Monthly Archives: January 2013

Disgusting Antics in Virginia

Holding session on MLK Day is a distasteful thing for any Southern legislature to do — it’s about not treating the day as a holiday in order to disrespect Dr. King’s memory not to mention what he stood for. Adjourning at the end of the day to celebrate General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson is just putting the boot in.

But what the Virginia legislature did today is truly toxic.

The VA Senate is split 50-50. Today, one Democrat was absent. Sen. Henry Marsh, a 79-year-old civil rights veteran, was in Washington DC for the Obama inaugural. That’s when the Republicans pounced: they introduced and rammed through without notice a redistricting bill that would take the 20-20 Senate and make it, by some calculations 27-13 by packing as many Democrats as possible into a minority of the districts.

Fortunately, if some of the online commentators at Blue Virginia are to be believed, there’s a good chance the move violates the Virginia Constitution, Art. II, sec. 6, which reads in relevant part (as recently amended):

Members of the House of Representatives of the United States and members of the Senate and of the House of Delegates of the General Assembly shall be elected from electoral districts established by the General Assembly. Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as is practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district. The General Assembly shall reapportion the Commonwealth into electoral districts in accordance with this section in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter.

Any such decennial reapportionment law shall take effect immediately and not be subject to the limitations contained in Article IV, Section 13, of this Constitution.

I am not in any way informed about the Virginia Constitution, but this seems consistent with the view that reapportionment must be decennial, and that mid-decade reapportionment is unconstitutional. I’d be interested in hearing other views.

(Additional context here.)

UPDATE: JST points me to this eye-witness account of the Virginia Senate in action.

Posted in Politics: The Party of Sleaze | Leave a comment

The Science Behind Making Me Feel Bad at Malls

I hate shopping in malls and giant department stores. One reason is that I always feel like they’ve dialed back on the oxygen.1 Another reason is that large shops are usually disorienting — no directional cues (e.g. windows to see the sun), no maps, little signage, less discernible logic.

How interesting to discover that there’s a science to making me feel that way: the Gruen transfer. And that Ikea are past masters at milking this disorientation. (We used to shop at Ikea in Neasden when we lived in London.)

Now if only I could figure out what Dadeland is doing to the air to make you want to buy something and get the heck out of there.


  1. I should perhaps note that I have no other symptoms of claustrophobia, and indeed enjoyed caving when younger. []
Posted in Shopping | 4 Comments

The Optimist

Cool story in the WaPost today about a man who rode an elevator with Candidate Obama in 2008 and gave him something: Earl Smith is the man behind a military patch that President Obama prizes.

Posted in Politics: US, Politics: US: 2008 Elections | Leave a comment

US Incarceration Rates Are Out of Control

I knew it was bad, but not this bad:

(Spotted via Ian Welsh, Justice is not Law, Law is Not Justice.)

I admit the graph is a tiny bit misleading — it uses absolute numbers rather than percentages of population, which would be better. But even making that correction doesn’t change much: US population grew from 226.5 million in 1980 to 308.7 million in 2010, a 73%36% increase. Meanwhile, however, the number of persons incarcerated almost quadrupled.

Our incarceration rate is by far the highest in the world. The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. However you draw it, we need to change the shape of this curve. Drug laws are probably the place to start. Three strikes rules would be next. Preventing the privatization of prisons — which creates a lobby for more incarceration — is another good move. Similarly, changing the electoral rule that counts prisoners as (usually non-voting due to felony disqualification) residents of the district in which they are incarcerated rather than their last regular address would also decrease the incentive for state and congressional representatives from those rotten boroughs to push for more rules that create more prisoners.

Ian Welsh argues that plea bargaining should be eliminated also. Civil law trained ethicists tend to agree, however, that the plea bargaining system is immoral since it empowers the prosecutor at the expense of the neutral (the judge) thus producing outcomes we have less faith are just, and puts the defendant to a terrible choice in which he is threatened with punishment — more charges, no deal on sentence — for exercising his right to mount a defense. I’ve long thought there’s something to it but one has to admit that as things stand eliminating plea bargaining would drive the system to a halt unless we first cut down on the number of things we call crimes.

Keep all this in mind while you enjoy thinking about the beneficial effects on the crime rate caused by removing lead from the environment.

Posted in Law: Criminal Law | 19 Comments

Eno Worries

Edge.org asked Brian Eno what we should be worried about. I like his answer (and really like his music):

We Don’t Do Politics

Most of the smart people I know want nothing to do with politics. We avoid it like the plague—like Edge avoids it, in fact. Is this because we feel that politics isn’t where anything significant happens? Or because we’re too taken up with what we’re doing, be it Quantum Physics or Statistical Genomics or Generative Music? Or because we’re too polite to get into arguments with people? Or because we just think that things will work out fine if we let them be—that The Invisible Hand or The Technosphere will mysteriously sort them out?

Whatever the reasons for our quiescence, politics is still being done—just not by us. It’s politics that gave us Iraq and Afghanistan and a few hundred thousand casualties. It’s politics that’s bleeding the poorer nations for the debts of their former dictators. It’s politics that allows special interests to run the country. It’s politics that helped the banks wreck the economy. It’s politics that prohibits gay marriage and stem cell research but nurtures Gaza and Guantanamo.

But we don’t do politics. We expect other people to do it for us, and grumble when they get it wrong. We feel that our responsibility stops at the ballot box, if we even get that far. After that we’re as laissez-faire as we can get away with.

What worries me is that while we’re laissez-ing, someone else is faire-ing.

Part of the series 2013 : WHAT *SHOULD* WE BE WORRIED ABOUT?

(Thanks to DF for the pointer.)

Posted in Readings | 2 Comments

Robot Update

The We Robot 2013 conference will be in Stanford — and back in Miami for 2014. Paper proposals are due Friday. The conference will be April 8-9, 2013 at Stanford Law School and the theme is “Getting Down to Business”.

Meanwhile the folks here at UMiami have been getting into the spirit of thing, and produced this amazing magazine cover for the inaugural issue of Miami Law Magazine

I had some work done

Posted in Robots | 3 Comments