Archive for the ‘Legal’ Category

This is the feeling we learn to live with in North America

I guess it’s just the day for it.

(put NOFX and Fooly Cooly together – I’m happy).

The New England Journal of Medicine (I’ve really taken to the idea of Wednesday being NEJM Day) has three terrific editorials starting it off, this week – all related to (hand)guns. It’s hard, for example, not to be mightily impressed by the likes of how “Handgun Violence, Public Health, and the Law” kicks off:

Firearms were used to kill 30,143 people in the United States in 2005, the most recent year with complete data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A total of 17,002 of these were suicides, 12,352 homicides, and 789 accidental firearm deaths. Nearly half of these deaths occurred in people under the age of 35. When we consider that there were also nearly 70,000 nonfatal injuries from firearms, we are left with the staggering fact that 100,000 men, women, and children were killed or wounded by firearms in the span of just one year. This translates into one death from firearms every 17 minutes and one death or nonfatal injury every 5 minutes.

By any standard, this constitutes a serious public health issue that demands a response not only from law enforcement and the courts, but also from the medical community.

A very interesting perspective – that handguns and handgun violence represent not only a public health issue, but such a one that we are obliged to respond from within our profession. Remember the excellent book/site Understanding the USA?

understanding usa

The two editorials proper are “Guns, Fear, the Constitution, and the Public’s Health” and “” – the former the more relevant (which is not to suggest the latter is not interesting in its own right, focussing specifically upon the issue at hand: District of Columbia v. Heller, a case challenging handgun-control statutes adopted in 1976 in Washington, D.C., and currently being heard by the Supreme Court):

Gun violence is often an unintended consequence of gun ownership. Americans have purchased millions of guns, predominantly handguns, believing that having a gun at home makes them safer. In fact, handgun purchasers substantially increase their risk of a violent death. This increase begins the moment the gun is acquired — suicide is the leading cause of death among handgun owners in the first year after purchase — and lasts for years.

The risks associated with household exposure to guns apply not only to the people who buy them; epidemiologically, there can be said to be “passive” gun owners who are analogous to passive smokers. Living in a home where there are guns increases the risk of homicide by 40 to 170% and the risk of suicide by 90 to 460%. Young people who commit suicide with a gun usually use a weapon kept at home, and among women in shelters for victims of domestic violence, two thirds of those who come from homes with guns have had those guns used against them.

Handguns, like cars, like fatty food, like a great, great many things, simply kill way too many Americans. If only it were acceptable to use “9/11” as a unit of comparison – handgun-related-fatalities being around 10 of them every year. What’s insane is that the same lunatics (say, the GOP) who defend such a thing go around insisting that abortion is the reason the US economy is in trouble – because all of those potential American Workers were killed in the womb. Go figure.

Huckabee called abortion a holocaust because he says “we have aborted more than a million people” in the last 35 years. I’m willing to bet guns have killed more than that. Worse, they’ve probably killed plenty of women who could have given birth! (my cheap shot).

Personally – and I realise full-well that I’m a foreigner with no claim to any sort of up-bringing within the 2nd Amendment – the idea that the 2nd Amendment protects individual rights to bear arms is a little crazy. For a start there’s a “the” before “people”, clear as day. It’s written down, for Cliff’s sake – it isn’t like it’s Neal Armstrong, or anything.

Back to regarding the title of this post (and the song of the link of the youtube clip at the top):

It’s like seeing a car crash from inside the car
The driver’s got his head craned back he’s telling you a joke
You see the bus on collision course
You point your arm and turn your head and wait for the impact
This is the feeling we learn to live with in North America
The morning headlines always accompanied with sweat and nausea
Every week another puzzle piece gets permanently glued into place

We see the iceberg from 15 miles away
The captain orders the ship to “stay the course”
“Full speed ahead” shouts the accursed
The next thing we heard was, “Rich women and children first”
The ship is listing, the captain’s placing blame on the iceberg
“That berg attacked us, I am declaring war on the Arctic”
Who could ever have predicted the greatest ship could so easily sink (duh)

Lifeboats are useless without rescue
The only ships show up for salvage
When setting sail on the St. Louis
We all knew what consequences could be
With the crew we had at the controls


LFA Sonar: executive orders trump marine conservation

I’ve been at this for a while (see here, here and here). Seems President Bush always has the taking-the-ball-home-with-him approach to Democracy in his back pocket.

President Bush exempted the Navy from an environmental law so it can continue using sonar in its anti-submarine warfare training off the California coast – a practice critics say is harmful to whales and other marine mammals.

The Associated Press should bloody well know that it is not critics alone who make such a claim: by all accounts everyone accepts the damage. Some people just don’t care.

