30 December 2018

There Is Less Of Me, But Can I Sustain This?

There is less of me than there was not so long ago. 

I have lost about 50 pounds in the last nine months in a doctor supervised weight loss program through Kaiser Permanente with the help of some diet drugs and more conventional means (diet and exercise). 

My diet has been basically a pretty strict low carb diet, assisted by drugs that change the way that I metabolize food and make me pay with GI discontent if I eat any meaningful quantity of cereals like bread or oatmeal or rice or popcorn or pasta, and a couple of different appetite suppressants that makes me sometimes forget to eat meals and strip away the desire to have larger portions or seconds.

Ironically, after year after year of having New Year's Resolutions to lose weight (in various permutations) or to exercise more, my only New Year's Resolution in 2018 was to eat more empanadas (a resolution that I totally nailed in the first three months of the year)!

I also reconstructed my weight history from journal entries going back to January 1, 2004 (I have several journals older than that but didn't note my weight in them). I'm not yet all of the way to my all time low in that time period, achieved in another concerted dieting effort quite a few years ago, but I'm within a few months of striking distance from that point and weigh about 12 pounds less than I did on January 1, 2004.

I know what I weighed from I graduated from high school in 1989, about 189 pounds at the six feet, one and a half inches of height that I have remained at, a BMI of 24.6 which is within the "normal range."

But, I gained a lot of weight with unregulated food service dining in college and law school, combined with a less active lifestyle than I had had when I was in high school, so I have been at least "overweight" (193 pounds or more) pretty much continuously since I was 19 years old, and I am sure that I have been somewhere in the "obese" range (231 pounds or more), where I continue to be, pretty much continually, at least since I completed my higher education in 1994, although I would like to go back through my medical records to reconstruct that some time (not that there are all that many of those, because health young men don't go to annual checkups very often).

Still, while I am still in the obese category, losing 50 pounds has done wonders for all of the various body chemistry measurements that they make to assess the health problems caused by being obese, so my health risks have declined considerably. There are several circles of hell when it comes to obesity and I am in a less dire one than I was when I started.

It turns out that when you lose weight, the weight that you lose first is the fat in your internal organs which is most harmful to your health, which means that the weight loss isn't very visible at first (which is discouraging), but means that your body chemistry measurements start to show improvement before your clothes start fitting any differently.

I could say that I have so much energy and vitality, but if I did, I wouldn't be telling the truth. Honestly, I don't "feel" very different at all. Really the only clothing measurement that I've really noticed any difference in is my neck size with my older smaller neck size dress shirts that were starting to get uncomfortable not being so tight anymore. Maybe if I lose any more weight, I will, and this has to, at least, make exercise programs I engage in easier than it would have been on me before I lost 50 pounds.

Going into 2019, the question is whether I'll be able to continue to lose weight at anything approaching the rapid pace that I have so far (with some periods of faster than average weight loss and other periods of plateaus or minor setbacks), and if I will be able to maintain a lighter weight in the long run. The holidays have been a bit of a plateau, but that isn't horrible considering that I usually gain a lot of weight from Thanksgiving to New Year's and then lose some of that holiday weight by late summer. It wouldn't be inconceivable for me to have lost 60 to 65 pounds by the time I've been on this regime for a full year.

But, it isn't easy. For someone like me who considers baking artisan bread to be one of his hobbies and loves all sorts of high carb foods, the diet has been a real drag (I can't even drink beer, which is basically liquid bread, now) and figuring out a sustainable compromise will be a challenge. And, getting into even the kinds of exercise habits that I had before I hurt my back will also be hard.

A back injury a number years ago (cause by a squashed disk in my spine as a result of trying to move a piano I had bought without hiring piano movers in my SUV) seriously impaired my ability to exercise or even move around for a long time, which contributed to my weight gain. At its worst, even with opioid pain killers and a cane (and anyone telling you the NSAID drugs like ibuprofen can come even close to opioid pain killers in terms of relief is crazy), it would take me twenty or thirty minutes to make it from the surface parking lot where I parked my car downtown to my 20th floor office (by elevator) across the street from the parking lot, with one or two sit down breaks to recover included along the way. I needed a handicap tag on my car for about six months and needed to use the electric wheelchair shopping carts while grocery shopping and a cane when walking for at least a year. And, even as I was starting to recover, it was a struggle just to drive to the Washington Park Recreation Center, swim during free swim, and return home by car. 

Now that I have that under control after back surgery, therapy and steroid injections, my back condition is fine, so long as I don't lift anything too heavy (to the ire of my colleagues when we have to carry a lot of things into court for a trial; honestly, even a heavy laptop or a couple of jugs of milk at the same time, is close to my limit) and as long as I don't do anything to jarring (one relapse was triggered by the jerking around that occurred in the very early days of teaching my son to drive stick shift). 

But, as I get more active, I'm also reminded of an ankle injury that I incurred on a law firm rafting trip near Grand Junction, Colorado in about 1997, which I didn't go to have treated at the doctor at the time despite the extreme pain involved and despite the fact that I had decent health insurance. I suspect that I fractured a bone that didn't set quite right, although I've never had it X-rayed. Ever since then, my ankle provides me with weather reports and long hikes or running aggravate it so that I can't continue very much.

These restrictions seriously limit what I could do in a hard core exercise program, but, since even modest low impact exercise would still be a huge improvement at this point, I don't have to worry about that too much yet.

The Decline of Hunting

A Denver Post article reports that hunting is down by about a third from the early 1980s. I quote rather liberally from the story, since it is simply regurgitating a public domain governmental report for the most part, with little analysis or elaboration. The population of Colorado is about 5,607,000, so there is about one hunting license issued to a resident per 13.6 residents of the state, mostly for elk and deer. This is still, however, above the national average of one hunter per 28.3 people. The decline in hunting rates is one of the main drivers in the declining percentage of the U.S. population that owns guns.
The nation had 11.5 million hunters in 2016, down 2.2 million from 2011 and down about 6 million since the early 1980s, reports the National Survey of Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. 
Follow the numbers, based on [Colorado Parks and Wildlife]’s latest data, from the 2016-17 fiscal year: 
— 501,168: Hunting tags sold, not counting 85,071 “combination” licenses for small-game hunters and anglers. 
— 1.1 million: Hunters and anglers in the state counted by CPW. Fishing license sales have increased over the past 25 years, but hunting has declined steadily even as Colorado’s population booms. “Substantial” rises in fishing licenses have offset revenue losses from hunting, the agency says. 
— $70 million: Revenue CPW collects from license sales. That was about $45 million in 1990. But adjusting for inflation, revenue is down from three decades ago, the agency says. License revenue is in the same budget line as state park passes and “other fees,” a category that accounts for 56 percent of CPW funding. Salaries and benefits make up most agency expenses, accounting for 42 percent of its spending. Operating costs make up 25 percent, finance reports show. 
— 22 million: Acres for public hunting in Colorado. These include 11 national forests, encompassing the state’s highest elevations and most diverse wildlife habitats. . . .  
— 228,390: Tags sold for elk, by far the most hunted mammal in Colorado. 
— 88,710: Elk, deer and pronghorn tags sold to non-residents. Out-of-staters also can put their names in the lottery for rarer licenses. 
— 1 percent: Chance to have your name drawn to hunt Colorado’s more famous and elusive animals: bighorn sheep, moose and mountain goats. 
— 11: Tags sold for desert sheep, the least sought among the state’s big game. The next lowest? The 202 licenses sold for mountain goats, followed by 301 for bighorn sheep and 350 for moose. 
— 677: Mountain lions that can be harvested this season, which runs through March. Last fiscal year, 2,374 cat tags were sold over the counter. 
— 7: Percent of success bear hunters had last year. CPW reported 1,264 harvested among the 18,109 who tried. 
— 116,729: Small-game hunting tags sold. That includes for rabbits, bobcats, foxes, coyotes and waterfowl. 
— 0: Tags sold for prairie chicken. The lesser prairie chicken is on the state’s endangered species list, and the greater prairie chicken can only be hunted in northeast Colorado, with a maximum of two per shooter.
From here.

