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Archive for March 14th, 2018

The Tokugawa gun control plan

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James Wimberley has an interesting post at The Reality-Based Community:

Early firearms were heavily used in Japan in the civil wars of the 16th century, including by the Tokugawa faction that came out on top in 1600 and established the shogunate that lasted until the Meiji restoration of 1868. The Tokugawa ideal was a rigidly stratified and static traditional society, isolated from the outside world. Guns were among the disruptive European innovations that threatened this model, and had to be tamed as part of the overall strategy. The Tokugawa plan for gun control was one of slow strangulation. Gunmakers had to move to the capital Edo and work for the court. Demand was thus steadily shifted to luxury weapons, produced in smaller numbers. Guns did not disappear, but they were successfully marginalised in a now peaceful and regimented society.

American gun control advocates have focused entirely on demand, to little effect. It’s time to take a look at supply. A comprehensive policy would have to cover manufacture, distribution and imports. Let’s start with manufacture.

The guns sold to American civilians in such startling numbers are not made in the USA by divisions of big Pentagon contractors like Lockheed (F35, Gatling minigun), but by much smaller specialists. Some like the Barrett Company that makes large-calibre and very expensive sniper rifles ($8,500 each) are privately owned boutiques. As in most industries, the great majority of new guns sold are accounted for by a few larger companies. I relied on a good Mother Jones survey plus financial googling. Leaving out the foreigners, the American firms include:

  • American Outdoor Brands (AOBC) – owns Smith & Wesson brand. Sales $903m, Market cap $548m.
  • Sturm Ruger (RGR) – owns Remington, Bushmaster brands. Sales $679m, market cap $830m.
  • Vista Outdoor (VSTO) – Savage rifles, ammunition, other sporting goods. Sales $2.08 bn, market cap $988m.
  • Remington Outdoor Company (privately owned, in Chapter 11). Sales $865m (2016), net income $19m, debt ca. $950m. It could probably be bought for the face value of the debt.
  • O.F. Mossberg – privately owned, makes pump-action shotguns. Estimated global sales $185m. Valued at the Ruger ratio, approximate value $233m.

Have I left anybody out? Corrections welcome.

So the market value of the bulk of the American domestic gunmaking industry is about $3.5 bn. Any liberal multibillionaire (perhaps with an assist from crowdfunding) could buy the entire industry for $5bn or so. For the government, it’s pocket change.

The ownership strategy would not be profit-maximising. It would include:

  1. Maintaining current sales to the military and (with less marketing effort) law enforcement;
  2. Dropping all sales to civilians of semi-automatic weapons, keeping only two-shot shotguns, one-shot bolt-action hunting rifles, and revolvers;
  3. Selling only through retailers committing to an enforceable code of practice including full background checks;
  4. Setting up an attack-dog legal department to protect patent and trademark IP very aggressively, to discourage new entrants;
  5. Dropping all connection with the NRA or other gun advocacy organisations.

For a few years, the gunmakers would lose money. So you have to add maybe another $1bn for restructuring costs. These would never be recovered, and represent the permanent net cost of the operation.

Nationalisation is clearly the first choice. It would mark a return to the early days of gunmaking, when as a critical industry for dynastic or national security it was typically carried out in state arsenals. Coercive nationalisation is the only way of making the takeover comprehensive. The liberal billionaire has no way of forcing say Ronnie Barrett to stop selling upmarket sniper rifles to the few civilians capable of using them, or others from starting new firms.

But it’s not likely that this would be a major problem. The trade has very high regulatory and reputational risks, and would be unattractive to most venture capitalists. Money talks, and the boutiques could still sell to the military and law enforcement. Their products would be expensive from the small scale of production. (According to the website of the famous London gunmaker Purdey, a second-hand shotgun can be had for £89,000, and a new single-shot hunting rifle for a mere £25,000. Ieyasu would have bought both.) Hardly any money would find its way to the NRA, breaking the cash and ideological nexus between gunmakers and gun nuts.

A chokehold on supply of new domestic weapons would only be a start, but it creates a breathing space to tackle two other issues.

Imports could flood in replacing the lost domestic weapons. This could only be stopped by federal government action: bans on semi-automatics or very steep tariffs. The political point here is that Beretta, Glock, Sig-Sauer and Taurus – much less the nameless makers of cheap Saturday-night specials – have few votes in the states and little leverage in Washington. If nationalisation is politically feasible, so are import controls. It’s a bigger problem for the altruistic billionaire: the money could be wasted, and the investment would be a leap of faith in Democratic control in Washington.

The other problem is much bigger:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 7:31 pm

Posted in Congress, Government, Guns, Law

Here’s a Video of a Navy Jet Encountering a UFO

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 4:25 pm

Posted in Military

Trump’s New Economic Adviser Lawrence Kudlow Has Been Wrong About Everything for Decades

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York magazine:

A dozen years ago, I wrote a book about the unshakable grip of supply-side economics upon the Republican Party. Supply-side economics is not merely a generalized preference for small government with low taxes, but a commitment to the cause of low taxes, particularly for high earners, that borders on theological. In the time that has passed since then, that grip has not weakened at all. The appointment of Lawrence Kudlow as head of the National Economic Council indicates how firmly supply-siders control Republican economic policy, and how little impact years of failed analysis have had upon their place of power.

The Republican stance on taxes, like its position on climate change (fake) and national health insurance (against it), is unique among right-of-center parties in the industrialized world. Republicans oppose higher taxes everywhere and always, at every level of government. In 2012, every Republican presidential candidate, including moderate Jon Huntsman, indicated they would oppose accepting even a dollar of higher taxes in return for $10 dollars of spending cuts. They likewise believe tax cuts are the necessary tonic for every economic circumstance.

