29 February 2016

The Poetry of Trump

Trump has apparently given rise to his own special form of poetry, the Twitter insult haiku.

In Emergencies, People Trust Robots

In emergency situations, psychology experiments have established that people trust robots even when there are signs that this trust isn't warranted.

Always Human - A Quirky Comic For A Quirky Day

The heartwarming girl meets girl science fiction romance webcomic, Always Human, that also has something to say about transhumanism is just the thing for a quirky day like leap day.

26 February 2016

The Weak Spot In Civil Litigation

Above the Law has a nice post on what the American civil litigation system handles poorly, which is middle sized disputes, although in Colorado, the real bottom end is more like $15,000 (the jurisdictional limit of county court civil cases), rather than $50,000:
Our system handles both very small and very high value disputes fairly well. However, it does an atrocious job of handling disputes in the middle. . . .
If the dry cleaner messes up your clothes (and you can’t otherwise work it out), if FedEx screws up the package (and you can’t otherwise work it out), or if your ex-roommate won’t return the $400 security deposit you gave him (and you can’t otherwise work it out), small-claims court provides fast and low cost justice.

You can get real justice or something close to it at the other end of the money value spectrum. At our firm we handle many multi-jurisdictional, complex commercial matters where the result in the case can make a difference in the millions, or tens of millions, or even more, or where the result determines whether or how someone does business. For such matters, it makes perfect sense to spend a great deal of money on lawyers . . . since the legal fees likely will pale in comparison to the value of the dispute or the result you hope to obtain (or avoid).

If your damages are too high to be in small claims court, but not over a million and “only” $50,000 or $300,000 or “only” about your lower-paying job, then litigation likely doesn’t make sense. That’s because it is very tough to find a good lawyer for a price where the legal fees and other expenses do not in the end swamp the possible recovery. . . . As much as you may hate to say it (and as much it may be against your business interests), sometimes you have to tell a plaintiff who has been screwed to just walk away; fighting isn’t worth it. Sometimes you have to tell a defendant wrongly sued just to pay something; fighting isn’t worth it.
The author doesn't address solutions in his short post, and I won't either in this one, but a lot of the more commonly proposed solutions sound nice but in my opinion also won't solve the problem.

Exceptions To The "Unsweet Spot" 

I'd also add that there are some kinds of cases in the middle range that are more tractable than others within the court system.  And, these kinds of tractable claims make up a pretty decent share of the total docket in general jurisdiction trial courts.

For example, simple automobile accident suits against careless or reckless drivers who cause damages in this range (or a few other simple negligence tort scenarios like slip and fall cases) can often be litigated cost effectively by mass production Plaintiff's trial lawyers working on contingency on one side and insurance defense lawyers on the other.

Similarly, simple collection lawsuits with one Plaintiff, one or two defendants, and a single simple cause of action, for example, to enforce promissory notes or credit card bills or taxes in arrears, or foreclose on a mortgage or repossesses mortgaged tangible personal property in this dollar range can also often be litigated cost effectively (and often give rise to default judgments).

But, anything that causes a case to transform a completely transparent plain vanilla case into a more complex one (such as construction defect cases, employment discrimination lawsuits, disputes related to ownership of real property, business to business contract disputes, breach of fiduciary duty claims, contested guardianship, conservatorship and probate cases, etc.) swiftly becomes excessively expensive to litigate in this dollar range.

It is almost impossible to litigate a middle range case that is not completely simple and plain vanilla, for less than $35,000-$50,000 of attorneys' fees and litigation costs, and it isn't hard at all for that figure to soar to several hundred thousand dollars if any minor or major complication comes up.  This is very manageable in a $500,000 or $1,000,000+ dispute, but is a real burden in medium sized civil litigation (which makes up a lot of the practice of the kind of law firms where I have worked all of my life).

A Breakdown Of "Unsweet Spot" Cases By Type

There are about 20,000 non-domestic relations cases a year in Colorado (which had a population of about 5,050,000 in 2010 when the caseload data was collected) that fall into that "unsweet spot" of complex cases involving medium amounts in controversy (excluding contested domestic relations cases which are another "unsweet spot").  Of course, that doesn't consider thousands of other cases in that dollar range where no suit was filed out of concerns for litigation costs.

This breaks down into about 3,000 complex tort cases, about 3,500 cases seeking to quiet title or seek possession of property, about 13,000 cases involving contract or real property disputes, about 1,000 cases involving appeals or administrative or municipal law, and about 3,000 complex cases within probate court jurisdiction (mostly, but not entirely, contested mental health, conservatorship and guardianship cases). But, some judicial mortgage foreclosures, personal property possession cases, contract disputes that amount to collection cases, and only minimally disputed probate cases within this total are probably actually fairly simple and perhaps 5%-10% are for very large amounts, so the actual estimate of truly problematic cases may be a bit less than 20,000.

There are also about 20,000 domestic relations cases a year (including both initial divorces or child custody and support orders, and subsequent motions to modify parenting time, child support or alimony), of which perhaps half (i.e. 10,000) are meaningfully contested by parties who don't have the resources to make this really cost effective.  So roughly a third of cases in the "unsweet spot" are contested domestic relations actions.

By comparison, there were about 150,000 collection cases and 43,000 eviction cases and about 13,000 restraining order cases tried in county court (which has jurisdiction limited to $15,000), and about 85,000 pro forma foreclosure and tax collection cases, and about 3,000 simple negligence tort cases in district court (which has general jurisdiction), about 8,000 pro forma uncontested probate cases, and about 10,000 uncontested domestic relations actions.

A Final Note On Solutions

The "unsweet spot" in civil litigation is a problem that calls for foxes and not hedgehogs.  Divide and conquer is the order of the day, and the best approach probably involves multiple independent tweaks, rather than just a single overarching solution to an overarching problem.  One of the reasons that these cases have to be resolved under very general and often inefficient rules is that they are diverse and each one presents different issues.

The answer also lie only partially in the rules of civil procedure themselves; another big issue is the business models that can be adopted to provide legal services and dispute resolution to these cases in a just, inexpensive and speedy manner.

But, I am confident that it is possible to come up with good solutions to be more cost effective in handling a large share of the "unsweet spot" docket, and I am confident that once one state comes up with these solutions that they can be widely replicated because pretty much every state in the United States has the same problem with this class of cases.  I will, however, defer specific ideas for solutions to a later post.

Blue America Has Recovered; Red America Has Not

Democrats are puzzled by why Republicans are so angry, while they so a country that has almost completely recovered from the financial crisis and Great Recession that followed over the course of President Obama's administration.

One of the reasons that members of the two main political parties think that their opponents have views disconnected from reality is that the realities that members of the respective political parties are experiencing are very different from each other.

An map from the New York Times showing which counties were and were not economically distressed from 2010 to 2014 sheds a great deal of light on that question.

Broadly speaking, the American South and much of the rural American West are awash in distressed counties (in darker blue), while the Northeast, the Midwest and most of the Democratic leaning parts of the American West have pretty much fully recovered (in pale blue).

Economics influence political outcomes.  In good times, people favor incumbents and the politics of hope with Democrats.  In bad times, people favor outsiders and the politics of fear in the Republican party are more attractive.  When the nation is a mish mash split on partisan lines, we can expect a general election in which each party thrives by appealing to its base, rather than one focused on winning over swing voters in purple states.

This also contributes to intra-party disconnects in the Democratic Party.  While much of blue America has recovered, some major Democratic leaning cities marked with red dots, have not.  All are highly distressed and heavily African-American which explains why white and black voters in the Democratic party can feel like they are living in different worlds.  Likewise, in the American South, the Democratic party is overwhelmingly a party whose backbone is made up of African American voters who like the core of the Republican base, mostly live in economically distressed parts of the country that have not yet recovered from the Great Recession.

As a result, white voters in the Democratic Party, who are feeling prosperous, have flocked to Bernie Sanders, who feel safe enough to embrace his hopeful agenda for positive change.  In contrast, black voters in the Democratic party, who have not enjoyed the recovery to a great extent and are more financially distressed, have favored Hillary Clinton, whose more cautious and fearful approach is a better fit to their reality.

The Mentally Ill Tend To Marry Each Other

A new study using the Swedish health records database which contains all of the medical information since 1973 on all people in Sweden (including, for example, 70,000 cases of schizophrenia), has revealed that people diagnosed with highly heritable mental health conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), schizophrenia, substance abuse are much more likely than random chance to marry (or have children with) someone else with the same conditions, and are much more likely than random chance to marry (or have children with) someone else with another serious mental health condition.

