territories in the region claim independence but are not generally acknowledged as nation-states by the international community: Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia.

I'm sure I've missed a few restive autonomous regions here and there. This isn't to say that there aren't consolidating influences afoot as well. The European Union is increasingly becoming a nation, rather than a mere alliance between fully autonmous nation-states. The Caribbean, Latin America and parts of Africa are trying to emulate the European Union's success on that score. But, on the whole, it seems like there are more pressures for division than national union afoot in the world.

29 July 2007

The More The Merrier?

The more the merrier?

According to a July 26, 2007 story in the Denver Post by Aldo Svaldi ("Small Auto Dealers Pressed," B1):

Toyota has a 16% market share and about 1,400 dealers.

Chrysler has a 14% market share and about 3,700 dealers.

Tim Johnson, the President of the Colorado Auto Dealers Association says dealer concentrations (and by implication dealer's at risk of losing their dealerships) are more concentrated in Eastern states.

27 July 2007

Denver Scam Alert

Via Denver City Councilwoman Marcia Johnson's e-mail list:

*Community Alert*

Registered sex offender mini-flyer being distributed in Denver neighborhoods

Denver sex offender lists are public and available free of charge.

Neighborhood flyers being distributed ask you to go to a website where they ask you for your email address and your residence zip code. The company asks for your credit card information and offers to sell to you the free list for $4.95/month but then they also may be selling your email address to companies.

Please help by informing your neighbors.

I got one myself and promptly ignored it.

Details On Nevada Judge From Hell

A detailed interim suspension order of a horrible Nevada judge previously mentioned at this blog show in excruciating detail just how hopeless her case to retain her job should be if the Judicial Discipline board and Nevada Supreme Court continue to act with anything approaching normal conduct. (Hat Tip to How Appealing).

While she is currently suspended with pay, that seems certain to be a temporary condition.

Some reports have made clear that she is a smart person, but smart and wise don't always coincide. Colorado judges caught engaged in far less flagrant misconduct and derlictions of duty have mostly had the good sense to give up and quit.

Easy Case, Bad Law

Washington's State Supreme Court screwed up a really easy insurance coverage case today, reversing a Washington State intermediate court of appeals decision.

At issue: Does an insurance company have a duty to defend its insured under a professional liability or general insurance policy that excluded intentional actions, when the insured intentionally plays a nasty practical joke calculated to humiliate his employee and gets sued?

Easy answer: No. This is precisely the kind of case that insurance customers assume that their insurer is not going to cover under an intentional acts exclusion.

Washington State Supreme Court 5-4 majority answer: Yes. The insurer has to pay.

They explain this in a decision, but like so many decisions, it ultimately comes down to a judgment call. I still come away from it thinking, WTF were they thinking?

I hate stringy insurance companies as much as anybody does. There are plenty of legitimate bad faith cases out there, but this wasn't one of them. The dissent has it right when it notes that this kind of outrageous case fans the fires of the tort reform movement.

26 July 2007

Unsolved Mysteries Hunches

When I was in elementary school and junior high school, I spent lots of time investigating the paranormal, "unsolved mysteries," ancient legends and other pseudoscientific claims. Many have answers that can never be known with certainty, but a number of leading explanations. A few leading theories that I preferred (although they can't necessarily be proven definitively, they are just hunches), include the following:

* Who Was The Zodiac Killer? Ted Kaczynski (the Unibomber).

* Where was Atlantis? Probably at the Greek Island of Santorini.

* Was the John F. Kennedy assassination a conspiracy? No, recent scholarship confirms the basic explanation provided by the Warren Report, with the definitive effort being Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (2007).

* What caused the impact happened on 30 June, 1908, at Tunguska in central Siberia? A small comet.

* Does the Loch Ness Monster exist? If it ever did, it doesn't now.

* Did Anastasia Romanov live? Yes, but I'm not sure who the survivor was of the people who claimed to be her.

* Have space aliens come in contact corporally with Earth? No. Roswell, UFO sightings, alien abuction experiences, and the like are all products of other misunderstood phenomena.

* Is telepathy or mind reading real? No.

* Could natural circumstances have caused a parting of the Red Sea similar to that described in the Bible? It could have, although it isn't clear that it actually happened that way.

* Did Noah's Flood happen? No. There were important floods that were historical events in many places, and those great floods, which were local events, probably gave rise to flood myths worldwide, sometimes through the legends with a common source, and sometimes simply because they were similar events. But, there was never a time in human history where the entire world was flooded. The Hebrew account, which gives rise to the Christian and Muslim acconts, probably is Mesopotanian in original and probably relates to a massive local flood in that region.

* Is there or was there a Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti? There is probably no Big Foot or Sasquatch in North America. But, the Yeti could be some form of bipedal ape or bear.

* Did Unicorns exist? No. The only animals with single horns are rhinos and Narwhales. Neither are closely related to the horse/deer like creatures that Unicorns are thought of as being.

No Fly List Strikes 7 Year Old Florida Boy

The no fly list has made trouble more than once to this 7 year old boy in Florida.

25 July 2007

A C-2/E-2 Replacement? (With S-3 Footnote)

The Air Force's C-130 intratheater cargo plane was successfully landed on an aircraft carrier in 1963, but ultimately the landing was determined to be too risky a thing to do on a regular basis.

Instead, aircraft carriers use the C-2 Greyhound, and adaptation of the E-2 Hawkeye carrier based command and control plane, to make air cargo deliveries on and off an aircraft carrier. The C-2 design was introduced in 1966, with purchases made 1984-1990 and about three dozen of them remain in service. Current plans call for the C-2 to remain in service until 2015, and with refurbishment and enhancements, perhaps as late as 2027.

One wonders, however, if the C-27J, recently adopted by the Air Force and Army as a mini-C-130 couldn't be adapted for Naval use. A U.S. aircraft carrier has about 1,000 feet in length, which while less than the 2,000-2,500 feet the C-27J is billed as being able to handle, is much more plausible as a possibility than it was for the C-130.

On the other hand, the MV-22 Osprey has about the same cargo capacity as the C-2, and can much more easily handle the short runway of a carrier, so it would be a more obvious replacement for the C-2 (and perhaps the E-2 as well). The MV-22's Department of Navy predigree and planned use on a variety of Marine ships also makes it a more natural replacement from a bureaucratic perspective.

* * * * * *

As footnote another carrier based aircraft, the S-3, originally created for anti-submarine warfare, will probably be phased out and not replaced in 2009.

Although the US Navy S-3 obtained the S-3 strictly as an ASW aircraft, the service found such a "flying truck" to be very useful, so much so that the Viking was sometimes called the "Swiss Army Knife". However, despite its usefulness, the future of the S-3 is somewhat uncertain.

The main problem is that the aircraft are all getting old, meaning not only that they are becoming less reliable but that their systems are becoming too far behind the times. . . . The Navy is considering a WSIP II modernization effort, which would involve "service-life extension program (SLEP)" to provide selective structural improvements to S-3 airframes, in hopes of keeping them in service until 2015 at earliest. . . . The Navy did consider a replacement, the "Common Support Aircraft (CSA)", which was to be in the same size and class as the S-3 series. While the Viking had been designed as a dedicated ASW aircraft and was adapted to a wide range of roles, the CSA was to be designed from the outset as a multirole machine, performing such duties as ocean patrol, antisubmarine warfare, airborne early warning, carrier onboard delivery, SIGINT, and so on. However, the Navy also had higher-priority programs, such as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter; the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; and the Boeing 737-based Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) to replace the P-3C Orion [Ed. the MMA became the P-8 and will be purchased]. There simply wasn't enough money available to fund the CSA as well; the CSA program was shelved and it is unclear if it will ever be revived.

The Super Hornet is far superior to the Viking for the strike and tanker roles, providing better performance and load capability with state-of-the-art avionics, and the ASW mission is seen as of declining performance in an era of "brushfire" wars. The Navy seems to believe that the E-2C Hawkeye will not need replacement in the AEW role, or more specifically that old Hawkeyes will be replaced by new Hawkeyes, and so the only outstanding mission left to worry about is the COD role. What really complicates the matter is that at present the Navy is also considering the possibilities of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology to complement or partly replace manned aircraft.

