Law and Legal

Letting Algorithms Replace Human Appraisers

UK Daily Mail: Proposed new regulations would allow homes to be bought and sold through electronic valuations rather than human appraisers

  • Home appraisals could be done electronically without the need for a licensed human regulator, according to new proposals  
  • Regulators say the vast majority of homes could be appraised using electronic algorithms which could make house buying faster and cheaper   
  • About 214,000 home sales could have been made last year with the change 
  • House appraisers were largely blamed for inflating prices during the crash…”
Categories: Law and Legal

A Sustainable Path Forward Report from the Task Force on US Postal System

United States Postal Service: A Sustainable Path Forward Report from the Task Force on the United States Postal System. December 4, 2018 – “On April 12, 2018, you [President Trump] signed Executive Order 13829, which established the Task Force on the United States Postal System to evaluate the operations and finances of the United States Postal Service (USPS) and develop recommendations for administrative and legislative reforms for the U.S. postal system. The goal of these recommendations is to identify a path for the USPS to operate under a sustainable business model, providing necessary mail services to citizens and businesses, while competing fairly in commercial markets…”

The USPS is a $71 billion enterprise that collects, processes, transports, and delivers 146 billion pieces of mail and packages to nearly 159 million households and businesses annually.The mission of the USPS is broadly defined via the “universal service obligation”

(USO), which is intended to ensure that all citizens and businesses in the United States receive a minimum level of postal services at a reasonable price. The USPS has been losing money for more than a decade and is on an unsustainable financial path. The USPS is forecast to lose tens of billions of dollars over the next decade. Further, as of the end of FY 2018, the USPS balance sheet reflects $89 billion in liabilities against $27 billion in assets–a net deficiency of $62 billion. The shift toward digital correspondence and the corresponding decline in USPS mail volumes have been compounded by caps on mail pricing, leading to mail revenue declines of around 4 percent per year. Additionally, the USPS has not been able to sufficiently reduce costs to offset declines in revenue, resulting in net losses totaling $69 billion between FY 2007 and FY 2018…”
Categories: Law and Legal

TIME – World’s Greatest Places 2018 100 destinations to experience right now

TIME: “It’s easy to find guides to famous attractions. But which new and newly relevant destinations are worth experiencing right now? To assemble our first annual list of the World’s Greatest Places, TIME solicited nominations across a variety of categories—such as museums, parks, bars, restaurants, theme parks, cruises and hotels—from our editors and correspondents around the world as well as dozens of industry experts. Then we evaluated each one based on key factors, including quality, originality, innovation, sustainability and influence. The result is a list as diverse as the world it reflects, with 100 entries spanning six continents and 48 countries—highlighting everything from a Texas water park that empowers kids with disabilities to a Maldives resort that’s building an undersea abode to a library in Tianjin, China, that’s almost as wondrous as reading itself. To see the full list, click here.”

Categories: Law and Legal

Social Security Administration offers dozens of publications in multiple formats

The 149 publications are listed in reverse chronological order [newest first] and each is available in PDF, Audio and up to 14 different languages. Current titles include the following:

  • Understanding The Extra Help With Your Medicare Prescription Drug Plan 05-10508, ICN 470112, December 2018. An overview of the Extra Help available to cover the costs of a Medicare prescription drug plan and a list of factors you should consider when comparing plans. Audio PDF
  • Apply Online For Extra Help With Medicare Prescription Drug Costs 05-10525, ICN 470142, December 2018. Learn how easy it is to apply online for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug plan costs. Audio PDF
  • Social Security’s Electronic Wage Reporting (Forms W-2) 05-10034, ICN 456208, October 2018. If you run a business, make your first stop for information on W-2s, electronic filing and verifying Social Security numbers. Audio PDF
  • Get Your Payments Electronically 05-10073, ICN 467520, October 2018. Receiving Social Security payments electronically is a simple, safe and secure way to receive your benefits — even if you don’t have a bank account. Audio PDF
  • What Every Woman Should Know 05-10127, ICN 480067, October 2018. Learn about valuable Social Security program information, such as who is eligible for various benefits and the importance of reporting income properly. Audio PDF

[h/t Pete Weiss]

Categories: Law and Legal

Yes, the Octopus Is Smart as Heck. But Why?

