February 28, 2014 1 Comment
This Bill O’Reilly clip just speaks for itself:
Politics, parenting, science, education, and pretty much anything I find interesting
Brilliant Op-Ed from a professor in Idaho– where guns have newly been allowed on campus. Also fits perfectly with the Lithwick piece from yesterday. In case you don’t feel like reading it all, here’s most of it:
In light of the bill permitting guns on our state’s college and university campuses, which is likely to be approved by the state House of Representatives in the coming days, I have a matter of practical concern that I hope you can help with: When may I shoot a student?
I am a biology professor, not a lawyer, and I had never considered bringing a gun to work until now. But since many of my students are likely to be armed, I thought it would be a good idea to even the playing field…
I assume that if a student shoots first, I am allowed to empty my clip; but given the velocity of firearms, and my aging reflexes, I’d like to be proactive. For example, if I am working out a long equation on the board and several students try to correct me using their laser sights, am I allowed to fire a warning shot? …
While our city police chief has expressed grave concerns about allowing guns on campus, I would point out that he already has one. I’m glad that you were not intimidated by him, and did not allow him to speak at the public hearing on the bill (though I really enjoyed the 40 minutes you gave to the National Rifle Association spokesman)…
In terms of the campus murder rate — zero at present — I think that we can all agree that guns don’t kill people, people with guns do. Which is why encouraging guns on campus makes so much sense. Bad guys go where there are no guns, so by adding guns to campus more bad guys will spend their year abroad in London. Britain has incredibly restrictive laws — their cops don’t even have guns! — and gun deaths there are a tiny fraction of what they are in America. It’s a perfect place for bad guys.
Some of my colleagues are concerned that you are encouraging firearms within a densely packed concentration of young people who are away from home for the first time, and are coincidentally the age associated with alcohol and drug experimentation, and the commission of felonies.
Once again, this reflects outdated thinking about students…
I want to applaud the Legislature’s courage. On a final note: I hope its members will consider my amendment for bulletproof office windows and faculty body armor in Boise State blue and orange.
Big news to those of who think the death penalty as practiced and the use of jailhouse “snitches” to gain convictions are a deplorable scourge of the American justice system. I’ve mentioned several times before the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas based on junk fire science (an issue that was definitely raised in time to prevent the execution). (You can still read all of David Grann’s terrific New Yorker piece on this for free, unlike most New Yorker articles). To me, even worse than junk science (hey, at least they are trying to be scientific. sort of) is the idea that murderers are routinely “confessing” to their cellmates they’ve never met before and nobody else. And, oh yeah, those cellmates get a reduced sentence. Sure, that’s credible. Why any jury would ever believe this (yet they seem to all the time) is a fundamental flaw in how our jury system works. Yet, it happens every day. Now, we have evidence that this was a key part of Willingham’s (almost surely erroneous) conviction as well:
Mr. Willingham was convicted on charges of setting the 1991 fire in Corsicana, Tex., that killed his three children, and was sentenced to death the next year. The conviction rested on two pillars of evidence: analysis by arson investigators, and the testimony of a jailhouse informant, Johnny Webb, who said that Mr. Willingham had confessed the crime to him…
What has changed is that investigators for the Innocence Project have discovered a curt handwritten note in Mr. Webb’s file in the district attorney’s office in Corsicana. The current district attorney, R. Lowell Thompson, made the files available to the Innocence Project lawyers, and in late November one of the lawyers, Bryce Benjet, received a box of photocopies.
As he worked through the stack of papers, he saw a note scrawled on the inside of the district attorney’s file folder stating that Mr. Webb’s charges were to be listed as robbery in the second degree, not the heavier first-degree robbery charge he had originally been convicted on, “based on coop in Willingham.”
Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, called the note a “smoking pistol” in the case.
“We’re reaching out to the principals to see if there is an innocent explanation for this,” he said. “I don’t see one.”
Judge Jackson did not respond to several requests for comment.
It doesn’t have to be this way, and it shouldn’t. Despite the title of the post, this kind of miscarriage of justice (fortunately, usually not as extreme) happens in every state. It’s just worse in places like Texas. As long as we continue to let prosecutors get away with stuff like this in a relentless pursuit of convictions instead of justice– and there’s little sign anything is changing in this regard– innocent people will continue to be wrongly and needlessly convicted. America can do better. If only we would show the will to do so.