Reflections On Blogging In 2018

This has been the lightest year of blogging at Wash Park Prophet since its inception in 2005, although at 224 posts at a minimum this year, and six posts even in my slowest month, it is hardly a moribund blog.

Some of this reflects the split of my blogging into this blog and Dispatches at Turtle Island, which was established midway into 2011. Between the two blogs there will have been more than 436 posts in the year, with 17 combined posts in my slowest month. Again, very active by the standard of most blogs, but less active than I have been in the past, with the exception of 2014 which was the record low number of posts on both blogs, with a combined 331 posts (still more than six posts a week on the combined blogs).

This is a decline, mostly due to a shift of short and dirty posts from the slowly less popular blog format to Facebook on social media, upon which I often make several posts a day that receive a lot more attention. This space has become more focused on analysis or on posts with less immediacy and more of a long term relevance than the posts I make on Facebook which tend to be more partisan and political, more focused on current events, and more focused on my personal life.

I have also had a fair amount of activity at the Stack Exchange forums and on Physics Forums, and I sometimes post long comments at other people's blogs.

I average about 382 readers a day at this blog and about 383 readers a day at the sister blog, for a total of about 765 readers on an average day on the combined blogs, although this bounces up and down depending upon how often I post and how much interest people take in the posts I make at the time. A significant minority of traffic involves Google searches leading people to old posts. Twenty-two posts made this year at this blog (about one in ten) have had more than 200 readers, some of which had many more. Other posts attract much less interest. Despite the fact that the number of readers are about the same on both blogs, the number of comments is much higher on the sister blog than on this one.

Thirteen and a half years of blogging is a long time. My handwritten journals go back about four years earlier, to 2001. Both were started, in part, because before then I would clip paper newspaper articles and write down ideas on stray pieces of paper (something I did at least since my college days), with really no order, which was messy, hard to refer to, took up lots of space, and tended to suck me into cycles of writing the same idea over and over again because I had no way to refer back to what I had already done.

I have published all but about 22 of the posts that I have written in that time on both blogs combined, with the publish button not pushed in nine of them because they earned the "too much information" tag. I am not a particularly private person, but there are some things that even I don't want to share with the entire world on the Internet. Two are recent posts that are in process. The other eleven posts are posts that I put a lot of substantive research and thought into over the years, but bit off more than I could chew at the time to polish and finish and have never gotten back to completing (compounded by the fact that some are a bit dated now).

I suspect that I will make even fewer posts in 2019, but will probably still maintain an active blog here for the same reason that I started it, I want a place to organize my thoughts and keep track of interesting new information that I come across that I wouldn't have otherwise, and if I share it with the world, then it has more value.

The University Boom In Tanzania

My uncle was instrumental in founding the University of Iringa in Tanzania which was established in 1994 as the first private institution of higher education in Tanzania, sponsored by the Evangelical Lutheran Church. There were seven or eight public universities in Tanzania at the time (in just three cities),  although four of them were colleges rather than universities at the time.

Since then, at least 34 colleges and universities and colleges (public and private) have been established in Tanzania, twenty-eight of which are private, and most, but not all, of which have religious affiliations. 

The oldest university in the country Ardhi University was established in 1956.

The Secret To Flirting

From here (in reference to a scene in which an ex-girlfriend breaks into a guy's house and starts cooking him breakfast while wearing nothing but an apron in an effort to make up after cheating on him).

(Warning: The Breaking and Entering Method referred to, subsequently proved to be a total fail.)

28 December 2018

Academic Ability Not Tightly Correlated With Wealth

The average high school GPA of a representative sample of 700 millionaires in the United States is 2.9. (Eric Barker, Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong).
From here.

Venezuela's Economy A Disaster. Why?

Venezuela's Economy is among the worst in the world, despite having been one of the strongest in Latin America until the early 1980s.

One of its problems was massive over dependence on oil revenues. It also hasn't dealt well with downturns, frequently seizing private property and imposing price controls, while letting hyperinflation get out of control, and ending free market currency exchanges with the outside world. Labor law reforms undermined workplaces. Outside investors upon whom its economy relied heavily were spooked and left en masse. Cut off from the trade that financed half of its GDP, the economy has collapsed resulting in immense misery in a country that was the most affluent in Latin America into the early 1980s.
The economy of Venezuela is largely based on the petroleum sector and manufacturing. In 2014, total trade amounted to 48.1% of the country's GDP. Exports accounted for 16.7% of GDP and petroleum products accounted for about 95% of those exports. Venezuela is the sixth largest member of OPEC by oil production. Since the 1920s, Venezuela has been a rentier state, offering oil as its main export.
From the 1950s to the early 1980s, the Venezuelan economy experienced a steady growth that attracted many immigrants, with the nation enjoying the highest standard of living in Latin America. 
During the collapse of oil prices in the 1980s, the economy contracted the monetary sign, commenced a progressive devaluation and inflation skyrocketed to reach peaks of 84% in 1989 and 99% in 1996, three years prior to Hugo Chávez taking office. The nation, however, has experienced hyperinflation since 2015 far exceeding the oil price collapse of the 1990s. . . . When world oil prices collapsed in the 1980s, the economy contracted and inflation levels (consumer price inflation) rose, remaining between 6 and 12% from 1982 to 1986 The inflation rate peaked in 1989 at 84%, the year the capital city of Caracas suffered from rioting during the Caracazo following the cut of government spending and the opening of markets by President Carlos Andrés Pérez. After Pérez initiated such liberal economic policies and made Venezuelan markets more free, Venezuela's GDP went from a -8.3% decline in 1989 to growing 4.4% in 1990 and 9.2% in 1991, though wages remained low and unemployment was high among Venezuelans.
Since the Bolivarian Revolution half-dismantled its PDVSA oil giant corporation in 2002 by firing most of its 20,000-strong dissident professional human capital and imposed stringent currency controls in 2003 in an attempt to prevent capital flight, there has been a steady decline in oil production and exports and a series of stern currency devaluations, disrupting the economy. Further yet, price controls, expropriation of numerous farmlands and various industries, among other disputable government policies including a near-total freeze on any access to foreign currency at reasonable "official" exchange rates, have resulted in severe shortages in Venezuela and steep price rises of all common goods, including food, water, household products, spare parts, tools and medical supplies; forcing many manufacturers to either cut production or close down, with many ultimately abandoning the country as has been the case with several technological firms and most automobile makers. In 2015, Venezuela had over 100% inflation—the highest in the world and the highest in the country's history at that time. According to independent sources, the rate increased to 4,000% in 2017 with Venezuela spiraling into hyperinflation[ while the population poverty rate was between 76% and 87%.

