Saturday, February 22, 2014

Homelessness and forced intimacy: they're related

Petula Dvorak, a columnist for the Washington Post, has written a lot about homelessness in the DC area.  She has discussed both the city budget stinginess, which she says may send abused women back to their husbands sometimes, and the fact that rapid real estate development is driving the poor people out, as in this column here
The next area where this will happen is NE Washington, along H Street and the streetcar line.  It happened a few years ago with the building of Nationals Park (and now a soccer stadium).  It will happen if RFK is raised for an Olympic stadium (all private money).
One issue that one of my other blogs (the main one) has taken up is “radical hospitality” – partially the old Biblical idea that people should be able to house strangers – and idea that we saw after Hurricane Katrina in some parts of the country, less so after Sandy. 
In Arlington, a local church serves food to the homeless every third Saturday, and seems to use over 200 volunteers who show up just for this event.

I’ll change the subject, but not that much, to another subject:  the degree of intimacy people take for granted in marriage.  It was linked Saturday morning on AOL’s home page, “Ten signs your guy shouldn’t ignore”, link here.  I was struck by how “ordinary” people have to let very sensitive aspects about their bodies be the business of other people, of course their spouses.  One of them was “getting it up”.  Another was a pot belly.  About the only thing not on the list was “balding legs”.  Of course, in my mind, this links to a culture where people are expected to share their bodies – blood donation, of course, which I was cut out of in the 80s, but bigger things like kidney donation while still alive, or even partial liver donation.  Given the physical humiliation of my upbringing, sharing my bod is such a blasé communal fashion isn’t on the table.  But many people don’t really have a choice. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Is investment in litigation (champerty) morally legitimate or legal?

Champerty, the external investment in lawsuits, has long been illegal, at least in common law, but it seems that a whole new industry has built up in putting up money for both plaintiffs and defendants, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal Friday by Gerald Skoning, p. A15, here

Companies can argue that such investors can help deserving plaintiffs or defendants, particularly to go to trial.
The article reports a particularly disturbing anecdote where an investor helped a Texas security company sue McAfee over a patent.  It would sound plausible that champerty could feed patent trolling, although it’s not evident whether that’s the case here.
The Federalist has a forum, “The New Age of Litigation Financing” on YouTube.

All of this leads back to “conflict of interest”, a topic I have paid a lot of heed to. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The "duty to retreat" usually leads to a happy ending, but what if you are unlucky just once?

I do have a personal perspective on the issue of gun ownership.  Right now, I do not own one.  There was a 22 rifle in the family years ago.  My father taught me to fire it once.  That was the only experience I had with it until Army Basic in 1968, where learning to “shoot straight” (Barry Goldwater) with an M14 turned out to be fairly easy.
I have had to “retreat” in a few occasions.  Once, in the fall of 2010, as I pulled into a service area at the Ohio Turnpike, someone approached the car and appeared to have a weapon.  Taking a chance, I quickly drove off and, as nothing happened, reported the incident at the nearest exit, minutes later.   That probably wouldn’t happen again in thousands and stops and seems to have been random. In Arlington, in 2011, at a 7-11, a person who appeared high on drugs approached me in a parking lot.  I drove off and called police.  He was so stoned that he could not have operated the car had he taken it.  Mark Zuckerberg reports a similar incident at a gas station in Palo Alto CA in 2004 right after he had moved there to start Facebook. Mark strikes me as someone who would not be inclined to do anything physically but retreat. In the Ohio case, a memory of Mark's incident (as reported in a book by Kirkpatrick) flashed into my mind instantly as I decided to floor the pedal and speed off. Maybe reading the book saved my life.  
There was also an occasion where a door-to-door salesman made a threat.  I simply slammed the door shut and reported it to police.  This has not recurred. 
Most of the time, after “retreating” (soon enough as the incident starts) there is a happy ending. But I won’t deny what members of the NRA might say, that sometimes criminals will be very aggressive.  Maybe I was lucky.  Maybe Mark was lucky. 
The recent cases (George Zimmerman and now Michael Dunn) in Florida are indeed tragic.  I certainly would not have behaved as these defendants did and caused escalations.  Be we can’t be complacent.  We seem to be living in a world where “law abiding” people feel like they have to watch their backs. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Banks slow to work with legal marijuana retailers even after DOJ loosens "know your customer" rules

Larger banks, such as Wells Fargo (according to a CNN report this morning) still are reluctant to allow “legal recreational marijuana” dealers to have accounts with them, because they fear downstream that they will be still held responsible if the businesses do illegal things unseen.