February 27, 2014 1 Comment
A great essay by Dahlia Lithwick on how the whole concept of Stand your Ground laws have infected our approach to the law and gun violence. Key parts:
Given all this, it’s not unreasonable to argue that, in America, you can be shot and killed, without consequences for the shooter, for playing loud music, wearing a hoodie, or shopping at a Walmart. The question is whether the wave of “stand your ground” legislation is to blame.
Let’s first define terms: “Stand your ground” laws are different from the Castle Doctrine, which has its roots in centuries-old British common law and allows you to use force to protect yourself in your home. “Stand your ground” essentially provides that you can bring your castle wherever you go. The rule allows you to shoot first, not just in your home, but anyplace you have a right to be and is a much newer, and more controversial, proposition…
I might go further. I might say that whether or not specific jurisdictions define self-defense to include a duty to retreat, and whether or not specific juries are charged to apply it, America is quickly becoming one big “stand your ground” state, as a matter of culture if not the letter of the law.
The fact that “stand your ground” defenses have been staggeringly successful in Florida in recent years (one study shows it’s been invoked more than 200 times since being enacted in 2005 and used successfully in 70 percent of the cases) suggests that it’s been embedded into more than just jury instructions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, aTampa Bay Times study from 2012 shows that “as ‘stand your ground’ claims have increased, so too has the number of Floridians with guns…
And it’s not just cultural expectations that are shifting. We’re also shifting what we ask of our jurors. Under “stand your ground,” we are asking jurors to impose a subjective test about whether the shooter was experiencing a profound moment of existential panic. We are asking them whether—in a country seemingly full of people who are both armed and terrified that everyone else is armed—shooting first makes sense. By redirecting jurors to contemplate whether people who are armed and ready to kill are thinking reasonably about others they believe to be armed and ready to kill, we have created a framework in which one’s subjective fears about the world are all that matters. [emphasis mine]
After Trayvon Martin was killed, for a long time it was fashionable to say, “I am Trayvon Martin,” in solidarity with him and his family. But a far more worrisome possibility has begun to creep into our culture. With each successful “stand your ground” claim, explicit or implicit, we are all in peril of becoming more frightened, more violent, and more apt to shoot first and justify it later. The only thing more terrifying than the prospect of becoming a nation of Trayvon Martins is the possibility that we are unconsciously morphing into a nation of George Zimmermans.
This is the America the NRA wants. And sadly, it’s getting it. Call me crazy for suggesting we’d all be better off if there were just a hell of a lot less guns out there.
February 27, 2014 Leave a comment
Listened to a really interesting story on NPR yesterday about a new opioid drug that is super potent and just recieved FDA approval despite the FDA’s advisory panel overwhelmingly recommending against approval. Most prescription opiates (e.g., vicodin, percocet) are actually denatured with acetaminophen (tylenol). This is not really for more pain relief, but to keep you from taking too much as the tylenol will destroy your liver before you get too high from the opiate. You might be interested to know, though, that acetaminophen and hydrocodone turn to solution in water at different temperatures, allowing the truly intrepid to get around this. I don’t recommend it. The reason Oxycontin is so abused is because it is pure oxycodone without being denatured. (It is extended release). On the positive side, since Oxycontin has been so abused, they have changed the delivery mechanism so that you cannot crush it and snort it for a quick high. Okay, so there’s the background.
Into this, steps the FDA approving Zohydro, which is basically like Oxycontin, except from the synthetic opioid hydrocodone instead of oxycodone. But here’s the kicker, the manufacturer says it may take up to three years to introduce an abuse-resistant version. That’s nuts! I’m not entirely clear why we even need this if we’ve already got Oxy for severe pain, but I do realize that some drugs work better for different patients, so an alternative to Oxy seems reasonable enough. But why wouldn’t the FDA demand that this come in an abuse-resistant form. Anyway, from NPR:
NPR’s Laura Sullivan reports.
LAURA SULLIVAN, BYLINE: When Zohydro is released next month, it will be one of the most powerful prescription painkillers on the market. It’s highest dosage will contain five to 10 times as much hydrocodone as the widely used Vicodin. The drug company’s literature says an adult could overdose on two capsules. A child could die from swallowing just one pill.
DR. MICHAEL CAROME: People are going to die from this drug.
SULLIVAN: Dr. Michael Carome is the director of Health Research for Public Citizen.
CAROME: We are in the midst of a public health crisis. There is an epidemic of opioid addiction resulting in thousands of deaths. And the last thing we need now is another high-potent, high-dose, long-acting opioid drug, Zohydro, that will simply feed the epidemic.
