29 September 2015

Pro-Independence Representatives Win Majority In Catalonia's Elections

Results are in from the most recent election for the regional parliament of Spain's autonomous region of Catalonia, which is linguistically distinct from Spanish and has been agitating for independence for some time. Catalonia is somewhat more affluent than the nation as a whole.

Pro-Independence parties won 48% of the votes cast and a majority of the seats in the Catalan parliament (72), while parties opposed to independence won 39% of the vote and 52 seats in parliament. Other parties secured 13% of the vote garnering 11 seats.

This likely means that serious efforts to gain independence, or at least, more autonomy, for Catalonia, are likely to gain steam.  The central government of Spain opposes the effort.  Catalans would like to remain in the EU, but one of the most difficult questions is how investments in public pension scheme would be split up in the event of succession in the face of a reluctant or outright objecting central government.

Basque regions which are also linguistically distinct and more affluent than Spain as a whole would also like greater autonomy or independence.

Between Basque and Catalan regions, these areas make up a substantial share of Spain's population, land area, and GDP.

28 September 2015

Oklahoma Court To Execute Probably Innocent Man

Richard Glossip is probably innocent. But, it is a travesty even if he is merely possibly innocent. No reasonable jury would have convicted him of murder applying the beyond a reasonable doubt standard, and sentenced him to death (which arguably invokes an even higher standard of proof) if they had had access to the relevant evidence. This was a weak case almost entirely supported by testimony from a confessed killer who actually did the killing, who received a life sentence in order to secure testimony that they fed to the confessors killer to make the case that Glossip put him up, to it in the absence of any other meaningful evidence. There is strong evidence that the confessed killer would have recanted his story if he didn't believe that he could receive the death penalty for doing so. It is a case of clear law enforcement and prosecutorial misconduct.

But, after an extraordinary two week stay issued four hours before his execution, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (the highest court in the state in criminal matter) has denied him relief by a 3-2 vote and he is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday at 3 p.m. local time.

A Conjecture On The Purpose Of Academia

My conjecture is this:
Academia exists to protect society from the risks associated with having too many geniuses making decisions in our lives in the worlds of business and politics.  The most dangerous geniuses of all are safely sealed away from the real world in posts as professors of theoretical physics. (Once upon a time they would have been made professors of theology and philosophy.)

Crime Rates Continued To Fall In 2014

There were statistically significant reductions in many categories of crime tracked by the FBI in 2014 relative to 2013, continuing a long sustained period of declining crime rates (see the full report).
In 2014, an estimated 1,165,383 violent crimes occurred nationwide....the 2014 estimated violent crime total was....16.2 percent below the 2005 level [ed. a 21.2% decline in the violent crime rate]....

In 2014, there were an estimated 8,277,829 property crime offenses in the nation....The 10-year trend showed that property crime offenses decreased 18.6 percent in 2014 when compared with the 2005 estimate. In 2014, the rate of property crime was estimated at 2,596.1 per 100,000 inhabitants....The 2014 property crime rate was...24.3 percent less than the 2005 estimate....Property crimes in 2014 resulted in losses estimated at $14.3 billion.
The per capita loss from property crimes in the United States in 2014 was $43.  The per capita GDP in the U.S. in 2014 was about $54,597.  Thus, per capita losses from property crimes make up less than 0.01% of per capita GDP.

Crime rates peaked in the early 1990s. They have been falling more or less steadily for more than 20 years, and the statistics above only capture about half of the decline. The homicide rate peaked in 1991 at 9.8 per 100,000 and is now 4.5 per 100,000, a drop of 54.1% in 23 years.  Current homicide rates are the lowest that they have been since the 1950s (the homicide rate was 4.6 per 100,000 in 1962).

The latest recidivism rates, however, are quite dismal, which suggests that mass incarceration may be having more of an impact on crime rates than many would like to believe. It is certainly possible to more effectively reduce recidivism than we do, as a various pilot projects have demonstrated, but sustaining a criminal justice program that is not just lenient, but is genuinely rehabilitative and supportive politically is not an easy task.

25 September 2015

Boehner Out, U.S. Political Balance Unchanged

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, who is also my father's Congressman, has announced that he will resign from his seat in Congress later this month.  According to Boehner, after meeting with the Pope yesterday, he prayed and concluded that it was the right thing to do.  Go Pope!

In a parliamentary system, in which John Boehner as legislative leader of the majority party in the house of the legislature responsible to the people, John Boehner would have been the Prime Minister and that political impact of his decision would have been immense.

But, in our system, in a year when the Republicans have a safe majority in both houses of Congress, and the President is a Democrat, the impact of this decision is marginal.

While the leadership is more powerful in the House than in the Senate, a strong House Rules Committee limits the discretion of the Speaker of the House in controlling proceedings on the floor, the partisan majority still ultimately decides how the House will act by majority vote, and the House is big enough (435 voting members) that one Congressman's vote rarely matters which one party or another has a safe majority in the House.  Also, the several hierarchical leadership positions in the House put in place obvious front runners in the race to succeed Boehner as speaker.

The bottom line is the very little is likely to change in Congress as a result of Boehner's resignation except perhaps a reduction in the flow of federal pork to greater Butler County, Ohio as he is replaced by a more junior Congressman in a special election (realistically, given the politics of the general vicinity of my home town, some Republican who currently holds some lesser state or local partisan political office in the area).  The special election to fill the seat, however, will provide an important bellwether for the upcoming 2016 Presidential election.

While scandal has followed John Boehner in his career, marked by two widely rumored extra-marital affairs and a history of alcoholism that he has only partially controlled, conventional wisdom is that scandal was not the proximate cause of Boehner's resignation.  Instead, it has been portrayed as a product of frustration over the split between "governing conservatives" in the Republican coalition in Congress, and "no government conservatives" who simply want to destroy the federal government and its programs by any means necessary including government shutdowns (one of which is imminent).

This resignation is a rare departure for the GOP whose previous five or so Speakers have left office tainted by sex scandals.

Usually, in Congress, scandals are the tool of the one's opponents, since it is one of the few means by which the powerful impact of incumbency on one's re-election prospects can be broken.  Many seats in Congress which are safe when held by incumbents are vulnerable to a partisan flip or partisan faction flip in an open seat election.

In contrast, in Colorado, the opposite is true.  If a politician resigns due to a personal scandal, members of his own party can replace him in a vacancy election, putting a less vulnerable candidate before the voters, while if that politician does not resign, the scandal may cost his party the seat.  So, in Colorado, your friends are more likely to urge you to resign from public office in the face of a personal scandal (usually as quietly as possible) than your enemies.  The result is a dramatically reduced incentive to investigate personal scandals in the lives of politicians and a more civil environment that can promote greater bipartisan cooperation.

24 September 2015

Bits and Pieces

* A YA lit author is saving her pennies by not hiring someone to invent a new language for her aliens  to speak, and instead recycling Sumerian.  It would have been cooler is she'd inserted the origin of the Sumerian language isolate into the plot.  I had a hunch and Google sniffed it out right away.

* It is still disturbing and not widely known that police are allowed to lie to secure confessions (with rare exceptions) even though lawyers are not.  This is a systemic issue that helps to create a significant risk of false confessions and wrongful convictions.

