Archive for February, 2016

29
Feb
16

happy leap day

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Leap day is that time when a single day is added to the Gregorian Calendar every four years.

The reason for this, of course, is that whereas most modern calendar years have 365 days, a complete revolution of the Earth around the Sun (one solar year) takes approximately 365 days and 6 hours. An extra 24 hours thus accumulates every four years, requiring that an extra calendar day be added to align the calendar with the Sun’s apparent position. Without the added day, in future years the seasons would occur later in the calendar, eventually leading to confusion about when to undertake activities dependent on weather, hours of daylight, etc.

However, most of us in America associate leap year with presidential elections. Even though someone appears to be running for president all the time, it would be far worse if we hadn’t pegged the election cycle to leap years. In this, we can consider ourselves lucky.

But what of those persons who have had the unlucky accident of birth on February 29? Such a person may be called a “leapling” or a “leap-year baby.” I would imagine this presents them with a dilemma. In non-leap years, some leaplings celebrate their birthdays on either February 28 or March 1, while others only observe birthdays on their authentic intercalary dates of February 29.

There are many instances in children’s literature where a person’s claim to be only a quarter of their actual age turns out to be based on counting their leap-year birthdays.

A similar device is used in the plot of Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1879 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. As a child, the character Frederic was apprenticed to a band of pirates until his 21st birthday. Having passed his 21st year, he leaves the pirate band and falls in love. However, since he was born on February 29, his 21st birthday will not arrive until he is eighty-four, so he must leave his fiancée and return to the pirates.

This plot point was also used in a Sherlock Holmes story, where a friend of Dr. Watson’s is a Baronet who is due to receive his inheritance on the New Year’s Day of the year where his twenty-first birthday will be celebrated, only for the law to deprive him of the money as he was born on February 29; with the 84-year-old Baronet distraught at the news that 1900 is not a leap year, Holmes helps the Baronet fake his death long enough for his grandson—who is the appropriate age to receive the inheritance—to establish his claim and receive the money himself.

I just read a story by a 28-year-old woman who says this year marks her seventh real birthday because she was born on February 29th—a leap day. She says that the most popular topic of conversation among leaplings is the bureaucratic problems they all inevitably face.

This red-tape nightmare can take many forms. Sometimes it’s as small as not being able to select one’s birth date from a drop-down menu online—or those several years when Facebook didn’t acknowledge they had a birthday. Often it’s more substantial, like dealing with inaccurate legal documents. All modern leap babies have to navigate these snafus for two milestones: one’s 18th and 21st birthdays. US states have historically struggled to figure out a workable solution.

“When I was younger, my driver’s license in Florida listed my real birthday, but it also read ‘under 21 until 2/29/2009,’ a date that didn’t actually exist,” she says. “As for my 18th, well, it was up to individual businesses to determine whether they considered me legal on February 28 or March 1. Results varied.”

Raenell Dawn, co-founder (with Peter Brouwer) of the online “Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies,” says this is all too common, and there’s no standard for how February 29 birthdays are handled. It differs from state to state, and case to case. “There’s one leapling I talked to whose birthday certificate says February 28 and her license says March 1,” Dawn said. “February 29 isn’t listed on either document.”

It is estimated that there are about 200,000 leaplings in the United States and just under 5 million worldwide—a small enough group to maintain a feeling of exclusivity, but large enough to spark a healthy dialogue. “Once we get to talking, it’s evident that many of our individual struggles are really quite universal. One of the topics frequently discussed is which day leap babies should use to celebrate their birthday on off-years,” says Dawn.

Some opt for February 28, saying the last day of February is most accurate, while others insist March 1 is more correct because they were born the day following February 28. Then there’s the camp that believes time of day is the determining factor—if you were born in the morning, the 28th is yours, but if you were delivered past noon, it’s the 1st. It can all get rather heated.

There aren’t many advantages to celebrating your real birthday once every fours years, but the free stuff is starting to add up.