Smaller community banks are more likely to work with marijuana dealers in states (Colorado) where limited recreational use has become legal.

This report follows a recent DOJ decision not to pursue banks who do business with “legal” marijuana retail or grower operations.  The rules do insist that the businesses not cross state lines, and not connect with organized drug cartels.  Evan Perez reported on this for CNN Feb. 14, link

The issue has always been a bone for libertarians who say that “know your customer” laws have a chilling effect on business.  A general extension of this principle would be the Section 230 downstream liability immunity for Internet service hosts, which many politicians (especially at the state level) want to weaken.  

Update:  Feb 24

The Washington Times offers a commentary by Robert Charles,  "Just say no to drug money", showing the practical concerns for banks,  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Tom Perkins, "The War on the 1%", and a "Jonathan Swift" proposal on voting rights

Tom Perkins (“The War on the 1%”) wants to send us back to earlier times in American history, and let voting power be dependent on wealth, well, on taxes paid.  CNN Money has the story here  and CNN today suggested that this was a joke.  Can’t be serious.
Voting rights used to depend on owning property, in colonial America and in earlier days of the nation after independence.  Colonial Williamsburg offers a detailed write-up here.  By 1820, tax paying had replaced property ownership as a voting requirement, and by 1850 most property requirements had disappeared. 
Yet, the brazen efforts to keep African-Americans from voting before and during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s are well known (leading to tragedy sometimes, as with the three volunteers in Mississippi in 1964), and they may well have influenced the vote in Florida in the 2000 presidential election.  The film “Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election" from Robert Greenwald and Cinema Libre in 2002 emphasizes this point as it begins. 
Tom Perkin speaks at the Commonwealth Club, hosted by Fortune Magazine:

The forum mentions the tensions in San Francisco over wealth techies driving up property values (IT blog, Feb. 8).  

Perkins has been criticized more making comparisons to the ideology of early Nazi Germany and the “Crystal Night”.
Paul Krugman’s op-ed today in the New York Times on p A25 of the New York Times seems to apply, link here
Again, the big beef from the Left when I was growing up was that “capital exploits labor”, leading to unearned wealth.  

Sunday, February 09, 2014

"100000 homes" for the homeless explained on CBS 60 Minutes by Anderson Cooper and a former Army officer/social entrepreneur

I hadn’t been aware that Anderson Cooper reports on 60 minutes, but Sunday night, in competition with the Sochi Winter Olympics, he interviewed Ingrid McIntrye, former Army officer, about the effectiveness of the “100,000 Homes” campaign, a program, largely subsidized by federal grants with some help from private builders and groups, to put homeless people into simple apartments before expecting them to find jobs. The segment for this report was based on the experience in Nashville. (Apparently Anderson didn’t go to Sochi. Neither did I.)
The link is here.
Social workers and college or graduate students would go into areas where homeless live and interview them to get medical statistics.  Homeless people could get apartments for agreeing to be interviewed.  The would be expected to pay a maximum of 30% of what they made, including social security disability, as rent.

The program looks for the long term homeless, who have run out of places to crash and alienated all of their "friends". 
McIntyre asserted that the program saves taxpayers money, even if it seems to bypass bad behavior, like alcohol and drug abuse, which is common among the homeless.

One Nashville landlord was asked why he allowed a few apartments to be used by the homeless and he said, “None of us got where we are without taking risks.  Sometimes you have to take risks for somebody else.”  I’ve heard elders of the LDS Church say that in television interviews.   

Friday, February 07, 2014

Young male kidney donor into "chain" makes case for paying organ donors

There is an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Thursday by Dimitri Linde, p. A17, “If I give away a kidney, would you sell one?”, link here.

The writer describes his experience of actually donating a kidney into a “donor chain” while in his 20s, and says that the other kidney will grow to 80% of the function of two of them.
He makes a moral case for the argument that paid organ donations should be allowed.
He also mentions the policy “No give, no take” in Israel, as explained on the site “Marginal Revolution” here.   

People can get in line for kidney transplants based on their having signed a donor card of record in the past, or a near relative having done so.  The longer on the list, the better the chance of priority.