* The evidence upon which Richard Glossip was convicted and sentenced to death for in Oklahoma is stunningly weak. It involves another major systemic issue - the use of plea bargain induced testimony from clearly guilty individuals to convict people who are not clearly guilty in the absence of that testimony.

* It has long been known that dating and courtship behavior is heavily influenced by the ratio of available men to available women.  Case studies of Mormons and ultra-Orthodox communities, however, illustrate how these imbalances can come about.  Men are much more likely to leave the Mormon church than women.  In part, women tend to be more religious, in part, the pressure to go on a missionary stint as a young Mormon man drives men out of the church and sheds light on why early Mormons may have felt that polygamy served a useful purpose. In the case of ultra-Orthodox communities a different factor is at work.  The well established trend if for older men to marry younger women, and rapid growth in cohort size in the pro-natal community means that there are more young women than there are suitably older men.

* The percentage of people who are left handed is mostly a function of the tendency of elementary school teachers and parents to force left handed people to become right handed.  This, in turn, varies by U.S. region and by the time period when you were in elementary school.  About 12% of Americans born in the 1960s or later are left handed, and the real "natural" percentage of left handers is probably a bit higher due to regional variation and the fact that some percentage of parents and teachers everywhere teach left eye dominant kids to be right handed.  I am an anomaly on that score. I write left handed, but I am right eye dominant and perform many tasks other than writing with my right hand.  Basically, someone mistakenly thought I was left handed due to false signals of that early on that were really just random "noise" about handedness and trained me to be left handed when I should have been right handed.  Cross-dominance is hardly the worst thing to experience, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone - I had some mild speech issues as a child because of it, and I have very bad handwriting and generally poor manual dexterity, in part, as a result of that developmental environment issue.

* Untreated severe sleep apnea is a major risk factor for symptoms of depression (73% have depressive symptoms) that is almost eliminated with compliant CPAP treatment (basically a mask connected to a machine that prevents you from snoring), with just 4% of those compliantly treated having depressive symptoms.  The sample size (N=293) wasn't huge, but given the immense effect size, it is perfectly adequate to be statistically significant.

* Understatement of the day:
Last week, the Open Science Collaboration reported that only 36% of a sample of 100 claims from published psychology studies were succesfully replicated: Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science.

A reproducibility rate of 36% seems bad.
* The keyboard on my computer does not meet my needs very well. It has about the right number of keys, but not all of the right ones while having others that I don't want or need to be that accessible. There are a couple of "special characters" that I use many times a day that are not assigned to keys: the paragraph mark ¶, and the section mark §. Yet, the Euro mark €, which I rarely need, is right next to prime keyboard real estate (the arrow keys) leading to many erroneous euro marks in my rough draft writing, and the $ mark which I use only now and then, has to separate keys assigned to it. I also have no use for the redundant number keys and numbers in the main keyboard area.

Other special characters that I often use (or would like to use) are ± (plus or minus), µ (lower case mu), Σ (upper case sigma), and п (lower case pi). Lower case epsilon and lower case sigma would also be nice.

And, it would also be nice to more easily add superscripts, subscripts, degree signs, and accent marks to text without going through multiple key strokes (again, I know that there are shortcuts to do it, but want to be able to do it without memorizing a lot of key strokes).

I know that, in principle, it is possible to reprogram keys to your personal preferences and to put a sticker on the appropriate keys to repurpose them, but in practice, that is too much of a pain for me to figure out relative to the benefit associated with it.

* Another rant that I have is that it is far to hard to customize a word processor to make some options more prominent while concealing other options. I would easily be willing to pay $100 or maybe even $200 to have a complete suite of customizations and I am sure that many people would like to have the same thing, but nobody in the marketplace seems to offer this as an affordable price. My guess is that it could be done with $5,000 to $25,000 of skilled programming work for each version (with some versions cheaper than others and some economies of scale), and I'm sure that the market for that product would be far more than 250 units in the entire United States.  I did much of this myself to one of my computers two or three computers ago, but computers only last a few years and aren't worth that kind of investment of time and learning how the software works that often.

What custom features (which are possible but a lot of work with existing software) would I like to have (or more often, be rid of):

1. Reduce the number of fonts that display when you pull down the font tab to 3-6 options (Times New Roman, Courier, Arial, and maybe a couple more that are used in many applications).

2. Upgrade the spell checkers to recognize specialized words from law, science and other academic disciplines. For example, I'd like to not have to teach my word processor that "tortious" is a properly spelled word that is frequently used in legal writing.

3. Remove automatic outlining with section numbering.

4. Make a "bullet" a special character rather than an outlining based function.

5. Eliminate the ability to custom set tab stop locations.

6. Include a footer with a page number centered at the bottom in 12 point font as a standard part of the document template that you remove rather than add.

7. Make widow and orphan control standard, while disabling automatic hyphenation. Automatically attach single line paragraphs (usually headings) to the following paragraph for this purpose.

8. Disable almost all auto replace features like the one that replaces (c) which is a subsection identification with the less frequently used © logogram from "coypright" that I use less often.

9. Remove about two-thirds of the top level drop down menu options that I never use, and reduce the number of ways that each feature can be accessed to one in almost all cases.

10. Reduce the number of available text colors to four to eight, rather than the several dozen I have available now.

11. Automatically convert all cut and pasted text to twelve point, Times New Roman font in standard text color with hyperlinks stripped out unless a special "paste with formatting" (or 10 point if pasted into a footnote) option is elected.

12. Make it easier to break a document into sections with distinct page numbering.

13. Eliminate the grammar checker (which is rarely helpful), but keep the spell check and word count features.

14. Make it harder to change the zoom magnification setting currently in place.

15. Eliminate "save" and always "save as" instead, to reduce the risk of accidentally erasing forms or prior versions of documents.

16. Have a "print" menu that always confirms that the printer that you are printing to is attached before it sends documents to the print cache.

17. Make it possible to select a section of text and purge all double spaces (or more) from the text in a single function.

* The song "Happy Birthday" is finally in the public domain and should have been there many decades ago according to a court ruling this week (which is still subject to appeal). The government should have just purchased that one for the public domain and been done with it long ago.

* Obvious headline of the day:
Man charged with murder in Denver fatal shooting.
Man charged with murder in non-fatal Denver shooting would be interesting. The reality, not so much.

22 September 2015

At Least She's Not Your AG

Democrat Kathleen Kane, the Attorney General for the state of Pennsylvania, has been temporarily suspended from the practice of law by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  She is also fighting charges including perjury and obstruction of justice on the grounds that she illegally leaked grand jury material and then lied about it under oath. The order does not remove her from elected office and she does not intend to step down from it.

21 September 2015

Gambler's Odds On The GOP Presidential Race

Prediction markets are making the following primary nomination predictions in each of the two major parties:


Jeb Bush 34.3%
Marco Rubio 16.0% (low volume trading)
Donald Trump 12.0%
Carly Fiorina 9.7%
Scott Walker 5.7%
Ben Carson 4.6%
Chris Christie 3.8%
John Kasich 3.5%
Ted Cruz 3.1%
Mike Huckabee 2.8%

Lindsey Graham 0.4%
Rand Paul 0.3%
Bobby Jindal 0.3%
Mitt Romney 0.1%

UPDATE:  Scott Walker held a press conference to drop out of the race today after polling in the less than 0.5% zone.  Neophytes and Jeb Bush rule the roost.