At first, the economic decline was due to low oil prices, but it was fueled by the turmoil of the 2002 coup attempt and the 2002–2003 business strike. Other factors of the decline were an exodus of capital from the country and a reluctance of foreign investors. . . . The inflation rate as measured by consumer price index was 35.8% in 1998, falling to a low of 12.5% in 2001 and rising to 31.1% in 2003. Historically, the highest yearly inflation was 100% in 1996. In an attempt to support the bolivar, bolster the government's declining level of international reserves and mitigate the adverse impact from the oil industry work stoppage on the financial system, the Ministry of Finance and the central bank suspended foreign exchange trading on 23 January 2003. . . . The housing market in Venezuela shrunk significantly with developers avoiding Venezuela due to the massive number of companies who have had their property expropriated by the government. . . . Venezuela had the weakest property rights in the world . . . with expropriation without compensation being common. . . . 
According to the misery index in 2013, Venezuela ranked as the top spot globally with the highest misery index score. The International Finance Corporation ranked Venezuela one of the lowest countries for doing business with, ranking it 180 of 185 countries for its Doing Business 2013 report with protecting investors and taxes being its worst rankings. In early 2013, the bolívar fuerte was devalued due to growing shortages in Venezuela. The shortages included necessities such as toilet paper, milk and flour. Shortages also affected healthcare in Venezuela, with the University of Caracas Medical Hospital ceasing to perform surgeries due to the lack of supplies in 2014. The Bolivarian government's policies also made it difficult to import drugs and other medical supplies Due to such complications, many Venezuelans died avoidable deaths with medical professionals having to use limited resources using methods that were replaced decades ago. . . . 
The Economist said Venezuela was "[p]robably the world’s worst-managed economy". Citibank believed that "the economy has little prospect of improvement" and that the state of the Venezuelan economy was a "disaster". The Doing Business 2014 report by the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank ranked Venezuela one score lower than the previous year, then 181 out of 185. The Heritage Foundation ranked Venezuela 175th out of 178 countries in economic freedom for 2014, classifying it as a "repressed" economy according to the principles the foundation advocates. According to Foreign Policy, Venezuela was ranked last in the world on its Base Yield Index due to low returns that investors receive when investing in Venezuela. In a 2014 report titled Scariest Places on the Business Frontiers by Zurich Financial Services and reported by Bloomberg, Venezuela was ranked as the riskiest emerging market in the world. Many companies such as Toyota, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Company, Air Canada, Air Europa, American Airlines, Copa Airlines, TAME, TAP Airlines and United Airlines slowed or stopped operation due to the lack of hard currency in the country, with Venezuela owing such foreign companies billions of dollars. . . . 
President Nicolás Maduro reorganized his economic cabinet in 2016 with the group mainly consisting of leftist Venezuelan academics. . . . Maduro's new cabinet was expected to tighten currency and price controls in the country. . . . Analysts believed that the Venezuelan government has been manipulating economic statistics, especially since they did not report adequate data since late 2014. . . . the Central Bank of Venezuela delayed the release of statistics and lied about figures much like the Soviet Union did. . . .
By 2016, media outlets said that Venezuela was suffering an economic collapse[ with the IMF estimating a 500% inflation rate and 10% contraction in the GDP. In December 2016, monthly inflation exceeded 50 percent for the 30th consecutive day, meaning the Venezuelan economy was officially experiencing hyperinflation, making it the 57th country to be added to the Hanke-Krus World Hyperinflation Table. On 25 August 2017, it was reported that new United States sanctions against Venezuela did not ban trading of the country’s existing non-government bonds, with the sanctions instead including restrictions intended to block the government’s ability to fund itself. . . . the price increase for a cup of coffee to have increased by 718% in the 12 weeks before 18 January 2018, an annualized inflation rate of 448,000%. The finance commission of the National Assembly noted in July 2018 that prices were doubling every 28 days with an annualized inflation rate of 25,000%. 
The country was heading for a selective default in 2017. In early 2018, the country was in default, meaning it could not pay its lenders.. . .
In November 2010, workers spent a week protesting outside factories in Valera and Valencia following the expropriation of the American bottle-maker Owens-Illinois. . . . In recent years, a barrage of pro-worker decrees have been passed. The most significant could be the 2012 labor laws known as the LOTTT. These laws included the virtual ban on dismissal, shorter work week, improved holidays and enhanced maternity benefits. The LOTTT offers job security to most workers after the first month. Employers have reported an absenteeism rate of up to 40% which they blame on the leniency of these labor laws. As expected, employers have been less willing to recruit. On 17 November 2014, President Maduro issued a decree to increase the minimum salary for all workers by 15%. The decree became effective on 1 December 2014. As part of the May Day celebrations in honor of workers' day, President Maduro announced on 28 April 2015 that the minimum wage would increase 30%; 20% in May and 10% in July, with the newly announced minimum wage for Venezuelans being only about $30 per month at the widely used black market rate. In September 2017, the National Union of Workers (UNETE) announced that Venezuela had lost 3,345,000 jobs since the election of President Maduro. By December 2017, the number of lost jobs increased by 400,000 to over 3,850,000 lost jobs since the start of Maduro's tenure.
Via Wikipedia.

Against Marxist Economic Thinking On The Political Left

I am a liberal. I might even be a neo-liberal, whatever that is.

I am a liberal, both with regard to social issues and with regard to economic issues. I push for reform of our political economy and culture on a daily basis to address its flaws. I think we need to do more to protect the environment, to make our society less racist, sexist and homophobic, to treat the poor better, to guarantee a certain level of economic well being to all, and to concentrate wealth less than our society does. I think that businesses need to be regulated to discourage them from engaging in conduct harmful to the rest of society.

But, I also do so coming from a place in which I see that our political economy and culture have enough good in them to make them worth reforming, rather than seeking to utterly destroy them.

I am hardly alone in my outlook, but my views are certainly not unanimous on the political left either.

The Problem

The political left in the United States includes a significant number of very active participants who have what is basically a Marxist outlook on the economy, that I do not agree with, although that label has gone out of fashion, and is now more often called "progressivism" or some subset of it. I've noticed a strong trend among my "Facebook friends" towards this outlook, which in part represents a changing political climate, but also may represent in part, the fact that I have recently roughly doubled the number of friends I have on Facebook from about 500 to more than 1000, mostly by becoming friends with people who share a connection to Democratic and liberal political activism with whom I have mutual friends despite not knowing them personally.

