31 October 2017

Legalizing Vice Reduces Crime

Legalizing prostitution materially reduces sexual assault and drug crime rates.

Mueller And The Rule of Law

Former FBI Director Mueller indicted President Trump's former campaign director and one of his main deputies for illegal ties to Russia and has already accepted a guilty plead to the crime of lying to the FBI from another person connected to the Trump campaign.

This is really some of the most encouraging news we've had about American political culture for a while.

Also on the encouraging front, because they demonstrate that the political system is not entirely devoid of checks and balances, were the defeat of unpopular legislation to kill Obamacare in the U.S. Senate, the shelving of a law to legalize silencers following the Las Vegas mass shooting, and judicial invalidation of his Muslim ban, his effort to ban transgender soldiers, and his effort to prevent a young women facing deportation from getting an abortion.

Mueller is a special prosecutor, appointed by the executive branch, who is investigating and charging officials from the campaign of a sitting President, the current head of the executive branch, with crimes.

If the cynics were right that our government was hopelessly corrupt, this couldn't happen, and it is certainly happening over the strong objections of the sitting President who is fit to be tied over it. But, so far, Trump has not shut down the investigation by firing Mueller or pardoning the officials from his campaign who were indicated or pleaded guilty.

Trump has the bare legal authority to do either, but if he did, he would be likely tip enough moderate/establishment Republicans and unaffiliated voters into concern about unchecked authoritarianism to cause him to be impeached, to cause the Republican party to lose control of Congress, or to cause Congressional Republicans to cease to cooperate with Trump far more aggressively and openly than it has thus far. It would cement the arguments of Trump critics that he is an authoritarian with no respect for the rule of law, and as President, Trump needs respect for the rule of law to exercise power. Simply put, if he did so, Russia gate would rapidly blossom into Watergate.

The fact that the rule of law can prevail over partisan and political considerations in this case (and Mueller is no die hard liberal), in order to punish corruption, suggests that we haven't reached a constitutional crisis yet, and that a political culture in the country that was reasonable healthy prior to Trump's election, hasn't withered and died quite yet.

It is also reassuring that truly bad municipal judges have twice resigned in recent months when their disregard for the law manifested by their punishments of people who can't pay fines came out (in Mississippi and Colorado).

A blatantly corrupt contract to re-electrify Puerto Rico is a concern, but the backlash and prompt termination of it that has come from FEMA and the Governor of Puerto Rico, is somewhat reassuring as well.

29 October 2017

Stranger Things As Evolutionary Psychology Realized

Humanity spend hundreds of thousands of years of its evolutionary history fighting and defeating large, creepy, dangerous animals that threatened our very existence with small groups using rocks, spears, clubs, fire and in the last 70,000 years or so, bows and arrows.

We won that never ending war many thousands of years ago. Animals, wild and domestic, kill a tiny, tiny share of all humans today. It isn't quite zero, but out of 7,600,000,000 people on the planet, the number of people killed by animals in on the order of one in ten million worldwide per year and certainly less than one in a million worldwide per year.

The only living things that are dangerous to us in any significant numbers are microbiological threats like viruses and bacteria and single cell organisms, fungi and plant poisons. Even tiny parasites are mostly a concern in only some regions of the world like tropical rain forests. For the most part we should fear germs and toxins, not lions and tigers and bears and wolves and sharks.

In Europe, we were so thorough that even almost all of the seriously poisonous snakes, frogs and spiders are gone.

The only megafauna, or for that matter non-microscopic fauna, that poses a serious threat to us anymore is man.

But, we still have innate fears that served us well for well over 90% of our evolutionary history. We are built to fear snakes and spiders and killer animals lurking in the dark and falling. We are built to battle monsters. If there are none, we are compelled to invent them mythologically so we can fulfill our already achieved destiny vicariously. It is terrifying, but it is also exhilarating and an embrace of our humanity.

Stranger Things and a thousand other manifestations of our culture stokes those ancient atrophied instincts. Until ten thousand years ago, we were all hunters and gatherers, some on land and some in the sea. It took thousands of additional years until most of us were farmers and herders. Even Europe had hunters and gatherers as recently as a thousand years ago or so.