Wikipedia adds a bit more detail to the S-3 prospects:

Starting in 1991, some of these were upgraded to the S-3B with a number of new sensors, avionics, and weapons systems, including the capability to launch the AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile. The S-3B can also be fitted with "buddy stores" external fuel tanks that allow the Viking to refuel other aircraft. . .

Since the submarine threat has been perceived as reduced, the Vikings have had the majority of their antisubmarine warfare equipment removed and are now used primarily for sea surface search, sea and ground attack, over-the-horizon targeting, and aircraft refueling. As a result, crews are now usually limited to two, though three person crews are not unusual with certain missions. It has been used as a jet VIP transport, as was the case of bringing George W. Bush aboard the Abraham Lincoln.
. . .

The current Navy plans call for the retirement of all Vikings by 2009 so new aircraft can be introducted to recapitalize the aging fleet inventory. Their missions will be spread among the other battlegroup fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.

The ES-3A electronic intelligence version of the S-3 was in service from 1991-1999 but wore out quickly due to heavy use and had range issues. A small number were converted for cargo duty and used in that way. A tanker version was abandoned before being introduced.

At Least She's Not Your Judge

Judge Elizabeth Halverson, in Nevada, is a poster child for the problems associated with electing judges, as opposed to using merit selection for judges as we do in Colorado. (UPDATE: She was suspended again today by the state judicial discipline commission).

C-27J to be Joint Cargo Aircraft

In early 2006, the Air Force and the Army got in a dustup over who would be in charge of new sub-C-130 sized cargo aircraft for the U.S. Military. A deal was reached in March of that year. What has happened since then?

One report from April 2006 said:

Now that the U.S. Army and Air Force have issued a new request for proposals (RFP) for the Future Cargo Aircraft program, both services say they are optimistic that joint development of the light cargo airplane will lead to cost savings and an end product to fit the needs of both entities. The services also believe that there could be more than two contenders to build the light cargo plane when everything is said and done.

The Army and Air Force view FCA, soon to be renamed the Joint Cargo Aircraft program, as a new fixed-wing transport aircraft capable of performing rapid-response intratheater missions with cargo, equipment and soldiers, as well as medevac duties and airdrop delivery. The new aircraft would replace the Army’s 43 Sherpa planes and ease the Air Force’s reliance on the C-130, its workhorse intratheater cargo plane. It would also expand the military’s ability to ferry cargo and troops to remote places because they would be able to land on runways of just 2,000 feet, opening access to more than 6,000 additional runways around the world.

The Army and Air Force agreed to a memorandum of understanding on Jan. 30, 2006, to jointly develop a FCA aircraft, and are working out details of a formal joint agreement on the development of the fixed-wing plane, according to Army officials. The services released the new RFP this past month. Final proposals are due May 17, with a contractor award expected in November 2006. . . . There has been some speculation that the Army intends to initially buy 75 of the FCA aircrafts and that the Air Force intends to purchase 70. . . . So far, only two European companies have said they will compete for the $1.3 billion program. French-German group EADS CASA North America is teamed with Raytheon to offer either the C-235, C-295 or a mixture of both for the competition. Global Military Systems, a joint venture of L-3 Communications and Italy’s Alenia, is offering the C-27J Spartan. The services hope to pick a winning bid in early December 2006, with an eye to fielding the first plane in 2008, according to program officials. . .

The C-27J is an upgraded version of the Alenia G.222, which was developed by Lockheed Martin Alenia Tactical Transport Systems.

The C-27J can carry a maximum payload of 25,353 pounds and has a fuel capacity of 3,255 gallons. It has a maximum cruise speed of 325 knots true airspeed and a range of about 1,000 nautical miles when it is close to payload weight limit. At half its weight capacity, the aircraft has a range of about 2,300 nautical miles The engine for the C-27J will use Rolls Royce AE 2100-D2 engines, which produce 4,637 shaft horsepower each. . . .

EADS and Raytheon, now referring to themselves as Team JCA, believe that the C-295 or CN-235 would best meet the needs of the services for a small, workhorse intratheater aircraft.

The CN-235 carries about 13,000 pounds of cargo, while the C-295, which is 10.2 feet longer, carries about 19,800 pounds. The CN-235 is also in production for the Coast Guard’s Deepwater System, which is designed to replace its aging ships and aircraft. The C-295 can carry 79 troops or 49 paratroopers, and has a maximum operating speed of 260 knots true airspeed. The C-295 also has a range of about 2,300 nautical miles while carrying about 10,000 pounds of payload. It has two Pratt & Whitney PW127G engines generating 2,645 shaft horsepower.

The article came in the wake of an Air Force press release at the end of March 2006.

A winner of a bid to buy 78 Joint Cargo Aircraft units for $2 billion was announced last month, it was the C-27J. More details here and here. The later link notes that: The per unit cost is a reasonably low for military aircraft $26 million.

C-27J Named as Joint Cargo Aircraft
Army News Service | Master Sgt. Mitch Gettle | June 20, 2007
The U. S. Army announced a $2.04 billion contract award June 13 to L-3 Communications Integrated Systems for their C-27J Spartan to be the Joint Cargo Aircraft.

This JCA program is a combined Air Force and Army effort to have an airframe that will meet warfighter needs for intratheater airlift.

"This is a great day for all of us." said Maj. Gen. Marshall K. Sabol, Air Force deputy chief of staff for Air, Space and Information Operations, Plans and Requirements. "We've been working hard together with the Army on all the requirements, and we've come up with a joint airplane, the same airplane, working on the same mission."

Army and Air Force leaders said the JCA will bring advantages to both services and also assist in the recapitalization efforts of both services.

"We have old aircraft that are not designed to operate at the loads or altitudes we operate in today," said Brig. Gen. Stephen Mundt, director of Army Aviation. "This airframe allows us to get to the altitude we need and (carry the) standardized (cargo) pallets that both services use."

General Sabol relayed some personal experience from Iraq as to why the JCA is needed.

The Air Force flew C-130 Hercules aircraft many times in Iraq, carrying just a few passengers or a single pallet of medical goods, because that is what the warfighters needed at that moment, he said. This is not a very efficient use of an aircraft, but the warfighters' needs come first.

This underutilization of the cargo area in a C-130 is a main reason the JCA was developed. The C-130 and the Army's C-12, C-26 and C-23 do not efficiently satisfy the requirements for the warfighter, the joint leaders said.

Rumor has it that the Army and Air Force disagreed about which of the two main contenders for the contract should get it, and the larger Air Force choice won.

According to Wikipedia the turboprop plane has the following characteristics:

Crew: Three - pilot, co-pilot, loadmaster
60 troops or
46 paratroops or
36 litters with 6 medical personnel
Payload: 11,500 kg (25,353 lb)
Length: 22.7 m (74 ft 6 in)
Wingspan: 28.7 m (94 ft 2 in)
Height: 9.6 m (31 ft 8 in)
Wing area: 82 m² (882.7 ft²)
Empty weight: 17,000 kg (37,479 lb)
Max takeoff weight: 31,800 kg (66,138 lb)
Powerplant: 2× Rolls-Royce Allison AE2100-D2 turboprop, 3,460 kW (4,637 shp) each
Maximum speed: 602 km/h (325 kts, mph)
Range: 4,630 km, 1,852 full load (2,300 miles, 1000 full load)
Service ceiling: 9,144 m (30,000 ft)

This is between half and two-thirds the capacity of the C-130 in cargo with a comparable speed and range, and calls for half the crew.