SULLIVAN: Overdose deaths and addiction rates from prescription painkillers similar to Zohydro have grown dramatically in recent years. Carome and 41 other healthcare advocates are asking the FDA to remove its approval of the drug. Zohydro is a crushable pill. That means it’s snortable and, some experts say, more prone to abuse than other drugs like the new versions of Oxycontin, which are no longer crushable…
DR. ANDREW KOLODNY: We have many opiate formulations on the market. There’s absolutely no need for a new opioid formulation.
SULLIVAN: FDA’s own advisory panels seem to agree. The panel voted 11-to-2 not to approve the drug. Then in November, top FDA officials overruled that panel. And that’s where things get complicated. Last fall, a series of emails were made public from a Freedom of Information Act request. They were emails between two professors who had, for a decade, organized private meetings between FDA officials and drug companies who make pain medicine. The drug companies pay the professors thousands of dollars to attend.
Corrupt or not, this just seems really hard to justify.
Keith Humphreys last Fall:
Yet 24 hours later, the FDA overruled its own expert panel and approved Zohydro, a pure hydrocodone pain medication that is 5 to 10 times more potent than Vicodin. In the process, FDA also overturned a precedent it had set only six months ago to not approve easily abused-opioids. After refusing in April to approve generic oxycontin because it lacked abuse-resistant properties, the FDA approved a drug whosefull potency can be instantly released merely by crushing it or dropping it into alcohol (Get ready for a rash of Zohydro-cocktail deaths).
What the country needs on prescription opioids is carefully designed, balanced and consistent policy. What we are getting is policy that contradicts itself month-to-month and even day-to-day.
And how can I not conclude with this:
February 26, 2014 Leave a comment
Really like the NC PolicyWatch post that exposes the rank hypocrisy and dissembling of the NC Republican party on the issue of Medicaid expansion:
It’s a popular argument against NC taking federal money to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and it goes like this: ”Well, it’s a good thing to expand Medicaid to 500,000 working, low-income NC citizens, but we just can’t be sure that the federal government will always provide most of the money for the expansion so we had better not help our fellow citizens.”
Poking holes in this argument isn’t hard…
[plenty of good ones at the link, but I like the interstate highway example below]
To these good reasons for expansion let me add one more: For NC legislators to take the stance that we shouldn’t take federal money for major state-federal projects in NC because “it might run out” is highly hypocritical. Why? On the same day – in fact in the same hour – as NC House members passed the bill rejecting the Medicaid expansion in North Carolina citing as one of the major reasons that the federal money might “not always be there,” they passed another bill. This second bill – taken upimmediately after the vote blocking federal Medicaid money in NC, was on a bill paving the way for NC to obtain major federal government funding for the Interstate 540 loop south of Raleigh. [See the "Block Medicaid Expansion" bill here. See the I-540 bill here. See news coverage of the federal money and the I-540 bill here. See the NC House Calendar for the day in question here.]
The I-540 bill – of course – sailed through the NC House with no one questioning that the millions of dollars of matching federal investment for Raleigh’s latest loop freeway might not come through. Indeed, some House members stood up to talk about the importance of getting matching federal money for this southern loop when, just a few minutes before, they had been questioning whether matching federal money for health care would be available. How do I know this? I was sitting in the NC House chamber and heard them speak.
This is easily the most common reason I’ve heard for rejecting the Medicaid expansion. But not a soul for rejecting federal highway money. Hmmmm. Could it possibly be that rejecting the expansion isn’t actually about the fact that someday in the future the money won’t be there? Could it be that Republicans hate Obama so much and the idea of universal health care so much that they are willing to screw over the working poor in their states in a fit of political pique? Sadly, you can guess my answer.
February 25, 2014 1 Comment
Given the big headlines yesterday, you’d think that we were gutting our military. Headlines everywhere about the “cuts” to the military. Heck, from the McClatchy piece I read in my N&O today you’d never know that Hagel’s plans for “deep cuts” to the military actually calls for increases in military spending. Yes, it’s true. Drum is all over it:
You might disagree with Obama’s priorities, but Cheney’s claim is based entirely on the notion that Hagel and Obama are proposing military cuts. But they aren’t. Hagel proposed a change in force structure that would lead to a smaller Army, but his overall budget proposal is $115 billion more than the current sequester levels demanded by Republicans.