In some ways, this isn't surprising.  More and more studies are finding that, while we can have friendships and more serious relationships with people who are unlike us, generally speaking, we prefer to have friendships and marriages with people who are as similar to ourselves as possible in all of the most salient respects.  And, mental health conditions are frequently salient to who we would like to have a relationship with in life.  (In contrast, non-mental health conditions like diabetes mellitus and rheumatoid arthritis are apparently not salient as they do no show elevated levels of assortative mating.)

Individuals with other mental health conditions (e.g. "affective disorders") have much lower likelihoods of marrying someone else with the same or another mental health condition, and those conditions tend to be less hereditary.

The study also confirms that these conditions are influenced both by additive genetic variance, which is increased reliably by assortative mating (a kind of variance that is easily detected in genome wide association studies and effective caps the amount of heritability that those studies can identify) and non-additive genetic variance (involving factors like dominance, complex non-linear multiple gene effects, and gene x environment effects) which current genetic studies often miss.

This is clear from twin studies.  If only additive genetic effects were at work, risk would be proportionate to relatedness.
However, twin studies suggest that nonadditive genetic influence is greater for these same 3 disorders than for other disorders in that dizygotic twins are much less than half as similar as monozygotic twins. Most notably, concordance for ASD is approximately 60% for monozygotic twins and approximately 5% for dizygotic twins. Nonetheless, it is possible that these 3 disorders are so highly heritable because they include injections of both additive genetic variance from assortative mating and unusually high nonadditive genetic variance. Without assortative mating, these disorders might show little additive genetic variance.
Assortative mating could also be a major factor in explaining high rates of co-morbid mental health conditions. Many individuals may inherit one mental health condition from one or more ancestors, and another from another subset of ancestors.

Air Force Unveils B-21 Bomber Design

The Air Force has unveiled the appearance of its new long range strike bomber, the B-21, which closely resembles and would have basically the same mission as the existing B-2 bomber (the most expensive warplane ever built, mostly because its run was cut short to 20 units due to cost overruns causing R&D costs to be allocated over far fewer units than planned).  It is slated to enter service in the mid-2020s, although at least some delays are almost inevitable in any major military procurement program.

The B-21 has been rumored to have stealth capability, to carry nuclear or conventional weapons, abd to be "pilot optional".  The Air Force is hoping to avoid cost overruns and delays by sticking mostly to "existing and mature technology."
When Northrop Grumman won the contract to build the B-21 last year, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said it will allow the U.S. to "project power across the globe now and into the future," calling it a "strategic investment for the next 50 years." 
Long term, the idea is for these planes to replace Air Force B-52 bombers, which have been flying for more than half a century -- and eventually the B-1 bombers, when they retire sometime in the 2040s. 
Engineering and development costs are estimated at $21.4 billion (in 2010 dollars) over the entire life of the program.
If the projected run of 100 planes is built, the total cost is estimated at $511 million 2010 dollars each, about $300 million each to build, and the balance for R&D up front.

The previous two efforts to replace the B-52, first with the B-1B swing wing supersonic bomber, and then with the B-2, have not been great successes.  But, both of those projects don't really offer the basic "transport bomber" replacement for the B-52 to serve theaters where air superiority has already been achieved at a moderate costs.  The Navy's P-8 patrol aircraft is a closer fit to that role.

Do We Need 100 B-21s?

The 100 plane projection assumes almost 1-1 replacement of the existing long range bomber fleet. But, it isn't obvious that this is necessary.  The B-52 fleet size was built around assumptions from the days of "dumb bombs" when half of dozen to a score of bombing sorties might be necessary to hit one target on average.

Now, something like 98% of the guided munitions which are deployed by U.S. fighter planes, bombers, ships, missile submarines, helicopters, drones and artillery batteries hit their targets. The 5" main guns of U.S. Naval ships and the dumb ordinance used by U.S. Army Howitzers and mortars when smart munitions aren't used instead, and some 30mm cannons on the A-10 and A-130 and some ships are the only heavy "dumb" ordinance still in use and as prices for guidance systems fall (most of the $20,000+ cost of smart munitions and almost all recapture of R&D costs) the used of "dumb" rounds is expected to dwindle further.

The long range of the modern long range bombers also reduces the need to base bombers in every theater of action where they might be needed and they can be relocated from one theater to the other overnight, unlike ground based missile batteries, ships and submarines.

While the U.S. military's ground troop capacity has been strained for much of the time since the Iraq War, there has never been a time when the U.S. has had anything other than an extravagant excess of bombing assets, and the lion's share of bombing by U.S. forces and their allies since the Gulf War has taken place in half a dozen or so intense campaigns lasting just a few weeks or months.

This isn't to say that a future war couldn't be more demanding on U.S. bombing assets, but the kinds of campaigns that would call for those kind of resources, such as large scale conventional wars with China or Russia on their home territories, aren't wars that would make sense to fight with nuclear missile armed foes.

25 February 2016

Another Day, Another Suicidal Mass Shooter

This time, it was a worker in a Kansas factory who shot lots of people at the plant and other locations in the small Kansas town, killing some of them, before he was killed by a cop.  Four people, including the gunman were killed, and fourteen people were injured, ten critically.

UPDATE February 26, 2016: Shooter Cedric Ford, who grew up in Miami, Florida, launched his shooting spree about an hour and a half after he was served by sheriff's deputies with a protection order.  Ford had a criminal record including multiple arrests and at least one prior felony conviction over the course of the last decade and a half, so the handgun and assault rifle he used were almost surely in his possession in violation of federal laws barring felons from being in possession of firearms (usually with a ten year minimum sentence). END UPDATE.

In between this and the last mass shooting, in Kalamazoo, Michigan last Saturday, an anti-government activist previously associated with the Occupy Movement and the Green Party, shot three sheriff's deputies who were evicting him from his Bailey, Colorado home (which had been foreclosed upon long before then), killing one of them and injuring the other two (one critically) before being shot and killed by the officers.

Yes, Lots Of Trump Supporters Are Scary Racists

A YouGov/Economist poll in January asked respondents if they approved or disapproved of "the executive order that freed all slaves in the states that were in rebellion against the federal government." That executive order is better known as the Emancipation Proclamation. 
Thirteen percent of respondents — and "nearly 20 percent of Trump supporters," the [New York] Times reports, compared with 5 percent of Marco Rubio's — said they disapproved of it. . . . An additional 17 percent of respondents said they weren't sure.
Via Vox.

Federal Criminal Law Is Still Broken

Under the Hobbs Act, the federal government has the power to prosecute someone for robbery or extortion that affects interstate commerce.  And, it turns out, under the applicable law which has interpreted interstate commerce broadly, pretty much everything effects interstate commerce.

The definition is so broad that even though the government, in theory, has a duty to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime affects interstate commerce, in practice, judges have held and it is the government's position, that there is no evidence that it is possible to offer that could ever show that interstate commerce is not affected by a robbery or extortion, so a defendant may not even try to offer evidence to rebut the government's claim.

So much for meaningful federalism.  A case on point where a defendant tried to argue that interstate commerce wasn't affected will probably lose.

Equally troubling, and not at issue in the U.S. Supreme Court case (because the law of cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment is absurdly toothless) is that the fellow in the Hobbs act case who stole a single marijuana joint, $40 and a cell phone on one occasion (from someone assumed to be a drug dealer for purposes of appeal) and stole a single cell phone on another occasion (again, from a drug dealer), was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The government believes that this individual was part of a larger gang that specialized in home invasion burglaries aimed at suspected drug dealers called the Goonz.  But, all it had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury in order to secure the 20 year sentences was that the defendant participated in a robbery that took a single marijuana joint, $40 and a cell phone once, and a cell phone, a second time.

Maybe this was a pretty traumatic armed robbery, in which case the sentence is justified by the armed threat to persons, rather than the economic harm done.  But, it sure comes across as an excessively harsh sentence for a petty crime that didn't belong in federal court as a matter of policy, whether or not the United States Constitution allows this conviction to stand.

A Truly Frivolous Lawsuit

Alabama lawyer Austin Burdick's February 23, 2016 suit filed in a federal district court in Alabama, representing himself pro se, against the five U.S. Supreme Court justices who were in the majority of Obergefell v. Hodges ruling in June of 2015 (which held that same sex marriage bans are unconstitutional) is the epitome of a frivolous lawsuit.

The suit alleges that the justices violated the United States Constitution by incorrectly holding that same sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, and seeks damages in excess of $6 million and additional punitive damages for (1) violations of the 5th Amendment under Bivens, a legal theory that allows individuals to sue government employees who violate their civil rights personally for money damages in certain circumstances, (2) breach of contract or oath, (3) breach of fiduciary duty, and (4) declaratory relief.

What is wrong with it?

Let me list some of the more obvious problems.

