31 May 2012

Quote of the Day

As Confucius said, "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves."

1st Circuit: Section 3 of DOMA Unconstitutional

A three judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has held in a unanimous decision that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits federal recognition of same sex marriages and also provides that states need not recognize same sex marriages from other states, is unconstitutional.  The rule applies to Section 3 of the Act which is the part of DOMA that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages, and not the full faith and credit provisions.  The opinion opens with the following language:

These appeals present constitutional challenges to section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA"), 1 U.S.C. § 7, which denies federal economic and other benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts and to surviving spouses from couples thus married. Rather than challenging the right of states to define marriage as they see fit, the appeals contest the right of Congress to undercut the choices made by same-sex couples and by individual states in deciding who can be married to whom.

The Obama Administration had earlier decided to cease defending the validity of Section 3 in the Court, but a defense of the Act's validity was provided by attorneys for DOMA's Congressional supporters.  The decision rested on both federalism and equal protection grounds and was an appeal from a motion for summary judgment at the trial court level that invalidated the law.

The First Circuit, in the Northeast United States, includes many, but not all, of the states that have legally recognized same sex marriage.  The ruling does not create a precedent that directly binds federal courts in other parts of the country, but provides the Obama administration which a much more powerful rationale for treating Section 3 as invalid nationally, in support of its own policy regarding its constitutionality.

The decision could be subject to en banc review by the entire First Circuit, although the relatively liberal First Circuit is unlikely to review this unanimous panel decision about U.S. government administration that the Justice Department supports, and can also be appealled to the U.S. Supreme Court - although often the U.S. Supreme Court will wait until multiple circuits of the federal appellate courts have addressed the issue before weighing in on an issue.

Marriage status is relevant to a wide variety of federal benefit and federal tax issues.

UPDATE (June 1, 2012): A federal district court in California reached the same conclusion on May 24, 2012.

30 May 2012

Has Bad Parenting Destroyed The Black Family?

A recent paper by a professor at Howard University (the Harvard of historically black colleges in the United States), argues that "black family instability" and "social violence" in the black community has as a central cause a parenting style that involves "obedience training and rigid physical violence including emotional neglect" traceable all of the way back to West Africa, while not crediting economic causes or concepts such as a "culture of honor."

I don't agree, but have linked to the article to make clear that my view is not the only one out there to explain very low marriage rates among modern African Americans, and more generally, the factors that drive marriage rates. As a rebuttal, I offer an alternative explanation.

The Economically Driven Marriage Rate Hypothesis

Regular readers of this blog know that I have argued instead, relatively consistently for many years, that marriage formation and divorce are driven, at a first order level of approximation, at least, by the extent to which wives are economic dependent upon husbands. The most powerful reason that women marry the fathers of their children, and stay married once they are married, is that they depend economically upon their husbands. It isn't romantic. It isn't the complete answer. It isn't true in every individual case. But, it does explain the overall trends and patterns that we observe quite well.

In this narrative, black family instability (and emerging working class white family instability) is driven by an economic situation in which men are less likely to have graduated from high school or completed some additional higher education than the women who are their prospective spouses, are likely to be unemployed for an extended period or repeatedly during the course of a marriage, and are likely to have incomes when employed that do not greatly exceed (or are less than) the women who are their prospective spouses.

Some of this is question begging. Even if this is the mechanism at work, why do these circumstances arise? Why are working class men, in general, and black men, in particular, worse off than their middle class white peers relative to women of the same circumstances? But, some of these secondary questions also have plausible answers.

What Economic Factors Changed To Shift Marriage And Divorce Rates When They Actually Changed?

But, any hypothesis that looks to deep rooted cultural sources of today's family instability has a serious obstacle before it. Sixty or seventy years ago, in segregated, pre-Civil Rights Act America, it didn't exist. There was not a meaningful racial gap in marriage or divorce rate in the United States eighty or ninety years after the abolition of slavery, in the waning days of de jure segregation based on race and legally and socially acceptable workplace discrimination against women. Moynihan sounded the alarm about the demise of marriage in black America in the late 1960s, and the trend continued for another thirty years or more.

Twin forces have been at work in the time period where marriage has weakened.

First, the economic prospects of non-college educated men has stagnated due to fundamental changes in our economy that have favored intellectual contributions over labor, much of which has been automated, seen a labor demand contractions because the same work can be done more efficiently with technology, been off shored, or been impacted by an influx of "fit immigrant" labor.

Second, economic prospects for almost all women have improved as legal and social conventions that kept women out of a wide variety of careers crumbled. A variety of fundamental economic changes also pushed women out of the home and into the paid workforce. Women had fewer children due to the demographic change associated everywhere with increased economic prosperity, due to the improved chances of a child surviving to adulthood, due to the availability of effective birth control and due to the establishment of social safety nets other than one's children in a parent's old age. New technologies (laundry machines, dishwashers, ready to wear clothing, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners) made housework less time consuming even in households that didn't have servants. A more mechanized economy reduced need for the kind of physically demanding labor where men have more of a built in advantge on average. A reduced demand for child labor and extended period of public education for children that freed up women's time while reducing the early economic benefit of having many children. Together, these economic fundamentals, in addition to anti-discrimination laws and changing societal views of women's proper roles have provided a fundamental economic driver for increased labor force participation by women.

It is elementary, if one accepts economic dependency as a first order driver of marriage and divorce rates, that where men's economic prospects are stagnating or declining, and women's economic prospects are surging, that women's economic dependence on men will decline and marriages will become as a result more fragile.

It is not elementary or obvious, but also appears to be true, that middle class women with college eductions married to college educated men, are in fact, more economically dependent upon their husbands than less well educated and affluent women, once they have children. The economic penalty for having children and giving reduced attention to a career in professions that call for college educations is often very great, and college educated men are simply more reliable and substantial providers in our economy than less educated men.

The Educational Gender Gap

Greater economic prospects for women, in general, have strengthened the economic incentives for women to become better educated. And, on average, given the same incentive to pursue an education, girls, more often on average than boys, have better study habits and are prone to refrain from disrupting the classroom in the way that education is currently organized. In short, the average girl's conduct is better suited to being a good student than the average boy's conduct. For children who are in the middle to the top of academic ability, as most children of educated parents who tend to be middle class or upper middle class themselves, the differences in the degree of "good student" behavior between boys and girls isn't great enough to drag a child to greatly impaired levels of academic outcomes. But, at the margins, for children of parents who aren't educated and didn't have much academic ability themselves which is a factor that helped to cause them to fall short of middle class economic success, the differences between boys and girls in "good student" behavior can have a powerful and cumulative effect.

Put more concretely, boys, in general, make more trouble and are less diligent studiers on average, than girls. And, for poor or working class black kids who don't have college educated parents in their lives, that different leads boys to lag the girls a great deal in school, and for that gap in turn to undermine their economic success as adults (and makes crime, the vast majority of which is driven by poverty more attractive). This, in turn, leaves black women with fewer black men upon which they can safely depend economically, and it so happens that black women often prefer black men as fathers for their children, even when they aren't good husband material.

Now, this would seem to leave unexplained why women who are capable of earning college degrees, but want children and want to rely on a husband while they have children, end up pursuing college degrees. In part, women appear to make the choice to have children and rely on a husband while making their own careers a second priority (which is very common in middle and upper middle class couples) only at the point that they are on the brink of doing so, and a significant minority of women choose to focus on careers and often to refrain from having children at all (or at least to postpone having children to the last possible moment permitted by biology). In part, the best possible colleges (and graduate programs) are good places to meet husbands upon whom women can afford to depend economically.

Poor Parenting As Effect More Than Cause

The cycle of child abuse and neglect, even when it doesn't rise to the level of legally sanctionable conduct, and the way one raises one's own child is admittedly a real phenomena that isn't easy to escape and makes cause and effect relationships complex. But, there is also quite compelling evidence that child abuse and neglect is profoundly magnified by poverty and by having unrelated adults in a household with children, both of which can be produced by fractured families and poor economic prospects. A generation of parents who manage to stay out of poverty and keep a marriage together while their are children in the home has a good shot at breaking the cycle. Overall, the case that child abuse and neglect, including poor parenting tending in that direction that is not legally sanctionable is more driven by poverty and familiy instability, than it is a cause of it, seems like the more reasonable conclusion.


This post obvious isn't a general theory of everything. It doesn't purport to answer questions like what is driving the class divisions in our society, or the demographics of those social classes in the first place, only the implications of those economic divisions in the context of everything else on marriage and family stability.