The purest supply-siders, like Kudlow, go further and deeper in their commitment. Kudlow attributes every positive economic indicator to lower taxes, and every piece of negative news to higher taxes. While that sounds absurd, it is the consistent theme he has maintained throughout his career as a prognosticator. It’s not even a complex form of kookery, if you recognize the pattern. It’s a very simple and blunt kind of kookery.

In 1993, when Bill Clinton proposed an increase in the top tax rate from 31 percent to 39.6 percent, Kudlow wrote, “There is no question that President Clinton’s across-the-board tax increases … will throw a wet blanket over the recovery and depress the economy’s long-run potential to grow.” This was wrong. Instead, a boom ensued. Rather than question his analysis, Kudlow switched to crediting the results to the great tax-cutter, Ronald Reagan. “The politician most responsible for laying the groundwork for this prosperous era is not Bill Clinton, but Ronald Reagan,” he argued in February, 2000.

By December 2000, the expansion had begun to slow. What had happened? According to Kudlow, it meant Reagan’s tax-cutting genius was no longer responsible for the economy’s performance. “The Clinton policies of rising tax burdens, high interest rates and re-regulation is responsible for the sinking stock market and the slumping economy,” he mourned, though no taxes or re-regulation had taken place since he had credited Reagan for the boom earlier that same year. By the time George W. Bush took office, Kudlow was plumping for his tax-cut plan. Kudlow not only endorsed Bush’s argument that the budget surplus he inherited from Clinton — the one Kudlow and his allies had insisted in 1993 could never happen, because the tax hikes would strangle the economy — would turn out to be even larger than forecast. “Faster economic growth and more profitable productivity returns will generate higher tax revenues at the new lower tax-rate levels. Future budget surpluses will rise, not fall.” This was wrong, too. (I have borrowed these quotes from my book, in which Kudlow plays a prominent role.)

Kudlow then began to relentlessly tout Bush’s economic program. “The shock therapy of decisive war will elevate the stock market by a couple-thousand points,” he predicted in 2002. That was wrong. He began to insist that the housing bubble that was forming was a hallucination imagined by Bush’s liberal critics who refused to appreciate the magic of the Bush boom. He made this case over and over (“There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen. At a bare minimum, we are looking at Goldilocks 2.0. (And that’s a minimum). Goldilocks is alive and well. The Bush boom is alive and well.”) and over (“The Media Are Missing the Housing Bottom,” he wrote in July 2008). All of this was wrong. It was historically, massively wrong.

When Obama took office, Kudlow was detecting an “inflationary bubble.” That was wrong. He warned in 2009 that the administration “is waging war on investors. He’s waging war against businesses. He’s waging war against bondholders. These are very bad things.” That was also wrong, and when the recovery proceeded, by 2011, he credited the Bush tax cuts for the recovery. (Kudlow, April 2011: “March unemployment rate drop proof lower taxes work.”) By 2012, Kudlow found new grounds to test out his theories: Kansas, where he advised Republican governor Sam Brownback to implement a sweeping tax-cut plan that would produce faster growth. This was wrong. Alas, Brownback’s program has proven a comprehensive failure, falling short of all its promises and leaving the state in fiscal turmoil.

The passage of the Trump tax cuts follow from the party’s “tax cuts über alles” philosophy. In the face of widespread social and economic problems, the one legislative goal the party could agree upon was reducing taxes paid by business owners. The existence of relatively high deficits even at the peak of the macroeconomic cycle did not deter them; indeed, Republicans — even moderates like Susan Collins — insisted the tax cuts would not increase the deficit. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 4:07 pm

Creating a culture in which empathy is absent

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I pointed out in an earlier post this fascinating article: “Why White Evangelicalism Is So Cruel.” It’s worth reading, with the idea that White Evangelical culture was developed in the centuries in which slavery was an essential part of Southern culture. (And this is quite clear about memes, their persistence over time and how they can evolve very slowly in human terms.)

If a culture is to support slavery, it must act to minimize empathy, somehow eradicating it as a cultural value. Since the South is the core of the modern GOP, that lack of empathy would explain the GOP’s “I’m getting mine and to hell with others” attitude we see so frequently. That is not an attitude of someone who has empathy.

And similarly, in the rise of modern US police departments from slave patrols (here’s a good brief summary), empathy would again be minimized and African-Americans would draw the most interest. That police culture seems alive and well in many cities. When new police recruits enter that culture, they absorb its values, and though the personnel change the culture persists.

The institution of slavery damaged the slave owners by embedding them in a culture that lacked empathy. Obviously, the damage to slaves was also great.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 3:28 pm

Want to be happy? Try moving to Finland.

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In the NY Times Maggie Astor has an interesting article on the level of happiness is various countries:

Happy are the people of the Nordic nations — happier, in fact, than anyone else in the world. And the overall happiness of a country is almost identical to the happiness of its immigrants.

Those are the main conclusions of the World Happiness Report 2018, released Wednesday. Finland is the happiest country in the world, it found, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia. Though in a different order, this is the same top 10 as last year, when Norway was No. 1 and Finland was fifth.

Burundi and Central African Republic, both consumed by political violence, are the least happy countries for the second year in a row. This year, Central African Republic is slightly happier than Burundi; last year, their order was reversed.

As for the United States, it is 18th out of 156 countries surveyed — down four spots from last year’s report and five from 2016’s, and substantially below most comparably wealthy nations. Though the economy is generally strong and per capita income is high, it ranks poorly on social measures: Life expectancy has declined, suicide rates have risen, the opioid crisis has worsened, inequality has grown and confidence in government has fallen.

“I think there really is a deep and very unsettling signal coming through that U.S. society is in many ways under profound stress, even though the economy by traditional measures is doing fine,” Jeffrey D. Sachs, an editor of the report, said in an interview on Tuesday. “The trends are not good, and the comparative position of the U.S. relative to other high-income countries is nothing short of alarming.”