1. Judges have absolute immunity from liability for their judicial decision-making.  This is an ancient doctrine, with very few exceptions, that squarely applies in these circumstances.

Ironically, this part of the Complaint is probably the only one that is not sanctionable for violating Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure related to frivolous lawsuits, because the Complaint acknowledges that absolute judicial immunity bars the suit and makes a (presumably) good faith argument for a change in the law (at paragraphs 27-32).

2. The interpretation of the United States Constitution articulated by a U.S. Supreme Court majority is, by definition, the correct interpretation of the U.S. Constitution that binds all federal district court judges.  So, his allegation that the U.S. Supreme Court majority's ruling violated the United States Constitution is wrong as a matter of law.

3. Put another way, the U.S. District Courts do not have subject matter jurisdiction to review decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.

4. Austin Burdick has no standing to sue, which is a matter of subject matter jurisdiction, because he cannot show any tangible injury from the fact that same sex couples are allowed to marry.  Similarly, the oath made by the Justices was to the United States of America, not to him personally, as are any fiduciary duties that they owe.

5. Alabama does not have personal jurisdiction over any of the Justices all of whom work exclusively in the District of Columbia and live in its geographic vicinity and were not even ruling on a case involving Alabama parties when they made their Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. Therefore, this is the wrong place in which to sue these Justices on any question.

The lawsuit as a whole is frivolous, not just because he is wrong, but also because he does not address in his Complaint the other problems with his suit, which are obvious and do not have any remotely plausible legal basis, when he has not articulated any good faith basis for arguing that they should be changed.

So, he should really be sanctioned for violating Rule 11 as well as having his suit dismissed with prejudice, and realistically, because his actions are so fundamentally at odds with the conduct of any legitimate attorney, he should forfeit his membership in the federal court bar (if he has one) and perhaps be sanctioned by the state court bar reciprocally as well (something that may not happen in practice with Chief Justice Moore, who is guilty of similar sins, presiding over the Alabama Supreme Court).

The federal judge assigned to his case would be well within his rights to raise these issues sua sponte, without waiting for a lawyer on behalf of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices in question to make these arguments.

Note that the people are not entirely without a remedy when they disagree with a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding an interpretation of the United States Constitution or some other law.

* The United States Constitution can be amended.

* Justices of the United States Supreme Court may be impeached in a proceeding initiated by a majority of the United States House of Representatives, and leading to a conviction by two-thirds of the United States Senate.

* New judges can be appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in the future, and the new panel of U.S. Supreme Court judges that results can overturn prior U.S. Supreme Court precedents.

But, none of the legitimate means by which concern can be raised about a U.S. Supreme Court Justice's decision making can be appropriately raised in a civil action for money damages brought against a U.S. Supreme Court Justice by a random attorney in a random state effected by a ruling which national precedential effect who has no personal interest in the controversy.

24 February 2016

Your Religious Beliefs Are Predictive Of Your Partisan Leanings

Data above, which was collected by the Pew Foundation, recounts the partisan political preferences of Americans by religious denomination (Hat Tip to Fully Myelinated). The overall pattern is predictable, although there is some overlap at the edges.

From most Republican to most Democratic the major categories are:

1.  Mormons
2.  Historically white Evangelical Christian (and conservative liturgical Christian denominations).
3.  Mainline Christian Denominations.
4.  Roman Catholics (Catholics, the largest denomination, are a close match to the U.S. as a whole).
5.  Orthodox Christians.
6.  Non-Christians.
7.  Historically black Christian denominations.

Many of the conservative liturgical Christian denominations split from their mainline counterparts around the time of the U.S. Civil War over the social issues of that day such as slavery and women's righta.

The exceptions are as follows:

* Seventh-Day Adventists, an Evangelical denomination, are as left leaning as Orthodox Christians on average.

* Jehovah's Witnesses , an Evangelical denomination, rates as slightly more left leaning than Orthodox Christians.  But, this is largely a function of the fact that 75% of the conservative Christian denomination does not claim a partisan political denomination and generally does not participate in electoral politics.

Notably, both Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses reject much of the liturgical and non-scriptural core of Christianity in favor of Jewish and secular alternatives respectively.  This may be a factor that causes members of these denominations to have a political identity closer to non-Christians.

Also, both Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses, while they are historically white Christina denominations, are currently among the most racially diverse Christian denomination in the United States and have become much more diverse than they were in the recent past.  Seventh-Day Adventists are 59% non-white (and exemplified by Seventh-Day Adventist Presidential candidate Ben Carson).  Jehovah's Witnesses are 64% non-white.

* The United Methodist Church, a mainline Christian denomination, is well into the Evangelical range.  This mostly reflects its strength in historically conservative rural and small town America, particularly in the South, Midwest and on the Great Plains.

* Two mainline Christian denominations (Episcopalians and the United Church of Christ) are more Democratic leaning than the Roman Catholic Church.

One subtle point is that both Episcopalians and Anglicans are part of the global Anglican communion.  Episcopalians are part of the American branch of that denomination.  Anglicans are members of one of the minority of U.S. congregations of the African branch of that denomination that have deliberately changed their affiliation from the Episcopalian branch of the denomination because they opposed the socially liberal doctrines and polices that it has adopted.  If Episcopalians and Anglicans were pooled and counted as a single denomination, the combined denomination would probably be slightly more Republican leaning than the Roman Catholic Church, just like most other mainline Christian denominations.  The departure of the Anglican congregations in recent years has artificially moved the Episcopal denomination to the left.

The United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Church, prior to its merger with the Universalist Church in the 1960s to form the current denomination which is a post-Christian one, are the main successor denominations to the established Congregational Churches of New England, many of which were doctrinally Unitarian.  The United Church of Christ is trinitarian, but carries over the liberal leanings of the former Congregational Church.  (Ironically, the Mormon church also has historical roots mostly in New England.)

* The Unitarian Universalist church which is basically post-Christian although a minority of the members of the denomination identify as Unitarian Christians, is more left leaning than one of the three historically black Christian denominations.

Nevada GOP Caucus Redux And The Prospects For The Race To Come

What Happened in Nevada?

Not only did Trump win Nevada's contest for delegates in his quest for the GOP Presidential nomination, he got more voters than number two Rubio, and number three Cruz, combined.

Carson's fourth place share continued to shrink despite the fact that he had early support among conservatives in Western States.  Someday, he may realize that his Presidential campaign is pyrrhic and drop out, but if there is anything that Carson excels at, it is his ability to ignore reality.  So, I wouldn't count on him formally dropping out anytime soon, even though he has never placed better than 4th place in any of the first four states and his share of the votes that he has received continues to dwindle.  He's probably still in until he runs out of money.

Kaisch made a dismal fifth place showing, receiving no boost at all from his second place finish in New Hampshire or the removal of relatively modern GOP candidates like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie from the running.  Kaisch is no more than a spoiler at this point, although he may try to hang on for another week or two in the vain hope that he can pick up ground in the Midwest and Northeast.

There is no really doubt that Kaisch's campaign will last no longer than two more weeks.  And, it could very well end sooner, because Kaisch is one of the less delusional figures in the GOP field. Until now, he did have a second place finish in New Hampshire and the prospect of pickup up establishment candidate voters as others dropped out of the race to encourage him.  But, the Nevada caucus has shown clearly this isn't going to happen.  Kaisch also polls no better than 4th place in any of the Super Tuesday states.  His campaign is doomed and he is just a spoiler at this point.

Rubio has been helped by the thinning of the GOP field, leaving him as the clear choice as the candidate for the GOP establishment (since Carson and Kaisch have no hope, Cruz's history as a Senator has rubbed almost everyone he's encountered the wrong way, and Trump and Carson are also both far outside the GOP establishment).  But, Rubio's gains as the field has thinned have been surprisingly small.

Everyone else in the GOP field apparently gave up after New Hampshire without even bothering to announce that fact.

What Next?

Assuming that Carson and Kaisch are no longer relevant and will soon see the number of people voting for them dwindle accordingly even if they stay in the race (with Carson's lost votes probably spread fairly evenly among the candidates and Kaisch's lost votes going disproportionately to Rubio and secondarily to Trump) we are left with three superficially viable candidates in the GOP Presidential nomination race: Trump, Rubio and Cruz.

If Trump can command the 45% of the vote he got in Nevada in the March 1 round of Super Tuesday contests and beyond, the only way that either Rubio or Cruz can win the nomination is for one of them to drop out, or for them to deny Trump an outright majority and to secure the nomination in a brokered convention as one of them bows out and the super-delegates (just 7% of the total on the Republican side) throw their support to the other.