Hillary Clinton 65.6%
Joe Biden 18.3%
Bernie Sanders 12.3%

Elizabeth Warren 0.8%
Al Gore 0.4%
Martin O'Malley 0.1%
Andrew Cuomo 0.1%
Lincoln Chafee 0.1%

From here.

I think that the markets are significantly overvaluing both Rubio and Biden, and while Martin OMalley's odds may be dismal he does have the edge of actually running for the office unlike four of the other candidates at the bottom of the Democratic race polling, which ought to push him up to 1.0% or so, at least.

But, I agree that the markets are probably a more accurate predictor of the outcome than the latest polling in these races. I'd also note that insincere manipulation of election futures markets is not unprecedented.

18 September 2015

Law Journalists Aren't So Hot At Math Either

The saying goes that lawyers become lawyers because they are bad at math (obviously, not true in my case).  It turns out that the maxim holds true for law journalists as well.

Law blog "Above the Law" is in my sidebar and often a good read.  But, a recent story of theirs, based upon this American Bar Association source, claiming that 95% of U.S. lawyers in private practice are in firms of 20 lawyers or less was not impressive.

The American Bar Association source that they relied upon was accurate, but the chart that Above The Law relied upon states that 95% of private U.S. law firms have 20 lawyers or less, said no such thing. The chart they reproduced in their story is this one:

law firm size

Based upon it, they said: "So 95% of attorneys in private practice work at firm with 20 lawyers or fewer."

The obvious tip off that they had it wrong, even if you were focusing on the numbers instead of the words in the chart, was the bottom line.  Yes, there really are more than 47,562 lawyers in private practice in the United States today (there are actually 1,300,705 lawyers licensed in the United States as of 2015 and there were more than 700,000-800,000 lawyers when I was in college and wrote a report for a class on the emergence of large law firms in the legal market).

Meanwhile, a chart immediately above it on the same page of the source states that only 74% of lawyers working in private U.S. law firms work in firms of 20 lawyers or less.  In fact, 49% of all lawyers in private practice are sole practitioners.

This is still a lot of lawyers in "Small Law", but not nearly as impressive as the inaccurate statement that they make in their story.

17 September 2015

How Did Academic Psychology Become So Liberal? Is This A Problem?

A new metastudy looks at the dramatic shift of the academic discipline of psychology to the political left (a shift present in most of the humanities and social science), and tries to figure out how it came to be and suggests that corrective action is both possible and desirable for the discipline.

The Worst Case Scenario: Disciplinary Genocide Via Conservative Political Edict

The potential downside of an overwhelmingly liberal academy could go well beyond the concerns expressed in the paper, as headlines from academia in Japan this week show:
Many social sciences and humanities faculties in Japan are to close after universities were ordered to “serve areas that better meet society’s needs”.

Of the 60 national universities that offer courses in these disciplines, 26 have confirmed that they will either close or scale back their relevant faculties at the behest of Japan’s government.

It follows a letter from education minister Hakuban Shimomura sent to all of Japan’s 86 national universities, which called on them to take “active steps to abolish [social science and humanities] organisations or to convert them to serve areas that better meet society’s needs”.

The ministerial decree has been denounced by one university president as “anti-intellectual”, while the universities of Tokyo and Kyoto, regarded as the country’s most prestigious, have said that they will not comply with the request.

However, 17 national universities will stop recruiting students to humanities and social science courses – including law and economics, according to a survey of university presidents by The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, which was reported by the blog Social Science Space.
From here via Marginal Revolution.

The Money Chart

diversity graph
Figure 1. The political party and ideological sympathies of academic psychologists have shifted leftward over time. Circles show ratios of self-reports of liberal vs. conservative. Diamonds show ratios of self-reports of party preference or voting (Democrat vs. Republican). Data for 1924–60 is reported in McClintock et al. (1965). Open diamonds are participants’ recollections of whom they voted for; gray diamonds are self-reported party identification at time of the survey. Data for 1999 is reported in Rothman et al. (2005). Data from 2006 is reported in Gross and Simmons (2007). The right-most circle is from Inbar and Lammers (2012) and is the ratio of selfidentified liberal/conservative social psychologists.
The Abstract, Citation and Link to the Executive Summary
Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity – particularly diversity of viewpoints – for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity. This article reviews the available evidence and finds support for four claims: (1) Academic psychology once had considerable political diversity, but has lost nearly all of it in the last 50 years. (2) This lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike. (3) Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority’s thinking. (4) The underrepresentation of non-liberals in social psychology is most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination. We close with recommendations for increasing political diversity in social psychology.
Duarte, J. L., et al.,P Political diversity will improve social psychological science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38, 1-13 (2015).

How Did This Happen?

The material below from the executive summary of the paper (emphasis added) explains the mechanisms that caused this to become the case.
5. Why are there so few non-liberals in social psychology? 
The evidence does not point to a single answer. To understand why conservatives are so vastly underrepresented in social psychology, we consider five explanations that have frequently been offered to account for a lack of diversity not just in social psychology, but in other contexts (e.g., the underrepresentation of women and ethnic minorities in STEM fields, e.g., Pinker, 2008).

5.1. Differences in ability

[Are conservatives simply less intelligent than liberals, and less able to obtain PhDs and faculty positions?] The evidence does not support this view… [published studies are mixed. Part of the complexity is that…] Social conservatism correlates with lower cognitive ability test scores, but economic conservatism correlates with higher scores (Iyer, Koleva, Graham, Ditto, & Haidt, 2012; Kemmelmeier 2008). [Libertarians are the political group with the highest IQ, yet they are underrepresented in the social sciences other than economics]

5.2. The effects of education on political ideology

Many may view education as “enlightening” and believe that an enlightened view comports with liberal politics. There is little evidence that education causes students to become more liberal. Instead, several longitudinal studies following tens of thousands of college students for many years have concluded that political socialization in college occurs primarily as a function of one’s peers, not education per se (Astin, 1993; Dey, 1997).

5.3. Differences in interest

Might liberals simply find a career in social psychology (or the academy more broadly) more appealing? Yes, for several reasons. The Big-5 trait that correlates most strongly with political liberalism is openness to experience (r = .32 in Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, & Sulloways’s 2003 meta-analysis), and people high in that trait are more likely to pursue careers that will let them indulge their curiosity and desire to learn, such as a career in the academy (McCrae, 1996). An academic career requires a Ph.D., and liberals enter (and graduate) college more interested in pursuing Ph.D.s than do conservatives (Woessner & Kelly-Woessner, 2009)…

Such intrinsic variations in interest may be amplified by a “birds of a feather” or “homophile” effect. “Similarity attracts” is one of the most well-established findings in social psychology (Byrne, 1969). As a field begins to lean a certain way, the field will likely become increasingly attractive to people suited to that leaning. Over time the group itself may become characterized by its group members. Professors and scientists may come to be seen as liberal just as nurses are typically thought of as being female. Once that happens, conservatives may disproportionately self-select out of joining the dissimilar group, based on a realistic perception that they “do not fit well.” [See Gross (2013)]…

Self-selection clearly plays a role. But it would be ironic if an epistemic community resonated to empirical arguments that appear to exonerate the community of prejudice—when that same community roundly rejects those same arguments when invoked by other institutions to explain the under-representation of women or ethnic minorities (e.g., in STEM disciplines or other elite professions). [Note: we agree that self-selection is a big part of the explanation. If there were no discrimination and no hostile climate, the field would still lean left, as it used to. But it would still have some diversity, and would work much better.]

