Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Katrina Insurance Decision

The New York Times reports an important decision favoring policyholders. The decision appears to impose a major limitation on the flood exclusion clauses in Louisiana insurance contracts:
Judge Duval’s decision centered on the distinction between flooding caused by high winds and heavy rains and flooding caused by human error. Much of the destruction in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 was a result of levee failures.

He said the language in the insurance policies on flood coverage was ambiguous because it did not “clearly exclude man-made” flood disasters. Since the insurers provided the wording for the policies, he said he felt “constrained to interpret it against the insurers.”

He made an exception for State Farm and the Hartford Insurance Company, whose policies do not provide coverage for flooding “regardless of cause.”

El nuevo corazón de las tiniebras

»   The conclusion of a two-part series   «

In the first part of this series, a post called Un nuevo nacimiento de la libertad, I promised a defense of this forum's frequent defense of an open immigration policy for the United States. This post fulfills that pledge.

ImmigrantsJohn F. Kennedy famously described the United States as A Nation of Immigrants. Yet the foreign-born population of the United States has never exceeded 15 percent. This 15 percent threshold extends deep into the colonial history of North America; from 1675 onward, the native-born population of this country (or the colonized portion of what would become this country) has consistently remained at 85 percent or higher. In absolute terms, there has never been a question of the capacity of the United States to absorb newcomers. America has done so throughout its history. There can be no reasonable doubt that the United States' openness to newcomers has distinguished it -- almost uniformly for the better -- from every other country.

So why has immigration become such a controversial political topic? Because a very significant portion of immigrants stem from a single region (Latin America) and in particular a single country (Mexico) distinct in language and culture from that of the native-born majority. Because those immigrants are, on balance, poorer and less educated. Because they are perceived as net drains on social services, even though the evidence indicates that immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, are net fiscal contributors.

David RicardoBut most of all, immigration has become a political flash point because it serves as the repository of all cultural and economic anxiety over globalization. Of the many ideas with which economists and their politically empowered patrons have used to experiment on human populations, one stands as a clear winner. It is free trade. Most economic propositions are contestable. The theory of comparative advantage is not one of them.

The trouble, of course, is that overall gains from free movement in goods, ideas, and persons have not flowed even throughout the economy. Globalization, to put it coarsely, has its losers. In the United States, there is no question who those losers are. They are the least educated, least mobile members of the native-born population. Demagoguing the immigration issue resonates with this group. Or so certain exploiters of fear have concluded. From Lou Dobbs to J.D. Hayworth, there is no shortage of journalists and politicians willing to leverage these fears. If American politics demonstrates anything, it is the proposition that no message, however offensive, goes unexpressed as long as some politician, somewhere, perceives an opportunity for partisan gain:
Yes, Vernon Robinson occupies a lunatic fringe in American politics, but the fact that a major political party allowed a candidate to wage a campaign this vile, in an eminently contestable district (North Carolina 13), during a season that in retrospect may have realigned American politics for years to come, speaks volumes. Had Joseph Conrad adopted Spanish instead of English as his language of choice, that volume might be called El corazón de las tiniebras.

Let me translate this in unequivocal terms. Xenophobia is the last redoubt of openly expressed racism in America. Opposition to immigration by any means and the demonization of immigrants have occupied an emotional vacuum created by the rightful condemnation of other forms of overt racism. Anti-immigration demagoguery exposes America's new heart of darkness.

September 11America's place in the world changed on September 11, 2001. It has arguably changed even more in the ensuing five years, and not for the better. With astonishing speed, the United States has squandered the goodwill of the global community. We Americans are locked in nothing less than a struggle for the soul of the world. It is a familiar contest. For the second half of the continuous 75 Years' War (as future historians undoubtedly will call the military and political conflicts of 1914 through 1989), the United States engaged another superpower in a comparable fight.

Lest we forget, America won the Cold War. As Mary Dudziak (author of the new blog, Legal History), argued in Cold War Civil Rights, the United States desperately needed to set its own legal house in order before it could defeat the Soviet Union with rhetorical, political, and emotional weapons that ultimately proved more effective than its military arsenal. Civil rights at home enabled victory in the Cold War.

Today we stand in a similar battle for the hearts of the world. How we treat individuals who seek nothing but an opportunity to become Americans by choice sends a message to the contested and contestable portions of that world. Por amor de Dios, enviamos el mensaje de bienvenido a todas las naciónes y todos los pueblos del mundo. Porque no podemos perdir la guerra más importante de nuestra edad.


In commentary on Dan Farber's post, The new politics of climate change, Paul Hirsch asks:
Can any of the readers of this blog point me to a hindcast of the Pleistocene climate? What I'm looking for is a climate model that models the climate swings over the last 2 million years and, ideally, can be used to forecast future climate change.
Neat question, one that should indeed interest readers of this forum. Herewith an off-the-cuff answer. I'd take a look at the home page of NOAA's paleoclimatology program, particularly the program's archive of climate reconstructions.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Microsoft breaks its own abysmal record

ZuneNot one week ago, I declared on the front page of Jurisdynamics' newest affiliate weblog that I had encountered "the worst Microsoft product ever." I'm sorry; I lied. Now I have to eat my words. Microsoft has issued something that might actually be worse than Ms. Dewey.

A Jurisdynamics milepost


Jurisdynamics' Sitemeter.Com tally has crossed the 25,000 benchmark. Network-wide totals are rapidly approaching 50,000. By the vaunted standards of powerhouses such as the Law Professor Blog network or the Volokh Conspiracy, these are very modest figures. But we appreciate every member of an audience that has supplied this forum and its affiliates with a loyal and engaging readership since July 2006.

