Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

California’s New HIV Law

I’ve stated a number of times that in my opinion, the one positive thing you can say about Democrats is that they usually are marginally less offensive than Republicans. But this is is really, really bad:

Starting January 1, 2018, it will no longer be a major crime in California to knowingly expose a sexual partner to HIV without disclosing the infection. Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation on Friday that lowers the offense from a felony to a misdemeanor.

So… human nature being what it is… what do you think will be the result of reducing the disincentives to knowingly emposing a sexual partner to HIV without disclosing the infection?

More:

The California legislature passed SB 239 on September 11.
The law previously punished people who knowingly exposed or infected others with HIV by up to eight years in prison. This new legislation will lower jail time to a maximum of six months.
The new law also reduces the penalty for knowingly donating HIV-infected blood from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Bill sponsors Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblyman Todd Gloria, both Democrats, argued California law was outdated and stigmatized people living with HIV, especially given recent advancements in medicine. Evidence has shown that a person with HIV who undergoes regular treatment has a negligible chance of spreading the infection to others through sexual contact.
“The most effective way to reduce HIV infections is to destigmatize HIV,” Wiener told CNN. “To make people comfortable talking about their infection, get tested, get into treatment.”

The piece goes on:

Many Republicans staunchly opposed SB 239, saying it could lead to an increase in HIV infections.
Sen. Jeff Stone voted against the bill and strongly expressed his disapproval in September when the Senate voted on it.
Stone, who is also a pharmacist, took aim at Wiener and Gloria’s argument that modern medicine can lower the spread of HIV. The senator said three out of four people who are on prescription medication in the United States do not comply with their doctor’s orders on how to take it.
“If you don’t take your AIDS medications and you allow for some virus to duplicate and show a presence, then you are able to transmit that disease to an unknowing partner,” Stone said on the Senate floor.
Sen. Joel Anderson, another Republican who voted against the bill, argued that people infected with HIV could never live their lives “to the same extent” again. He said it was irresponsible not to disclose the possibility of a life-altering infection.

Moving on:

The bill enjoyed support from Californians for HIV Criminalization Reform (CHCR), a coalition of several organizations, including the ACLU of California, whose mission is to replace the “stigmatizing laws that criminalize HIV status.”
Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California — one of the organizations in the coalition — told CNN his group was “elated” that the governor signed the bill and changed the state’s “archaic laws.”
“This is an important bill that modernizes California’s HIV laws,” Zbur told CNN. “It will really advance public health and reduce stigma and discrimination that people living with HIV have suffered.”
The Los Angeles LGBT Center also supported the bill. The organization’s director of government relations, Aaron Fox, told CNN the new law will see HIV-positive people “treated fairly under California law.”

Apparently preventing people from knowingly exposing others to HIV stigmatizes people who have HIV and is unfair. No word on how the victims of such behavior feel.

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Freedom of Speech

I am not a libertarian nor am I a member of the ACLU, but I generally agree with them on the importance of free speech. This, I believe, is a real and growing problem on college campuses:

Students affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement crashed an event at the College of William & Mary, rushed the stage, and prevented the invited guest—the American Civil Liberties Union’s Claire Gastañaga, a W & M alum—from speaking.

Ironically, Gastañaga had intended to speak on the subject, “Students and the First Amendment.”

The disruption was livestreamed on BLM at W&M’s Facebook page. Students took to the stage just a few moments after Gastañaga began her remarks. At first, she attempted to spin the demonstration as a welcome example of the kind of thing she had come to campus to discuss, commenting “Good, I like this,” as they lined up and raised their signs. “I’m going to talk to you about knowing your rights, and protests and demonstrations, which this illustrates very well. Then I’m going to respond to questions from the moderators, and then questions from the audience.”

It was the last remark she was able to make before protesters drowned her out with cries of, “ACLU, you protect Hitler, too.” They also chanted, “the oppressed are not impressed,” “shame, shame, shame, shame,” (an ode to the Faith Militant’s treatment of Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, though why anyone would want to be associated with the religious fanatics in that particular conflict is beyond me), “blood on your hands,” “the revolution will not uphold the Constitution,” and, uh, “liberalism is white supremacy.”