The New York Times – “To demonstrate how smart an octopus can be, Piero Amodio points to a YouTube video. It shows an octopus pulling two halves of a coconut shell together to hide inside. Later the animal stacks the shells together like nesting bowls — and carts them away.“It suggests the octopus is carrying these tools around because it has some understanding they may be useful in the future,” said Mr. Amodio, a graduate student studying animal intelligence at the University of Cambridge in Britain. But his amazement is mixed with puzzlement. For decades, researchers have studied how certain animals evolved to be intelligent, among them apes, elephants, dolphins and even some birds, such as crows and parrots. But all the scientific theories fail when it comes to cephalopods, a group that includes octopuses, squid and cuttlefish. Despite feats of creativity, they lack some hallmarks of intelligence seen in other species. “It’s an apparent paradox that’s been largely overlooked in the past,” said Mr. Amodio. He and five other experts on animal intelligence explore this paradox in a paper published this month in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution…”

…Another feature that cephalopods share with other smart animals is a relatively big brain. But that’s where the similarities appear to end. Most of the neurons that do the computing, for example, are in the octopus’s arms..”

Categories: Law and Legal

New study from NCconfirms some long-held folk wisdom about race and juries

The New York Times – Prof. Ronald Wright – “A new study from North Carolina confirms some long-held folk wisdom about race and juries. The good news is there are two doable solutions. Race, as a matter of constitutional principle, cannot factor into the selection of jurors for criminal trials. But in the American justice system, anyone with a bit of common sense and a view from the back of the courtroom knows the colorblind ideal isn’t true in practice.Racial bias largely seeps in through what’s called “peremptory” challenges: the ability of a prosecutor — and then a defense attorney — to block a certain number of potential jurors without needing to give the court any reason for the exclusion. The number of challenges allowed varies by state, but commonly 15 or more are permitted. Folk wisdom, among those familiar with the song and dance, is that prosecutors use these challenges to remove nonwhite jurors, who are statistically more likely to acquit, while defense attorneys — who can step in only after the pool has been narrowed by prosecutors — typically counteract by removing more white jurors.For a long time, the opacity of court records rendered the dynamic as only that — folk wisdom — which has made it difficult to articulate the urgent need to reform this understudied aspect of our system. But now, this informal knowledge has been empirically confirmed, and the case for change couldn’t be more compelling

My recently published research on juror removal in North Carolina conducted with colleagues at the Wake Forest University School of Law proves — for the first time with statewide evidence — that peremptory challenges are indeed a vehicle for veiled racial bias that results in juries less sympathetic to defendants of color. Based on statewide jury selection records, our Jury Sunshine Project discovered that prosecutors remove about 20 percent of African-Americans available in the jury pool, compared with about 10 percent of whites. Defense attorneys, seemingly in response, remove more of the white jurors (22 percent) than black jurors (10 percent) left in the post-judge-and-prosecutor pool…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Civil Eats’ 2018 Holiday Book Gift Guide

Civil Eats’ 2018 Holiday Book Gift Guide – “It’s that time of year again when we gather to celebrate the winter season with dear friends, good food … and a pile of inspiring books. Mindful that you’re all looking for good reading material, as well as potential presents, we serve up the Civil Eats’ Holiday Book Gift Guide: a selection of this year’s books we reviewed, talked about, and think are worth your time. Happy reading and gifting!”

Categories: Law and Legal

Paper – Common-Knowledge Attacks on Democracy

Farrell, Henry John and Schneier, Bruce, Common-Knowledge Attacks on Democracy (October 2018). Berkman Klein Center Research Publication No. 2018-7. Available at SSRN: or /a>

“Existing approaches to cybersecurity emphasize either international state-to-state logics (such as deterrence theory) or the integrity of individual information systems. Neither provides a good understanding of new “soft cyber” attacks that involve the manipulation of expectations and common understandings. We argue that scaling up computer security arguments to the level of the state, so that the entire polity is treated as an information system with associated attack surfaces and threat models, provides the best immediate way to understand these attacks and how to mitigate them. We demonstrate systematic differences between how autocracies and democracies work as information systems, because they rely on different mixes of common and contested political knowledge. Stable autocracies will have common knowledge over who is in charge and their associated ideological or policy goals, but will generate contested knowledge over who the various political actors in society are, and how they might form coalitions and gain public support, so as to make it more difficult for coalitions to displace the regime. Stable democracies will have contested knowledge over who is in charge, but common knowledge over who the political actors are, and how they may form coalitions and gain public support. These differences are associated with notably different attack surfaces and threat models. Specifically, democracies are vulnerable to measures that “flood” public debate and disrupt shared decentralized understandings of actors and coalitions, in ways that autocracies are not.”