The Brain, Money, and Law & Economics

Complexity in the Field
By J.B. Ruhl

Money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money...

Right now, if researchers from the University of Minnesota and Florida State University are right, you should be feeling free from dependency and less likely to want others to depend on you. As reported in Science, Kathleen Vohs and grad students Nicole Mead, and (from U.B.C.) Miranda Goode have found that test subjects who are reminded of money prior to engaging in a word jumble descrambling exercise exhibit more self-sufficienct orientation compared to control subjects to whom neutral language is read prior to the exercise.

So what? Well, as the University of Exeter's Carol Burgoyne and Stephan Lea explain in a related article, "money is a recent phenomenon, with a history going back no more than a few thousand years, and the forms it takes across history and cultures vary widely. It seems unlikely that any brain mechanisms could have evolved in this time specifically to handle money, so there has been a tendency to treat money as a purely cultural phenomenon for which no scientific account can be given." But as we all know, money makes the world go 'round--it's hardly unrelated to human behavior. So Lea and colleagues recently developed a theory that behavior toward money is mediated either because money triggers brain processes related to the things for which money is exchanged (the "tool" explanation) or that it somehow triggers brain processes that act in potentially maladaptive ways (the "drug" explanation). The point is that these material explanations can be tested, which is what Vohls et al. did, and their and related research is producing "empirical[ing] that behavior toward money is consistent and predictable, although not always what common sense or economic theory would predict."

Their deeper point is that emerging fields of study such as neuroeconomics, economic psychology, behavioral economics, and experimental economics have "driven back the orthodoxy that economics could best be studied by purely mathematical and theoretical models." Experimental economists such as George Mason's Bart Wilson, for example, are pursuing research that has profound implications for how humans approach trade and specialization. Mathematical and theoretical models can't push that ball very far without work like his.

Likewise, law & economics slowly hatched out of its theoretical shell to extend its reach into behavioral economics, but it strikes me as lagging behind the experimental and empirical research being advanced in other fields. Solid empirical law & econ/behavior work by legal academics, such as the type in which Jon Klick and Greg Mitchell engage, is still the exception, and experimental law & econ work is off in the distance as far as I can tell. Yet wouldn't research such as Vohs et al. have conducted on money be valuable to law and policy--e.g., informing consumer protection laws and even the trend in environmental law toward monetizing the environment?

As they say, just follow the money--or at least think about it!

Antitrust enforcement and international development

The following item arrived in the Jurisdynamics mailbox just as I began to think this week about the role of law in international development. More on those thoughts later; for now, I am content to commend the abstract to my readers' attention:

Michael W. Nicholson, D. Daniel Sokol & Kyle W. Stiegert, Technical Assistance for Law & Economics: An Empirical Analysis in Antitrust/Competition Policy:
GlobeEffective antitrust is essential to prevent monopolies and cartels from dominating economies and undermining growth and development. Building the capacity of young antitrust institutions in the developing world and in transition economies is a means to improving the capabilities of these agencies to police against anticompetitive conduct. To facilitate the new regulatory order and to constrain retrenchment of these policies, countries increasingly have looked to the implementation/enforcement of antitrust policies through competition agencies. Many nations have augmented their development of competition agencies with technical assistance (TA) support. Determining how best to design TA programs to interact with nascent and financially constrained competition agencies is a difficult and complex matter. The objective of this study is to assess the impacts of the TA-agency partnership. This paper focuses specifically on factors that lead to improved effectiveness of TA as it pertains to improved agency effectiveness. In a field that has been lacking for empirical evaluation, we use a unique dataset of responses from 38 competition agencies that have received technical assistance from the period 1996-2003. Our empirical analysis demonstrates that issues of timing and absorptive capacity of particular forms of technical assistance within a larger political economy consideration maximize the impact and effectiveness of technical assistance provided to competition agencies.

An end-of-semester benediction

Wondering what to say to your students after the last class of the semester? With apologies to Jewel, try this benediction:
If I could tell the class just one thing
JewelIt would be that you're all okay
And not to worry because worry is wasteful
and useless in times like these
You will not be made useless
Don't be idled with despair
You should gather yourself around your mind
for light does the darkness most fear
The original tune is truly lovely. Watch the video:
This item has been posted simultaneously at Jurisdynamics and at MoneyLaw.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Introducing Law and Technology Theory

Elsie Russell, Prometheus (1994)

The Jurisdynamics Network is proud to announce the arrival of its newest affiliate, Law and Technology Theory. Under the editorial leadership of Gaia Bernstein and Frank Pasquale, Law and Technology Theory will run the scholarly gamut, from a traditional law review symposium to a "mobblog." Gaia and Frank provide all the details in their initial posts.

Law and Technology Theory, affectionately known as Tech Theory to those of us who have worked for months to bring it to fruition, can be reached at either of these addresses:We welcome you to Law and Technology Theory and hope that you will visit often.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Consuming transport

The Sunday after Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year in the United States. It has been a very strange day for me -- I've driven roughly 50 miles today, after having forgone air travel the entire holiday weekend. Thanksgiving weekend has been a departure from a travel year that has come up boxcars: In 2006, I've flown roughly 60,000 miles and driven roughly 6,000. Hmmm . . . 6-6-6. A very good number in Risk; a very bad number in Revelations. Let's roll.