5.4. Hostile climate

Might self-selection be amplified by an accurate perception among conservative students that they are not welcome in the social psychology community? Consider the narrative of conservatives that can be formed from some recent conclusions in social psychological research: compared to liberals, conservatives are less intelligent (Hodson & Busseri, 2012) and less cognitively complex (Jost et al., 2003). They are more rigid, dogmatic, and inflexible (Jost et al., 2003). Their lower IQ explains their racism and sexism (Deary, Batty, & Gale, 2008), and their endorsement of inequality explains why they are happier than liberals (Napier & Jost, 2008).

As conservative undergraduates encounter the research literature in their social psychology classes, might they recognize cues that the field regards them and their beliefs as defective? And what happens if they do attend graduate school and take part in conferences, classes, and social events in which almost everyone else is liberal? We ourselves have often heard jokes and disparaging comments made by social psychologists about conservatives, not just in informal settings but even from the podium at conferences and lectures. The few conservatives who have enrolled in graduate programs hear these comments too, and some of them wrote to Haidt in the months after his 2011 remarks at the SPSP convention to describe the hostility and ridicule that force them to stay “in the closet” about their political beliefs—or to leave the field entirely.

Haidt (2011) put excerpts from these emails online (in anonymous form); representative of them is this one from a former graduate student in a top 10 Ph.D. program:

I can’t begin to tell you how difficult it was for me in graduate school because I am not a liberal Democrat. As one example, following Bush’s defeat of Kerry, one of my professors would email me every time a soldier’s death in Iraq made the headlines; he would call me out, publicly blaming me for not supporting Kerry in the election. I was a reasonably successful graduate student, but the political ecology became too uncomfortable for me. Instead of seeking the professorship that I once worked toward, I am now leaving academia for a job in industry.

Evidence of hostile climate is not just anecdotal. Inbar and Lammers (2012) asked members of the SPSP discussion list: “Do you feel that there is a hostile climate towards your political beliefs in your field?” Of 17 conservatives, 14 (82%) responded “yes” (i.e., a response at or above the midpoint of the scale, where the midpoint was labeled “somewhat” and the top point “very much”), with half of those responding “very much.” In contrast, only 18 of 266 liberals (7%) responded “yes”, with only two of those responding “very much.” Interestingly, 18 of 25 moderates (72%) responded “yes,” with one responding “very much.” This surprising result suggests that the hostile climate may adversely affect not only conservatives, but anyone who is not liberal or whose values do not align with the liberal progress narrative.

5.5. Discrimination

The literature on political prejudice demonstrates that strongly identified partisans show little compunction about expressing their overt hostility toward the other side (e.g., Chambers et al., 2013; Crawford & Pilanski, 2013; Haidt, 2012). Partisans routinely believe that their hostility towards opposing groups is justified because of the threat posed to their values by dissimilar others (see Brandt et al., 2014, for a review). Social psychologists are unlikely to be immune to such psychological processes. Indeed, ample evidence using multiple methods demonstrates that social psychologists do in fact act in discriminatory ways toward non-liberal colleagues and their research.

[Here we review experimental field research: if you change a research proposal so that its hypotheses sound conservative, but you leave the methods the same, then the manuscript is deemed less publishable, and is less likely to get IRB approval] Inbar and Lammers (2012) found that most social psychologists who responded to their survey were willing to explicitly state that they would discriminate against conservatives. Their survey posed the question: “If two job candidates (with equal qualifications) were to apply for an opening in your department, and you knew that one was politically quite conservative, do you think you would be inclined to vote for the more liberal one?” Of the 237 liberals, only 42 (18%) chose the lowest scale point, “not at all.” In other words, 82% admitted that they would be at least a little bit prejudiced against a conservative candidate, and 43% chose the midpoint (“somewhat”) or above. In contrast, the majority of moderates (67%) and conservatives (83%) chose the lowest scale point (“not at all”)….

Conservative graduate students and assistant professors are behaving rationally when they keep their political identities hidden, and when they avoid voicing the dissenting opinions that could be of such great benefit to the field. Moderate and libertarian students may be suffering the same fate.

In essence, liberals are moderately more inclined to pursue an academic research and teaching career than conservatives, and this tendency has become self-fulfilling as the liberal majority in academia has created a hostile environment for conservatives and openly discriminates against people who express conservative views or research agendas.

The study fails, however, to really engage with a really key question presented by their money chart.

Why did a stable equilibrium that prevailed from the early 1930s to about 1990 (which seems to be the equilibrium which the authors of the study hope to restore) was suddenly disrupted causing the percentages of conservative in academic psychology to fall from about 20%-33% to about 6.5%?

The change has happened not so much in the last 50 years as in the 20 years from 1990 to 2010 (starting around the time that I was finishing my higher education) which coincides with the rise of identity politics and the notion of "political correctness" in the academy.  It also coincides with the rise of secular religious identity and the collapse of mainline Christianity in favor of both secularism on the liberal end and Evangelical Christianity on the conservative end.

And this coincides (in a development that probably isn't independent of the rise of identity politics) with an increasingly close identification Evangelical Christians with the Republican party and the tail end of the "realignment" process.  While conservatism has not always been (and still isn't) naturally anti-intellectual or anti-science, the anti-intellectual and anti-science orientation of Evangelical Christianity is a long standing one that was starting to seep into the conservative political movement in the United States at that time.

In particular, the empirical data of psychology has been strongly at odds with conservative Christianity's views on questions of gay rights, which has been a defining social issue in the United States in the period in which the academic discipline became far more liberal.

Because It Feels Like It Should Be Friday Already

From here.  Background at Dispatches At Turtle Island.

13 September 2015


Waiting for an hour for breakfast and probably a few boozy beverages is seen as a luxury and habit of upper-middle-class and wealthy white people.
From the Denver Post.

Guilty as charged.

This time and money is available, in part, because this demographic is foregoing church attendance on Sunday mornings. Church goers opt instead for a dry, early afternoon Sunday dinner, either at home or at a less tony "family style" restaurant.

The blog that made the title acronym a part of Internet slang is here.

11 September 2015

Less Haunted

This year is perhaps the first since 9-11 in 2001, that the day hasn't seemed overwhelmingly haunted by the events of that day, which is a good thing.

Republican Primary Race Still Wacky

CNN has averaged polls over the last two months to see who will participate in their GOP debate round (rounded to the nearest tenth of a percent):

1) Donald Trump: 23.9
2) Jeb Bush: 11.5
3) Scott Walker: 9.4
4) Ben Carson: 8.9
5) Ted Cruz: 6.3
6) Marco Rubio: 5.6
7) Mike Huckabee: 5.6
8) Rand Paul: 4.7
9) John Kasich: 3.2
10) Chris Christie: 3.1
11) Carly Fiorina: 2.2
12) Rick Perry: 1.8
13) Rick Santorum: 1.2
14) Bobby Jindal: 1.1
15) George Pataki: 0.5
16) Lindsey Graham: 0.5

Meanwhile, Rick Perry has dropped out, and Scott Walker's support is exaggerated by a two month average - his support in Iowa has fallen to 3% (down from 25% in February).

Where do the GOP candidates stand now ?

