Hero or Traitor? Or Something in Between?

snowdenThe sensational new documentary on Edward Snowden, CITIZENFOUR, opens here in Nashville at the Belcourt Theater next week. I reviewed the film for the Nashville Scene in this week’s issue. A snippet:

The film’s center, dramatically and chronologically, is the middle hour focusing on the fateful encounter of Snowden, the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, and documentarian Poitras (behind her camera, occasionally heard but never seen) in a Hong Kong hotel room for eight days in June 2013. Poitras’ camera was rolling from the start, giving us a front-row (bedside?) seat as history unfolds. Columbia Journalism School dean Steve Coll likens it to having footage of Bob Woodward’s first parking-garage meeting with Deep Throat.

From this seemingly mundane procedural footage, we learn that extended sequences of a few people talking in a hotel room, working on laptops, watching television, munching on room service and taking an occasional phone call can be downright spellbinding.

For anyone who cares about civil liberties in a free society, unmissable.


Who Are These Folks Moving Here?

We know that Nashville’s hot, and that as a result people want to move here. And we know from Census Bureau data that they are moving here, the numbers putting Nashville among the fastest growing large metro areas both in the last few years and since 2000. That’s great … we love newcomers, right? But who are these mooks relocating here?

Demographers don’t call it relocating; they call it migration, and The Atlantic‘s CityLab project is out with a nifty new analysis of migration in and out of U.S. cities — specifically, a look at the education level of people coming and going. So are we attracting smart, educated humans to Nashville? Can’t really speak to “smart,” but here’s what the analysis says about the education level for domestic migration to Nashville (which means it excludes immigrants):

citylab_nashville_500x282

It’s data from a single year, so just a snapshot, but that snapshot suggests that Nashville is losing its most educated residents, with the inflow of newcomers looking like a balanced mix of college educated and non-college folks. How does this compare with other cities, especially those with whom we like to compare ourselves?

Here are two sets of comparison cities. The first is a set of three sunbelt metro areas we often either compare Nashville to or benchmark against:

cityset1

These pictures show two big things that separate Austin and Charlotte from us. First, those cities are attracting more highly educated migrants — large net inflows of people with bachelor’s and postgraduate degrees. And second, although those two metro areas are similar in size to Nashville, look at how much bigger their raw numbers are: Charlotte’s net domestic migration is three times Nashville’s, and Austin’s almost four times. Atlanta, by contrast, is attracting a markedly less educated influx of new residents than Nashville, and is actually may be having problems holding on to its educated workforce.

The second set of comparison cities are tech-centric metro areas out west:

cityset2

These comparisons show just how far out of the big leagues Nashville remains in attracting the kind of very educated talent influx that some cities are enjoying. Putting together the two sets of comparison cities, we can see that Austin and Charlotte are approaching this level of well-educated migration; Nashville isn’t.

A prior CityLab post broke down flows of population in and out of metro areas in 2013 into their international (inflow of immigrants) and domestic components. Nashville, like most cities, showed net inflows in both categories. The exceptions were the largest cities: net migration was negative — more people leaving than coming — in New York, L.A., Chicago, Philadelphia, and Miami.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.


The Ring of Neurofire

JC_and_RMN2From the world of medicine, and specifically the academic journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, comes news that a successful neurological treatment for severe obsessive-compulsive disorder can trigger a curious side effect of the Nashville kind. From the published paper’s abstract:

Recently, neuroscientists have discovered that music influences the reward circuit of the nucleus accumbens (NAcc), even when no explicit reward is present. In this clinical case study, we describe a 60-year old patient who developed a sudden and distinct musical preference for Johnny Cash following deep brain stimulation (DBS) targeted at the NAcc.

The patient, identified as “Mr. B,” is said by the team of Dutch neuroscientists who published the paper to have had broad musical tastes before the treatment, “covering Dutch-language songs, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.” After making no progress with conventional treatment, he was treated with deep brain stimulation, which is known for its use with Parkinson’s patients. Months after the DBS procedure Mr. B. happened to hear “Ring of Fire” on the radio and that’s when the man in black made neuroscience history:

Mr. B. reported that he felt good following treatment with DBS and that the songs of Johnny Cash made him feel even better. From this moment on, Mr. B. kept listening simply and solely to Johnny Cash and bought all his CD’s and DVD’s. When listening to his favorite songs he walks back and forth through the room and feels like he finds himself in a movie in which he plays the hero’s part. He reports that there is a Johnny Cash song for every emotion and every situation, feeling happy or feeling sad and although Mr. B. played almost simply and solely Johnny Cash songs for the following years, the music never starts to annoy him.