Brave New WorldAll this thinking about transportation turned my mind to the cultural and sociological issues that arise from the types of transportation we as individuals consume. Mustapha Mond, the moody and manipulative World Controller of Brave New World, coldly observes that his government's systems of social and economic control are designed to encourage citizens to "consume transport." And consume we do. Without doing more research than a single Google search, I found these statistics compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas as part of its evaluation, in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, of the relative risks of driving and flying:

U.S. annual averages1946-19501966-19701996-2000
Billions of miles driven3981,0202,624
Motor vehicle fatalities32,96654,31841,755
Deaths per billion miles driven82.753.315.9
Billions of miles flown8110630
Airline fatalities14014590
Deaths per billion of miles flown16.71.30.14

BrainThe Dallas Fed offered these data to demonstrate propositions that should be familiar to most of us. Mile by mile, it's much safer to fly than to drive. Although both road safety and aeronautic safety have improved since the 1940s, we've made more dramatic gains by air. Road safety improved by a factor of five; aeronautic safety, by a factor of 100. Strikingly, it's as safe to drive today as it was to fly sixty years ago, but improvements in aeronautic safety have made a quantum leap in the meanwhile. None of this, of course, overcomes the flawed heuristics by which many people perceive driving to be safer ("At least I'm in control" and "I'm a better driver than others," not to mention the salience of airliner crashes). And judging by readers' reactions to a leading study on the comparative risks of different modes of transportation, having an advanced degree or two does little to deter reliance on risk-evaluating heuristics that are as flawed as deeply as they are embedded in the adapted mind.

As I've said, none of this is terribly new or exciting. What caught my eye in the Dallas Fed's statistics was the change in the ratio of road miles traveled to air miles traveled:

Ratio of miles driven
to miles flown

Collectively speaking, we Americans are becoming fugitives and vagabonds above the earth.

What I now ponder is this: Even though declines in the real cost of commercial air travel means that Americans today are much likelier to fly than in years past, the distribution of those air miles surely must be very, very skewed. To what extent do individual differences in modes of travel correlate with a wide range of social, cultural, economic, and political differences?

Here are some off-the-cuff hypotheses. (Remember: my research has been limited to a single Google search, roughly the same amount of effort it took me to find the William Blake painting at left.) The average American, one must surmise, drives more miles than she or he flies. Those who fly more than they drive -- let alone those high-fliers whose air miles exceed miles logged in a car by an order of magnitude -- surely occupy such rarified social, economic, cultural, and political space that they risk losing touch with the concerns of their fellow citizens.

Abandoned carAnd this is to say absolutely nothing of those too poor to drive. One of the saddest moments I experienced in preparing Disasters and the Law: Katrina and Beyond with Dan Farber was the realization that the United States' collective policy for evacuating New Orleans in the event of a hurricane hinged entirely on cars. From the office of the mayor to FEMA and the White House, every governmental official simply assumed that the residents of New Orleans could drive themselves to safety.

All my hypotheses aside, this much I do know. On Thanksgiving weekend 2006, I am thankful -- and humbled and embarrassed -- to number among those who "consume transport" as profligately as I do. The time has come to give back, pay forward, and reach deep. I repeat: to those whom much has been given, much will be expected.

The New Politics of Climate Change

The Washington Post reports here on a significant shift in the political prospects for federal climate change:
"We have to deal with greenhouse gases," John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Co., said in a recent speech at the National Press Club. "From Shell's point of view, the debate is over. When 98 percent of scientists agree, who is Shell to say, 'Let's debate the science'?"

Hofmeister and other top energy company leaders, such as Duke Energy Corp.'s chief executive, James E. Rogers, back a proposal that would cap greenhouse gas emissions and allow firms to trade their quotas.

Paul M. Anderson, Duke Energy's chairman and a member of the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, favors a tax on emissions of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas. His firm is the nation's third-largest burner of coal.

Exxon Mobil Corp., the highest-profile corporate skeptic about global warming, said in September that it was considering ending its funding of a think tank that has sought to cast doubts on climate change. And on Nov. 2, the company announced that it will contribute more than $1.25 million to a European Union study on how to store carbon dioxide in natural gas fields in the Norwegian North Sea, Algeria and Germany.
Apparently, burgeoning state and local legislation is helping to provide the political impetus for this shift in position:
One reason companies are turning to Congress is to avert the multiplicity of regulations being drafted by various state governments. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a group of seven Northeastern states, is moving ahead with a proposed system that would set a ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions, issue allowances to companies, and allow firms to trade those allowances to comply with regulations.

California is drawing up its program. Other states are also contemplating limits. Even the city of Boulder, Colo., has adopted its own plan -- a carbon tax based on electricity use. "We cannot deal with 50 different policies," said Shell's Hofmeister. "We need a national approach to greenhouse gases."
A similar dynamic apparently contributed to the passage of the 1970 Clean Air Act when the auto industry decided that it would prefer preemptive federal regulations to piecemeal state regulations.

There certainly does seem to be a shift away from the position taken on the American Petroleum Institute website:
Oil and natural gas take us down the street and around the world. They warm and cool our homes and businesses. They provide the ingredients for medicines, fertilizers, fabrics, plastics and other products that make life safer, easier and better.
While we rely on them for most of our energy and will likely do so for years to come, emissions from their production and use may be helping to warm our planet by enhancing the natural greenhouse effect of the atmosphere. That’s why oil and gas companies are also working to reduce their greenhouse emissions.
Note the "may be helping to warm our planet" -- just a theory, after all!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Un nuevo nacimiento de la libertad

»   The first half of a two-part series   «
Liberty ahead

Among the many pleasures of writing in a public setting such as Jurisdynamics is the immediacy with which writers and their audiences can connect. The audience doesn't always approve, of course, which puts an even higher premium on the value of that immediate connection. This is my fancy way of saying simply this: Some of you don't like what I've written, and this is my response.