For comparison purposes the C-130H has the following characteristics:

Crew: 4-6: at least 2 pilots,1 flight engineer (eliminated in the J variant, replaced by crew chief), and 1 loadmaster; additional loadmaster and navigator are usually part of the crew
92 passengers or
64 airborne troops or
74 litter patients with 2 medical personnel
Payload: 45,000 lb (20,000 kg) including 2-3 Humvees or an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier
Length: 97 ft 9 in (29.8 m)
Wingspan: 132 ft 7 in (40.4 m)
Height: 38 ft 3 in (11.6 m)
Wing area: 1,745 ft² (162.1 m²)
Empty weight: 83,000 lb (38,000 kg)
Useful load: 72,000 lb (33,000 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 155,000 lb (70,300 kg)
Powerplant: 4× Allison T56-A-15 turboprops, 4,300 shp (3,210 kW) each
Maximum speed: 329 knots (379 mph, 610 km/h)
Cruise speed: 292 knots (336 mph, 540 km/h)
Range: 2,050 nm (2,360 mi, 3,800 km)
Service ceiling: 33,000 ft (10,000 m)

This source says a C-130 needs a 5,000 foot runway (citing the Congressional Research Service), while the C-27J will need 2,500 feet. [Other sources have mentioned 3,600 feet for the C-130 and 2000 feet for the C-27J.] The means that: “in South America and Central America . . . C-130s can operate from approximately 5 percent of all airstrips (540 of the 10,400 airstrips). In Africa, the C-130 can land on approximately 15 percent of all airstrips[.]”

By comparison the largest U.S. military helicopters designed for medium and heavy lift purposes carry similar or smaller loads at less than half the speed and for considerable shorter ranges (but, of course, don't need airstrips at all):

The CH-47 Chinook, introduced in 1961, is the Army's tandem rotor heavy lift helicopter. It carries up to 44 troops (an Army platoon) or about 19,000 pounds of cargo. It has a speed of 136 miles per hour and a range of about 300 miles. The most urgent concern of Army planners looking at future helicopter purchases (or some replacement for helicopters) is the aging Chinook fleet. . . .

The CH-46 Sea Knight is a tandem rotor medium lift helicopter used primarily by the Marines, introduced in 1964. It can hold about 6,000 pounds of cargo or about 25 fully equipped troops. The Marines hope to replace this with the V-22 Osprey tilt wing aircraft (which would have both fixed wing and helicopter modes) in the future.

The CH-53 Sea Stallion (a later version is known as the Super Stallion) is the heaviest lift helicopter used in the U.S. military and entered service in 1962. It has a single rotor. It can carry up to 16 tons of cargo or up to 55 troops. Current plans call for the Marines to continue using upgraded versions of this helicopter for heavy lift purposes for the foreseeable future.

The CH-46 Sea Knight has a range of 132 nautical miles and speed of 145 knots. The CH-53 Sea Stallion has a 480 nautical mile range and 150 knot speed.

The Army is buying new CH-47 helicopters at about $32 million each, about $6 million per unit more than the cost of the C-27J. A C-130J costs about $67 million each (and the Air Force is struggling to keep the price that low).

The V-22 Osprey, according to Wikipedia, also has a smaller payload, shorter range and slower speed than the C-27J, although it is superior in those respects to most helicopters, and cost $85 million each (exclusive of R&D costs):

General characteristics
Crew: two pilots;
Capacity: 24 troops (seated), 32 troops (floor loaded) or 10,000 pounds of cargo
Length: 57 ft 4 in (17.5 m)
Rotor diameter: 38 ft 0 in (11.6 m)
Wingspan: 46 ft (14 m); 84 ft 7 in (including rotors))
Height: 22 ft 1 in (overall - nacalles vertical) (17 ft 11 in 5.5 m (at top of tailfins))
Disc area: 2,268 ft² (212 m²)
Wing area: 301.4 ft² (28 m²))
Empty weight: 33,140 ;lb (15,032 kg)
Loaded weight: 47,500 ;lb (21,500 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 60,500 lb (27,400 kg)
Powerplant: 2× Rolls-Royce Allison Rolls-Royce T406 (AE 1107C-Liberty) turboshafts, 6,150 hp (4,590 kW) each
Maximum speed: 275 knots (316 mph, 509 km/h)
Cruise speed: 214 knots (246 mph, 396 km/h) at sea level
Combat radius: 370 nm (430 mi, 690 km)
Ferry range: 2,417 nm (2,781 mi, 4,476 ;km)
Unrefueled range: 879 nm (1,011 mi, 1,627 km)
Service ceiling: 26,000 ft (7,925 m)

In short, right now the C-27J looks like one of the smartest purchases the U.S. military has made in a long time, but time will tell if the program stays on time and on budget.

Missile Defense and Naval Ships

Britain is justifying a dozen new destroyers (a type of warship) as a ballistic missile defense tool.

U.S. Navy planners are thinking about following suit:

Two cruiser designs are being considered. The first is a new warship based on the controversial DDG 1000 (Zumwalt class) destroyer, which features the controversial “tumblehome” hull. This design is being called an “escort cruiser” to protect aircraft carrier strike groups. It would have gas turbine propulsion, as do all other U.S. cruisers, destroyers, and frigates.

The second cruiser would be a much larger, 25,000-ton, nuclear-propelled ship with a more conventional hull featuring a flared bow. This ship would be optimized for the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) mission.

Reportedly, five nuclear-propelled CGN(X) ships and 14 escort cruisers designated CG(X) would be built to fulfill the cruiser requirement in the Navy’s 30-year, 313-ship plan. These ships would be, in part, a replacement for the 22 remaining Ticonderoga (CG 47) missile cruisers, completed between 1986 and 1994. . . the analysis will recommend dropping the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) from the CG(X) program.

The KEI is a large BMD missile under development by Northrop Grumman as a ground- or sea-based weapon to intercept ballistic missiles in their boost, ascent, and midcourse flight phases.

The KEI is much larger than the SM-3 Standard missile developed by Raytheon to arm Navy cruisers and destroyers for the BMD role. The 40-inch diameter KEI is nearly 39 feet long, while the 21-inch diameter SM-3 stands just over 21 feet tall. . . .

[The] team is said to be firm in its recommendation for the smaller escort cruiser. Details are less developed on the nuclear-powered variant, sources said.

More from the Navy Times:

Under pressure from the Navy to develop a new cruiser based on the DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class hull form, and from Congress to incorporate nuclear power, a group of analysts working on the next big surface combatant may recommend two different ships to form the CG(X) program.

One ship would be a 14,000-ton derivative of the DDG 1000, an “escort cruiser,” to protect aircraft carrier strike groups. The vessel would keep the tumblehome hull of the DDG 1000 and its gas turbine power plant. . . .

Reps. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., and Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md. — the current and former chairman, respectively, of the House Seapower subcommittee — are strong proponents of nuclear power for surface ships, citing concerns about the future supply of oil. Navy officials testified earlier this year that the rising price of oil could soon make the more expensive nuclear option viable, and the House is expected to include language in the 2008 defense bills requiring nuclear power for the new cruisers. . . . the AoA looked at two possible nuclear powerplants based on existing designs: doubling the single-reactor Seawolf SSN 21 submarine plant, and halving two-reactor nuclear carrier plants.

Doubling the 34 megawatts of the Seawolf plant would leave the new ship far short of power requirements — and not even match the 78 megawatts of the Zumwalts.

But halving the 209-megawatt plant of current nuclear carriers would yield a bit more than 100 megawatts, enough juice for power-hungry BMD radars plus an extra measure for the Navy’s desired future directed-energy weapons and railguns.

The anti-missile cruiser also wouldn’t require the high level of stealth provided by the Zumwalt’s tumblehome hull, analysts said, since the ship would be radiating its radars to search for missiles. Returning to a more conventional, flared-bow hull form would free designers from worries about overloading the untried tumblehome hull. . . .

“There’s a concern that the DDG hull has stability problems and doesn’t have growth margin,” said a congressional source. A nuclear-powered option, the source said, also would placate Congress, and “a cash-strapped Navy wouldn’t be fully committed to a nuclear ship.” . . .

[An] analyst, using very rough figures, guessed the cost for a CGN(X) would range from something just under $5 billion to as much as $7 billion.

The Navy estimates its first two DDG 1000s will cost $3.3 billion each, although estimates from the Congressional Budget Office and others put the potential true cost at over $5 billion and as much as $7 billion. . . .a follow-on ship in a class of 25,000-ton nuclear-powered cruisers might cost roughly $4 billion to $5 billion.” . . .

Sources said early analyses of the CGN(X) showed a 25,000-ton ship, which the Navy said was too large. More realistic, one source said, would be about 23,000 tons. . . . The Navy now plans to order the first CG(X) in 2011, with the last ship included in the FY 2023 budget.