Now, hunters and gatherers in any meaningful sense, number in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands globally. The other 99.99%+ of us rely on farming for food and in the developed world, more than 95% of us don't produce food or other natural resources at all. Well over two-thirds of us don't even directly manufacture or build anything from natural resources, except as a minor, economically irrelevant hobby. Increasingly few of us even hunt as a hobby.

Reconciling hundreds of years of evolution with modern life is one of the most fundamental big picture issues for humanity as we build a new civilization and society. And, it only gets worse going forward. 

Planes and automobiles are starting to drive themselves, leaving us one visceral experience using hand-eye-foot coordination and our spatial sensations in our lives.

As we learn the hidden medical dangers of contact sports, like the epidemic of concussions in football, we will back away from that outlet as well.

Bit by bit we are engineering our society so that violent crime is suppressed, and with it the usefulness of self-defense training. And, the violent crime that remains is often committed with guns, which are instincts aren't terribly well honed to respond to in optimal ways.

Video games remain one of the few outlets for these natural instincts. Is it any wonder that some many people are utterly absorbed by them?

As a species, we are trying to learn how to domestic ourselves, because the world isn't wild anymore. But, these instincts run so deeply into who were are as people, that the task is not a trivial one.

This is particularly challenging in a democracy. Democracy is relatively new under the sun. And, to the extent it works, it leaves us with a government run people masses of people not designed to face modern challenges, not rigorously trained to overcome circumstances where instinct and good policy are at odds. Large cities and massive empires aren't unprecedented in history, but they are themselves recent inventions. We were not built to operate such huge social collectives. We have social instincts built for hunting bands and chiefdoms, not empires and metropolises. Why should we think then, that the public will of the masses is going to provide wise insight into running these institutions?

Long Term Exposure To Pollution Increases Criminality

A new California study of the link between air pollution exposure and delinquency shows a statistically significant link between pollution exposure and delinquency. A related study shows the impacts on air pollution exposure on cognitive development.

21 October 2017

Who Carries Guns? Does It Work?

The NRA is wrong on the fact and the bad policies it has advance kill thousands of Americans every year. People who carry loaded handguns are a clear and present danger to the American public. Nine empirical studies published in the last three years establishes many key facts relevant to the gun control debate.
Roughly 3 million Americans carry loaded handguns with them every day, primarily for protection, according to a new analysis of a national survey of gun owners published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The information comes from the National Firearms Survey, which the authors – a group of public health experts at the University of Washington, Harvard University and the University of Colorado – administered in 2015. The nationally representative survey was conducted online with 4,000 U.S. adults, including more than 1,500 who identified themselves as handgun owners. The survey asked handgun owners how often they carried a loaded handgun on their person when away from home.

The peer-reviewed study concluded that roughly 9 million people carried loaded handguns at least once a month, including 3 million who carried them every day. People who carry handguns at least once a month were disproportionately likely to be conservative men between the ages of 18 and 29 residing in Southern states.

Four out of 5 of them said that personal protection was the primary reason they carried a loaded handgun. Nearly 6 percent reported being threatened by another person with a firearm at least once in the past five years. And 1 out of 5 reported carrying a concealed handgun without a permit, even in states where such a permit is required. . . . .

Many states have broadened their concealed-carry policies in recent years. Before 2003, for instance, Vermont was the only state where a person could legally carry a concealed handgun without a permit. Since then, 11 other states have passed laws eliminating permit requirements for concealed carry. Many other states have passed laws making it easier to obtain concealed-carry permits. The result has been an explosion in the number of concealed-carry permit holders in the United States, from 2.7 million in 1999 to 14.5 million in 2016. That figure doesn’t account for individuals living in states without permitting requirements. . . .

Examining crime data from 1991 to 2015, the study, conducted by a team of researchers from Boston University, Children’s Hospital Boston, and Duke University, found that “shall-issue concealed carry permitting laws were significantly associated with 6.5% higher total homicide rates, 8.6% higher firearm-related homicide rates, and 10.6% higher handgun-specific homicide rates compared with may-issue states.”

The study also offered an explanation for why earlier studies, using data primarily from the 1990s and earlier, showed different results. Demand for handgun permits was relatively modest in earlier decades. But during the concealed-carry boom of the 2000s, demand for handguns soared. Gun manufacturers’ output increased dramatically.
From here.