In the past two months, especially with Born in the U.S.A., Yo soy peregrino fronterizo, and Soy hispano, y yo voto, I've turned the spotlight on immigration. Lawful and otherwise, immigration from Latin America and the rest of the world is fueling the demographic and cultural transformation of the United States in a way not seen since the height of European immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

On this much, I think, the entire Jurisdynamics readership agrees. But there are some further complications, all of which seem traceable to some emotional precommitments on my part and on the part of certain readers. To wit:
  • I am one of those immigrants.

  • I do not hide my enthusiasm for immigration to the United States and for the immigrants themselves in particular.

  • Women at Ellis IslandAs the image at the top of this post demonstrates, I don't hesitate to use black-and-white and sepia images from the age of European immigration, a period of American history whose romantic appeal rivals or (in my aesthetic judgment) eclipses that of the Founding. For good measure, here's another image.

  • All of this sits very poorly with readers who (1) disagree with me on the merits of immigration policy and (2) chafe at my admittedly opportunistic exploitation of the visual iconography of what now seems a distant, less politically contested period in the history of American immigration.
To all of which, I will respond in the second half of this two-part series. Watch this space for the forthcoming publication of El nuevo corazón de las tinieblas. Till then, I offer the readership a familiar speech from an even older period of American history, when the very idea of the United States of America hung in the balance and the idea of liberty and union seemed done and severable, then and forever -- rendered, in this instance, in an idiom that is rapidly becoming what John Dos Passos would call "U.S.A. . . . the speech of the people":

El discurso de Abraham Lincoln del 19 de noviembre del 1863Hace 87 años, nuestros padres fundaron, en este continente, una nueva nación cuya base es la libertad y la proposición de que todas las personas son creadas iguales.

Abraham LincolnAhora estamos envueltos en una gran guerra civil, probando si esta nación, o cualquier otra nación así fundada, puede ser duradera. Estamos reunidos en un gran campo de batalla de esa guerra. Hemos decidido dedicar una porción de este campo, como lugar de descanso final para aquellos que dieron aquí sus vidas para que esta nación pudiera sobrevivir. Es por tanto apropiado y correcto que lo hagamos.

Pero, por otra parte, no podemos dedicar, no podemos consagrar, no podemos santificar este terreno. Los valientes hombres, vivos y muertos, que pelearon aquí, ya lo consagraron, más allá de nuestras pobres facultades para añadir o quitar. El mundo notará poco, ni mucho tiempo recordará lo que decimos aquí, pero nunca podrá olvidar lo que ellos hicieron aquí. Somos nosotros los vivos los que debemos dedicarnos aquí a la obra inconclusa que aquellos que aquí pelearon hicieron avanzar tan noblemente. Somos nosotros los que debemos dedicarnos a la gran tarea que tenemos ante nosotros: que tomemos de estos honorables muertos una mayor devoción a la causa por la que dieron su última cuota de devoción, que tomemos la noble resolución de que estos muertos no han de morir en vano, que esta nación, protegida por Dios, nacerá de nuevo en libertad, y que este gobierno, del pueblo, por el pueblo y para el pueblo, no perecerá jamás.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Wikipedia rejects

WikipediaWikipedia rocks. No doubt about it. Wikipedia stands for some powerful ideas. Crowds really do know more than experts. Self-governance by the world at large is possible. Knowledge is power.

That said, even some things don't make Wikipedia's cut. Wholly beneath the web's radar has emerged a very amusing and useful new site, the Wikipedia Knowledge Dump (or WikiDumper.Org for short). WikiDumper describes itself as "The Official Appreciation Page for the Best of the Wikipedia Rejects," in evident pursuit of the maxim that "One man’s trash is another man’s treasure." If your favorite Wikipedia entry is in danger of elimination, never fear. Chief WikiDumper Cliff Pickover (ha ha) offers you and your entry a new chance at online life.

In the past two weeks, WikiDumper has rescued these gems from Wikipedia's ash heap and preserved them for posterity:
KynoidKynoid. "Kynoid refers to any being whose body structure resembles that of a dog, especially in the context of science fiction and fantasy fiction."

Satan ClausSatan Claus. "Satan Claus is a theory that Santa Claus is actually an alias for Satan . . . based primarily on the fact that 'Santa' could be an anagram for 'Satan.' This theory is a popular belief among many Christian communities."

CoulrophiliaCoulrophilia. "Coulrophilia is the . . . ." I can't bring myself to finish the sentence. You'll have to click here to see for yourself.
As far as I can tell, WikiDumper has been online only since the beginning of November 2006. I look forward to reading this site on a regular basis.
Editor's note: As part of the beta testing process at the Jurisdynamics Network, this item is being posted simultaneously at Jurisdynamics and at Law and Technology Theory.



There is such a thing as a United States Antarctic Program. It's part of the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs. The USAP has awarded sculptor David Ruth an "artists and writers" grant to study ice textures and forms at Palmer Station, Antarctica, from November 16 through December 23, 2006. David is keeping a log of his days way down south. Jurisdynamics and BioLaw recommend this visual record of the Antarctic, before global climate change erases its grandeur.