My prediction is that the 14,000+ ton escort cruiser concept dies in Congress. It fills a need that the Navy doesn't actually have, because it has a large number of not so old large destroyers that serve precisely the purpose that the Ticonderoga class did, and the DDG-1000 upon which it is based crashed and burned, cancelled after contracts for just two prototype models. Also, what is the point of having nuclear powered aircraft carriers, if the escort ships that it relies upon need conventional fuel?

I personally think that the Navy would be better advised to develop a much smaller, nuclear powered carrier escort (maybe 5000 tons in size, about half the size of existing cruisers and destroyers) with a narrower mission. The smaller carrier escort would not need anti-ship missiles, helicopters, or a strong capability to take on enemy fighter aircraft, all of which would be missions handled by carried aircraft on the aircraft carrier. It also wouldn't need stealth, which is impossible for an aircraft carrier. Instead, it would need to have anti-submarine warfare capability, point defense against anti-ship missiles capability, and anti-small craft capacities, to help defend a carrier group against the kind of swarm attack that military planners have envisioned Iran launching at U.S. carriers facing in the Persian Gulf. As a nuclear powered ship, it could also reduce the logistics trail of the carrier group.

Congress may be more warm to a ballistic missile defense concept because the Navy has far outperformed the Air Force in the success of its missile defense efforts, because nothing in the current fleet is designed for the mission, and because a nuclear powered ship makes sense for a ship designed to spend long tours away from base autonomously.

Enviros in Congress may also favor a new nuclear powered destroyer as proof of concept for nuclear powered surface ships using recent developments in nuclear power technology should this technology be needed in a peak oil era.

The 2008 Defense Budget

The House Appropriations Committee passed a Defense Appropriations bill (which has several legislative steps that will likely produce changes before it becomes law). The highlights:

* Kills the armed reconnaissance helicopter program
* Significant cuts in missile defense spending (about 10% less than last year)
* A 13% cut in the R&D budget for the "Future Combat System" of the Army

All three programs have promised more than they have delivered.

* More oversight of military contractors
* More rules for U.S. funded mercenaries (i.e. "security function" contractors) in Iraq and Afghanistan
* Ban on permanent bases in Iraq
* Ban on torture
* Ban on transfers of DOD funds for new purposes without Congressional appproval

This is closing loopholes which might otherwise permit backdoor implementation of war and terrorism policies Congress doesn't like.

* Grows active duty Army by 7,000 soldiers
* Grows active duty Marines by 5,000 soldiers

* Full funding for continued development of the Marine Expedititionary Fighting Vehicle
* 20 new F-22s
* A new Stryker Brigade
* More than full funding for the F-35 program, including a buy of 6 F-35As and 6 F-35Bs
* 21 MV-22 Ospreys for the Marines
* 5 CV-22s for the Air Force.
* 52 new Blackhawk helicopters
* The President requested $460 million for 4 new sealift ships; Congress wants to spend $1.87 billion on sealift
* 2 LPD-17 amphibious transport docks
* 1 new SSN-774 attack submarine
* 1 CBN-78 aircraft carrier
* 1 Littoral Combat ship
* Continued funding of 2 DDG-1000 destroyers
* Continued funding of 1 LHA-6 amphibious assault ship

Natural Gas Prices Going Up

A new natural gas pipeline from Colorado to Missouri may double natural gas prices locally this winter.

BTW, the Peak Soil blog, while it doesn't have a lot of regular posting yet, is worth reading.

Same Old News On Wrongful Convictions

I examine . . . how the criminal system in the United States handled the cases of people who were subsequently found innocent through post-conviction DNA testing. . . . The leading types of evidence supporting their wrongful convictions were erroneous eyewitness identifications, faulty forensic evidence, informant testimony, and false confessions. . . . . few innocent appellants brought claims regarding those facts, nor did many bring claims alleging their innocence. For those who did, hardly any claims were granted by appellate courts. . . . courts often denied relief by finding error to be harmless on account of the appellant's guilt. Criminal appeals brought before they proved their innocence using DNA yielded apparently high numbers of reversals—a fourteen percent reversal rate. However, . . . the reversal rate is indistinguishable from the background rate in appeals of comparable rape and murder convictions[.]

Via CrimProf Blog.

24 July 2007

Five Months, Twelve Days

In five months and twelve days, Democrats in Colorado will hold their caucuses for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Colorado Republicans are almost certain to follow suit.

The Democratic Nomination Race

As I write here today, the only viable candidates for the Democratic nomination appear to be (ranked by rough overall support):

* Senator Hillary Clinton
* Senator Barack Obama
* Former Senator John Edwards
* Governor Bill Richardson

No other candidate for the Democratic nomination rivals any of these four in the polls or fundraising or internet buzz, and there isn't much time left to get where they need to be in time to get the delegates needed to win the nomination.

Former Democratic nominee and Vice President Al Gore has said that he won't run for the Democratic nomination. Candidates Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel all look unlikely to land a top of the ticket spot for the nomination at this point, and the compressed primary and caucus system works against candidates in the back of the pack. New candidates for the Democratic nomination (whose names aren't Gore or Kerry) would face even higher hurdles.

It isn't obvious how the caucus/primary process will go with these four candidates. All four come from the middle of the Democratic party politically. None are either exceptionally known for being from the left wing or the right wing of the Democratic party. While they come from the Northeast, Midwest, South and West respectively, none are running campaigns strongly aimed at a single region of the country.

By time votes and caucus results are counted on February 5, 2008, a majority of states (including California, Florida, New York, and New Jersey) will have expressed an opinion, and there will probably be a nominee. If there isn't a nominee by then, there probably will be within another week, when 34 states and Democrats abroad will have completed the process.

It is entirely possible that the list of viable Democrats could fall to two or three by the time February 5, 2008 rolls around.

The U.S. Senate nomination in Colorado for the Democrats in 2008 is almost certain to go to Mark Udall. The nominations for the 1st, 3rd and 7th Congressional Districts for the Democrats are almost certain to go to the incumbents. This leaves contested Democratic nomination races in the Democratic leaning 2nd Congressional District (Boulder-Mountains open), and in the Republican leaning 4th, 5th and 6th Congressional Districts.

The GOP nomination race

The Republican caucus process will be similarly compact. I don't follow the Republican nomination as closely, but the leading candidates in that race at this time appear to be (ranked by rough overall support):

* Former Governor Mitt Romney
* Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani
* Senator John McCain
* Former Senator Fred Thompson
* U.S. Representative Ron Paul
* Senator Sam Brownback

The door is probably open to one or two new viable Republican candidates, in the next two months or so, if the candidate can really make a sensation and has some name recognition already.

I doubt that there will be more than four viable GOP candidates by February 5, 2008.

At face value, this nomination race looks easier to handicap. Guiliani is far to the left of the Republican party, making his nomination unlikely despite strong polling, unless the GOP is truly hungry for a winner who may not represent their values, which seems unlikely given that they haven't spent long in the wilderness. Ron Paul is basically a libertarian, making him also far to the left of the party on social issues. McCain's campaign has been inept and few people think that is strong pro-Iraq War stance will help him in 2008; this will likely cost him the moderate Republican voters who backed him in earlier years, but may not be enough to win true conservatives to his banner. Brownback is very far to the right wing of the Republican party, and has failed to campaign well enough to build up his visibility as anything other than a troglodyte so far.

By process of elimination that leaves Romney and Thompson, between whom, Romney, who has a much stronger campaign, would seem to be the candidate most likely to win the nomination. Still, it is not too late for any of these top candidates to break away from the pack and win the Republican nomination for President in 2008.

Bob Schaffer appears to have cleared the field for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in Colorado in 2008. Republican nominees are virtually irrelevant in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 7th Congressional Districts, which look safe for Democrats this time around. Tancredo's Presidential ambitions make it unclear if he will run again in the 6th Congressional District, which leans Republican, and the incumbent in the 5th Congressional District, which leans Republican, may also face a primary fight. Marilyn Musgrave is almost certain to be the Republican nominee in the 4th Congressional District.


The odds of one of these ten people becoming President in 2008 is probably on the order of 80-95%, and this likelihood is rising by the week.