Some other research:

* Another survey in 2015 also adds information about how many guns are purchased without background checks:
The national survey of firearms ownership reported by Miller and colleagues provides much-needed estimates of the household ownership of guns and the transactions by which private citizens acquire their firearms. For guns acquired in the 2 years before this nationally representative survey in 2015, 22% of the transactions (whether a purchase, a gift, an inheritance, or other) did not include a background check. . . . the proportion of transactions involving a retail dealer has not changed much, if at all, since the earlier survey—Miller and colleagues estimate 64%, compared with the NSPOF [1994] figure of approximately 60% (with some uncertainty due to inconsistent responses and sampling error). A few states have closed the private-sale loophole since then, whereas others have repealed their background check requirement. . . . [C]onsiderable evidence indicates that gang members and other active offenders obtain their guns from private transactions rather than from retail dealers

*Miller, M., Hepburn, L., Azrael, D., "Firearm acquisition without background checks. Results of a national survey." 166 Ann Intern Med  233-239 (2017) (this is down from 40% in 1994, per the NSPOF, which was prior to implementation of the Brady Act).

* Cook P.J., Parker S.T., Pollack, H.A., "Sources of guns to dangerous people: what we learn by asking them.", 79 Prev. Med 28-36 (2015).

* Another study:
In the USA, homicide is a leading cause of death for young males and a major cause of racial disparities in life expectancy for men. There are intense debate and little rigorous research on the effects of firearm sales regulation on homicides. This study estimates the impact of Missouri's 2007 repeal of its permit-to-purchase (PTP) handgun law on states' homicide rates and controls for changes in poverty, unemployment, crime, incarceration, policing levels, and other policies that could potentially affect homicides. Using death certificate data available through 2010, the repeal of Missouri's PTP law was associated with an increase in annual firearm homicides rates of 1.09 per 100,000 (+23%) but was unrelated to changes in non-firearm homicide rates. Using Uniform Crime Reporting data from police through 2012, the law's repeal was associated with increased annual murders rates of 0.93 per 100,000 (+16%). These estimated effects translate to increases of between 55 and 63 homicides per year in Missouri.
Webster, D., et al., "Effects of the repeal of Missouri's handgun purchaser licensing law on homicides." 91 J. Urban Health 293-302 (2014).

* Mental health and access to guns:
Analyses from the National Comorbidity Study Replication provide the first nationally representative estimates of the co-occurrence of impulsive angry behavior and possessing or carrying a gun among adults with and without certain mental disorders and demographic characteristics. The study found that a large number of individuals in the United States self-report patterns of impulsive angry behavior and also possess firearms at home (8.9%) or carry guns outside the home (1.5%). These data document associations of numerous common mental disorders and combinations of angry behavior with gun access. Because only a small proportion of persons with this risky combination have ever been involuntarily hospitalized for a mental health problem, most will not be subject to existing mental health-related legal restrictions on firearms resulting from a history of involuntary commitment. Excluding a large proportion of the general population from gun possession is also not likely to be feasible. Behavioral risk-based approaches to firearms restriction, such as expanding the definition of gun-prohibited persons to include those with violent misdemeanor convictions and multiple DUI convictions, could be a more effective public health policy to prevent gun violence in the population.
Jeffrey W. Swanson, et al., "Guns, Impulsive Angry Behavior, and Mental Disorders: Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R)" 33 (2-3) Behavioral Sciences & The Law 199-212 (June 2015).

* Gun use in self-defense:
To describe the epidemiology of self-defense gun use (SDGU) and the relative effectiveness of SDGU in preventing injury and property loss. 
Data come from the National Crime Victimization Survey for 2007–2011, focusing on personal contact crimes. For property loss, we examined incidents where the intent was to steal property. Multivariate analyses controlled for age, gender of offender and victim, if offender had a gun, urbanicity, and thirteen types of self-protective action. 
Of over 14,000 incidents in which the victim was present, 127 (0.9%) involved a SDGU. SDGU was more common among males, in rural areas, away from home, against male offenders and against offenders with a gun. After any protective action, 4.2% of victims were injured; after SDGU, 4.1% of victims were injured. In property crimes, 55.9% of victims who took protective action lost property, 38.5% of SDGU victims lost property, and 34.9% of victims who used a weapon other than a gun lost property. 
Compared to other protective actions, the National Crime Victimization Surveys provide little evidence that SDGU is uniquely beneficial in reducing the likelihood of injury or property loss.
David Hemenway and Sara J. Solnick, "The epidemiology of self-defense gun use: Evidence from the National Crime Victimization Surveys 2007-2011", 79 Preventive Medicine 22-27 (October 2015).