Back in the early 1980s, before AIDS was known, there were calls for people to become superdonors and sign up for marrow donations.  People also earned money by selling plasma. 
Of course, we all know about the exclusion of MSM, that is, any man who has had sex with another man since 1977, regardless of HIV status.  It sounds likely that eventually the FDA will change the policy and reduce the period of abstinence greatly, maybe to something like six months, along with negative tests.  It would be good to review the organ donation policy for MSM, too. In Russia, the blood issue has become another kind of fuel for anti-gay sentiment, as if there were an intrinsic obligation of people to share their body parts for others. 
That’s something that has never sit well with my own sensitivities, the idea that I “owe” others use of my “spare” body parts while still living (or even post mortem).  This was not a visible idea when I was growing up.  There was an episode in 1978, when I was living in New York, when this subject came up (more details some other time).   I did give blood regularly until the ban was implemented in 1983.  Not since.  And I don’t have an organ donor card for this reason.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Claims that Obamacare reduces total workforce are ambiguous at best

Here is some fact checking by Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post, on p. A4, Thursday February 6, 2014, “Jobs and the health law: clearing up the confusion”, link here
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that some workers, perhaps 2.3 million by 2021, would drop full time jobs if they did not need them for health care.  But some of the shift comes from the fact that for some workers health care turns out to be (perhaps unintentionally) a lot more expensive, and if they make less money at work, they may qualify for subsidies.  In some cases, this could turn out to be perverse.
Americans for Prosperity (yes, a right wing group) has been running a television commercial about a woman with systemic lupus erythematosus, finding her old policy at $55 a month cancelled and the new one costing $350 a month, forcing a second job.  In her case, a pre-existing condition had not prevented her from getting reasonable coverage.  (Or it could have appeared after she took the coverage – and that’s the sort of situation that could catch some people on the cancellations.)
On another front, the GOP is gradually retreating on the idea of seeking “consideration” in its debt-ceiling negotiations.  Now it wants to restore some military pension benefits that had been cut.  Demands about the Keystone Pipeline and proposed repeal of many requirements of Obamacare seem to be off the table.  The debt ceiling sounds like an old record, but we still have to stay tuned on it.  

Update: Feb 9

Most media sources report Secretary of Treasury Lew as giving February 27, 2014 as the date when the federal government's "extraordinary measures" will run out.  

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Deliberate attack in April 2013 on California power station near Silicon Valley attracts major media attention now

The other day, “BarackObama” on Twitter (an avatar for the White House staff, I presume) tweeted about the value of infrastructure-building jobs for economic recovery.  Of course I agree, and I replied “Take care of the power grid.  This is serious.” 
I suspect that the Secret Service wonders this morning if I had seen in advance, or otherwise heard about, the sensational Wall Street Journal front page article on Wednesday, February 5, 2014, by Rebecca Smith, “Sniper attack: Mystery assault on power grid”, link (paywall) here

The article has a front page picture of a power station (copyrighted of course) and a map-diagram of the area and an illustration of how a power station works. 
The attack apparently began around 1 AM PDT on April 16 when someone broke in to a small facility owned by PGE and cut cables (to cut 911 service).  Shortly thereafter, snipers fired at a substation feeding Silicon Valley (the Metcalf Substation).  The attack lasted about an hour. 
No one has been arrested, and the case remains unsolved, at least as far as the FBI and Homeland Security are willing to talk about it. 
If the intention was to cripple major companies in the area (we need not name them here, we know who they are), it was not effective.  The utility rerouted power quickly.  Furthermore, these companies have huge backup generation capability for their server farms. No major outages were reported in social media companies that week that I recall.  
However, some observers fear that the attack could be a prelude to a series of coordinated attacks around the country, what amounts to war. So far, law enforcement has pooh-poohed this idea.
Could the fact that the attack occurred one day after the IRS deadline (a Monday) last year mean anything? Does the fact that it happened one day after the Boston Marathon attack signify anything? 
I recall the area, from a trip to California in November 1995, when I was researching for my first book.  I visited a friend in Sunnyvale and stayed in a Days Inn not too far from the area where this incident occurred.