Key Sources

Major party fundraising data here. Democratic Party polling here. GOP polling here.

PTO Deputy Director Unqualified

The President has appointed a deputy director of the patent and trademark office who doesn't have the qualifications required by law to do the job.

Somebody has brought suit to remove the appointee on this ground. There are real legal standing barriers to this, but it still doesn't reflect positively on the administration.

Do they not hire people to screen resumes for legal job requirements in this administration?

The English Channel Flood

About 450,000 years ago the English Channel was created in a matter of weeks or months, when a glacial lake flooded from ice age related melt.

Via Science News via Nature.

Harry Potter and the Zeitgeist

Like millions of Americans, I read the seventh Harry Potter book like a short story, in one session, within days of its July 21st release date. There are, in fact, a number of much older science fiction/fantasy classics that I haven't read, and that are worth reading, which would be much cheaper to get. For example, I have yet to read Robert A. Heilein's "Stanger in a Strange Land" (1961).

The main reason for this (and yes, reading it within hours of release is over the top), is that one of the main reasons I read science fiction and fantasy is to capture the zeitgeist of our society. Heilein's "Stranger in a Strange Land," for example, is a classic for giving voice to an emerging sexual revolution and for catching the emerging cultural counter-revolution that arose with it, conservative Christianity. But, our society has moved on tremendously from 1961 in the face of charging roles of women in education and the workforce, birth control, STDs, increased awareness of non-consentual sex as an issue, and the moving target that is conservative Christianity. What was cutting edge then, is old news now, and misses the "under the radar" and often not formally articulated observations that newer literature has about what is going on in our society.

No author has had a greater cultural impact on the first decade of the 21st century than J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Its sales are unrivaled and equally important, it has been a rare breakout book that has appealled to both children and to adult readers, to readers in Britain, the United States and the rest of the world. Rowling has achieved the rare feat of being relevant to a vast number of people at this particular time. So, it is a fair question to ask what the Harry Potter series says about the zeitgeist of the first decade of the 21st century. What we learn from this mirror, mirror on the wall is in some ways flattering, and in others troubling.

Bloodfeuds and Birthright

Perhaps most depressing is the notion that a story that at one level is basically about bloodfeuds in a society not that different in size or character from those Professor Miller writes about from 11th century Iceland, remain so relevant today.

Birth is not destiny in Rowling's world, but it is a powerful force. Not every child of non-magical parents (muggles) is herself non-magical, and not every child of magical parents is herself magincal (such children are called squibs). But, in her world, magical potential is largely something you are born with, which manifests itself by early elementary school age, not something that can simply be learned. Political bents and romantic inclinations too, while not destiny, are strongly influenced by family history.

Harry Potter's destiny is to a great extent established before he is old enough to remember his parents, and his temperment, abilities and personality all meticulously mapped to his paternity and early childhood. Similarly, Hermione Granger succeeds in her studies, not because she was fantastic teachers, but because she is so exceptionally bright. For the Weasleys and the Malfoys, social status, political views and even school house affiliations are all but predestined by family ties. There is social mobility and change, but it is decidedly the exception.

This isn't an unusual choice in the contemporary science fiction/fantasy genre. For example, Kelley Armstrong's Otherworld series, and Greg Bear's Darwin's Children series both feature exceptional characters who are born that way. The most recently release three episodes of the Star Wars movie series placed new emphasis on the inherited nature of Jedi abilities, something hinted at in the first three episodes, and also played up in the parallel books in that science fiction world (which are generally viewed as "canonical"). Indeed, the latest Star Wars series takes this ability to the point where it can be quantified with a number spit out by a quick, portable blood test.

Part of the motivation for this is that it is manageable from a plausible plot perspective. It puts an inherent limitation on the number of exceptionally talented people in a natural and plausible way. It allows for multigenerational plot lines. It turns dry geneology into plot worthy mystery.

But, it is also a choice that makes a certain amount of sense to write about now in particular.

In the late 18th, the 19th and the early 20th century the world was busy shedding the hereditary principle as relevant to modern society, as start class divisions, aristocracy and absolute monarchy were displaced by market based economic systems and democratically based political systems. There was a widely held belief that if rough equality of opportunity was provided, that rough equality of outcome would naturally follow.

The late 20th century and early 21st century, however, have seen the pendulum of conventional wisdom go the other way. We are increasingly learning that birth and early childhood do have an immense impact on intellectual ability, personality, physical health, and propensity to be impacted by mental illness. Further, a rise in "assortative marriage", has accentunated the relevance of these divided, shaping a new era of social class division on a meritocratic basis for the current generation that may validate those class divisions long after their meritocratic basis disappears.

We have gone 24 years with just three families in the White House, and if Hillary Clinton, the front runner in the party more likely than not to win in the 2008 election wins, that could stretch to as many as 32 years of Presidential rule by just three families. The power of incumbency has similarly ossified American Congressional politics, with many members of Congress serving several decade careers and sometimes having children that carry on their tradition. And, the United States is hardly exceptional here. India's national politics, for example, are even more dynastic. We've also seen monarchies either de facto created, or re-established, in North Korea and Thailand, and still relevant in the political process in both Spain and Afghanistan. The "anyone can grow up to be President" myth, while it has always been a myth, hasn't seemed so far fetched since FDR was the permanent maximum leader of the United States through the better part of the Great Depression and World War II.

The notion in the series that an underclass of house-elves isn't all that interested in freedom, even when a vanguard of a social revolution is pushing for it on their behalf, is similarly an uncomfortable one against the backdrop of a strong creed of equality that seeems to be losing steam.

Indeed, the very notion of a wizarding world highly segregated from the general public, while good for versimilitude, contrasts sharply with almost all of the recent "contempoary fantasy" writing by American authors, which features supernatural creatures co-existing in a much more integrated fashion with the larger modern society.

Guidance to growing children from teachers, parents and community members is still relevant in Rowling's world, but their role in providing moral guidance dwarfs their role in fostering ability.


At a situational level Rowling presents a comfortable, humanistic moral framework that emphasizes the personal responsibility for the choices you make, your responsibility to look beyond yourself, the way that duty arises from the love you feel for those around you, tolerance, and empathy. Her characters manage to make it through seven lengthy volumes of difficult moral decisions without Ten Commandments, divine guidance, or even more than the sketchiest formal moral code.

Indeed, in most respects, the series is critique of using ends to justify means with high level moral theory, of conservatism, of blind adherence to social class (even though class distinctions are, in her world, on average, real ones), and of unfair authoritarianism. On the other hand, it contains almost no real criticism of great wealth per se. While the Weasley's who are salt of the Earth morally wise are economically struggling, while many of the powerful conservative families in the book are economically well established, many characters with considerable wealth don't seem to be corrupted by that wealth. Libertarians in her world usually come down with the good guys, not the authoritarian and elitists bad guys.

Anything that draws up life scripts for largely secular living (there are Christmas and Easter breaks, and Halloween celebration, but all of the decidely ceremonial deist variety), is a plus, even if those life scripts are in a fictional context. Better good kids than godly kids.

Love, Family and Women

Science Fiction and fantasy are growing up. While the protagonists of the Harry Potter series are aged 11-17, this series, like a lot of recent science fiction and fantasy writing, has lots of well developed characters who are adults or even, gasp, parents or grandparents.

Part of what makes a good share of the subplots compelling is that Rowling takes young love, with all of its ups, downs, false starts and hard won lessons learned about relationships seriously. She emphatically rejects the notion that there is some firm divide between puppy love and serious adult courtship, and she likewise has the patience to allow relationships to develop gradually, leaving readers hanging on the slowly declining uncertainty of the relationships involved until the marriages and baby carriages arrive near the end of the saga. The epilogue also has those baby carriages start to appear at a pretty advanced age (mid-20s), particularly for a society like hers in which your formal education ends at 17 or 18 years old, followed immediately by adult life, although this is probably as much a matter, again of censor influence and target audience of internal plausibility.

This is a breath of fresh air in fictional media climate that has to a great extent been so focused on censorship limitations about what shouldn't be said, to the point that a sense of "sex is bad" grows pervasive.