Suicide and gun ownership:
Importance Suicide is the second leading cause of death among US adolescents, and in-home firearm access is an independent risk factor for suicide. Given recommendations to limit firearm access by those with mental health risk factors for suicide, we hypothesized that adolescents with such risk factors would be less likely to report in-home firearm access. 
Objectives To estimate the prevalence of self-reported in-home firearm access among US adolescents, to quantify the lifetime prevalence of mental illness and suicidality (ie, suicidal ideation, planning, or attempt) among adolescents living with a firearm in the home, and to compare the prevalence of in-home firearm access between adolescents with and without specific mental health risk factors for suicide. 
Design, Setting, and Participants Cross-sectional analysis of data from the National Comorbidity Survey–Adolescent Supplement, a nationally representative survey of 10 123 US adolescents (age range, 13-18 years) who were interviewed between February 2001 and January 2004 (response rate 82.9%). 
Exposures Risk factors for suicide, including a history of any mental health disorder, suicidality, or any combination of the 2. 
Main Outcomes and Measures Self-reported access to a firearm in the home. 
Results One in three respondents (2778 [29.1%]) of the weighted survey sample reported living in a home with a firearm and responded to a question about firearm access; 1089 (40.9%) of those adolescents reported easy access to and the ability to shoot that firearm. Among adolescents with a firearm in home, those with access were significantly more likely to be older (15.6 vs 15.1 years), male (70.1% vs 50.9%), of non-Hispanic white race/ethnicity (86.6% vs 78.3%), and living in high-income households (40.0% vs 31.8%), and in rural areas (28.1% vs 22.6%) (P < .05 for all). Adolescents with firearm access also had a higher lifetime prevalence of alcohol abuse (10.1% vs 3.8%, P < .001) and drug abuse (11.4% vs 6.9%, P < .01) compared with those without firearm access. In multivariable analyses, adolescents with a history of mental illness without a history of suicidality (prevalence ratio [PR], 1.13; 95% CI, 0.98-1.29) and adolescents with a history of suicidality with or without a history of mental illness (PR, 1.20; 95% CI, 0.96-1.51) were as likely to report in-home firearm access as those without such histories. 
Conclusions and Relevance Adolescents with risk factors for suicide were just as likely to report in-home firearm access as those without such risk factors. Given that firearms are the second most common means of suicide among adolescents, further attention to developing and implementing evidence-based strategies to decrease firearm access in this age group is warranted.
Joseph A. Simonetti, MD, MPH, et al., "Psychiatric Comorbidity, Suicidality, and In-Home Firearm Access Among a Nationally Representative Sample of Adolescents" 72(2) JAMA Psychiatry 152-159 (February 2015).

Mass shootings and gun ownership:
Objective: Model the global distribution of public mass shooters around the world. 
Method: Negative binomial regression is used to test the effects of homicide rates, suicide rates, firearm ownership rates, and several control variables on public mass shooters per country from 1966 to 2012. 
Results: The global distribution of public mass shooters appears partially attributable to cross-national differences in firearms availability but not associated with cross-national homicide or suicide rates. 
Conclusion: The United States and other nations with high firearm ownership rates may be particularly susceptible to future public mass shootings, even if they are relatively peaceful or mentally healthy according to other national indicators.
Lankford, Adam, "Public Mass Shooters and Firearms: A Cross-National Study of 171 Countries" 31(2) Violence and Victims; New York 187-199 (2016).

20 October 2017

When Do Higher Tax Rates Lead To Lower Tax Collections?

The Laffer curve peak at which higher tax rates lead to lower tax revenues is quantified for 27 OECD countries here. It ranges from top marginal rates of 60% to 76% by country, with the U.S. at the highest end of that range, and Luxembourg at the low end. Top rates exceed the Laffer curve peak as estimated by this study in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. Sweden is the furthest beyond this peak.