Some of the ideas thrown out frequently with which are disagree on that front include the beliefs that:
1. Income and wealth are so concentrated that people outside the 1% (or less) of the population that are extremely affluent that everyone else is living more or less in squalor. For example, statements like this: "I encourage you to take a glance at "Web of Debt" and contemplate whether economies ever work for anyone but the 0.01%."
2. The economy is basically a zero sum game in which the wealth of those who are successful in the economy is primarily derived from harm to, or exploitation of the poor and the working class. 
3. Capitalism is inherently racist, and people who succeed in the economy do so primary as a result of white male privilege, rather than from any meritorious conduct that benefits society. For example, in response to my statement that: "A middle class American is much better off in material condition than people in the lion's share of the world and people for the vast majority of history. My life is better economically than an 18th century king, or the vast majority of people in Asia, Africa and Latin America.", there are responses like "how great that you are benefiting from white privilege in a country currently,. just as in the past, benefiting from the harm done to our poor."  Identity politics should strongly inform how economy behaves in a better world.
4. The main reasons that women earn less than men in the workplace than men, on average, are anachronistic and economically not societal wealth maximizing discrimination against women in the workplace by men, especially white men. 
5. The stagnation of the economic well being of non-college educated Americans since the 1970s is the product of a bipartisan conspiracy of the affluent to keep down the less affluent for the economic betterment of their class. 
6. The decline of unions in the U.S. is primarily due to improper political and legal efforts to bust unions and that the stagnation of the economic well being of non-college educated Americans since the 1970s is mostly the result of declining unionization caused by these policies. 
7. Differences in compensation between more skilled and/or educated people and less skilled and/or educated people is predominantly due to an arbitrary exercise of exploitive power by the affluent. A related notion is that in a good economy everyone would pursue their passions as careers rather than being swayed by illegitimate economic incentives to do otherwise 
8. Differences between individuals, families, social classes, and groups in the economy have little or nothing to do with differences in hereditary IQ or other genetic traits. Nurture and hereditary privilege is the predominant determinate of economic success.  
9. People in STEM careers are unfairly better paid because STEM fields advance the interests of the military and the rich.
10.The supply of jobs is basically fixed and that it makes sense to think about issues like unemployment as being basically about a shortage of jobs. 
11. The affluent deliberately allow and encourage periodic recessions so that they can buy up assets cheap and further exacerbate income inequality. 
12. The affluent have complete control over the political system (at least short of violent revolution), primarily through bribery of politicians with campaign contributions and person economic gain, and they use that control to maintain their unfair privilege in society. For example, the statement that capitalism is a failure because it suffers "from: control by the few for their own benefit."
13. There is no really meaningful difference between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, because neo-liberals in the Democratic party as so beholden to big businesses and the affluent. 
14. Political and legal actors rarely act in good faith to try to do what is right and advances the common good as opposed to advancing the well being of themselves and people like them.
15. Big business makes primarily negative contributions to overall well being. 
16. It is illegitimate for big business to have any political voice or influence, and the voice and influence that big business has comes predominantly from illegitimate bribery of elected officials and other powerful people in society.
17. Insurance companies are a key means by which the rich exploit the less affluent and add no economic value to society. 
18. The financial sector is almost entirely a rent seeking institution that does not create any wealth or economically valuable goods and services. 
19. Small family owned businesses are intrinsically more desirable in the economy than big businesses in almost every situation. 
20. People should directly grow their own food, should strongly favor local food producers (especially small ones), and should produce as much of the energy that they use themselves as possible. 
21. Capitalism should be abandoned because government intervention is necessary to overcome systemic limitations and flaws of a laissez faire approach to government intervention in the economy.
22. The best solution to shortages of affordable housing is to impose direct price controls and rent controls on housing. 
23. People who disagree with this agenda do so because of their evil self-interest as they benefit from the system, or because that have fallen prey to pervasive propaganda that seeks to legitimatize socio-economic equality and patriarchy.
24. The media has a right wing corporatist bias and can't be trusted to tell the true story. 
25. Criticism are Marxist economic ideas and policies based upon existing and historical regimes is meaningless because on one has ever practiced "true" Marxism. This quotation in response to my statement that "Marxism is not a solution to our world's problems" is typical: "Considering Marxism has never been tried how do you know?"
These viewpoints are merely representative to provide some of the flavor of what I am talking about. They certainly aren't comprehensive. But, I have made a good faith effort not to present straw man arguments that are weaker than the arguments that people who hold views about the political economy along these lines would not make themselves.

A comic response to #23.

A meme response to #11, #12, #13, #14, #23 and #25.

Some representative memes with my criticisms of them.

Not the most accurate history. Capitalism, as exemplified by the industrial revolution, first emerged in England proper where there were not any meaningful number of black slaves, although black slavery was a product of capitalism. And, MLK Jr. and Marxist economics notwithstanding, capitalism is largely indifferent to the poor whom it ignores and wishes didn't exist; it doesn't prosper primarily by exploiting the poor. Those who are most poor are not those at the bottom of the capitalist pyramid, but those who exist outside the capitalist system almost entirely.

I don't believe this one either, even though it has superficial appeal. It is not a "fake idea". Actually, a lot of labor economics is well explained by the fact that more skilled workers can usually substitute to do less skilled work if they must, while the reverse is not possible. And, while skill differences do impact compensation differences in relative terms, that doesn't explain why your wages are "depressed", which is due to completely difference causes. Japan, for example, also distinguishes between workers based upon skill in the labor market and has a large developed economy but has far less income inequality than the U.S. (without a large public sector welfare state).

More misleading framing. People actually frequently defend the status quo because arguments for change are bad ideas for one reason or another. The notion that legislative change is merely a self-serving power grab grossly misstates the motives of the people involved.

21 December 2018

Child Sexual Abuse Became More Rare Just As Porn Became More Available

Child Sexual Abuse Has Fallen Greatly Since The Early 1990s
As of 2016, the rate of substantiated child maltreatment has shown little change over the past several years. It is, however, considerably lower than in 1990, having fallen from 13 incidents per 1,000 children to 9 per 1,000. Rates of physical, sexual, and psychological or emotional abuse have declined the most since 2000, while rates of neglect have declined the least.
From 1990 to 1994, the number of cases of child abuse or neglect that were either substantiated or indicated rose from 861,000 to 1,032,000, reaching a rate of 15 incidents per 1,000 children under age 18 in 1994. From 1994 to 1999, the trend reversed, with the number of cases dropping to 829,000, a rate of 12 per 1,000, in 1999. . . . In 2016, there were approximately 672,000 maltreated children in the United States, a rate of 9.1 per 1,000. . . .
Reported rates of neglect are higher than those for other types of child maltreatment. In 2016, 7 children per 1,000 were reported victims of neglect, compared with 1.7 for physical abuse, 0.8 for sexual abuse, and 0.5 for psychological or emotional abuse (Appendix 2). 
Among all maltreated children, the proportion with reported neglect increased from 49 percent in 1990 to 75 percent in 2016; those with reported sexual abuse declined from 17 to 9 percent, and those with reported physical abuse declined from 27 to 18 percent. Less frequent types of maltreatment, including those classed as “unknown,” accounted for the balance (Appendix 1). 
Rates of physical and sexual abuse have declined over the past two decades, while rates of neglect have fluctuated. From 1990 to 2016, rates of substantiated physical abuse declined by 40 percent and sexual abuse rates declined by 62 percent; in contrast, rates of substantiated neglect fell by just 8 percent over this period.2
From here.

Other surveys show that the median age of first sexual intercourse is rising for both men and women, and that high school and younger students are having sex less often that they did in the previous few decades. Some trends from 1954 to 2003 are reported in this report. A nice chart illustrating the long term trend can be found here.

According to this source, as of 2017: Teen birth rates, and overall abortion rates, were at record lows as of 2017. "Adolescent pregnancies are also decreasing precipitously, down 55 percent between 1990 and 2011. Early data suggest those numbers will continue to fall: Birthrates for women between the ages of 15 and 19 declined an additional 35 percent between 2011 and 2016, hitting the lowest levels since CDC began collecting data."