But, in my view it is important to first, find empirically sound that appear to drive major social issues. You won't come up with the right solutions unless you know the true causes. It doesn't make sense to resort to arguments that causes like moral failings and bad parenting drive these problems when those are aspects of human nature to a great extent that have roots from time immemorial, and the problems we see are not nearly so ancient. Resorting arguments related to moral failings and half millenia old cultural legacies is a variant on the fallacy of assuming that the world always has been and always will be the way that it is now, when in fact, the world is profoundly different than it was a century ago, or even more recently.

Finally, I don't want to inaccurately convey the impression that the most naiive and direct response to an economic dependence hypothesis in marriage implies, i.e. that the solution to our problems is to leave women in thraldom and turn back the clock. We as a society need women's full contributions to our interhousehold economy to reach the kind of affluence we have as a society. It isn't so surprising that it might take more than one or two generations to fully retool our economic and social institutions to achieve that objective without experiencing negative side effects. But, it takes time and an understanding of the forces that are driving how we are behaving now, often without consciously realizing why we are acting as we are ourselves even, to devise better alternative that meet all of our economic, cultural and personal goals better.

Civil Rights Liability Still Broken

Because of negligence on the part of government officials and the agencies they work for, no one tells you or your jailer that you won an appeal of your criminal conviction with twenty to forty year sentence and are held in prison for another seventeen years as a "pre-trial detainee" awaiting a retrial until you bring a flawed habeas corpus petition that somehow is routed to the right person and wins your freedom.

You bring an lawsuit for a breach of your civil rights to compensate yourself for seventeen years of wrongful imprisonment. Are you entitled to relief, or even to a trial where you can present your case?

Plaintiff-Appellant Buxton Craig Heyerman was imprisoned for more than seventeen years as a pretrial detainee after a state appellate court reversed his criminal conviction and remanded the matter to the trial court. He filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants-Appellees, alleging that this lengthy detention violated his Sixth Amendment speedy-trial rights. Defendants-Appellees are not liable for the alleged constitutional violation under § 1983, however. Therefore, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in their favor.
Critically, the people who wronged this formerly convicted individual did not have an intent to violate his civil rights in the sense meant by the law, and merely negligent harm or institutionally defective processes that don't meet a similarly high level of entity level intent to harm don't give rise to liability.

Once again, a takings jurisprudence in civil rights cases would get to the real essentials of the matter, and provide substantial and simple relief in what should be an easy case.

29 May 2012

Authorship Slippery

Academia has a whole world of customs surrounding authorship credit for academic papers. Sometimes, it can be overinclusive, particular in "big science" fields:
[I]n experimental particle physics, my field of research, you just need to be accepted as a member of a large collaboration and you are done: papers will be published with your name on them even if you cannot spell their title. I have been in this business for almost twenty years, and my paper count is well over 700. My H-Index is probably in the whereabouts of 60 or so, which would be stratospheric for almost any other field of research, but is not uncommon in high-energy physicists of my age. You might be asking yourself whether I consider those papers as my own. Did I write them ? No, I only wrote or helped writing a small fraction of that large number. Did I at least review them ? No, I only reviewed maybe two hundred of them (and believe me, that is a large fraction for the field's standards!). Hell, did I read them all at least ? No, I cannot even say I read all of them; perhaps I read a third. If this coming clean with my true contribution to papers I signed shocks you, please consider: I did not ask to sign those papers -it is automatic!

Lessons Learned

1. Never split up at a huge event like Bolder Boulder without designating a place to meet up afterwards.

2. Piano movers are so worth the money.

3. Good gin is infinitely superior to run of the mill gin.

4. If you bring one thing home to work on from the office, there is a decent chance that it will get done; if you bring two things home to work on from the office, neither will be completed.

5. Reading the relevant portions of the World Almanac and Wikipedia is usually sufficient to make you better informed than the average "expert" on a television news program.

6. You save a great deal of time reading the transcript of the State of Union address afterwards rather than listening to it live, interrupted by applause every second sentence.

7. Hang up your suit jacket in the car while you drive to your destination if you want it to look sharp when you arrive.

8. People who tells you that you can trust them because they are Christians are probably untrustworthy.

9. People will mortgage their cat to carry out the intent of a deceased or comotose person that was actually expressed personally to them by that person when they were conscious even if they disagree with it; but people will doubt their intent if they hear it for the first time after they are deceased or comotose.

10. Trial judges frequently don't do what the applicable law would seem to indicate that they should do.

11. Always document passwords and user names.

12. Regularly back up your hard drive.

27 May 2012

Witches, Demons And Monotheism

The Biblical injunction against witches ("thou shall not suffer a witch to live"), implicitly assumes that witches exist. Exodus, in the several trials Moses endures before the Jews leave Egypt, even acknowledges that priests of other gods have real power, albeit not as great as the God of the Hebrews. The Gospels and other books of the Christian New Testament embrace a demon possesion theory of mental illness and routinely cure mental illnesses with exorcisms, a rite retained by the Roman Catholic church and some non-Roman Catholic Christians. Indeed, the rite of exorcism has more biblical support than much of what Christians actually do ritually today. The Hebrew Bible and Christian New Testament alike a full of angels. The Koran recognize the existence of Jinn, another species of metaphysical beings.

Whatever monotheism means, it does not, in the context of systems of religious belief conventionally described as monotheistic mean that God has a monopoly on the exercise of supernatural power.

It also appears that free will appears to be a freedom in these religions that is granted not just to metaphysically natural humans, but to demons and angels and witches as well. Whether it is for lack of an ability to do so, or from some ulterior and perhaps unknowable reason, God does not in practice appear to interfere with the free will of even supernatural beings very often and when God does, he seems to do so only in a focused, intentional, personal exercise of divine power by one of his Earthly agents.

The "tradition" doesn't seem to offer any particular affirmative reason that free demons who can possess the minds of humans, intervening angels, or genuinely powerful witches no longer exist, or why at least they might be much more rare now than they once were. Very few Christians or Jews in the developed world (I don't have enough personal experience at that level with Muslims or Third World Christians to know) still leave in such a demon haunted world. American Christians generally don't leap to the conclusion that a mentally ill person is likely suffering from demon possession and that someone they might encounter might be a witch who needs to be executed for witchcraft. Intuitive belief has raced far ahead of doctrine for most of us, even those who claim a Abrahamic religious affiliation.

24 May 2012

Colorado Is The Make Or Break State In 2012

Several respected political commentators have identified Colorado as the marginal state that a winning Presidential candidate must win to capture an electoral college victory in 2012. This status, as a swing state rather than a Republican stronghold, has taken place mostly in the time period after I moved here in 1996 during which the urban economy has diversified and there has been a great deal of both conservative and liberal migration into the state from elsewhere. A relatively well organized and financed Democratic party leadership and liberal support network attributable mostly to a dozen or two really strong leadership and donor figures and iconic candidates have also been critical to this shift.

The most recent poll from CNN today in the President race showed President Obama with a four percentage point lead in the Presidential race over Romney, as of last week, which is very similar to the national figure and the figure in other swing states, with a margin of error of about +/- three percentage points.

What Makes Colorado Politics Distinctive?

Most Coloradans are not natives and we don't show much of a bias towards natives in our voting behavior either. Our politics are cleaner than they are in most states and not nearly as controlled by an entrenched old guard. This is due in part to a fairly comprehensive package of good government measures and favorable political conditions. Many of the pieces of these good government institutions have individually serious flaws, but the overall picture is one of a broad commitment in the political culture to transparency and efficiency. I list some of the more important institutions and political conditions below, as well as some of the key points of unfinished business in which our institutions clearly are flawed.

Political Conditions

* a state population and geographic area that are middling compared to other states and that have not outstripped the "design parameters" of state government institutions,
* a state capitol easily monitored by the press and public in our major economic center,
* few opportunities for interjurisdictional arbitrage compared to most states since our major population centers are not near the state's boundaries,
* healthy state level civil society institutions representing all major components of the political spectrum to facilitate collective efforts to advance broad based legislative, policy and movement based agendas outside the framework for formal political parties (e.g. the Independence Institute, Focus on the Family, the Gill Foundation, the Piton Institute, the Bell Foundation, the Colorado Progressive Coalition, an active political blogosphere, etc.)
* a lack of a dominant political party in recent years due to demographic shifts and a changing state economy,
* the absence of a dominant statewide religious affiliation,
* strong and largely stable regional hetrogenity in political identity taht also limits gerrymandering opportunities,
* multiple sustained periods of economic prosperity, good Denver Mayors, and good, but moderate Governors,
* a political history that is more Yankee than Southern,
* until very recently, a highly competitive mass media market in metropolitan Denver,
* a better educated than average population,
* a multiracial rather than a monoracial or biracial ethnic makeup,
* no meaningful history of slavery,
* a relatively short state political history in which the state has had a much smaller population for most of that time period.

