31 August 2011

Denver Public Schools School Board November 2011 Election Candidates

In odd numbered years, Denver voters choose Denver Public Schools school board members to four year terms in addition to voting on some ballot issues. This year the election date is director districts (two of which up this time around and the remaining three of which were voted upon tow years ago). This year's director district elections involve District 1 in Southeast Denver current held by Bruce L. Hoyt, and District 5 in Northwest Denver currently held Arturo Jiminez. Voters in District 3 in Southwest Denver held by Andrea Medira, in District 2 in Central Denver held by Jeannie Kaplan, and District 4 in Northeast Denver held by Nate Easley vote only in the at large school board race this year.

Ballot access was available to any candidate presenting a nominating petition with fifty signatures from registered voters in Denver by the deadline this month. Ballot placement is by lot.

There are five candidates in the at large school board race which has no incumbent candidates:
* John Daniel
* Frank E. Deserino
* Allegra "Happy" Haynes
* Roger Kilgore
* Jacqueline Carole Shumway

In District 1, the two candidates, neither of whom is an incumbent, will be:
* Anne Bye Rowe
* Emily Lipp Sirota

Outgoing Bruce Hoyt from District 1 tended to vote with the current majority on the Denver School Board. Rowe is a co-founder of the organization "A+ Denver."

In District 5, one candidate is challenging incumbent Arturo Jimenez is his bid for re-election. The candidates are:
* Jennifer Draper Carson
* Arturo Jimenez

Carson worked on Jimenez's 2007 school board campaign and is active as a parent of a child at North High School where she is a member of the parent board that is the official means by which the school's administration consults with parents on matters of school policy below the school district level.

The races are officially non-partisan and there are no primary elections for school board races, but there are two organized factions that have backed candidates in prior elections.

One faction is the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

The other is a "business friendly" coalition that has tended to favor a greater emphasis on charter schools and specialized programs and large scale overhaul from scratch of schools they see as failing. This coalition in represented this year by two organizations, "Democrats for Education Reform and the political arm Stand for Children." The endorsement is certainly no guarantee of success. Just one of the four candidates Stand for Children endorsed in 2009 (Nate Easley) won a school board race in that year.

They have endorsed Allegra "Happy" Haynes in the at large race, Jennifer Draper Carson in the District 1 race and Anne Bye Rowe in the District 5 race. Happy Haynes is a former DPS employee and Denver city councilwoman.

Since 2009, the board has had major rifts and an increased number of 4-to-3 split votes, particularly on major reform efforts.

In December of 2009, the board voted 4-3 to turn around Lake Middle School by phasing out an International Baccalaureate program, replacing it with a new one, and co-locating a charter school on campus.

Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, was part of the three-vote minority but now supports the changes.

A similar but larger-scale turnaround plan for the far northeast neighborhoods passed on a 4-3 vote in November.

The 4-3 vote also moved ahead on a motion that limited forced placement of teachers into the lowest performing schools while the district worked with the union to create a policy for mutual consent.

Of course, a great many issues, some significant, are not matters of dispute for Denver's school board, and received unanimous votes supporting a single approach.

Jimenez is a candidate for the DCTA leaning three vote faction. Andrea Medira, who has a recent post at Colorado Pols, in District 3, is another. The third has been Jeanne Kaplan of District 2.

The matter has gone heated including both public protocol insults in the proceedings of the Board as the 2009 election winners took office and a failed attempt to recall Nate Easely who is in the four vote majority on the board. This faction has been associated in public debate with current Denver Public Schools Superintendent Boasberg and by former Superintendent, and current U.S. Senator Michael Bennet.

Emily Sirota, not previously a public figure in her own right (although her husband David Sirota is a well known Denver based pundit), is a self-described community activist who has the backing of Andrea Medira in the current school board race.

Not all of the four at large candidates not endorsed by Democrats for Education Reform/Stand For Children, i.e. John Daniel, Frank E. Deserino, Roger Kilgore, and Jacqueline Carole Shumway necessarily line up neatly with one faction or the other, although the DCTA will probably endorse one of them before the dust settles.

Frank Deserino, a South High School teacher was an unsuccessful candidates in the 2007 school board race for District 1 where he came in third out of three candidates with 12% of the vote (outgoing director Bruce L. Hoyt won that race with 65% of the vote).

Roger Kilgore, a Park Hill water engineer, sought the endorsement of Democrats for Education Reform and was given honorable mention by them in connection with its endorsement of Happy Haynes.

Jacqui Shumway, an unsuccessful candidate in the 2009 school board election, is "a physical fitness advocate and co-founder of the Tai Chi Project." She came in 4th place out of 5 candidates in 2009 with 11% of the vote in the seat won by Nate Easely in the 4th District.

Baker neighborhood resident John Daniel's "political background includes pushing for the now-repealed Initiative 100, which impounded the cars of undocumented immigrants," which was widely opposed by almost everyone in Denver's political establishment and city administration. He doesn't seem to have a website at this point. He wants to slash the DPS administrative budget by 10% to pay for more teachers.

Nuba In Peril

The country of Sudan recently broke into two nations, a predominantly Muslim and Arabic language speaking north and a predominantly animist/Christian population with more cultural similarity to sub-Saharan Africa in the newly formed nation of South Sudan.

This didn't leave rump Sudan in the North without ongoing ethnic conflicts. Ethnic affilates with the main Northern population have carried out genocidal campaigns in the part of Western Sudan called Darfur against a population that is substantial (probably on the order of 40% of the population), but a minority, in the region, which makes the simple expedient of granting the region autonomy a less helpful solution.

There is also a pocket of ethnically South Sudan-like peoples in the South Kordofan province which include the Nuba Mountains whose adjective, Nubian, has historically been applied to black South Sudanese people generally.

From the point of view of lingustics, prehistory and anthropology, the Nuba Mountains are among the places in the world, bar none. The Nuba Mountains are home to multiple waves of small populations of relict peoples who have retreated there and retained their languages and to some extent their cultures and traditions as well when invading populations have routed them or forced them to submit culturally in the lowlands of the region.

The oldest layer of the palmpiset that is the Nuba Mountains are the Kordofan language speaking peoples. The Kordofan languages are the Northernmost, Easternmost and quite possibly the most archaic form of the Niger-Congo languages that are dominant in West Africa, on of which, Bantu, spread across Africa in the Bantu expansion, replacing indigenous languages across sub-Saharan Africa in the process.

Understanding the many languages spoken in the Nuba Mountains is critical to understanding the historical roots of the Niger-Congo languages and their likely past geographical expanse, and the historical roots of subsequent Chadic, Nilo-Saharan and Afro-Asiatic languages that have all intersected in the region. The cultural preservation of their language also makes the oral histories, traditions, legends and religious practices of these peoples likely to be closer to their ancient forms that those peoples immersed in more recent intrusive languages and cultures like Arabic speaking Islamic peoples whose cultural ties are traceable to 7th century Arabia rather than the Sahel, Chad Basin and Upper Nile basin.

Those vital human traditions are in grave peril because the military of rump Sudan, in an indiscriminate effort to punish the people of Southern Kordofan for their South Sudanese political sentiments and support of its rebellion are currently dropping more or less random bombs from planes into populated areas with no military targets, killing people going to market, in their homes, filling water from wells and so on. Many of the dead are women and children. Planes roar overhead many times a day and bombs drop out of the sky for no apparent particular reason for particular bombings.

Appeals have been made to the United Nations, but a world weary with global financial meltdown, mass starvation in Somolia, detentes reached over South Sudanese independence and reductions in violence in Darfur, the Arab Spring including ongoing military struggles in Syria and Libya, and more, are having trouble hearing the cries from Nuba for action as well.

28 August 2011

Trends In Church Music From A Denver Perspective

The Muser

Timothy J. Krueger is the choirmaster at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Denver, the artistic director of the Saint Martin’s Chamber Choir, an affiliate music faculty member at Metropolitan State College of Denver, and if the truth were told, has any number of additional musical positions. He is certainly a notable figure in the church music community in Denver, at least among "high church" Christians.

He also issues a regular e-mail newletter called "Musical Weekly" that I read when I can which recently featured an interesting several week series of musings on trends in church music which I reproduce below with permission.

The Musings and Reactions

Part 1 (August 1, 2011):

Regarding the state of church music (musing alert!), I was fascinated recently to read the following paragraphs in an article put out by the Episcopal News Service:

"The ongoing struggle to get young people in the pews at churches across Brooklyn is motivating some clergy in the Diocese of Long Island to develop new ministries that challenge the popular way of how churches reach out to 20-somethings.

Predominant tactics -- a rock band, projector screens and altars stripped of traditional decors -- have failed to resonate with 20-somethings. Instead, it's the traditional aspects of the Episcopal faith and its liturgy that young people are now drawn to, clergy say.

(…) "It's not that they aren't interested. What they are looking for is the traditional -- silence, reflection, candles," Griffith said."