Pizza Hut is giving away free one-topping Personal Pan Pizzas today to carryout customers with IDs showing they were born on Leap Day. “Pizza Hut has been the site of many, many birthday parties through the years, and since Leaplings only get to celebrate their true birthdays every four years, we wanted to make their day special and help them honor their birthdays in a big way,” says Pizza Hut spokesman Doug Terfehr.

Pizza Hut isn’t the only company dishing out freebies on Leap Day. Hard Rock Cafe restaurants will also give customers with a Leap Day birthday a free entree from a special menu.

Not a leapling but still want free stuff or discounts? No problem. Plenty of restaurants and brands are offering special deals for the extra day:

  • Restaurant chain Dog Haus is offering a free upgrade from a single to a double burger
  • Eatery Legal Sea Foods will sell two one-pound lobsters with two sides for $29 today
  • JetBlue is offering $29 one-way fares to 31 cities for travel today (but you’ve probably already missed the deadline)
  • Northeastern chain Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant is offering fried ice cream and a Leap Year Margarita for $2.29
  • Athletic clothier Footlocker is offering 15% off purchases of $70 or more on Leap Day

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Groove of the Day

Listen to leapling Dinah Shore perform the “Anniversary Waltz”

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28
Feb
16

how to reduce crime

Child's hands handcuffed

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How to Reduce Crime: Stop Charging Children as Adults

by Vincent Schiraldi, The New York Times

February 26, 2016

For the second year in a row, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York has proposed raising the age of the state’s Family Court jurisdiction to 18 from 16. If that legislation fails again this year, it will leave New York and North Carolina as the only states where people age 16 and older can be tried as an adult and, if incarcerated, locked up in adult prisons and jails. (In New York, children as young as 13 must be tried in adult court for certain charges, like murder.)

Not only are these states trailing most of the country in this area, but they are also in danger of falling even further behind. Connecticut and Illinois—both of which recently raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18 (in 2012 and 2014, respectively)—are now considering raising the age to 21. In the 116-year history of the juvenile court, no United States system has ever gone above age 18, so two states considering it simultaneously is remarkable.

Why are they doing this?

Lawmakers are confronting questions over the effects and safety of the two systems. Would crime increase if more people were treated in juvenile court, where sentences are lighter? And, more parochially, would the courts and the juvenile facilities be overwhelmed? The answers from Illinois and Connecticut proved surprising.

Early in the 20th century, most states established juvenile courts, virtually every one restricting the new court’s age to youths under 16. A separate juvenile-justice system, which sought to rehabilitate and not just punish youthful offenders, was part of a movement by progressives to create a legally defined adolescence through the passage of child-labor and compulsory education laws and the creation of parks and open spaces. During the decades that followed, an overwhelming majority of states increased the court’s jurisdictional age, arguing that 16 was too young a demarcation point.

There has been a renewed effort recently to raise the age of family-court jurisdiction even further. In addition to the horrors of putting teenagers in adult prisons (where they are more prone to suicide, more likely to be sexually assaulted and less likely to succeed once they leave), a wave of new research has shown that young people are developmentally different from adults in impulsivity, future orientation, susceptibility to peer pressure and risk-taking, especially if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury, which kids in the juvenile justice system disproportionately do.

Initially, these campaigns were considered liberal, but now they’re increasingly bipartisan. When Connecticut raised its family court’s age limit, research found that 16-year-olds tried in family court were being rearrested at a rate almost 39% lower than youths their same age who had been previously tried as adults.

Connecticut now has its lowest number of juveniles in pretrial detention, its lowest population in juvenile correctional institutions, and the lowest number of young adult prisoners ages 18 to 21 in its adult prisons in a quarter-century—down 51% over the last six years.