The report was produced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and edited by three economists: Dr. Sachs, the network’s director and a professor at Columbia University; John F. Helliwell, a senior fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia; and Richard Layard, a director of the Well-Being Program at the London School of Economics’ Center for Economic Performance. It is based on Gallup International surveys conducted from 2015 to 2017, in which thousands of respondents were asked to imagine a ladder with steps numbered 0 to 10 and to say which step they felt they stood on, a ranking known as the Cantril Scale.

The top 10 countries’ averages ranged from 7.632 for first-place Finland to 7.272 for 10th-place Australia; the United States’ average was 6.886, down from 6.993 last year. At the bottom of the scale, Burundi’s average was 2.905. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article, an important point:

Dr. Sachs noted that the happiest countries have very different political philosophies from the United States’. Most of the top 10 are social democracies, which “believe that what makes people happy is solid social support systems, good public services, and even paying a significant amount in taxes for that.”

The United States for years has been cutting taxes, apparently on the idea that lower taxes are what people want. Indeed, taxes have been cut so severely that some governments are not functioning well (Kansas, West Virginia, and Oklahoma, for example, the last two now having teachers striking).

What tax-cutting zealots overlook is that taxes are necessary for good government services, aka “You get what you pay for.” I could cut our food budget drastically if we ate a starvation diet of cheap food. But I’d rather pay more and get nutritious food we enjoy, and I’d rather pay more in taxes and get a good government.

In this connection you might find the comments to this post of interest. In the comments, I make a case for the progressive income tax.

Update. And it’s going to get worse in the US.

And recall this Gallup poll result, from a Salon article by Chauncey DeVega:

In the United States collective well-being and happiness have been decreasing for at least a decade. This is correlated with an increase in loneliness and feelings of social isolation and alienation.

A new report from Gallup highlights this problem. It explains that nearly half of  U.S. states “saw their well-being scores decline by a statistically significant margin in 2017,” while none of the 50 states “saw statistically significant improvement from the year before. … The large number of states with declines in well-being in 2017 is particularly notable given that Americans’ confidence in the economy and perceptions of the job market are substantially better in 2017 than they were in 2009.”

The Gallup report continues:

Many of the states showing declines in their well-being scores worsened on the same set of well-being metrics. These include:

  • An increase in experiencing significant worry on any given day
  • A sharp uptick in reporting “little interest or pleasure in doing things”
  • An increase in clinical diagnoses of depression
  • Elevated reports of daily physical pain
  • A decline in reports of receiving “positive energy” from friends and family members
  • A decline in having “someone who encourages you to be healthy”
  • A drop in reports of liking “what you do each day”
  • A decrease in those who have a leader in their life who makes them “enthusiastic about the future”
  • A decline in the percentage who report that they are reaching their goals
  • A reduction in satisfaction with standard of living (compared to peers)

This mix of alienation, loneliness, despair and angst provided the perfect breeding ground for the authoritarian populism that Trump rode to victory. Social pathology does not encourage healthy democratic politics: Trumpism is the proof, as is the rise of right-wing authoritarianism across Europe and around the world.

In her classic work “Origins of Totalitarianism,” philosopher Hannah Arendt explained the perils of loneliness in politics this way:

Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men as well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.

In another passage, Arendt wrote that all forms of tyranny “could not exist without destroying the public realm of life … . But totalitarian domination as a form of government is new in that it is not content with this isolation and destroys private life as well. It bases itself on loneliness, on the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man.”

This might also relate to the frenzied way many white men are stockpiling guns: they are fearful, as discussed in a Vox interview I blogged earlier. And that interview is worth reading and thinking about.

The lack of empathy we inherited from a slave-owning culture is not helping, of course. See the next post.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 2:48 pm

Why π Matters

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Steven Strogatz wrote in the New Yorker on March 13, 2015:

Every March 14th, mathematicians like me are prodded out of our burrows like Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day, blinking and bewildered by all the fuss. Yes, it’s Pi Day again. And not just any Pi Day. They’re calling this the Pi Day of the century: 3.14.15. Pi to five digits. A once-in-a-lifetime thing.

I’m dreading it. No hope of solving any equations that day, what with the pie-eating contests, the bickering over the merits of pi versus tau (pi times two), and the throwdowns over who can recite more digits of pi. Just stay off the streets at 9:26:53, when the time will approximate pi to ten places: 3.141592653.

Pi does deserve a celebration, but for reasons that are rarely mentioned. In high school, we all learned that pi is about circles. Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference (the distance around the circle, represented by the letter C) to its diameter (the distance across the circle at its widest point, represented by the letter d). That ratio, which is about 3.14, also appears in the formula for the area inside the circle, A = πr2, where π is the Greek letter “pi” and r is the circle’s radius (the distance from center to rim). We memorized these and similar formulas for the S.A.T.s and then never again used them, unless we happened to go into a technical field, or until our own kids took geometry.

So it’s fair to ask: Why do mathematicians care so much about pi? Is it some kind of weird circle fixation? Hardly. The beauty of pi, in part, is that it puts infinity within reach. Even young children get this. The digits of pi never end and never show a pattern. They go on forever, seemingly at random—except that they can’t possibly be random, because they embody the order inherent in a perfect circle. This tension between order and randomness is one of the most tantalizing aspects of pi.

Pi touches infinity in other ways. For example, there are astonishing formulas in which an endless procession of smaller and smaller numbers adds up to pi. One of the earliest such infinite series to be discovered says that pi equals four times the sum 1 – 13 + 15 – 17 + 19 – 111 + ⋯. The appearance of this formula alone is cause for celebration. It connects all odd numbers to pi, thereby also linking number theory to circles and geometry. In this way, pi joins two seemingly separate mathematical universes, like a cosmic wormhole.

