The Crime That Shouldn’t Bother “Us”

Milwaukee made the NYT today, but not in a good way. While the nation’s largest cities are seeing a drop in crime, other mid-sized cities are experiencing an increase in homicides. Milwaukee is one such city; 2005 saw 122 homicides compared with 88 in 2004. The increase in homicides is not due to gang-related violence or drug-related violence, however; the increase is almost all due to homicides that occurred during arguments over much smaller things, such as dirty looks or acts of “disrespect.” These homicides are limited to certain neighborhoods and usually involve individuals with criminal records.

The article doesn’t have a lot of answers as to reasons why this increase is happening. Milwaukee is a very segregated city, with a very high teenage pregnancy rate, a low high school graduation rate for African-American males, and a large racial education gap. With manufacturing leaving Milwaukee, the article suggests that lack of work opportunities in some neighborhoods have eliminated hope and possibly added to this “rage.”

What bothered me about the article was the whitewashing of the problem by city officials. (Yes, I guess all puns intended.) For example, the police chief in Charlotte, NC is quoted as saying: “It’s hard for people to look at it in depth and understand that they’re not likely to be a victim if they get along with their family members and neighbors and don’t live a high-risk lifestyle.” I’m not sure what the “high-risk lifestyle” is here. Being poor? Living in a high-risk neighborhood? LIving next door to people with crimnial records? Not everyone gets to move into more expensive, crime-free neighborhoods just by wishing. I’m sure this quote is taken out of context, but it smacks of “they’re just killing each other, so why should we care?”


The Enron Trial Stinks

chocolat.jpgI really can’t believe I beat Christine Hurt to this nugget.

According to the indispensable Enron Trial Blog, Friday’s proceedings were interrupted by a five minute break called by Judge Lake. Although the audience were told there were scheduling problems, in fact:

[T}hat five minutes was so Skilling’s lawyer Daniel Petrocelli could scrub off his cologne. Apparently a juror in the front row found it overwhelming during his cross-examination of witness Mark Koenig this morning. She said she was gagging from the scent. She felt strongly enough to ask the court for an attorney fragrance correction.

The cologne allegedly was Chocolat. And Matt Bodie thought this would be an uninteresting trial!


Netflix and “Throttling”

netflix1.jpgNetflix allows customers to rent movies online — as many as they want. According to the company’s website:

With Netflix you can rent as many DVDs as you want from the comfort of your home and have them delivered to your door in about 1 business day! There are no late fees and no due dates, and shipping is free both ways. Plans start at $9.99 plus any applicable tax. With our most popular plan, 3 at-a-time (Unlimited), you can rent as many DVDs as you want for just $17.99 a month plus any applicable tax. You keep a revolving library of up to 3 DVDs at a time and can exchange them for new available DVDs as often as you like.

Sounds like a great deal, right? Well, if you use it really well to your advantage, Netflix will penalize you. According to the AP:

Manuel Villanueva realizes he has been getting a pretty good deal since he signed up for Netflix Inc.’s online DVD rental service 2 1/2 years ago, but he still feels shortchanged. That’s because the $17.99 monthly fee that he pays to rent up to three DVDs at a time would amount to an even bigger bargain if the company didn’t penalize him for returning his movies so quickly.

Netflix typically sends about 13 movies per month to Villanueva’s home in Warren, Mich. — down from the 18 to 22 DVDs he once received before the company’s automated system identified him as a heavy renter and began delaying his shipments to protect its profits.

The same Netflix formula also shoves Villanueva to the back of the line for the most-wanted DVDs, so the service can send those popular flicks to new subscribers and infrequent renters.

The little-known practice, called “throttling” by critics, means Netflix customers who pay the same price for the same service are often treated differently, depending on their rental patterns.

“I wouldn’t have a problem with it if they didn’t advertise ‘unlimited rentals,'” Villanueva said. “The fact is that they go out of their way to make sure you don’t go over whatever secret limit they have set up for your account.”

Originally, Netflix kept its differential treatment of customers a secret, but after a class-action lawsuit, Netflix now warns about this in the fine print:

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The Death of Secure Flight?

secureflight1a.jpgThe AP reports that Secure Flight, the elaborate program for using data mining to screen airline passengers, has been abandoned. Ed Felton says it best:

Instead of sticking to this more modest plan, Secure Flight became a vehicle for pie-in-the-sky plans about data mining and automatic identification of terrorists from consumer databases. As the program’s goals grew more ambitious and collided with practical design and deployment challenges, the program lost focus and seemed to have a different rationale and plan from one month to the next.