Based upon sources cited in a 2016 post at this blog: "There were about 1,030 children born to mothers aged 15 to 17 in New Jersey in 2014 (a rate of 5.8 per 1,000 girls aged 15-17 . . . down 78% from a peak in 1991), and about 37 children born to mothers under age 15 in New Jersey in 2014." If 2014 was equal to the average number of marriages by minor girls from 1995 to 2012 in New Jersey, 193 girls under age 18 in New Jersey were married in that year, including 9 girls between the ages of 13 and 15. Marriages in New Jersey for 16 and 17 year olds can be authorized with parental consent and 91% of them are of girls under eighteen to men over the age of eighteen. Roughly 19% of teen mothers in New Jersey marry before turning age 18. This is almost certainly a number that has declined over time, so it probably overstates the marriage rate for girls under age 18 in New Jersey.

According to this 2012 report: "In 2012, adolescents aged <15 and 15–19 years accounted for 0.4% and 12.2% of all abortions, respectively, and had abortion rates of 0.8 and 9.2 abortions per 1,000 adolescents aged <15 and 15–19 years, respectively. From 2003 to 2012, the percentage of abortions accounted for by adolescents aged 15–19 years decreased 27% and their abortion rate decreased 40%. These decreases were greater than the decreases for women in any older age group." Note that abortions performed for girls under the age of 15 are so rare that statistical significant becomes an issue in trend measurements except for very large sample sizes, since only one abortion in 250 involves a girl under the age of 15.

Another 2012 post at this blog has similar statistics.

2010 post at this blog noted that:  "According to the CDC report: "The [birth] rate for the youngest teenagers, 10-14 years, fell from 0.6 to 0.5 per 1,000, the lowest level ever reported. . . . The birth rate for teenagers 15-17 years declined 7 percent to 20.1 per 1,000. This rate dropped 9 percent from 2007 (22.1) to 2009, and was 48 percent lower than the rate reported in 1991 (38.6 per 1,000)." Teen births are down 59% from their 1957 modern peak, about 33% from their most recent peak in the late 1980s (when I was 15-19 years old), and significantly below the depressed levels of World War II which rebounded from a long period of muted fertility with the baby boom. With the exception of a surge in teen birth rates in the late 1980s and some small, short term statistical blips, teen birth rates have declined steadily from the 1957 peak of the baby boom to the present."

Overall rapes declined 24% from 2001 to 2010, and declined further in both the late 1990s and the early part of the current decade.

Access To Free Pornography Online Has Increased Greatly Since The Early 1990s

Internet access was first available for people other than scientists and military users in the early 1990s. By the year 2000, about 50% of Americans had Internet access, and it rose to about 84% by 2015. The rise of free pornography available over the Internet lagged only slightly behind the rise in Internet access generally.

The line for Internet use in developed countries, globally, on the chart below from Wikipedia, closely parallels the trends in the United States:

Online Pornography Is Not Causing Increased Rates Of Child Sexual Assault

As shown above, the rise in rates of Internet access, which also brought the rise of access to free pornography videos, also coincides with large declines in the rate of sexual assaults overall, and record low teen pregnancy rates, teen birth rates, and teen abortion rates, including all time record lows for pregnancies in girls under age 15.

This data suggests that the concern that increased access to pornography over the Internet has fueled increased rates of child sexual assault, appears to be unfounded, although it is not impossible that, for example, child to child sexual assaults (which have always been, and continue to be, a minority of sexual assaults on children) have risen for this reason. 

Notably, this source, while calling the numbers alarming, does not make any statements regarding whether this is become more or less common, or what proportion of child sexual assault cases this involves. It also provides no data demonstrating what share of these cases involve pornography viewing by perpetrators.

For example, according to this 2015 source, "96% of people who sexually abuse children are male, and 76.8% of people who sexually abuse children are adults." This implies that 23.2% of perpetrators are under the age of eighteen (predominantly boys). The same source states that 91% of sexual assault victims are female. And, a minority of victims are children. The same source states that "12.3% of women were age 10 or younger at the time of their first rape/victimization, and 30% of women were between the ages of 11 and 17. 27.8% of men were age 10 or younger at the time of their first rape/victimization." Of course, one would not be at all surprised to find that the victims of child perpetrators of sexual assault are themselves young. This statistic doesn't distinguish between adolescent and pre-pubescent boys who commit sexual assaults, although I suspect that older offenders are more common than younger offenders. According to this source: "82% of all victims under 18 are female."

A different data set finds with regard to victims of child sexual abuse that:
Out of the yearly 63,000 sexual abuse cases substantiated, or found strong evidence, by Child Protective Services (CPS), the perpetrator was most often the parent: 
80% of perpetrators were a parent
6% were other relatives
5% were "other" (from siblings to strangers)
4% were unmarried partners of a parent
This would suggest that significantly less than 16% of child sexual assaults are committed by other children (presumably the relationship to the perpetrator was unknown or not available in 5% of cases in the sample), although child to child sexual assaults are probably disproportionately unlikely to be reported to Child Protective Services.

Wikipedia examines the issue of child on child sexual abuse in this entry. It notes that:
The incidence of child-on-child sexual abuse is not known with any certainty, similar to abuse by adults. It frequently goes unreported because it is not widely known of in the public, and often occurs outside of adults' direct supervision. Even if known by adults, it is sometimes dismissed as harmless by those who do not understand the implications. In particular, intersibling abuse is under-reported relative to the reporting rates for parent-child sexual abuse, and disclosure of the incest by the victim during childhood is rare. 
This implies that the long term trend in the rate at which this happens is unknown and may be heavily influenced by changes in reporting rate as opposed to changes in incidence rates.

It seems more likely that this is a case of "moral panic" at a time when the problem is actually becoming much less prevalent.

I am not claiming that greater pornography availability caused reduced rates of child sexual assault. In all likelihood, other causes were much more important.

For example, almost all other kinds of crime also became much less common in this time period.

But, I am claiming, that the claim that greater pornography availability increased rates of child sexual assault is strongly disfavored by the available data. If child sexual assault rates are down dramatically to near record lows, in a time period when pornography access has seen the biggest increase in the history of the world, it is unlikely that pornography access is causing increased rates of child sexual assaults.

18 December 2018

Links Between Mental Health And Physical Health

Eczema patients at 36% higher risk of suicide attempts.

* Infections in kids tied to subsequent mental illness risk.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry on Wednesday, found that infections requiring hospitalizations were associated with an about 84% increased risk of being diagnosed with any mental disorder and an about 42% increased risk of using psychotropic drugs to treat a mental disorder. Less severe infections treated with anti-infective medications, like antibiotics, were associated with increased risks of 40% and 22%, respectively, the study found. . . .
The researchers found associations between any treated infection and the increased risk of later being prescribed medication for various childhood and adolescent mental disorders, with the risks differing for specific disorders. 
Risks were increased for schizophrenia spectrum disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality and behavior disorders, mental retardation, autism spectrum disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder/conduct disorder and tic disorders[.]
The last sentence of the first paragraph of the quotation from the news story above doesn't really make sense. The reason for the correlation is not known. The study does not support the claim that not treating an infection will prevent mental illness.

The data involve 1 million people in Denmark born from 1995 to 2012, which centralized health records make this kind of big data research possible and reliable. It is basically measuring childhood mental health conditions rather than adult conditions.