Looks as though is yet not the end of the affair (which is, of course, good):

The decision drew immediate criticism from environmentalists who had fought to stop the Navy’s sonar training.

“The president’s action is an attack on the rule of law,” said Joel Reynolds, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “By exempting the Navy from basic safeguards under both federal and state law, the president is flouting the will of Congress, the decision of the California Coastal Commission and a ruling by the federal court.”

NRDC spokesman Daniel Hinerfeld said the group would be filing papers with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later Wednesday or Thursday to challenge Bush’s exemption.

This idea of an “attack on the rule of law”. In a previous post, I discussed those rules and laws. Specifically, here is a section of the law (the Marine Mammal Protection Act, among others) that Bush is attacking:

The Congress finds that —

  1. certain species and population stocks of marine mammals are, or may be, in danger of extinction or depletion as a result of man’s activities;
  2. such species and population stocks should not be permitted to diminish beyond the point at which they cease to be a significant functioning element in the ecosystem of which they are a part, and, consistent with this major objective, they should not be permitted to diminish below their optimum sustainable population.

Further measures should be immediately taken to replenish any species or population stock which has already diminished below that population. In particular, efforts should be made to protect essential habitats, including the rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance for each species of marine mammal from the adverse effect of man’s actions;

I would remind you that, as a law, this passed both houses of the legislative branch of government, plus the executive branch (of it’s day, although amendments subsequent to that have also passed). That one Executive Order from one dry-drunk dodgily-elected president can even be supposed to be able to undo such is kind of embarrassing. That’s not really big-d Democracy, you know.

Here’s a reminder of the effect:

I should think almost anyone living in a city can appreciate how many millions of miles they are from truly understanding the pain this must cause an innocent mammal (just thought I’d throw that in). It most certainly affects more than ‘just’ whales, too.

City Hall to Reduce Parking Placards 20% and Centralize Control

That’s the title of the post to which I’m referring (hence the “z”). Another story involving the reconciliation of incentive structures and control, from Streetsblog.

Acknowledging the dissonance between his congestion mitigation efforts and City employees’ flagrant parking abuse, Mayor Bloomberg today announced a reduction in the number of city government parking permits and new, more centralized procedures for the issuance of placards.

The problem:

Crosby Street

That’s quite near the site of my recent experience with UPS, by the by. How is a city that can’t govern how it parks supposed to administer to how private corporations do so?, the makers of that image, also do a good turn in USPS officials:

West 83rd

Bicycles Only, a Flickr site, added to the complaint (his being that this won’t affect cyclists), citing things like actual uniform cars breaking traffic laws. In front of City Hall:

City Hall

Streetsblog points to the site NYPD Rant (which does exactly what it says on the box), whereat the following was among the responses:

if the city yanks our plaques, then the war is on. the pba can have some printed for its members, active and retired, and i will bang out every car with official plates that is illegally parked or runs a light (the offenders can explain themselves in front of an administrative judge at AAB or parking violations bureau)….JUST WAIT AND SEE

It is a message board, yes. The grammar and orthography are just atrocious. As long as they know not to shoot me, I won’t complain. They also tear up the NY Times, so. This response is, while hypocritical (since they will, in all likelihood, not enforce it against their comrades – see above image of uniformed cars parked illegally) basically correct. Most parking restrictions are based either upon revenue (meters) or safety (everything else). Having a permit inside your windscreen that says you belong somewhere in the civil service hardly makes one’s car not a safety hazard.

From the Mayor’s press release

… the NYPD will create a new enforcement unit to ensure compliance and agencies will develop enforcement procedures to prevent the abuse of placards. A multi-agency working group will implement and coordinate the various measures being taken and take additional actions, including a review of existing agency parking-space allocations and on-street parking regulations.

This is a standard regulation problem (don’t get me wrong – a 20% reduction in parking permits can only be a good thing, especially in very urban areas. Much of the problem is people who work very near a subway station anyway, and should be driving or parking in the city at all). People will speed, so long as they believe they may not be caught. People will also park wherever they please, so long as they believe that a plaque on their car will prevent them being ticketed, clamped or towed.

In this instance, there really isn’t a mechanism for incentives to be brought to bear. From what I read at NYPD Rant, putting parking permits into contracts would not work (this would be where the “war” stuff in the post above comes in), so the idea of offering incentives based upon not taking a plaque for one’s car probably won’t work, because it’s too much like making the others pay for their parking. Centralised issuing is certainly a good idea (although we shall see how equitably the new 80% of permits are allocated, with one service at the centre).

I don’t believe the City is asking for my advice (and I doubt they read this blog), but the key is administration of the system – something Bloomberg probably already understands, since it’s a technocrat’s problem (and his press release specifically mentions “smart placards”). If you’re given a plaque for a specific reason, a simple barcode-scanner should be able to tell a parking official that you’re mis-using it, parking illegally on the other side of town. And away we go. It really should not be that difficult to administer or maintain. Even the cops would like the idea, as far as I can tell.

