Put a map on it

Or put a bird on it.

An interesting new website from the National Center for Juvenile Justice went up yesterday: Juvenile Justice “GPS”. Only one of the tools — jurisdictional boundaries — is currently online, but the other five are scheduled for release this summer and fall. They are juvenile defense, racial/ethnic fairness, juvenile justice services, status offense issues, and systems integration.

The idea: make it easy to compare policies across states. This kind of consolidation of data, like the ABA’s work on collateral consequences, is incredibly useful for anyone researching a system as atomized as the justice system. At the same time, a brighter light makes for darker shadows. One of the side effects of the JJGPS is unspoken indictment of datakeeping in the juvenile system. So little is available it’s a wonder that funding rolls over year after year.

Laurie Anderson said it bluntly. “What I really want to know is this: are things getting better, or are they getting worse?” I just shrug my shoulders.

Two degrees C, but first let me take a selfie

Here is the titlThe EPAe of their press release: “This Earth Day, Get Outside and Take a #natureselfie; EPA and The Nature Conservancy Partner to Connect People with Nature.”

I mean, I get it. The EPA is pushing for EPA 2.0. The Agency wants to be relevant with young kids who spend most of their days and nights and all of their weekends absorbed in the screen in front of them rather than the world around them. Put a hashtag on it. Make it a selfie. (Did I hear Bieber?) The effort is almost costless for the agency. There is a citizen science aspect to it — collecting pictures of the same place over time, tying in changing climate and changing patterns of spring-time blossom. That’s nice.

But I still find the whole charade terribly sad. Instead of a natureselfie, what about just taking a nature? Deeper, it seems the whole premise promotes precisely the kind of mentality that drives environmental destruction: the egoistic idea that our place in nature is somehow preeminent, our image the one that makes the world whole.

One thought on an “Official Registry of Idiots”

ImageLifetime placement on a sex offender registry is one of many “collateral consequence of criminal conviction.” It is not formally associated with criminal sentencing, and it falls outside the purview of our judicial system. Our courts recognize collateral consequences as civil, rather than criminal, penalties. They are considered, somewhat oddly, “non-punitive.”

There is a long list of grievances with regard to collateral consequences, the legal literature on this issue broad, and broader every year. Writing recently in the volume Law as Punishment / Law as Regulation, University of Vermont associate professor Alec Ewald said,

Collateral consequences represent a damaging new manifestation of a virulent exclusionary tradition in American citizenship law. Denying millions of people full civic standing and autonomy is not new in American political life. What is novel is that collateral sanctions withdraw indefinitely core attributes of citizenship, and do so in a formal but shadowy way through the cumulative effects of scores of scattered, quasi-penal policies whose ambiguous legal status has in effect insulated them from necessary public, legislative, and judicial examination.

But an interesting new case has popped up in Washinton D.C., documented here by The Washington Post. Registered sex offender Dennis Sobin is “registering the registerers” at www.IdiotsRegistry.info. “If it’s not punishment to be on a list, we thought we’d put the people who do the registering on a list,” Sobin explained to the Post.

The website is making its way into the courts now, Sobin targeted with a lawsuit but defending himself on First Amendment grounds. Comical as the whole bit seems, a bit boorish maybe, the kernel of the issue speaks to an important and pervasive question facing our bloated system of incarceration: when, if ever, does a convict earn his redemption?

Your gravity’s different than mine


Gravity by color

There are new clocks coming out that keep time using lasers. I wrote about them here, but didn’t have room to tell of one of their more interesting abilities.

Optical atomic clocks, as they’re known, provide unique insight into some of physics’ most fundamental constants. Take the words of Dennis McCarthy, Director of Time at the U.S. Naval Observatory until 2005, who clarified that “the kinds of optical atomic clocks we now see around the world are no longer clocks. They’re gravity meters.”

Gravity is the weakest known physical force. It’s very difficult to measure precisely. It also interacts  faintly with the passage of time. New optical clocks are so sensitive as timekeepers that running two of them in parallel offset by a few centimeters in elevation allows scientists to measure gravity. Because one clock is closer to earth than the other, it will run slightly slower.

The field of geodesy will likely benefit. We’ll start to move the clocks around. Like migrating birds on magnetic trails, these little machines will tune into gravitational pull. They will scan earth’s density as they travel, they will transcribe the silent imbrication of shifting tectonics.

Will somebody drive atomic clocks on truck bed? Will that be a job of the future?

What are the numbers on climate change, again?

ImageThe Office of Management and Budget is revising the social cost of carbon, and the gates are open for public comment. Go on! Contribute if you have an idea about how much climate change might cost, in a social sense.

Tough question.

The figure gets plugged into all kinds of benefit-cost analyses — today’s imprimatur of efficaciousness — in the hunt for optimal policies that weigh climate change mitigation and adaptation against other worthy ways to spend money. Is it economically sensible to build a seawall now and fend off the uncertain rise in ocean levels decades down the road? Is it a good idea to demand power plants capture their carbon and inject it underground (assuming that’s a functional technology)? Should we simply dump all of our money into renewables? Or what about into energy efficiency?

How do we get the most bang for our buck when dealing with climate change?

Another tough question. And maybe also the wrong question.

I wrote about this once before, covering a debate between law professor Doug Kysar and economics professor Matt Kotchen. And a summary published last month in Environmental Research Letters by Jonathan Koomey tackles the same thorny issue with full-throated advocacy for a new approach. “The benefit-cost approach,” writes Koomey, “while it has been useful in many contexts, has serious limitations that call into question its utility for analyzing climate change.”

So what do we do instead? The proposal is to focus on physical limits — 2 degrees Celsius, in this case — and devise the optimal policy for reaching that goal. In this way, we’re determining costs within given, necessary boundaries. It will be interesting to see if, or when, this takes hold.

At least Koomey sings optimism: “I call this method ‘working forward toward a goal’, and it’s one that will see wide application as we face the climate challenge in the years ahead.”

That extinction problem

From, of all places, a word-a-day email: “Destroying species is like tearing pages out of an unread book, written in a language humans hardly know how to read, about the place where they live” (Holmes Rolston III, professor of philosophy).

Further, on nanotech

ImageIt’s a popular sentiment, I suppose, and one that’s been around for quite some time. This version edging toward an extreme, but not without sturdy logic.

The religion of economics provides an idolatry of rapid change, unaffected by the elementary truism that a change which is not unquestionable improvement is a doubtful blessing. The burden of proof is placed on those who take the “ecological viewpoint”: unless they can produce evidence of marked injury to man, the change will proceed. Common sense, on the contrary, would suggest that the burden of proof should lie on the man who wants to introduce a change; he has to demonstrate that there cannot be any damaging consequences. But this would take too much time, and would therefore be uneconomic. Ecology, indeed, ought to be a compulsory subject for all economists, whether professionals or laymen, as this might serve to restore at least a modicum of balance. For ecology holds that an environmental setting developed over millions of years must be considered to have some merit. Anything so complicated as a planet, inhabited by more than a million and a half species of plants and animals, all of them living together in a more or less balanced equilibrium in which they continuously use and re-use the same molecules of the soil and air, cannot be improved by aimless and uninformed tinkering. All changes in a complex mechanism involve some risk and should be undertaken only after careful study of all the facts available. Changes should be made on a small scale so as to provide a test before they are widely applied. When information is incomplete, changes should stay close to the natural processes which have in their favor the indisputable evidence of having supported life for a very long time.

(From Basic Ecology by Ralph and Mildred Buchsbaum)


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.