I have been observing similar things in my admittedly non-scientific survey of young adults. I remember hearing of an Episcopal Church that refashioned their 4:00pm Christmas Eve service to appeal to young adults and families with children, adding the above-mentioned rock band, projector screens, etc. The service was an abysmal failure because young people wanted to hear traditional carols and music, and flocked instead to the 10pm or Midnight service, despite the inconvenient time for their children. “We want real church, not something we can witness on the street or on TV,” one person reportedly said. The church returned the 4:00 service to a traditional one the next year. I’ve also heard it said (since I am no judge of this) that what passes for rock bands in most so-called musically progressive churches are actually aging 1960’s-style folk bands, and come off as even more dated and old-fashioned than a traditional music program, and having far less integrity to them. There’s also the now-famous example of the traditional Compline service at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, where 20-somethings flock in (and lay on the floor with eyes closed) to hear the all-male choir sing Gregorian Chant, Tudor anthems, and more modern Anglican repertoire, saying it sounds “timeless” and “New Age” to them, rather than “old fashioned.” I find in my Intro to Music courses at Metro State College that the students are like blank slates when it comes to classical music. Previous generations rebelled against their parents’ tastes, like classical music; but that generation are now the parents of college-age students today, and since they don’t listen to classical music, their kids don’t know anything about it, don’t have any negative associations or stereotypes, and are therefore are open to it.

So I predict that the next “wave” of evangelizing young people will not be to “reach them where they’re at,” as has been the watchword for the last 50 years; but to give them something that seems timeless and ancient at the same time that it is modern and relevant. The hunger in young people for the traditional, as evidenced by their depiction in Harry Potter books and films (school uniforms, gothic buildings, ancient traditions, a reverence for that which fills us with awe, the Latin language as imbued with a sort of power beyond the vernacular, etc.), will be more successfully met by pipe organs, vested choirs, liturgies rooted in ancient traditions, powerful age-old symbols, etc., than by any attempt at pandering to an age group by appearing to provide familiar settings and sounds.


Here’s a link to the entire article(http://www.episcopalchurch.org/80263_129223_ENG_HTM.htm) although I’ve quoted the bit most relevant to my “musing” already.

Part 2 (August 8, 2011):

I got a great number of interesting replies to my musing on the article I cited about church music and young people, and my claim that I see a sea change happening in the thinking about what attracts 20-somethings. Three or four people replied regarding theological issues, which I found interesting, and I chatted individually with them; but my intention was to focus on musical style; and since there are a number of theological positions represented by the members of this list – from conservative Evangelical to liberal Protestant to agnostic to atheist, and with a few Jewish and other faiths sprinkled in – I will confine myself to quoting those comments about music.

A number of people simply said “I agree,” or “Good to hear things might be changing,” etc., and those were naturally much appreciated (two of you said you’d even forwarded the article and my musings on to your own ministers). Of course, given the make-up of this list, that was the most likely response. Here are a few personal stories I received from young(ish) people, and by which I was quite moved. Here’s Lisa S. (a St. Andrew’s member and acolyte):

"Interesting article on reaching out to youth. I come at this from several points of view, so perhaps you won't mind my sharing. I grew up in the Roman Catholic church and absolutely hated the Masses where the "old ladies" sang (can it be called singing?) hymns! On the other hand, I loved going to the guitar Mass (no bands, just guitar, maybe piano, maybe a string bass). This probably had something to do with the fact that, when traveling across country with 4 kids in the car, our parents would play folk music to keep us entertained. Once I started playing bass, then guitar, participation in the music kept me even more involved. Even so, once I started singing in the high school choir with a director who favored sacred choral music, I developed a love for the traditional music as long as it was done well. Once I left the Catholic church, and started exploring other avenues for my spiritual needs, I heard many of these "bands" and found the music quite distasteful. When the instruments are too many and too loud to really hear the message, then I think there is no message. I still love the music I used to play (which was very intentional in its liturgical relevance) but, when it comes to meditation, the beauty of a well-sung choral anthem is really unmatched for me.

So, to some degree, I owe my young growth and interest in my faith to the St. Louis Jesuits. But I must agree that I do not see the young people I know running from tradition. To the contrary, the fact that it is timeless, that there is purpose and meaning behind it and that it draws the spirit of the Mass together, makes the musical tradition very appealing to those who are seeking solid ground. I am glad to hear that this is not just true in my little world. Of course, there will always be those kids who will be reached by the bands, and there will be those who find the mega-church atmosphere appealing. But, it is nice to know that there is always a place where one can be drawn in by the sheer beauty of the human voice and the majesty of the organ (with an occasional violin or cello). And, if I may say so, the choir and space of St. Andrew's are the perfect couple!"

Here’s Dan C.:

"I have had conversations with several people lately, friends and strangers, about a movement in church towards Tradition. I have been to the [Compline] service at St. Mark's in Seattle, have attended Emerging Churches (which focus on a return to what the early church looked like), and now find myself at a Catholic church rather than the Evangelical one that I was raised in. While I would be far from saying that the Evangelical movement should be completely tossed out, there is obviously something that has been forgotten/missed/misunderstood about the "contemporizing" of our services. The use of contemporary music and media served as a connection point between church and culture, and allowed people to see religion's relevance. However, as we have seen with countless pop artists, the ones that lack substance fail to stick around. Churches who struggled to bring substance into their relevance struggled to understand why lights and loudspeakers didn't have the sustaining draw that other churches seemed to find. The newness of technology and culture has worn off and for many even become over-stimulating or intrusive. Today, we are surrounded by so much abrasively up-front stimuli that we aren't even conscious how commonplace it is. People are becoming burnt out and lost in a society that supposedly panders to their every need or desire.

Here is where the church has an incredible position to offer something very unique that, I believe, more and more people are becoming painfully aware they are in need of. People are getting to a point where they are ready to turn on their laptops and iPods, but are unsure and uncomfortable with what will fill the space. Meditation and reflection are about as counterculture as you can get these days, but I believe it is something people are hungering for (I know I am). I'm excited for the possibilities this brings, but at the same time know some churches will still miss the point. (…)"

And here’s Ross J.:

"Young people (and I still count myself among them because I’m pretty involved in the local music scene) can go out in Denver any night of the week and hear more cutting edge, more dynamic, more interesting, and more passionate popular music, than anything I’ve ever heard in a ‘contemporary’ service, whether Catholic, Anglican, or Protestant. [In church,] a song that doesn’t grate on the nerves is considered a success!

The misguided move to ‘draw more young people’ into the church, starting for Catholics after Vatican II, was because the traditional music (when there was any) lacked a fine quality, and passion. What person, young or old, is inspired by music performed half-heartedly by a poor choir accompanied by a poor organist playing a poor organ?

The answer, then as now, is not to start over again, but to go back to the musical roots of the church and ‘get it right’. Then you’ll inspire and draw in new composers who are ‘getting it right’ and not writing drivel!

Not once in my years at Holy Ghost [Catholic] or St. Andrew’s [Episcopal] have I heard a young person after the service pine for more ‘contemporary’ music. Quite the opposite."

And finally, Sue K.:

"As for your thoughts on church music and young people, I agree. I think that, if there was any authenticity to Christian “rock” music, people might feel differently (at least with respect to the music – not necessarily the rest of the trappings of the “modern” service), but most of what’s out there is just derivative schlock. That said, I think you’re right that the timeless quality and genuine beauty of the traditional service and music are what actually have the power to connect us to the divine. Although it’s true that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” I tend to think some things are beautiful in a more universal way. Those things give us a little glimpse of the divine, and anyone who openly encounters them is drawn in. I suspect the traditional service and music have survived because of that. In a world full of cheap imitation and creative endeavors that are more about trying to make a lot of money than true creative expression, the traditional service and music offer young people something real, and I’m not surprised to learn that they prefer, even yearn for, that."

Many thanks to these and others for sharing their thoughts.

Part 3 (August 13, 2011):

One reader sent me a very interesting item about an Episcopal church in Lawrence, Kansas, and its attempts at reframing the traditional liturgy in order not to put off youth, etc. First, here’s a link to an article that talks about the service in a general way (disregard the photo caption – it says the priest is using incense – he’s clearly asperging the people [holy water, not holy smokes, Batman!]):


Second, I copy a Q-and-A sheet that I like even more about this service. I’ve deleted things about where to find parking, childcare, post-service reception, etc., but retain the things about liturgy and music:

"FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS about the 6 PM Solemn High Mass at Trinity Episcopal Church

Q. How long is the service? A. A little over one hour.

Q. What style of service is provided? A. The service is sometimes called Solemn High Mass which is a celebration of the Eucharist (Lord's Supper or Holy Communion) that has a rich offering of ritual including singing, chanting, and incense.

Q. Who is welcome at this service? A. Everyone is welcome but college students are especially invited. The time of the service also intentionally provides an opportunity for those unable to attend church on Sunday mornings. This who might find an evening service more compatible with their schedule include some health care workers, fire fighters, police officers, real estate agents, those traveling or those who like to sleep late on Sunday mornings. We have also discovered that many are attracted to a more traditional form of worship. As far as we know, this is the only service of its type offered in the area. We expect all "sorts and conditions" to be a part of this community.