The “healthy retiree” bias just became stronger

The “healthy retiree” bias runs thus – particularly in the US: if you’re healthy, you’re more likely to retire; if you are not healthy, you are more likely to need employer-provided medical insurance, so you are less likely to retire (Michael Moore’s Sicko had at least one such example). This is, necessarily, confounded by income (i.e. if you can afford to self-insure, the problem goes away, but health and wealth are concordant goods).

So to the news! They are discussing, over at the Wall Street Journal, the ruling, by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that employer synchronisation of retiree health benefits with Medicare is not unjust discrimination according to age:

Employers who provide retiree health benefits generally “coordinate” those benefits with Medicare by supplementing the government healthcare or by offering retirees a “bridge” benefit to cover health expenses after employees retire until they become Medicare-eligible. Until the 2000 interpretation, employers believed that the ADEA permitted them to coordinate any retiree health benefits they provided with Medicare without having to ensure that the benefits received by Medicare-eligible retirees were the same as those received by younger retirees.

To correct the problem, the new regulation provides an exemption for ADEA coverage for this common and longstanding employer practice. The Commission voted to approve this regulation on April 22, 2004, but the AARP sued the EEOC in early 2005 to prevent its publication. After several years of litigation, the EEOC emerged victorious as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found that the rule was “a reasonable, necessary and proper exercise of [EEOC’s] authority.”

EEOC Legal Counsel Reed Russell said, “Our rule makes clear that it is lawful for employers to continue to provide retirees with the health benefits they currently receive. Contrary to what some interest groups have erroneously asserted, the rule will not require any cuts to retiree benefits.”

I imagine the rule will not – it will, however, allow those cuts, as well as allowing more (or all of any new) money to flow to new retirees – read Baby Boomers. Is this age-discrimination? Yes – and the EEOC as much as admits it. Over at the WSJ:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found in favor of the federal government. But, the court added, “we recognize with some dismay that the proposed exemption may allow employers to reduce health benefits to retirees over the age of 65 while maintaining greater benefits for younger retirees.”

Although one can (and no doubt several did) make the argument that, as far as equity goes, there’s no reason why two discrete(ish) sets of retirees should receive equal compensation, when the Boomer set probably contributed more, while they worked.

So why exclude this practice from coverage of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)? Because if the complaint was upheld the employers would probably have dropped the whole thing for everyone, where they could. Does the Federal government want a world in which Boomers retire, with only the Federal government to pay for their care? Of course not. They’d have to put our tax dollars to some kind of practical use in terms of American human and social capital. Can’t have that.

Once again, though, we see more patchwork palliatives for the actual problem – escalating health care costs. I’m sure messing about with the COBRA laws is next.

Conrad Black update

For the few among you who even care. Six 1/2 years.

Conrad Black was on Monday sentenced to 6½ years in a federal prison for his role in the multi-million dollar fraud at Hollinger International, the newspaper company he created and controlled.

Apropos my earlier questioning, concerning the differences between Conrad Black and Jeffrey Skilling:

… the crimes of Skilling and Lay could reasonably be supposed to have been undertaken in order to save the company (in an “I can win it back!” sense, sure, but nevertheless). Their fraud was massive, but their motives could have been more benign than we are given to believe. Not so with Conrad Black. He wasn’t covering up over-valued stocks, he was paying his wife and himself a tonne of money, throwing birthday parties for his wife, getting nice apartments, etc.. There was nothing benign about it.

There will probably be no problem with conviction, but this makes sentencing interesting – will Conrad Black get a lighter sentence than Jeffrey Skilling because he didn’t hurt as many people as badly? Should we draw parallels between attempted murder and manslaughter? As Sideshow Bob complained, they don’t give a Nobel Prize for attempted chemistry?

It turns out that, yes, the whiteness of one’s collar always pays off.

Judge St Eve said it was appropriate to use sentencing guidelines set in 2000, which were more lenient than current standards. She rejected prosecutors’ arguments that Lord Black should be considered a ringleader in the fraud, but added that she would also not consider the former chairman and chief executive of Hollinger a minor player.

In remarks before the ruling, Judge St Eve took a conservative estimate of the damage Lord Black’s fraud wreaked on Hollinger investors.

Prosecutors had urged the judge to find that Lord Black’s scheme resulted in $32m in losses for Hollinger. Instead, Judge St Eve ruled that the total damages were worth $6.1m.

So. Lightly off he gets (all things considered).