Now, to be fair, there’s big cuts to the US Army, but that does not mean we are shortchanging defense. Hagel is basically looking to realign the strategic priorities of the US military and have a budget that reflects that. More for special forces, more for the Marines (fast deployment for both of these), more for drones, etc. personally, I’m in no position to judge this, but I trust Hagel on it far more than I trust somebody upset because they are going to see the downsizing of an Army base in their district/state. More from Drum:
In other words, Hagel is going to run into a buzzsaw because (a) he wants a bigger budget and (b) he wants to cut a bunch of wasteful spending that’s near and dear to every congressman whose district might be affected. Cutting the size of the Army is just one small part of the whole package.
Naturally this is the part that Fox News focuses on and that Dick Cheney demagogues. But keep one thing firmly in mind: Even though it’s declined from its Iraq/Afghanistan peak, our military budget is still far larger than it was in 2000. Congress has made it clear that it wants further cuts, and in this case at least, Obama and Hagel are the ones fighting against the cuts. In his current proposal, Obama is asking for more money than current sequestration levels. He’s not cutting the military. Compared to what Congress asked for, he’s expanding it.
I haven’t read a ton, but for the most part, the reporting I’ve read on this has been absolutely awful. But it focusing on all the cuts, rather than just the realignment, it also demonstrates a key feature of politics– and heck, human psychology in general– people and institutions are extraordinarily averse to losing what they already have. Politically, those who may lose something typically fight far harder than those who may gain something. There’s a reason that it is extraordinarily difficult to make meaningful cuts to unneeded military programs.
We can argue all day about just how much we want spent on the military and how it should best be spent. But that said, I absolutely guarantee you military spending is extraordinarily wasteful (that is, inefficient) and its not going to get better any time soon.
February 22, 2014 2 Comments
1) This XKCD visualization of the frequencies of various events is simply awesome.
2) Nice WUNC gallery of images that explains the nature of the NC coal ash spill
3) A system to seal battlefield bullet wounds with lots of tiny sponges. Very cool.
4) The CEO of AOL blamed a sick baby for the company’s need to cut benefits. The baby’s mom responds in Slate.
5) David Pogue gives you five easy ways to get hacked. Do not do these things.
6) Why serious injuries at the Olympics seem to be disproportionately affecting women.
7) I had no idea Whole Foods banned products with so many different ingredients. Things are quite different at Wal-Mart.
8) Love this– best Olympic performance as z scores above mean score in event.
9) Interesting scientific facts about redheads. I did already know that we are more sensitive to pain. Did not know that we have fewer, but thicker hairs. And I learned that red hair with blue eyes (my son Evan, most of us Greene’s are red with green) is super rare.
10) I like hockey. I love Olympic hockey (the nationalism, but especially the positive impact of additional 15 feet of width to the ice) so I’ve been watching a lot lately. Fascinating story on how Finns have come to dominate goalkeeping (this is for you DJC!).
11) Being rich really does make you more selfish. Great causal evidence from lottery winners.
12) Really liked this Chait take on the somewhat controversial CBO analysis suggesting minimum wage will costs some jobs. That’s okay!
I suppose that if you care a lot about making sure as many workers as possible have a job, however poorly paid, and don’t care very much about low-income workers earning higher wages, you could embrace this report as a case against a higher minimum wage. That’s the conclusion embraced by the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the National Review, and gleeful conservatives everywhere.
And yet if you did care so much about reducing unemployment that you were willing to suppress wages for millions of the most hard-pressed workers in order to squeeze every last bit of joblessness out of the market, what other elements of the Republican economic agenda make even the slightest bit of sense?
February 20, 2014 Leave a comment
So, I heard this NPR story earlier this week about a very compelling story on the power of regulating gun sales. I kept waiting to see more commentary on this research, but have seen nary a thing. Shouldn’t this be a big deal. The most convincing study yet that it really is in society’s interest to try and make sure only law-abiding people are buying guns. Anyway, here’s the highlights from the story:
In 2007, Missouri repealed a law requiring gun buyers to obtain a license demonstrating they’d first passed a background check. In the years that followed, the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research tracked the results. In the forthcoming issue of Journal of Urban Health, the center will release it’s findings: The law’s repeal was associated with an additional 55 to 63 murders per year in Missouri between 2008 and 2012
And, just to be clear, this was at a time when murders were decreasing in nearby states. Likewise, the researchers controlled for pretty much anything else you’d want to. For example, they found that only gun murders increased, not murders in general.
CORNISH: So before we get to what happened, let’s be clear. What did you need to buy a gun, a handgun in Missouri?