Q. What style of music does the service offer? A. Our Mission in Music: The Solemn High Mass has resulted in the formation of a new liturgical choir at Trinity Church under the direction of Henry Heller Smith, our Associate Music Director and doctoral candidate in choral conducting at the University of Kansas. The singers are students at the University. The choir's hymnody, psalmody, plainsong, Gregorian chant, and anthems represent the finest tradition in the church's repertoire of ancient and modern sacred music. The celebration of Solemn High Mass reminds us that liturgy, music, and ceremony are woven together from a common catholic thread. Individual performance is not the essence of what is taking place. Rather, individual efforts are shaped and formed into a sacramental whole, a mystical unity, transcending place and time, which focuses the utmost devotion and prayerful attention to the worship of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is, indeed, an offering of worship in the solemnity and beauty of holiness.

Q. Why aren't we doing a contemporary service if one of our primary purposes is to reach college students? A. Many churches in Lawrence, including St. Margaret's, already offer contemporary worship on both Sunday morning and evening. They also do this very well. It is not our strong point and those who desire a contemporary experience have ample opportunities to do so. There are, however, no churches in the area that offer anything like we do. Not every college student, or person of any age for that matter, is attracted to a contemporary form of worship. We offer an alternative for those in the city who seek to connect the concerns of daily life in the 21st century with our ancient faith.

Q. Do I need to be familiar with the Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal to participate? A. The service should be familiar to those who attend Sunday mornings but we also have the entire service printed out in a booklet so one need not juggle books.

Q. How can I be involved? A. Come and worship. Bring friends. We also have many leadership opportunities: Musicians, readers, prayer leaders, ushers, hosts (greeters), nursery workers, chalice bearers, acolytes, Altar Guild and even an audio technician to record the sermon."

And finally, a link to a page I found on the website of St. Paul’s Church, Carroll Gardens (Brooklyn, NY), that was mentioned in the original article I cited from the Episcopal News Service. Again, I like the way traditional and ancient worship form and style is reframed so as to be unintimidating to the uninitiated:


My Own Personal Reflections

My background in Christianity is in the liturgical tradition. I grew up in and was confirmed in the Lutheran denomination called the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American (which despite the name, is a "mainline" rather than "evangelical" denomination as that term is generally used), which was formed through the merger of denominations including an ethnically German mainline Lutheran denomination and an ethnically Scandinavian mainline Lutheran denomination, both of which were natural outgrowths of the legally established churches of the respective homelands.

I was having doubts of the existence of God by my teens, but decided to give Christianity a shot in another denomination while I was in college, where I spent all of my undergraduate years as an active member of the local Episcopalian parish (Christ Church), participated in the youth group, and was even a Sunday school teacher for a while. A minor in history that included a large helping of the history of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches and of the early years of the churches that arose out of the Reformation, provide that experience with context.

I was not church going in law school, but did attend evening vespers services at a congregation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the largest mainline Presbyterian denomination in the United States, for quite a while when I lived in Grand Junction, Colorado, and I also attended the Korean Presbyterian Church in which my wife grew up in greater Buffalo, New York while we lived there during my wife's graduate school years.

The fact that my college was known for its music school may have played a part, but I remain convinced that the Episcopalians have the best church music, by far, and I've toyed in near future science fiction that I've written for the desk drawer with the notion of just the sort of neo-traditionalist youth movement that Tim envisions. In a lot of ways, this is a natural extension and moderation of the Goth subculture.

The meditative, solemn, serious and pure musical and artistic contributions of the church have their own deep attractions. I can understand perfectly well why someone who does not actually want to be a monk or nun might enjoy a few weeks or months of reflection in a monestary. Indeed, many of the loudest voices in the secular humanist movement bemoan the loss of the institution of the church even as they disavow its theology and worldview.

There is a substitute, the Unitarian Universalist Association, which my wife tried for a while here in Denver, but it is an institution in the right theological space for the humanists that leave more traditional churches, but one that isn't quite sure enough of its own cultural identity to attract much of a share of those who are hungry for an institution in that theological space. It is trying to find appropriate music as fast as it can, but is still in the experimental stage. It must tread ever so carefully in how it says things during services to accommodate its very big theological tent, and hasn't had so much practice doing so that its rote application is easily attained by an unsophisticated newcomer. It is so far, a promising direction but is embryonic in its development and struggling to grow as fast of the community of people who are like minded does.

I am certainly not someone who left the folds of Christianity because I found church music or the liturgy stuffy or outdated. Indeed, those were the things that kept me going to church many years after my theological faith had crumbled under the weight of science and history and bible reading that disclosed a biblical moral order that is foreign to the point of being repugnant, and a scripture with more rough edges than I had supposed that it held when I was in ignorance of it. I have more in common with the sensibilities of the urbane pagan Romans and Greeks that Christians replaced, than I do with the religion rooted in the ideals and legacies of the Semitic herder people whose religion that replaced their pagan cults.

John Shelby Spong, the former Anglican Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, is the ultimate exponent of that trajectory of religious life, suggesting an entirely metaphorical reading of the Christian tradition and suggesting a kind of Christian life that is focused on preserving this tradition for tradition's sake.

While Spong is the most visible exponent of that approach, he certainly isn't alone. The inside joke is that nothing undermines one's innocent faith more than the academic lessons one learns in divinity school.

The early efforts to integrate folk music into Christian liturgy preserved much of the emotional sense of it, but I'm certainly not alone in having a critical view of the later rock era music that has infused it, although the quality of the musicianship in rock era sacred music has greatly improved over its early days. One of the more successful approaches is to slightly twist love song forms into songs about love for Jesus.

The modernist trend in sacred music started with evangelicals, and was really mostly confined to the black church as recently as thirty years ago or so, but has gone much farther these days. My father reports that the Lutheran worship service at the Congregation in his college town that features a modernist leaning "praise band" has much higher attendance than the more traditional service featuring off key renditions of the old homophonic hymns converted from beer drinking songs in Martin Luther's day that is favored by a much older component of the Congregation. Rock era music is likewise the norm in the Pentecostal and megachurch settings favored by my inlaws (their own church, while officially Presbyterian, as an immigrant church, had always had strong evangelical leanings in any case). Grand Junction's Presbyterian church was similarly shifting strongly towards modernist music with the support of younger Generation X and Y members at the time I left it and Grand Junction generally, around 1999.

One of the mysteries for someone coming from a high church leaning mainline church direction is why there hasn't been more of a neo-traditionalist or Unitarian Universalist surge as a cultural movement for just the reasons that Tim has suggested. These denominations, institutionally, haven't seen that happen, even though it seems like an entirely possible cultural direction and has some seeds in high church environments that make all sorts of sense.

Places like the Dakotas have seen something of a resurgence in religious involvement, but not from the revitalization of the region's historically dominant Lutheran and Roman Catholic Churches. Instead, they have seen mass exodus to new more Evangelically leaning churches. Some conservative liturgical churches, like the Missouri Synod Lutherans, have received new members from this exodus, but they certainly haven't benefited to any greater extent than other theologically conservative historical Christian denominations, and post-denominational megachurches have left even conservative historical Christian denominations in the dust.

Rather than recommitting to neo-traditionalism, the ambiguous non-religious world that I and many of my cousins have ended up in has seemed to be a stronger draw. Classical music remains popular (even in teen literature). But, the classical music loving, elegant dressing, poetry embracing people who would seem to be the most likely to embrace neo-traditionalist sacred music, don't seem to be connecting with and embracing the mainline churches that would be their natural homes.

In part, I think that the issue is that the culture that the churches embrace is not threatened. Religious institutions thrive when they protect a threatened culture. Irish Catholics for whom the church was a culture preserving refuge against the Protestant English for centuries are more fervent in their support of the church than Italian Catholics for whom their faith has always been unquestionably secure. Immigrant churches are frequently more vibrant than those of the immigrant's homelands, since they preserve a cultural heritage threatened in the new country until enough generations pass for the immigrant descendants to almost fully assimilate. I think the vibrancy of evangelical Christianity is best explained through its role in the preservation of Southern culture in the face of the dominant establishment culture of the United States as a whole. Mainline Christian churches, in contrast, largely embrace the dominant establishment culture of the United States and so there is no need to call people to defend them against some cultural threat if their members are to retain their own culture in tact. In the absence of this cultural imperative to call youth to action, the hair color of the congregants in the pews increasingly trends to white, attendance dips, and the members of the younger generation who have kept the faith have awesome institutional resources and awe inspiring traditions to maintain with very few people to carry them out.

Most of the people in church on a given Sunday in England are immigrants.  Empty Anglican churches dot the countryside and even those that are used are often filled to nowhere near capacity.  The surge in non-religious identification in Europe preceded that in the United States by several decades, but ultimately, the Vatican isn't wrong to identify secularization as one of its deepest and most profound challenges. Immigration and the cultural divide between the American South and the American North have concealed the shift, but the trend towards non-religious views among whites in the American North has been stronger than even the rapidly growing ranks of those who identify that way suggest.