Beyond Monetary Compensation To Claimants, The Case For New Remedies

New Remedies That Prevent Future Harm, And Remedy Past Harm To Similarly Situated Persons, As Well As Compensating Past Harm To Claimants

There are some powers which courts either don't have, or rarely exercise, but should have, especially in public law cases (i.e. lawsuits involving governmental entities).

* The power to terminate the employment of someone, especially public employees and elected officials, who is found to have engaged in misconduct in an official capacity or related to that person's employment in a civil or criminal case. 

For example, if a police officer is found to have violated someone's civil rights, a court should have the power to order that the police officer who did so be terminated from his employment as a police officer.

* To revoke the occupational or business license of a party that is found in a lawsuit or criminal case, to have engaged in conduct that case that shows that the party is not fit to continue to engage in that occupation or business, or to prohibit a person in this situation from engaging in a type of occupation or business in the future when that occupation or business is not subject to a licensing requirement.

For example, someone who embezzled construction trust funds might have their general contractor's license revoked.

* The power to order a defendant who has been found to be engaging in conduct that violates a law or contractual obligation to act in a manner that conforms to that law or contractual obligation in all cases on a systemic basis, both going forward, and by proactively remedying the harm that people who aren't a party to the lawsuit have suffered in the past from the systemic practice.

For example, if a government agency or business is found to have compounded interest daily on a loan where interest is only legally allowed to be compounded annually, the party who committed the wrong should be required to calculate interest for everyone correctly going forward and to recalculated the interest owed in past transactions and make an adjusting payment going as far back as the statute of limitations extends. The offender should not simply be allowed to repay the plaintiff, while continuing to proceed illegally as to everyone else.

While, in theory, some of the remedies I discuss here could be ordered as injunctive relief, they very rarely are despite the fact that they make lots of sense.

While these remedies are particularly compelling in public law cases against governments, they also make sense in many lawsuits against non-governmental organizations and businesses, especially big businesses.

Background: Traditional Remedies

In a lawsuit, the principal remedy is the money judgment in favor of someone bringing a claim against one or more persons against whom a claim was brought. Money judgments can then be enforced by placing liens on real property, executing upon and attaching personal property (with a lien in place while the execution and attachment process proceeds), and by garnishment of amounts owed to the judgment debtor (e.g. wages) and financial assets of the debtor controlled by a third party (e.g. a bank account) including a special kind of garnishment involving limited liability entities called a "charging order."

There are a few other common remedies in lawsuits. One is an order to turn over possession of real property to someone (a writ of restitution) or to turn over possession of tangible personal property (the end result of a replevin action). Another is an order directing that the clerk of the court sign a document on behalf of a party who is obligated to do so but refuses to do so. 

Another remedy is an order declaring the legal rights of one or more parties to a lawsuit, such as determining who owns real property, who will become the owner of property following a divorce, what a contract provision means, or what the amount of rent owed between parties is when it is set by a formula or process whose amount isn't transparently obvious.

All of these rights are available more or less presumptively whenever a person bringing a claim can show an entitlement to relief. While courts are often called "dispute resolution" forms, more accurately, they are forums in which one enforces legal rights, whether or not there is a dispute. Indeed, the lion's share of judgments entered in the courts are money judgments issued by default or in uncontested cases.

A final kind of remedy available in a lawsuit is injunctive relief. But, unlike other kinds of remedies, injunctive relief is not presumptively available when someone breaks the law in a way that hurts someone else. Instead, one must not only show a legal harm to the person seeking relief caused by the person against whom relief is sought. One must also pass a screening test to determine if another more conventional remedy (a remedy at law) is available, to determine if irreparable harm will result from failing to issue an injunction, and that the injunction serves the public interest, in addition to determining, as one would in a request for any other remedy, that a legal right violated by the person seeking the relief has been violated or is imminently at risk of being violated by the person against whom an injunction is sought.

The courts also have special provisions for seeking preliminary relief before there is time to fully adjudicate a case on the merits. In a case where traditional remedies are sought this is called a request for a "pre-judgment writ of attachment" and in a case where injunctive relief is sought, this is called a "temporary retraining order" or "preliminary injunction." In those cases, one must also show a likelihood of success on the merits and an imminent need for action prior to a trial, and one must usually post a bond to cover harm caused in the event that the person requesting it does not prevail on the merits. (There is also a special preliminary remedy called a lis pendens in cases involving real estate that puts the world on notice that the property is the subject of a lawsuit and that anyone who obtains an interest in the property takes subject to the outcome of the lawsuit.)

High Rent Relative To Income Plus Rent Increases Equal Homelessness

Homelessness in the United States is heavily concentrated in metropolitan areas where rents are more than 30% of income and rents have increased.
The researchers grouped the 386 markets they studied into six “clusters” based on homelessness risk. 
One cluster — which is composed of 54 regions, including big coastal cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as Las Vegas, St. Louis, Missouri, and Anchorage, Alaska — is home to 47 percent of the US’s entire homeless population, despite only housing 15 percent of all Americans. The cities in this cluster have higher rates of homelessness than other parts of the country, as well as higher average rents; nearly half of all renters in these cities are rent-burdened, based on the report’s findings. 
Conversely, another cluster that includes central Minnesota, Provo, Utah, and the entire state of Rhode Island has the lowest rate of homelessness, the lowest poverty rate, and lower-than-average rents. More than one-third of all Americans live in this cluster, according to the report, but it’s home to just 14 percent of the US’s total homeless population.
From here, based heavily on this Pew Report.

In Denver there have been particularly high levels of homeless families with children, which fits this narrative. 

Limiting Access To Drugs Makes Substance Abuse Worse

Lots of substance abuse starts out as self-medication for conditions like depression or chronic pain for which prescribed drugs are not available, and people who have access to better alternatives tend to switch unless they have become addicted in the meantime. The article doesn't point this out, but this has happened with marijuana legalization as this less addictive and harmful drug is substituted for alcohol and opioids as well.
We develop a theory of rational self-medication. The idea is that forward-looking individuals, lacking access to better treatment options, attempt to manage the symptoms of mental and physical pain outside of formal medical care. They use substances that relieve symptoms in the short run but that may be harmful in the long run. For example, heavy drinking could alleviate current symptoms of depression but could also exacerbate future depression or lead to alcoholism. Rational self-medication suggests that, when presented with a safer, more effective treatment, individuals will substitute towards it. To investigate, we use forty years of longitudinal data from the Framingham Heart Study and leverage the exogenous introduction of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). We demonstrate an economically meaningful reduction in heavy alcohol consumption for men when SSRIs became available. Additionally, we show that addiction to alcohol inhibits substitution. Our results suggest a role for rational self-medication in understanding the origin of substance abuse. Furthermore, our work suggests that punitive policies targeting substance abuse may backfire, leading to substitution towards even more harmful substances to self-medicate. In contrast, policies promoting medical innovation that provide safer treatment options could obviate the need to self-medicate with dangerous or addictive substances.
From Michael E. Darden, Nicholas W. Papageorge, "Rational Self-Medication" NBER Working Paper No. 25371 (December 2018).

16 December 2018

Community Advisors To Fill Gaps With A Human Touch

Analogous Positions

I think that there is a gap in the structure of our government, which historically may have been filled through institutions of civil society and extended family which no longer function the way that they once did. This would provide a human touch to fill a gap between rather formal and bureaucratic governmental and business organizations and individual residents of a community.