Howard’s ministries: social welfare at the “very limits of acceptable conduct”


Australia’a poorest people have been pursued in an unprecedented and aggressive legal campaign over welfare payments – and the workplace relations department is under fire for running up lawyers’ bills chasing small amounts of money or cases so weak they never reach court.

The number of cases pushed through the courts by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has soared almost 20-fold over three years in one court alone, as pension payments are challenged and moves made to recover amounts as low $1300.

The aggressive pursuit of welfare recipients dates from 2004, when the Howard government handed the department control of a $20 billion social security budget. As secretary, Dr Boxall oversaw a significant culture change, with the number of appeals by the department to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal soaring from just 17 in 2004-05 to 202 the following year, and to 321 last year.

A lawyer who has worked closely with the department said it had pursued social security recipients to the “nth degree” – whatever the legal merits of the case. The department was “ruthless in the pursuit of any and every case” where a social security recipient may have received a small overpayment – even when it had been given wrong and misleading advice by Centrelink.

“In my experience, [the department] operated at the very, very limit of acceptable conduct,” he said.

Actually, Australia’s poorest people have nothing like that sort of thing to contend with. Our poorest people have to deal with this sort of thing:

An international student assessment reveals there’s been little improvement in Indigenous performance over the last six years.

The results of the OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development international student test shows a big gap between Australia’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Australia’s northern Aboriginal communities will bear the brunt of climate change, with increases in water-borne diseases and loss of traditional food sources, an international report says.

In the Torres Strait Islands, at least 8000 people will lose their homes if sea levels rise by 1m.

… more than 100,000 people in remote Aboriginal communities across northern Australia face serious health risks from malaria, dengue fever and heat stress, as well as loss of food sources from floods, drought and more intense bushfires.

In the remote areas of the Northern Territory, where high unemployment is rampant, the government’s main jobs program has been abolished, forcing thousands more onto welfare. Welfare payments for all Aborigines living on Aboriginal land are now controlled by government bureaucrats. Federally appointed administrators with wide powers have been imposed. The permit system, by which Aboriginal communities in the Territory controlled entry onto their land and settlements, has been abolished.

Olga Havnen, a leader of the National Aboriginal Alliance, said in a message to the protesters in Sydney that the “only visible change in most communities has been the construction of housing for government business managers.”

Doctors from across Australia have launched a high-profile attack on the Northern Territory intervention, saying it is failing indigenous people.

Writing in The Medical Journal of Australia today, the doctors criticise the intervention as disrespectful and badly thought through.

Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders will not achieve equal health outcomes with non-Indigenous Australians until all governments properly fund and resource accessible health services and programs, and their economic, educational and social disadvantages have been eliminated.

Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders have the poorest health of any group living in this country.

Indigenous standardised mortality ratios are more than three times the expected rate, and death rates between 25-54 years of age are 5-8 times that seen in non-Indigenous Australians.

Indigenous infant mortality rates are three times higher than for non-Indigenous infants.

The 17-year gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and the rest of the Australian population must be closed. It is not acceptable in 2007 for any Australian to have a 1920s’ life expectancy. The gap in life expectancy must be closed within 25 years.

I’m just saying Prime Minister Rudd has a lot of work to do. A lot can be left behind in 11 years of government by a neo-colonialist tit like John Howard.

The marketplace for (politically acceptable) ideas

This is either about free speech, free markets or the joy of being one’s own editor. Not sure, exactly. The weird thing is, I have no problem with nanny-state laws like fines for buying your drunk friends more booze (a New South Welsh law).

To the point. From the Guardian:

… in the eyes of Denmark’s ministry of justice, Mikkelson, the 56-year-old grandfather cheerfully grilling half a dozen different kinds of sausages by the roadside earlier this week is at the very least a terrorist sympathiser. And if the Danish justice minister, Lene Espersen, has her way, soon his only contact with the culinary world will be prison rations.

Alongside Schultz and five other Danes, Mikkelson could be in jail by Christmas for his part in one of Europe’s most curious court cases: the so-called T-shirt terror trial. His crime was sticking a poster up in his van for a brand of T-shirts bearing the logos of two groups classed by the EU as terrorist organisations: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

All are members of a Danish activist group called Fighters+Lovers and are charged with “sponsoring terrorism”, a crime under post-9/11 Danish anti-terror laws that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

Is this story’s setting – Denmark – being the same one as for those cartoons about Muhammed a coincidence? Who knows. Can’t they just spy on their citizens illegally, then send people off illegally to be tortured illegally (or legally, provided one is rendered extraordinarily to the appropriate country)? Honestly. Europeans. Such dramatics.

F + L seem harmless enough:


Fighters+Lovers is the brand that takes music and fashion beyond new horizons. We have a passion for change. In a world obsessed with envy and hate, Fighters+Lovers dares to speak up for brotherhood and the right to fight for what is right.

