News Miner 9
Notes on peace keeping, milk donations, voting, abortion, plants, race and economic progress, and more.
Welcome to my latest “News Miner.” Also check out my Self in Society. I aim to make articles free to read for all subscribers; I also welcome paid subscriptions.
Masters on Peace Keeping
Bill Masters is the longest serving sheriff in Colorado history. Recently he sat down with me (remotely) to record a podcast episode for Self in Society.
I also summarized some of his positions for an article at Complete Colorado. Here is part of the discussion:
Government is force, Masters emphasized. Every time the legislature criminalizes some activity, he noted, that authorizes police officers to use potentially deadly force to back up the law. When officers attempt to arrest a person for violating some law, if the person resists, officers can use necessary force to secure the arrest. Masters said that legislators “have to accept that responsibility for every law they pass. Someone may die, because we passed this law, and (someone has) decided to resist it.”
Donated Milk for Babies
Complete Colorado published my recent article about breast milk donation used mostly in hospitals.
I discuss my own family’s experience with a premature birth and our reliance on donated breast milk in the hospital. I write:
We have no idea who the women were who donated the milk that fed our newborn son. But they, along with the excellent delivery and NICU doctors and nurses of Swedish, are my family’s heroes. During a time when so much went wrong and we had so much to worry about, getting excellent nutrition for our son was easy.
I also lay out the various ways that the federal government helped to create shortages for formula through tariffs and import restrictions.
I close by discussing Governor Jared Polis’s idea to promote the breast milk donation program as a partial substitute for formula. I conclude:
I appreciate Polis’s enthusiasm for out-of-the-box approaches, but it does not appear to me that donated breast milk offers a real solution to most families trying to feed their babies. Thankfully, the donation program is robust enough to serve hospitals, and that in itself is hugely important. During an important time, milk donors sustained my child’s life.
I reached out to the Department of Health, and a representative said on May 23:
Our partnership is focused on messaging and spreading the word about donor human milk as a possible resource for families. We are also calling for financial donors to help alleviate some of the cost of purchasing donor milk for families. At this time, there is no funding or subsidy partnership between Mothers’ Milk Bank and the State of Colorado.
However, in a June 1 update, the department explained:
Governor Polis signed an Executive Order on last week declaring a disaster emergency due to the nationwide shortage and allocating emergency funds to support the free distribution of donor human milk from Mothers’ Milk Bank, a nonprofit that collects and distributes donor human milk through the Rocky Mountain Children’s Foundation. The emergency funds will also cover fees associated with shipping milk for both donors and recipients. The state launched a partnership with Mothers’ Milk Bank earlier this month.
Greg Lopez’s Nutty Voting Scheme
Greg Lopez, a Republican candidate for governor, recently suggested a sort of state-level electoral college. But his proposal is quite different from the federal system. 9News rolls the tape:
It’s not based on population. It’s going to be based on voter turnout. So the higher your voter turnout is, the more electoral college voters you’re going to get. Because we want people to participate.
That’s goofy. I replied:
A person could come up with a reasonable version of a “state-level electoral college,” but not with a version of weighting counts by voter turnout. Anyway, this is a political nonstarter and a sign of a circus-tent rather than a serious campaign.
A reasonable way to try a "state-level electoral college" would not be to go by county, as 9News’s Kyle Clark has it, but by regions of roughly equal populations, e.g. state senate districts. Then the idea doesn't sound nearly so crazy. (But no version of this ever will happen.)
Reminder: We could largely fix electoral college disparities at the federal level by breaking large states into smaller ones and increasing the number of U.S. House members.
Someone suggested that an electoral college with districts of equal populations would defeat the point. I replied:
There's nothing inherent in an electoral-college type system that depends on population differences between zones. Imagine three zones of the same population. Zone 1 votes 90–10 for Candidate A. Zones 2 and 3 vote 51–49 for B. In a popular vote, A wins. In an electoral college, B wins.
Offhand it’s not obvious to me that a straight popular vote is superior. There’s a lot to be said for checking for level of popularity across regions. This is why I favor keeping the federal electoral college but reducing the population disparities by breaking up large states and by increasing the number of House members.
I wouldn’t mind exploring the possibility of a state-level electoral college if working on the constitution of a new state, but nothing like this ever will happen in an established state. All Lopez is demonstrating is that he’s more interested in entertaining wild-eyed schemes than in addressing the practical issues that Coloradans face. Lopez is running for governor, not eccentric polysci professor.
A side-note: A few years ago, George Brauchler suggested “having a legislator per county in one of the houses.” One problem with this is counties vary radically by population, with 620 people in San Juan and 760,049 in Denver.
Dave Williams’s Nutty Anti-Abortion Scheme
Dave Williams (not to be confused with the late libertarian activist D. K. Williams) “plans to run federal legislation that would make it illegal for a person to travel to Colorado for an abortion, with no exceptions,” Quentin Young reports. That is, he plans to run such legislation if he beats Doug Lamborn in the Repubican primary for Congress, which is unlikely.