But, neither Rubio nor Cruz seem inclined to drop out any time soon when they have been neck and neck in the polling and actual voting for many weeks.  Cruz has actually won one of the four GOP contests so far (Iowa) and leads Rubio in national polls and Super Tuesday polls with a shot at winning a couple of states, so he is hardly inclined to quit.  Rubio is more likely to prevail in the event of a brokered convention and is seeing his support increase as other establishment candidates drop out, even though he has yet to win a state and isn't projected to do so on Super Tuesday either, so why should he quit?  Then again, Rubio may be less self-centered than Cruz and inclined to drop out in order to thwart Trump knowing that neither he nor Cruz have a real shot if one of them doesn't drop out.

Indeed, because many of the GOP primary and caucus races effectively give more than proportionate delegates to candidates who finish first. Trump got more than twice as many votes as either Rubio or Cruz in Nevada, won by comfortable margin in South Carolina, won in New Hampshire, and wasn't even that far behind in second place in Iowa.  There is every reason to think that Trump has the potential to win a majority of the GOP delegates by the time that the Republican National Convention comes around this summer, even if he doesn't win a majority of the votes cast, by finishing in first place in every single GOP contest for the foreseeable future until either Cruz or Rubio drop out of the race, which might never happen unless one or the other of them gains a decisive advantage over the other somehow.

In order for either Rubio or Cruz to win a plurality of delegates, one of them needs to start polling better than Trump on a regular basis, which at the moment seems to be an almost unattainable goal.

And, even for either Rubio and Cruz to deny Trump a majority so that they can make their cases to a brokered Republican National Convention, they need to collectively push Trump down to something more like the 33% of the vote that Trump won in South Carolina, and not the 45% that Trump won in Nevada which is probably enough of a margin to win Trump a majority of the delegates due to winner takes all or at least gets more delegates rules in various states.

We'll see if the goal of holding Trump's delegate count to a plurality is a realistic one on Super Tuesday, six days from now.

If Trump is winning 45% or more of the vote on average on Super Tuesday, he's almost guaranteed to become the Republican nominee for President unless either Rubio or Cruz drop out immediately (which is unlikely, even if Trump does sweep in that fashion).

If Trump is only winning 33% of the vote or so, on average (which is what he is getting on average in recent national polls according to Real Clear Politics), and in particular, if Trump doesn't win every single one of the Super Tuesday states (which seems like a long shot but isn't impossible), there is some hope that Rubio or Cruz (realistically, Rubio) might prevail in an eventual brokers Republican convention.

Super Tuesday state polling shows Trump leading in every state except Texas (even post-Jeb's departure) and Arkansas (pre-Jeb's departure), where Cruz leads, and Colorado according to a November 2015, where Carson leads and Rubio is in second place (except that Colorado won't actually be holding a Presidential nominee vote at its caucus!).  Trump's average support is in the 30s but could improve as he picks up some of the support of minor candidates who have lost support or grown to be less viable than they seemed to be previously.

Looking Ahead To The General Election

Notably, in recent head to head polling match-ups, Trump is the least electable, with Clinton leading him by 2.8 percentage points on average.  Cruz is in between, leading Clinton by 0.8 percentage points on average.  And, Rubio is the strongest, leading Clinton by 4.7 percentage points, on average. A lot of this seems to boil down to likability.  Even many Clinton supporters don't love her and support her mostly for pragmatic reasons.

I think that the Cruz and Rubio support relative to Clinton will decline over time as people realize how conservative Cruz and Rubio are when not set off against the foil of fellow GOP Presidential candidates.  But, while it is unsurprising that Rubio is a stronger general election candidate than Cruz, it is surprising that Trump who might seem to have a more bipartisan appeal, fares worst vis-a-vis Clinton.

Defying conventional wisdom, Bernie Sanders actually does much better than Clinton in general election head to head polling.  He leads Trump and Rubio by six percentage points each, and Cruz by 4.7 percentage points.  Ordinary voters respond to passion and that is one department where Sanders is far superior to Clinton by any reasonable assessment.  But, Sanders has a challenging road ahead of him to win the Democratic party's nomination, as many outsiders have already written him off despite the fact that the actual voting on the Democratic side of the race has been nearly even, mostly because super-delegates support Clinton over Sanders 25-1 and play a much bigger role in choosing the nominee than they do on the Republican side of the process.

The Sanders edge in head to head polling extends to many head to head polls in particular states.


Limited Range Bullets To Reduce Collateral Damage

The Problem

A .50 caliber (12.7mm) bullet, commonly used in heavy machine guns and sniper rifles, travels more than two miles after it is fired if it doesn't hit something else first.

In a sniper rifle, designed to accurately hit targets following careful and thoughtful aiming at long range, this is a feature.

In a machine gun, which is usually fired at ranges of less than a mile, often in bursts of fire and rarely with much introspection, this is a bug because bullets that don't hit their intended target (which is a lot of them) hit an unintended target and often cause undesirable collateral damages to people or property.

Similarly, handguns are generally used against adversaries at 30 to 50 yards.  Even an expert aiming carefully would consider hitting a small target at a range of 100 to 200 yards (one or two full football fields) with a handgun to be an accomplishment.  But, a handgun round typically travels from 200 to 900 yards if it doesn't hit something else first.

A stray bullet can go through motor vehicles or walls before stopping, although this impact reduces the distance that it will travel depending on the mechanical properties of whatever is hit.

The long range that a bullet travels is even a problem for target shooters, because people at firing ranges practice at the long end of the range where their weapons are accurate in the heat of a firefight, but if a bullet misses the target it could go far beyond the target range, requiring shooting ranges to hold open a lot of empty space past the shooting range for safety's sake or to build an imposing bullet proof wall that could cause a stray bullet to ricochet back at someone shooting at the range.

So, with the pretty much singular exception of a sniper rifle, the fact that bullets travel much further than the intended target is a flaw for most people using a firearm for its primary purpose of injuring or killing other people or animals.

The Solution

But, the most obvious way to reduce the range of a bullet, by slowing the speed at which it leaves the firearm, is also not desirable.  A slower bullet is less accurate at any given range (in the hands of an ordinary firearm user) and delivers less kinetic energy so it is less likely to stop the person or animal that the person using it is trying to hit.

Employees at the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, however, have identified this problem and patented a bullet design that could solve it (which they call "Limited Range Projectiles"). Basically, a fuse in the bullet that is triggered when the bullet is fired causes the bullet to self-destruct comparatively harmlessly before it hits anything else, once it reaches its designated range, unless it hits something else first.

For example, a police department could issue its officers bullets for their sidearms that self-destruct after 100 yards, thus reducing the likelihood that stray police bullets cause collateral damage, without impairing the effectiveness of the bullet against its intended target at anything less than 100 yards away from the officer firing it.

Engineers are also working on "smart bullets" that can be individually programed to explode at a given distance or to track of target during its flight.  But, limited range bullets require no such deliberation and are suitable to use as a standard round for most firearms in most applications, because the longer ranges travelled by ordinary bullets are almost always a flaw in firearms used in ordinary ways.  One can even imagine gun control lobbies at least favoring legislation to encourage or subsidize such rounds to reduce the risk of accidental injury to members of the public.

How Are Sniper Rifles Used In Modern Warfare?

Of course, there are circumstances when it makes sense, particularly in the military and for SWAT teams, to use sniper rifles to fire at people at long range.  Usually, these rifles use rounds between 7.62mm and 12.7mm, with an 8.6mm (.338 caliber) Lapua Magnum round, which was introduced in the 1990s and has been favored by professionals making that decision afresh since about 2003.

The 8.62mm round has an effective range of about 1,500 meters, compared to about 1,000 meters for a typical 7.62mm sniper round, while the rifle, the ammunition and its gear weigh only slightly more than a conventional 7.62mm sniper rifle.  The 12.7mm round has an effective range of about 2,000 meters but has combined weight of the 12.7mm rounds and associated rifle and gear is twice as heavy at the 8.62mm round and its rifle and kit used to fire them, which can be cumbersome for the sniper. Of course, the ranges are relative and depend to some extent on the skill of the sniper using them.