T-shirts don’t change the world. Neither does music. The world is already spinning and we simply make the tools and street gear for the creative people who make it happen. People with an attitude.

Kind of.

Fighters+Lovers is a private enterprise dedicated to the cause of freedom and hard-rocking street gear. Communication is key to any change. Fighters+Lovers aim to provide support for new equipment for radio stations and graphics workshops run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This is our tribute to these freedom fighters.

Graphics workshops? Back at the Guardian.

They believe the EU “terror list” to be undemocratic because it is drawn up behind closed doors according to unknown criteria, and say that both PFLP and Farc are not terrorists but legitimate resistance movements comparable with Denmark’s own Nazi resistance during the second world war. They say that neither group is classed as a terrorist organisation by the UK, which does not defer to the EU on such matters.

What’s more, they say, they weren’t financing any sort of violence, as the £3.50 from each T-shirt sale that would have gone to the two organisations was earmarked for “humanitarian projects” such as equipment for radio stations.

I’m okay with most of that (I’ve posted previously about Palestine). I don’t – honestly – like their shirts that much. I downloaded their music, but I wouldn’t call it “Jungle”. I respect their beliefs and their commitment to them, but they are probably pushing provocative farther than I’d go (and I’m listed on as hating America!).

Ultimately, though, I’m still mostly an economist. By their own admission, their line of clothing appears not to be getting into hands that are likely to be throwing all that many bombs:

… as the person who put together the hundreds of T-shirt orders we received from around the world before we got arrested, I can tell you that the majority of our customers were fat, old men,” she said. She knows the buyers were not hip young things because almost everyone asked for XXL size, and they had “old-fashioned names”.

I believe in the marketplace for ideas. If “the government” believes so strongly that this is somehow wrong, let them try to convince us. They’re welcome to abuse their own position as the government to criticise F + L like the mature adults we expect them to be and, having balanced the information in the marketplace, it will be up to us as consumers to make the judgment. Does such overt criticism spawn provocation and rebelliousness? Yes, of course. They may well make F + L most profitably notorious – that’s the way it goes.

This is the same all over (speaking geographically and with respect to “the issues”). I believe in gay marriage and I believe in the right to choose. These are fundamental to my notions of habeas corpus: I take it a mite further than merely having the right to have one’s body. I reserve the right to have my own mind; I reserve the right to decide for myself that which is good and bad, and I go along with the invention of Government for the specific purpose of doing the things that I and society have agreed Government should do, and for the purpose of keeping me properly informed, so that the decisions that I make are rational ones.

Other people won’t make rational choices, and that’s fine: that’s the way it goes. People will object to people buying these tee-shirts; people will object to people sending money to the Israeli Defence Force. People will object to their taxes being used to pay for the UN; others will object to their taxes being used to provide billions in aid for Israeli materiel. People object to abortion; I object to a a wombless room of men so old and corrupt they should not even be offered another term deciding what women get to do with their bodies. Do women ban men from starting wars?

So it goes. There’s a marketplace for ideas, and it should be allowed to thrive. Can a tee-shirt be doing the damage, instead of the guns, the income inequality, the land-and-water-grabs, the UN, the IMF? Spare me. NBC played the tape of crazy Virigina shooting guy – are they in gaol? F + L are in gaol, but are the companies that manufacture the weapons that do the damage in any danger of the same treatment? Do we impose sanctions on China or Russia when their guns wind up in the hands of the wrong people, while our guns are going into the hands of the right people? We do none of these things. Who are we to judge? Like any intervention by Government, this should be recognised – and evaluted – as such. This one is not warranted; it was not requested; it does not benefit us (or, rather, the Danes).

Does this all mean gets shut down for this tee-shirt?


Does it mean I go to gaol for wearing my copy of it?

And at the end of the day, if one cannot wear their politics on a tee-shirt, what is the point of having politics at all?

On Monbiot on speed cameras

Monbiot has written an excellent article (as though he has any other kind, the bastard) on speed cameras in the UK. Specifically the fact that they work, and that people who say that they don’t invariably sacrifice good analysis at the alter of their own recklessness and selfish libertarianism.

Last week the transport minister Jim Fitzpatrick said he intends to double the penalty for drivers who break the speed limit by a wide margin. This means that people could lose their licences after committing just two offences. The papers are furious. The petrolheads have called for a petition which “will get as big a response as the road pricing one.”

Yes it’s brave, but not quite as brave as you might think. Despite endless attempts by the media to trivialise it, an RAC survey reveals that 62% of drivers still regard speeding as a serious offence. Even more surprisingly, 82% of British people surveyed approve of speed cameras, and the percentage has risen slightly since the mid-1990s. There is a genuine silent majority here, which is rarely represented in the media.