Okay, maybe a little lingering OCD there. Side benefit for the docs who wrote the case up: best academic journal article title ever — A case of musical preference for Johnny Cash following deep brain stimulation of the nucleus accumbens.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.


Scalia Watch: Which Nino Will Show Up for Hobby Lobby?

ninoscaliaThe U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, a case about whether for-profit businesses can on religious grounds avoid a legal requirement that employer-provided health insurance include full contraceptive care. The owners of the privately-held corporations that brought the suit are, to be sure, religious people who run their businesses in part on religious principles. But this case isn’t about their individual beliefs so much as whether the entity they own and operate can itself as a corporation claim a First Amendment right to religious free exercise, and in doing so avoid complying with generally applicable law having secular intent. This case made it to the Supreme Court after a mix of rulings in different federal appeals courts, and where the high court will go with this one is seriously open to question.

With that in mind, it will be entertaining to see how Justice Antonin Scalia plays this one out. On one hand, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Hobby Lobby wins without Scalia in its corner. On the other hand, Scalia did write the majority opinion in the important 1990 case Employment Division vs. Smith, ruling against a couple of guys in Oregon who sought exemption from a particular application of drug laws on religious grounds after ingesting peyote as a sacramental ritual at their Native American Church. In Hobby Lobby, one of the issues the court will ponder is whether the contraception requirement, which as a regulation has no religious character or intent, substantially burdens religious exercise to an extent that would justify letting some evade the law.

So what does Scalia think about situations in which public policy created through a democratic process collides with individual claims to a right to religious free exercise? It is instructive to read some of the things he had to say in 1990 in the Oregon case:

“The government’s ability to enforce generally applicable prohibitions of socially harmful conduct, like its ability to carry out other aspects of public policy, cannot depend on measuring the effects of a governmental action on a religious objector’s spiritual development.”

“Respondents urge us to hold, quite simply, that when otherwise prohibitable conduct is accompanied by religious convictions, not only the convictions but the conduct itself must be free from governmental regulation. We have never held that, and decline to do so now.”

“Our cases do not at their farthest reach support the proposition that a stance of conscientious opposition relieves an objector from any colliding duty fixed by a democratic government.”

“It is horrible to contemplate that federal judges will regularly balance against the importance of general laws the significance of religious practice.”

Quoting with approval a 19th century case: “‘Laws…are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices…Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.’”

Which Scalia will show up today for Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby? The one from 1990 who understood the proper balance between democratic government and religious freedom? Or the twenty-first century version who just seems to make it up as he goes to suit his ideological whims?

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.


Esoteric Message Sign of the Month

D&LAnd the winner is … Bernard Health, a Nashville-based insurance advisory firm with three locations in town (as well as a couple in Ohio and Indiana). That message in the photo is on the streetside sign at their retail location at the intersection of Harding Pike and White Bridge Road. Will many, or even any, of the throngs of Nashville drivers who pass through this busy intersection grasp the semi-arcane “Dewey & Leboeuf” reference?

Indeed the lawyers might. Dewey & Lebeof is the largest U.S. law firm ever to collapse into bankruptcy. The New York headquartered firm, which once had 1,400 attorneys, went Chapter 11 back in mid 2012. Just yesterday the Manhattan D.A. unsealed a 106-count indictment charging four key D&L leaders with grand larceny, securities fraud and falsifying business records. (The New Yorker ran a terrific piece by top-flight business journalist James B. Stewart last October chronicling the firm’s downfall.)

So the sign on Harding: How does Bernard Health’s braintrust imagine that it can drum up some business advising lawyers on health insurance by warning them not to mimic the most spectacular law firm failure in U.S. history? I posed that question to Ruthie Dean, Director of Communications at Bernard. She told me that while there wasn’t an insurance angle to D&L’s debacle, Bernard is trying to get lawyers to ponder the intersection of healthcare and mismanagement. Law firms, it turns out, are charged more by insurance companies for group health plans — often much more, according to Dean, who says it’s “because lawyers are categorized as high utilizers of healthcare.” Dean says it often makes sense for smaller law firms to drop the group plan and let their people buy insurance on the individual market, where they can’t be penalized just for being lawyers. (Although they can be mocked, I’m assured by other sources.)

Will lawyers tooling down Harding Pike recognize health insurance advisory services as the way to avert mismanagement and bankruptcy and scandal and prison? Hard to know, but props to Bernard Health for giving it a shot via a creative (if esoteric) use of the message board. Do lawyers utilize healthcare more because as a group they are hypochondriacs? We’ll leave that one for another day.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.


The Ad They Should Buy

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To Begin With

Launching this site to replace my old one.


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