Czechia (46%), Mexico (33%), New Zealand (44%) and Poland (47%) are the only countries with a lower top marginal rate than the U.S. (48%) by this methodology. The top rate in the U.S. is lower relative to its Laffer curve peak than every other OECD country except Slovakia which ties it at 30% and Mexico which is at 28%.

The notion that the U.S. has uncompetitively high tax rates relative to its economic peers is simply not born out by the evidence.

19 October 2017

ASGH 2017 Abstracts

The abstracts of the conference presentations at the American Society of Human Genetics Conference in Orlando, Florida for 2017 which is currently in progress is available here. It sorts by first digit of the paper number so, for example, 2, 20, 201 and 2001 are all adjacent to each other. Plenary and platform talks have numbers up to 372. Higher numbers are poster-presentations.

General observation. Lots of studies looked at whether disease predictive tools like risk scores work across ancestry lines. Generally they do, but often they omit additional ancestry specific genes with similar phenotypic consequences.

14 Sperm have more de novo mutations than other kinds of cells
Various sporadic human diseases, ranging from autism spectrum disorders to congenital heart disease and muscular dystrophies, are caused by de novo mutations. In a classical model, these are assumed to occur at a low rate in the parental germ cells (10-4-10-8). Consequently, de novo mutations identified by genetic testing are often assigned a low risk of recurrence in siblings. This idea is increasingly challenged by the detection of mosaicism in the parents. However, previous studies were largely restricted to the analysis of somatic tissues, whose genetic information is, by definition, not transmitted to the next generation. Here, we directly assessed the presence of inherited “de novo” mutations in paternal sperm and discovered abundant, germline restricted mosaicism. These samples were collected from a panel of fourteen families with a proband presenting with autism spectrum disorder. For all of these a candidate de novomutation had been identified in our ongoing genetic studies of this disorder. Employing digital droplet PCR, the causative variants were detectable in 4 sperm samples, but virtually absent or drastically reduced in the somatic tissue for 3. The latter mutations were present a high allelic fractions (AF), comprising SNVs in NR2F1 (AF=8%) and GRIN2A (AF=15%), as well as a large deletion of CACNG2 (AF=10%). As a consequence, the GRIN2A variant, despite being undetectable in the father by classical genetic testing, was inherited by three siblings presenting with phenotypes consistent with this mutation.
We next used deep whole genome sequencing (90x) of matched sperm and blood samples of four fathers to test for germline mosaicism of all de novo variants present in the offspring. 5-10% of these mutations were detectable in the paternal sperm, half of which were absent or at very low levels (<2%) in the matched blood. These data, together with an unbiased analysis employing mosaic variant detection algorithms, suggest that germline-specific or germline-enriched mosaicism is currently underestimated. This information has important potential implications for clinical practice. Based on our results, genetic analysis of sperm has the potential to quantify individualized recurrence risks for affected families, but could also have predictive value for prospective fathers.
18 Alternative splicing of brain-expressed transcripts distinguishes major adult psychiatric disorders

19 Sexually dimorphic DNA methylation in human brain and relevance to psychiatric disorders

134 Gene x environment links between obesity and depression

204 Migraine risk inheritance patterns in Finland

216 Genome testing is very useful in treating NICU patients

1033 Genetics of child onset psychosis

1038 Gene associated with intellectual disability with severe self-harm

1048 DNA testing determines cause of 30% of intellectual disability cases not otherwise determinable

1287 Estimating contamination in DNA samples without doing comparisons

1314 Estimating genetic condition frequency with a combination of determination of frequency in people with monogenetic cause disease and review of population sample of genomes

1461 Infant development is affected by their microbiomes.

1596 Large, long term study evaluates stroke risk

1611 Search for opiod addiction gene in white women

1612 New markers for schizophrenia severity (about 80% hereditary)

1700 Genes involved in disorders of sex development (e.g. hemaphrodites)

2059 FASD (Fetal Alcoholism Spectrum Disorder) is indistinguishable from ADHD and has genetic origins rather that prenatal alcohol exposure origins; FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) has an environmental cause and is very distinct from FASD and ADHD.

2099 Some ADHD genes found in African-Americans are not found in other populations. A stable 6%-7% of kids are diagnosed with ADHD which is 75% to 90% genetic. (One of the other studies notes an 80% persistence from childhood to adulthood.)