Blogrolling run amok

Frenzied shoppersGreetings to you all on Black Friday 2006. If you're sitting out the busiest retailing day in the United States, or just biding your frugal time till Cyber Monday, the Jurisdynamics Network has the perfect deal for you.

The Network's law blog switchboard, Law Blog Central, could stand to be updated. One of the blogs listed on this preview site has gone on permanent hiatus. I've asked Network webmaster Gil Grantmore to make minor adjustments from time to time, but there's only so much Gil can do without a body. So the time has come, I think, for a fairly comprehensive reconfiguration of LawBlogCentral.Org. When the overhaul is complete, Law Blog Central will, I imagine, look and feel much more like The Scientific Lawyer. Dedicated somewhat less to one of its original functions, that of promoting Jurisdynamics and its affiliated weblogs, Law Blog Central will reemerge with even greater functionality. I hope that it will become the portal of choice for readers interested in browsing law-related blogs.

Law Blog Central
Law Blog Central
So here is what I propose. If you publish a law-related blog and would like to be listed in Law Blog Central, please send me a message via the Jurisdynamics Network's webmail system. (Or send me an ordinary e-mail message if you prefer.) I hope you will reciprocate by linking to Law Blog Central, Jurisdynamics, the Jurisdynamics Network portal, and/or any other network affiliate (such as MoneyLaw or Ratio Juris).

I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving, and best wishes for the busy holiday and end-of-semester season that looms ahead of us all.

Flash! A Microsoft product bombs

Janina GavankarMeet Ms. Dewey, a search engine that Microsoft is trying to promote via viral marketing. Even by Microsoft's admittedly atrocious standards, Ms. Dewey may set a new low. She's that bad. Get the full scoop at Law and Technology Theory, a new affiliate of the Jurisdynamics Network currently undergoing beta testing.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Enduring Love/Bells for John Whiteside's Daughter

Enduring Love
Irena Suchocki, Enduring Love (Nov. 21, 2006)

In this world of sorrows, nothing -- nothing -- is sadder than burying a child. This is a sentiment worth remembering, on Thanksgiving Day and every other day of our lives.

Bells for John Whiteside's Daughter
There was such speed in her little body,
And such lightness in her footfall,
It is no wonder her brown study
Astonishes us all

Her wars were bruited in our high window.
We looked among orchard trees and beyond
Where she took arms against her shadow,
Or harried unto the pond

The lazy geese, like a snow cloud
Dripping their snow on the green grass,
Tricking and stopping, sleepy and proud,
Who cried in goose, Alas,

For the tireless heart within the little
Lady with rod that made them rise
From their noon apple-dreams and scuttle
Goose-fashion under the skies!

But now go the bells, and we are ready,
In one house we are sternly stopped
To say we are vexed at her brown study,
Lying so primly propped.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A volcanic eruption in Iceland is linked to a famine in Egypt

Nile delta
Agricultural productivity in the Nile valley depends on the river's annual floods. A volcanic eruption in Iceland disrupted that cycle in 1783 and 1784. Credit: Multi-Angle Imaging Spectroradiometer (NASA/GSFC/JPL, Jan. 30, 2001).
A news item in Science Daily vividly demonstrates the global interconnectedness of environmental events.

In June 1783, Iceland's Laki volcano began a series of eruptions. These are believed to have been the largest high-latitude eruptions in the last 1,000 years. Laki expelled three cubic miles of lava and more than 100 million tons of SO2 and toxic gases.

The summer of 1783 was the coldest in 500 years in some parts of the northern hemisphere. Northern Africa received a particularly harsh blow. Drought gripped northern Africa and restricted the flow of the Nile. The unusually cold weather also weakened the monsoon season in southern Asia and northern Africa. In 1783 and 1784, the Nile did not fully flood its banks. No rain, no floods, no crops, no food.

Featured articleLuke Oman, Alan Robock, Georgiy L. Stenchikov & Thorvaldur Thordarson, High-latitude eruptions cast shadow over the African monsoon and the flow of the Nile, 33 Geophysical Research Letters, L18711, doi:10.1029/2006GL027665, 2006:

Nile floodplainNile River records indicate very low flow following the 1783–1784 Laki volcanic eruption, as well as after other high-latitude volcanic eruptions. As shown by climate model simulations of the Laki eruption, significant cooling (−1° to −3°C) of the Northern Hemisphere land masses during the boreal summer of 1783 resulted in a strong dynamical effect of weakening the African and Indian monsoon circulations, with precipitation anomalies of −1 to −3 mm/day over the Sahel of Africa, thus producing the low Nile flow. Future high-latitude eruptions would significantly impact the food and water supplies in these areas. Using observations of the flow of the Nile River, this new understanding is used to support a date of 939 for the beginning of the eruption of the Eldgjá volcano in Iceland, the largest high-latitude eruption of the past 1500 years.

Received 24 July 2006; accepted 24 August 2006; published 30 September 2006.

Index Terms: 1812 Hydrology: Drought; 3311 Atmospheric Processes: Clouds and aerosols; 3354 Atmospheric Processes: Precipitation (1854); 8409 Volcanology: Atmospheric effects (0370); 1605 Global Change: Abrupt/rapid climate change (4901, 8408).

John F. Kennedy

John F. KennedyUntil September 11, 2001, November 22, 1963, probably held the dubious distinction of being the saddest day in American history. December 7, 1941, has its own infamy, and the assassination of another President on Good Friday 1865 holds greater historical significance in the sense that Abraham Lincoln's death all but doomed Reconstruction to failure. But the death of John F. Kennedy stands out as a watershed moment in its own right.