Mainline churches have also been slow and late in putting distance between themselves and the evangelical churches in the tradition of the American South. Rather than successfully portraying themselves as culturally threatened by Southern conservative religion, they have found themselves swept up in a broad brush characterization of all Christians with the most vocal Southern conservatives.

A Footnote On The Disappearing Generation Gap

I also have to concur with Tim on the shifting nature of the generation gap. While I don't pretend to be a "cool dad" and regularly embarrass my children with my outdated sense of fashion and music and literature, the generation gap that drove the cultural revolution in the Western world of the late 1960s and early 1970s has largely run its course.

The music my children listen to and the television and movies they watch, and the books they enjoy reading, are not incomprehensible, if not always precisely to my tastes. The Beetles are a generation neutral musical force. The younger generation's values don't seem that different from mine. We watch opera and ballet together, while also listening the Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers and Selena Gomez together now and then.

When I was a kid, I was part of the first generation to really embrace soccer over more traditional American sports like baseball and football. Now, my kids are playing soccer just like I did, but with a generation of adult mentors who don't have to read a book to learn the rules and understand the strategies and techniques that go into it.

The most stunning shift in fashion for the next generation is that blue jeans, t-shirts and sneakers are apparently no longer the de facto uniform of the American public schools, where a blend of athletic clothes and very casual business casual seems to prevail instead, and the declining level of concern about school uniforms as a means of controlling youthful freedom of expression.

Today's parental experience is well captures in cable TV dramedies like "Weeds" and the "United States of Tara." It is a drama of parents learning how to deal with a new generation that is reproducing closely the life choices that their parents made, only when their parents made them, their parents were rebelling against their parents and making choices dramatically different from those of their own parents. We are shocked at times at how little independence and rebellion they seem to show. The classic dilemma of the modern parent is not to convince a child to make the choices you did, but to convince your children that your choices don't all bear repeating.

26 August 2011

Good For the Goose, Good For the Gander

After making civil procedure history by establishing the principle that customer disputes against it must be pursued in arbitration one customer at a time, AT&T is now shocked that customers are bringing antitrust suits against it one at a time in arbitration cases rather than on a class action basis as they otherwise would have and are asking the federal courts to stop the madness and enjoin the arbitration cases. Apparently, nobody told AT&T that their ability to choose a forum by contract does not include a right to ignore substantive law established by Congress as well.

If At&T wanted to carve certain cases out of the arbitration clauses that they wrote, they could have done so. Now, turnabout is fair play.

25 August 2011

To Make A Democracy Last: Legislature First; President Second

Good weather also helps.

Steven Fish and Matthew Kroenig [did research] on how dictatorships successfully transition to democracies:

In 2009, working with data collected since 2007, the two claimed to have found a connection that could predict a successful transition between dictatorship and democracy. It was, simply put, to have a post-Revolution legislative body in place before holding national elections to put a single leader in power. The Vaclav Havels and Nelson Mandelas of the world, it turns out, are in the minority.

From Enik Rising.

Another study reported today noted the link between civil wars and uprisings and the El Niño effect in tropical climate countries. During El Niños, there are more civil wars and uprisings. "El Niño, which strikes every three to seven years, may partially account for a fifth of worldwide conflicts during the past half-century."

Then again, "La Niña conditions" which are the flip extreme of the same phenomena, are associated with current drought in Eastern Africa, that is causing tens of thousands of people a month to starve to death in Somolia right now.

Root Causes Of Poverty: Choice or Misfortune

David French at National Review Online speaking about poverty:

"It is simply a fact that our social problems are increasingly connected to the depravity of the poor. If an American works hard, completes their education, gets married, and stays married, then they will rarely — very rarely — be poor. At the same time, poverty is the handmaiden of illegitimacy, divorce, ignorance, and addiction. As we have poured money into welfare, we’ve done nothing to address the behaviors that lead to poverty while doing all we can to make that poverty more comfortable and sustainable."

French here is committing the sadly common sin of assuming a correlation indicates a causation, and he's doing so in a way that conveniently reinforces his worldview. It is certainly true that people who complete an education and stay married are less likely to be poor. But it is not obvious that the former leads to the latter. Note that the second sentence quoted above:

"If an American works hard, completes their education, gets married, and stays married, then they will rarely — very rarely — be poor."

can easily be reversed to say the following:

"If an American has money, they will complete their education, get married, stay married, and find meaningful employment."

From Enik Rising.

There is strong empirical evidence that access to higher education for people who otherwise are academically able to go to college is greatly influenced by family wealth. On this point, Seth at Enik Rising has hit the problem on the nose, and there is an obvious solution that has nothing to do with the "depravity of the poor." Fully fund scholarships based on financial need for everyone who meets merit standards necessary to have a good likelihood of success in higher education.

More generally, some people are simply more functional than others. Jobs, education, marrying and staying married are not unilateral choices. They are choices that require someone else's consent on a long term basis to a relationship, and some people aren't capable of doing what it takes to sustain those kinds of long term relationships, be they with an employer and co-workers, with teachers and fellow students at a school, or with a spouse.

Not everyone can complete the academic work necessary in an educational program successfully. At some point, a lack of academic aptitude, whatever its cause, becomes obvious and insurmountable. In any education system that has any meaningful expectations of students, somebody or other is going to fail to meet those expectations, and the people who fail are likely to disproportionately include the least able people in the system. Some people will always be incapable of providing for themselves without assistance from someone. Absent welfare or a wealthy family, these individuals will necessarily end up in poverty in any reasonably well functioning market economy. Categorical welfare programs rather than means based ones might be better, but they need help and our basic sense of community obligation to all of its members justifies help for them.

Another common reason to drop out of school is that a girl is pregnant and decides to have the child. It isn't impossible to finish an education in this situation, but it is much harder and it takes a quite compelling reason to devote large amounts of time and energy away from your infant child when any other possibility is available. It also doesn't necessarily make sense for society in the long run to encourage a new mother to put a young child in day care so that the new mother can toil away at a low wage job that barely covers the cost of day care, if that, rather than taking intense care of a child and preventing a cycle of poverty from continuing. Some of this is due to weak sex education (i.e. lack of contraception knowledge and knowledge about how one gets pregnant and how to deal with pressure from a boyfriend to have sex), but lack of hope, that is lack of alternative prospects for the girl's future that look promising, is also a major factor.

The plausible way to address this is to provide sex education and do everything possible to allow girls to see the possibilities open to them (ideally, ones that actually exist and are not just propaganda), rather than to vilify girls who do get pregnant, which is an abstinence only approach that has been empirically proven to fail.

In any case, once what is done is done, the issue is how to create the right incentives and some people are always going to get pregnant without getting married, sometimes with someone that they can bear to cohabit with and shouldn't be expected to cohabit with. The most critical issue is to not create biases in welfare program eligibility that discourage marriage, and to instead to be at least equally supportive, if not more supportive, of couples that enter into shotgun marriages.

A third reason that a person (the vast majority of the time, but not always a boy) drops out after a long history of disciplinary issues in school, despite having the academic ability to do the work and finish school. A life of crime frequently follows. Inadequately treated mental health issues, substance abuse problems (which have a strong hereditary component), learning disabilities, economic pressures and personal safety concerns arising from living in poverty, and an absence of any effective parents in life all contribute. Moreover, simply getting a GED frequently doesn't solve the behavior issues that led to the dropout situation in the first place, and a criminal record that often soon accumulates, aggravated by a tough on crime light on rehabilitation oriented criminal justice system, makes it very hard for someone in this situation to get a job with or without a high school degree. Some kids wouldn't thrive in any circumstances. Other kids are "orchid children" who can be brilliant in ideal circumstances, but will fail to thrive otherwise.

Higher mandatory attendance ages and stronger enforcement of truancy laws in a constructive manner can help. So can greater access to mental health treatment and a treatment rather than punishment oriented approach to substance abuse. A better social safety net for kids can also help to discontinue cycles of poverty.

Of course, it is also much harder for an unemployed or marginally employed high school drop out with a criminal record and a bag full of issues to get married and stay married than it is for other people. And, if someone like that is the father of a child that you have chosen to keep, it may not make sense for you to keep that person in your household.

Needless to say, getting decent job is something that lots of people can't manage to do at least some of the time. Unemployment levels do not rise and fall with tides of personal virtue. Apart from rare instants in economic history, our economic system does not naturally result in a full employment economy, and in any non-full employment economy, somebody is going to be unemployed and the less economically valuable skill and behavioral set that someone has, the more likely it is that they are going to be the one who is unemployed. Someone who doesn't play well with others, or lacks an education or job skills is going to spend time employed now and then, especially during economic downturns. You can create decent and comprehensive unemployment insurance, create "make work" government jobs, give employers incentives to create jobs that they otherwise wouldn't create, and create a better welfare system, but somehow or other, if you don't give people an opportunity to provide for themselves or work when they don't have jobs, they will have no choice but to end up homeless or take on a life of crime that only makes the hole deeper in the long run.