Some of the negative political conditions in the state, however, include a strong, relatively recent (1920s) history of Ku Klux Klan domination of Colorado politics, an excessive number of demogauges, and a lack of political will to acknowledge that taxes are a necessary way to fund governmental services that contribute real value to the state by significant proportions of our population, and the perpetual isolation of some outlying areas of the state from political power.

Electoral Process Institutions

* fairly short term limits for almost all state and local offices,
* widespread use of mail in voting, early voting and voting centers that allow people to vote in person at more than one location,
* the availability of ballot issues at the state level to break Gordian knots in the legislative process,
* fairly open ballot access mediated by political parties that have considerable power via the causus process in most cases,
* better informed decisions in the nomination process for down ticket, low profile elected partisan offices (in which the nomination process often effectively decides the outcome in the general election since the smaller geographic areas involved in these races often have a dominant political party) as a result of the ability of the caucus process to provide information to the members of the party involved in the nomination process that is not carried out very effectively by the media,
* the power of political parties to fill legislative vacancies (e.g. when they arise due to personal scandals involving the incumbents) with interim elected officials chosen by the party of the politician vacating the office,
* blue ribbon commission reapportionment rules for most state elected offices,
* strong campaign finance rules.

The most glaring institutional problem with the electoral process in the state, which is typical of most U.S. states, is its reliance on unitary partisan elected officials for election administration. Another problem is that constitutional provisions that make it too easy to get technically flawed ballot issues with a basic thrust that is population before voters. Yet another concern is the exceeding high procedural barriers to re-election faced by elected officials who change parties in the middle of a term of office.

Institutions Related To Governmental Operations and Transparency

* a fairly small, part-time legislature,
* limits on personal financial gain for politicians,
* comprehensive lobbying regulations,
* broad and effective open records and open meetings laws,
* strict state civil service restrictions,
* signficiant Gubinatorial authority to reorganize the state government organizational chart,
* merit appointment of all state judges with little local political input,
* state constitutional limitations on tinkering with the details of the income tax laws,
* a line item veto for the Governor on state spending,
* meaningful legislative oversight of new state regulations,
* joint legislative rules in the bicameral legislature including a joint budget committee,
* a strong legislative services office role in the legislative process (drafting bills, doing constituent service work, and generating revenue and expense estimates on a bipartisan basis),
* pioneering work in providing online access to matters of state and local government,
* Sunset laws,
* a strong commitment to adopting well drafted proposed uniform state laws,
* a legislatively appointed state auditor
* strong limitations on the Governor's direct authority over both K-12 and higher education,
* independently elected state executive branch officials (the state treasurer, secretary of state and Attorney General) with fairly weak bureacratic resources and fairly narrow mandates.

The most glaring institutional problems with governmental operations and transparency is an overconstrained state budget, in which it is almost impossible to comply with all pertinent state constitutional requirements, federal mandates, state laws, and political processes during periods of declining revenues; there is more than one way to solve the problem but something has to give.

Local Government Institutions

* a non-partisan consolidated City and County government in Denver, the state's largest central city,
* home rule protections for local governments,
* strong limitations on the authority of the elected state school board over local school boards,
* meaningful school choice options within the public K-12 school system,
* well functioning non-partisan multijurisdictional local government institutions to provide services such as water basin management, public transportation, cultural institutions and sports stadiums, criminal prosecutions, general jurisdiction courts, vocational education services, special education services, suburban fire protection, suburban library services, and surburban park and recreation services,
* popular checks on elected officials via easy ballot access for recall elections and citizen initiatives at the local level,
*healthy  local government civil society institutions such as Denver's neighborhood associations, parent-teacher associatioons, organizations to address homelessness, and Glendale's local political parties to facilitate public participation in governmental activity at the local level,
* limited local government discretion over the details of property tax administration.

The most glaring fault with the organization of local government is the imbalance between authorized sources of revenues for local governments and the demand for services that flow from the authorized tax bases. There are also problems with institutions such as the conduct of partisan elections for technocratic positions like county coroners.

General Considerations

In sum, our politicans and our voters have shown bipartisan support for a variety of good government proposals. The political culture in Colorado's General Assembly, while it has recently experienced a rough spot, is also generally more collegial than in most states.

Tough taxpayer bill of rights provision in the state constitution, and other constitutional and statutory limits on government spending and authority, mute the effectiveness of many common attackes on liberal politicians, because in Colorado liberal politicans don't have the power to implement the kind of fiscal agenda that many liberals would favor without voter approval. Fairly geographically localized islands of and clines of political preferences in the state limit the usefulness of gerrymandering in Colorado. Colorado's adult population is better educated than the average state, despite the fact that the states lags in producing its college graduates locally.

The state's swing state status reflects a regionally diverse internal state geography, with liberal strongholds like Denver and Boulder, Southern style conservative strongholds like Colorado Springs, moderately liberal resort areas and college towns, mostly conservative rural communities on the Front Range, libertarian leaning rural populations on the Western Slope, conservative exurbanites, moderate first ring suburbanites, and Hispanics who trace their roots to before the places they live were part of the United States in places like Pueblo and the San Luis Valley.

While organized labor is weak in Colorado relative to former manufacturing centers in the Northeast and Rust Belt, its high level of organization and capacity to mobilize people and moderate amounts of political money mean it is still an important part of the Democratic party coalition here. Our conservatives embrace both social liberalism and economic proposals shared by Republicans, but ultimately, the conservative coalition in Colorado is a bit more economically conservative than socially conservative relative to conservatives nationally. While the numbers shift from month to month, an intuitive mental model in which active registered voters are 35% Republican, 30% unaffiliated, and 35% Democratic, while not quite right, is a pretty practical way to roughly summarize the long term average situation.

Where Are And Who Are The Swing Voters In Colorado?

Where Are Swing Voters In Colorado?

Ultimately, the make or break point within the state in a close race, when it comes to winning the state's electoral votes, boils down the winning over unaffiliated, middle class (but not upper middle class), fairly politically apathetic voters with enough of a sense of connection and civic duty to at least register to vote, who live in first ring suburbs of metropolitan Denver-Boulder.

Who Are Swing Voters In Colorado Demographically?

The generic and "average" swing voter in Colorado is white, not Hispanic, has some college but didn't graduate from college, isn't in a union, owns a modest home with a mortage in an older suburb, is neither a young adult nor elderly, and is nominally a part of some branch of Christianty but is fairly irregular in church atendance. Relatively few read a newspaper or news magazine or listen to national public radio on a regular basis.  Most are not Colorado natives.  Most have kids. At least one person in their household has a job and every adult in the household probably owns a car. But, they aren't insulated from economic hardship and are economically insecure. If they haven't been divorced themselves, they know someone who has been divorced pretty well.

Who Are Swing Voters In Colorado Politically?

The political views of these swing voters, when pressed to express them, are volatile, but fairly distinct for men versus women (not infrequently in the same household or neighborhod) who often cancel each other out at the polls. These voters tend to vote much more often when the stakes are high (such as during a relatively close President race like this year's) than when the stakes are low. These voters are driven more by character and personality and the general economic situation and ideosyncratic considerations, than by policy platforms to which they have weak commitments. They don't know a lot about politics or public policy in general, aren't well informed about candidates in down ticket races, and don't know much about any ballot issues other than the one or two have have received intense media attention. These voters are as fuzzy about theological and Christian doctrine as they are about politics. They decide who to vote for relatively late, often at the kitchen table while completing a recently received mail in ballot a couple of weeks before the actual election day. They have low levels of confidence and trust in politicians and political institutions generally. They don't go to political party caucuses or political rallies, don't donate more than trivial amounts of money to candidates, don't volunteer for political campaigns, and don't put partisan bumper stickers on their cars.

These are the people who will effectively select the next President of the United States of America. Swing voters in Colorado may be meek, but they decide who will inherit the Presidency.

Record Long Summer Starts Friday Night For DPS

Tomorrow is the last day of school for most Denver Public Schools students (there is a little bit of school to school variation) and due to a new decision on start dates for schools without air conditioning that doesn't extent this academic year's pre-Memorial Day finish date, and moves back the start date for many DPS kids in the fall, it will be the longest summer vacation in recent history for many DPS students.