Categories: Law and Legal

Want to See All the Vermeers in the World? Now’s Your Chance

The New York Times: “Johannes Vermeer, whose acute eye captured the quiet beauty of Dutch domestic life, was not a prolific artist: Just 36 paintings are widely acknowledged as his work. Still, anyone who wanted to see them all had to travel far and wide — to New York, London, Paris and beyond. Until now. The Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, which owns what is perhaps Vermeer’s best-known masterpiece, “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” has teamed up with Google Arts & Culture in Paris to build an augmented-reality app that creates a virtual museum featuring all of the artist’s works. For the app, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has contributed images of all five of its Vermeer masterpieces, while the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, each with four, have also given photographs of theirs. Two more have come from the Louvre, and three from the Frick Collection. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston has shared an image of “The Concert,” the Vermeer that disappeared after being stolen from the museum’s collection in 1990. That painting will be on view once again in Meet Vermeer, the digital museum. Starting Monday, the free app will be accessible to anyone with a camera-equipped smartphone…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Practices and Patterns in Research Information Management: Findings from a Global Survey

“OCLC Research and euroCRIS, the international organization for research information, partnered to develop a survey and synthesize the results to examine how research institutions worldwide are applying research information management (RIM) practices. Research information management (RIM) is the aggregation, curation, and utilization of information about research and is emerging as an area of increasing interest and relevance in many university libraries. RIM systems, also broadly known as current research information systems (CRISs), are gaining interest and attention worldwide for their contribution in dealing with new policies on open science, research funding, and national assessment. In order to examine how research institutions worldwide are applying RIM practices, OCLC Research partnered with euroCRIS to conduct a web-based survey that was administered from October 2017 through February 2018, yielding 381 responses from 44 countries, demonstrating the global nature of research information management activities. A working group comprised of subject matter experts in RIM practices representing both OCLC Research and euroCRIS worked collaboratively to synthesize the data and to write the report.”

Results of this work include:

  • Report – Practices and Patterns in Research Information Management: Findings from a Global Survey
  • Supplemental Materials – Survey Instrument, Full Data Set with Verbatim Responses, and Banner Tables
Categories: Law and Legal

The 100 greatest innovations of 2018

Popular Science: “Our 31st annual Best of What’s New list is the culmination of a year spent obsessing over, arguing about, and experiencing the newest technologies and discoveries across 10 distinct disciplines [aerospace, gadgets, auto, home, security, entertainment, recreation, health, software, engineering,] Yes, there are eye-poppingly-bright TVs. Sure, there are video games that will suck us in for hours. And, naturally, there’s a car that, on the right road, will just drive itself. Here, we dig deep, because some innovations don’t make a lot of noise, yet have the potential to make a real and lasting impact. A drug that blocks mind-numbing migraines or a fake egg that scrambles like the real thing are no less impressive than the fastest spacecraft ever to break free of earth’s atmosphere. Why? Because the effects of each of the feats will reverberate for years down the road… [Note – Sleepbuds by Bose that block road/traffic noise are on my list…when there is a sale…after all the holidays]

Categories: Law and Legal

Take Your Required Minimum Distribution – Consumer Reports

You need to receive your RMD by December 31 or you could pay a penalty – “Fidelity Investments recently reported that about half of its clients who were older than 70½—and required to take an annual distribution from their retirement account—had not yet done so for 2018. They should do so soon. Not taking all of your required minimum distribution (often referred to as an RMD) before the year closes would be a costly mistake. You could end up owing a 50 percent excise tax on the portion not taken. That’s on top of the ordinary income tax you must pay on the money you receive. “The RMD amounts can look pretty small at the beginning, but if you end up paying a penalty they can look a lot larger,” says Jill Hollander, a fee-only financial planner in Marin County, in California…” [h/t Pete Weiss]

Categories: Law and Legal

Neuroscience says listening to this song reduces anxiety by up to 65%

FastCompany – Sound therapies have long been used to help us cope: “Everyone knows they need to manage their stress. When things get difficult at work, school, or in your personal life, you can use as many tips, tricks, and techniques as you can get to calm your nerves. So, here’s a science-backed one: make a playlist of the 10 songs found to be the most relaxing on earth. Sound therapies have long been popular as a way of relaxing and restoring one’s health. For centuries, indigenous cultures have used music to enhance well-being and improve health conditions. Now, neuroscientists out of the UK have specified which tunes give you the most bang for your musical buck. The study was conducted on participants who attempted to solve difficult puzzles as quickly as possible while connected to sensors. The puzzles induced a certain level of stress, and participants listened to different songs while researchers measured brain activity as well as physiological states that included heart rate, blood pressure, and rate of breathing…” [Note – I highly recommend – and yes I donate to listen – the music is always with me when I am researching/blogging]