This went on for nearly 20 minutes. Eventually, according to the campus’s Flat Hat News, one of the college’s co-organizers of the event handed a microphone to the protest’s leader, who delivered a prepared statement. The disruption was apparently payback for the ACLU’s principled First Amendment defense of the Charlottesville alt-right’s civil liberties.

Organizers then canceled the event; some members of the audience approached the podium in an attempt to speak with Gastañaga, but the protesters would not permit it. They surrounded Gastañaga, raised their voices even louder, and drove everybody else away.

Two comments… First, as Gastañaga learned (assuming, and it may be one hell of an assumption, that the message sunk in), giving in to this sort of bullying, as with any kind of bullying, doesn’t mean the bully looks on you with more sympathy. It doesn’t even mean they save you for last. Bullies simply aren’t that smart, nor do they have that sort of self-control. They sense only strength, or its absence. Second, I’ve often wondered how Chinese people of a certain age explain the Cultural Revolution and the Red Guards to their children. I guess I will find out first hand. Sooner or later, when my son is older, I will have to explain this nonsense to him. I just hope it has run its course by then.

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Genes, Violence, and Testing

The abstract of an article in Molecular Psychiatry entitled Genetic background of extreme violent behavior reads as follows:

In developed countries, the majority of all violent crime is committed by a small group of antisocial recidivistic offenders, but no genes have been shown to contribute to recidivistic violent offending or severe violent behavior, such as homicide. Our results, from two independent cohorts of Finnish prisoners, revealed that a monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) low-activity genotype (contributing to low dopamine turnover rate) as well as the CDH13 gene (coding for neuronal membrane adhesion protein) are associated with extremely violent behavior (at least 10 committed homicides, attempted homicides or batteries). No substantial signal was observed for either MAOA or CDH13 among non-violent offenders, indicating that findings were specific for violent offending, and not largely attributable to substance abuse or antisocial personality disorder. These results indicate both low monoamine metabolism and neuronal membrane dysfunction as plausible factors in the etiology of extreme criminal violent behavior, and imply that at least about 5–10% of all severe violent crime in Finland is attributable to the aforementioned MAOA and CDH13 genotypes.

Now, we are in the early phases of something that will be one day be termed a genetic revolution. Whatever is known about genetic influences on crime (or anything else, for that matter) pales in comparison to what will be known in a couple of decades. We may not be far from the point where a journal article tells us about eighteen, twenty or fifty three genotypes that explain 85% or 90% or 99.9% of all severe violent crime in Finland. So it pays to think about the big questions early.

And this abstract raises one big question: what if we have the tools to detect those most likely to commit the worst of the worst violent crimes? Biology is not destiny, and some percentage of people who have a tendency toward violence (a big percentage? a small percentage?) may have the fortitude or wherewithal not to follow through. Or to avoid getting caught, which legally amounts to the same thing, though not for the victim(s). That makes widespread testing for these traits problematic, particularly if it were mandatory.

On the other hand, if the genetic link with violence turns out to be sufficiently strong, one can imagine situations arising where people formed associations whose membership is based on disclosure of results of tests for specific genetic traits. I’m guessing parents of young children would join en masse. Exactly what those voluntary associations might look like, and whether they could actually exclude those who “failed” or “tested positive” for the wrong thing might be something future courts will be considering. As long as nobody was being coerced, such situations might be deemed legal. All sorts of things seem to be legal depending on the context. For instance, age discrimination is illegal when it comes to jobs, but seems to be perfectly acceptable when it comes to determining who can live in a retirement community.

One additional tidbit of information worth considering. Despite a number of silly articles in the early oughts that violated all semblance of common sense, not to mention some insane drivel coming out of a few corners of academia today, increased levels of testosterone are associated with aggressive behavior. Testosterone, of course, happens to be the primary male sex hormone, and that’s a big part of the reason that in just about every human society, at just about every point in time, males have been the perpetrators of the overwhelming majority of the violence. (It goes for other primates too.)