What happens now is predictable. The program will officially die but will actually be reincarnated with a new name. Congress has directed TSA to implement a program of this general type, so TSA really has no choice but to try again.

The program was originally called CAPPSII, but that was scrapped when it grew too broad and privacy-invasive. The program was then renamed with a nicer-sounding name — Secure Flight.

So Secure Flight is dead, but it will certainly be reincarnated. Meanwhile, the government has wasted a ton of money (about $150 million) that could have gone to more effective security measures.

How much value do these rather inept passenger screening lists have? Isn’t it time the government cut its losses and got smart? Nope . . . that’s not our government, which operates like a bad gambler. It’ll chase the millions it already lost by frittering away millions more on a program that hasn’t really worked and may never work. I bet the program namers are working on a new name as we speak. How about calling it “Money Flight”? Or maybe “Flight of Fancy”?

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ExpressO or ExpressNo?

It’s that season, again, when law profs (and others) spit and polish their newest works, preparing them for delivery to their favorite 50…75…100 law reviews. Colleagues have been dropping by my office with unusual frequency asking me my opinion of ExpressO. (ExpressO is a service that delivers manuscripts to law reviews on behalf of authors – primarily via email.) When I last circulated an article, I used a three-prong strategy: ExpressO to most journals, direct mailing to those that didn’t accept ExpressO, and Fed Ex to ten journals I thought particularly ripe for placement.

In the end, all three approaches yielded at least one offer. (I ended up placing the piece in a Fed Ex journal – though I’ll never know if my high-rent mailing was a factor in that board’s decision.) The experience was successful but yielded little useful data. Some people have expressed the fear that Expresso does not work well for authors using less glammy letterhead. These folks think that members of the academic hoi polloi need to jam hardcopy in front of an editor to get his/her attention. On the other hand, I know several people from solid – but not gourmet – institutions that have done very well with ExpressO. So some questions:

What do you – writers and editors – think of ExpressO?

And particularly student editors, two questions:

What do you do with ExpressO submissions – read them on the computer or print them out?

Do you treat ExpressO submissions differently than manuscripts emailed directly?


Salary Disparities At Boalt

There has been a burst of activity on the University of California faculty salary expose front here, here, here , here, and here. Most exciting for the law porn crown (Playprof?) is the list of top earners among UC law faculty. We discover, in this list, that of the 16 top earning tenured full time faculty at Boalt, all but two are men. Compare that with the overall faculty: 13 of 51 full professors (according to my quick count on the Boalt website) are women. Perhaps this can be explained by seniority and market competition. In any case, I suspect that a few folks – perhaps Kathryn Abrams or Pamela Samuelson – will have some questions for Dean Edley (who is inexplicably not on this list but is listed elsewhere at 280 large per year.)


Man Bites Dog? Rational Discussion About Sex Offenders Begins

I want to amplify Doug Berman’s post today about a new statement from the Iowa County Attorney’s Association. The group – which as best as I can tell includes the county attorney from each Iowa county – has taken a position opposing Iowa’s sex offender residency restrictions. It argues that the state’s law prohibiting sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of schools and child care facilities is actually counter-productive. In particular, rather than keeping offenders away from kids, it is both ineffective (most offenses occur against relatives and acquaintances, not strangers) and actively increases risk (by rendering offenders homeless and less subject to tracking). At the same time it imposes additional costs that are either unjustified or increase risk in their own right (such as damaging family structures.) The Association offers some policy alternative they see as a more effective responses to sex offenders. Read the whole statement here.

It is heartening to see rational policy debate creep into what has otherwise been the land of moral panic: regulation of sex offenders. Brutal retaliation against such offenders may make people feel safer as they watch hour after hour of reality TV. There is little evidence of the efficacy of most of these regulations, however, and they exact serious costs.


What’s in a Language?

spanish.jpgOver at the Glom, I posted on the possible acquisition of Univision Communications, which owns Univision, the Spanish-language channel. This topic got me thinking about the relative utility of learning various foreign languages. Being from Houston, I would have to say that the single most important language in the U.S. is Spanish. (For example, in the market for childcare, non-Spanish speaking buyers are at a definite disadvantage. I’m not saying this to be silly or rude. I’m saying it because it’s true.) I never understood why Texas public schools do not require the teaching of Spanish from first grade forward. I know, people in the U.S. tend to think that English is the only necessary language, unlike natives of other countries who learn multiple languages. However, even when Americans believe in learning languages, we tend not to be very practical.

