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Criminal justice industry thrives despite legalized marijuana?


“The Failed Promise of Legal Pot” (Atlantic) says that, even in states where marijuana is ostensibly legal, there are still police officers, court employees, and prison industry workers getting paid. The article characterizes this as an unexpected defect in the change to the laws but I am wondering if it instead reflects a political compromise. The laws got changed in such a way that the people who were benefiting financially from the old laws are still able to earn money under the new legal and regulatory regime.

So maybe this is actually success, not failure?

Fight for Social Justice can consume 100 percent of a nation’s GDP?


The May 9, 2016 “Letters from our readers” section of New Yorker raises question: can a society eventually spend 100 percent of its time, and therefore GDP, fighting about social justice?

New Yorker is magazine that crusades against injustice, e.g., the existence of Donald Trump, (actual) Republicans, single-gender bathrooms, etc. Yet all three of the letters published on May 9 complain about the magazine’s insufficient zeal in the crusade. The first letter attacks an author and the editors for not looking at misogyny in an article previously discussed here. The second letter talks about “privileged male sexual behavior.” The third letter complains that a poem was “offensive and racially insensitive.”

Obviously this is just one magazine but I wonder if this shows us what the country will be like once the current generation of college snowflakes is 50. Will they spend all of their time criticizing each other for social justice thoughtcrimes?



One of my UberX drivers in D.C. spent 15 years selling high-end kitchen appliances (Viking = the worst; Bosch = the best, especially for ranges) and got burned out. While looking for something new he is driving a Toyota Corolla as an UberX-mobile. He had been making $90,000 per year selling appliances and was grossing $50,000 per year with Uber, of which he estimated that about $5,000 was consumed by expenses such as gasoline and car maintenance. He works from about 4 am to noon three days per week and then switches to overnight shifts on Friday and Saturday nights. “I’ve got only a high-school education so sales is probably the only job where I can afford the lifestyle that I had.”

He seemed intelligent and diligent and working in a busy market so this is perhaps a best-case earnings scenario.

Does Amber Heard get half of Johnny Depp’s fortune after a one-year marriage?


On another posting, PN said

I apologize if this is terribly off-topic, but can we get some legal analysis on the following story:


Johnny Depp — worth $400M — is being divorced by his actress wife of 15 months. No pre-nup. Does she get half?

Given that the other posting was about an avionics fire in an Airbus A320, I think PN should get an award for “most off topic question ever”! (Though a lot of American divorce plaintiffs do bring a violence angle to their litigation.)

The cited CNN article is interesting for its euphemistic language. She is a lawsuit plaintiff trying to get money out of a defendant (see a California judge’s perspective in “Divorce Litigation”). But the journalist does not write “Amber Heard sues Johnny Depp for divorce, alimony, cash, and her attorney’s fees” which would be an accurate way to describe the “petition” (“complaint” in many other states), whose full text is available at TMZ.

Under California’s community property law, in theory Depp’s premarital savings should be off limits to a divorce plaintiff. If Heard had gotten pregnant during the marriage she would be on track for 18 years of profitable (unlimited in California; see the Ellen Pao analysis) child support (see Scenario 4 in this chapter for a similar fact pattern).

Everything can be litigated, though, and spousal support (alimony) that she is suing for is discretionary with the judge. Lawyers told us that judges like to make sure that women get paid for having sex and within the divorce industry it is common to refer to the length of the marriage as “time served” by a female plaintiff. So Heard could probably count on a larger profit from this encounter with Depp than what she would have earned by going to college and working for a lifetime at the median college graduate wage. On the other hand it will probably be nowhere near $200 million. The lawyers will make out handsomely due to the fact that all of Depp’s assets can be examined, at an hourly fee, to determine which are community property and which are not (Heard’s lawsuit explicitly contemplates her lawyers figuring out what she might have a claim to). To calculate spousal support there needs to be a thorough examination of Heard’s need for alimony and Depp’s ability to pay (see the statute), so everything that each spends can be investigated by lawyers charging close to $1000/hour. They can also litigate the question of who pays for legal fees.

My prediction: When the dust settles the lawyers will have gotten paid a fortune, but Heard won’t net much more from her acquaintance with Depp than what she could have obtained by having quiet one-night encounters with a couple of successful married radiologists and collecting 23 years of child support under Massachusetts law. Heard has no incentive to try to reduce the cost or complexity of this lawsuit because she presumably expects the court to order Depp to pay all of her legal fees (i.e., the defendant will pay for the lawyers on both sides and thus the plaintiff is under no pressure to settle for less than the very maximum she thinks that she might be able to obtain at a trial).

New $20 bill design shows the ascendancy of victimhood in America?


The new $20 bill will depict Harriet Tubman, a victim of slavery and physical abuse by a slave owner. Given that she risked her own life to assist others in gaining freedom, it is tough to quibble with this choice (for one thing, I don’t want to be lumped in with the mediocrities criticizing greatness as portrayed starting at 6:30 in this video). Add in the fact that the $10 bill will feature an assortment of women who were victimized by disenfranchisement, however, and it gets potentially more interesting. These heroines are celebrated not only for their victim status, of course, but victimhood was a prerequisite for overcoming victimhood, which is what they are (presumably) being celebrated for.