2144 Genetics of ADHD hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention dimensions are quite different

2199 Most lifespan benefits of education are mediated through smoking or not

2468 DNA studies of kids with ADHD are worth it 8%-13% of the time.

2523 Discusses mosaicism and chimerism in humans

2579 Aging as measured by telomeres in preschoolers already differs based on sex and race in New Zealand children

2767 BMI is 48%-60% hereditary

2842 Alcoholism is 50%-65% hereditary

17 October 2017

Military Works On Plan B If GPS Navigation Fails

The U.S. Army is working on "systems that combine cameras with inertial measurement units, or IMU, which are made of sensors such as gyroscopes and accelerometers. By joining this sensor data to a camera’s visual feedback, a soldier would be able to navigate effectively, even without GPS."

The idea is that you start from a known location (your last GPS ping), and then keep track of how far you've moved in each direction, while calibrating drift in your inertial measurements by using cameras to compare landmarks and landforms to what should be there is the IMU is on track.

While this is a military development, there's no obvious reason that similar capabilities couldn't be put in a small unit that would communicate via Bluetooth with your civilian smartphone where the camera element and "brains" of the system could be housed.

Shout Out To IT Folks For No Good Reason

From here.

Have a nice day!

12 October 2017

The Culture That Is Japan

The Japanese are very good at rapidly self-organizing themselves. Elevator etiquette is no exception. As an article at Boing Boing explains, they have a system for determining who on an elevator is the "elevator captain", with simple rules of succession, and the elevator captain is responsible operating the buttons on the elevator for maximum efficiency.

Americans tend to think mostly about individual competencies and fail to recognize the extent to which groups can have collective competencies as well, which the Japanese hone far more than we do. Something that is particularly important about these group competency is that unlike individual competencies which are to a substantial extent inherited, and hence can only be improved so much through instruction, group competencies are almost entirely learned and hence can be improved with proper socialization.

Quote Of The Day

French special forces listen to philosophers yelling at each other.
From Questionable Content.

10 October 2017

The Gifted (Episode 2) And Other Rants

Isn't it amazing that the same TV network that provides us with Fox News can also offer up a show like Marvel Universe project The Gifted which is hardly a conservative TV show in the tradition of Walker Texas Ranger or Naval Criminal Investigation Services or Touched By An Angel?

Episode 2 of the show brought echoes of Orange Is The New Black, and boldly advances stories about oppression, injustice and abuse of the federal government's powers against people who are treated as second class citizens.

Almost nine months into the Trump administration, the political center and the political left in the United States is learning what it looks like to see a decade of gains systemically rolled back by a mad king. Someone his Secretary of States called a "fucking moron" and the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, a ranking member of his own party from Tennessee, a place that strongly backed Trump in the Presidential election, complains that Trump has turned the White House into an "adult daycare center." This is not normal.

But, the center-left is learning the lesson that politics isn't a game anymore. The right has lost its decency. White supremacists and Nazis are coming out into the light. The President has pardoned a Sheriff who defied federal judges and violated civil rights en masse. The knives are out and people are starting to get hurt. It is war now, and lots of people are fighting for their very existence.

The right has overplayed its hand.

Ultimately, the prosperity of the United States doesn't come from rural American and small towns, it comes from university towns, coastal megacities, and the I-25 corridor in Colorado. Blue America is vastly more economically productive, and vastly less dysfunctional, than Red America. Blue America connects us to the global economy. Red America can't find North Korea on a map. Blue America has scientists, economists, lawyers and MBAs. Red America has blue collar men who can't hold down jobs and refuse to adapt to a changing economy. Blue America grapples with reality. Red America can't handle the truth. Blue America knows how to use policy to solve social problems. Red America thinks that gun violence and police brutality are inevitable and pretty much welcomes and praises both.

Blue America got complacent after eight years of benign rule under President Obama followed by polling that inaccurately predicted that Hillary Clinton was sure to win the Presidency. But, Blue America is now acutely aware that the political system in the United States is rigged by gerrymandering, voter suppression and the electoral college, and it is going to have to play dirty and do whatever it takes to regain power and prevent our nation from rushing headlong into decline. I believe it can prevail.

09 October 2017

Indigenous Peoples' Day

It is officially Indigenous Peoples' Day in Denver. (Accompanied by a snow storm and freezing temperatures following a 75 degree and sunny day yesterday.)