While I am no hawk on defense and I am usually loathe to applaud any kind of killing, there are some uses of this technique that are undeniably righteous.  Consider the following example:
In this case it was a situation in Syria where a British SAS commando used an Israeli 8.6mm sniper rifle to kill an ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) instructor. The ISIL teacher was about to show his students how to behead prisoners by using a live victim. The British sniper was 1,200 meters away and managed to hit the ISIL instructor in the head at that range. The head shot caused the skull to sort of explode, which apparently made an impression on the ISIL recruits because the SAS sniper was using a new Israeli designed rifle equipped with a suppressor. This is not a silencer but it does greatly reduce the flash and sound of the rifle. For long range shots this means those on the receiving end have a very difficult time telling where the shooter is and that often causes panic.
A few other examples from the same source illustrate how military forces have used sniper rifles at the limits of their range in recent years:
Between 2009 and 2015 the distance record for sniper kills was held by a .338 rifle. In 2015 that record was broken by two Australian snipers in Afghanistan using M82A1 12.7mm (.50 caliber) rifles. In a coordinated shot at a Taliban leader 2,800 meters away the two snipers fired simultaneously and six seconds later the Taliban chieftain fell dead. It will never be known which of the two shots got him. The victim would not have heard the shot, the rifles were so far away and the bullet was travelling faster than the speed of sound. About two seconds later anyone with the dead Taliban man would have heard the two shots, but faintly as the shooters were nearly three kilometers (two miles) away. 
The previous record shot was made in November 2009 by a British sniper (corporal Craig Harrison) who killed two Taliban in Afghanistan, at a range of 2,620 meters (8,596 feet). He did this with a L115A3 rifle firing the 8.6mm Lapua Magnum round. Before that the record was held by a Canadian soldier, corporal Rob Furlong, who dropped an al Qaeda gunman at 2,573 meters (7,972 feet) in 2002, also in Afghanistan with a 12.7mm rifle.
As a point of reference for residents of my native Denver, these distances are roughly the entire length of the 16th Street Mall which goes all of the way from one end of downtown to the other. As a purely technical accomplishment, this is stunning.  And, sometimes, even often in our own military and the militaries of our allies, this technology is used appropriately.

Sometimes life in the military really is every bit as dramatic as the movies.

22 February 2016

Trying To Understand Jason Dalton

The Question

I'm still trying to get my head around the Jason Brian Dalton murder spree in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He shot eight people, killing six, Saturday afternoon, following a crazed drive with an Uber passenger around 4:30 p.m.

What makes a seemingly ordinary person suddenly lose it like that?

What We Know

There Were Remarkably Few Warning Signs Until The Afternoon That The Incident Began

Apart from six tickets for speeding and two for driving without insurance/registration about fifteen to twenty years earlier, and erratic wild driving about an hour and a half before he lost it, there seems to have been absolutely no sign of what he would do.  Indeed, he ran 14 Uber runs basically without incident in the midst of his killing spree.

He had no criminal record, was married 21 years and had two kids (age 10 and 15) at age 45 without incident, was an insurance adjuster, had run 100 prior Uber runs with bad reviews but with no real serious incidents over the previous month, and came across as half-empathetic at a gun store with a friend that same weekend (how many spree shooters have in tact marriages and friends immediately prior to flipping out).  We doesn't seem to have been drunk at the time and went to an ordinary bar afterwards for a drink where he surrendered peacefully.  Authorities believe that he wasn't under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  He didn't have a history of mental illness as far as authorities can tell.  He didn't have amnesia - remembering his killings.  His moonlighting for Uber suggests that he was suffering from some financial stress, but there were no social media manifestos or recollections of anti-social behavior from neighbors.  Yes, he apparently owned a pistol (probably legally) and some long guns.  Perhaps his love of car repair could indicate a faint autistic syndrome but that's not a great fit to a long marriage, job as an insurance adjuster for many years and accounts of empathetic behavior in a gun store earlier that weekend.

Dalton played football, was on the track team and was on the wrestling team in high school where he grew up in Indiana.

Dalton was apparently a car nut, something that figured into his work life as well:
Gary Pardo Jr., whose parents live across the street from Dalton in Kalamazoo Township, described him as a family man who seemed fixated on cars and often worked on them. 
"He would go a month without mowing his lawn but was very meticulous with his cars," Pardo said, explaining that Dalton, at times, owned a Chevrolet Camaro and two Hummer SUVs. 
Progressive Insurance confirmed that he once worked for the company before leaving in 2011. Dalton was an insurance adjuster who did auto-body estimates and once taught an auto-body repair class at an area community college, said James Block, who has lived next door to him for 17 years. 
"He loved to do things outside with his kids" like taking them for rides on his lawn tractor, Block said.
His family is distancing themselves from him and his horrible acts in a statement released by attorneys whom they hired.  Law enforcement and neighbors had initially feared for their lives, but Dalton's family was not harmed, although they may have left the family home for their own safety once they were altered by the sheriff.

Neighbors did say the Dalton had been acting paranoid before the shootings. James Block, a neighbor of Dalton’s noted the suspect increasingly referencing his gun in recent days while maintaining general even handedness.

It may have been Dalton's wedding anniversary, although the reports on this point seem to be inconsistent.  He has no known connection to terrorist or extremist groups according to law enforcement sources.

Was This A Three-Phase Crime?

It kind of seems like there were two phases - one manic, racing, wild and maybe angry with an incredibly reckless 4:30 p.m. drive and then his first shooting at about 5:42 p.m. at a townhouse of a woman, Tiana Carruthers (who is expected to survive), multiple times in front of her children in an apartment complex parking lot, and then another tired, cold, and withdrawn four hours later after giving multiple Uber riders, closer to 10 p.m. when he carried out other murders, took another ride or two, and then quit and had a drink at a downtown pub eventually surrendering and confessing a couple hours after that, with a long break of dissociated "normal" during which he ran a dozen Uber rides, in between with him lashing out the second time in part because he knew the situation was hopeless after his first attempted killing that he may have believed resulted in a death in front of witnesses who could identify him eventually.

None of the shootings seem to be connected to the Uber fares.

The wild ride didn't begin at the start of the ride.  It was apparently triggered by a phone call, followed about an hour later by the townhouse shooting which might have been in reaction to that phone call somehow.
Matt Mellen told CNN he rode in Dalton's car just before the shootings started. "We got about a mile from my house, and he received a telephone call," Mellen told CNN. . . . Dalton told the caller he had a passenger in the car and would call the person back, according to Mellen. 
"Once he hung up with that phone call is when he started driving erratically," Mellen said, recounting side-swiping a car, running a stop sign and red lights. 
"I was pleading with him to stop the vehicle so he could let me out. He was surprisingly calm the whole time." 
Mellen said he was able to jump out of the car and call 911.
According to Mellen: "He said Dalton introduced himself as "Me-Me" and had a dog in the backseat."

One could imagine an affair about to be revealed or some other threatened revelation that Dalton believed would imminently destroy his life spurring the crazy driving and subsequent first shooting. If it turns out that Dalton was not a stranger to this woman, that will explain a lot.  My intuition is that once the relationship between Tiana Carruthers and Jason Brian Dalton (if any) is known, sequence of events will become a lot more clear.

A news report provides some hints, suggesting that the woman may have perhaps have been targeted out of frustration, when the true target was "Mazy". He may have been a stranger to her, but he was not a stranger to the apartment complex.  It may be relevant that Carruthers and many other residents of the complex were African-American, while Dalton was white.
The first victim of the Uber gunman threw herself in front of children when the gunman opened fire and gave police crucial information to track him down. 
Tiana Carruthers was outside her Kalamazoo, Michigan, apartment with several youngsters on a playground at around 5:00pm on Saturday when the suspect, who's been named as Jason Dalton, pulled up in his Chevrolet. 
Sensing trouble, the mother put herself between the attacker and the children, and was shot multiple times as a result, but survived and was able to give the police vital evidence that helped them catch the suspected killer. 
Joi Coleman, 12, and sister Megan were two of the children she saved. Joi was holding Carruthers' hand when Dalton started firing. 
Her actions meant the pair were able to get inside one of the houses and call 911.
Travis Gettys and Devin Fletter, who live next door to Coleman's, told WWMT they saw Dalton earlier in the day talking to children in the neighborhood just an hour before the shooting [ed. i.e. at about 4:45 p.m., shortly after the "wild ride" and phone call with Mellen].
One person said he asked where 'Mazy' was, leading some to believe he was looking for someone specific. 
When police arrived at her family's home after the shooting, they found 10 shell casings on the floor around Carruthers. 
According to MLive, Carruthers was able to give deputies a description of the man who shot her at the scene.
Another report noted suggests that Dalton was not known to Carruthers personally:
At the scene, Carruthers was able to give deputies a description of the man who shot her, describing him as an older, heavy-set white male with brown and graying hair. 
Sparrow testified that Carruthers told deputies her attacker left in a silver sport-utility vehicle. Other witnesses told deputies the vehicle was either a Chevrolet Equinox or Traverse. 
Sparrow said that deputies later learned that the vehicle, after leaving Meadows Townhomes was involved in a crash after it sideswiped another vehicle at the intersection of Gull Road and East G Avenue. 
When she was shown a police lineup after the shooting, Sparrow said Carruthers identified Dalton as the man who shot her.
So, Dalton was still in a rage when he left the complex, presumably because he hadn't found "Mazy" and had just shot someone multiple times for some reason related to his search for her, perhaps in a case of mistaken identity.  What happened next?
There was a four hour time period between the first shooting at Meadows Townhomes and the second shooting at Seelye Kia, we are told police are trying to find out what he was doing during that time period, and revealed he made phone calls to several people.
Presumably, all of those people will be interviewed as witnesses in the case.

