The residents of the Carteret Islands have finally lost their long battle with global warming.  Sea levels have been rising for decades, crops no longer grow, and they're now left with no choice but to get out.  Dan Box reports:

The evacuation of the Carteret Islands have begun. This morning I stood on black volcanic sand, pressed up right against the jungle, and watched a small white boat powered by a single outboard engine run in against the shore. On board were five men from the Islands, the fathers of five families, who have come to finish building houses and gardens already begun in a cleared patch of jungle at Tinputz, on the east coast of Bougainville. When these homes are ready the five will return to the Carterets, to fetch their wives and children back. Life, they hope, will be better for them here. On the Carterets, king tides have washed away their crops and rising sea levels poisoned those that remain with salt. The people have been forced to move.

This is likely to become an increasingly common story over the upcoming decades, and while there are probably multiple causes, it's likely that global warming is one of the big ones.  We may be the ones causing most of the warming, but we're not the ones who will pay the biggest price.

OK, I'm curious about something.  Let me lay out the issue and then solicit some opinions.

The Los Angeles Times has been running a series of pieces this week that basically declare war on the LA Unified School District.  Now, I don't live in Los Angeles and don't have a dog in this fight, but from everything I've heard LAUSD is so monumentally dysfunctional that they probably deserve whatever they're getting.  So to be clear up front: I don't have any special problem with the Times dedicating lots of space to beating up on the district.

Today's piece, though, is about teachers and aides accused of sexually molesting students.  This is, obviously, incendiary stuff.  And the Times subhead makes the point of today's article crystal clear: "L.A. Unified has failed to follow up on complaints once police or prosecutors dropped criminal actions, leaving students vulnerable to molesters."

Is this true?  Are LAUSD student vulnerable to molesters?  Maybe.  Unfortunately, the story was so poorly written that I literally had to print it out and start circling names and dates to figure out what their evidence was.  When I finished, here's what I had: Over a period from 1995 to 2005 the district, which employs around 50,000 teachers, apparently had three cases in which teachers or aides were (a) accused of molestation, (b) cleared, (c) put back in the classroom, and (d) later convicted of a subsequent molestation.  In addition, there was one more case in which an aide acquitted of molestation charges was briefly put back in a classroom but later fired.

In 2006 the district "tightened its policies" on allowing accused molesters back in the classroom, but then it happened again.  Police told district officials in 2007 that they had "found evidence" of a possible sexual relationship between an assistant principal named Steve Thomas Rooney and a student, but no charges were ever filed.  Rooney returned to work and a year later was arrested for allegedly kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.  The case is pending.

This is horrific stuff, and there's not much question that the district screwed up badly in the Rooney case.  But there are still a few things I'd like to know:

 • How does four or five cases over a decade compare to other school districts?  It actually sounds like a pretty low rate of recidivism to me.

 • Exactly what are the district's policies in cases like this?  Amazingly, the article never bothers to say.

 • How many teachers over the past ten years have been accused of molestation, cleared, and then returned to the classroom without further incident?  How many have been accused and then quickly and efficiently dismissed?

 • Given that not all charges are true, and that teachers cleared of charges deserve to be treated as innocent, exactly what is it that critics think needs to be done?  Amazingly, the article never really bothers to dive into this either.  Should the district conduct its own investigations if the police come up empty-handed?  Maybe.  That gets a few sentences in the story.  There's also a vague suggestion that if a teacher cleared of charges is transferred, the principal at the new school should be notified of....something.  It's never entirely clear what.  ("Past misconduct," the article says at the end, but if no charges are filed, or if a teacher is acquitted, there is no past misconduct.)

Considering that this is perhaps the most inflammatory charge that could possibly be leveled at LAUSD, shouldn't the Times address some of these issues instead of just recapping five cases from the past decade?  Shouldn't its readers be given some idea of how pervasive this problem really is?  Of how often molestation charges are brought?  Of how many innocent people have been falsely charged in addition to the possibly guilty ones who got off?  Of what, if anything, needs to be done about it?  Of how other districts handle this?

Seems that way to me.  But then again, I'm not a parent and maybe I'm not reacting as strongly as I should.  Maybe just publicizing the problem is a worthwhile public service.  Maybe.  Read the article and tell me.