Offering examples of positive, but not tremendously idealized relationships between young men and women is a valuable contribution. Almost all of us are going to spend most of our lives paired off (sequentially, if not monogamously), and the vast majority of us are going to start that adventure at the ages that Rowling's characters do, rather than than waiting until we are adults legally. Rowling, of course, due to her targete audience, does not herself go explicitly beyond "snogging" and heavy petting, until there is a marriage in hand, but this airburshed physical sexuality is quite sufficient to get to the relationship issues that physical sexuality creates.

Also, in line with the zeitgeist, is the role of women in the series. The series certainly rejects the notion that there aren't important differences between men and women, and revels in the tensions that those differences create to the point of stereotype. But, while gender distinctions are there more strongly than in much science fiction and fantasy (and I don't recall any homosexual themes at all in the text), these distinctions do not exclude women from any professional roles although gender may influence how those roles are handled. Also, none of the marriages in the book, even the hard core middle class British muggle Dursleys or the (bad guy) death eater families, are profoundly patriachical, in the sense that family decision making authority is vested solely in the man, nor are their any arranged marriages -- women may be different in marriages, but exploitation of women in relationships is strictly short term. There are home makers, but those home makers are influential in their famililes, not order takers.


While one normally doesn't think of a moderate message as being powerful, ultimately that is what Rowling's world offers. It is practical, non-dogmatic, and marks the large society's increasing discomfort not just with rigid distinctions on the basis of gender and ancestery, but also with counterfactual unwillingness to recognize the vast impact of gender and ancestery, on average, if not always in individual cases.

Democracy Thought Experiment

Imagine that President Bush decided to indefinitely delay the release of the final Harry Potter book.

There would be furious public protest that wouldn't stop. It would be the top story day after day after day, and the pundits would be scratching their heads about why the President of the United States would do something so pointless and so frustrating to the American people.

Imagine that President Bush decided to indefinitely delay the return of our troops.

-- Vast Left via The Uncredible Hallq.

23 July 2007

The GOP and Filibusters

The Republicans have been much more ruthless about filibustering than Democrats. Also, historically, liberal legislation has fallen more often than conservative legislation to the filibuster's bite.

The current balance in the U.S. Supreme Court and United States Courts of Appeal indicates how ineffectually Democrats have used the filibuster to stop conservative judges.

Given that Democrats are often unwilling to press their advantage with filibusters, why shouldn't we go nuclear and prevent the Republicans from ruthlessly pressing their advantage?

Godless in Kalamazoo

The family is in Michigan right now, and yesterday they went to look at Kalamazoo College. When touring, they were told that a majority of students identify as atheists or agnostics.

From here, via Hell's Handmaiden.

Kalamazoo was founded by the American Baptist Church (i.e. the relatively moderate Northern Baptists), but is currently not affiliated with a religious denomination (much like my alma mater, Oberlin College, which was founded by revivalist clergy, but ultimately shed its religious affliation and its theology school, which went to Vanderbilt in 1966).

A Droll Weekend

The TM blog has a droll report on last weekend's events.

21 July 2007

iTunes Here I Come

Today, I expanded my computer horizons and went multimedia, a functionality that my computer has, but which I have basically used as a mere DVD and CD player until now.

I installed iTunes today, and also ripped a CD for the first time today (one I bought legitimately and won't be making available for download). I don't plan on buying very much from iTunes. I probably spend under $50 a year buying music and movies, and don't expect to spend more with iTunes. But, the virtues of being able to buy songs piecemeal for a buck, rather than spending $15 on a CD full of songs I may care less about, is worthwhile. I'd rather get the 15 songs I like most from what I hear on the radio, than a full CD with just one or two of those songs on it. The ability to download rather than going to a record store are increasingly attractive, but is a smaller draw.

My first download was the premier of the second season of Kyle XY, which wraps up the cliffhanger details left hanging at the end of last season. For $2 bucks, it was worth it, considering I'd spent $8 and tax at Blockbuster to see the first ten episodes and wanted some closure. Also, with a download, you get to keep it forever. I've gotten out of the habit of watching TV live at pre-set times, I don't get cable or satellite TV. I could get those, but I don't want to pay $30 a month for the privilege, and more to get the stations I'd want to watch. My time budget for TV is a few hours a month on average. But, this way, even though I missed the broadcast TV version, I don't have to subscribe to TV guide to track down the repeat broadcast, but I don't have to wait until the entire next season CD is available at my local video store. I'm not willing to pay $2 an episode to watch the entire season so far, when I can pay half that in a few months at the videostore, but I am willing to pay $1 extra to see the pilot early.

I've gotten TV shows on video once or twice before, and when that is all the TV you pay for in a year or two, it is a lot cheaper than cable or satellite, and is competive with pay per view. But, you still have access to the stuff that has gotten good buzz. TV is still about half the price per length of video as movies.

Downloading movies, while twice as expensive as renting a video, isn't all that expensive either. Seeing a movie in a first run theater at night costs about the same amount, and more after you compare theater popcorn prices to home popcorn prices. And, you can see the download more than once.

There were some small bugs in getting iTunes set up (font issues). It also takes a really long time to download a TV program and huge software programs like the iTunes which is a memory hog. But, I don't plan on doing it often enough to make a connection speed upgrade to my DSL worth the trouble (especially after having just signed on to an extended contract at a good price at the current reasonably high speed).

While it needs faster connection speeds and a bit lower prices to get universal penetration, even for marginal media consumers like myself, I have little doubt that this is the wave of the future. And, if I lived someplace off the beaten track by mail, but still with a high speed internet connection, you can bet I'd spend a lot at iTunes instead of record stores and on movie rentals and going to movies.

MRAP and Artillery Update

War makes military procurement go faster. About 6,415 new mine resistant vehicles should be in Iraq by March 2008, with about a third of them arriving by year end. Some may have cage armor designed to fend off rocket propelled grenades.

Meanwhile, howitzers, which in their conventionally form are nearly useless in closed quarters and urban combat wherethey are insufficiently accurate, are returning to relevance.
What's new? A guided artillery round that is as much a missle as it is a conventional dumb artillery rond (and costs almost as much as a misile). Guided missiles from multiple rocket launchers, direct fire weapons, drone fired missiles, and aircraft delivered smart bombs and air to ground missiles have been squeezing out traditional artillery because they can more accurately hit small targets.

D.C. Circuit Ruling Blow To Bush Administration

The Detainee Treatment Act and Military Commissions Act give the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit the power to review Combat Status Review Tribunal decisions in which Guantanamo Bay detainees are determined to be enemy combatants.

The government envisions these reviews basically as other court appeals that consider evidence actually presented by a military prosecutor to the tribunal in a hearing based on the transcript of the hearing. The D.C. Circuit disagreed. It is acting more like a habeas corpus trial court, permitting discovery far beyond the scope of what was actually presented to the tribunal, and instead, including matters that could have been presented to the tribunal, but were not.

The decision, written by the Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit, is the right one. Essentially, the gross absence of due process protections in the tribunal process itself, means that meaningful review is possible only by looking beyond the matters presented to the tribunal so the reviewing court can determine if the government lived up to its pre-hearing obligation (within the rules of the Combat Status Review Tribunals) to make available exculpatory evidence.

Inquisitorial tribunals need to be reviewed differently from adversarial ones.

The decision is a huge blow to the government. It is an end run around a position it has taken consistently for five years that enemy combatant decisions are fundamentally a matter for the executive branch. Congress wouldn't let it out of ultimate review by an Article III court, and the judges on that court, while not usually a trial court, havve decided to do what is necessary for a first instance Article III court review process.

The number of people impacted by Guantanamo Bay proceedures is small, just a few hundred in the midst of wars that have killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis. But, it is a signature policy of the administration's war and terrorism policy, and it is the most blatant example of administration abandonment of the rule of law, which has resulted in immense international pressure. For the government to fail to achieve its ends here is to declare its anti-terrorism policy to be fundamentally flawed.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a once in a generation move, has reconsidered its decision to deny certioriari to the D.C. Court determination that the Military Commission Act of 2006 constitutionally suspends the writ of habeas corpus in Guantanamo Bay. Given the Supreme Court's ruling on an almost identical issue, and dicta that went further which the D.C. Circuit ruling ignored, reversal of this decision and a finding that the Military Commission Act of 2006's jurisdiction stripping provisions are unconstitutional as applied in this case is writing on the wall.