It is also quirky how I learned about the article.  Despite a mild ice storm, I walked over to a cafeteria at a local hospital for breakfast this morning.  The WSJ paper had been left out free, with this story showing, on a table, with the person having abandoned it after eating. 
On my Book Review blog, I’ve discussed several books that relate possibilities like this.  On Sept. 5, 2013 I reviewed Byron Dorgan’s novel “Gridlock”, where a physical assault on a power center in North Dakota is followed by a cyberattack.  In the novel, utility workers become casualties in the attack.  On April 13, 2013 I reviewed Michael Maloof’s “A Nation Forsaken”, and it seems curious that the review was posted just two days before the California attack.  Google Analytics shows a lot of page requests for these items.  On Nov. 15, 2012 I published a review of a National Academy of Sciences booklet that discusses the risk of rogue attacks on power stations, but this review has attracted much less volume of requests.  I published a review of William Forstchen’s novel “One Second After” (about a high-altitude EMP attack) on July 20, 2012, and that review has attracted attention.  Newt Gingrich wrote a brief introduction for this book and has sometimes mentioned in public.
It’s interesting that the major media has not discussed this attack (as far as I know) until today.  But the article mentions numerous other attacks (over 2500) around the world since 1996, most of them overseas.
A YouTube video (by “Biblesnbarbells”) discusses the California attack as well as apparently one or two attacks in Arkansas in the fall of 2013.    I think I do recall a brief media story from Arkansas, and perhaps from Missouri, last October.  The WSJ article does mention the Arkansas incident. The speaker in the video mentions a major gas line from Texas to the northeast as vulnerable during the winter time. 

A technology-driven and society is very good for individualists and for otherwise less socially competitive people, giving them a chance to make names for themselves and become influential as long as they “follow the rules.”  This isn’t so good for people whose lives depends heavily on social context and providing for others.  This can lead us down a scary line of thinking. This sort of ethical train does drive the "Doomsday Prepper" mentality.  
Wikipedia attribution link for Silicon Valley area north of Sam Jose 

Monday, February 03, 2014

California's drought problem is becoming urgent

Suddenly, California’s biggest risk may not be earthquakes, but going bone dry.  The New York Times led off the Sunday paper with a big story by Malia Wollan and Normitsu Onishi, here

Due to drought, some rural communities up north may have to have drinking water trucked in and new wells dug.

Complicating the picture is that more water has been used to grow medical marijuana.
The lack of winter rain is allowing smog to build up in Los Angeles, especially in the Valley. 
I visited the Mount Shasta and Tulelake area when on vacation in May 1978, following up an interest at the time of petroglyphs and supposed artifacts left of Lemuria.  My father had taken a lot of pictures in the area as a young man after going to school at Berkeley, before he married; I still have them.

Gov. Brown has been asking residents to cut use by 20%.
The jet stream has dipped over the Eastern part of the US, leaving the West warm and dry. The Seirra snowpack is only 12% of what it should be. What it needs now is some big blizzards west of the Continental Divide and dipping far south into northern Arizona.

The Washington Post has an editorial Monday on flood insurance (the National Flood Insurance Program), and whether it is encouraging people to build (luxury properties) in risky areas at the expense of everyone else, here. 

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Tension over role of volunteer firefighters in a far DC suburb

The Washington Post has reported recently about a controversy when the Prince Georges County MD (east of Washington DC)Fire Department added more regular firefighters, apparently spurning concerns about volunteer forces in more remote parts of the county. This was a story by Kynh Bui, “Uneasy allies: In Prince George’s, firefighter hires make volunteers nervous”, January 25.
But on Saturday, February 1, an LTE by Robert F. Dorr noted that firefighters should be on the clock, since we depend on them to save lives and protect private property, link here
The idea that more rural communities depend on volunteer firefighters has always, in my mind, created a moral issue about shared risk (rather like the old military draft).
 There were reports over a year ago the Washington Nationals star prospect Bryce Harper, raised in Nevada in the LDS Church, had wanted to serve as a volunteer fire fighter. That may not comport with a MLB baseball contract because of the risk.  The Washington Times had reported on Harper and the mission issue here, Sept. 27, 2013.  CNN had a story about the "clown question" asked of Harper after a spectacular home run in Toronto, where the drinking age may be lower, here back in 2012. 
These older ideas about shared, sometimes gender-related, moral responsibility don’t go away.

It's Groundhog Day, almost time for Spring Training! 

Update: Feb. 3

The Washington Post has a story where a rookie but professional firefighter in D.C. failed to respond to a medical emergency across the street, and where the formal protocol sent EMS to the wrong zone in the city. The Post called the firefighter "callous".