1) Donald Trump 32%
2) Ben Carson 19%
3) Jeb Bush 9%
4) Ted Cruz 7%
5) Mike Huckabee 5%
6) Scott Walker 5%

All others 3% or less (with Marco Rubio falling 5 points in the last month).

Pundit chatter about a ceiling on Trump support limited to the crazy uncles of the Republican party isn't holding true so far.  Trump is polling roughly the same on the GOP side as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are on the Democratic Party side (supposedly, there are other candidates running for the Democratic nomination, but they have utterly failed to be noticed by anyone other than their local political base and extended family).

A majority of GOP or GOP leaning voters support someone who has never held public office in any capacity in the Presidential race.  And, at the back of the pack, another candidate with no experience in public office, Carly Fiorina, is the only candidate who is rising in the polls instead of falling.

Jeb Bush is the strongest polling candidate with any political experience, and honestly, I still think he has the best shot at winning the Republican party nomination.  But, a lot of the seasoned pols are dead in the water in the face of Trump's TV star power, and the polls are definitely not stable at this point.

Giving Immigrants Legal Resident Status Dramatically Reduces Crime

A clever "natural experiment" analysis from Europe shows that granting legal resident status to someone who has a previous criminal record as an illegal immigrant reduces recidivism by 50%.

Other studies, of course, have already established that immigrants in the U.S., both legal and illegal, commit crimes at lower rates than native born citizens.

08 September 2015

Foreign Legal Word Of The Day

In Italy, the highest appellate court (equivalent to our U.S. Supreme Court) is called the Corte Suprema Di Cassazione (commonly translated Supreme Court of Cassation). It is required to issue formal written explanations for its rulings by law, what we would call a court's "opinion".  These opinions are called legal "motivazioni" in Italian.

Unlike U.S. appellate court opinions, however, a motivzioni would generally not have broad precedential effect, and instead, merely resolved the case before it.

Also unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, cases in the Court of Cassation in Italy and most other civil law countries have as many judges as a large U.S. intermediate court of appeals and panels of subject matter specialists within the Court handle particular disputes.  In Italy, the Supreme Court of Cassation has 350 judges.  The high profile case of a U.S. woman convicted of murder and then acquitted on appeal to the Court of Cassation in this case was heard by a five judge panel.

The Court of Cassation lacks jurisdiction over questions of "public law" including appeals from administrative tribunals.  These questions are appealed to the Council of State (Consiglio di Stato).

Like U.S. appellate courts, the Court of Cassation must defer to the fact finding made in the lower courts.  In Italy, and most civil law countries, this fact finding will have been made by the intermediate court of appeal called a "court of second instance" which can receive new evidence as well as reviewing the factual and legal determinations of the "court of first instance" in which the original trial was conducted.

07 September 2015

Is There Room For Another Great Religious Tradition Or Two?

Razib Khan notes in a comment to one of his posts that:
i think islam is probably the last chance in the oikumene. it looks like once cultural-civilizational identities cohere it can be hard to break them.
He later clarifies in an additional comment that he means that it is:
the last chance to create a new civilization. it seems like once the # is “filled up” it’s hard to move into the space. it’s like cultural oligopolies.
I agree that cultures tend towards oligopolies, along the line of the old Iron Law of Oligarchy from economics. Too many at one time in one place naturally seem to congeal into a smaller number, while a true monopoly tends to fission into sects. Neither highly atomized competition, nor monopoly tend to be stable.

It is also fair to say, I think, that there has not been a new major religious tradition since Islam, at least until lately.

The question is, what is one to make of the rise of secularism?

Is this itself, or a more specific ideology like secular humanism that may be driving it, a major new religious tradition? Or, are we entering a "Great Nap", perhaps akin to the culturally relativist era of no holds barred paganism in the Roman empire not long before Christianity took hold in which all gods in every pantheon were accepted in a theologically relativist ideology that accepted all of them?

Thus, secularism might be a new great religious tradition, which might even be the "end of history" and the actual last chance in the oikumene (something that is the basic premise of science worlds like that of Star Trek and the future Earth of Kate Elliot's Jaran novels).  Arguably, communism was another such great secular religious tradition that bloomed, changed the world, and is rapidly dying.

But perhaps secularism is instead creating the very kind of vacuum that Nature abhors and creating fertile ground for some new major religious tradition to rush into the gap when something crystallizes people at the right moment in time which may be not too distant from now, or even in the recent past but is not yet recognized for what it will become (something that is part of the premise of Rachel Caine's Age of X series of novels)?

Religion exists and has persisted for functional reasons. It provides benefits to the people who practice it that cause them to continue its traditions. There is more than one implementation of religion that can meet people's needs, and not all religions have to meet precisely the same set of needs. One religion might provide patronage for art and music, while another might not serve that function. One religion might establish educational institutions and hospitals, while another might not. But, all of the functions must be met by some sort of institution and a society that fails to prove a solution for all of those functions is ripe for the development of a new religion to fill them.

Some of the functions are to provide accepted answers to questions of metaphysics and morality. Others are to provide scripts for daily life.

There is an emerging decentralized secular humanist tradition that is starting to gel and fill the gap that mainline Christianity once filled in the United States, as a default set of scripts and answers for people who don't necessarily give religion much thought that becomes the mainstream consensus for people in much of the developed world. This secular humanist tradition might even someday evolve into something like Rachel Caine's "Church of Humanity" that she imagines in her Age of X series.

But, people, and more particularly, the "Nones" are sufficiently spiritual, sufficiently theistic and superstitious in their beliefs, and sufficiently not committed to metaphysical naturalism as an ideal, that I can't help but think that there is also room for one or more new religious traditions to emerge right now into the relatively virgin territory created as Evangelical Christianity, conservative Roman Catholicism, modern evolution, cosmology and science, and the rising grass roots movement of "Nones" conspire together to discredit the Christian brand.

I image that something might emerge out of the lowest common denominator version of Judeo-Christianity in which a vague "god" listens to prayers, rewards the moral, punishes sinners, redeems those who have sinned and repent, and provides people of good will with a focal point of common purpose. Call it a creole religion, broken down to its bare essentials and stripped of its historical antecedents.  Ba'hai, the Free Masons, and Unitarian-Universalism have made similar efforts, and the Jedi religion of Star Wars arguably is of the same general character. But, the failure of these efforts to secure large followings despite the fact that they echo the spirit of the age, also suggests that this intuitively obvious path may not actually be the most likely.

Alternately, maybe the gap will be filled not with lowest common denominator platitude, but with a very specific, righteous, and even absurd back story that nonetheless gets the job done - the kind of religion created by the missionaries in the musical The Book of Mormon. Perhaps the leap of faith that comes from embracing something that seems impossible and that you can't personally verify, a living them in a way that forces you to act in some arbitrary manner that sets you apart from non-believers is a key element of the mind hack that makes religion work.

The Islamic world is another place where religious monopoly and the great dysfunction of some aspects of Islam in the modern world may make conditions ripe for some major new religious movement.

I have some axioms that are instructive but not definitive in suggesting what we will see:

* Religion thrives when it protects a threatened culture.
* The more random chance guides people's fate, the more religious and superstitious they are.
* The functional aspects of a religion are often obscured by its trappings and doctrines.
* Religious doctrines are shaped by their formative eras.
* Sacred texts or stories are at the center of all religions even though they may not be important to how their adherents live their lives in predictable ways from the texts or stories alone.
* Religions involve specific practices in daily life, often involving funny hats and/or food taboos.
* New religions are never completely original, they always draw on some past religious thinking.
* New religions grow dramatically, not gradually, once they reach a tipping point.