U.S. Sentencing Laws Unusual

•The United States is among only 20% of countries around the world having life without parole (LWOP) sentences. LWOP sentences can never be reviewed and condemn the convict to die in prison.

•The United States allows for LWOP sentences for a single, non-violent offense such as drug possession, whereas it is often restricted to multiple, violent crimes in other countries.

•The United States is one of only nine countries which have both the death penalty and LWOP, along with China, Comoros, Cuba, Israel, Kazakhstan, Lesotho, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe.

•There are currently over 41,000 prisoners serving LWOP sentences in the United States, compared to 59 in Australia, 41 in England, and 37 in the Netherlands. On a per capita basis, the United States LWOP population is 51 times Australia’s, 173 times England’s, and 59 times the Netherlands’....

•The United States, Canada, and Micronesia are the only federalist countries known to researchers allowing successive prosecution of the same defendant by federal and state governments for the same crime....

•Under international human rights law, if legislators pass a new law to lighten sentences, offenders have a right to benefit from it retroactively. Though 67% of countries have codified that right, the United States has not....

•The vast majority of countries (84%) account for the age of the offender at trial, leaving the United States in the minority of countries (16%) trying and sentencing children as adults.

•The United States is the only country in the world to use juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences, with an estimated 2,594 juveniles offenders serving such sentences.

From here.

22 May 2012

Computers Good At Teaching Math

In experiments at six public universities, students assigned randomly to statistics courses that relied heavily on “machine-guided learning” software — with reduced face time with instructors — did just as well, in less time, as their counterparts in traditional, instructor-centric versions of the courses. This largely held true regardless of the race, gender, age, enrollment status and family background of the students.

From here.

The issued here is a very basic one.  A teacher or professor with any reasonable sized class can't tailor the class to one student.  Inevitably, the teacher must go on at greater length for some students on some topics, leaving others bored reviewing what they already know.  A computer can provided individualized attention in the same way that a personal tutor does, and hence, can avoid this problem.

First Two Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) Deployed

The first two ships in a new class of U.S. Navy warships call the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), one each of two radically different designs, are finally deploying, one to the Persian Gulf and the other to the Pacific Theater, and hence crossing the road from R&D to military reality.  One is a fairly striking trimaran design, while the other is a more conventional small warship design.  The Navy was supposed to pick one design over the other after the early first in class ships, but chose instead to punt and order new ships of each design.

The ships are each about the size of the last few Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates in the existing U.S. Navy Fleet (about 3000 tons), but have about a third as many sailors for operation of the ship and a reconfigurable mission module combined, have a much higher peak speed and a much more shallow draft.  They lack standard weapons systems of most existing U.S. warships like large cruise missiles,  three inch naval guns, torpedoes and Aegis sensor suites.  The ships have helipads, smaller mostly defensive missiles, and a cannon shooting grenade sized rounds. They are less heavily armored than traditional U.S. warships.  The standard issue armament and weapons suite for the LCS class ships is closer to a large Coast Guard cutter than to existing surface combatants in the U.S. Navy.

The Module Concept

The new class of ships, intended to operate in shallow coastal waters (littoral means "coastal"), is intended to have a range of mission modules such as anti-mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare, anti-piracy/interdiction of small craft, coastal water fire support for ground troops on beaches, serving as a mother ship for drones, and so on, that can be changed out, realistically in a matter of something on the order of a day to a week (early proponents of the modular idea had suggested unrealistically that modules could be swapped out in a few hours).  Still, the real point of the module is to allow the navy to change its priorities at a reasonable cost on strategic six month to several year deployment cycles, not to repurpose the ships in tactically relevant time frames. 

Thus, if we have forty LCS in the fleet, of which eight are mine sweepers, and thirty-two have other purposes, and the Navy decides that it needs twice as many mine sweepers, it can swap out eight LCS modules over a year or three at a fairly modest manufacturing and design costs (perhaps $30 million to $50 million each, rather than $300 million to $500 million each), rather than having to design and build eight new purpose built mine sweeping ship designs from scratch, a process that could take a decade or two.

A Different Niche

Every other surface warship in the U.S. fleet (except the Zumwalt class megadestroyer and a few residual purpose built minesweepers) has as its principle mission serving as an escort to an aircraft carrier as part of an aircraft carrier group.  Cruisers, destroyers, frigates, as well as a good share of our nuclear attack submarine fleet, all collectively act as linebackers protecting the aircraft carrier quarter back and its carrier aircraft who act a bit like wide receivers.

The LCS, in contrast, is expected to carry out missions that aircraft carrier groups don't, but that many world navies do have ships tailored to address.  It, hovers between the kinds of littoral patrol ships and cutters used by the U.S. Coast Guard (which would be part of the navy proper in most countries), and the larger foreign war oriented warships of the U.S. Navy.

Continuing the sports analogy, the LCS is playing basketball while the rest of the U.S. fleet is playing football.  They aren't even really engaged in the same enterprise.

The Question of Cost

A key attraction was supposed to be their affordability and minimal production delay, on the theory that the ships are not very technologically ambitious relative to the current standard.  The ideas was that in a war of attrition, one needs to fight asymmetric challenges from Third World countries affordably. 

So far, the ships are over budget and behind schedule, but less grossly so than many major new defense procurement projects.  A new LCS is still cheaper than the new conventional, 1980s design (with upgrades) destroyers that the U.S. Navy is currently buying and offers capabilities not found in the current fleet.  But, it is undeniably a smaller ship with less potent destructive capabilities.  It isn't at all obvious that an Arleigh Burke class destroyer and an LCS can be compared on an apples to apples basis by anyone other than a blowhard politician intent on maximizing the number of ships in the U.S. Navy in order to make him sound tough in speeches (a la Ronald Reagan).

Strategic Criticisms

Critics of the program come from multiple directions.  Some are concerned about technical kinks in the implementation of new prototype designs, rather than the strategic concept of the program itself, but most are bigger picture criticisms directed at the direction of the modern navy.

Too Big?

Some critics argue that the LCS is still too big to be effective in anti-piracy and riverine warfare missions, for example, against developing world tricked out speed boats and missile boats.  A few decades ago, the Navy had ships as small as the Cyclone Class Naval Patrol Ships (launched from 1992 to 1994) at 331 tons each with crews of twenty-eight sailors each, that filled a conceptually similar niche to the LCS and had similar armanent.  Ten remain in active service (five in the Persian Gulf and five at a U.S. naval base that rotate with each other) and three more are currently on loan to the Coast Guard.   The LCS is nine times as large and much more expensive, but doesn't obviously offer all that much additional naval capability in that niche. 

Too Little Tooth To Tail?

Other critics argued for a mother ship-combat boat design that wouldn't require every ship to be burdened by carrying around a house for its crews to live in for months at a time into hostilities where the extra weight and size is a liability.


Some critics argue that all surface combatants are still slow moving, large, non-stealthy targets relative to submarines (particularly smaller, less expensive diesel-electric and air independent diesel-electric ones from models already in production for our allies) and aircraft (manned and drones) that could do most of the same jobs better, with the LCS being particularly vunerable due to its thinner suite of weapons and lighter hulls. 

Even though the LCS is much faster than existing surface combatants, a minivan on a coastal highway would easily outrun an LCS moving as the crow flies in the coastal waters parallel to that highway, and it still isn't the fastest watercraft in coastal waters.  All the real speed in the LCS concept comes from carrier helicopters and air based drones, for which the LCS can provide an important range expending role without leaving a big footprint from a major U.S. presence in a region.  An LCS, like all other surface combatants, in addition to being relatively slow, is vastly larger than a tank or a fighter jet or an attack helicopter, for example.

Too Whimpy?

Some critics argue that the LCS is too much of a light weight, without the heavy weapons and heavier armor needed to address near peer threats like Russian and Chinese naval fleets in World War II style surface ship to surface ship combat in the "Battleship" paradigm. (Battleships themselves were phased out of the navy decades ago, although the very small run of Zumwalt class destroyers basically constitute a tiny number of de facto battleships in the modern U.S. Navy).

Never mind that it has been half a century since surface combants from countries who were adversaries in a war engaged in surface ship to surface ship combat with each other in earnest.  You can fit every naval battle of any kind, anywhere in the world, between any two nations that was serious enough to produce casualties while anyone currently in active duty service in the navy was serving on the back of a business card.  The naval combat experience of active duty American navy sailors is pretty much limited to training exercises and sophisticated war gaming. 

The American navy has intervened in many conflicts as recently as the insurgency in Libya and anti-piracy missions within the last year, in capacities other than navy to navy warfare involving sovereign states, but the real demand for surface combants in practice is very different from what they were designed in the first place to accomplish.  This absence of the kind of battles that the ships that comprise the bulk of the U.S. Navy were designed for is one of the main reasons to applaud the LCS program.