Anyway, what can, what should, and what will be done may be three separate questions in a few decades. That’s all too far out for me to have a good idea of the shape of what is to come, but it will tremendously affect society and how we live.  What are your thoughts?

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People Killed by Police, 2016

As a follow up to my post on homicides in 2016, I decided to combine homicide data from the FBI with figures from the police shooting database from the Washington Post. The only difficulty is that the FBI classifies people as being from Black, White, Other, or Unknown races, whereas the Washington Post breaks out other groups, such as Hispanic. Because Hispanic people can be Black, White, or Other (as per FBI classfication), it is necessary to assign Hispanic deaths at the hand of the police to Black, White, or Other to match the FBI figures.

One approach would be based on the percentage of Hispanic people who are Black, White, etc. According to the Census, 2.5% of Hispanics are Black. On the other hand, it has been noted that Black people are disproportionately likely to have negative interactions with Police. In the past few years, that has been the subject of protests. Lacking a perfect way to allocate the Hispanic figures, I assigned them to Black, White, and Other based on their share of the population that were victims of homicides. Its not perfect, and would, if anything, inflate the number of Black people killed by police. But… given the magnitude of the numbers involved, the choice of how to allocate Hispanic deaths among Black and White people will not have much of an effect on the graphs below.

With that said, here is a graph showing the percentage of Black people killed by police v. the percentage of Black people killed by someone other than the police.

(click to embiggen)

Here’s the equivalent graph for White people.

(click to embiggen)

 

Edit:  9:29/2017, 4:07 AM – added “(click to embiggen)” under each graph.

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2016 Homicides

The FBI just released data on homicides for 2016. In light of the various protests by the BLM and now football players, I thought I’d provide a a graph.  It breaks out population, homicide perpetrators and homicide victims by race.

(click to embiggen)

Note… the number of offenders exceeds the number of victims. This is a result of some homicides involving multiple perpetrators. This can happen, for example, if both the shooter and the getaway driver in a drive-by shooting are charged with the crime. The race breakdown comes from the FBI, and the population comes from the Census. Data sources are shown in the graph itself.

The key driver of the graph is the large percentage of perpetrators of unknown race. This happens because not all jurisdictions report on the race of offenders, but perhaps more importantly, because many crimes are not officially solved. I believe this is particularly true in urban areas with a lot of homicides where nobody wants to cooperate with the police. For example, through August of 2016, the clearance rate for homicides in Chicago was 21 percent. In Baltimore, its about a third. Nationally, its about two thirds.

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Self-Driving Cars

Being a parent of a child under 16 means trying to figure out ways to get said child from here to there, say from school to home, and from home to after school activities, and then back. There is often a fair amount of juggling involved – one or more, er, “caregivers” are typically involved in the process To an economist, therefore, being able to put a child in a self-driving car means, potentially, more output in the economy. That’s a parent or grandparent that doesn’t have to take time away from something else (work?) to traipse across town, pick up the kid, drop him/her off, etc.

And of course, its not just kids. Other people or things that sometimes can’t drive themselves include some of the elderly, women in Saudi Arabia, and packages. And for those who do drive, I wouldn’t be surprised, for instance, if typical commutes become longer, but time spent on the commute will be “more efficiently” used – for instance, in a self-driving vehicle, one can eat a leisurely breakfast and read the morning news while on the way to work. So, what changes do you anticipate we will see as self-driving cars spread?

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Worldwide Deaths, by Cause & Age, 1990 v. 2016

Here’s a fascinating graph from an article in the Lancet:


Click to embiggen. (The figure should show deaths all the way to >95 years)

The graph is a bit complicated at first, but it will convey some interesting information if you stare at it. What jumps out at me is how many more people were dying under age 25 in 1990 than in 2016. The number of deaths in 2016 v. 1990 increased dramatically for those above 25, particularly among the older cohorts. Simply put, a lot of people are living a lot longer.