But there’s still more to pi. After all, other famous irrational numbers, like e (the base of natural logarithms) and the square root of two, bridge different areas of mathematics, and they, too, have never-ending, seemingly random sequences of digits.

What distinguishes pi from all other numbers is its connection to cycles. For those of us interested in the applications of mathematics to the real world, this makes pi indispensable. Whenever we think about rhythms—processes that repeat periodically, with a fixed tempo, like a pulsing heart or a planet orbiting the sun—we inevitably encounter pi. There it is in the formula for a Fourier series:That series is an all-encompassing representation of any process, x(t), that repeats every T units of time. The building blocks of the formula are pi and the sine and cosine functions from trigonometry. Through the Fourier series, pi appears in the math that describes the gentle breathing of a baby and the circadian rhythms of sleep and wakefulness that govern our bodies. When structural engineers need to design buildings to withstand earthquakes, pi always shows up in their calculations. Pi is inescapable because cycles are the temporal cousins of circles; they are to time as circles are to space. Pi is at the heart of both.

For this reason, pi is intimately associated with waves, from the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tides to the electromagnetic waves that let us communicate wirelessly. At a deeper level, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 2:15 pm

Posted in Daily life, Math

Why Are White Men Stockpiling Guns?

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Jeremy Adam Smith writes in Scientific American:

Since the 2008 election of President Obama, the number of firearmsmanufactured in the U.S. has tripled, while imports have doubled. This doesn’t mean more households have guns than ever before—that percentage has stayed fairly steady for decades. Rather, more guns are being stockpiled by a small number of individuals. Three percent of the population now owns half of the country’s firearms, says a recent, definitive study from the Injury Control Research Center at Harvard University.

So, who is buying all these guns—and why?

The short, broad-brush answer to the first part of that question is this: men, who on average possess almost twice the number of guns female owners do. But not all men. Some groups of men are much more avid gun consumers than others. The American citizen most likely to own a gun is a white male—but not just any white guy. According to a growing number of scientific studies, the kind of man who stockpiles weapons or applies for a concealed-carry license meets a very specific profile.

These are men who are anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market, and beset by racial fears. They tend to be less educated. For the most part, they don’t appear to be religious—and, suggests one study, faith seems to reduce their attachment to guns. In fact, stockpiling guns seems to be a symptom of a much deeper crisis in meaning and purpose in their lives. Taken together, these studies describe a population that is struggling to find a new story—one in which they are once again the heroes.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO HARD WORK?

When Northland College sociologist Angela Stroud studied applications for licenses to carry concealed firearms in Texas, which exploded after President Obama was elected, she found applicants were overwhelmingly dominated by white men. In interviews, they told her that they wanted to protect themselves and the people they love.

“When men became fathers or got married, they started to feel very vulnerable, like they couldn’t protect families,” she says. “For them, owning a weapon is part of what it means to be a good husband a good father.” That meaning is “rooted in fear and vulnerability—very motivating emotions.”

But Stroud also discovered another motivation: racial anxiety. “A lot of people talked about how important Obama was to get a concealed-carry license: ‘He’s for free health care, he’s for welfare.’ They were asking, ‘Whatever happened to hard work?’” Obama’s presidency, they feared, would empower minorities to threaten their property and families.

The insight Stroud gained from her interviews is backed up by many, many studies. A 2013 paper by a team of United Kingdom researchers found that a one-point jump in the scale they used to measure racism increased the odds of owning a gun by 50 percent. A 2016 study from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that racial resentment among whites fueled opposition to gun control. This drives political affiliations: A 2017 study in the Social Studies Quarterly found that gun owners had become 50 percent more likely to vote Republican since 1972—and that gun culture had become strongly associated with explicit racism.

For many conservative men, the gun feels like a force for order in a chaotic world, suggests a study published in December of last year. In a series of three experiments, Steven Shepherd and Aaron C. Kay asked hundreds of liberals and conservatives to imagine holding a handgun—and found that conservatives felt less risk and greater personal control than liberal counterparts.

This wasn’t about familiarity with real-world guns—gun ownership and experience did not affect results. Instead, conservative attachment to guns was based entirely on ideology and emotions.

WHO WANTS TO BE A HERO?

That’s an insight echoed by another study published last year. Baylor University sociologists Paul Froese and F. Carson Mencken created a “gun empowerment scale” designed to measure how a nationally representative sample of almost 600 owners felt about their weapons. Their study found that people at the highest level of their scale—the ones who felt most emotionally and morally attached to their guns—were 78 percent white and 65 percent male.

“We found that white men who have experienced economic setbacks or worry about their economic futures are the group of owners most attached to their guns,” says Froese. “Those with high attachment felt that having a gun made them a better and more respected member of their communities.”

That wasn’t true for women and non-whites. In other words, they may have suffered setbacks—but women and people of color weren’t turning to guns to make themselves feel better. “This suggests that these owners have other sources of meaning and coping when facing hard times,” notes Froese—often, religion. Indeed, Froese and Mencken found that religious faith seemed to put the brakes on white men’s attachment to guns.

For these economically insecure, irreligious white men, “the gun is a ubiquitous symbol of power and independence, two things white males are worried about,” says Froese. “Guns, therefore, provide a way to regain their masculinity, which they perceive has been eroded by increasing economic impotency.”

Both Froese and Stroud found pervasive anti-government sentiments among their study participants. “This is interesting because these men tend to see themselves as devoted patriots, but make a distinction between the federal government and the ‘nation,’ says Froese. “On that point, I expect that many in this group see the ‘nation’ as being white.”