In the face of this, the Bush Administration, by outside accounts, seems poised to shut down Guantanamo and move the detainees to facility on American soil, where jurisdiction stripping seems almost certain to be unconstitutional.

Essentially, the federal courts have allowed the administration five years to ignore the law with impunity to fight terrorism and seek Congressional backing, but the free pass has almost expired, now that, with hindsight, it is clear that neither Guantanamo Bay, nor enemy combatant detentions in the domestic United States, are necessary to national security.

The fight in the end game will be between the President and the courts and detainee litigants, over what precedents will remain on the books for the next war.

The Case Against The Surface Navy

John Reed makes the case against having a large surface navy. His arguments against a Marine Corps that exists to make amphibious assaults in the same article (e.g. D-Day was an Army operation and the Marines weren't terribly good at amphibious assault in WWII) are non-trivial.

I think that there is a place for a surface navy, but his basic point is right. For a great many purposes that the Navy was invented to serve and is still tasked with carrying out, the Navy is a poor tool, and surface ships are sitting ducks against a great many opponents.

I think he does underestimate how many potential adversaries are third rate powers against whom Naval based aviation is powerful and useful tool, in a world where U.S. land bases are often distant. I also think that he overstates how much of the Navy's resources are devoted to anything other than submarine and Naval aviation missions in a carrier group/assault ship group dominated force. And, I think he underestimates one of the biggest vulnerabilities of the naval force, which is the low profile and highly vunerable sealift force.

Kyle XY

Kyle XY is probably the best TV series I've ever seen. I watched the first season on DVD yesterday, but I guess it will be a long wait until I can see the second season, as six episodes out of 23 in the second season (there were just ten in the first), have already aired.

It is a science fiction drama with a sequential plot, in which an mystery unfolds, in the tradition of VR5, the Firefly/Serenity series, Smallsville and Roswell, rather than a sitcom or mere episodic melodrama. The character development and fully fleshed out relationships rival the Harry Potter series, as does the intricacy of the plots and subplots, and frequent surprise resolutions of plot points. The foreshadowing, literary references, product placements, and witty dialog are all executed with greater grace than is usually the case in the genre, as are the artful beginnings, steady middle portions and well executed endings of essentially every episode. It is one of the most popular series on ABC Family and ABC, breaking the notion good quality network television has secure only low ratings.

The science fiction elements are not terribly adventurous and are used sparingly. The movie "The Island" raises essentially the same core concept scientifically, but like Phillip Dick's short stories, and VR5, this is as much about the conspiracies of a vague nefarious organizations in a situation with imperfect information, as it is about cutting edge science.

Like most speculative fiction, it is as much a launching point for looking at our own society with open eyes, as it is about the science per se. It explores teenage love, school tracking, upper middle class life in the Northwest, religion, sports, secrets and lies, and more. The second season adds more fantastic pseudo-scientific elements, but also expands the conspiracy angle and character development (or so says the second season preview that I watched).

The core ensemble cast works well together, and the secondary cast above the norm for television. Few movies have acting or a script that is as strong, even though the television show is probably pretty inexpensive to make, as it has no top drawer stars, few expensive special effects, no animation (which is expensive) and a contemporary setting that eliminates the costs associated with costume dramas (although the sets, clothes and cars are all tony). The strong points of cinematography and screen writing don't cost more to do well than to do poorly, especially for a storyline that is not an adapted screenplay. The only real splurge is on the soundtrack, and even there, the bands are mostly in the process of being discovered, rather than being big name bands.

It is interesting how often low cost productions come out better than higher cost extravaganzas. It is far more polished than say, "Dr. Who," and it is shot to allow and HDTV version, but it still has to be a pretty cheap effort for a high rating show.

Yes, I admit that I have pandered to a number of my regular readers in the references I've made above, but only for your own good. Try it, you'll like it.

20 July 2007

Tax Protester Idiots With A Death Wish

Tax protester idiots with a death wish are, of course, in New Hampshire. Via How Appealing. The story has an interesting footnote:

There are 250,000 to 500,000 people in the United States who are tax protesters, says JJ MacNab, a financial analyst who has written a book on the issue and testified before Congress on behalf of law enforcement.

Some, she says, are elderly, uneducated or disenfranchised people who buy into tax evasion scams. Others are disgruntled — sometimes dangerous — citizens who believe the wording of tax laws does not make them liable to pay.

"The tax laws are almost 100 years old, and no one has ever won," she says. "Thousands and thousands of people have challenged them. It's a constant flow of the same tired arguments over and over."

A summary of the case law on frivilous tax arguments from the IRS can be found here.

Genarlow Wilson Ga. Sup. Ct. Hearing Liveblog

Go see the work done by a super live blogger on the oral arguments in the Georgia Supreme Court consideration of habeas and bond issues in the Genarlow Wilson's case. Once again, when it comes to detailed coverage of legal matters, bloggers are vastly superior to traditional media coverage.

Trial By Newspaper

Mr. Al-Marri, the only person detained as an "enemy combatant" in the United States, whose detention has been held to be unlawful by the conservative United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit (the government has requested en banc review of the decsion), was profiled today by the Washington Post, in a lengthy story that, if true, coroborates government arguments that Al-Marri is indeed a man who was ready to commit or conspire to commit terrorist acts.

It is pretty clear, from the nature of the information in the story, that it flows from an intentional leak by government officials of information that, until they lost in court, they had insisted on maintaining in the utmost secrecy for five years. Most likely, this was done in an effort to sway the judges on the en banc panel of the 4th Circuit, who might not otherwise be able to imagine why the government is acting as it is in his case.

But, the real question is why the administration hasn't allowed these facts to come out in a habeas corpus hearing or criminal terrorism proceeding, rather that insisting on a "because I say so" stance. The handling of Al-Marri's case by the administration has done untold damage to the effectiveness of the United States in diplomatic circles and through international cooperation in stopping terrorism, and his detention has also apparently not produced any meaningful intelligence.

In contrast, a public trial, revealing the details alleged, could have provided a perfect forum for the administration to prove the the country and to the world, that they are doing more than crying wolf over terrorism allegations, and that their actions with regard to this man in particular are justified.

The facts described in the Washington Post article are far more persausive than the case that the prosecution put forth against Jose Padilla in Miami, Florida these past nine weeks. But, they haven't been tested in a court. The admininstration is trying to try Al-Marri's case in the newspapers, and its history of exaggerating the facts in cases like Padilla's and those of hundreds of other criminal terrorism defendants and Guantanamo Bay detainees has undermined its credibility.

In a self-fulfilling prophecy, the Bush Administration's misguided approach to terrorism and insistence on fighting an ill advised war in Iraq, have put our nation at greater risk of a terrorist attack. Nobody doubts that the threat from Al-Quida is real now, whatever the danger was before if it had been handled properly. But, the FBI and local law enforcement appear to be considerably better suited to the task, domestically, than the spooks and the military.

In Iraq and at home, the basic lesson that the administration has failed to learn is that it isn't enough and is sometimes counterproductive even, to simply try to kill bad guys. You have to win in a manner that makes clear your moral superiority. We need to be able to say, as Harry Potter says at the end of the Order of the Phoenix, "We've got something he doesn’t have. We've got something worth fighting for." So long as the Bush Administration insists on acting like an evil empire, it will encourage attacks on the United States. They've already put us at greater risk by their actions. And, unless we change course, we will simply keep making our enemies stronger.

19 July 2007

TSA=Too Stupid Agency

The TSA is not a paragon of good decision making.

The most recent situation: an eight year old boy prevented from flying because he was on the "no fly" list. Sadly, this is all too common. Also, while the TSA is good at seizing water, it is less good at finding bombs. For example: "In Red Team testing at Denver earlier this year, screeners missed 90% of fake guns and explosives smuggled through checkpoints."

The problems probably have something to do with the fact that this huge government agency (about 60,000 employees the last time I checked) was created by an administration that doesn't believe in government and hence doesn't understand public administration. They don't understand terrorism very well either, which is why they invented the "war on terrorism" concept.

BTW, they also don't really understand the gender equality concept.