Some thoughts:

* Indigenous Peoples' Day was invented as a substitute for Columbus Day.

* Columbus Day, in turn, was an effort of the Knights of Columbus and Italian-Americans, generally, then a comparatively young and disadvantaged immigrant population and minority Roman Catholic religious population, to gain a focus for their "tribes." Since then, white Roman Catholics, generally, and Italian-Americans, in particular, have increasingly come to identify as white Americans rather than identifying strongly with their particular national origin, as they have assimilated over roughly a hundred years since the main wave of Italian immigration to the United States. 

* The indigenous population of the Americas collapsed more than 90% following the arrival of Columbus in 1492 CE, as a proximate result of the arrival of Columbus and his crew. 

* Most of that decline was due to the arrival of Old World diseases that people in the New World did not have resistance to, a result that no one could have anticipated at the time and that Columbus, his crew, and subsequent waves of Old World colonists did not fully understand. In what would become Mexico, the primary cause determined from examining bodies in mass graves dug when the population was collapsing, was a virulent strain of salmonella. In North America, a couple of centuries later, small pox was the main culprit. The germ theory of disease would not be widely accepted for centuries and wouldn't even be proposed for another half a century.

* There was a spread of new diseases from the New World to the Old World, most notably, syphilis, which Columbus's crew brought back to Europe with them. But, it wasn't proportionate.

* This isn't to say that early European visitors to the New World treated the indigenous population well or in good faith. They leveraged the advantage they obtained from massive disease deaths to conquer indigenous populations. The harm caused by forced relocation and loss of land was far worse than the actual battle deaths in the "Indian Wars" as the U.S. military defines them.

* It is hard to argue that what indigenous people in the United States have ended up with ca. 2017, is a raw deal.

* This has left a lot of distrust, with the consequence that Native American populations in the U.S. have largely refused to cooperate with efforts to document their populations and heritage with DNA tests of contemporary populations and with ancient DNA, in a loss to science that can't fully be restored if Native American populations embrace these efforts to discern their heritage later on.

* Some of the most despised efforts, like forcible boarding schools for Native American populations designed to assimilate them into modern U.S. culture, erased cultural ties and destroyed families, while simultaneously producing the greatest levels of conventional socio-economic success for their alumni compared to people who grew up in reservations.

* Historically, the Native American criminal justice system has erred on the side of under enforcement of Indian on Indian crime, rather than by being too harsh.

* Sovereignty hasn't been used in a very economically advantageous manner by Indian Nations with reservations. Casino gambling, tax dodges and acceptance of toxic and nuclear waste dumping sites have been some of the main economic uses to which it has been put. Reservations are often too small, to poor in land quality, and too removed from the traditional territories of their inhabitants, to make continued use of traditional subsistence living viable economically.

06 October 2017

Quote Of The Day Regarding Modern India

[H]ow about there being no state called “India” in the past and that India is really a modern nation state? I think this holds a lot more water than most people (Indians) realize. India is a modern nation-state, and its political culture differs from what came before in very important ways. E.g. there’s no denying the fact that India never had any culture of universal adult franchise before, or never before in India was an exercise in active, top-down social engineering been attempted (cf. caste reservations for the uninitiated), or women given legally equal status as men, or the existence of a single federal state unifying everything from the Andaman & Nicobar Islands to Ladakh etc. These laws and the culture that animates them are thoroughly unIndian in provenance. To a guy from, say, the Gupta Empire modern India would therefore be politically foreign, revolting and fascinating in equal measure.
From Brown Pundits.