Investing guns with this kind of moral and emotional meaning has many consequences, the researchers say. “Put simply, owners who are more attached to their guns are most likely to believe that guns are a solution to our social ills,” says Froese. “For them, more ‘good’ people with guns would drastically reduce violence and increase civility. Again, it reflects a hero narrative, which many white man long to feel a part of.”

Stroud’s work echoes this conclusion. “They tell themselves all kinds of stories about criminals and criminal victimization,” she says. “But the story isn’t just about criminals. It’s about the good guy—and that’s how they see themselves: ‘I work hard, I take care of my family, and there are people who aren’t like that.’ When we tell stories about the Other, we’re really telling stories about ourselves.”

HOW TO SAVE A WHITE MAN’S LIFE

Unfortunately, the people most likely to be killed by the guns of white men aren’t the “bad guys,” presumably criminals or terrorists. It’s themselves—and their families.

White men aren’t just the Americans most likely to own guns; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they’re also the people most likely to put them in their own mouths and pull the trigger, especially when they’re in some kind of economic distress. A white man is three times more likely to shoot himself than a black man—while the chances that a white man will be killed by a black man are extremely slight. Most murders and shoot-outs don’t happen between strangers. They unfold within social networks, among people of the same race.

A gun in the home is far more likely to kill or wound the people who live there than is a burglar or serial killer. Most of the time, according to every single study that’s ever been done about interpersonal gun violence, the dead and wounded know the people who shot them. A gun in the home makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed by her husband. Every week in America, 136 children and teenagers are shot—and more often than not, it’s a sibling, friend, parent, or relative who holds the gun. For every homicide deemed justified by the police, guns are used in 78 suicides. As a new study published this month in JAMA Internal Medicine once again shows us, restrictive gun laws don’t prevent white men from defending themselves and their families. Instead, those laws stop them from shooting themselves and each other.

What are the solutions? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Guns, Science

How Einstein Lost His Bearings, and With Them, General Relativity

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Kevin Hartnett writes in Quanta:

Albert Einstein released his general theory of relativity at the end of 1915. He should have finished it two years earlier. When scholars look at his notebooks from the period, they see the completed equations, minus just a detail or two. “That really should have been the final theory,” said John Norton, an Einstein expert and a historian of science at the University of Pittsburgh.

But Einstein made a critical last-second error that set him on an odyssey of doubt and discovery — one that nearly cost him his greatest scientific achievement. The consequences of his decision continue to reverberate in math and physics today.

Here’s the error. General relativity was meant to supplant Newtonian gravity. This meant it had to explain all the same physical phenomena Newton’s equations could, plus other phenomena that Newton’s equations couldn’t. Yet in mid-1913, Einstein convinced himself, incorrectly, that his new theory couldn’t account for scenarios where the force of gravity was weak — scenarios that Newtonian gravity handled well. “In retrospect, this is just a bizarre mistake,” said Norton.

To correct this perceived flaw, Einstein thought he had to abandon what had been one of the central features of his emerging theory.

Einstein’s field equations — the equations of general relativity — describe how the shape of space-time evolves in response to the presence of matter and energy. To describe that evolution, you need to impose on space-time a coordinate system — like lines of latitude and longitude — that tells you which points are where.

The most important thing to recognize about coordinate systems is that they’re human contrivances. Maybe in one coordinate system we label a point (0, 0, 0), and in another we label that same point (1, 1, 1). The physical properties haven’t changed — we’ve just tagged the point differently. “Those labels are something about us, not something about the world,” said James Weatherall, a philosopher of science at the University of California, Irvine.

Einstein initially wanted his equations to be coordinate-independent (a property he called “general covariance”), meaning they’d produce correct, consistent descriptions of the universe regardless of which coordinate system you happened to be using. But Einstein convinced himself that in order to fix the error he thought he’d made, he had to abandon general covariance.

Not only did he fail at this, he doubled down on his error: He tried to show that coordinate independence was not a property that his theory could have, even in principle, because it would violate the laws of cause and effect. As one study of Einstein put it, “Nothing is easier for a first-rate mind than to form plausible arguments that what it cannot do cannot be done.”

Einstein pulled out of this dive just in time. By late 1915 he knew that the influential German mathematician David Hilbert was close to finalizing a theory of general relativity himself. In a few feverish weeks in November 1915, Einstein reverted to the equations of general relativity he’d had in hand for more than two years and applied the finishing touches. In November 1915, in the first of four lectures before the Prussian Academy of Sciences, he announced his achievement. Our view of the physical world has not been the same since.

The Einstein field equations we have today are generally covariant. They express the same physical truths about the universe — how space-time curves in the presence of energy and matter — regardless of what coordinates you use to label things.

Yet mathematicians and physicists still grapple with the issues around coordinate systems that slowed Einstein a century ago. For example,  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 12:22 pm

Posted in Science

Prosecutors Reviewing Request to Issue Arrest Warrant for Trump’s New CIA Director

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Colin Kalmbacher reports at MSN.com:

Federal prosecutors in Munich are currently reviewing a request to issue an arrest warrant for Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump‘s recently named director of the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”).

Haspel currently serves as the deputy director for the CIA and her nomination to head the agency must be approved by the U.S. Senate. Prior to her appointment as CIA deputy director, Haspel controversially ran a secret CIA prison in Thailand used to house, question, and allegedly torture detainees during the second Bush administration’s War on Terror.

Haspel’s tenure as “Chief of Base” at the prison–and what she did while serving in that role–is the subject of the arrest warrant request.

On June 6, 2017, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (“ECCHR”) initiated a request for legal action against Haspel by filing an intervention with the German Federal Public Prosecutor, the foremost law enforcement authority in the Federal Republic of Germany. This office is led by Attorney General Peter Frank.