Please bear in mind that I am leaving out his endnotes as I go (his references can be found with his article).

My interpretation of this is that the doubling of the penalty is a function of this “silent majority” (a term I tend otherwise to dislike, co-opted as it most often is by Tory/Conservative/Liberal/Republican racists – Liberal referring to the Howard government), rather than deterrence: re-doubling the number of speed cameras would do that.

Monbiot spends some time criticising the BBC and their programme Top Gear (about which the less said the better, other than that it is petrol-head/hoon-legitimising utter waste of spectrum). Then to the interesting parts:

In Saturday’s Telegraph, Christopher Booker and Richard North published a long article appropriately titled “Speed cameras: the twisted truth”. A sharp decline in the death rate on the roads suddenly slowed down in the mid-1990s. They attribute this to the government’s new focus on enforcing the speed limits, especially by erecting speed cameras. What they fail to mention is that deaths started falling sharply again in 2003, after the number of speed cameras had doubled in three years.

They use similarly selective data to argue that there is no evidence that cameras have reduced deaths even at the spots where they are deployed. They hang their case on an oversight in a government report published in 2003. The report claimed that the accident rate had fallen by 35% where cameras had been installed. Booker and North rightly observe that it had failed to account for a statistical effect called “regression to the mean”. There might have been an abnormal blip in the accident figures, which would have returned to background levels of their own accord. The truth, they maintain, is that “speed cameras actually increased” the rate of accidents.

But what Booker and North fail to tell their readers was that in 2005 the government conducted a new analysis, which took account of regression to the mean. The new figures showed an average reduction of 19% for collisions which caused deaths or injuries after speed cameras had been installed.

Not to pass up some decent statistics. The government’s report found statistically significant reductions in Killed or Seriously Injured and Personal Injury Collisions (KSIs and PICs – their terms of art):




Eco 145 students: confidence intervals! Everyone else: when a 95% confidence interval is entirely negative (positive) the effect being estimated is statistically significantly likely to be negative (positive). I.e. irregardless of those ‘blips’ to which people best ignored like to refer.

The report itself is quite impressive. Specifically, they found that:

  • Vehicle speeds were down– surveys showed that vehicle speeds at speed camera sites had dropped by around 6% following the introduction of cameras. At new sites, there was a 31% reduction in vehicles breaking the speed limit. At fixed sites, there was a 70% reduction and at mobile sites there was a 18% reduction. Overall, the proportion of vehicles speeding excessively (i.e. 15mph more than the speed limit) fell by 91% at fixed camera sites, and 36% at mobile camera sites.
  • Both casualties and deaths were down – after allowing for the long-term trend, but without allowing for selection effects (such as regression-to-mean) there was a 22% reduction in personal injury collisions (PICs) at sites after cameras were introduced. Overall 42% fewer people were killed or seriously injured. At camera sites, there was also a reduction of over 100 fatalities per annum (32% fewer). There were 1,745 fewer people killed or seriously injured and 4,230 fewer personal injury collisions per annum in 2004. There was an association between reductions in speed and reductions in PICs.
  • There was a positive cost-benefit of around 2.7:1. In the fourth year, the benefits to society from the avoided injuries were in excess of £258 million compared to enforcement costs of around £96 million.

Top Gear really is a stupid programme.

Hannah Montana fan club members to sue the fan club. Hopefully the judge is a Bayesian

This is a re-post. For some reason pieces of the original did not upload and I was too tired to even check. This morning I added the regression stuff.

While I’m in the mood to update old stories: here’s the latest one about Hannah Montana

Thousands of “Hannah Montana” fans who couldn’t get concert tickets could potentially join a lawsuit against the teen performer’s fan club over memberships they claim were supposed to give them priority for seats.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a New Jersey woman and anyone else who joined the Miley Cyrus Fan Club based on its promise that joining would make it easier to get concert tickets from the teen star’s Web site.

“They deceptively lured thousands of individuals into purchasing memberships into the Miley Cyrus Fan Club,” plaintiffs’ attorney Rob Peirce said. His Pittsburgh firm and a Memphis firm filed the suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Nashville.

The fan club costs $29.95 a year to join, according to the lawsuit, which alleges that the defendants should have known that the site’s membership vastly exceeded the number of tickets.

What an interesting club they have. At least they like to do things together? It seems these are people who either (a) honestly did purchase membership with this club in order to get preferential access to concert tickets, or (b) are now saying they did because taking responsibility for things just not working out is so unfashionable, these days. Who knows.