WEBSTER: Well, following the repeal, if you were going to purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer, you would apply right there with the dealer, give your information and then they would submit it for a background check. However, if you found that inconvenient, you could simply go to a private seller, maybe you would connect at a gun show or through the internet or some other means and that seller would have no obligation to ask any questions, whether you were prohibited or not. They deregulated private transactions for handguns.
CORNISH: In your research, what did you find happened after the repeal?
WEBSTER: Well, firearm homicide rates increased sharply immediately after the repeal of the law. For more than a three-year period following the law, firearm homicides increased by 23 percent… [all emphases mine]
CORNISH: And so how exactly did you measure that, though? I mean, how did you go about narrowing it down to say, yes, it’s because of this law?
WEBSTER: Well, we wanted to first statistically control for other things that might explain changes in the homicide rates, so we controlled for policing levels, incarceration rates, unemployment, poverty and changes to other laws that some studies show are related to homicide rates. We also wanted to know whether the change in homicide rates was specific to firearms or whether it was just an overall increase in violence that had nothing to do with firearms.
What we found is after we controlled for all those competing hypotheses that, again, there was a 23 percent increase associated with the repeal of this law, and it was only found in homicides that were committed with firearms.
CORNISH: And you also looked at criminal traces of weapons, I understand.
WEBSTER: Yes, we did. As we would’ve predicted, if the law is responsible for the increase in homicide rates, we would’ve seen an increase in the diversion of guns to criminals. Looking at data from guns traced to crime, that’s precisely what we found. We found, basically, a twofold increase in the proportion of guns that were being recovered from criminals in crime scenes that had been purchased after the repeal of this law when there’s less accountability in the system.
Yowza! How is this not big news? Sure, it’s just one study, but it is an excellent on in taking advantage of the natural experiment in Missouri changing their law. Now, there are trade-offs here. The old law made it harder for law-abiding, decent persons to buy a gun. You know what, that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make to save roughly 60 lives a year? What’s a life worth to you? Is the burden of certifying a background check even for a private sale just so much that you are comfortable knowing that other people will lose their life as a result. That’s the trade-off. Nobody’s coming to take your guns away, damnit! By making it modestly harder to purchase a weapon (in an appropriately smart and targeted policy) we save a modest number of lives. How could people not want to make that trade (I know, they just deny that the trade-off exists). Frustrating.
February 19, 2014 3 Comments
Who needs a 00 designation, it today’s NRA world, apparently being on the wrong side of a fist fight is a license to shoot somebody to death. The details:
A Phoenix, Arizona father shot dead an unarmed stranger in the middle of a suburban Walmart Sunday, but police have not booked him because they say the shooting was in self-defense.
Cyle Wayne Quadlin, 25, opened fire at Kriston Charles Belinte Chee, 36, following a fight at a service counter in the mega-retailer at around 4 p.m., according to Chandler police.
Detectives say the store’s surveillance video shows the two men arguing before the shooting Sunday afternoon. Quadlin told police he pulled his gun when he felt Belinte Chee was winning.
‘Mr. Quadlin was losing the fight and indicated he “was in fear for his life,” so he pulled his gun and shot Mr. Belinte Chee,’ police spokesman Joe Favazzo said. [emphasis mine]
Belinte Chee was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead, police said. According to his Facebook page, the victim has a wife and young son.
On the bright side, both the shooter and victim appear to be white. And seriously, last thing we need is another white guy getting away with murder because he’s scared of a Black guy.
[Forgot the link in the original posting and cannot find where I got it from. Here's the AP story.]
February 18, 2014 2 Comments
For the umpteenth time today I heard something about how teachers should not have any sort of merit pay or compensation connected to their evaluations because that will undermine the fact that collaboration is a collaborative endeavor. Please!! So tired of hearing this ridiculous trope. If teachers get merit pay they will start hiding their colleagues lesson plans? They’ll refuse to give junior colleagues advice how to handle troublesome students?
Now, look, fairly compensating teachers based on their individual merit is complicated. It surely cannot be appropriately done using only test scores. But it is perfectly reasonable to determine that some teachers are better than others and financially reward them accordingly. I strongly believe that teachers be treated like professionals. Most professionals are evaluated and rewarded on the quality of their work. And they do it while working with and cooperating with their colleagues on a daily basis. The idea that collaboration and differential salaries based on merit are somehow mutually exclusive is ridiculous. In general, I’m very much with the teachers. We need to pay them a lot more and really treat them like professionals. For one, that will surely draw many more high quality people into the field. And keep the high quality ones there. Just stop telling me that all teachers at any given experience level have to be paid exactly the same.