Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Massive Undertaking



Critics of American gun policies, especially critics from outside the US, often wonder why, with the number of gun-related deaths in America, we don't simply ban guns like Australia did.

Setting aside for a moment that such a ban would be unconstitutional, and that it's far from certain that it would reduce violent crime, and that it could actually cause a greater number of people to be killed because they'd be less able to repel an attacker...setting aside all those things, let's just consider the enforcement of such a ban.

America has a long and unsuccessful history of banning things and then having those bans skirted. When the American colonies were still under British rule, and the Crown imposed too many taxes on the colonists, the colonists simply stopped paying. During the Revolution, even though desertion carried a death sentence, soldiers still deserted anyway, to the point that General Washington started having deserters executed by their own best friends. After the Revolution was fought and Congress disbanded the new country's military forces, they kept a few Navy ships in service to catch smugglers, because there were a significant number of merchants willing to sneak goods into the country illegally rather than obeying the law and paying the required taxes.

In the 1920s, in response to a nationwide epidemic of alcoholism, Congress passed the 18th Amendment, which banned alcohol. That ban lasted just shy of 15 years. The battles between police and alcohol traffickers, not to mention the battles between the criminals themselves, cost countless lives. By some reports, alcohol became even more available during Prohibition because there was no regulation of production or distribution, and the profit motive was greater. In 1971, President Nixon declared a War on Drugs. Forty-six years later, we're still at it. The drugs are still there, people's lives are ruined as much by overzealous enforcement as by the drugs themselves, and nobody's benefiting but the private prison industry. Forty-six years later, the drugs aren't gone, and the states, one by one, are starting to decriminalize drugs in defiance of federal law.

My point here is that Americans have a long history of looking at legal prohibitions as being "helpful suggestions" more than absolute moral codes. The very founding of our nation was a defiance of the law.

This is important to keep in mind when envisioning what enforcement of a gun ban in the United States would actually look like. Given that many gun owners see their guns as quasi-religious talismans representing liberty itself, and that even less idealistic gun owners often see their guns as necessary, lifesaving, safety equipment, many say they would fire on anyone who tried to seize their guns. G. Gordon Liddy infamously advised his radio audience that when the ATF showed up to seize their guns, "Just remember, they’re wearing flak jackets and you’re better off shooting for the head.”

As with firearms, many Americans also have a patriotic, sentimental attachment to fireworks, which they set off in celebration of Independence Day on the 4th of July each year. Unlike guns, nobody sees these fireworks as being necessary for self-preservation. Nobody is relying on fireworks to protect their family from criminals. Nobody's counting on fireworks for protection against a violent ex-spouse. They aren't stockpiling fireworks to fend off invading armies or government tyranny. It's just for fun.

Fireworks regulations vary from state to state. In Ohio, adults are allowed to possess sparklers, smoke devices, and "bang snaps"--tiny noisemakers that explode when thrown against a hard surface. But the state bans residents from purchasing firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets, and fountains without signing an affidavit promising to transport them out of the state within 48 hours. It requires any Ohioan possessing aerial burst fireworks to be a licensed pyrotechnician. The Ohio State Fire Marshall's Office says it seizes about 15,000 pounds of illegal fireworks annually. Violations--including falsifying paperwork, illegal possession, and exploding fireworks in-state--are usually 1st degree misdemeanors, carrying a punishment of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for a first offense. With all of this in mind, listen to this video I recorded in my back yard in Columbus, Ohio, on the Fourth of July this year. Neighbors in every direction were shooting off not just firecrackers and bottle rockets, but professional aerial display fireworks. (You'll get a few, brief glimpses of these in the video, but otherwise it's all dark. Just listen to the sounds.) Each pop you hear is a violation of the law that could get a person locked up for six months. Turn up the sound and have a listen to how much people care about the threat of fines and imprisonment getting in their way of having a good time celebrating their nation's founding.



Despite the ease of tracking down who's making giant explosions over their back yards, police make little attempt to enforce the fireworks ban simply because non-compliance is overwhelming. If they actually attempted to arrest every illegal fireworks possessor, they'd be doing nothing else but that, and they'd still fail to catch all violators.