New religious traditions can suddenly appear. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hindusim, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Ba'hai, Jainism, and all of the sects within these faiths all acknowledge founders either within the historic era, or the waning days of prehistory. It seems that all new religions have heroic founders and divine mysteries at their heart. There is no particularly powerful reason to think that the right conditions, while rare, couldn't recur. It could take centuries for the religious movements put in place by a religion founder today to really come together into a stable great religious tradition. But, it could at least start in the near future.

America's Elite Is Overwhelmingly Non-Christian

In the incoming class of freshmen at Harvard, fewer than 35% self-identify as Christian.*  Even Judeo-Christian is not a majority at Harvard at less than 45%.  In contrast, 37.9% identify as atheist or agnostic.

17.0% identify as Protestant
17.1% identify as Catholic
0.4% identify as Mormon

10.1% identify as Jewish
2.5% identify as Muslim
3.0% identify as Hindu

16.6% identify as atheist
21.3% identify as agnostic

12.1% identify as "other"

* Some of the 12.1% who identify as "other" could be Christians who do not identify as Protestant, Catholic or Mormon, such as Orthodox Christians or Evangelicals who identify as "Christian" but not as Protestant.  Other also includes, for example, self-identified pagans, Buddhists, Shinto, Chinese folk religion, and people who are spiritual but not religious or deist.  Even if all of the 12.1% other identified as Christian (which is almost certainly not true), the percentage of self-identified Christians would be under 50%.

For the most part the politics of people with various religious affiliations are about what you would expect, but Harvard Muslims are among the most liberal religious affiliations on campus.

(These results are based upon a survey of "[c]onducted by The Crimson, the survey was emailed to all incoming freshmen on Aug. 6 and closed on Aug. 27, garnering responses from 1,184 students, roughly 71 percent of the 1,665-person class.").

Needless to say, Harvard's freshman class is not typical of the world at large, mostly because of very disproportionate numbers of non-Christians of all types.

By way of comparison, in 2008, according to the American religious identification survey:
Only 1.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic. But based on stated beliefs, 12 percent are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unsure), while 12 percent more are deistic (believe in a higher power but not a personal God).
About 1.2% of Americans identify religiously as Jews, but more identify ethnically as Jews, 0.6% of Americans identify as Muslims, 1.4% self-identify as Mormon and about 1% identify as belonging to an Eastern Religion, which would include not only Hindu, but Buddhism and Shinto, for example.

Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons are all underrepresented at Harvard relative to the overall U.S. population (which isn't entirely a fair comparison as a significant number of Harvard undergraduates are drawn from abroad).

College aged adults are more secular than older adults, and only about 32% of "Nones" (which includes both atheists and agnostics as well as many unaffiliated people who believe in some higher power or are otherwise spiritual) in 2008 had that religious identification at age 12.  Most "nones" in the United States are first generation "nones."

If the religious revival in the early 19th century that produced modern Evangelical Christianity and flipped the South from being the most secular part of the United States to the most religious was called the "Second Great Awakening" should the 1990s and 2000s which produced the strongest secular trend in history be called the "Great Nap"?

04 September 2015

Alternative Remedies For Contempt of Court By Public Officials

Kim Davis, the county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky has been making headlines because of her defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling mandating that same sex couples be permitted to marry, despite the fact that her job description, as an elected official, includes issuing marriage licenses.

She claims that she is motivated by her religious convictions that same sex marriage is against God's will, despite her own hypocritical life history of four marriages, adultery and more.  Her morbidly overweight, fashion challenged "white trash" appearance and demeanor in the rural hill county of the former "border state" in the Civil War, calls attention to the deep the cultural divide between those who fight for gay rights, and those who oppose it.

As a local government elected official, Kim Davis can't be fired by anyone else in the government. In Kentucky, unlike Colorado and many other Western states, she probably can't even be removed from office with a recall election called by petitioning voters.  And, I'm not aware of many local governments that provide for the impeachment of local government officials.  Moreover, she was elected for a reason.  The people of her county don't like same sex marriage either, and have no particular interest in taking efforts that would force her to comply with the federal constitution, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C. and her local federal district court judge appointed by the President with the approval of the U.S. Senate and her two local Senators.  She is mostly her own boss, although she is probably dependent upon elected county commissioners to fund her state mandated tasks through local property tax collections.

Most of the time, when the law or a court orders a government official, or anyone for that matter, to do something, they comply.  When the order involves money owed, often the cooperation of the person subject to the order isn't necessary.  The court can authorize someone to seize the assets and earnings of the subject of the order with or without that person's cooperation.

But, when the power to do something is vested in a particular person and only that person, either by virtue of holding a public office, or having knowledge or authority that no one else does, refuses to comply with this kind of court order (called an "injunction"), the primary remedy to enforce that violation is to jail or fine that person until they comply.  This power is called the "contempt of court" power, and dates back to the English tradition that judges were merely stand ins for local lords or kings who near absolute power of their subjects who came before them with disputes as they held court asking for a resolution from their local lord who held all executive, legislative and judicial power.

While the threat of going to jail can be effective, and these days it is most often used to encourage recalcitrant ex-spouses and baby daddies who are self-employed or have hidden assets to voluntarily pay over what they owe, it is a crude instrument.  For certain classes of people, like journalists protecting their sources, or ideological politicians who relish the publicity that comes from being a martyr for the cause, or witnesses fearing that they'll be snuffed by gang members if they snitch, threatening to jail or fine someone isn't a very effective way of securing their compliance, and can atmospherically turn someone disobeying a court order into a victim.  Fines also only work if the person to be compelled has money from which it is feasible to collect the fine.

Some public officials are bonded, which is to say that they have to go to a private person or company who promises to pay any fines or judgments incurred in connection with their office.  A bonded official forfeits the position and is automatically removed from office if the bond is exhausted, so fines can be used to remove a bonded official from office unless some private benefactor is willing to pay them.  But, the tradition of bonding public officials is an old one that has been abandoned in many places out of the concern that it would prevent less affluent individuals from running for public office.

Now, Kim Davis has a choice available to her that can immediately free her from jail without having to compromise her principles (which her deputies are busy violating in her absence while in jail anyway, since they are not willing to be martyrs for her cause).  If she resigns from office, she has no obligation to issue same sex marriage licenses, and she will be immediately released from jail and not required to do anything that she feels violated her principles or religious beliefs.

The trouble is, that in the mean time, the contempt of court power puts a public elected official in jail for exercising her religious beliefs, and no matter how effectively voluntary this is (although Kim Davis no doubt needs her public official's paycheck to make ends meet and would be out of a job if she resigned), the contempt of court tool, as currently designed, makes her effectively a prisoner of conscience.

A better solution would be to offer judges more options than jail or a fine to enforce their court orders when someone legally required to do so defies those court orders.

In the case of a public official, like Kim Davis, who defies a court order, it would probably be better if the court were given the authority to suspend her from service in public office (with or without pay) for defying her legal duties and the U.S. Constitution, until such time as she stated that she was willing to comply with her duties and did so upon reinstatement.  This power might even extend to the power to remove someone from office entirely if the suspension remained in force for a sufficient length of time without winning repentance from the offending public official.