Williams’s campaign email stated:
Rep. Williams plans to introduce federal legislation on day one to outlaw abortion tourism across state lines. People would not be allowed to temporarily visit or cross over into another state for the purpose of ending the life of an unborn child for any reason.
Rep. Williams said, “We must stop the interstate abortion trade that is about to explode as the Supreme Court rightfully overturns Roe v Wade. If we don’t do something soon to prevent abortion tourism across state lines, then abortion providers everywhere will create a sick and twisted niche industry that would even make Kermit Gosnell blush.”
Aside from the fact that Williams’s premises are complete rubbish, has he given a thought to how this would be enforced? Any such measure would require an extremely invasive federal government. This is yet another “data point” showing that such Republicans care nothing about liberty and, indeed, are opening wide the door to religious fascism.
Plant Size Matters
Here’s what the New York Times declared on May 31: “The World’s Largest Plant Is a Self-Cloning Sea Grass in Australia.” But nothing in the text of the article supports that headline. Instead, scientists pulled specimens of an underwater grass “from 10 different meadows” and found that the plants were clones. One of the scientists said, “It’s only one plant”—but obviously she meant that the plants were clones, not literally that the entire grass field was one single plant.
True, in this region, often the grass “Posidonia clones itself by creating new shoots that branch off from its root system. Even separate meadows were genetically identical, indicating that they were once connected by now-severed roots.”
The author (Kate Golembiewski) claims the grass field “is arguably the world’s largest living organism” at “77 square miles.” But if the roots are no longer connected, it is not a single organism, any more than identical twins are the same person.
That leaves open the question as to what is actually the largest organism. Golembiewski offers a couple of candidates:
Utah’s Pando, a clonal colony of 40,000 aspen trees connected by their roots, is the reigning “largest individual plant,” covering an area bigger than 80 football fields. The Humongous Fungus is even bigger, weaving a web of mycelial tendrils underground and beneath tree bark across 3.5 square miles of Oregon’s Malheur National Forest.
Governor Jared Polis claims “Colorado’s famed Kebler Pass Aspen Grove, located in the West Elk Mountains near Crested Butte is likely even larger” than the Utah grove. Polis pushes back against the notion that the grasses might compose a larger organism than an Aspen grove:
1) Many patches of their sea grass, while genetically indentical, are not in fact connected to one another and are therefore separate organism with the same genetics.
2) Overall size of an organism must also factor in mass, not just area covered, and Aspen trees and root systems are for more massive than wispy sea grasses.
The Royal Society publishes the study at the heart of the discussion.
What I found more interesting than the matter of organism size is the fact that the grasses are polyploids. Nature explains what that means:
Polyploidy is the heritable condition of possessing more than two complete sets of chromosomes. Polyploids are common among plants, as well as among certain groups of fish and amphibians. For instance, some salamanders, frogs, and leeches are polyploids. Many of these polyploid organisms are fit and well-adapted to their environments. In fact, recent findings in genome research indicate that many species that are currently diploid, including humans, were derived from polyploid ancestors (Van de Peer & Meyer, 2005). These species that have experienced ancient genome duplications and then genome reduction are referred to as paleopolyploids.
Race and Economic Progress
Tina Griego and Burt Hubbard report:
In several key measures of socioeconomic progress [from 2010 to 2020, Black and Latino residents] moved a little closer to white Coloradans, who also saw many gains.
A Colorado News Collaborative analysis of U.S. Census and other data found that over the course of the last decade, poverty rates among the state’s Black and Latino residents fell to historic or near-historic lows, high school graduation rates, particularly for Latinos, shot up, Black and Latino median household income climbed at rates that outpaced inflation, and Latino homeownership cracked the 50% mark for the first time since the Great Recession.
Nowhere else in the nation saw a greater narrowing of the gaps in poverty levels between Latinos and whites than Colorado. Our state was also among the top 10 that experienced narrowing gaps in median household income between Latino and white, and Black and white households.
However, the duo reports, Covid hit Black and Latino communities especially hard.
As you can imagine, a number of people cast the glass as half empty.
School Violence: Twice in one day a student in a Cherry Creek middle school violently assaulted another student. How and why is such violence being allowed?
Hospital Charges: A hospital told a woman she’d have to pay $1,337 out of pocket for surgery. The reps screwed up. They thought her insurance was in-network, but it wasn’t. “After her surgeries, the hospital billed $303,709 for French’s care; her insurance paid about $74,000 and the remaining balance of $228,000 was disputed in a civil case,” the Denver Post reports. The state Supreme Court called bullshit on these secretive, undisclosed fees.
Police Violence: “Oh my god you shot me in the dick.” With a plastic bullet. This seems like a clear case of abusive policing. When are prosecutors going to get serious about subjecting police to the same scrutiny to which they would subject the rest of us? The victim is suing.
Murder: Elise Schmelzer reports, “A former Colorado sheriff's employee is facing federal charges for allegedly posing as a US Marshal, kidnapping a Vermont man and killing him as part of a convoluted murder-for-hire plot connected to a powerful businessman.” See Schmelzer’s article.