Witnesses at the first scene think that asking for "Mazy" may have been a ploy, so Carruthers may have been the intended target after all:
"He was here to kill, like to shoot somebody.” 
That’s how Travis Gettys described the man suspected of shooting and wounding a woman at Richland Township townhomes complex . . .

At the Meadows Townhomes, tire tracks from the car taking off were still visible Sunday and spray paint marked where 10 bullet casings were found. Seven bullet holes could be seen in siding at the front of a near-by apartment.

Neighbors told 24 Hour News 8 that kids were out playing just before 6 p.m. Saturday when the shooter circled around the block before he opened fire. . . . .

Neighbors say the woman recently moved in to the Meadows and was outside with her kids when the shooter, believed to be 45-year-old Jason Dolton, asked if she was a woman with a different name. People who spoke to 24 Hour News 8 said they think it was a ploy to get her to come close to his car. 
“She was talking about her kids, talking about, ‘He asked if I was so-and-so,'” said George’s mother, Tammy. 
Witnesses say the victim’s three children were outside with her. Thankfully, they ran away and avoided being shot. 
James George and his friends, who were playing video games, also avoided injury when four of the bullets came flying through the wall of his home.
Authorities claim that the first shooting was random, despite the fragmentary evidence that seems to point to a contrary conclusion, such as the fact that Dalton came to the complex twice an hour apart and asked for a named individual before shooting, and that he seemed to have a purpose to kill from the outset.

Given the large time gap between the collision after the shooting at the apartment complex and the next time his whereabouts are known, Dalton may have spent part of that time hiding out, cooling down, or perhaps committing another murder, of "Mazy" that has not yet been discovered because there were not witnesses.  Honestly, it wouldn't change the result of the criminal prosecution in any case (except possibly to provide evidence against the argument that he could claim an insanity defense).

According to a neighbor:
Block said Dalton was home ‘between the shootings’ Saturday because his niece saw Dalton pull out of his driveway about 7 p.m. The first shooting occurred about an hour earlier.
Seven of the people shot and all of the people killed died in two incidents, about 15 minutes apart, at 10:15 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., long after Dalton had been taking people on rides for many hours following the initial non-fatal shooting at an apartment complex which took place an hour and a half after his insanely reckless Uber fare drive that his passenger warned others about to no avail.

Perhaps the call that set off the first wild ride had him deranged and unbalanced, leading him to make the first killing (which might have been less random and more impulse driven), and then he sunk into guilt after hours of experiencing no consequences for the prior shooting and wild ride - causing him to become a classic "amok" killer knowing that his ultimate capture and punishment for the first shooting was just a matter of time (a scenario that wouldn't require any drugs or neurological condition at any stage).

Maybe the later two shooting incidents were not strictly random, but settled up otherwise minor scores that had exploded out of proportion for him because he was sure he had no future in the outside world after the first shooting which he believed had been deadly.  Maybe as a automobile nerd, he killed the two Smiths because they were at a business that he believed had done him wrong in the past. Dalton seemed to have "hunted" them (as a girlfriend who was undetected watched).  Maybe he lashed out at Cracker Barrel customers because he really, really hated that restaurant and wanted to include that as a final statement to the world.  Maybe he went to the bar after that because he ran out of grudges and slights to settle and was so stunned that he'd gotten away with everything he'd done without consequences that he thought he might wake up with a hangover and find out that none of it had really happened and it was all just a bad dream.

Probably the only way that this could have been prevented in the real world would have been for police, with a decent identification from the wild ride victim who promptly called 9-1-1, to have made a prompt arrest based upon reckless driving charges.  It isn't clear why police didn't make more of an effort to arrest Dalton at this point given how insane his driving had been reported to be by Mellen (who seems to have done everything possible to avert the tragedy under the circumstances).

If the multi-stage nature of the crime can shed insight into motive, then only the first stage becomes truly incomprehensible, and some shimmer of light can be shed on how even that could happen.

Was This Pre-Meditated?

Yet, there are traces of pre-meditation.  He bought the jacket in which he concealed his pistol on a trip to a gun shop with a friend not long before the spree occurred (at about 3 p.m.), which suggests that the idea was already churning in his head at this point.  Perhaps he suspects that he was about to be betrayed and armed himself as a result in order to carry out just the kind of shooting that he did at the townhouse, and then, having extra bullets and a gun on hand, was equipped to carry out random shootings in despair afterwards.

But, maybe he bought the jacket and carried the pistol for the same self-protection reason that anyone who deals with a lot of drunk people late at night might due so, and not because he planned to go on a shooting spree.  Then, when he had a completely unanticipated psychological break, those ingredients just happened to be already in place.

The jacket may have made it feasible for him to carry the pistol with him, and then, because the pistol was present when he lost it in what otherwise would have been mere grist for the local newspaper or television police reports, became much more deadly.

Theories That Can And Cannot Be Ruled Out

Psychiatric and Neurological Conditions

Psychopathy starts to manifest in preschool and almost never emerges suddenly in middle age. Schizophrenia and bipolar usually hit you in your late teens or twenties (probably because the pruning of neurons that gives most of us more efficient but less plastic brains occurs then). ADHD manifests by elementary school and doesn't lead to the kind of cold affect he had during at least the second phase of the spree, and most "impulsive" criminals "age out" by age 45, but ADHD treatment could have afforded him access to amphetamines or something similar which in a massive OD might be consistent with the facts and with his prior spat of speeding violations at a much younger age. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) or PTSD might fit that profile, but there is nothing in his recent history to suggest he'd suffered either (or that he had any history of mental illness) - although I wouldn't rule out recent TBI (e.g. bonking himself on the head against a car or car part or tool while working on cars in his garage by himself), which often goes undetected and can happen at any time in ways that would be invisible to outsiders.  It was too sudden to be any common form of dementia. It might be consistent with a recent TIA (i.e. a mini-stroke), or a brain tumor, that selectively severed some key aspect of mental functioning in middle age (I have a relative who suffered a serious farming accident leading to some sort of stroke who had a dramatic personality change afterwards, so I can sort of see that).

Possible Substance Abuse Causes

He lacked several of the symptoms of PCP usage, and isn't consistent with heroin or marijuana use either. Prolonged sleep deprivation made possible with amphetamines or meth or cocaine that he OD'd on late that afternoon might fit the timeline of crazy to relatively normal to depressed fairly well, and incidents of "losing it" in that fact pattern are not unprecedented.  Or, maybe he could be flipping out on some other drug with which the public isn't very familiar.  But, if there was a drug, something like alcohol or barbiturates or narcotics that impair motor function don't seem like a good fit given the amount of driving and accurate shooting he did during the spree with only one ride that seemed to be really wild very early on.  On the other hand, addictions to many kinds of drugs can lead to paranoia which for a person in possession of a gun can lead to over-reactions that in turn might trigger despair and further kills later on in the spree.

More Analysis

The rapid up and down points more to some kind of PTSD or psycho-active drug, than to TBI or a TIA or a brain tumor.

On the other hand, the traces of pre-meditation suggest that the idea was already churning in his head at this point, which is inconsistent with a one time effect from drug use, although paranoia or psychosis triggered by sustained drug use might fit that profile and something like TBI or a TIA or a brain tumor is also a better fit to pre-mediation.  But, if the signs of pre-mediation were not actually pre-mediated and were instead just ordinary self-defense preparations of an otherwise sane person, that simply happened to be in place when a psychotic break occurred (which was itself perhaps caused by a one time drug OD of some type), the gun and jacket to conceal it may have simply made it a much more potent (and tragic) incident.

Overall, at first glance, this is one of the most inexplicable mass murders that I can recall.

It is really hard to make sense of it if there is no brain impairment of recent origin, or drug side effect, to explain it. This is not a classic case of going amok from the start that involves an intent to commit suicide while taking as many people as possible with you without interruption in your spree.

There is no sense from the people who interacted with him on his later Uber runs that day that he was angry so much as he was tired.

Are The Theories Sufficient To Provide A Legal Defense?

Obviously, in the drug free, neurological defect free crime of passion followed by crime of suicidal despair scenario, there is no legal defense.