ECCHR’s legal intervention was made by way of a 6-page document titled, “CIA Torture: Submission on Gina Haspel to German Federal Prosecutor.” Immediately after ECCHR submitted their request, Frank’s office confirmed that this request was received and was being formally reviewed.

According to Deutsche Welle, the German equivalent of PBS, the investigation into Haspel is presently ongoing and Frank’s office has yet to rule on ECCHR’s request. ECCHR reiterated their request in February 2017–when Haspel was named deputy director of the CIA. ECCHR’s request was once again reiterated on Tuesday–after news broke regarding Haspel’s potential promotion.

ECCHR’s request is based on an alleged violation of the European Convention on Human Rights’ Article 3. This article prohibits torture and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” There are no recognized exceptions or limitations on the right not to be subject to torture under this section.

In a statement, ECCHR’s General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck said:

Those who commit, order or allow torture should be brought before a court – this is especially true for senior officials from powerful nations. The prosecutor must, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, open investigations, secure evidence and seek an arrest warrant. If the deputy director travels to Germany or Europe, she must be arrested.

The CIA’s torture program has been admitted to by former President Barack Obama, in official U.S. government reportsvarious high-level officialswhistleblowers and participants. Initially denied, the torture program’s existence and Haspel’s role in said program are now a matter of public record.

From 2002 to 2005, Haspel was an active participant in the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program. The term “extraordinary rendition” is a soft euphemism for the CIA’s illegal kidnapping and torture program administered at so-called CIA “black sites”—a series of off-the-books prisons where CIA agents and assets regularly allegedly tortured detainees over the course of several years.

Haspel’s identity and role in the CIA’s torture program was previously concealed by its classification regime. However, when Haspel was designated deputy director of the agency in February 2017, her role in the program became more clear.

Specifically, Haspel was in charge of . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the report:

Torture is illegal under various international pacts and treaties to which the U.S. is bound as a state party. Torture is also illegal under U.S. domestic law. On April 16, 2009, then-president Barack Obama announced blanket immunity for any and all U.S. officials engaged in the Bush administration’s torture program.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 11:43 am

Which Party Has Been Better for the White Working Class?

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Kevin Drum points out an interesting study/book:

Over at Vox, Sean Illing interviews Robert Wuthnow, a Princeton sociologist who has talked to hundreds of people in small towns across the country and recently published The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America. Why, Illing asks, do small-town folks think that Washington is threatening their way of life? According to Wuthnow, it’s not because of economic stagnation:

WUTHNOW: A lot of it is just scapegoating. And that’s why you see more xenophobia and racism in these communities. There’s a sense that things are going badly, and the impulse is to blame “others.”…They recognize that the federal government controls vast resources, and they feel threatened if they perceive Washington’s interest being directed more toward urban areas than rural areas, or toward immigrants more than non-immigrants, or toward minority populations instead of the traditional white Anglo population.

ILLING: But that’s just racism and cultural resentment, and calling it a manifestation of some deeper anxiety doesn’t alter that fact.

WUTHNOW: I don’t disagree with that. I’m just explaining what I heard from people on the ground in these communities. This is what they believe, what they say, not what I believe.

This is a political problem for Democrats: if small-town residents were driven by economic concerns, there might be something they could do to help. Larry Summers, for example, argues for a sort of Marshall Plan for distressed areas of the country. The problem is that it’s unclear if it would do Democrats any good. Take a look at this chart of blue-collar earnings: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 11:25 am

A timeline of Trump administration departures

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Worth clicking through. Trump doesn’t even like the people he himself picks. Trump’s insecurity is an open wound.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 9:43 am

Rex Tillerson Gets Fired the Day After He Criticized Russia

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John Cassidy points out in the New Yorker:

On Monday, Rex Tillerson, the departing Secretary of State, cut short a visit to East Africa to fly back to Washington. Before he left, he remarked that the nerve-gas attack recently carried out on a former Russian spy in Salisbury, England, was a “really egregious act,” but he also said it wasn’t entirely clear who was responsible. Later on Monday, though, the State Department issued a statement in which Tillerson expressed his “full confidence” in the British government’s assessment that the Russian state was almost certainly the culprit. (In the House of Commons on Monday, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, said it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible.)

“There is never a justification for this type of attack—the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation—and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior,” Tillerson’s statement said. “From Ukraine to Syria—and now the UK—Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens. We agree that those responsible—both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it—must face appropriately serious consequences. We stand in solidarity with our Allies in the United Kingdom and will continue to coordinate closely our responses.”

This was arguably the strongest condemnation of Russian behavior that the Trump Administration has ever issued. And it turned out to be one of Tillerson’s final official acts as Secretary of State. At 8:44 a.m. on Tuesday, Donald Trump announced Tillerson’s firing on Twitter. “Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State,” Trump wrote. “He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!”

Some of Trump’s aides immediately insisted to reporters that the President hadn’t dismissed Tillerson because of the Russia statement. Citing multiple White House officials, the Washington Post reported that the White House informed the Secretary of State on Friday that he was going to be ousted. Zeke Miller, of the Associated Press, subsequently filled out this narrative, reporting via Twitter, “WH official says chief of staff John Kelly called Tillerson Friday and again on Saturday. Both calls to Tillerson, the official says, warned that Trump was about to take imminent action if he did not step aside. When Tillerson didn’t act, Trump fired him.” In brief remarks to reporters, Trump said he had been thinking about replacing Tillerson for “a long time,” because “We were not thinking the same.” He also said Tillerson “will be much happier now.”