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Habit Formation

There’s a fascinating but barely-accessible-to-a-non-neurologist article about habit formation. Here is a pretty good summary, albeit with an un-helpful title:

A single kind of neuron deep within the brain serves as a “master controller” of habits, new research in mice indicates.

Some habits are helpful, such as automatically washing your hands before a meal or driving the same route to work every day. They accomplish an important task while freeing up valuable brain space. But other habits—like eating a cookie every day after work—seem to stick around even when the outcomes aren’t so good.

Researchers found that habit formation boosts the activity of the influential nerve cell, and that shutting it down with a drug is enough to break habits in sugar-seeking mice. Though rare, this cell exerts its control through a web of connections to more populous cells that are known to drive habitual behavior.

From earlier research by the same team, and which set them on the path for that “master controller”:

The team trained otherwise healthy mice to receive a tasty treat every time they pressed a lever. Many mice developed a lever-pressing habit, continuing to press the lever even when it no longer dispensed treats, and despite having had an opportunity to eat all the treats they wanted beforehand.

The team then compared the brain activity of mice who had developed a lever-pressing habit with those who hadn’t. They focused on an area deep within the brain called the striatum, which contains two sets of neural pathways: a “go” pathway, which incites an action, and a “stop” pathway, which inhibits action.

They found that both the go and stop pathways were stronger in habit-driven mice. Habit formation also shifted the relative timing of the two pathways, making the go pathway fire before the stop.

The reason so many behavioral traits are heritable is because they are strongly influenced by our physical nature, and our physical nature, in turn, is heritable.

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Justice Denied

From the Daily Mirror:

None of the 400 citizens returning here after fighting for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq have been charged with war crimes.

Yet the Council of Europe’s legal affairs committee recently ruled membership of the terror group, also known as Daesh, is enough for prosecution at the Hague’s International Criminal Court.

Labour Shadow Minister Liam Byrne, representing Britain, backed the decision.

He said: “We know British citizens were soldiers and commanders in Daesh’s army of evil. Yet not a single soldier captured on their return has been charged with war crimes or genocide.”

MI5 estimates that 850 Brits have slipped into Iraq and Syria to fight for IS – half of whom have returned.

They were outside the jurisdiction of the ICC while there but could have been deported to the Hague upon their return.

Mr Byrne added: “This cannot possibly be justice. The Government must look again at throwing the full weight of international law at those who took part in crimes against humanity.”

Byrne also had an op ed in The Times of London:

Britain has signed the Treaty of Rome. We support the International Criminal Court. Indeed, under the 1948 Genocide Convention, we have an obligation to take prompt and effective action both to prevent and punish acts of genocide. And we can try our own nationals for participating in crimes abroad, not least because there are good grounds for bringing charges against even those, who might claim “they were merely following orders”. UK policy is very clear; we allow the exercise of universal jurisdiction, like the ICC, over offences under international law.

That means we can prosecute those of our citizens caught in this country, who fought with militants abroad but then came home to escape a death on the battlefield.

MI5 believe that over 800 of our fellow country men women went to fight in Iraq and Syria. Over 400 have come home. Perhaps 150 have been deprived of their citizenship. But evidence supplied to a Council of Europe investigation suggests that just “eight returnees have been convicted for terrorist offences”. And answers to me in parliament last week confirm that not a single returning fighter has been prosecuted either for genocide or war-crimes.

Justice denied… is collaboration in both past and future crimes.

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Supply and Demand in California

I came across the following graph:


(Click to embiggen)

Both the supply curve for labor in the state of California and the demand curve for housing in California are made up of the states residents.

In general, if you increase the supply of something, all else being equal you bring down its price. On the other hand, if you increase the demand for something, all else being equal you increase its price. The graph above suggests that in California, two things have happened. One is that the supply of labor has increased more rapidly than its demand. Conversely, the demand for housing has increased more rapidly than its supply.

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