In conjunction with this, or in the alternative, the court could vest someone else with the authority to carry out the public acts that the defiant public official did not.  A narrow version of this power already exists authorized in Colorado by Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 70, which allows the court to authorize the clerk of the court to sign a document on behalf of someone who refuses to do so voluntarily in violation of a court order.  Similarly, when a property owner with a mortgage or business subject to secured debt fails to pay as agreed, a court will often appoint a receiver or trustee to manage the property or business in lieu of the true owner of the property.

These solutions would pretty much always work in the case of public officials, because unlike witnesses or private individuals with the sole authority over foreign assets protection trusts or secret passwords or safe combinations, public officials can pretty much always be replaced by someone else who is willing to comply with a court order (as the deputy clerks in the office of Kim Davis were in this case).

One or both of the options for sanctioning contempt of court would reduce the extent to which the ugly and sympathy generating scene of imprisoning someone who is wiling to go to jail rather than complying with a court order, which incarcerates someone for disobedience rather than because the person is a threat to society.  More proportionate and effective sanctions enhance the rule of law and our civic and national virtues.

Jailing someone for their beliefs, even when they can resign to avoid the sanction, raises potential constitutional concerns, and threatens our constitutional values.  But, there is nothing in our constitutional lore to suggest that suspending a public official from office and appointing a replacement until such time as the public official is willing to comply with a court order would raise the same kinds of concerns.  It secures the same result without requiring the cooperation of someone who expressly and often for principled reasons, disagrees with the court's order.

Similar remedies could also be used fruitfully when officers or employees of private companies defy court orders.  Wouldn't it be more appropriate for a court to suspend a corporation's CEO without pay and appoint a receiver for the corporation while he defies a court order to turn over records or direct his corporation to engage in some sort of action, than to jail or fine the CEO as a court might if it is in defiance of a court order under current law?  The former remedy secured compliance with the court order without requiring the cooperation of the disobedient individual.  The latter remedy creates a high profile martyr and allows a powerful, otherwise law abiding individual to defy the government by sheer force of will.

None of this can address the fairly common situation where no one can replace that defiant individual.  But, improved tools to secure government and private entity compliance with court orders more effectively and cheaply and humanely would be a huge step forward, since those governments and entities control a huge share of the nation's power, economic, political and otherwise.

The Economics of Micro-Housing

Between Sports Authority Stadium at Mile High and the booming Highlands neighborhood in Denver, just across I-25 from the Elitch Gardens amusement park, is a building that used to be the somewhat worse for wear Hotel VQ, a cylinder which once had a rotating restaurant on its top floor in "mod" style built in 1969.

A pair of real estate development companies converted the hotel to 179 apartments, mostly spartan 335 square foot studio apartments, together with a few penthouses where the restaurant used to be on the 13th floor.  Units have hot plates instead of gas or electric ranges, because the building's utilities can't handle any more demand.  The amenities are at the low end, but with the range of what modestly prices apartment buildings near downtown offer.  The signature piece of this development is a bicycle repair work space available to all tenants.

Realistically, this is about as small as a studio apartment can get without dropping down into the currently almost non-existent in Denver realm of youth hostels, dormitories, and flophouses aka "single occupancy hotels".

The developers paid $9 million for the Hotel, as is, and put $11-12 million into thrifty renovations, for a total price of about $20,000,000.  This is about $90,000 per unit and about $270 per square foot. It helps that mortgage interest rates for commercial and residential borrowers with good credit and adequate down payments are at record lows.  The rent for one of the studio units about $990 a month - 1.1% of the cost of the unit per month, about 45% of the rent for a two bedroom apartment in the neighborhood - which may include some utilities.  The city also requires 350 square feet of parking space per unit, which is workable for this project because the hotel already had plenty of parking.

Tenants start moving in this week and about half the units are currently leased.  I'm sure that the rest will fill up soon.  Vacancies in apartments in Denver are at record lows, rents are surging, and more affordable units are particularly scarce.

There is a pent up demand for studio apartments in downtown Denver which this project seeks to fill. For whatever reason, the tens of thousands of new apartments that are being built in Denver each year for the next several years, are overwhelmingly one and two bedroom units at the luxury end of the rental market.  Studios and apartments with three bedroom are scarce in general, and even more scarce in new apartment construction.  Existing units that used to be considerable desirable are being forced to renovate or move down the rental housing hierarchy.

Some of the unprecedented surge in apartment building is due to pent up demand from the years after the Financial Crisis when nobody was building and nobody was investing in housing or lending the money to make it happen.  Part of the demand comes from the ranks of people who lost homes or gave them up during the Financial Crisis and are now looking for apartments to live in, instead.  Part of the demand comes from a strong Denver economy (5th fastest growing in the nation in 2014) that is expected to attract about 50,000 new residents to the Denver metropolitan area over the next few years, although it is hard to know if that surge will be muted if low oil prices take some of the steam out of the Mountain West's economy that is managed mostly from Denver. New zoning regulations across the metro area to encourage high density development near light rail lines, and other strategic zoning changes in Denver to encourage new development have also played a part.

Of course, $990 a month for a studio apartment that struggles to house an intimate couple and mostly houses young single people who want to live near downtown is hardly a steal.  Just a couple of years ago, you could get a decent sized one bedroom place for that.

Of course, for genuinely affordable housing, the city really needs more studio apartments with rents in the $450-$600 a month range to be affordable for working class and lower middle class renters who don't need prime locations and glitz, or even single parents with one or two children (often on a part-time basis).

This means that for these studio apartments to be built on a for profit basis, the units need to cost developers something on the order of $45,000-$60,000 to buy or build, which works out to about $135-$180 per square foot.  A number of developers (profit and non-profit) are trying to convert motels build on arterial streets in the metro areas that lost their clients when the interstate highway system was developed, into this kind of housing which is close to possible price point for the old motel units with modest renovations to make them suitable for housing.

Some of that budget needs to go towards land acquisition, which can be reduced by zoning more land for higher densities and reducing parking requirements at locations where transit is good enough to allow a significant share of residents to go carless or rely on car sharing programs (really short term, low paperwork car rentals).  Some of that budget needs to go towards construction - which is expensive when the metro area is in a building boom and is also somewhat a function of distinguishing between what is necessary for health and safety, and what is merely aesthetic or designed to discourage low income housing, in building codes.

Alternately, one can build units with even fewer square feet per unit, amending zoning and building codes to allow it, by creating affordable housing in which, for example. residents share some or all bathroom facilities and/or have minimal or non-existent kitchens, perhaps trading out an affordable cafeteria serving mostly residents instead.  This takes you into the realm of youth hostels, dormitory and barracks style housing, and single occupancy hotels.  It's modest living, but beats being a vagrant sleeping on the streets, living in your car parked anywhere you can overnight, trying to cram several people into a small apartment as roommates in violation of the lease (a popular option with immigrant blue collar workers in Denver), or having to drive or take buses for hours from more affordable areas (or with relatives) for low wage workers.

Another affordable option if zoning codes would allow it, would be to allow single family houses in residential neighborhoods to be used as boarding houses with one or two renters per bedroom, or renovated into multiple unit apartments with similar densities but more separated living spaces. This kind of development is a staple of college towns and some high density, high cost cities, but is prohibited by zoning codes in most places.