The Cost of Housing

Why do houses cost so much today?  In the Wilson Quarterly, Witold Rybczynski writes that even when you adjust for inflation and home size, prices are still considerably higher today than they were 50 years ago.  There are two reasons, he says:

The first is Proposition 13, the 1978 California ballot initiative that required local governments to reduce property taxes and limit future increases, and sparked similar ­taxpayer-­driven initiatives in other states. Henceforth, municipalities were unable to finance the ­up-­front costs of infrastructure in new communities, as they had previously done, and instead required developers to pay for roads and sewers, and often for parks and other public amenities as well. These costs were passed on to home buyers, drastically increasing the selling price of a house.

Interesting!  If Rybczynski is right, we now have lower taxes but higher house prices.  And perhaps that's fair.  But it's also a godsend for everyone who bought a house more than 20 years ago.  In California, it means that your original home price was low because taxes paid for the property improvements.  Then the high taxes that built your neighborhood were capped, which drove up the price of building new neighborhoods, and since housing is fungible it also drove up the price of existing homes like yours.  In other words: low price, low taxes, lots of appreciation.  That's great news for all us baby boomers, but I'm afraid the Xers are paying the price.  Par for the course, isn't it?  Someday you guys are going to figure out just how badly we've screwed you over and it's going to be Soylent Green time.

(Rybczynski's second reason is development restrictions that artifically lower the supply of housing.  Read the whole piece for more details.)

Periodical cicadas best known for their 17-year-long life cycle are emerging four years early in several Atlantic states, including North Caroline and Maryland.

The timing of the emergence is determined during the first five years of the underground development of the juvenile cicadas. Gene Kritsky of the College of Mount St. Joseph and his students have been digging up the insects each year to monitor their growth. They found many cicadas growing faster than expected and predicted their early emergence back in 2000.

The year's emergence is the fifth 17-year cicada brood arriving early. Kritsky described the early appearance of Brood I in 1995 in eastern Ohio, predicted the early appearance of Brood X. Brood XIII appeared early in Chicago in 2003 and Brood XIV accelerated in parts of Indiana and Ohio in 2004. This year's acceleration is overlapping with the distribution of Brood II.

Kritsky's paper to be published in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science suggests that mild winters affect trees that young cicadas feed upon, messing with the insects' timekeeping.

In other words, this phenomenon might be another biological response to warming global temperatures.

Anyone witnessing cicadas this year is asked to report the sighting on this mapping website.

If Obama wants a way to talk about race without, you know, talking about race, here's a thought: criminal justice reform and mothers behind bars.

From CNN:

Exciting news today!  It's Inkblot's tenth birthday!

Sort of.  We don't really know when he was born, of course, but we brought him home from the Mission Viejo Animal Shelter on July 10, 1999.  He was about two months old at the time, so I figure he was born on May 10.  However, just as federal holidays all fall on a Monday, around here cat birthdays are observed on Friday.  So today we celebrate!

But how?  Good question.  I could buy him a trout or something, but Inkblot is such a doofus he'd just ignore it.  If it doesn't come out of a can or a bag, he's not interested.  I could dress him up, but that's a nonstarter too.  So instead, he gets Friday Catblogging all to himself this week.  His official portrait is below.  Marian says it makes him look fat.  I say: magnificent and visionary, gazing toward a prosperous future with a chicken in every pot and preheated blankets for all.

Bonus trivia: Inkblot shares his birthday with absurdly successful science fiction writer/blogger John Scalzi.  In fact, if you convert human to cat years at the approved ratio of 4:1, they'll be exactly the same age on Sunday.  I think this means John should write a book about him.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the growth in harsh sentencing and parole restrictions are filling the nation’s prisons with old and infirm prisoners. While these prisoners couldn’t do much damage if they  tried, they are rarely shown any mercy, and there is little interest in alternatives such as letting them out for monitored house arrest as they near death, so that they can spend their final moments in the “free world.”

The Shreveport Times earlier this year profiled one such prisoner, Douglas Dennis, 73, a severely ill, wheelchair bound inmate at the Lousiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Dennis had been convicted of killing an accountant in the Shreveport city jail in 1957 and killing another inmate at Angola in the 1960s, and was serving two life sentences. In January, he appeared before the parole board, asking for clemency on the basis of  his recent good record and good works at Angola, and his age and health problems, saying he wanted to be set free before he died. The request–which his lawyer called his “last chance,” since it only happens once every five years–was unanimously rejected by the board. 