At least one of Tillerson’s aides pushed back against this White House narrative, however. Elise Labott, CNN’s global-affairs correspondent, reported that Tillerson only found out from Trump’s tweet that he was fired. Josh Lederman, of the A.P., reported, via Twitter, “We got off the plane with Tillerson less than four hours ago. There was zero indication on flight home that this was imminent.” The White House reacted quickly to this counter-narrative. By early afternoon, the White House had fired the aide, Steve Goldstein, who contradicted its version of what had happened.

If Tillerson did know that the President was about to can him, his statement on Russia was perhaps a final act of defiance. In any case, Trump still hasn’t indicated that he will follow the State Department’s lead, condemn the attack in Britain, and support the British government in its confrontation with the Kremlin. (On Tuesday, the Russian government again denied responsibility and said it wouldn’t respond to British claims unless it was provided with samples of the nerve agent used.) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 9:43 am

Why White Evangelicalism Is So Cruel

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Very interesting article in Forbes by Chris Ladd:

Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and an avid supporter of Donald Trump, earned headlines this week for his defense of the president’s adultery with a porn star. Regarding the affair and subsequent financial payments, Jeffress explained, “Even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter.”

Such a casual attitude toward adultery and prostitution might seem odd from a guy who blamed 9/11 on America’s sinfulness. However, seen through the lens of white evangelicals’ real priorities, Jeffress’ disinterest in Trump’s sordid lifestyle makes sense. Religion is inseparable from culture, and culture is inseparable from history. Modern, white evangelicalism emerged from the interplay between race and religion in the slave states. What today we call “evangelical Christianity,” is the product of centuries of conditioning, in which religious practices were adapted to nurture a slave economy. The calloused insensitivity of modern white evangelicals was shaped by the economic and cultural priorities that forged their theology over centuries.

Many Christian movements take the title “evangelical,” including many African-American denominations. However, evangelicalism today has been coopted as a preferred description for Christians who were looking to shed an older, largely discredited title: Fundamentalist. A quick glance at a map showing concentrations of adherents and weekly church attendance reveals the evangelical movement’s center of gravity in the Old South. And among those evangelical churches, one denomination remains by far the leader in membership, theological pull, and political influence.

There is still today a Southern Baptist Church. More than a century and a half after the Civil War, and decades after the Methodists and Presbyterians reunited with their Yankee neighbors, America’s most powerful evangelical denomination remains defined, right down to the name over the door, by an 1845 split over slavery.

Southern denominations faced enormous social and political pressure from plantation owners. Public expressions of dissent on the subject of slavery in the South were not merely outlawed, they were a death sentence. Baptist ministers who rejected slavery, like South Carolina’s William Henry Brisbane, were forced to flee to the North. Otherwise, they would end up like Methodist minister Anthony Bewley, who was lynched in Texas in 1860, his bones left exposed at local store to be played with by children. Whiteness offered protection from many of the South’s cruelties, but that protection stopped at the subject of race. No one who dared speak truth to power on the subject of slavery, or later Jim Crow, could expect protection.

Generation after generation, Southern pastors adapted their theology to thrive under a terrorist state. Principled critics were exiled or murdered, leaving voices of dissent few and scattered. Southern Christianity evolved in strange directions under ever-increasing isolation. Preachers learned to tailor their message to protect themselves. If all you knew about Christianity came from a close reading of the New Testament, you’d expect that Christians would be hostile to wealth, emphatic in protection of justice, sympathetic to the point of personal pain toward the sick, persecuted and the migrant, and almost socialist in their economic practices. None of these consistent Christian themes served the interests of slave owners, so pastors could either abandon them, obscure them, or flee.

What developed in the South was a theology carefully tailored to meet the needs of a slave state. Biblical emphasis on social justice was rendered miraculously invisible. A book constructed around the central metaphor of slaves finding their freedom was reinterpreted. Messages which might have questioned the inherent superiority of the white race, constrained the authority of property owners, or inspired some interest in the poor or less fortunate could not be taught from a pulpit. Any Christian suggestion of social justice was carefully and safely relegated to “the sweet by and by” where all would be made right at no cost to white worshippers. In the forge of slavery and Jim Crow, a Christian message of courage, love, compassion, and service to others was burned away.

Stripped of its compassion and integrity, little remained of the Christian message. What survived was a perverse emphasis on sexual purity as the sole expression of righteousness, along with a creepy obsession with the unquestionable sexual authority of white men. In a culture where race defined one’s claim to basic humanity, women took on a special religious interest. Christianity’s historic emphasis on sexual purity as a form of ascetic self-denial was transformed into an obsession with women and sex. For Southerners, righteousness had little meaning beyond sex, and sexual mores had far less importance for men than for women. Guarding women’s sexual purity meant guarding the purity of the white race. There was no higher moral demand.

Changes brought by the Civil War only heightened the need to protect white racial superiority. Churches were the lynchpin of Jim Crow. By the time the Civil Rights movement gained force in the South, Dallas’ First Baptist Church, where Jeffress is the pastor today, was a bulwark of segregation and white supremacy. As the wider culture nationally has struggled to free itself from the burdens of racism, white evangelicals have fought this development while the violence escalated. What happened to ministers who resisted slavery happened again to those who resisted segregation. White Episcopal Seminary student, Jonathan Daniels, went to Alabama in 1965 to support voting rights protests. After being released from jail, he was murdered by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, who was acquitted by a jury. Dozens of white activists joined the innumerable black Americans murdered fighting for civil rights in the 60’s, but very few of them were Southern.

White Evangelical Christians opposed desegregation tooth and nail. Where pressed, they made cheap, cosmetic compromises, like Billy Graham’s concession to allow black worshipers at his crusades. Graham never made any difficult statements on race, never appeared on stage with his “black friend” Martin Luther King after 1957, and he never marched with King. When King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech,” Graham responded with this passive-aggressive gem of Southern theology, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” For white Southern evangelicals, justice and compassion belong only to the dead.