Is this confirmation that the U.S. is now a “victimhood culture” (see Atlantic Magazine)? French currency, prior to the Euro, depicted high achievers (including Marie Curie) who were not obviously victims at any point. So did German banknotes, which included three different women. Italian lira featured great artists, scientists, and thinkers (Maria Montessori, for example; a woman, but not known as a victim). South Korean notes, one of which includes a woman, feature primarily “scholars” and artists/writers. Japanese notes feature primarily writers, scientists, etc. China is now all-Mao all-the-time.

I wonder if Dave Pelzer will find his way onto our currency…

[Separately, the TIME article on the new bill is interesting for its disclosure that it may take our government 10 years to design and print the first of the new $20 bills to circulate. By 2026, when the bills do find their way out into the world, will paper currency still be a common thing for anyone to carry?]


EgyptAir 804 explanations?


Friends keep asking me to explain the loss of EgyptAir 804, but of course I am just as confused as everyone else.

The only thing that I learned from my airliner-flying days (sample) that might be relevant is that most of the important stuff in an airliner is under the floor. I still wonder “Why doesn’t a passenger spilling a Diet Coke take out half of the radios?”

The flight deck door is now armored but the floorboards under the bathroom aren’t. So in theory a malicious passenger could perhaps open a hole in the bathroom floor and put an incendiary device into the avionics bay. This would explain the “lavatory smoke” message that was received and also result in a catastrophic problems for a fly-by-wire Airbus A320. Perhaps a malicious passenger could shortcut the process by pouring explosive/flammable stuff down the drain and lighting it on fire? I don’t know enough about the plumbing in an A320 to make an educated guess about that. (I do know that the Ryanair proposal to charge passengers to use the bathroom made a lot of sense; it is hard to think of anything more costly than putting tanks of liquid into the pressure vessel of an aircraft.)

It is sad that 66 people died to leave us this puzzle, but the puzzle yet remains.

Federal government: Do what we say, not what we do


“FAA Taking Its Time On ADS-B Equipage” is about the contrast between what the FAA says (install the 25-year-old ADS-B technology in your airplane well before the January 1, 2020 deadline) and what the FAA is doing (taking a leisurely and minimalist approach toward equipping its own aircraft).

Anubha wins America’s Greatest Makers!


A bunch of us got together this evening with our friend Anubha Sacheti Surati to watch the final episode of America’s Greatest Makers in which Grush, a smart child’s toothbrush, won a $1 million prize.

All of the finalists had sensor-heavy creations perhaps due to the fact that Intel is a big sponsor and Intel makes… sensors.

It was unclear how people qualified to be judges:

Of course it is not easy to succeed as an actor or a basketball player, but why does an actor or a basketball player have a special appreciation for engineering achievement or business potential? I guess I should just be happy that they like Anubha!


Eisenhower biography reminds readers why a lot of folks hate America


Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith helps explain why the country with the most Social Justice Warriors is perceived in many parts of the world as acting out of expediency and greed rather than as part of a search for justice. Eisenhower kicked off a new policy of having the CIA run covert operations to overthrow elected governments, typically to protect American commercial interests and typically with the public story that it was part of a fight against global Communism. The 1953 coup in Iran was the first example, with a Guatemalan coup to protect United Fruit Company assets shortly afterwards (Eisenhower had received a cable from his friend William Prescott Allen: “Yes, Guatemala has a very small minority of Communists, but not as many as San Francisco.”) Smith characterizes Eisenhower as a political genius, but points out that in this case he failed to see the long-lasting consequences of being discovered.

I’m wondering if in the long run the Chinese will be seen as the honest foreign power. The Europeans are tarnished by their colonial history. We’re tarnished by the above and other adventures.

Who has been on a Royal Caribbean cruise?



I want to take my mom to Latvia, Lithuania, and St. Petersburg. Mom is 82 this year and she has some ancestors from Latvia for sure (originally from Spain but detoured through the Baltic countries). She is an art lover and has never been to Russia so St. Petersburg is a must-see. This is going to be added onto a July 20 wedding in Paris that I’m attending.

It turns out that Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas is visiting all of the above places (except Paris) at a convenient time. Has anyone been on this ship? Or a similar Royal Caribbean line? Mostly we just want a comfortable hotel that will take us from city to city and then let us poke around once there, ideally with good support for a person who is beyond her best walking years (but not wheelchair-bound). We don’t need a fabulous six-course meal every night or to drink more than a glass of wine per day.

I don’t think of myself as a “cruise person” and mom has never been on a cruise, I don’t think. Are we going to have a good time? There’s a crazy expensive cruise line doing a somewhat similar itinerary: Regent Seven Seas Voyager. Even if the price were the same I’m a little concerned about the smaller size of the ship. The monster Serenade of the Seas at least has enough space to walk around. Also the Royal Caribbean folks seem to have invested heavily in high-speed Internet, which is a plus considering that I will probably have to do at least some work.

Online reviews of cruises seem to include a lot of negative experiences, but I am wondering if this is volunteer bias. Or if these are people who are expecting more than we are (a floating hotel and some basic meals).

Thanks in advance for any advice.

[Note that my dad is not joining on this trip. He’s 86 and gets enough adventure driving around suburban Maryland…]

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