Kennedy today is arguably more legend than reality. He served roughly a thousand days as President (which is also the measure of a full-time stint in law school). As this forum has noted, he was a Cold Warrior par excellence. His Vice-President, Lyndon B. Johnson, reaped both the fruits (the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts) and the thistles (Vietnam) of the Kennedy administration. Americans old enough to remember Kennedy invariably remember where they were when they learned this news:
Having been born in 1966, I have no recollection of Kennedy. I do prefer to think of him as he was nearly three years before November 22, 1963, when he and the country he governed were full of life and promise. Kennedy's inaugural address, delivered on January 20, 1961, is perhaps best known for the exhortation, "ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." But the preceding paragraph, I believe, has enduring power and carries special relevance at this very moment for the United States and the global community to which it belongs:
Kennedy inauguralIn the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Without law, the land shall be laid waste"

Flooded courthouse

Hurricane Katrina left the evidence rooms of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court flooded for two and a half weeks. The New York Times now reports on the consequences of the physical destruction of evidence. Law enforcement and the criminal justice system in New Orleans, to put things mildly, have not returned to pre-storm levels of performance. Already the city is battling a surge in drug-related violence.

In the pivotal moment of Brennunjálssaga (The Story of Burnt Njál), lawspeaker Njál Þorgeirsson proclaims, "Með lögum skal land vort byggja en eigi með ólögum eyða." With law, the land shall be built; without law, the land shall be laid waste. New Orleans after Katrina, alas, turns this maxim of Icelandic literature and jurisprudence on its head. The land having been laid waste, there is no law.

Þingvellir, site of Iceland's Alþingi in medieval times

Monday, November 20, 2006

Pa faut mwen

DesertificationThe Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol has ended in Nairobi. The New York Times all but excoriates the meeting as a failure on account of the parties' inability to agree "how to move beyond the Kyoto Protocol, which requires cuts in emissions by most industrialized countries but expires in 2012." The United States' exclusion from the existing international framework is a serious stumbling block. Also emerging as an obstacle to further progress is the recalcitrance of China and India. Kyoto imposed no sanctions on these two countries, which claimed some sort of "developing world" discount but have emerged as two of the world's fastest-growing generators of greenhouse gases.

More details will follow at Jurisdynamics and at BioLaw. In the meanwhile, this observation by the Times is worth quoting -- and contemplating -- in full:
Many African communities are already feeling the effects of a shifting climate, from increased droughts to more desertification to spreading malaria, one of the continent’s biggest killers. The irony is that these countries most vulnerable to climate change are the least responsible for it, because they have little industry and produce a relatively small amount of pollution.
Pa faut mwen is Haitian Creole rather than west African French, but the sentiment is entirely appropriate. It's not my fault.

Editor's note: This item is being posted simultaneously on Jurisdynamics and at BioLaw.

Network Theory Meets Complex Social Systems

Complexity in the Field
By J.B. Ruhl

Some innovative research on social networks reported in last week's Science reveals some challenges for network theory's explanation of complex social collective behavior. The NewsFocus article, Tracking People's Electronic Footprints, described the results of several experiments using tracking data from massive collections of cell phone, employment, banking, and other records. Some standard tenets of network theory came under question, as social collective behavior exhibited the unpredictability of complex adaptive systems:
  • Studies based on cell phone data from 7 million users in an undisclosed European nation revealed that stronly "intimate" relationships (measured based on frequency and duration of calls) tend to move information within tightly knit communities, where, contrary to classic network theory, it dead ends unless less intimate information relationships link the information over to other communities within the larger system. Using models based on the actual data, the research found that removing the most intimate connections in the overall system tends to break down some individual community relationships, but has little effect elsewhere in the system. By contrast, removing the same fraction of the weakest connections in the system causes the entire communication network to "shatter into islands." The researchers believe this is the first empirical, large-scale study confirming Stanford Professor Mark Granovetter's 1973 theory (see The Strength of Weak Ties) that "for keeping society connected, acquaintances are more important than close friends."
  • The other study examined the New York City garment industry, long a shining example of a massive social business newtork exhibiting impressive efficiency with no "master planner" and with actors unaware of the system's operations beyond their respective local parts. The problem is that in the face of foreign competition the industry has shrunk from 300,000 workers in 3000 firms to 190 firms today. By examining data from over 700,000 business transactions since 1985, the researchers were able to conduct the first large-scale study of a massive social network in contraction. When modeled using conventional network theory, the industry should have fallen apart, but instead it has stayed as robust as before, just smaller. Using a model based on the actual network behavior, the team believes they can demonstrate that "robustness is an unintended consequence of individuals following their own self-interest based on local information." Hmmm...that sounds familiar. Did Adam Smith use a cell phone too?


The Irvine mascot, the anteater, makes a fine emblem for UCI's planned new law school, given how the school promises to slurp up law students across California
The University of California, Irvine plans to enroll its first law students in 2009. The opening of the first UC law school in nearly half a century will assuredly send tremors across legal education. But where?

Ethan Lieb of PrawfsBlawg speculates that the opening of a UCI law school may "spell disaster for UC-Hastings." Ethan reasons that Hastings currently enjoys a large share of "downstate" students from California who migrate north after failing to get into UCLA. Of course, Ethan's pessimism is probably attributable to the identity of his current employer.

There are at least two other scenarios; Ethan acknowledges at least the former:
  1. "[T]his development may hurt [San Diego], Loyola, [Thomas Jefferson], and Southwestern more than Hastings itself." Indeed, UCI is the natural competitor of every law school in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego Counties not named UCLA or USC.