Categories: Law and Legal

CDC – More than 47,000 Americans killed themselves in 2017

USA Today report – “More than 47,000 Americans killed themselves in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday, contributing to an overall decline in U.S. life expectancy. Since 1999, the suicide rate has climbed 33 percent. Americans are more than twice as likely to die by their own hands, of their own will, than by someone else’s. But while homicides spark vigils and protests, entering into headlines, presidential speeches and police budgets, suicides don’t. Still shrouded in stigma, many suicides go unacknowledged save for the celebrities – Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain – punctuating the unrelenting rise in suicide deaths with a brief public outcry.  And research suggests our ways of living may be partly to blame, in ways that don’t bode well for the future. Alcohol and substance abuse are risk factors, and both are increasing. Isolation raises the risk, and nearly half of Americans say they sometimes or always feel alone. Increasing smartphone use has been linked to suicidal thoughts in teens. Even climate change has been found to have roughly the same effect on increasing suicides as an economic recession…”

  • Suicide Rates by Major Occupational Group — 17 States, 2012 and 2015 CDC Weekly / November 16, 2018 / 67(45);1253–1260: “…During 2000–2016, the suicide rate among the U.S. working age population (persons aged 16–64 years) increased 34%, from 12.9 per 100,000 population to 17.3 ( To better understand suicide among different occupational groups and inform suicide prevention efforts, CDC analyzed suicide deaths by Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) major groups for decedents aged 16–64 years from the 17 states participating in both the 2012 and 2015 National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) ( The occupational group with the highest male suicide rate in 2012 and 2015 was Construction and Extraction (43.6 and 53.2 per 100,000 civilian noninstitutionalized working persons, respectively), whereas the group with the highest female suicide rate was Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media (11.7 [2012] and 15.6 [2015]). The largest suicide rate increase among males from 2012 to 2015 (47%) occurred in the Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media occupational group (26.9 to 39.7) and among females, in the Food Preparation and Serving Related group, from 6.1 to 9.4 (54%). CDC’s technical package of strategies to prevent suicide is a resource for communities, including workplace settings…”
Categories: Law and Legal

GPO Makes Documents Easy to Download and Repurpose in New XML Format

GPO news release: “The U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) makes available a subset of enrolled bills, public and private laws, and the Statutes at Large in Beta United States Legislative Markup (USLM) XML, a format that makes documents easier to download and repurpose. The documents available in the Beta USLM XML format include enrolled bills and public laws beginning with the 113th Congress (2013) and the Statutes at Large beginning with the 108th Congress (2003). They are available on govinfo, GPO’s one-stop site to authentic, published Government information. The conversion of legacy formats into Beta USML XML will provide a uniform set of laws for the public to download. This new format maximizes the number of ways the information can be used or repurposed for mobile apps or other digital or print projects. The public will now be able to download large sets of data in one click rather than downloading each file individually, saving significant time for developers and others who seek to repurpose the data. GPO is collaborating with various legislative and executive branch organizations on this project, including the Office of the Clerk of the House, the Office of the Secretary of the Senate, and the Office of the Federal Register. The project is being done in support of the Legislative Branch Bulk Data Task Force which was established to examine the increased dissemination of Congressional information via bulk data download by non-Governmental groups for the purpose of supporting openness and transparency in the legislative process…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Americans Still Prefer Watching to Reading the News – and Mostly Still Through Television

Three-quarters of Americans who prefer watching the news opt for TV, but since 2016, slightly more watchers name the internet as their platform of choice

“Americans continue to prefer watching the news rather than reading or listening to it, and their viewing loyalties have yet to migrate fully to the web. Instead, the majority of U.S. adults who prefer to watch the news opt for television as their primary news platform, according to a new Pew Research Center survey conducted July 30-Aug. 12, 2018, among 3,425 U.S. adults who are members of the Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel. Overall, 47% of Americans prefer watching the news rather than reading or listening to it. That is unchanged from 46% in 2016 and outpaces the 34% who prefer to read the news and 19% who prefer to listen to it – both of which also remain on par with 2016 figures. In addition to exploring the preferred format for news consumption, the study also measured which platform people preferred most for their news: print, television (through local, network or cable channels), the internet (through websites, apps or social media) or radio. Television continues to rank first as the preferred platform. Just over four-in-ten U.S. adults (44%) prefer TV, compared with about a third (34%) who prefer the web, 14% who prefer radio and 7% who prefer print. The only meaningful shifts since 2016 are a small increase in online and decrease in print news consumption…”