Illinois has enjoyed similar successes. The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission concluded that its reforms enhanced public safety because adult convictions put youths at greater risk of re-offense by inhibiting education and employability. The commission also found that the juvenile justice system had gotten smaller now than it was before it included 17-year-olds. The population of Illinois’ juvenile institutions has declined by 43% since the reforms began.

Both systems built on the traditional strengths of the juvenile system, such as individualized sentences, programs to keep youths from being detained or incarcerated, and greater access to rehabilitation and counseling.

There is another compelling reason both to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction and to rethink how readily we try juveniles as adults: the protection of the innocent. In early January, five boys, ages 14 through 18, were arrested in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and quickly charged with the rape of a girl on a playground, an incident that understandably caused outrage throughout the city. After more investigation, however, the prosecutor concluded that no sexual assault had taken place, and on Wednesday he dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning that charges cannot be reinstated.

But because the boys were charged as adults, their names were made public. This incident will be the first item that appears when future employers, classmates and schools do a Google search. A family court hearing, where names of the accused are rarely released, would have at least prevented their reputations from being smeared forever.

In the face of growing evidence about the benefits of juvenile courts, research into the neurological and psychological development of teenagers and the move by other jurisdictions to raise the juvenile court age, New York and North Carolina persist in trying and convicting 16-year-olds as adults. The current laws are archaic and unnecessarily punitive, and both states should raise the age of family court before they fall even further behind what science and common sense are telling us.

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Vincent Schiraldi, a former commissioner of probation for New York City, is a senior research fellow at the Kennedy School Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at Harvard.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Johnny Mathis performing “Too Young”

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27
Feb
16

ease his pain

Dave Anderson.

More than 25 years ago, I was the advisor to a group of about twenty high school kids from poor-to-average backgrounds but with high aspirations. It was a reflection of their hopefulness and self-confidence that, depending on the season, their principal activities as a youth group were snowboarding and acrobatic biking. These kids measured success by the amount of time their tricks took them into the air. They groomed and rode halfpipes in the winter and jumped bike ramps in the non-winter months. What they managed to do was truly amazing and, for me, inspiring. They literally appeared to defy the gravity that kept us “normal” people pinned to the ground—especially adults.

Dave Anderson was one of those kids, and he is still friends with the other guys who were part of that youth group. They have great respect and affection for him. He is an avid fisherman, hunter, and shed hunter among many other things. He recently took up his new favorite hobby of riding Harley-Davidsons. I didn’t know Dave well at the time, but some of those grown-up kids have approached me to write this post and ask for your help.

Three or four weeks ago, Dave was transported to the University of Colorado hospital in Aurora CO after calling 911.  Dave had the flu, pneumonia, and his left leg had bruising all over it and had swollen to twice the size of his other leg. The pain was excruciating, but Dave acted like it was nothing. Yet it wasn’t.

It was determined he has Necrotizing Fasciitis, a very rare and aggressive infection, that spreads quickly throughout the body, causing tissue death at the site and beyond. He went into surgery for approximately 4 hours to remove the infected tissue; the surgeon said Dave was really unstable throughout the entire surgery and that it was extremely difficult. However, he also said he thought they had got most, if not all, of the infection out.

They moved him to the surgical ICU for the night and kept trying to stabilize him. The next morning, however, Dave was brought back to the OR and it was discovered the infection had spread more. At that point it was either trying to save his life, or save his leg. Dave’s left leg was amputated above the knee in order to save his life.

He is still in a life-threatening situation, and it could change at any moment.  Right now he is heading down the path to recovery, and hopefully this direction will continue. He will still need skin grafts, reconstructive surgery on his leg, physical therapy, and of course a prosthetic leg. Unfortunately, Dave does not have any short-term or long-term disability and he will not be able to work for a long time. His health insurance leaves gaps for such a catastrophic illness.

But Dave is a survivor. He has been through so much before.