  2. Less obviously, UCI has the potential to draw students who are currently attending public schools outside California. Quite a few public schools -- Arizona, Arizona State, UNLV, even Utah and Minnesota -- are currently absorbing part of the pent-up demand for legal education in California.
One way to measure the impact of UCI's announcement would be create and maintain a law school information market. [Herewith a hat tip to Erica Tunick of First Movers for discussing information markets.] If only savvy "investors" could put their bets on the success or failure of UCI and its many competitors.

Come to think of it, MoneyLaw should probably contemplate how an information market on law schools might take the place of the despised U.S. News & World Report rankings. For current purposes, it suffices to note this much: UCI will be slurping up law students just as its mascot, the anteater, slurps up myrmidons of a different sort.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The crepuscular life

MooseThe crepuscular life is that of many animals. A very large portion of the animals that inhabit human households (whether or not by invitation) — cats, dogs, deer, rabbits, chinchillas, ferrets, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, and rats — are crepuscular. The moose is famously crepuscular; visitors to bear country should look for moose during the early morning or late evening hours.

And lest we fall into the trap of noticing only those expressions of life that catch the eye, I hasten to mention another crepuscular animal that is most active at dawn and at dusk:

Whether they are matinal or vespertine, crepuscular animals are responding primarily to selection pressure. Per Wikipedia:
Many predators forage most intensely at night, while others are active at midday and see best in full sun. Thus the crepuscular habit may reduce predation. Additionally, in hot areas, it may be a way of avoiding thermal stress while capitalizing on available light.
WerewolfThis explains why some crepuscular animals spring to life under bright moonlight. The werewolf legend lies but a short imaginative step away.

Some real humans, in my experience, also live the crepuscular life. What I have in mind, though, is something more metaphorical. Consider, by way of analogy, the cat. Wedged in size and ferocity between top-level predators and smaller prey, cats are adapted to steer their activities to those portions of the day when they are (1) more likely to snag dinner from the full range of diurnal and nocturnal prey and (2) less likely to become someone else's dinner.

So too with those of us who seek the seams of life, the points of transition between the dark and the light. Welcome to our world, the crepuscular life.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Alexia Brunet, Jurisdynamic Idol

After a hiatus of nearly three months, a feature that had been intended to run every other week or so returns to Jurisdynamics. It's the return of the Jurisdynamic Idol competition.

Alexia BrunetThe newest idol is Alexia Brunet. Alexia is a visiting assistant professor of law at the Northwestern University School of Law. Her versatile research and teaching interests -- which include civil litigation, law and economics, state and local government, international trade, and terrorism and the law -- span a wide range of issues of interest to the law. What ties it together is Alexia's mastery of empirical analysis and commitment to a brand of economically informed scholarship that treats law and social science as if they mattered. Representative publications of hers include The Judicial Treatment of Non-Economic Compensatory Damages in the Nineteenth Century, Journal of Empirical Legal Studes (forthcoming 2007) and Community Choice Between Volunteer and Professional Fire Departments, 10 Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 26 (2001). She is currently teaching courses in international trade law and energy law.

Jurisdynamic IdolAlexia holds advanced degrees in agricultural economics from Purdue University. Her dissertation addressed funding allocations for domestic counter-terrorism efforts. She received her J.D., cum laude, from Northwestern University School of Law, where she focused her senior research on compensatory damages. Before becoming a VAP at Northwestern, Alexia was a postdoctoral researcher for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Center for Risk and Economic Modeling of Terrorism Events at the University of Southern California. She has also served as a consultant in antitrust cases and a general partner in an international trade venture.

Alexia's curriculum vitae provides more complete details.

Please join Jurisdynamics in congratulating Alexia Brunet, the newest Jurisdynamic Idol.

Your site isn't a vacuum cleaner

Vacuum cleaner. . . but it still sucks. This forum and its associated network have put an enormous premium on visual literacy and other elements of effective Web design. And now, with a hat tip to the New York Times, I offer for your entertainment a link to Vincent Flanders' Web Pages That Suck. According to Vincent, for instance, today's "Daily Sucker" ranks as "one of the worst web pages I have ever seen." When you lose to any random site listed on StumbleUpon, you really are hurting.

Links are everything in a Google-dominated world, but Jurisdynamics will do what it can so that Vincent Flanders never links here.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

¿Pueden ser más tontos?

Hispanic protestors
One third of the Texas population, according to the 2000 Census, was Hispanic. That proportion will almost surely rise in the 2010 survey. On the national stage, Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic group. Discarding their votes over immigration-related issues helped trigger "The Macacalypse," a.k.a. the Democratic takeover of both houses of Congress.

As this New York Times story suggests, however, some Texas lawmakers evidently didn't get the memo:
In a sign of rising passions over immigration issues, Texas lawmakers prepared for the 2007 session this week by filing a flurry of bills that would deny public assistance and other benefits to the children of illegal immigrants, tax money transfers to Mexico and the rest of Latin America and sue the federal government for the costs of state border control.

At the same time, a Dallas suburb, Farmers Branch, became the first Texas municipality to enact measures fining landlords who rent to illegal immigrants, authorizing the police to seek certification to act on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security and declaring English the city’s official language.
Fine. Politicians who treat Hispanic voters like dogs should expect, sooner or later, to get bitten. Some Texas politicians, so it seems, are determined to get time on the links with J.D. Hayworth, the soon-to-be former representative of Arizona's Fifth Congressional District. Entonces, tengo que preguntar: ¿Pueden ser más tontos?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Climate Change -- Political and Otherwise

From the Pew Center:
The 2006 elections have significantly improved the prospects of rational climate policy in the United States. While it is not yet clear how many of the newly-elected senators and representatives are prepared to vote for mandatory climate change measures, the new Democratic congressional majority puts control of the agenda in the hands of policymakers who, to a large extent, favor climate action.