As the paper reported, his case was far from unusual:

Louisiana’s prison system holds 5,023 adult offenders over age 50 — more than three times the number in 1997, when about 1,500 inmates over age 50 were in the system. Age 50 is considered geriatric by corrections standards. Hard lives of drug abuse and poor health can make a 50-year-old inmate appear 10 or 20 years older, experts say….

Nationally, fewer than 5 percent of older inmates who are released commit new crimes. In Louisiana, of all inmates who were released in 2003 and who later returned to prison, only 1.3 percent were age 50 or older. For inmates age 55 or older, that figure drops to 0.6 percent, according to Louisiana Department of Corrections data as of June 30, 2008. By comparison, the highest recidivism rate for inmates released in 2003 was 9.9 percent for two age groups — 21-24 and 25-29.

At Angola, some 85 to 90 percent of those imprisoned die within its walls. Living death is such a matter of fact within Angola that the place has a hospice to ease the final passage, an elaborate funeral setup, and a large graveyard. Angola’s notorious warden, Burl Cain, has made it clear that he believes, quite literally, that the only way out of the place should be through the redempton found in embracing Christ; he has made it his mission to bring salvation to prisoners facing death by natural causes, as well as by lethal injection in Angola’s death house.  As a result of his ministry, Cain has become the subject of heroic profiles in evangelical publications, and Angola has become a popular stop for Christian fundamentalist groups, who are welcomed on tours.

Who's responsible for damaging AIG's brand? No, it's not a trick question. I ask because the insurance company's latest SEC filings (h/t Footnoted) suggest that the press, along with government officials and members of the public at large, is sullying the firm's good name, which is in turn impacting AIG's business prospects. Like me, you probably thought that AIG wrecked its own rep, by, you know, engaging in the irresponsible transactions that ultimately led to its near collapse and subsequent taxpayer funded rescue. Wrong. As the company explains in its latest 10-Q:

Adverse publicity and public reaction to events concerning AIG has had and may continue to have a material adverse effect on AIG. Since September 2008, AIG has been the subject of intense scrutiny and extensive comment by global news media, officials of governments and regulatory authorities around the world and segments of the public at large in the communities that AIG serves. At times, there has been strong criticism of actions taken by AIG, its management and its employees and of transactions in which AIG has engaged. In a few instances, such as the public reaction in March 2009 over the payment of retention awards to AIGFP employees, this criticism has included harassment of individual AIG employees or public protest affecting AIG facilities.

To date, this scrutiny and extensive commentary has adversely affected AIG by damaging AIG’s business, reputation and brand among current and potential customers, agents and other distributors of AIG products and services, thereby reducing sales of AIG products and services, and resulting in an increase in AIG policyholder surrenders and non-renewals of AIG policies. This scrutiny and commentary has also undermined employee morale and AIG’s ability to motivate and retain its employees. If this level of scrutiny and criticism continues or increases, AIG’s business may be further adversely affected and its ability to retain and motivate employees further harmed.

In January, Sandy Tsao, an army officer based in St. Louis, came out to her bosses as gay. She lost her job, of course—she's being discharged on May 19. But she's trying to take the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy down with her. Back in January, Tsao wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, asking him to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. On Tuesday, she received a personal, hand-written reply to her letter. "Although it will take some time to complete (partly because it needs Congressional action), I intend to fulfill my commitment!" Obama wrote. He was talking about his commitment to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But gay soldiers like Dan Choi and Sandy Tsao are probably wondering how long "some time" will be. Choi, a West Point Graduate and Arabic linguist, received notice on Thursday that the Army National Guard is also about to fire him for being gay. He will be the first Arabic linguist fired during the Obama administration due to the DADT policy.

Muddling Through

Do we need to take drastic action to save the American banking system?  Or can we just let weak banks "muddle through," using their operating profits to slowly but steadily improve their solvency over time?  The latter was the Japanese approach, and Matt Yglesias points out today that there are some revisionist arguments going around that, actually, Japan didn't do all that badly.  So maybe muddling isn't so bad after all.

Along the same lines, John Hempton once pointed out to me that Thailand followed the same approach after their currency crisis in 1997, and it worked fine.

Then again, Sweden and Norway needed massive intervention to save their banking system in the early 90s.  Muddling wouldn't have worked for them.

So it all depends.  That's not a very exciting conclusion, is it?  But that's life in the world of high finance.  It's just like Hollywood: nobody knows anything.