He comes from a mother-only household and he just recently met his biological father, with whom he does not maintain a relationship. Dave’s mother did the best she could raising him but endured the struggles of any single mother raising a kid in a low income part of Minneapolis. David never did graduate from high school but he does know the value of being a hard worker and worked his way to a manager position with Sam’s club. He later went on to a management position with Gander Mountain, which is where he worked until the amputation.

Roughly 15 years ago David was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in the 4th stage. Because he had excellent health insurance, he was able to beat the cancer with chemo and radiation. Two years after his first bout, he was diagnosed with cancer again and endured another year of chemo and radiation. This time he needed to have a bone marrow transplant to save his life. Luckily for him, they were able to find a donor and get him that transplant.

He fell in love early with a girl from high school, and had a daughter Marriah, now a young woman, while he was in his early 20s. The girl he fell in love with had a son with another man before she and David got together. He raised that son like his own. Then about three years ago his wife came to him and told him she didn’t love him anymore and that she wanted to separate. It was 100% unexpected and it dealt a severe blow to him emotionally.

At New Year’s 2015 in Denver, Dave visited one of the kids from the youth group, liked what he saw, and decided that he wanted to relocate for a fresh start. From January to August 2015, he prepared for his departure from Minnesota and his new beginning in Colorado. But his home life also deteriorated during that time. His relationship with his wife got so bad that he moved into the garage for the last 4-5 months.

When August finally came, his Colorado friend drove to Minneapolis, helped him load his stuff, and drove him from Minnesota to Denver. He didn’t even make it in Colorado six months before this tragedy struck.

He currently has no means of income and really needs some help as he starts on the road to recovery. Dave would never ask for help himself, so his friends established a GoFundMe page for his medical expenses and support; they designated Marriah as the custodian. They set a goal of $10,000 and have raised $12,495—but that amount is certain to be insufficient given what lies before him.

Dave still has a long road ahead of him, but with his determination and with your support, I have no doubt he will get there. I am impressed by the enormous circle of friends and family Dave has, and I am sure once he becomes aware of how you supported him in his time of need, he will be astonished and realize how blessed he truly is.

Please help him out and make a donation. The expenses moving forward are sure to be astronomical, and he needs your help. Please donate whatever you can and pass on this appeal, even to strangers. It is so necessary and, I am sure, even a stranger can see that Dave is a good investment.
Thank you.
26
Feb
16

early space

Ike was so anti-Nazi, he kept Werner von Braun—the developer of the V-2 rocket—on ice for five years at Fort Bliss, Texas, allowing the Russkies to launch the Sputnik satellite and orbit Yuri Gagarin before we could do it ourselves. The shock was so great to our national pride, Ike finally relented.

Then came JFK, who set the challenge to America to put a man on the moon within ten years. As a kid, I remember this age of early space exploration as a time of great excitement and imagination.

Now conspiracy theorists are saying that Stanley Kubrick was hired by the government to fake the moon landing and win through propaganda what American know-how couldn’t achieve for real. Gee, I hope it isn’t true. I invested a lot of psychic energy in the space race. I remember watching John Glenn being shot into orbit. I have a “First Lunar Landing” paperweight on my desk. I even met a couple astronauts and had supper with Buzz Aldrin.

I am so jaded, I wouldn’t put it past the government. Yet I’d hate to think this is as real as it gets.

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fly me to the moon.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to The Tornados performing “Telstar”

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Weather Report

71° and Clear

25
Feb
16

victory in death

jugend virgiss nicht deiner gefallenTranslation: “Youth, forget not your fallen fathers and brothers.”

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One of the most paradoxical aspects of National Socialism is that, while planning for a German future founded on the principles of victory, superiority, and cultural glory, a parallel ideology developed—one obsessed with death, ruin, and martyrdom—which helped bring Hitler’s Germany to its apex, and then to its ultimate climactic end.