The lack of hard empirical evidence on what works and what doesn't in modern warfare seriously engaged by a reasonably developed country is one of the reasons that so much of a difference of opinion is possible.  All sides of the navy procurement debate are operating on largely untested theories that are driving tens of billions of dollars a year in naval procurement.

21 May 2012

Law and the Multiverse

If you want the skinny on how everyday law intersects with the world of superheros and supernaturals (in the vein of Carrie Vaughn's recent ready for big screen book "After the Golden Age"), then the Law and the Multiverse blog is for you.

Are ghosts pollutants?  Do you need a permit to put arc nuclear power generators in New York City?  The blog asks, and answers, these tough questions, and of course, reveals a lot about how lawyers think in the process.

Given that this is Zombie Awareness Monthtoday's post on Death, Taxes and Zombies might be a good place to start.  It begins thusly:

The U.S. stands on the brink of financial disaster, and Congress has done nothing but bicker. Of course, I refer to the coming day when the undead walk the earth, feasting on the living. A zombie apocalypse will create an urgent need for significant government revenues to protect the living, while at the same time rendering a large portion of the taxpaying public dead or undead. The government’s failure to anticipate or plan for this eventuality could cripple its ability to respond effectively. The time to prepare is now, before panic sets in, and it is too late. This post begins this critical task by considering whether someone who becomes a zombie should be considered dead for estate tax purposes.
Later on, it gets right to the heart (and brains, brain, brains) of the matter:

the question isn’t whether zombies can be considered alive, but rather whether, if someone’s zombie is alive, the original person can still be considered dead. This hints at the far larger questions of how the law should treat resurrection generally and whether different types of resurrection should be treated differently. For instance, some, like Lazarus, return intact. Others may return as flesh-eating monsters. Shockingly, the tax code is silent on this issue, a silence that is even more surprising when one considers that most of our legislators purport to be devout Christians, for whom resurrection is a core belief.
Zombies may be a fairly easy case from a death tax perspective - although if we decide that zombification triggers taxation, we may also have to conclude that people who are substantially zombies in economic substance might also have to be taxed as if they were dead, even if they are not yet formally zombies.

While a zombie apocalypse may turn many property owners into zombies, few of them will have any death tax liability dead or alive, given that the life time reunified transfer tax exemption is currently $5,000,000 per person, per lifetime, and a zombie apoclypse would probably depress the fair market value of all sorts of assets from real estate to the stock market, without causing legislators to rush to adjust the cutoffs during the emergency (although hyperinflation during a zombie apocalypse could counteract a decline in inflation adjusted prices).

On the other hand, the issue is much more salient in the case of vampires, who appear to be much more affluent on average, at least according to many popular literary accounts.  Vampires are particularly attractive as a tax source because many accounts relate that they repeatedly fake their own deaths to prevent their existence from being discovered, giving rise to multiple rounds of death taxation in a single undead lifetime.

Trust and estates scholars, furthermore, are already relatively well equipped intellectual to handle these issues.  The legal standing of "the dead hand" was hotly debated in trusts and estates scholarship even before the advent of Addams Family television series popularized the concept, and laws students who bemoan irrelevance are already taught zombie control doctrines like the Rule Against Perpetuities, although a few reckless states like Nevada and Alaska have moved to disarm themselves unilaterally from legal tools to fight the zombie menance.

As a recent post by Seth at Enik Rising revealed, however, election law scholars and political scientists are not nearly so prepared and are just starting to consider the ramifications of the undead for the political process.

SCOTUS Watching

Above the law has a nice post that captures what the reality of SCOTUS watching at the U.S. Supreme Court in person is like on a day when all of the opinions rendered are low profile cases. 

One of the cases decided, Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan, Ltd. has previously been blogged about in this space as the lowest dollar SCOTUS case in recent memory.  The U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision came down against what had previously been the rule in all but one U.S. Court of Appeals Circuit.  Justice Alito writes the hack job of statutory intepretation majority ruling in the case, consistent with his characteristically crabbed approach to reading and interpeting statutes.

18 May 2012

Which Came First, Marriage or Divorce?

In Maryland, the state supreme court has recognized the authority of its courts to grant divorces to same sex married couples from other states several months before the law adopted by its state legislature to allow same sex marriages to be entered into within the state takes effect.

The Three Main Kinds Of Female Sex Offenders

There are salient differences between men and women when it comes to sex offenses. For starters, men are far more likely to commit sexual assault than women are, accounting for 96 percent of the total. They are also rearrested much more frequently
The women who perpetrate this misconduct not surprisingly have serious problems. Like the men, they have poor coping skills and trouble showing empathy. This report by the Center for Sex Offender Management breaks female sex offenders into three types, based on clinical observations. The first group were coerced by men into abusing children, even their own. The second were themselves victims of incest or other sexual abuse — this kind of history is far more likely for women sex offenders than for men, and the women in this category also tend to victimize young children in their own families. The third type, [is] labeled “teacher/lover,” . . . They were “often struggling with peer relationships, seemed to regress and perceive themselves as having romantic or sexually mentoring ‘relationships’ with under-aged adolescent victims of their sexual preference, and, therefore, did not consider their acts to be criminal in nature.”
From Slate.

Many types of sex offenders (e.g. serial rapists of strangers) at whom the most serious sex offense penalties are targeted are virtually never carried out by women in real life, even though they are somewhat stock components of erotic literature. 

It is also notably that female sex offenders in all three categories are overwhelmingly alleged to have victimized minors with whom there is some sort of pre-existing relationship (except in fairly rare cases where they enable a male sex offender).  Female sex offenders rarely pose a risk to either adults, or to children who are strangers to them.

The biggest issue in the third category is the issue of subjective victimization, and a related issue related to statutory rape.  Simply put, our culture sees an adolescent woman who has sex with an older man in a position of trust to be more of a victim than an adolescent man who has sex with an older woman in a position of trust.  Regardless of the theoretical equivalency of the acts in a gender neutral world, using the criminal justice process in a way that makes someone who hadn't previously felt victimized feel victimized and to punish someone harshly for a crime where the victim may not have felt like they were victimized is problematic.

The Statutory Rape Problem And Problems With Treating All Minors Equally

The reality is that sexual conduct is not gender neutral and that gender neutral rules should on that subject should be suspect.  Likewise, apparently sexual conduct by prepubescent children has different sources, meanings and consequence than sexual conduct involving post-puberty minors. 

The related statutory rape issue is that when it is undisputed that a minor below the age of consent(but post-puberty) has had sex with an sufficiently old adult (or an adult in a position of trust), the law conclusively presumes that the adult has committed the crime.  While this conclusive presumption criminalizes some acts that would meet any standard of consent apart from the statutory presumption, it is exceedingly rarely the case that a minor girl will have sex with a much older man without his consent.  In contrast, a case where an adolescent boy has sex with a much older woman without her consent is a far more plausible possibility, and in those cases, where a rape victim is conclusively presumed to have raped the true offender with far less proof than is necessary to prove an absence of consent on the part of the women to the boy's advances, the potential for injustice is much more troubling.

Part of this problem arises from the fact that statutory rape laws routinely apply to post-pubescent young people.  The claims that a prepubescent boy's aggressive acts towards an older woman are distinctively sexual and deserving of more severe treatment relative to an assault or restraint of another person generally is doubtful, and a ten year old boy is almost as implausible as a rapist of an adult woman as a fifteen year old post-pubescent girl is as a rapist of a middle aged man.

Some of this is simple biology.  The law, rightly, treats sexually contact is a less severe matter than sexual intercourse.  And, biologically, it is much more straightforward for a man to have sexual intercourse with a non-consenting female than it is for a woman to have sexual intercourse with a non-consenting man.  In theory both possibilities are possible, but the former happens much more often in real life than the latter.  This is the basic reason why 96% of sex offenders are men  and why our intuition about a minor girl raping a middle aged man is so different from our intuition about a minor boy raping an older woman.

The stated purpose of statutory rape laws - to address instances where the victim is genuinely incapable of consent - makes perfect sense in the case of prepubescent boys and girls, and exceptions and limitations to rules prohibiting sex with prepubescent boys and girls aren't necessary to advance justice. 