It is quite likely that the substance use or neurological cause of Jason Dalton's spree, if it was one of the more plausible theories suggested above, would not be a meaningful legal defense to criminal liability in the form of life in prison without possibility of parole for Jason Dalton (which would include pretty much any sentence with a minimum parole eligibility after 35-40 years).  If he ever makes it out of prison, it will likely be based upon compassionate release as he is on the verge of dying.

Even if one of these neurological or substance based causes existed, it isn't obvious that they would exonerate him from first degree murder, because they might destroy only his willingness to conform his behavior to right and wrong and not his knowledge of right and wrong - which seems to have existed at some level based upon his denial that he was the shooter to his last fare of the night whom he left unscathed for whatever reason.

Similarly, voluntary substance use is almost never a valid legal excuse, and even if drug use downgraded his offense from first degree murder to a lesser included form of homicide by depriving him of premeditation and perhaps merely classified him as reckless or as acting in the heat of passion, the number of people killed would produce a de facto life without parole sentence in any case from consecutive sentences to the lesser included multiple homicides in this case, given his age.

Since Jason Dalton surrendered peacefully to police when they came to arrest him, since he lives in Michigan which does not have the death penalty, and since he does not appear to be denying that he committed these acts (for which there are multiple witnesses and lots of other solid evidence to support his confession such as the fact that at least two of the shootings were apparently captured on video), it isn't impossible that we may someday know why he did this, unlike so many similar incidents in which the shooter either dies in connection with the spree, or maintains a strict silence afterwards to preserve his legal capacity to appeal.

A detailed confession and/or toxicology report may provide answers.

When his only possible defense is that his mind was broken or temporarily impaired, he has every incentive to cooperate in explaining himself, and his counsel has every incentive to try to find a neurological explanation (if there is one).

Should Any Of The Theories Provide A Legal Defense?

If Jason Dalton was suffering from some recent undiagnosed neurological condition that impaired his capacity to control himself, or made the once in a lifetime mistake of ODing on some sort of stimulant while he was harmed and in a car driving perhaps while sleep deprived as well, not realizing how badly that could mess him up, he looks a lot less culpable than he would otherwise (and certainly not a good candidate for some theory to try to apply the federal death penalty to his case).

But, once we've learned what he can do with no warning, should the public ever give him any opportunity to screw up again?  This is certainly not a paradigmatic example of the insanity defense, and allowing Dalton a defense might leave too much gray area to allow a more culpable mass killer to go free, or for a jury to mischaracterize the circumstances that made him do what he did.

Deterrence Remains Irrelevant

One way that this mass killing is typical is that deterrence is irrelevant to this class of crimes including even this particularly inexplicable one.

The clearance rate in this mass killing, as in almost all mass killings except those incident to gang crimes, is basically 100%.  The killer always either dies trying or is captured and doesn't deny committing the acts.  The killer generally expects to be caught or killed at some point in the process of carrying out the crime.  The threat of prosecution resulting in a certain conviction and never leaving a correctional institution except through death is credible and always carried out when the killer survives the incident.  So, the usual logic of criminal justice is inapplicable to these cases.  The only meaningful way to deal with mass shooting that don't involve gang crimes is to prevent them (or at least, to minimize the harm that they cause by swiftly interrupting an active shooter).

Implications For Gun Control

Of course, we care about the reason so we can prevent similar incidents in the future and preserve public safety.

According to a neighbor, Dalton bought a handgun a few years ago to deal with prowlers, and he did fire it a couple of times.  One report said that Dalton had 11 rifles at his home which were not used in the spree killing. Another said he had many handguns and long guns, apparently all legally. One wonders if anyone who has that many firearms isn't a risk.

Uber prohibits both drivers and passengers from carrying firearms, on pain of being banned from the service.

But, the only gun control measure that might have been effective would have been an extreme ban on handgun possession or ownership by anyone not in law enforcement or a security profession.  Almost any other imagine concealed carry regime would have allowed Jason Dalton to carry a concealed pistol.

When Everyone Is A Criminal, The Law Is Broken

In Ferguson, Missouri, a Justice Department report found that over seventy-five percent of the population had outstanding warrants.
From here.

20 February 2016

Bush Out; Advantage Rubio

Our next Republican Presidential nominee will either be Donald Trump or a Cuban-American Senator. This leaves us with three Republican candidates still in the running. We have also averted the unpleasant possibility of another Bush v. Clinton campaign.

Jeb Bush has suspended has campaign for the GOP Presidential nomination in the wake of his poor finish in the South Carolina (fourth place or fifth place, neck and neck with Kaisch).

Meanwhile, Rubio edged out Cruz for second place in the race.  Jeb Bush voters, in all likelihood, will vote for Rubio more often than they will for Cruz in future caucuses and primaries.

Kaisch's fifth place finish also suggests that his departure from the race is imminent.  Kaisch might hope to pick up Jeb Bush's supporters in order to become viable, so he might not drop out until he makes it to the primary in his home state of Ohio, but it is fairly obvious that he can't win the GOP nomination at this point.  He is far, far behind Cruz and Rubio (by a 3-1 margin in each case).  And, his supporters are also more likely to favor Rubio than Cruz.

Carson finished sixth in South Carolina, was also outvoted 3-1 by both Rubio and Cruz, and has yet to break even third place in any race.  There is no reason to think that Nevada will be different.  He's done. But, his supporters do not seem likely to lean strongly towards any of the remaining three viable candidates at this point.

Also, in the race for super-delegates and GOP establishment support, neither Trump nor Cruz have many friends.  Rubio is an easy choice for them in a three way race that Rubio has a real chance of winning.  This may or may not be enough to allow Marco Rubio to defeat Donald Trump.  But, it does give Rubio a decided edge over Ted Cruz.

Trump is the clear front runner.  But, if Rubio could consolidate more of the "not Trump" vote which made up two-thirds of the vote in South Carolina, he has a shot at the GOP nomination.  Trump won all but two counties in South Carolina, but the other two were won by Rubio.  There was not a single county in all of South Carolina where Cruz bested Trump and the demographics of their supporters is quite similar.

Meanwhile, as expected, Hillary Clinton won a narrow victory over Bernie Sander in Nevada and is now headed to South Carolina's Democratic primary on Tuesday where she is favored to win by a double digit percentage margin similar to the margin of Sanders' win in New Hampshire.

Focusing On Kingpins Is A Bad Way To Fight Organized Crime

It is an article of faith in many law enforcement circles that the secret to fighting organized crime is to take down the kingpins who run organized crime organizations.  Unfortunately, this widely adopted strategy, in practice, is one of the worst.  Consider the case of Mexico:
At least 18,650 people were murdered in Mexico in 2015. That is a 7.6 percent increase over 2014. The murder rate for 2015 was 16 per 100,000. The high point during the Calderon Administration (2006-12) was 20 per 100,000. Guerrero state remains the most violent. Its murder rate is 57 per 100,000. 
When Calderon was in charge he pursued a “kingpin strategy” which concentrated on cartel leaders and sought to arrest them or kill them while attempting to arrest them. The current president (Pina) initially criticized the kingpin strategy. However, once in office, Pena has followed a very similar path. By 2015 security forces had killed or captured several senior leaders in the Knights Templar, Sinaloa, Los Zetas and Gulf cartels. At that point it was believed that there were only two major cartels left. 
For many this was astonishing good news. Here is the bad news: several hundred “cartel factions” or splinter cartel cells are still engaged in violent organized criminal activities. This new claim contrasts sharply with another recent government assessment which said nine major cartels and around 45 smaller organized criminal gangs were operating in the country.
By comparison, in 2014, the U.S. murder rate was 4.5 per 100,000 and Louisiana was the state with the highest murder rate, 10.3 per 100,000.  The murder rate in Colorado (which has the most liberal marijuana laws in the nation), where I live, was 2.8 per 100,000.

Empirically, it is clear that taking down kingpins with a militarized approach to drug dealing organizations increases the violence of organized crime, which is the most important reason that we care about organized crime.  Columbia's drug war efforts took a similar approach to Mexico many years earlier, with similar results.  Indeed, Columbia lost effective control of much of its interior territory for something like a decade as a result and has only regained control with what amounts to diplomatic efforts in the last couple of years.

Kingpins come into being to organize economic crimes (vice, loan sharking, smuggling, tax evasion, and "protection rackets" are some of the most common) that are already rampant, in order to make it more profitable, usually by reducing violence between smaller criminal gangs and by mitigating law enforcement interest in the crimes with economic incentives, and reducing political will to fight the economic crimes by reducing its impacts on the neighborhoods where the economic crimes takes place.