This would be filled by a corps of people employed by either local government or non-governmental organizations, whom I have tentatively called "Community Advisors", although I think a better name could be invented for the position. This title echoes the position of a "Community Advisor" in the residence halls of many colleges, such as Colby College, where my daughter is a student, have a part-time paid position in their dorms called. People in these positions are there primarily as a source of support and resources to students, the Japanese might associate their role with the informal one of a senpai, rather than primarily as an enforcer of rules in the mold of the dorm position common in my day of a "Resident Assistant", or, in the English boarding school tradition, a "Prefect."

I image a similar kind of position in the larger general community. 

If we think of a 911 call as the counterpart to emergency room care, a call to a community advisor is a counterpart to urgent care

In common with emergency medical technicians and firefighters, Community Advisors, aren't law enforcement officials who punish, who can often raise tensions rather than defuse them and rather than solving problems before they get out of hand. They wouldn't be security and wouldn't be armed with deadly weapons. They wouldn't nap shoplifters. They wouldn't investigate crimes. They wouldn't issue tickets. They might, however, step in like any other publicly minded citizen might to avert an emergency or stop a violent crime or fight in progress, if they had a way to do so without using deadly weapons.

I imagine them following somewhat in the tradition of the more positive memories of "ward heelers" of 19th century political machines, serving as an interface between a complicated world and people who may need a little help now and then for which they will happily trade their political loyalty. 

They would be more community leaders, a like a neighborhood pastor or priest or community organizer, as a full time person doing what can be done with their available resources, and less like a psychologist or doctor operating on a transactional isolated service basis. More of a do gooder neighbor, less of a paper pusher bureaucrat. More like a meddling grandparent or uncle, less like a parole or probation officer. They would try to solve small community problems. They would be similar to social workers, but less bureaucratic, less threatening, and with an overlapping but different kind of training that would not take a four year college or master's degree.

They would be more like stereotypical Boy Scouts doing a good deed daily. They would be trained do gooders.  hey might fill roles sometimes filled by mendicant priests or Buddhist monks.  They might do the sort of things small town cops and firefighters of the "good old days" like Andy Griffith would have helped people handle, or a neighborhood police box officer in Japan. They might do the work of the lowest level full time neighborhood government official in Communist China who acts as sort of a primary care physician to dealing with all of a person's government needs in a complex bureaucracy. There would be some similarities to a hotel concierge.

Some of what they do might be things that in earlier days were done by church committees or by social organizations like the Kiwanis Club, or the Elks, or the Optimists or the Rotary Club, which are moribund or non-existent in many communities due to changes in our society documented by Robert Putnam in his famous book "Bowling Alone."

This would not be a partisan political position, although it might entail some non-partisan advocacy for a neighborhood or community or individual.

How They Would Do Their Job, And What Training Would They Have?

Their tools would be instruments of non-coercive power: money, knowing how the system works, connections, experience, street smarts, common sense, credibility and persuasiveness. They would follow through with people who they knew before an incident and would stay in touch with after something happened, rather than simply responding to an incident in a vacuum. 

They would be largely autonomous and independent in serving their territory, rather than being part of a large hierarchical bureaucracy. There would have to be some level of supervision and training, but overall, it would be a very "flat" institution in terms of an organizational chart, with staffing overwhelmingly at the grass roots level, rather than the management level. Even supporting organizations providing resources and training would not be organized vey hierarchically, and instead would be more or less independent institutions similar to independent schools and colleges, that community advisors could turn to as needed or desired and that prospective community advisors could seek out.

This would be a "middle skilled position". Not someone as highly trained as a medical doctor or lawyer or minister or engineer or professor, or even a registered nurse or high school teacher or police officer. 

But, this would be someone who has more training than a mere high school graduate with no further training.  In multi-lingual neighborhoods they would often be bilingual. The position might be comparable in terms of educational requirements, compensation and responsibility to a licensed practical nurse or emergency medical technician or Army medic, to a paralegal, to parking enforcement officer, to school nurse, to an assistant librarian (as opposed to someone with a master's of library science), to a manager at a retail store, or to a private security guard.

They would get around with transportation more humble that a police squad car, and would be more engaged with people in the neighborhood. A mini-van might be more their style.

They would have a small discretionary budget to assist them in carrying out their duties.

They wouldn't be medical professionals by any means, but would have basic first aid training, would have CPR and AED and Narcan and Epipen training. They would be taught about Plan B emergency contraception and the health circumstances that home remedies and over the counter drugs can be used to address. They would be taught how to help people figure out if they need to call a doctor and make an appointment, get on the phone with a nurse, go to an urgent care center, head to an ER, or call 911.

They would be trained on how to interact appropriately with people who have disabilities or mental health conditions. They would probably have some sort of code of ethics and aspirational statement describing their role and the attitude with which it should be carried out.

I'm not exactly sure how they would be organized, but they would be mostly compensated through a salary, and might be affiliated with a local government or neighborhood association.

I would imagine that there might be one such person per several hundred to several thousands residents, so this new position might create several hundred thousand medium skilled jobs that would fulfill a valuable role in making our society and its institutions work more smoothly, and preventing problems and people from falling through the cracks of our society.

They might have volunteer deputies or assistants to aid them in carrying out particular functions, and might sometimes have trainees who would learn the job under the supervision of a mentor before taking on this kind of position themselves without close direct supervision. 

What Would They Do?

Since this is a somewhat unfamiliar and hard to define concept, the best way to explain it is with examples of what a Community Assistant would do, and to illustrate the mindset involved. 

The range of situations they might deal with would be broad. Community advisors might:

* Organize block parties, would try to get to know the people in their neighborhood, and would try to help neighbors get to know each other, for example, introducing themselves to newcomers in a neighborhood and then introducing them to other people in the neighborhood. 

* Help communities with disaster preparation (e.g. both on a routine basis, and in the case of an incoming a disaster such as a hurricane or flood or blizzard or heat wave or wildfire that may provide some warning before it hits). 

* Help lead community responses to disasters and the long recovery afterwards. 

* Summon assistance ranging from making a 911 call, to calling a utility company during an outage or gas leak, or calling a non-emergency police telephone number, when necessary, with a focus on finding the least disruptive assistance or intervention that will address an incident or crisis.
* Help people get cats out of trees.

* Help someone figure out how to deal with a dead pet in an urban neighborhood.

* Provide roadside assistance to drivers and bicyclists.

* Figure out how to deal with out of hand bushes or tree branches blocking sidewalks.

* Help a latchkey kid clean up and put a bandaid on a scratched up knee.

* Transport or find transportation for someone in stable condition to an urgent care facility.

* Call cabs or Ubers or Lyfts for drunks and convince them not to drive. 

* Report potholes and burnt out streetlights and other broken infrastructure. 

* Explain to someone unfamiliar with it how to use the public transit system.

* Give people who are lost directions.

* Help disoriented elderly people find their way home.

* Help facilitate exchanges of children between separated or unmarried parents with court ordered custody arrangements.

* Help facilitate "civil assists" when, for example, a former live in girlfriend needs to retrieve her things from her boyfriend's apartment after a breakup. 

* Help someone who has a sick kid, but can't afford or find a babysitter who can't afford to miss work.