Selected Pet Theories and Maxims

Prophets are supposed to produce proverbs, right? Here are a few of my "pet theories", which are basically hypotheses that I've personally discerned from an anecdotal examination of the evidence, but haven't rigorously proved or known to be described in the literature of the relevant fields, and maxims (bits of wisdom). A few are known in the relevant literature, but underused.

* The Sovereignty of the Group: The larger a group of people is, the less capable it is of making decisions bound by any constraints (such as law, or feasibility) governed by external constraints. Thus, while a three person group on an appellate court panel is capable of adhering to legal precedents, a three hundred person group will almost always simply decide a question based upon the member individual's own personal preferences.

* Why Are Some Places More Religious Than Others? Religious practice thrives where it protects a threatened culture (e.g. minorities, oppressed people, immigrant communities), and whithers if it espouses norms of a secure culture (e.g. mainline Christians, established churches).

* Why Are Some People More Superstitious/Religious Than Others? People whose livelihood or success/survival depend upon random chance (e.g. farmers, actors, gamblers, soldiers) tend to care more about the supernatural than those whose success is less capricious.

* Why do people fight wars? Wars almost exclusively arise from disputes over a regime's legitimacy (see yesterday's post).

* Artificial solutions are appropriate ways to deal with artificial problems. This addresses when it is morally appropriate to elevate form over substance, and when it is not.

* The Iron Law of Oligopoly: Markets inherently trend towards oligopoly from both genuinely competitive and monopolistic states.

* Unemployment is a failure of entrepreneurship. The relevance of this maxim is to discourage the notion that a workforce of a particular size is chasing after a fixed number of jobs. Jobs are created and destroyed easily, and unemployment often coexists will labor shortages in some fields. The problem of unemployment is not that there are not enough jobs, but that our society is insufficiently creative to find economically useful things for the people who are unemployed to do.

* Economically productive immigrants don't cause unemployment. When you agree that unemployment is a failure of entrepreneurship, it follows that gainfully employed people, regardless of their nationality, have little impact on unemployment; unemployment comes from failing to find something worthwhile for unemployed people to do, not from a shortage of jobs. More generally, the observations of Richard Florida in "The Rise of the Creative Class" that economic prosperity flows more from intellectual capital than from physical or monetary capital, is basically correct.

* Copyright violations in totalitarian regimes enhance American national security. In these cases the economic harm to American businesses from foreign copyright violations is far outweighed by the long term benefit to American national security interests that arise from diffusion of American ideas in an authentic way.

* Unjust enrichment is a better analogy for intellectual property laws than property law (for reasons discussed at this blog more than once).

* Simplicity is more important than extra features in a good user interface. Apple Computing understands this, Microsoft does not.

* When faced with a situation where people are not successfully performing, troubleshooting to address the problem should proceed in the following order: (1) Is all necessary information immediately at hand where the work needs to be done? (2) Are the right tools available? (3) Are the right incentives in place? (4) Do the people have sufficient training and education to perform their jobs? (5) Do the people have the abilities they need to perform their jobs? (6) Are the people inherently motivated enough? Bad managers tend to try to blame problems on later questions before adequately resolving earlier and cheaper to address questions first.

* The ability to draw free hand in realistic perspective, or play an instrument, is primarily a learned thought process skill, not a matter of manual dexterity. (From "Drawing On The Right Side of the Brain", etc.). If you can type or trace, you have sufficient manual dexterity to play piano or draw.

* Unopposed ideas almost always win. In a legislative or judicial context, proposals presented without opposition in the forum at the time the decision is made almost always prevail, while any opposition at all expressed at the appropriate time in that forum dramatically deceases the likelihood that the proposal will pass and makes it much more difficult to pass the proposal unamended. This notion is contrary to the notion that mere majority support is all that matters in this context. It also explains judicial behavior in areas like the FISA court, grand juries, temporary restraining order proceedings, search warrant applications, default judgment requests, and other ex parte proceedings. A corollary of this rule is that state and local governments are easier to lobby than the federal government, since the likelihood of being completely unopposed on an issue is much greater at lower levels of government than in Washington D.C. where almost every imaginable interest has a lobbyist.

* Local government is farthest from the people, while the federal government is closest to the people. This notion flows from the idea that voter turnout is highest in federal elections and lowest in local elections, and that the decisions made in federal elections are better informed than those in local elections because media coverage is better in top of the ticket races, and media coverage of elected officials while in office improves as officials are higher up the totem pole.

* Rural local government is less competent than urban local government which is less competent than state government which is less competent than federal government. This flows largely from the fact that more competent people seek higher offices and apply to jobs with bigger governmental bodies. Bigger governments also tend to have better institutionalized bureaucracies to insure that things are done right.

* Local governments are bad at making general policies. This flows from the fact that at the local government level there are often not enough decisions to be made to cause decisions to be based on any policy which is meaningfully separated from a holistic analysis of all the facts presented in the small number of cases that actually come up. It accounts for the fact that ordinances and zoning codes are frequently overturned on a case by case basis.

* Vice is a local problem. Examples like decriminalized or partially decriminalized drug use in the Netherlands and Switzerland; legalized under aged drinking in Europe; decriminalized prostitution in places like Nevada, Perth (Australia), and Amsterdam; and decriminalized gambling in places like Nevada, state lotteries, bingo halls, and Indian casinos illustrate that vices that are often criminalized, while they may be bad habits and public health issues, are not inherently victimizing for any of the participants. But, this fails to explain why there is wide public opposition to decriminalization of vice. The problem with vice is that it is a NIMBY problem without proper regulation. Illegal drug use, prostitution, drinking or gambling may not be victimizing for the participants, but they are horrible for the neighborhoods where they are located (as are legal vice operations like exorbitant rate payday loan shops and adult entertainment). The implications of this fact are (1) that laws to address vice should be local, and (2) that vice is essentially an economic crime just as theft is primarily an economic crime.

* Incompetency and accidents are much more common than malice.

* Coups are largely a product of small military forces, not large ones, because the control group whose support is necessary to carry out a coup is smaller in a small military force.

* Offenses with insufficient intent requirements, and with mandatory penalties end up disproportionately impacting the least culpable individuals (e.g. kid punished for wearing Winnie-the-Pooh socks to school in violation of a dress code allegedly designed to stop gangs).

* The vast majority of crimes are committed by people with either reasonably compelling and understandable reasons for doing so (albeit often appropriately without legally justiable reasons), or a mental illness. The vast majority of crime is economically motivated and is committed by the poor, or is substance addiction motivated. Most violent crime has some non-legally justifiable provocation. Most truly random crime is committed by the mentally ill, or by those temporarily out of their minds due to substance abuse. Recidivism is great because the underlying economic, substantce abuse or mental health problems behind so many crimes has not been resolved, or has been made worse, by the criminal justice system.

* Social problems are frequently best solved by looking for dominant trends. Most complex, multifactored problems have a variety of sources each of which has different possible solutions that are not equal in magnitude. Identifying the dominant trends behind a problem, and the dominant solution cost to problem impact ratios frequently makes it possible to address most of a social problem with solutions that address only a few of the sources of that problem. For example, while there were many sources of lead pollution, solving just one of them by banning leaded gasoline, solved the vast majority of the problem.

* In the absence of exceptionally good or exceptionally bad educational situations, academic performance is very weakly linked to educational institution quality. In the middle 80%-90% or so of educational situations ranked by teaching quality, the link is extremely weak.

* Clear wrongs are easier to right, even when they are trivial, than serious but less clear wrongs.

* The most successful scams don't hurt any one individual very much.

* Most people are bureacratically incompetent and functionally illiterate most of the time, even if they have had significant education.

* Political power is usually distributed less equally than economic power (this was a key observation of Milton Friedman).

* The vast majority of the laws on the books are irrelevant to the average person. Most laws on the book (and most tax laws for that matter) matter directly only to specified regulated industries or government employees. Moreover, the vast majority of laws relevant to the average person flow largely from moral intuition anyway, and most laws that don't flow from moral intuition are enforced only haphazardly.

* Modest wealth usually flows from ability, great wealth usually has a substantial component of either luck or malice or both involved ("behind every great fortune is a great crime").