The very expensive option of last resort in our society is the corrections system, or having someone live on the street as a vagrant (which causes all sorts of other problems), or economic stimulus like additional defense spending or "stimulus programs" intended to boost the economy like the new home buyer's credit or cars for clunkers programs. But, every single one of these options turns out to be much more expensive and less effective than simply hiring people who don't have jobs to do something, or simply providing for the basic needs of the unemployed directly without regard to work efforts.  People evaluating the appropriate size of the welfare state because they are concerned about overall levels of government spending need to look at it as a choice of evils problem.  Failing to spend funds on welfare has consequences that lead to other kinds of government spending and other negative societal consequences.

There is nothing wrong with making life more comfortable for someone who is utterly incapable of doing anything to not be poor. Not everyone can find someone to marry them. Not everyone can convince a spouse to stay married to them. Not everyone can find a job. Not everyone is capable of obtaining a meaningful high level of education. Some people are predisposed to be much more vulnerable to drug and alcohol addiction than others or simply are addicted now and lack the personal grit to beat those addictions on their own.

No amount of incentive can get someone to leap over a thirty foot pole without assistance, and there is no virtue in making people who are economically inadequate suffer because they aren't worthy. No matter how good of an investment I think it would be to buy a downtown office building and manage it better, I can't do it without the support of people who are going to invest immense amounts of cash in that venture.

There is good reason to doubt that we have as French claims excessively "poured money into welfare" in a way that makes poverty "comfortable and sustainable." The welfare system in United States is remarkably stingy. No other developed country in the world lets people fall as far down as we do. The punishment for failing economic in the United States and the rewards for economic success are more extreme in the United States than almost anywhere else. Moreover, in the places were the political sentiment against welfare is being express welfare is most meager already. Mississippi is not at the bottom of state rankings on every imaginable statistic of socio-economic well being because its welfare programs are too generous. Complaints about excessive welfare spending mostly aren't coming from places like San Francisco, Boston and New York City that have relatively generous welfare systems.

Rather than focusing on austerity and cutting government spending on welfare, we need to look at ways to better enable people to find work, to have worthwhile alternatives to crime, to have the economic means to survive as a family unit, and to identify and obtain help dealing with substance abuse and mental health problems.

Also, often poverty has no root causes that can be addressed. We learned as a nation a long time ago that aging is an incurable disease. Rather than floundering around looking for an immediate cure for old age, we acknowledged that it doesn't make sense to insist that seniors who had failed to amass enough savings to work on pain of starvation and homelessness, and instead created Social Security and Medicare. This may have encouraged millions or even tens of millions of seniors who would otherwise have kept working to quit their jobs or scale back their hours thereby reducing the GDP. But, it also means that we have almost no seniors in dire poverty, and tens of millions of seniors who are lifted out of poverty and live longer as a result.

Part of a sensible welfare state is not only encouraging people to change what they can change, but recognizing that some people aren't capable of enough change to lift themselves out of poverty.

22 August 2011

Evolution Belief A Function of Ideology, Not Brains and Education

While there is a correlation between evolution belief and inteligence, and between evolution belief and education, these correlations become statistically insignificant once you control for political ideology and religious beliefs. This supports the notion that your education and intelligence may influence your religious and political beliefs, but that once you have adopted as set of religious and political beliefs, those ideologies trump your intelligence and education when it comes to the issue of evolution.

I suspect that the political ideology component would also disappear if you could control for different flavors of religion and political ideology better. Hence, non-Christian political conservatives like Razib at Gene Expression and a lot of neo-conservatives are probably pretty similar in evolution belief to other non-Christians, while Christian liberals tend to have different theologies from Christian conservatives to the point that calling both religions "Christian" loses almost all descriptive power regarding how they interact with the world and live their lives and shape their beliefs about non-religious topics (and even which topics they consider to be religious).

Put another way, you first decide if you will listen or not listen to science on questions where religion arguably offers an answer, and then you put on your scientist hat only with regard to non-religious questions.

This sounds almost schizophrenic. But, it really isn't so much different from adopting one set of beliefs to try to understand the plot of a fantasy novel where magic is real, and another one to understand real life. Evolution is so far removed from the every day experience of the average person that the events it recounts may just as well be a fairy tale; unless you do science professionally, the downside of an inaccurate belief on this score (or even more in a yet more remote from experience field like cosmology) is almost nil, except for the social prices you pay for publicly holding or not holding that belief in your immediate social circle.


With the rebels capturing Tripoli this weekend, the U.S. military involvement in Libya, as part of a multinational campaign that it briefly led to give the rebels a level playing field against military grade heavy weapons like aircraft attacking lightly armed people on the ground, is essentially over. The war in Libya may not be over, but the U.S. can safely disengaged.

The U.S. involvement in Iraq, already winnowed to the point where there are no designated front line "combat troops" in the country, and scheduled to end entirely in December, may still linger into 2012 with a small contingent of U.S. forces to train and interface with Iraqi soldiers, but it will be as much over as U.S. involvements in places like South Korea and Japan and Germany and Italy at thhat point, perhaps not quite as safe, but simply as a long term small base, not as an occupying army.

The war in Afghanistan, despite being almost ten years old, is no where near complete, with years to go, but the brief surge there that President Obama undertook is well on its way to being reversed with troops drawing down from peak levels already. The death of Osama bin Laden and establishment of a reasonably friendly civilian government to replace the Taliban have left some partial successes. The casualty levels, despite a helicopter crash that was the worst single day ever of the war earlier this month, are not escalating and the size of the U.S. force there has always been fairly modest. The is genuinely a low intensity counterinsurgency war. The Taliban's foreign patrons, mostly from Pakistan these days, are not Cold War China or the Soviet Union. We are sliding into an era of relative peace and geopolitical tranquility

The wave of totalitarian government in the name of Islam has mostly fizzled in the face of an Arab Spring that has turned the concept of Arab democracy that many politicial scientists had feared might be inherently self-contradictory into the norm replacing most of the Arab dictatorship in North Africa and the Middle East that is not a monarchy (although the monarchies, while making some modest reforms have endured). This undermines the Taliban geopolitically.

Tunsia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen have seen autocratic regimes fall, the Iraq and Afghan wars replaced autocrats with fledgling democrats. Politically strong monarcies in Jordan and Morocco have instituted democratic reforms. Turkey has quitely asserted civilian dominance over the military for the first time. Syria is fighting for its political life. Iran, on the verge of full fledged democracy in its last couple of elections has stepped back a bit from that trend, but the theocracy's hold has still weakened. South Sudan has cast off oppressive rule from the rest of Sudan, although that rump Sudan regime appears secure in the face of feeble protests. Pakistan displaced a coup installed President with an elected one, although violent factions in their society as it fights an active counterinsurgency war in the Northwest remain and it lacks full civilian control over the military-intelligence apparatus. And, don't forget that Indonesia is now ruled by a democratically elected civilian after decades of dictatorship, and that Bangladesh and Kashmir are in reasonably democratic and peaceful moments of their national lives after violent military led unrest and international tensions respectively. Bahrain crushed an uprising with Saudi Arabian support, and the Saudis have kept a lid on their own regime, but as annual host of pilgramages from Mecca and a wealthy country where people have satellite television, the shifting political balance of the Islamic world can't go unnoticed, at least for long. Algeria seems relatively untouched by the recent wave of uprisings, perhaps weary from its own ahead of the wave round of stuggles, but the dictators of the Sahara and Sahel must be justifably paranoid that their fall is only a matter of time. There is every reason to hope that a tipping point has been reached and that the future portends democracy for the Islamic world, and perhaps some moderation with it, rather than an intractable never ending conflict between the Islamic world and the West waged via terrorism. Frustration with local, Western backed despots has always been an important factor in anti-Western Islamic sentiment. Maybe that can change now.

19 August 2011

Kudos to Allstate

Hey, I admit it, I enjoy listening to an advertisement from a national company as part of a nationwide advertising campaign that takes a moment to craft an ad specific to my neighborhood. So, I was charmed when a radio ad from Allstate Insurance, as part of its "Mayhem" ad series aired an ad about someone driving down Downing Street watching a volleyball player in Washington Park who gets distracted and ends up in an automobile accident, which I heard today.

17 August 2011

Empirical Legal Research To Do

1. How often are derivative suits successful?
2. Is there a difference in success rates in derivative suits between publicly held and privately held companies? Which does it favor?
3. How many derivative suits are brought in state courts? Surely Delaware is an outlier, but what about, for example, Colorado?
4. How many claims are paid on officer and director liability insurance policies? What are the most common fact patterns?
5. What impact does a failed derivative suit have on the target company, even if it does not prevail on the merits?

Inter-American Commission On Human Rights Rules In Castle Rock Case

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has ruled that the Castle Rock, Colorado police violated the human rights of a Colorado woman when they refused to enforce a temporary restraining order that was in force, when she informed them that there was a crisis, which made it possible for her husband to kill their three children.