By comparison, U.S. efforts to reduce methamphetamine production through regulatory oversight of legal pharmacies by closely monitoring purchases of Sudafed, an over the counter drug that was once widely used to synthesize meth, has been very effective. Maintenance drug based approaches to substance abuse have been much more successful at treating drug addiction and preventing recidivism among people convicted of drug crimes, while the mainstays of incarceration and Alcoholics Anonymous are not effective.

Public health agency driven limited legalization and/or harm reduction approaches to drugs in Portugal, the Netherlands and Switzerland have likewise been effective.

The most effective single measure ever to reduce tax fraud in the United States, at the recommendation of the late Milton Friedman, was information reporting of business transactions which is usually done these days via IRS Form 1099, a preventative administrative measure, rather than a law enforcement or military approach.

19 February 2016

CEO Pay Still Rotten

The pay of the CEO of the publicly held oil company, Schlumberger, illustrates how in the world of executive compensation, pay for performance is a heads I win, tails I lose, proposition.  Notably, the stock markets were not impressed with the company's lack of accountability.
CEO Paal Kibsgaard received total compensation worth $18.3 million in 2015, the company reported, down only slightly from $18.5 million the year before. . . . The company cut 25,000 jobs during the year, or 20% of its workforce. Revenue was down 27%, and profit plunged 41%. Schlumberger (SLB) shares tumbled 18%.

The weak results and layoffs are the result of the plunge in the price of oil.

The modest drop in Kibsgaard's compensation was the result of the performance of his pension plan. His base salary and stock were up from 2014 levels. The cash he took home jumped 12% to $5.2 million.
From CNN.

Patents Are Much Harder To Get Than They Were A Dozen Years Ago

A series of recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court on patent law, culminating in the 2014 decision in Alice v. CLS Bank, Int'l., which prohibited software that generically applied an abstact idea that is not otherwise patentable, have made it dramatically more difficult to obtain patents, particularly the subset of patents called "business method patents" which include most software patents.

In January of 2004, only a little more than 2% of patent applications were rejected (on Section 101 grounds which governs what is patentable).  By July of 2015, that percentage is about 15%.

Before Alice in July of 2014, about 31% of business method patent applications were rejected on Section 101 grounds (already a major increase from 2007 when the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a more expensive definition of "obviousness" under Section 101 for patent law purposes in KSR International v. Teleflex, and 2010 when the U.S. Supreme Court in Bilski v. Kappos articulated a new (and functionally more restrictive) legal standard for granting software patents (although not as restrictive as the federal circuit case it reviewed which is linked), while affirming that software patents could still be obtained).  After Alice, 82% of business method patent applications were rejected.  

Indeed, there have been at least 15 different major U.S. Supreme Court cases from 2004 to the present in which the U.S. Supreme Court has reversed pro-patent holder rulings from the Federal Circuit.

And, as I have previously noted, in patent infringement cases that are litigated until a result on patent validity is reached on the merits, roughly half of all litigated patents are found to be invalid (which isn't necessarily as shocking as it seems, because patent cases in which there is no strong patent invalidity defense routinely settle before a ruling on the merits of that issue is rendered).

This may have something to do with the fact that roughly 98% of patents filed with the PTO contain mistakes.

Tax strategy patents were also abolished, by statute, effective September 16, 2011 as part of the American Invents Act, which was the most significant overhaul of U.S. patent law since 1952.  But, this law itself, outside of the area of tax strategy patents, didn't significantly change the scope of what kind of ideas could be patented.

On the whole, the rulings are a good thing, gradually and in a relatively nuanced manner, weeding out a lot of laxly granted patents (particularly in the business method category) that undermined innovation by creating legions of patent trolls whose tolls had to be paid to invent anything half innovative.  Since patents last a couple of decades, many of the patents granted under the earlier lax standards remain in force, and this dramatic change in the legal standard for patentability over the last dozen years or so also helps explain why so many patents infringement lawsuits give rise to invalidity findings at trial.

Securities Class Actions Are As Targeted Or More So Than SEC Enforcement Actions

Tort reformers who dislike class action litigation and who, in particular, are skeptical of securities law class action litigation frequently argue that we should prefer administrative agency enforcement of the securities laws, on the theory that they are driven by the merit of the suit, over private class action litigation which is allegedly brought indiscriminately following a sudden plunge in the price of a company's shares.  The empirical evidence, however, does not support this claim.
Using actions with both an SEC investigation and a class action as our baseline, we compare the targeting of SEC-only investigations with class-action-only lawsuits. Looking at measures of information asymmetry, we find that investors in the market perceive greater information asymmetry following the public announcement of the underlying violation for class-action-only lawsuits compared with SEC-only investigations. Turning to sanctions, we find that the incidence of top officer resignation is greater for class-action-only lawsuits relative to SEC-only investigations. Our findings are consistent with the private enforcement targeting disclosure violations at least as precisely as (if not more so than) SEC enforcement.
Stephen J. Choi and A.C. Pritchard, "SEC Investigations and Securities Class Actions: An Empirical Comparison", Journal of Empirical Legal Studies (March 2016).

Cure For Some Kinds Of Previously Lethal Leukemia Discovered; Aging Better Understood

In a small study, an experimental treatment that genetically modifies part of the human immune system cured all but one of eight cases of a type of leukemia (one of several kinds of blood cancer) that is usually fatal in everyone who contracts it.  Note that a treatment that appears to entirely cure someone's cancer, as opposed to merely forcing it into remission for the duration of the treatment, is particularly exceptional.

Moreover, this new approach to cancer therapy provides a template for many potential future cures of other kinds of cancers (or even other kinds of diseases).

This subtype of leukemia isn't the only circumstance in which cancer treatment has made great strides, although it is one of the most dramatic.  From 1960-1964, the five year survival rate for leukemia was 14%.  From 2004 to 2010, it was more than four times that rate, at 60.2%, and progress has continued since then.

Progress In Understanding Aging

In other impressive medicinal biochemistry news, scientists have made great progress in understanding the role of a key hormone called growth differentiation factor eleven (GDF11) first described in 2014, in the genetically determined component of aging.

This hormone's effects are truly impressive in mouse models.  "Restoration of GDF11 reverses cardiovascular aging in old mice and leads to muscle and brain rejuvenation . . . . GDF11 levels decrease over time and also showed that most of the depletion occurs by middle age."  Seven genes associated with GDF11 levels in mice were identified and much of that information can be used to identify parallel genes in humans.

As I noted recently in another post, the biochemistry of other completely independent aspects of the human aging progress are also increasingly well understood.  And, we have made progress toward identify one of the environmental causes of Alzheimer's disease (copper exposure).

Are Cat Lovers Suffering From Mind Control?

Lots of people know that the parasite toxoplasma gondi, a protozoan that reproduces only in cats but can infect any warm blooded animal and can cross the brain-blood barrier, causes infected mice to be attracted to the smell of cat urine. This, in turn and on average, causes the mice to be eaten by cats allowing the t. gondi within them to reproduce as the cat is infected.

It turns out, the chimps which are infected with t. gondi are attracted to leopard urine leading to a similar cycle.

Almost half of humans are infected. In humans, it is much more often found in cat owners than non-cat owners and is also common in people who eat unwashed fresh fruits and vegetables, undercooked lamb and pork, and unpasteurized goat milk.  It is possible that this infection may also be sexually transmitted.

Some behavioral effects of the infection in humans have been characterized:
The differences in behavior observed in infected hosts compared to non-infected individuals have been shown to be sex dependent. In humans for example, studies using the Cattell’s 16 Personality Factor questionnaire, found that infected men scored lower on Factor G (superego strength/rule consciousness) and higher on Factor L (vigilance) while the opposite pattern was observed for infected women. In 9 out of 11 studies, sex differences within personality traits were observed using Cattell’s Personality Factor questionnaire. However, human studies have not been able to show causation as they have all been observational studies. . . . 
In a human study with volunteer blood donors, reaction times and the amount of time the subject remained focused were worse for the infected group than for the control group. However, the infection status was found to only explain less than 10% of the variability in motor performance, making this a weak correlation. A few observational studies on human subjects have also found the risk of traffic accidents to be significantly greater in infected persons than non-infected controls. One of these studies concluded that this risk was 2.65 times greater for infected persons, and it is hypothesized that the patterns of decreased psychomotor performance could be responsible for the increased prevalence of traffic accidents among infected persons.
West Hunter takes this evidence and poses the intriguing question of whether t. gondi plays a role in cat domestication, causing people to faun upon cats because it makes them susceptible to cat pheromones.  In effect, t. gondi may be domesticating humans just as much as humans are domesticating the cats.  Thus, for example, the stereotypical "cat lady" might be engaging in behavior driven by a t. gondi infection and might act differently if the t. gondi infection were eliminated by one of the medicines that is effective in doing so.