But, many minors under the age of eighteen who have experienced puberty are quite capable of engaging in consensual sexual relationships and someone who is aroused sexually by a sixteen year old is not a deviant pedophile. The harm that statutory rape laws, child pornography laws, and child prosecution laws are addressing in these cases are less culpable because they involve the exertion of undue influence to procure consent from someone who has weak judgment but who is in fact capable of having consensual sexual relationships at least in the absence of someone employing undue influence, and real justice, as a result, requires considerably more nuance.

Likewise, the argument that someone who patronizes a prepubescent boy or girl as a prostitute or utilized a prepubescent boy or girl in making true child pornography holds water because someone with those sexual interests may very well be a real pedophile threat, and the case that the minor is being abuses is absolutely clear.  A John who has sex with a ten year old prostitute is probably a menace.  A John who has sex with a seventeen year old prostitute probably isn't meaningfully more culpable than a John who has sex with a twenty year old prostitute, and quite possibly a John having sex with a seventeen year old prostitute could do so legally but for the money exchanged.  Colorado, however, and Colorado is hardly unique in doing so, punishes anyone involved in prostitution or pornography involving a sexually mature late teenager (perhaps even one who is married to someone or once was married to somone) with the same severe punishments that make sense in the case of prostitution or pornography involving ten years old victims.

The problem isn't limited to criminal law either.  Treating sexually mature teen aged girls as children in matters of reproductive health is also problematic, in a way that it isn't for ten year old girls, for example.  It invites improper meddling and imposes barriers to obtaining reproductive health services that are especially beneficial to teen aged girls and harder for them to overcome embarassment to utilize even in the absence of legal impediments to access because sexual activity by teenagers is viewed as inherently immoral by many adults even though most teens are sexually active before they are eighteen years old.

17 May 2012

Republicans Have Screwed Up Congress

"Congress is more dysfunctional than it has been since the Civil War, and they know who to blame."
One of the two major parties, the Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition
Thomas Mann (senior fellow at the Brookings Institution), and Norm Ornstein (resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institution), It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism (2012) via Brad DeLong.

Seth On Vampire Politicians

Is the vampire a Democrat or Republican? Why?
Republicans describe Democrats as sucking the life out of capitalism. Democrats describe Republicans as sucking the life from the working class. So either could probably be said to have some vampire-like qualities. However, given that vampires tend to be older, paler, and wealthier than most mortals, I would tend to think that he's a Republican.
Would you vote Cullen/Dracula 2012?
I haven't seen or read any of the "Twilight" series, so I couldn't adequately comment on Cullen's candidacy. Also, the issue of immortality makes the vice presidency somehow less important than it already is. . . . If we're talking about Gary Oldman's Dracula, there's a lot I like about him, but I'd really need to see his birth certificate before I could consider voting for him.
From a transcript of an interview with political science professor Seth at Enik Rising.

The interview is presumably inspired by the impending June 22 opening of the movie "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Killer.", whose title pretty much says it all (and also argues for the case that 19th century vampires would have been Democrats, even if 21st century vampires might now predominate in the GOP instead).

16 May 2012

Special Session of Colorado General Assembly Ends

The 2012 special session of the Colorado General Assembly ended today after passing bills on three of the subjects it was convened to consider.  Bills on the other items before the state legislature, including civil unions, were killed.

[T]he civil unions proposal failed in a Republican House committee, and many of the additional bills Hickenlooper asked lawmakers to consider perished, too.

The Senate rejected a proposal to set a blood marijuana limit for drivers. A bill to create "benefit corporations" died in the House. The Legislature passed just three bills—one on water projects, one on unemployment insurance and one on machinery regulation.
From here.

Women Like Sexy Men. Who Knew?

Previous research has shown in the week near ovulation women become attracted to sexy, rebellious and handsome men like George Clooney or James Bond. But until now it was unclear why women would ever think it's wise to pursue long-term relationships with these kinds of men.
Kristina Durante, assistant professor of marketing at The University of Texas at San Antonio College of Business quoted here.

Clearly, somebody doesn't get out much. And a marketing professor no less. Isn't "sex sells" the lesson that they teach you on day one of Marketing 101?

Note to university reacher P.R. officers:

In the age of press release journalism, when you can choose any quote you want from a faculty member, do not choose quotes that make your faculty member sound like a prepubescent imbecile who has never experienced the human condition.

Ms. Durante's study actually answered a legitimate question.

Do women who fall for sexy unreliable guys make a conscious trade off between the genetic fitness of a mate and his reliability as a father, or do they deceive themselves into thinking that they aren't making a tradeoff because the man they are attracted to would treat them differently than other women?

The answer turns out to be that "ovulating women thought that the sexy cad -- but not the reliable dad -- would contribute more to childcare, but only if she were his partner." But, you wouldn't know that this was what the study was really about from her lede quotation.

Did Europe Just Postpone Trouble?

When the financial crisis, triggered by the collapse of a housing bubble in several important U.S. real estate market, hit in late 2007, the U.S. economy suffered, while European economies initially took a much more gentle hit.

At the time, it looked like those economies were going to avoid the economic pain of the financial crisis almost entirely, because a better regulatory system prevented European banks from making many of the mistake that were pivotal in the U.S. financial crisis.

Four and a half years later, the situation is less clear.  The threat of sovereign debt defaults, or default by financial institutions that when push came to shove were backed by sovereigns, even if they had no legal obligation to do so, have brought down Iceland, Ireland, Greece and Portugal, and have Italy and Spain on the brink, and the United Kingdom is in a downturn worse than the Great Depression was for it.  These countries are experiencing cuts to public services and unemployment at least as bad and often worse than the worst since the Great Depression hit that the United States experienced peaking a couple of years ago, form which the U.S. has still not fully recovered.

The situation has gotten so bad in Europe that it threatens to rebound back onto U.S. shores and trigger a double dip recession.

Japan is also greatly overextended in sovereign debt, and will not at a crisis point now, could easily slip out of control.  The pain there is not as visible mostly because it has endured its "lost decade' followed by another long slump, so the status quo against which current conditions are being evaluated isn't nearly as rosy as it was for the U.S. or Europe.

The root causes of the European sovereign debt crisis are even more obscure than those of the American financial crisis.  But, the only really obvious candiate is that they are delayed reaction to the U.S. finanical crisis.

If that analysis is right, then the benefits of financial regulation generally look a lot more suspect.

15 May 2012

542 Genes Collectively Predict Schizophrenia

A new, wide-ranging effort has uncovered a set of DNA signatures that are shared by people with the disease consistently enough that the set can be used to reliably predict whether someone has the disease. . . . By analyzing a battery of 542 genetic variants, researchers could predict who had schizophrenia in a group of European Americans and African Americans. The confirmation of the result in people of varying ancestry suggests that the set of genes truly does detect the core features of the disorder, scientists report online May 15 in Molecular Psychiatry.
From here, citing M. Ayalew et al. Convergent functional genomics of schizophrenia: from comprehensive understanding to genetic risk prediction. Molecular Psychiatry. doi: 10.1038/mp.2012.37.

This battery of genetic variants was compiled based on meta-analysis of a nearly comprehensive set of human and animal studies already in existence.

The list is surely not complete, and it probably has some false positives, since anytime you add that many degrees of freedom to a model, you will pick up some chance associations between otherwise unclassified cases.  The study also doesn't squarely address models that assign a significant share of genetic causation in schizophrenia to non-specific accumulated volumes of mutations in relevant parts of the genome and to first generation mutations.


But, simply providing an order of magnitude estimate of how many genes go into this polygenetic trait has value, and this kind of objective genetic predictor of psychosis could be particular useful in contexts such as insanity defenses where the biases of the psychiatric experts and the defendant cloud the usefulness of more subjective measurements.  This tool also opens the door to genotype based cluster analysis to subtype cases, which could be used to refine non-genetic diagnostic criteria and to personalize the process of prescribing medicines to treat schizophrenia which otherwise have a very large trial and error component.

Also, while biomarker tests are starting to emerge to confirm a schizophrenia diagnosis shortly before clinically definitive symptoms appear, a genotype test could be administered much earlier in individuals with a family history of psychosis - alleviating fears about the future for children in high risk families, while allowing for early treatment for children at high risk.  An ability to know whether or not you are likely to develop a psychosis in your late teens or early twenties would have a practical value to  

Another opportunity that genotyping on this model presents is the opportunity to identify individuals who have a schizophrenia genotype but are non-symptomatic, with an eye towards determining which, if any, environmental factors are part of a gene x environment interaction that gives rise to the syndrome (i.e. cluster of similar symptoms) that we called schizophrenia.