Top of the world

For the sixth year in a row, Norway has finished first in the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Report. Norway finished with a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.965. These images from Helgeland in northern Norway -- depicting a sunset and the fishing village of Træna -- come courtesy of Jurisdynamics correspondent Sonja Alsli.

The HDI figures also reveal serious disparities in welfare. The UNDP's report for 2006 states: "This year’s HDI, which refers to 2004, highlights the very large gaps in well-being and life chances that continue to divide our increasingly interconnected world." Niger finished last in the UNDP's survey of 177 countries with an HDI of 0.311. Nearly the entire country depends on agriculture or animal husbandry. As goes the Niger River delta (depicted below), so goes Niger.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Slouching Toward Universal Coverage

Facing potential loss of $458 million in federal Medicaid matching dollars, Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and other Massachusetts legislators knew something had to be done on state health policy. But DiMasi's initial idea for health policy reform was no more ambitious than that. Yet the legislation that Governor Romney eventually signed on April 12, 2006, was an ambitious, ground-breaking package of reforms aspiring to bring near-universal coverage to the state, including 500,000 previously uninsured residents.

Under a Republican Governor and declared 2008 presidential candidate, and a overwhelmingly democratic legislature with an active special interest lobby, a single-payor, government-sponsored approach to universal coverage would have been a political non-starter. Instead, the Massachusetts plan brings together a patchwork of reforms -- expanding existing state programs and insurance regulation, enhancing tax incentives and government subsidies, and adding new mandates and options for individuals and businesses. The program, set for January 2007 implementation, is mammoth in scope and aim. Recent reports estimate the first-year budget overrun around $150 million. Despite noble ambitions, many questions remain about the potential for this massive beast to survive the long, hard slog to universal health coverage.

On Friday, November 10, 2006, the Kansas Law Review held its annual symposium on "The Massachusetts Plan and the Future of Universal Coverage." We were honored to have Speaker DiMasi's chief health counsel, Christie Hager, open the program with a description of the new law and the political climate that facilitated its passage. A day-long program of experts offering a range of perspectives, critiques, implementation challenges, and alternative proposals followed:

Christie Hager, J.D., M.P.H., Chief Health Counsel, Office of Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, Massachusetts House of Representatives and Adjunct Professor, Suffolk University Law School, Health Reform in Massachusetts: A Social Compact and a Bold Experiment

Sidney D. Watson, J.D., Professor, Saint Louis University School of Law, The Road from Massachusetts to Missouri: What Would It Take for Other States to Replicate the Massachusetts Plan for Universal Coverage?

Marcia J. Nielsen, Ph.D., M.P.H., Interim Executive Director, Kansas Health Policy Authority, State of Kansas, Health Reform in Kansas: Context, Challenges, and Capacity

Timothy S. Jost, J.D., Robert L. Willett Family Professor of Law, Washington and Lee University, School of Law, Comprehensive Health Reform: The Role of Consumer Self-Insurance

David A. Hyman, J.D., M.D., Professor and Galowich-Huizenga Faculty Scholar, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Law, Universal Coverage: Camelot or Brigadoon?

Michael H. Fox, Sc.D., Associate Professor, Health Policy & Management and Research & Training Center on Independent Living, University of Kansas, Health Reform: The Rhetoric and the Reality

Joan Krause, J.D., George Butler Research Professor of Law and Co-Director, Health Law & Policy Institute, University of Houston Law Center, Fraud in Universal Coverage: The Usual Suspects (and Then Some)

Peter D. Jacobson, J.D, M.P.H., Professor of Health Law & Policy, Department of Health Management & Policy, School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Let 1000 Flowers Wilt: The Futility of State-Level Health Care Reform

Amy B. Monahan, J.D., Associate Professor, University of Missouri – Columbia School of Law, The Latest Battleground in ERISA Preemption: Pay or Play Mandates and the Future of State-Based Universal Coverage

William M. Sage, J.D., M.D., Professor and James R. Dougherty Chair for Faculty Excellence, University of Texas at Austin School of Law, Can the Fact that 90 Percent of Americans Live Within 15 Miles of a Wal-Mart Help Achieve Universal Health Coverage?

Melissa B. Jacoby, J.D., Professor, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill School of Law, Debtor-Creditor Perspectives on Universal Health Coverage

Jerry Menikoff, J.D., M.P.P., M.D., Assistant Professor of Law, Ethics & Medicine, Department of History & Philosophy of Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Kansas, Who Knows Where Universal Health Care Goes? The Hunt for the Omniscient Critic

Elizabeth A. Weeks, J.D., Associate Professor, University of Kansas School of Law, Gap-Filling, Risk-Pooling, and the “Connector”: Private Market Solutions to Universal Coverage

The consensus at the end of the day, while not apocalyptic, was notably pessimistic on the promise of the Massachusetts plan for acheiving universal coverage. As summarized by KU Dean Gail Agrawal: "Everyone who has their roots in public health sees health care coverage as one of the pressing social issues of our time," she said. "I don’t know that the Massachusetts model is going to be the answer. I’m just happy that the question is on the table again."

The Second Coming
W.B. Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
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