Our public elementary school in Whitefish Bay teaches a foreign language beginning in first grade. I think this is wonderful. However, the language is French. I know, I know, a lot of people have learned French in school. But, other than maybe conversing with someone on your one trip to Paris and learning to speak in “this outrageous accent” a la Monty Python, what good is it doing you now? If we were staying here, we would be making a very big push to change this to Spanish or something else useful. We are now looking at two elementary schools in Champaign. They both teach Spanish and Chinese. These choices seem very smart to me. I took Latin in school, and even though I’ve never been able to use it in conversation, I think it was helpful as a building block language. The whole SAT thing and all. But I can’t vote for French. Hebrew, Sanskrit, any of these are fine. But not French.

So, what language do Co-op readers think should be taught in elementary schools (if any)?


Branding Eggs


Eggs. Delicious, but hard to tell apart.

That was the problem confronting “The Country Hen Eggs,” of Hubbardston, MA. What did they do? First, they made some claims about the “kosherness” of eggs that turned out to contain very little information. But even better (as I discovered this morning when I opened a new pack), they “are the first organic egg with a selenium content claim on [sic] the carton.”

What does that mean? Well, inside of the cardboard box was a little insert, which talked to me about the anti-cancer properties of selenium. The insert continued to say that their eggs contain some amounts of the mineral (they don’t make a comparative claim), but disclaimed any attempt to make a “medical claim.” (Which makes almost no sense.)

In any event, why is this worth blogging about? Because I’m pretty interested in their attempt to build brand loyalty – after purchase – through product claims that are not differentiating. It’s as though they are saying: “Buy our eggs. Just like other eggs. But we’ll boast a little.”

A number of questions come to mind. Primarily, should inside-the-box claims be regulated as advertising (by the FTC and through Lanham Act suits) as a food label (by the FDA and product liability suits) as a warranty (under the UCC) or not at all (the market will clear). What if the claim inside the box were to (falsely) say: “Our eggs are 25% bigger than the average competitor’s egg.” Since it is inside-the-box, should we be less worried about the consumption distorting effect of the claim, or more worried on the brand-building side? These seem like tough questions.

I should say that notwithstanding the selenium claim, it was a tasty omelet.


Walking While Drunk

A colleague of mine chooses to start her day by reviewing the list of new detainees in the Tucaloosa County Jail. As my prior work indicates – particularly my study of the race effects of Megan’s Law – I too have a passion for studying on-line databases of criminals. I thus listen closely as she describes the quirks of the daily intake. Yesterday, she discovered a gentleman who had been booked on the charge of being a Pedestrian Under the Influence of Alcohol (Alabama Code 32-5A-221). Alabama law provides that “a pedestrian who is under the influence of alcohol or any drug to a degree which renders himself a hazard shall not walk or be upon a highway.” A highway, in turn, is “the entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.” Alabama Code 32-1-1.1.

I must admit my experience with motor vehicle offenses is thin (and this offense is under the motor vehicle section of the state code), but this was the first time I’d ever encountered a Walking While Drunk statute. Turns out, they are a standard part of the Uniforn Vehicle Code. Alabama is a little tougher than the folks over at the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances. (Query: what individuals choose to join this group for $100?). The Uniform Code provision provides that pedestrians “under the influence of alcohol or any drug to a degree which renders such pedestrian a hazard shall not walk or be upon a highway except on a sidewalk.” Alabama has no sidewalk exception.

It looks to me like there might be cases where a sidewalk is part of a highway (i.e., where it is a publicly maintained sidewalk within the boundary way. I’m thinking, for example, of sidewalks on bridges, and perhaps along parks.) In addition, since most Alabma roads are sidewalk-free, pedestrians must often walk on the shoulder. I know it may be a bit of a hazard, sometimes, but I suspect we’d prefer our local drunks to walk, rather than drive, home. Personally, I’ll think twice before I quaff a couple of Guinnesses (Rick Garnett has linked to an attractive establishment for this purpose) and stroll back to my humble abode. At minimum, I’ll try to stumble along privately maintained sidewalks.