If it sounds familiar, it should. The U.S. Supreme Court took up the case and held in 2005 that notwithstanding language in the statutes of Colorado that seemed to create an affirmative duty for police to act to enforce restraining orders that there was no affirmative duty for police to take any action protect anyone (at least anyone who is not in their custody). This, in turn, because it presents the issue so clearly, has profound implications for the theory of the role of the state in society in the United States. For example, interpreting a right to bear arms under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as creating an individual right to armed self-defense and access to the means to do so, in at least some core circumstances, makes much more sense in a society where the state has absolutely no affirmative obligation to protect people from private violence, even though it often strives to do so, than it does in a society where it is at least possible to use the Courts to impose such a duty on the state when there is a well founded, judicially established reason to fear violence against a particular person from another particular person, and the state enacts laws that purport to compel law enforcement to implement that judicial determination.

Of course, the fact of the matter is that once the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on an issue, that a ruling from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights does very little more than add a fine print bullet point to the political debate that doesn't mean much to anyone but internationalist liberals, put a little dent in the already minuscule international tourist trade to Castle Rock (it does have a number of foreign counsels in residence which may help explain why this avenue was even considered), and to provide some sense of moral righteousness to the aggrieved widow, who was surely deeply betrayed by the law enforcement of Castle Rock, whether or not she had a legal remedy for losses as a result of their inaction.

Simply put, most of the time, international law means squat in the United States. More often than not, treaties are declared not to be self-executing, in areas as diverse as treaties we have signed relating to child prostitution to the right to diplomatic assistance for foreign nationals in criminal cases (we have been internationally condemned by international human rights courts before for executing people who were denied those rights), to extradition treaties, for example. We are happy to condemn other countries for violating treaties, but take a more cavalier attitude towards their domestic enforcement than almost any other non-rogue nation on earth.

On the other hand, it is worth considering the context that causes the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is inclined to take police inaction more seriously than U.S. courts.

In most of Latin America (and indeed most of the world), law enforcement is not primarily vested in the hands of locally elected local government officials, and there is a long history of human rights violations through systemic police indifference that amounts to implicit endorsement of vigilante or organized crime sanctioned violence against private individuals. It is a lot easier to buy off or politically win over police in that kind of system than in the United States and this kind of corruption has a long history.

In contrast, where there have been episodes in American history where this has been true in limited regions, like the Reconstruction American South where police allowed lynch mobs to operate with impunity, and police in Prohibition era Chicago who looked the other way from bootleggers, in the vast majority of the 21st century United States, over eager action directed at suspected lawbreakers by law enforcement, rather than law enforcement inaction, has been the predominant problem. Usually, cops are much more likely to face internal discipline for cowardice than they are to face internal discipline for using improper means to attempt to stop lawbreakers (with the principal exception of violations of the law by members of the law enforcement community itself).

Even in the Castle Rock case itself, no one seriously puts this tragic case in the context of a pervasive, organized, but impossible to establish, conspiracy against the widow or children in question with the intent of allowing the husband to carry out a crime. They may have not taken domestic violence, in general, or this particular domestic violence case, very seriously. They may have been lazy. They may have been incompetently bad at prioritizing their resources. They may have negligently screwed up and miscommunicated. But, no one in the Castle Rock law enforcement community thought that those children deserved to die, or would have refrained from action had they been more prescient and better organized, or was too afraid of the consequences of taking action against the husband to seriously consider trying to arrest him. Their acts may have been biased by a generalized misogyny and skepticism of a state imposed model for dealing with domestic violence that they didn't believe in, but it was not similar in kind to the common attitude of law enforcement officials in the Middle East that honor killings are justifiable homicide even if the laws on the books say otherwise.

Whatever their reasons for inaction in this case, it is highly implausible that the Castle Rock police were either bought off or intimidated by threats of harm to themselves. Nor, it is plausible to believe that they personally believed that an estranged husband has a right to kill his children by virtue of being their father as the law of the Roman Empire did. Police and district attorneys in Douglas County, Colorado (of which Castle Rock is the county seat) may very well effectively ignore the full letter of recent legal enactments like the elimination of the marital exclusion in Colorado's rape laws and may be willing to look broadly at what constitutes acceptable physical interaction between lovers or discipline of children, but they have no moral doubt that shooting one's own children with a firearm is unequivocally wrong.

The prejudices and biases that were present in the Castle Rock police department were disorganized reality filters that are typical of the conservative, overwhelmingly white, affluent bedroom community electorate who elected the people who ran the city that employed them. The fact that this mother was a Hispanic domestic violence victim surely did contribute to the overall evaluation that influenced the weight that the Castle Rock police gave to the situation. They would not have treated a plea by the Mayor's daughter related to a temporary restraining order against a man who was a stranger to her similarly.

But, this was also not even the more common American experience of a police force so defeated that it gave up on trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong is some big city ghetto where gangs contest for control of every street corner, most people distrust the police as much as they distrust the criminals, they are drastically underfunded and outgunned, and the vast majority of the crime seems to be directed at fellow criminals.

Indeed, even that situation has a notable feature that distinguishes it from the American norm of political accountability working to establish law enforcement responsiveness that is so much less routine in much of the rest of the world. Low income neighborhoods in big cities are the places where the disconnect between the residents of the neighborhoods that police are charged to enforcing order in and the electorate to whom their bosses are politically accountable is greatest. Low income neighborhoods in big cities have the lowest voter turnout rate, and as a result, voters from other neighborhoods in those cities dominate the political process.

Britain, which was recently struck by large scale riots in low income neighborhoods, is effectively one great big city in this respect. The local police are effectively responsible to the Home Secretary in London, not the local town council. There are local appointed consultative bodies that inferface with British police, but the local Mayor isn't the one who hires and fires their boss, appropriates their funds and writes their paychecks.

Conversely, it is little surprise that rural Americans, who elect sheriffs and local police and district attorneys in political units with very low populations, are demographically stable or slowly shrinking, and are extremely homomgeneous in values and demographics, tend to be the least concerned about legal limitations on police authority and the most supportive of "tough on crime" stances in the face of other considerations. Their law enforcement officials see eye to eye with them more closely than law enforcement in almost any other political context in the United States, or perhaps even the world.

All of this is a long winded way of saying that while police indifference is always a bad thing, the U.S. Supreme Court wasn't terribly off base, either given the structure of the U.S. political system and legal system, or given the general realities of the American criminal justice system, to see this as a very different kind of issue in our context than it is in the context of the Latin American criminal justice system which forms a backdrop of the bulk of the people involved in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which has caused them to conceptualize law enforcement indifference in the face of warnings of private violence as an important category of human rights violation. In their countries, human rights violations have been in one place or another the ordinary and most common kind of law enforcement collusion in human rights violations. The realities of proving that kind of conspiracy for individual victims of these abuses has made a human rights rule that establishes a greater police duty to private individuals who have warned them of threats of private violence through official channels the most sensible way of addressing this problem.

The parade of horribles offered up by the police in the Castle Rock case before the U.S. Supreme Court notwithstanding, it is also not at all obvious that recognizing a state created statute could create a right to some kind of response for law enforcement on pain of civil liability for their inaction in cases where a judge had considered the threat and found it to be real would actually have been the burden claimed. Nobody in the Castle Rock v. Gonzales case was arguing that the police had a strict liability duty to prevent estranged husbands who are subject to restraining orders when they are warned; the argument of Gonzales was that they were mandated by a state law to at least try to enforce a restraining order when the facts that they needed to have were handed to them on a silver platter by the mother of the children rather than blowing it off. One of the main ideas behind the concept of a restraining order is to try to get the police to take a potential threat seriously and to make it easier for them to intervene before a situation gets out of hand. The U.S. Supreme Court didn't have to create a constitutional duty of law enforcement to protect citizens in general, in order to make it constitutional for the State of Colorado to pass a statute that imposed such a duty on police in its own state to do so. But, that isn't what the U.S. Supreme Court did and the political theory it adopted in its actual holding is now central to the nature of the relationship between the state and its citizens in a broad array of areas, and to the most sensible interpretation of future cases such as Heller, the case that recognized an individual constitutional right to armed self-defense under the Second Amendment that federal courts had refused to impose in the most than two centuries that preceded it.

Selective High Schools Don't Matter

A new study of the impact of attending a selective high school in New York City on outcomes, overall and for many different subsets of students, suggest that they have almost no impact, except on borderline students, for whom it is a plus. If anything, attending one might be a slight minus for the average student.

This is a fit to the general notion that IQ more than educational environment drives academic performance except in cases of particularly negative environmental exposures which might be alleviated for marginal students in these cases.

Sterling Ranch Gets Preliminary Approval

CAVEAT: Trapped in a blog time warp - originally posted in May.

Douglas County commissioners gave preliminary approval Wednesday night to the Sterling Ranch development, despite concerns by some about water, traffic and how the massive project will affect the quality of life in the Chatfield Basin. The vote all but ends several years of meetings, public input and revisions by the developer.

When complete, Sterling Ranch, south of Chatfield State Park and east of Roxborough State Park, would be home to 31,000 people and include 12,050 housing units on 3,400 acres.

The approval is subject to technical corrections in the plan, which will be ratified at a meeting May 31. Sterling Ranch officials hope to start moving dirt by next year and building homes in 2013.