Inspired by the operas of Richard Wagner, neo-Romanticism, monumentality, and Volkish ideology, a popular culture was crafted in Germany built on sacrifice, hero worship, and fascist aesthetic politics. Volkishness emphasized a connection to nature, folk traditions, and man’s rootedness to his ancestral homeland; these concepts were essential in creating an alternative to urbanism and industrialization.

dead-soldiers2Hero worship and “The Cult of the Fallen Soldier,” represent the clearest and most affecting examples of the paradoxical nature of Hitler’s dream for Germany. Following World War I, most Germans had a clear understanding of sacrifice as realized through the blood of their young soldiers. As this postcard seems to suggest, the blood of the war dead enriches the fecundity of the ancestral German soil.

This is especially true for the “Myth of Langemark,” an important battle for the ethnohistory and death iconography of World War I.

In what became know as the “Kindermord” or “The Massacre of the Innocents” took place during the first battle of Ypres at Langemark, Belgium on October 26, 1914, where enthusiastic and inexperienced students came fatally face-to-face with battle-hardened British soldiers.

As the myth goes, hundreds of young German soldiers, many of them from every German university, marched into no man’s land to their deaths, all the while singing the Deutschlandlied. To the veterans of Langemarck, the battle came to stand for victory out of defeat, a spiritual or moral victory gained by self sacrifice, a victory of innocence and youth pitted against hard professionalism, a victory of idealism in the service of the nation.

Thousands of young men were slaughtered, but the myths surrounding their deaths became an essential part of the Totenkult (culture of death): a powerful civil religion that ultimately ended in ideological national suicide and widespread immolation at the end of World War II.

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war dead medal.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Wilhelm Furtwangler conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in “Siegfried’s Funeral March” from Richard Wagner’s Götterdammerung

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Weather Report

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24
Feb
16

veracity

abuse 55.

I’ve noticed that a few comments have come in saying that the kids’ versions of the abuse they say they’ve suffered at the hands of family members, some of them deceased, never happened. Who can say for sure? Certainly not me.

I wasn’t there. I don’t know the families. I don’t know what the truth is. All I know is that kids are hard-wired not to harm those who are supposed to care for them, and that something pretty remarkable and twisted happened that resulted in violence and death.

Statistically, most kids are to be believed. Not all kids, but most. I am sure that some juvenile parricides concoct stories of abuse as a means of justifying an act of violence and dodging responsibility, but I believe this to be a minority. When a family member comes forward saying that the alleged abuse never happened, they could just as believably be saying, “I don’t come from a family where that could have been happening right under my nose.” Where one’s self-image is involved, denial is as strong a possibility as just believing the kid.

I know several adults who came from families where such abuse happened, but it did not result in parricide. The horrible secret remained well-hidden; other family members never knew or suspected; transgressors never knew how close to death their acts actually took them. I know this is not an insignificant problem. It is more common than most people would like to think.

Especially family members.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Leah Marr performing “The Truth Shall Set You Free”

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Weather Report

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23
Feb
16

public defenders

The other day, I ran across a statistic that was presented as if it were new news, but really isn’t new news at all. The factoid has been in circulation at least since 2006, maybe before.

I think today I will re-publish an article discussing the issue, just to drive home the point:

Public Defenders handle 80% of all felony cases.

It helps explain how the “War on Crime” is so often described by critics as a “War on Poor People.”

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43334962_125606344691Clarence Earl Gideon, whose Supreme Court case established the right to counsel for indigent defendants, was buried in an unmarked grave in Hannibal, Mo. The ACLU later donated the tombstone.

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The Right to Counsel: Badly Battered at 50

by Lincoln Caplan, The New York Times

March 9, 2013

A half-century ago, the Supreme Court ruled that anyone too poor to hire a lawyer must be provided one free in any criminal case involving a felony charge. The holding in Gideon v. Wainwright enlarged the Constitution’s safeguards of liberty and equality, finding the right to counsel “fundamental.” The goal was “fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law.”

This principle has been expanded to cover other circumstances as well: misdemeanor cases where the defendant could be jailed, a defendant’s first appeal from a conviction and proceedings against a juvenile for delinquency.