I guess it’s just a lawsuit, like any other. I’ve looked around: I don’t see any mention of the actual number of members of this fan club (perhaps it’s made known once you are a member and log in?). If this number was known then, yes, I would say it should be clear to members that more people will want tickets than will get them. “Thousands” are in on this lawsuit, so I figure it ought to be a lot.

The solution is simple: compare the two sets of people, members and non-members. There must be some measure of the non-member fans of the girl – perhaps people who tried and failed to get tickets via the members’ site? If, conditional upon being a member, one was in fact more likely to have gotten tickets than the general public, there is no lawsuit. If the opposite is found (i.e. if there appears to have been no advantage), there there is a lawsuit.

Bayes’ Theory

Enter Bayes’ theory: suppose we want/need the probability of getting tickets conditional upon being a Miley Cyrus Fan Club member. We don’t have that, per se. What we do have is the probability of being a Fan Club member conditional upon (a) getting tickets, and (b) not getting tickets. With this, we can work.

First, define A1 = Getting Tickets, A2 = Not Getting Tickets, B1 = Fan Club Member and, finally, B2 = Not A Fan Club Member.

So, the probability we need is

Pr (A_{1}|B_{1})=\frac{\Pr \left( A_{1}\cap B_{1}\right) }{\Pr (B_{1})}

to compare to

Pr (A_{1}|B_{2})=\frac{\Pr \left( A_{1}\cap B_{2}\right) }{\Pr (B_{2})}

What we observe (or can observe) are Pr (B_{1}|A_{1}), Pr (B_{2}|A_{1}), Pr (B_{1}|A_{2}) and Pr (B_{2}|A_{2}), where (for example)

Pr (B_{1}|A_{1})=\frac{\Pr \left( A_{1}\cap B_{1}\right) }{\Pr (A_{1})}

and so forth. Now, the probability

Pr (B_{1}|A_{1})=\frac{\Pr \left( A_{1}\cap B_{1}\right) }{\Pr (A_{1})}

for example, gives us

Pr \left( A_{1}\cap B_{1}\right) =\Pr (B_{1}|A_{1})\times \Pr (A_{1})

Repeating that, we see that the probability that we need is given by

Pr (A_{1}|B_{1})=\frac{\Pr \left( A_{1}\cap B_{1}\right) }{\Pr \left( A_{1}\cap B_{1}\right) +\Pr \left( A_{2}\cap B_{1}\right) }

This is because our outcomes are clearly defined: they are mutually exclusive, and they are exhaustive – i.e.

Pr (B_{1})=\Pr \left( A_{1}\cap B_{1}\right) +\Pr \left( A_{2}\cap B_{1}\right)

Same for B2. Thus will we get the two numbers that need to answer the questions: (1) what was the probability of getting tickets conditional upon being a Miley Cyrus Fan Club member; and (2) was it greater than the probability of securing tickets conditional upon not being a fan club member? I should point out here that the tricky part of this is going to be finding A2 and Pr(A2 ). Less so, perhaps for members of the Miley Cyrus Fan Club than for the general population. The value of that information will make a very big difference to our conditional probabilities: what if, for example, they are different numbers, but very similar numbers? How different do they have to be? Enter the \chi ^{2} (pronounced ky, to rhyme with sky) test for independence.


The \chi ^{2} test for independence will test for us the null hypothesis (the default hypothesis) that Pr (A_{1}|B_{1}) = Pr (A_{1}|B_{2}), versus the alternative that Pr (A_{1}|B_{1}) \neq Pr (A_{1}|B_{2}). For this we need all four possible joint observed cells:


If the two probabilities are in fact equal, then we would expect to see (for example):


Then we calculate our test statistic:

\chi ^{2}=\dfrac{\left[ a-\dfrac{d(a+b)}{(d+c)}\right] ^{2}}{\dfrac{d(a+b)}{%  (d+c)}}+\dfrac{\left[ b-\dfrac{c(a+b)}{(d+c)}\right] ^{2}}{\dfrac{c(a+b)}{%  (d+c)}}

(This equation refuses to convert. I’ll fix it later). Here you go (anyone want to explain why the equation beats the WordPress renderer?):

test stat

I.e. the sum of the squared values of the (observed – expected) cells for each of the two outcomes. This could also be done the other way around, or using the Tickets columns, rather than the Membership rows. With n – 1 = 1 degree of freedom, we just need that statistic to be greater than 3.84:

chi_squared table

to reject our null hypothesis and conclude that the distribution of ticket-getting was in fact different for Miley Cyrus Fan Club members than for non-members. If the members had a higher conditional probability of securing tickets then, again, there is no case. If they are not statistically significantly different, they’ve been ripped-off. Again, whether they should have known this beforehand is a matter for a jury: we just do the numbers.

Done? Not even close. What if there was more to it than that?