Finally, there is an emerging consensus that a significant share of the hereditary risk associated with developing schizophrenia is really a shared genetic risk of developing schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorder.  One suspects, therefore, that the battery of genes necessary to develop a genotype test for bipolar may have a similar number of genes and that the genese in the two genotype diagnostic batteries may significantly overlap.  For example, there might be about 270 schizophrenia specific genes, about 270 schizophrenia and bipolar genes, and 260 bipolar genes, for a total of perhaps 800 genes for psychosis generally. 

Examining the functional differences between the shared risk factors and the condition specific risk factors might help researchers to better understand the neuroscientific basis of both conditions and how the brain works more generally even in normal as opposed to abnormal psychology.  It is entirely likely that we will discover entire new systems that are out of whack in these conditions that we previously hadn't been aware existed in the brain.  And, every new system within the larger organ of the brain that we discover provides a new potential target for new classes of drugs.  This has recently happened in the efforts to find genotypes for anxiety disorders.

Same Sex Marriage Support Varies By Region

Popular support for same sex marriage has increased dramatically since 2004 (in large part because a few early adopter states permitted same sex marriage, and the sky has not fallen there and the existence of actually married same sex couples has humanized the concept).  From the link below:
My estimate is 16 percentage points. Nate Silver estimates perhaps two or three percentage points a year and, according to a leaked memo, Republican pollster Jan van Lohuizen finds support rising one point a year until 2009 and 5 points a year since.   
 But, support varies dramatically from state to state.

Opposition to SSM varies widely by state. Seong Soo Oh and I [Gregory P. Lewis] concluded that support was 30 points higher in Massachusetts than in Mississippi in 2006. Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips found a 40 point split between Massachusetts and Utah in 2009. My most current estimates find nearly a 50 point division between Massachusetts and Mississippi.
As of 2011, Colorado was third in the nation in the percentage of the voters supporting same sex marriage (behind Rhode Island, which also does not have same sex marriage, and Massachusetts, which does have it).  In part, this is due to the "present company excluded" norm of interpersonal etiquette.  Denver has sent at least three openly gay legislators to the Colorado General Assembly in recent years: Jennifer Veiga, Mark Ferrandino and Pat Steadman (I've been represented at one point or another by all three), and we have an openly gay member of Congress, Jared Polis (CO-2 which includes Boulder, Colorado).  It has hard for legislators to vote in favor of discrimination against the colleagues and that trickles down to the entire political elite in the state.  Major political and civic contributions from affluent gay Coloradans like Tim Gill, have also had an impact.

Despite the defeat of the Civil Unions bill this year in Colorado, every Democrat in the Colorado General Assembly, at least five state house Republicans, and several state senate Republicans supported the bill.  The percentage of legislators willing to vote for the bill is within the margin of error of the percentage of voters who support it.  Its defeat this session was a product of the imperfections of parliamentary procedure in translating the will of individual legislators into enacted legislation.

Interestingly, and supporting the trend of same sex marriage support as a regional issue, as much as a partisan issue, there is majority support for same sex marriage in the Republican stronghold of Alaska.  In general, same sex marriage opposition seems to track Evangelical Christianity (including Mormons) more than partisanship.

14 May 2012

Child Psychopathy

The New York Times, in a vivid and lengthy article spells out the case for callous-unemotional type discipline problem kids (i.e. kids with "conduct disorder") being kids on a path to adult psychopathy, absent interventions that haven't been really worked out yet.

The case for adult psychopathy almost universally having roots no later than in early childhood is compelling. But, it isn't yet clear if childhood diagnosis is reliable. Many kids who are terrible discipline problems as children grow out of it, but ordinary "hot blooded" anti-social activity and the kind of impulsivity associated with ADHD are different in kind than than distinct subtype who are callous and unemotional (really just codewords for behaviors assocaited with psychopathy as adults). Multiple researchers in the field are making the case (for example, in the study discussed in this February 23, 2011 blog post) that this subtype of much more predictive of adult psychopathy than ordinary anti-social behavior which has multiple causes and behavior syndromes encompassed within the broader definition. They are also starting to understand its neurological basis.

A particularly pertinent question the finds pose is whether it really makes sense to keep juvenile delinquency records confidential. A huge percentage of adult offenders who go on to become recidivist serious offenders are continuing a pattern of conduct that began when they were children. Not disclosing juvenile records and not considering those records in setting permissible sentencing ranges exposes large numbers of offenders who offend for the first time as adults and are likely to reform themselves to the same risk of a very long and harsh punishment as offenders whose juvenile records make them high risk candidates for serious reoffending. And, the confidentiality of the process, in addition to making it very difficult to determine if the process is proceeding fairly, also prevents private individuals from effectively limiting their exposure to risk for young adults who do not yet have adult criminal records but pose a highly elevated risk to the people whom they are around.

Do We Want Him As President?

Mitt Romney was a privileged asshole who viciously bullied his classmate John Lauber because of claims that Lauber was gay, when Romney was a seventeen year old prep school student.

Now that Romney is the presumptive Presidential nominee, he's publicly apologized for his actions.

Do we really want someone with that moral character in charge of a nuclear arsenal and maintaining discipline in the military now? I simply do not believe that Romney has changed, or that his life experiences have prepared him for the profound moral responsibilities to all Americans that a President must take on.

Denver City Council To Criminalize Homelessness

The Denver City Council supported a measure, called a "camping ban," a euphemism for the criminalization of the fact that someone is homeless and living on the streets (i.e. a vagrant) by a 9-4 margin in a preliminary vote a couple of weeks ago. I am deeply disgusted (but not tremendously surprised) to learn today (the efforts of the Denver Post to prominently make clear who is and isn't supporting the measure on the non-partisan city council has not been impressive) that my city council representative, Chris Nevitt, backed the measure.

The ordinance marks a stark departure from the more positive and constructive approach to dealing with the homeless that Mr. Hickenlooper had advanced when he was the Mayor of Denver.

The measure is expected to receive final approval this evening.

I have no idea why Mayor Hancock and more than two-thirds of the current city council think that this approach is wise. Yes, vagrants have never been known to wield much political power, and they are an annoyance to much more powerful business interests. But, how does this in any way address the underlying problem or make it possible for the people criminalized here to comply with the law? It is abundantly clear that the City of Denver simply does not have anywhere near the resources it needs to provide every vagrant on its streets with a place to stay right now, using the city jail to serve that purpose is an absurdly expensive and wasteful way to bridge that gap, and the Council has shown no signs of eliminating the need that has put so many people out on the street as it is today. The measure smells like something out of "The Little Prince" or fable, "The Emperor Has No Clothes," where a narcisstic leader imagines that by decreeing that unpleasant things are forbidden that they will magically stop happening.

UPDATE: As expected, Denver's City Council has criminalized homelessness in the city by the same 9-4 margin as in its original vote. Maybe its time to haul out the recall rules and see what we need to do to throw the bums out. If signed tomorrow by the Mayor, as expected, the ordinance will take effect on May 30, 2012.

The Greater Chinese Legal Tradition

Teemu Ruskola has a decent overview at SSRN (in a pre-print of a chapter of a new comparative law text) of the Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Northern Vietnamese pre-Western legal traditions, all of which are derivative of China's legal system to some extent  I recall studying basically the same concepts and materials, with slightly less historical detail, fewer Latin terms of comparative law, and less geographic specificity when I was in junior high school, and that perspective has been largely confirmed by what I have learned since then.

Key concepts include a Confucian hiearchical foundation to international tributary relationships, domestic political philosophy and personal relationships, supplemented by legalistic harsh penalties for violations of moral codes. In general, there were only weak distinctions between judicial and legal spheres, and more general administrative and governmental duties. Law per se, we not starkly distinguished from ruling a territory or a group of people, in general. Relationships were primary over rationally formulated rules applicable to all which had more of a customary or non-state character within families and guild. A lack of a clear line between conduct that is discouraged and conduct that is "illegal" in many cases, also supports are more gradual approach to escalating community/state intervention as individuals grow gradually more distant from ideals of moral conduct.  The focus was on obligations that arose out of enduring and unequal relationships rather than on the rights of individual persons who were equal in legal dignity to each other.

The situation in China was somewhat akin to the very early days following the Norman Conquest in England when general purpose feudal lords presided in a general capacity to resolve disputes between their subjects on the basis of reason and local custom.  And where, these aristocrats ruling from their place within a feudal hierarchy held places recently assigned to them by merit because their fiefs were awarded to them based upon their military service (or necessity for pacifying the locals) during the recent conquest, even though that ideal would be short lived and was soon replaced by a more specialized and bureaucratized legal order in which the hereditary principle would become pre-eminent.

Regional variation within this intellectual sphere hinged mostly on issues of centralization and meritocracy.