While the constitutional commitment is generally met in federal courts, it is a different story in state courts, which handle about 95 percent of America’s criminal cases. This matters because, by well-informed estimates, at least 80 percent of state criminal defendants cannot afford to pay for lawyers and have to depend on court-appointed counsel.

Even the best-run state programs lack enough money to provide competent lawyers for all indigent defendants who need them. Florida set up public defender offices when Gideon was decided, and the Miami office was a standout. But as demand has outpaced financing, caseloads for Miami defenders have grown to 500 felonies a year, though the American Bar Association guidelines say caseloads should not exceed 150 felonies.

Only 24 states have statewide public defender systems. Others flout their constitutional obligations by pushing the problem onto cash-strapped counties or local judicial districts.

Lack of financing isn’t the only problem, either. Contempt for poor defendants is too often the norm. In Kentucky, 68 percent of poor people accused of misdemeanors appear in court hearings without lawyers. In 21 counties in Florida in 2010, 70 percent of misdemeanor defendants pleaded guilty or no contest—at arraignments that averaged less than three minutes.

The Supreme Court has said that poor people are entitled to counsel “within a reasonable time” after a case is initiated. But defendants, after their arrest, can spend weeks or even months in jail without a lawyer’s help. In a Mississippi case, a woman charged with shoplifting sat in jail for 11 months before a lawyer was appointed.

The powerlessness of poor defendants is becoming even more evident under harsh sentencing schemes created in the past few decades. They give prosecutors, who have huge discretion, a strong threat to use, and have led to almost 94 percent of all state criminal cases being settled in plea bargains—often because of weak defense lawyers who fail to push back.

The competency of lawyers is, of course, most critical in death penalty cases. In dozens of states, capital cases are routinely handled by poorly paid, inexperienced lawyers. And yet, only very rarely are inmates ever granted a new trial because of incompetent counsel.

In a Georgia death penalty case last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that even though the main defense lawyer drank a quart of vodka each night of the trial, there was no need for a retrial. The lawyer was himself preparing to be criminally prosecuted for stealing client funds, and presented very little evidence about the defendant’s intellectual disability. But the court said the defendant had a fair trial because proof that he killed a sheriff’s deputy outweighed any weakness in his legal representation.

In an infamous 1996 Texas death-penalty case, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld a defendant’s death sentence even though his lead counsel slept during the trial.

The Supreme Court has made it possible for courts to uphold such indefensible lawyering. In 1984, in Strickland v. Washington, the court said that for a defendant to be entitled to a new trial, he must show both that his lawyer’s advice was deficient and that the deficiency deprived him of a fair trial—a very high hurdle. And the court’s majority defined competency as requiring only that the lawyer’s judgment be “reasonable under prevailing professional norms.”

Justice Thurgood Marshall, writing in dissent, said the result of this empty standard “is covertly to legitimate convictions and sentences obtained on the basis of incompetent conduct by defense counsel.” That is exactly what has happened in the past three decades. In fact, incompetent counsel for poor defendants is so widespread that under this standard the prevailing professional norm has been reduced to mediocrity.

After 50 years, the promise of Gideon v. Wainwright is mocked more often than fulfilled. In a forthcoming issue of The Yale Law Journal, Stephen Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Georgia, and Sia Sanneh, a lawyer with the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, recommend that all states have statewide public defender systems that train and supervise their lawyers, limit their workloads and have specialized teams in, for example, death-penalty cases.

There is no shortage of lawyers to do this work. What stands in the way is an undemocratic, deep-seated lack of political will.

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Lincoln Caplan is the Truman Capote Visiting Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School. With a B.A. and a J.D. from Harvard, Caplan has been a journalist with and contributor to, among others, the New Yorker, the New York Times, and U.S. News and World Report.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Louisiana Red performing “I’m Too Poor to Die”

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Weather Report

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