From here.

The amount of regulatory work necessary to win approval for this plan, already within the density guidelines of the existing urban plan, suggests that conservative distaste for government regulation does not extend to urban planning by local governments.

Colorado General Assembly Adjourns Sine Die Today

CAVEAT: Trapped in a blog time warp - originally posted in May.

Today is the last day of the Colorado General Assembly's annual legislative session. As I write, two "must pass" items on the legislative agenda look unlikely to pass by the midnight deadline today: (1) the bill authorization the implementation of the year's executive branch regulations (a legislative check on executive branch power not present at the federal government level), called Senate Bill 78, which has reached a stand still as a result of a partisan dispute over payday lending charge limits adopted in the 2010 legislative session, and (2) approval of a Congressional redistricting map based on the 2010 Census for use in the 2012 election. Any bill not passed by the end of today dies.

For all of its technological marvels, the Colorado General Assembly's bill tracking system does not make it easy to do a simple search to see which bills remain in play, having been approved or defeated in the previous 119 days of the legislative session.

Governor Hickenlooper has the power to call a special legislative session limited to select issues to address these and/or other matters later this year (possibly after some of the details are hashed out in intersession committee meetings). There may be some authority (in at least some cases) to impose regulations on a temporary basis, however, and if there is no legislative resolution of the issue of Congressional redistricting, a court will have to draw Congressional district lines as it did the last time around, although it is not entirely clear when this issue becomes ripe for litigation.

The 2012 legislative session ends in May 2011, which in theory could put a Congressional district map in place in time for candidates to run August primaries and November general elections, but that still would leave the state without Congressional districts by the times that the current election law provides for candidates to declare their candidacies, and for partisan nominating caucuses in advance of the primary elections to be conducted. Normaly, the 2012 election season would start in earnest in Deccember 2011 or January 2012, although, of course, political scheming never really stops. No incumbent members of Congress from Colorado have expressed an intent not to run for re-election.

State legislative seats in Colorado's General Assembly are drawn by a blue ribbon commission that has a process pretty much guaranteed to produce a map, that does not require legislative approval. So, the deadlock on redistricting that Colorado is experiencing now is limited to races for members of the United States House of Representatives, and state offices, such as the University of Colorado Regents and Colorado Board of Education that are elected from districts that coincide with Congressional districts.

The deadlocks aren't terribly surprising, given that this is the first time in many years that different political parties have controlled the state house and state senate, particularly in the case of an inherently partisan issue like drawing Congressional districts. Republicans have a 33-32 majority in the Colorado House of Represenatives, while Democrats control the state senate.

Similarly, it is not surprising that this partisan divide has ended the tradition in place when Andrew Romanoff was Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives to adjourn the legislature a day or two earlier than the constitutional limit of a 120 day regular legislative session.

There is still an outside chance that one or both of these must pass issues will be resolved in the last ten hours of the legislative session, but I for one will not be up late listening to podcasts from the state capitol expected to see this kind of break through. At this stage of the game, it is just short of procedurally impossible to get either bill passed without large bipartisan majorities willing to suspend the rules to do so.

Once the legislative session ends, the other main remaining item of legislative business are Governor Hickenlooper's decisions to sign or veto bills passed in the last ten days of the legislative session, which he must do by June 10, 2011. It is too late to veto any bills passed by the Colorado General Assembly this year in January, February, March or April. In theory, it is also possible for citizens to sign petition to put to a vote of the people any legislation passed during the leigslative session without a "safety clause" but that has never actually happened in practice, mostly because only the very least controversial and important bills are passed without a "safety clause."

U.S. Births Down In 2009

CAVEAT: Trapped in a blog time warp - originally posted in May.

Births fell from an all-time high in 2007 of 4,316,233 to 4,131,019 in 2009, a decline of 4 percent. . . . In 2007, there were 69.5 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 compared with 66.7 in 2009. This is referred to by NCHS as the fertility rate, but is also often called the general fertility rate (GFR).

By age, the largest decline was among women ages 20 to 24. Childbearing fell from 106.3 births pr 1,000 women in that group in 2007 to 96.3 in 2009, a 9 percent decline. . . . Fertility among the 25-to-29 age group, the next older, fell by 6 percent. That group, which has had the highest rate in recent years, dropped from 117.5 in 2007 to 110.5 in 2009. The decline was far less, only 2 percent among women in their 30s and even rose among women in their 40s, although latter group has much lower rates. . . .

[F]ertility rates have fallen . . . : 3% for non-Hispanic whites between 2007 and 2009, 4% for non-Hispanic blacks, 9% for Hispanics, 3% for American Indians and Alaskan natives, and 4% for Asian and Pacific islanders.

From here

The likely cause for the slump is the financial crisis and recession that followed. Birth rates are mildly cyclic. The U.S. has one of the highest fertility rates in the developed world, which was hovering at just over the replacement rate in 2007. The slump probably brings the U.S. to a bit below the replacement rate (which is about 2100 children per 1000 women per lifetime).

The shift accentuates the recent trend of fertility rates declining more for lower income, minority, and younger women, while declining less or increasingly among more affluent and older women, in substantial part due to fertility treatments (a trend that has also greatly increased the number of multiple births and parental age related congenital conditions). The last decade or so is the first time in almost a century in which affluent people have more children than less affluent people.

It is also a fit to the fact that the recession has dampened new household formation, and has pushed people into high school and college and out of the labor force.

While teen births are at near record lows, about 40% of all births are to unmarried mothers, including majorities of births to African-American and Native American women.

As an aside, fertility rates in some of the Baltic states are finally starting to recover after a profound post-communist era slump.

Proud Men Die Young

People who most believe in a culture of honor -- who agree that "A real man doesn't let other people push him around" or that aggression is a reasonable response to being insulted -- told the researchers they were quite willing to engage in risky behaviors, such as bungee jumping or gambling away a week's wages. This willingness to take risks might well translate into an early death[.] . . .

Honor cultures are more powerful in rural areas, where the influence of personal reputation is higher than it is in cities. Although honor states had a 14% higher accidental death rate in the cities, they had a 19% higher rate of accidental death in more rural areas, compared to non-honor states. More than 7,000 deaths a year can be attributed to risk-taking associated with the culture of honor in the USA.

From here.

FWIW, it could also have something to do with the fact that "cultures of honor" also have disproportionate shares of blue collar workers whose jobs are more dangerous. But, the urban-rural comparison casts some doubt on that economic as opposed to cultural interpretation.

15 August 2011

Colorado Voters Not Conservative

Colorado voters polled by PPP narrowly favor marijuana legalization, strongly favor civil unions for same sex couples, and want to keep Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper in their jobs by large margins. Other polling has shown that they favor President Obama over any of the GOP contenders in the 2012 Presidential race.

Also, "Voters are closely divided on a referendum slightly raising the state income and sales tax rates in order to fund public education. 47% disapprove and 45% approve of these potential hikes. Republicans are more against it (73%) than Democrats for it (63%), but independents side 48-44 in its favor."

This is bad news for the public education funding measure as revenue increasing measures have historically almost always see their support decline in Colorado as the election grows closer, and the election is not that close yet.

Iowa Wants A Big Heap of Crazy

With Oral Roberts law school alum Michele Bachman and sometimes libertarian party member Ron Paul as the #1 and #2 players in the Iowa straw poll, #3 Pawlenty is dropping out of the race based on his poor performance there, and Romney coming far back in the pack, it seems that the Tea Party will be alive and well in the lastest round of GOP Presidential nominations. Rick Perry, who announced his candidacy in South Carolina, is no prize for his party either.

If the crazies make a good showing in New Hampshire and South Carolina as well, President Obama's chances of re-elections will be greatly elevated.

Rockies On Track To Short Season

The prospects for the Rockies making it to the playoffs, let alone the World Series, this year, seem bleak. We set an all time major league record this Sunday for longest Sunday game losing streak, and our win-loss record is worse than all but a few other teams in the league.

14 August 2011

The Promiscuous Possessive

Is there a word in the English language more ambiguous than "mine"?

"My house," can be a place that you own, a place that you rent, a place that you live, a place that you dream of owning.

"My girl," can be a daughter, an employee, a friend friend girlfriend, an intimate girlfriend, a wife, a dog, a boat, a horse you've bet on in the Kentucky Derby.

"My class," can be a group of students who take instruction from you, a group of students who take instruction at the same time in the same subject from the same teacher, people of the same socio-economic status of you, people who are on track to graduate at the same time as you, people who preform at the same level that you do.

Attach mine or yours to theirs to any word and it takes on a multitude of multiple meanings.

The grammatical possessive is more about the existence of a connection than the precise nature of that connection. The term "possessive" in grammar is somewhat deceptive. It seems to imply ownership, but it really only implies connection.

This ambiguity is multilingual. "Chez moi," in French, which literally means "my house" has multiple levels of meaning and the possessive in other languages can be every bit as ambiguous as it is in English.