Korea was the most centralized of these East Asian states, followed by China which had a strongly centralized core with declining levels of control as one reached the fringes of its influence (and in practice, it recognized greater regional diversity that its ideological basis supposed), with Shogun Japan and Vietnam exaulting their feudal and decentralized system of small states as more reflective of the early Chinese environment in which Confucianism arose. The distinctions are somewhat analogous to those between Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian political ideologies in American history.

China was the most meritocratic of the four states, followed perhaps by the Vietnamese, while Korea retained a significant degree of aristocratic privilege apart from examination determined merit, and Japan also retained significant decrees of aristrocratic caste concepts.

Somewhat disappointingly, Ruskola does not discuss how this deeper legal tradition has managed to meld and subvert what are superficially Western communist, common law, and civil law legal and political regimes in a manner distinctly molded by this shared deeper legal tradition. South Korea, Vietnam and Japan all have statutes modeled primarily on European civil codes, with some Anglo-American glosses in the criminal justice area and a few other legal subjects in Japan and South Korea, and a Chinese communist gloss in Vietnam. But, the way that those systems work in practice is dramatically different from either the European civilian or American models. And, the form of communism practiced in China and Vietnam is likewise only barely recognizable as having shared roots with the political and legal system of the pre-Cold War Soviet block of Eastern Europe.

The Chinese political legacy was in many ways a more natural fit the the political theory that self-described communists tried to implement in Russia and Eastern Europe where it originated. Singapore and Hong Kong, both of which share both traditional Chinese and English common law roots, produced dramatically different results in their respective city states: Singapore produced a totalitarian dictatorship friendly to organized business; while Hong Kong produced a non-democratic yet libertarian leaning free for all of lassiez-faire economics with rulers who were content not to be fully in control of their domain.  None of these systems wholeheartedly embrace the sort of singleminded zealous advocacy in legal disputes that is so characteristic of the American legal and political culture.

Discrimination Down In Elite Professions

In 1960, 94 percent of doctors were white men, as were 96 percent of lawyers and 86 percent of managers. By 2008, these numbers had fallen to 63, 61, and 57 percent, respectively.

From here.

The trend is expected by anyone familiar with 20th century American history. The economic conclusions that follow from it discussed in the related academic paper has all of the limits of economic models generally, although it is hard to discount the conclusion that this had some economic benefit to the U.S. economy. But, the raw numbers are pretty much indisputable and worth noting in a blog post for easy reference.

Also, of course, it is worth noting the percentage of people who are white men who are twenty-five to seventy years old (whch is about 35%-40%). This overall demographic percentage is still much smaller than the percentage of white men who make up those professions today.

Part of this is a matter of old demographics working their way through people's careers.

Law school graduation rates, for example, weren't gender neutral until around the early 1980s and many people who graduated from law school earlier on are still practicing lawyers. The percentage of older lawyers who are women is smaller than the percentage of younger women who are lawyers. Boundaries of gender at the higher educational level have also equalized more completely than boundaries of race, for the most part. Much of the gender imbalance of the makeup of these professions today arises from career patterns after the members of the professions complete their higher educations.

Racial imbalances in participation in these professions, in contrast, is mostly attributable to pre-higher education participation disparities.

In Greece, most cops really are fascists

More than half of all police officers in Greece voted for pro-Nazi party Chrysi Avgi’ (Golden Dawn) in the elections of May 6. This is the disconcerting result of an analysis carried out by the authoritative newspaper To Vima (TheTribune) in several constituencies in Athens, where 5,000 police officers in service in the Greek capital also cast their ballot.
From here. In Germany, the number of people killed by police gunfire, however, is far less than the U.S. (six in the most recent year, compared to more than a hundred in the United States which has roughly three and a half times as many people as Germany).


The Colorado General Assembly is back for its first day of the 2012 special session called by Governor Hickenlooper after the Republican state house majority went into recess for the last few hours of May 8, 2012 (the last day before the end of the regular session and deadline for passage of bills on second reading), in order to kill a civil unions bill that had cleared three committees and had the votes to pass on the floor of the house, and took dozens of other bills down with it.

The special session will consider civil unions and several other topics related to bills that died as a result of that procedural move.  The other six issues before the Colorado General Assembly in the special session, in addition to civil unions are:

• Funding $55 million in water projects.
• Penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
• Stabilizing unemployment-insurance rates.
• Creating "benefit corporations" in Colorado.
• Registering "special mobile machinery fleets."
• Asking voters to amend the state constitution by repealing provisions deemed obsolete, including a measure that barred local governments from prohibiting discrimination against gays [this was held unconstitutional in the U.S. Supreme Court case Romer v. Evans].
Bills relating to a variety of interim study committees and related to the management of public schools were not revived for special session consideration.

All of the bills were heading for passage at the end of the session.  Bills without a prayer don't clear one of the two houses of the bicameral state legislature and all of the committees that they come before in the other house and don't head to the full house for a vote on a day when they can still be considered for passage.  And, Governors don't bring legislation that they would like to veto up for reconsideration in a special session.

The trouble is that the process does start over in the special session.  There is a clean slate and the special session, while restricted to the seven topics on the agenda, otherwise employs the same process used in a regular session of the general assembly. 

The leadership of the state house, knowing precisely which 37 legislators were ready to vote for civil unions a week earlier, could tinker with the process in some way that sends a civil unions bill to a "kill committee" preventing it from making it to the House floor where it would pass.  But, rejiggering  committee assignments or changing the committees that a bill must clear to pass, would make the state house Republican leadership look even dirtier than it already does going into an election. [UPDATE 5-14-12: Republicans have indeed done just that and may kill the civil unions bill in a committee it was not required to clear in the general session as soon as this afternoon (see also here)].

The special session also postpones the point in the political season when Republican are able to talk about their own agenda, instead of one that the Governor have given them to address, less than five months from the point in time at which votes will start to be cast in Colorado by mail and at early voting centers in a Presidential election year where increased voter turnout already puts Republicans at a disadvantage.  And, it only takes a little shift in public opinion for the state house to move from being controlled by Republicans 33-32, to being controlled by Democrats who manage to also hold onto the state senate where Democrats already have a safe majority and only half of the seats are up for reconsideration in November.  There are no indications that Republicans gained any real advantage in state legislative redistricting based on the 2010 census that takes effect this year.  Indeed, judging by the fact that the Republicans tried to have the map that was adopted overturned in Court, it is fair to say that redistricting gave Democrats a slight edge at the state level.

Put all of that, and the fact that public opinion is slowly but surely shifting in favor of civil unions in Colorado, and any win that Republicans manage to secure on civil unions in the special session, if they can manage it at all, has a good chance of being reversed in 2013.

UPDATE May 14, 2012:

So far, according to the Colorado General Assembly website, the following eleven bills have been introduced in the Special Session which began today:

*HB12S-1001 Water Conservation Bd Construction Fund Projects BAUMGARDNER--(NONE)
*HB12S-1002 Unempl Ins Revenue Bonds LISTON & ...--JAHN
*HB12S-1003 Special Mobile Machinery Registration Fees BRADFORD--(NONE)
*HB12S-1004 Medical Marijuana Fund Transfer MCCANN--(NONE)
*HB12S-1005 Penalties For DUIs Involving Drugs WALLER & ...--KING S.
*HB12S-1006 Authorization Of Civil Unions FERRANDINO--STEADMAN
*HB12S-1007 Benefit Corporations LEVY--ROBERTS
*SB12S-001 Registration Fees Special Mobile Machinery CADMAN--(NONE)
*SB12S-002 Water Conservation Bd Construction Fund Projects SCHWARTZ--SONNENBERG
*SB12S-003 Benefit Corporations BACON--MASSEY
*SCR12S-001 Repeal Unconstitutional Provisions State Const STEADMAN--FERRANDINO

Strategically, the notable issue is that the Civil Unions bill has been introduced first in the State House, rather than the State Senate, preventing any impediments to passage put in the way of the bill to be brought up at the last minute as they were in the regular session. Three of the subjects for consideration (water projects, mobile machinery, and benefit corporatioons) were introduced in parallel versions in both houses of the Colorado general assembly. Unemployment, Civil Unions and the two marijuana bills have no house counterpart. The constitutional amendment proposal was introduced in the state senate and lacks a house counterpart.

UPDATE TWO May 14, 2012: The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee has killed civil unions by a party line 5-4 vote, despite the fact that it is supported by a majority of members in that chamber. Republican Rep. Don Coram, whose son is gay even betrayed his son to vote the party line against the bill.