Similarly, accessory dwelling units, such as "granny flats" or garages or basements converted to residences are prohibited by zoning codes in most residential areas in Denver, but could provide a huge inventory of affordable housing that doesn't overwhelm residential neighborhoods with high densities of low income tenants (because primary houses would still be occupied by middle class families that own homes).

Ultimately, the big problem has less to do with economics and building costs, and more to do with urban planning initiatives like restrictive zoning and building codes, that rule out a variety of workable solutions to the affordable housing problem without big investments of government funds or mandates imposed on developers of new housing.  But, to open up those possibilities, city leaders need to find a way to defeat NIMBY driven neighborhood activists who don't want more lower income people (or for that matter, more people, in general) in their neighborhoods.  Denver has a better track record on that score than many cities, but is missing out on low hanging fruit solutions like allowing accessory dwellings and multiple households in single family homes.

02 September 2015

There Hasn't Been Net Undocumented Immigration From Mexico For Half A Decade

In 2012, 5.9 million unauthorized immigrants from Mexico lived in the U.S., down about 1 million from 2007. Despite the drop, Mexicans still make up a slight majority (52% in 2012) of unauthorized immigrants. At the same time, unauthorized immigration overall has leveled off in recent years. As a result, net migration from Mexico likely reached zero in 2010, and since then more Mexicans have left the U.S. than have arrived.
From the Pew Research Center via Marginal Revolution.

01 September 2015

Colorado Tough On Bad Drivers

Colorado's new felony DUI statute has pushed it up to being the 6th most strict state in the nation in punishing high risk drivers and charging them more for insurance.

Right Wing Still Unhinged

Earlier this year, U.S. Military Academy at West Point Assistant Professor of Law William C. Bradford published a law review article arguing that law professors who disagree with him about military law are unlawful combatants "subject to coercive interrogation, trial and imprisonment" and that "law school facilities, scholars' home offices, and media outlets where they given interviews --- are also lawful targets" for military strikes, "so long as attacks are proportional, distinguish noncombatants from combatants, employ nonprohibited weapons, and contribute to the defeat of Islamism." William C. Bradford, Trahison des Professeurs: The Critical Law of Armed Conflict Academy as an Islamist Fifth Column, 3 Nat'l Sec. L.J. 278 (2015).

The new editorial board of the law review in question has disavowed the article as a mistake to publish, and the professor in question resigned today.  Bradford was hired August 1, 2015 and taught a class for five days before resigning.

But, the fact that people who are so unhinged can even be hired as law professors and taken seriously enough to get articles published, demonstrates how deeply the right wing legitimatized deep departures from what should be consensus views of law, academia and politics.  This isn't the first time something like this has come up:
The US military’s educational institutions have come under fire before for promoting “total war” against Islam. In 2012, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, ordered a comprehensive scouring of anti-Islam training material after a course proposed “Hiroshima” tactics against Islamic holy sites, targeting the “civilian population wherever necessary”.

The previous year, highly regarded counter-terrorism scholars affiliated with the US army aided the FBI in eradicating similar material from its own training. Those scholars came from West Point.
In addition to the obvious problem with calling your professional colleagues legitimate military targets, Bradford also goes deeply awry in arguing that the U.S. is at war, if not with Islam, with Islamists, which simply isn't good law.

The Guardian summarizes some of the rest of the article:
The lengthy paper, which has been repudiated by its journal editor as a “mistake”, accused a “clique of about 40” law professors of active collaboration with “Islamist” organizations and recommended targeting them as enemy combatants.

Supplementing military action, Bradford recommended that Congress investigate links between the professors and “Islamism” under “a renewed version of the House Un-American Activities Committee”, which was one of the vehicles for the discredited “Red Scare” hunts for Communists in the 1950s.

“Treason prosecutions shore up national unity, deter disloyalty, and reflect the seriousness with which the nation regards betrayal in war,” Bradford wrote.

Bradford went on to argue that “total war” against terrorism ought to include military targeting of “Islamic holy sites”, in order to restore an American deterrent. He acknowledged “great destruction, innumerable enemy casualties and civilian collateral damage” were entailed in his proposal, and suggested that dissent ought to be curbed.

“[D]oubts and disputes about this war [should] be muted lest around them coalesce a new set of self-imposed restraints that prevent Western forces from waging war with sufficient ferocity and resolve so that either Islamism is discredited and the political will of Islamist peoples to prosecute a jihad collapses, or, if necessary, all who countenance or condone Islamism are dead,” Bradford wrote.
Among the people on his shit list:
Robert Chesney of the University of Texas, a founding editor of the influential national-security law blog Lawfare, is one of the legal scholars Bradford references as pernicious – for a 2011 paper that largely defended Obama’s execution without trial of US citizen and al-Qaida preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.
Chesney was treasonously soft on Islam in Bradford's reckoning. Bradford also, of course, utterly disregards the language of the U.S. Constitution defining treason narrowly.  Lawfare itself does have some coverage of the story buried deep in a story summarizing a variety of daily headlines that gives no hint that its own authors are in the news:
William C. Bradford, the West Point professor behind a controversial recent national security law journal article, has resigned. The news comes after the journal behind its publication denounced the piece and on the heels of a Guardian report that showed he had inflated his academic credentials. The Atlantic has an overview of the article, which argued that U.S. legal scholars are assisting radical Islamists and are legally targetable under the laws of war. Among the target list? Academics like Lawfare’s Bobby Chesney and Gabriella Blum, Ryan Goodman of Just Security, and Michael Walzer of Princeton, who---if you did not know---are all wielding their expertise in “the service of Islamists seeking to destroy Western Civilization and re-create the Caliphate.” Who knew?
In truth, the only person engaged in Un-American Activities in this case is Professor Bradford himself, who is also guilty of serious resume fraud:
Bradford had represented himself in academic papers as an “assistant professor” at the Defense Department-run National Defense University. But he was not a professor there, nor even a staff employee, according to NDU representatives. He is said to have worked for a Waynesboro, Virginia-based translations and business consultant, Translang, which had a contract with the university. Before referring further comment to an attorney, Beatrice Boutros, Translang’s president, told the Guardian Bradford was not an employee of NDU.

Bradford has had a checkered academic career. In 2004, he quit a job teaching at the Indiana University School of Law after allegations emerged that he had exaggerated his military service, portraying himself inaccurately as a Gulf War veteran, an infantryman and a recipient of the prestigious Silver Star, an award for gallantry in action. The army provided Bradford’s releasable service history to the Guardian on Monday. Bradford was commissioned into the army as a second lieutenant – the same rank West Point cadets hold upon commissioning – in 1995 and served the majority of his six-year service in military intelligence in the army reserve. He neither deployed nor earned any awards.

In 2005, the Guardian has learned, Bradford took a visiting professorship at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, teaching property law. A former student who wished to remain anonymous said Bradford’s behavior included “doing push-ups in class [and] making students stand and give answers in a military-like manner”. Bradford, the former student said, ended up leaving his class – and ultimately the college – without grading the final exam. A William and Mary spokesperson, Suzanne Seurattan, confirmed Bradford’s visiting professorship lasted a single semester, which she described as not unusual. She would not address whether Bradford had left under a cloud or did not submit his final exam grades ahead of departing the school.
Good riddance Mr. Bradford.