Regression analysis: regression analysis will offer two distinct advantages in this instance; one for the prosecution, and definitely if the defence has demonstrated, above, than Miley Cyrus Fan Club members did in fact get a better deal on tickets than non-members, and one for the defence, for the same reason:

  1. Regression analysis will be able to quantify the degree to which being a member of the fan club increased the probability of securing a ticket to the show(s).
  2. Regression analysis will be able to identify the statistical significance of the relationship between fan club membership and ticket-securing, controlling for other factors.

Our regression model appears thus:

Pr(\text{Securing Tickets}) = \beta _{0}+\beta _{1}\left( \text{Membership}\right) +\varepsilon

Keeping it simple Ordinary Least Squared. That is part (1): this model will positively identify whether being a member of the fan club (a dummy variable: 0 = not a member; 1 = member) affects the probability of securing tickets. For purposes of compensation, it will also quantify the degree to which that probability increased (if it increased at all).

However. What if there was some other difference? We know, for example, that scalpers landed on these tickets like (insert joke here – who don’t you like?). Suppose Miley Cyrus Fan Club members differed in some specific other respect? Perhaps they just didn’t log on as quickly? Do they have a slower connection? Was a child doing it with their parents credit card (the assumption being that they were slower to manoeuvre the system)? On to multiple regression! Controlling for these factors, our model becomes:

Pr(\text{Securing Tickets}) = \beta _{0}+\beta _{1}\left( \text{Membership}\right) +\beta _{2}\left( \text{Timeliness}\right) +\beta _{3}\left( \text{Internet Speed}\right) +\beta _{4}\left( \text{Age of Purchaser}\right) +\varepsilon

The more statistically significant explanatory variables we introduce into our model, the less statistically significant (and, probably, economically significant) beta _{1} will become, and the weaker will become the class action lawsuit against the Hannah Montana people.

Seems like a waste of perfectly good econometrics/statistics, one might think. The suit will probably contain every fan club member who did not get a ticket, though, asking for triple damages plus legal fees. I reckon it’s worth the effort for the companies being sued.

I keep telling my students that econometrics can do everything…

At least Detroit also hates Tom Friedman

Charlatan billionaire asshole. Anyway. Via the blog opit, (oldephartteintraining – I don’t know what it means, either), also via autoblog (actually quite an interesting read):

Toyota and GM fire back at NY Times’ Tom Friedman

The other day New York Times columnist Tom Friedman put himself squarely in the cross-hairs of Toyota and the rest of the auto industry. Friedman took aim at Toyota for riding the “green wave” with the Prius while at the same time producing ever larger trucks like the Tundra and the new Land Cruiser. He also slammed them for supporting the Hill-Terry fuel economy bill in Congress rather than the more stringent Senate bill that was passed a few months ago. The Michigan congressional delegation got hit in the fire fight as well for defending the interests of their hometown industry. After all, no politician from any other state would ever make short sighted moves to placate the voters in their district, so why should John Dingell (D-MI)?

Toyota and General Motors wasted no time in publicly responding on their respective corporate blogs. Toyota’s Communications VP Irv Miller was first up on the Open Road blog and was quickly followed up by Tom Wilkinson of GM on the FYI blog. Both repeated the mantra that even with high mileage vehicles like the Prius available, consumers still continue to demand big powerful cars and trucks. Just increasing the CAFE standards won’t do anything to influence demand for larger vehicles. They also responded to Friedman’s comments about higher mileage cars being available overseas by reminding him that there is demand driven by high fuel taxes in other countries. Without similar tax changes here to influence demand, CAFE standards will only frustrate buyers by ensuring the vehicles they want are not available.

Now, having established that I don’t like Friedman, I nevertheless agree with his ongoing argument that the US needs to do something about its being technologically behind (although one wonders how much his portfolios profit from the companies doing the holding-behind). I also agree with this.

Meanwhile, of the responses of Toyota and GM, I find these two points the most puzzling:

Toyota and GM want higher fuel taxes. Right? I mean, is there another way to interpret that? I don’t see it (meanwhile, the UK is in fact increasing fuel duties).

CAFE standards are bad because they don’t let motorists drive what they like. By which definition so are laws saying that you can’t drive a tank, or, say, a monster truck, on the road. Or that you can’t drive a vehicle that spews asbestos into the air around it. I mean, really. The whole point of intervention is when some consumers choose to do things that the rest of us thing are stupid and dangerous. It’s one of those decisions we make as a society.

Also, Toyota and GM want bans on underage smoking and drinking lifted. Also they want drugs decriminalised. Junkies are being unfairly frustrated by the lack of availability of the drugs and needles they want. Also gambling.

Sweet. I suppose, this time, I tip my hat to Thomas Friedman, for extracting from auto manufacturers such entertainment.