* Provide or locate assistance for someone who broke their leg and can't shovel their walk who doesn't need and can't afford a long term landscaping service. 

* Provide suggestions to someone looking for a job about places to start their search or people to ask. They might know people who need handyman work or odd jobs to raise a little money, even neighborhood kids looking for babysitting or lawn mowing jobs (sometimes connecting these sources of workers with people who need help, sometimes paying them and sometimes having the person who needs the help pay them).

* Help smooth out interactions between neighborhood "crazy people" who aren't dangerous and the neighborhood, for the benefit of both the "crazy person" and other people in the neighborhood.

* Interact with begging vagrants to see if there are resources available to them that they aren't aware of, or acute problems they are suffering from that no one has noticed. 

* Provide constructive suggestions to truants or kids out after curfew to keep them out of trouble.

* Help a youth who might be a runaway or homeless find a place to stay.  

* Intervene to assist a parent in public who is frustrated with a difficult kid and about to snap.  

* Try to help facilitate construction discussions between neighbors over issues like fences or trees or driveway access or barking dogs or regular mail misdeliveries.

* Help people in the neighborhood figure out how to go about contacting the right people to have a problematic intersection's traffic issues addressed.

* Help someone in the neighborhood deal with being lonely or deeply sad or mourning that doesn't necessarily amount to clinical depression, in non-pharmaceutical ways, before their situation can spiral into a genuine mental health crisis.

* Provide suggestions for dealing with consumer disputes.

* Help people decide when they need a lawyer.

* Assist someone figure out which government agency or office they need to go to when they need a driver's license or have an expired car registration or need a large item trash pickup or are having difficulty getting things worked out in the dealings in their personal lives with a government agency.

* Help someone who is poor or unemployed figure out what government programs they are eligible for and how to go about applying for them.

* Identify systemic issues that need to have some sort of institutional response or solution, and take action to bring about that solution. For example, determining that a community really needs a "meals on wheels" program, or a place where kids can safely play sports that isn't on dangerous streets, or system to remind people that street sweeping day is coming up and that they need to move their cars, and then helping to organize people in order to cause that solution to come into being.

Conservative Christians Are Having Fewer Kids

Another way to understand the data is that conservative protestants, especially those who are less fundamentalist, are assimilating more fully into the the American mainstream over time.
Studies of religion and fertility argue that American childbearing has become less predicated on religious tradition and more on religious commitment and belief. Yet studies have not documented this transition over time or considered whether the growing importance of religious commitment and belief in childbearing applies across Christian traditions equally. Using data from the 1972–2016 General Social Surveys, we analyze childbearing trends across time and birth cohort focusing on the independent and interrelated effects of religious tradition, religious practice, and theological fundamentalism. We also utilize zero-inflated negative binomial regression models to better account for the increasing number of Americans who forego childbearing. Conservative Protestant affiliation is associated with faster than average declines in fertility, while monthly church attendance and biblical literalism are associated with slower than average declines in fertility, ceteris paribus. Examining moderating relationships, monthly worship attendance slightly increases the childbearing of mainline Protestants and Catholics over time, while conservative Protestant childbearing declines regardless of attendance. Unless offset by switching, our findings portend future population declines for conservative Protestants, notably, ones that are not attenuated by greater religious commitment.

15 December 2018

Education, Substance Abuse and Prison

Executive Summary

Earning a high school diploma in the ordinary course, taking some college classes after earning a high school diploma in the ordinary course, and earning either a two year or a four year college degree after earning a high school diploma in the ordinary course, all lower the likelihood that someone will be incarcerated in prison incredibly (almost completely). If a person with those educational achievements also does not have a moderate to severe substance abuse problem, they are extremely unlikely to be incarcerated in prison.

People who end up in prison, overwhelmingly, have cognitive and behavioral health issues. Less than a quarter of Colorado prison inmates graduated from high school in the ordinary course (as opposed to getting a GED) (compared to about 85%+ of the general population), and just 1% have earned any college degree (compared to about 43% of the general population). Substance abuse is a problem for 79% of inmates. Just 6% of Colorado inmates both have a high school diploma (as opposed to a GED) and don't have a moderate to severe substance abuse problem, and some of the inmates in that 6% have moderate to severe mental health problems. The percentages in Colorado are typically nationally. (Although it is worth noting that mental health issues are much more of a risk factor for people without educational attainment and people with substance abuse problems than for people wh have educational attainment and don't have moderate to severe substance abuse problems).

While pursuing educational opportunities while in incarcerated reduces a person's risk of reoffending by about 15% (regardless of the exact nature of the educational program pursued), this is not nearly so protective as educational attainment prior to any incarceration.

As a result, someone who has earned a GED (which often happens while incarcerated), often is at more of an elevated risk of incarceration than someone who has never graduated from high school and does not have a GED, since many people in this category are simply immigrants from places where secondary education was less universal or had difficulty obtaining a high school diploma in the United States because they were not fluent in English. But, immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than comparable native born citizens (something that illustrates the "fit immigrant" hypothesis).

In contrast, a native born American who speaks English as his or her primary language, frequently doesn't graduate from high school due to discipline problems or other behavioral issues, rather than because they aren't intelligent enough to master the academic material. So, a high school diploma is more of an indicator of socialization than it is of academic ability in the United States for native born individuals.

The extreme protective effect of educational attainment, while notable in and of itself, also illustrates a point that the practice of sealing juvenile crime records otherwise obscures. This is that the lion's share of adult felons were engaged in disruptive behavior and frequently in criminal activity, before becoming adults. The earlier someone has run ins with the juvenile justice system, the more likely it is that they will have run ins with the adult criminal justice system.

More generally, "original sin" is a more accurate metaphor for reality than "innocence at birth". Almost everyone becomes less likely to engage in disruptive anti-social behavior as they get older. Young children are more violent than older children, and children are more violent than adults, and the age of an offender when released from prison is one of the strongest predictors of recidivism, because typically offenders "age out" of blue collar criminal activity as they get older. An older child or adult may have a greater ability to successfully attempt to commit a serious crime than a younger person, however, which is why the most serious crimes aren't committed by young children.

Education is so protective because someone who is incapable of refraining from anti-social behavior is unlikely to earn high school diplomas, to have steady enough attendance to make taking college classes make sense, or to earn college degrees. If you are sufficiently well socialized to graduate from high school and college before you are first incarcerated, you are unlikely to engage in the more disruptive behavior needed to get you incarcerated for a felony as an adult after you graduate because people get tamer with age, nor more criminal.

While the primary protective effect of age before a first offense and education comes from being socialized not to commit serious crimes, a secondary part of the protective effect is that people with educational attainment don't have extreme economic need that can pressure someone to commit a felony because the vast majority of felonies for which people are convicted have some economic motive, and a tertiary part of the protective effect is that people without a prior criminal record who have some kind of educational attainment are much more likely to be treated leniently in the criminal justice system when they do commit a felony, which is also, often a less serious felony.

High school dropouts are more often unemployed than anyone else, are more often fired for conduct or poor performance, get the lowest paying and least desirable jobs when they do find work, so they are often in poverty. And, judges imposing sentences and district attorneys negotiating plea deals usual see incarceration of high school dropouts as less harmful to society than the incarceration of people who have educational attainment and have demonstrated an ability to function in society in the past.

There is more analysis below the break.