Categories: Law and Legal

National Transportation Safety Board Documents Digitized

In Custodia Legis – “The Law Library of Congress has digitized a collection of National Transportation Safety Board decisions, orders, and petitions. The years of the decisions span from 1973-1982, with the majority falling between 1977 and 1981. Other decisions can be found on the N.T.S.B.’s Document Management System. The National Transportation Safety Board (N.T.S.B.) conducts independent accident investigations and decides pilots’ and mariners’ certification appeals. Once a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (D.O.T.), Congress separated N.T.S.B. to ensure objectivity and independence from D.O.T. regulations and operations. The collection is organized by docket number, an alphanumeric designation; the first two letters indicate the document type and then the dockets are arranged numerically within the type. The first group of documents with the docket numbers beginning with EA are procedural, mostly name substitutions. The second group, with the docket numbers beginning with ME contains opinions and orders on appeals to a decision of the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. The third group with dockets beginning with an R are from the National Mediation Board in 1978…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Paper – ‘Modernised’ Data Protection Convention 108 and the GDPR

Greenleaf, Graham, ‘Modernised’ Data Protection Convention 108 and the GDPR (July 20, 2018). (2018) 154 Privacy Laws & Business International Report 22-3. Available at SSRN:

“One week before the GDPR came into force on 25 May 2018, the ‘modernisation’ of data protection Convention 108 was completed by the Council of Europe on 18 May, by the parties to the existing Convention agreeing to a Protocol amending it (‘Protocol’). The new version of the Convention is now being called ‘108 ’ to distinguish it. This article analyses some aspects of the relationships between 108 and 108 , and further developments at the Plenary Meeting of the Convention’s Consultative Committee in Strasbourg, 19-21 June 2018 including a conference to ‘launch’ the new 108 . The transition from 108 to 108 is complex. Any new countries wishing to accede will have to accede to the Protocol (ie to 108 ) as well as to Convention 108, except for a handful of countries previously invited to accede. There are two options for when Convention 108 will come into force. One involves ratification by all existing 52 parties; the other could see it in force between ratifying parties as early as 2023. Accession to Convention 108 will have a positive effect on applications for ‘adequacy’ assessments to the EU under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but the extent to which 108 compliance will be sufficient for EU adequacy is uncertain. The article discusses these various complexities.”

Categories: Law and Legal

Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and the Use of Force by States

Deeks, Ashley and Lubell, Noam and Murray, Daragh, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and the Use of Force by States (November 16, 2018). 10 Journal of National Security Law & Policy (2019, Forthcoming); Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2018-63. Available at SSRN:

“Big data technology and machine learning techniques play a growing role across all areas of modern society. Machine learning provides the ability to predict likely future outcomes, to calculate risks between competing choices, to make sense of vast amounts of data at speed, and to draw insights from data that would be otherwise invisible to human analysts. Despite the significant attention given to machine learning generally in academic writing and public discourse, however, there has been little analysis of how it may affect war-making decisions, and even less analysis from an international law perspective. The advantages that flow from machine learning algorithms mean that it is inevitable that governments will begin to employ them to help officials decide whether, when, and how to resort to force internationally. In some cases, these algorithms may lead to more accurate and defensible uses of force than we see today; in other cases, states may intentionally abuse these algorithms to engage in acts of aggression, or unintentionally misuse algorithms in ways that lead them to make inferior decisions relating to force. This essay’s goal is to draw attention to current and near future developments that may have profound implications for international law, and to present a blueprint for the necessary analysis. More specifically, this article seeks to identify the most likely ways in which states will begin to employ machine learning algorithms to guide their decisions about when and how to use force, to identify legal challenges raised by use of force-related algorithms, and to recommend prophylactic measures for states as they begin to employ these tools.”
Categories: Law and Legal

Google officially rolling out new search bar with sticky header, rounded search bar

Search Engine Land: “Google has confirmed with Search Engine Land that they have begun rolling out a new search results page design that has the a rounded search bar that sticks to the top of the page as you scroll through the search results. Google began testing this new design back in August and is now rolling it out to all searchers. New header: The main difference from the old search bar header is that the new one now will stick to the top of the search results page as you scroll down to see more search results. The old design did not do that, in order to access the search bar, you had to scroll back up to the top of the page. The other difference is the search bar is no longer a box, it is now rounded…”

Categories: Law and Legal


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