Perhaps there is some language that has a less promiscuous possessive, where ownership and affiliation cannot be expressed with the same phrase, but I don't know of any. I suspect that it is possible to distinguish different kinds of possessives with more exacting language in almost any language where those distinctions exist, but I don't know that there are languages where there are not utterly mundane expressions that don't make those distinctions in the same sense that many Romance languages don't allow a noun to lack a grammatical gender (they lack a neuter human and/or neuter not human definite article, for example).

This is a bit surprising. The general tendency in language is for every conceivable possibility to be found in some language. Some languages are ergative, some are not, and some are split-ergative. Some languages have two grammatical genders, some more than two, some none. Some languages have SOV word order, some SVO, and so on. The languages noun classes, some do not. Some have subject verb agreement, others don't. Some languages are isolating, others inflected and others agglutinative or fusional. Some languages use base ten, other base twenty for their numbers. Some languages are tonal, others lack tone. But, I've never heard of a distinction between languages with narrow and broad possessives.

12 August 2011

LWOP Sentence For Zapata Murder Upheld On Appeal

The Colorado Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions of a man charged with first-degree murder and other counts in what prosecutors said was the bias-motivated killing of a transgender Greeley woman.

Allen Andrade of Thornton was convicted in 2009 of deliberately beating 18-year-old Angie Zapata to death with a fire extinguisher in 2008 after learning she was biologically male. Defense attorneys argued Andrade had planned to meet Zapata for sex and snapped after learning she was born male.

From here.

Adrande was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. His main appellate arguments, an argument that the jury should have been giving an instruction mitigating his criminal culpability because he was drunk, and seeking to suppress the murder weapon from evidence, were mundane. My post from the day that he was convicted on April 22, 2009, is found here.

Given the fact that Adrande had at least three prior felony convictions in his fourteen years of adult life, and was charged as a habitual offender and was taped making a telelphone call from jail admitting to the killing (albeit arguably with a lower level of intent), made a confession to police (albeit arguably with a lower level of intent), and was arrested in possession of Zapata's stolen car, 32 year old Adrande would have gone to prison for 40 years to life, and also faced the 24 year sentences on other charges that he received, even if the appellate court had reversed the first degree murder conviction. He was convicted of a hate crimes charge, but given his first degree murder and other convictions, any appellate issues he could have raised related to that conviction wouldn't have mattered because they would have constituted harmless error at their worst.

The August 11, 2011 opinion of the Colorado Court of Appeals in case 09CA1310 People v. Allen Ray Andrade, was unpublished. It appears that the case was argued on the basis of the briefs with no oral argument in the case available in the Colorado Court of Appeals online archive of oral arguments.

Andrade could make a discretionary appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court, could make a state level collateral attack on his conviction after that, and could bring a federal habeas corpus petition after that according to strict procedural limitations. But, given the lack of a death sentence, the lack of a right to counsel for collateral attacks, the lack of a credible claim that he was not the one who killed Zapata, his long criminal history, and the weakness of his arguments on direct appeal and the weight of the multiple damning pieces of evidence against him, none of those efforts are likely to be successful. There is a good chance that he won't even bother with further appeals, although he does have nothing else to do for the rest of his life. And, Adrande is extremely unlikely, given the fact that he was not sentenced to death, has a long and serious criminal record, and there is no doubt that he was guilty of some serious crimes this time around, that he will ever receive executive clemency.

American Criminal Justice: Cheap, Final, Harsh and Fast

In practice, it is astoundingly unlikely anywhere in the United States, in the state or the federal system, that someone who is convicted of a crime and not sentenced to death, whose conviction is affirmed on direct appeal, will not have that conviction later overturned or will have that sentence commuted.

I'll also restate a note that I made in a previous post:

The speed with which very serious criminal cases like this one progress is notable. The murder took place on July 15, 2008, and was discovered two days later. Thirteen days after the murder was discovered, there was an arrest. Pre-trial dismissal for lack of evidence was ruled out less than two months after the discovery of the body.

The trial was completed, the jury convicted, and the sentence imposed on April 22, 2009, nine months and one week after the murder was committed, and less than nine months after he was arrested. The direct appeal of right was resolved yesterday, fifteen months and twenty days after he was convicted, and thee years and twenty-seven days after the murder was committed. For all intents and purposes, the criminal justice system is now done with this case and he is the Colorado Department of Corrections' problem until he dies.

The sentence is rarely this long, but the general timeline in this case isn't unusual for a serious violent felony. Not every criminal case is so swift, but a very large share of all criminal convictions do result from arrests very shortly after the crime is committed and are based on convictions after trials where the evidence is overwhelming or guilty pleas, which move cases even faster. The constitutional right to a speedy trial rarely makes headlines, and isn't something most people are even aware of, but it has a pervasive effect on the pace of criminal proceedings in the United States.

Also, while the exact number will probably never be determined, the marginal cost of this criminal justice system of investigating and litigating this case to trial was almost nil, as most of the people involved, the police, DA who prosecuted the case, the judge and court clerks who handled the case, and the defense lawyers in the case, are on the public payroll on a salaried basis, and even if the personnel costs for everyone involved was prorated on an hourly basis, this case probably cost less to investigate and litigate through an appeal than a typical serious automobile accident that results in some injuries but not a death or a six figure contract dispute. All of the investigation and litigation costs combined for all parties were probably less than the costs associated with nine months of pre-conviction incarceration.

Of course, incarcerating this murderer for the rest of his life will cost the people of the State of Colorado something on the order of a million and a half dollars in today's funds after adjusting for inflation, and the State of Colorado probably spent hundreds of thousands of dollars incarcerating him before his most recent conviction on prior felonies and no doubt, for juvenile offenses as well.

If the death penalty had been sought and secured, it probably would have cost the State of Colorado more in additional litigation costs and death penalty implementation than it would save in incarceration costs from his premature death, or at least wouldn't have saved very much. It is also worth recalling that death sentences are overturned much more often than murder convictions. For example, the results in all the cases that produced post-conviction reversals of death sentences that were finally resolved between April 1973 and 2000, 54 cases were retried and produced a death sentence on retrial, 223 led to a murder conviction with a sentence other than the death penalty, and 22 cases ended with a determination that the defendant was not guilty of a capital crime. Thus, more than twelve out of thirteen death penalty sentence reversals ultimately kept a capital murder conviction in place, and some of the one in thirteen cases where a capital murder conviction was itself reserved still left some serious felony conviction in place rather than leading to a finding of outright innocence of any crime (the cases where there is a chance of innocence on all counts due to factors like mistaken identity or police frameups are the ones groups like the Innocence Project prioritize).

Deprived of any hope of release, little meaningful activity to carry out in prison, convicted of a sex related crime, and marked with a long track record of violent offenses, one can expect that Andrade will start his prison career at a very high security level and stay there, and that he will not be a model inmate.

One would like to think that people serving long prison sentences provide some benefit to society while they are there apart from staying out of the lives of law abiding citizens while they are incarcerated, although our system of criminal justice certainly doesn't make that a priority and is perfectly happen to simply waste and right off any contribution that incarcerated people could make for the most part.

For all the twists and turns of the criminal justice system that make headlines and feature in crime fiction, reality is that the vast majority of criminal prosecutions produce convictions for something, that a minority of cases go to trial and a minority of those cases that are appealed are reversed on direct appeal, that it is fairly unusual for even a criminal sentence to be reversed on appeal, and that executive clemency is almost non-existent. Also, the percentage of people who escape from incarceration in a state prison is infinitessimal, and is even smaller in the case of prisoners in the highest security environments who have committed serious violent crimes (a large share of all escapes are walk aways from community corrections facilities, work release programs or minimal security facilities housing the least serious offenders). And, convicting someone of escape once they are rearrested, given the availability of prison records, DNA evidence, fingerprints, photographs and so on, is little more than a formality.

By the time the police make an arrest and a prosecutor files charges the probable future is usually very clear, and the vast majority of the time that there is a conviction it sticks. And, it is done very cheaply.

Pretty much the only way to have a reasonable chance of escaping some punishment for a crime is to not get arrested in the first place, and of course, that usually is what happens.

Why point all of this, which is obvious to those familiar with the system except politicians, for the most part?

First, there has been a lot of criticism that the Warren revolution in constitutional criminal procedure has made it easy to escape punishment from the criminal justice system. The reality is that there isn't much merit to that assertion. People who are arrested for serious crimes are usually convicted of something and usually get long prison terms if they have criminal records and committed really serious crimes, indeed, longer terms than anywhere else in the world pretty much.

Second, there has been a strong conservative movement to cast doubt on the capacity of the criminal justice system to handle terrorism suspects. But, there is extremely little evidence to suggest that it is not an effective way to punish them and there is considerable evidence to show that the due process protections and fairness of the criminal justice system, relative to more draconian approaches proposed to deal with terrorism, is better at preventing incapacitation of one terrorist from causing future terrorist acts inspired by action taken against the first terrorist. The claimed need for deprivations of civil liberties is premised on the incapacity of the civilian criminal courts to secure convictions and impose long sentences for terrorist acts which is simply not supported by experience in these cases.