Churches like First Baptist in Dallas did not become stalwart defenders of segregation by accident. Like the wider white evangelical movement, it was then and remains today an obstacle to Christian notions of social justice thanks to a long, dismal heritage. There is no changing the white evangelical movement without a wholesale reconsideration of their theology. No sign of such a reckoning is apparent.

Those waiting to see the bottom of white evangelical cruelty have little source of optimism. Men like Pastor Jeffress can dismiss Trump’s racist abuses as easily as they dismiss his fondness for porn stars. When asked about Trump’s treatment of immigrants, Jeffress shared these comments: . . .

Continue reading.

Cultural constructs can persist for generations, even after they have proved counterproductive. For example, read this brief article by Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D.: A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing. It begins:

The birth and development of the American police can be traced to a multitude of historical, legal and political-economic conditions. The institution of slavery and the control of minorities, however, were two of the more formidable historic features of American society shaping early policing. Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of minorities. For example, New England settlers appointed Indian Constables to police Native Americans (National Constable Association, 1995), the St. Louis police were founded to protect residents from Native Americans in that frontier city, and many southern police departments began as slave patrols. In 1704, the colony of Carolina developed the nation’s first slave patrol. Slave patrols helped to maintain the economic order and to assist the wealthy landowners in recovering and punishing slaves who essentially were considered property.

Policing was not the only social institution enmeshed in slavery. Slavery was fully institutionalized in the American economic and legal order with laws being enacted at both the state and national divisions of government. Virginia, for example, enacted more than 130 slave statutes between 1689 and 1865. Slavery and the abuse of people of color, however, was not merely a southern affair as many have been taught to believe. Connecticut, New York and other colonies enacted laws to criminalize and control slaves. Congress also passed fugitive Slave Laws, laws allowing the detention and return of escaped slaves, in 1793 and 1850. As Turner, Giacopassi and Vandiver (2006:186) remark, “the literature clearly establishes that a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners. The similarities between the slave patrols and modern American policing are too salient to dismiss or ignore. Hence, the slave patrol should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement.”

The legacy of slavery and racism did not end after the Civil War. In fact it can be argued that extreme violence against people of color became even worse with the rise of vigilante groups who resisted Reconstruction. Because vigilantes, by definition, have no external restraints, lynch mobs had a justified reputation for hanging minorities first and asking questions later. Because of its tradition of slavery, which rested on the racist rationalization that Blacks were sub-human, America had a long and shameful history of mistreating people of color, long after the end of the Civil War. Perhaps the most infamous American vigilante group, the Ku Klux Klan started in the 1860s, was notorious for assaulting and lynching Black men for transgressions that would not be considered crimes at all, had a White man committed them. Lynching occurred across the entire county not just in the South. Finally, in 1871 Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, which prohibited state actors from violating the Civil Rights of all citizens in part because of law enforcements’ involvement with the infamous group. This legislation, however, did not stem the tide of racial or ethnic abuse that persisted well into the 1960s. . .

Read the whole thing: it’s short.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 9:31 am

Good guy with a gun: Gun-trained teacher accidentally discharges firearm in Calif. classroom, injuring student

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This is very near where we lived before the move. Going from the south to north along the shore you encounter Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove, Monterey, Seaside, and Sand City, each city running into the next with no space between. Fred Barbash reports in the Washington Post:

A teacher who is also a reserve police officer trained in firearm use accidentally discharged a gun Tuesday at Seaside High School in Monterey County, Calif., during a class devoted to public safety. A male student was reported to have sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
The weapon, which was not described, was pointed at the ceiling, according to a statement from the school, and debris fell from the ceiling.
Seaside Police Chief Abdul Pridgen told the Monterey County Weeklythat a male student was “struck in the neck by ‘debris or fragmentation’ from something overhead.” Pridgen said whatever hit the student was not a bullet.
However, the student’s father, Fermin Gonzales, told KSBW 8 that it was his understanding that fragments from the bullet ricocheted off the ceiling and lodged in the boy’s neck. The father said the teacher told the class before pointing the gun at the ceiling that he was doing so to make sure his gun wasn’t loaded, something that can be determined visually.
“It’s the craziest thing,” Gonzales told the station. “It could have been very bad.”
Gonzales said he learned about the incident when his 17-year-old son came home with blood on his shirt and bullet fragments in his neck.
“He’s shaken up, but he’s going to be okay. I’m just pretty upset that no one told us anything and we had to call the police ourselves to report it,” the father told the TV station. . .

Continue reading.

Sooner or later we’ll find out what happens when a truculent and hostile teenager baits an angry armed teacher…

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 9:12 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Guns

π day shave: Seifenglatt Pumpkin Pie shaving soap, with the Maggard V3A

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π day—3/14—is a day of celebration of the odd number π, which is quite close to 355/113, a fact often used in Forth programming with the command */mod…  but I am wandering from the topic.

I picked Seifenglatt’s excellent Pumpkin Pie (Tarte à la Citrouille) in honor of the day, and my G.G. Kent BK4 just leapt into my hand, so I went with it. Nice lather, though may have used a little too much water for the density of lather I like.

Still, it did a fine job, and I am growing quite fond of the Maggard V3A, shown here on a UFO handle. The V3A is highly efficient and has distinct (but good) blade feel, while being still quite comfortable. Men whose beard is some thick and heavy would enjoy this razor, I think. I would say in Rockwell terms it’s about an R4 or R4.5.

Three passes, no nicks, totally smooth face, and a little bit of menthol seemed like a good idea: thus Barrister & Mann Cool Reserve.

The apartment is spotless—the cleaning lady was here yesterday—and now the trick is to keep it that way for a week before The Wife gets home.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 8:53 am

Posted in Shaving

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