05 October 2017

MBAs v. Lawyers Quote Of The Day

Amazon.com Inc. is hiring 1,000 MBAs a year
Tech companies, once averse to hiring PowerPoint-loving B-school grads, have embraced them in the past few years. Ms. Park said business students understand Amazon’s customer-obsessed ethos and tend to be “risk oriented,” scrappy and analytical. 
One might question whether an MBA is likely to be "scrappier" than someone who didn't spend $100,000 on an MBA, or more "analytical" than a computer scientist, but certainly "risk oriented" is a standard descriptor. Going to business school is a fairly safe, conventional, keep-your-options-open career move, and so the stereotype is that MBAs tend to be fairly risk-averse. Not risk-averse like law students -- no one's as risk-averse as law students -- but, compared to a college dropout starting a company in her garage, you'd expect an MBA to be a bit more cautious, a bit less likely to "move fast and break things." And that is a big part of why tech companies were once averse to hiring them: If your goal is to disrupt the status quo, why hire someone who has spent her life trying to fit into it? 
But as "tech" has eaten the world, that mindset has changed, or at least diversified. Amazon is a disruptive force in many ways, but it is also a $464 billion market-cap company that is the dominant retailer of many products. There are plenty of startups in garages that still want to move fast and break things and disrupt the status quo, but Amazon is the status quo, and it doesn't necessarily want to break any of the things that have made it so gigantic and successful. So it brings in the MBAs.
From here.

04 October 2017

Fun With What3Words

My office (not just my office suite, by my personal office) is located at task.people.transmitted on the 20th floor according to the What3Words system for identifying locations in lieu of latitude and longitude, which is really pretty darned cool.

The Gifted

The new Fox TV series, "The Gifted", an X-Men spin-off whose pilot aired on Monday, is remarkably good. It captures the zeitgeist of our era.  (I streamed it the day after. I don't have cable or satellite TV or a working antenna to get broadcast TV.)

The premier was sandwiched between oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court on two cases addressing how the law treats undocumented immigrants, the same day that the U.S. joined countries like Saudi Arabia to vote at the U.N. against condemning the death penalty for LGBT people just for being gay, and as the President tries to secure funds for a border wall with Mexico. 

It deals with how a tiny minority of mutants is bullied, treated inhumanely by authorities, detained and mistreated in detention, singled out, and often forced to live underground. Mutants and their families cross the border with Mexico illegally, to get into Mexico where life is better for them.

One of the issues discussed in the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday was the plight of pregnant women in immigration detention while facing deportation, and one of the mutant detainees in the series is pregnant.

It imagines a public distressed by dramatic incidents of mutants out of control uses of their powers that police are ill suited to respond to, the day after the biggest gun massacre in modern times takes place in Las Vegas.

In an era where the military and to a lesser extent police, are turning to use drones for reconnaissance and armed with weapons, the protagonists experience what it is like to have to flee for their lives from drones.

The ensemble script allows many promising actors who work well together to shine without requiring a single star to carry the entire show.

While it is a spin-off of the X-Men in the X-Men universe, it is decidedly not an "X-Men" themed production. The X-Men themselves disappeared a number of years ago in this reality. These mutants are not using their powers to change the world as comic book superheroes. Instead, they are merely to survive in a world that fears them. Their powers protect family members and friends, rather than putting arch-villains in their place.

One curious feature of the show, driven purely by a chase after state film agency subsidies, is that the show is set in greater Atlanta, but is filmed in Texas.

TANF Block Grants Were A Failure

Look at what happened with welfare, or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which was turned into a fixed block grant to the states during the Clinton administration and has become a Republican exemplar of the efficiency argument ever since. “In 1996, we block-granted money for welfare reform, and it worked like a charm,” Graham said at a news conference this month, making the case for his health-care legislation. “We put governors in charge of the program. We held them accountable.” 
But the welfare rolls shrank mostly because states kicked people off of the program, not because the program got more effective and efficient. An initiative that used to cover 68 of every 100 families in poverty now reaches just 23 of every 100 with cash benefits, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found. Plus, given more flexibility and authority, states started using the money for initiatives other than cash benefits for poor mothers, such as early-childhood education and job training. That led to wide state-by-state differences in program outcomes. California covers 65 out of every 100 families in poverty with cash benefits under TANF, for instance, while Louisiana covers just four. 
From The Atlantic.

It also notes that Social Security and the IRS are both extremely efficient at what they do compared to either the states or other countries.

03 October 2017

The Platte River Basin

Denver is a part of the Platte River basin that in turn feeds into the Mississippi River basin (other parts of Colorado are sources for many of the other major U.S. river basins). The Platte River basin is part of the Louisiana Territory as the French had claimed the entire Mississippi River basin as their own. The territory of Colorado that is west of the Continental Divide and much of Southern Colorado, in contrast, was not part of the Louisiana territory. Much of that territory was part of "Old Mexico".

Here is a nice map of that river basin via a Facebook post by John Orr whose blog is Coyote Gulch.