If Americans will willfully defy the law on this scale to obtain and very conspicuously explode illegal fireworks just for fun, imagine how much greater the defiance would be to possess something they see as protecting their lives and ensuring all their other rights.

So that's one reason we don't ban guns here. There just wouldn't be any point. We'd have to create a massive, new law enforcement agency with incredible powers to do unannounced, door-to-door searches just to make a dent in the number of privately possessed firearms. And a lot of the gun owners would shoot back. It's estimated that there are more than 300 million guns in America. How many law enforcement officers would it take to seize them all by force? We would essentially need to employ an army to invade and occupy our communities. We would be turning our own homeland into Iraq, with troops fighting door to door in our streets. Millions would die, forcing us to reconsider what the point of banning guns was in the first place.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Black America: You Are More Likely to Be Struck by Lightning Than to Be Shot by Police While You're Unarmed

It's bad enough that I stayed up 'til 5:00 a.m. to write this. I'll get around to linking my sources later. Proofreading, too. Most of the data are from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, but there are some from newspapers, too. Anyway...

A friend of mine posted this helpful video on Facebook to explain why anyone who has any objection to anything said or done by Black Lives Matter should just STFD & STFU. It's short--about four minutes. Watch it before reading on. Notice how compelling it is, how "truthy." Sorry I don't know how to embed Facebook videos here. Just follow the link.


Franchesca Ramsey refutes 4 remarks BLM disapproves of

This would be great except...

-3:35 "This assumes that the black community isn't worried..."

Wrong. Black Lives Matter is not "the black community." It is a specific organization with founders, leaders, local chapters, a written agenda, and a website where you can learn these things. What's being criticized is BLM, specifically. Trying to divert that to be a criticism of the black community, as a whole, is intellectually dishonest. It infers that anyone who disagrees with the group is racist, which is a tactic used to silence the group's critics. It's also a setup for a straw man argument. She can make a great case for how "the black community" and Cease Fire (a whole separate organization) are doing what BLM is being criticized for NOT doing...but that doesn't let BLM off the hook.

-3:19 "It's about the lack of consequence when black lives are taken at the hands of the police."

This statement presumes that all police killings of black people are cases of wrongful death. Most of them aren't. The vast majority are legitimate cases of self-defense. Why should a legitimate act of self-defense have "consequences?" If an armed robber shoots at people and the police return fire and kill the robber, the only consequences for the officers should be that they get some sort of recognition, maybe an award of some sort.

And in the cases of wrongful shootings, where consequences are appropriate, why should those consequences be limited to just killings of black people and not all people wrongfully killed by the police? Again, the inference we're supposed to absorb unchallenged is the idea that when the people getting shot by police are black, they're less often deserving of it than people who aren't black.

-3:16: "When a civilian has committed a violent crime..."

Again, she's conflating legitimate uses of force with criminal cases of excessive force. The message we're supposed to get is that every time a black person gets hurt in a conflict with a police officer, the police officer was the one in the wrong. Apparently, black people are supposed to enjoy some sort of special immunity from police use of force when they resist arrest or fight police.

I want you to stop and look at your own thought process for a moment, because BLM has really put a lot into drumming this particular message into people's heads over the past couple years. Coca-Cola should seriously look into hiring these people. When you hear numbers of black people injured or killed by police, your emotional reaction is based on the presumption that every one of those injuries and deaths was unprovoked and undeserved. When you recoil in horror at whatever number it is, you're not thinking, "OMG, why are black people so violent? Why are they being violent towards police officers at such a higher rate than everyone else is?" No, you're presuming each death was a murder, each injury a criminal assault, and that it was all motivated by racist police going out hunting black people for sport. That idea has no basis in fact, so why is it something you take for granted without even thinking about it anymore? That's the power of marketing and peer pressure.

-3:12: "Conversely, there's a lot of evidence that it's very rare to secure an indictment against a police officer for excessive force."

No, that's not a converse relationship. A true contrast would have been to look at how civilians who commit violent crimes are treated relative to police officers who commit violent crimes. But it wouldn't have been much of a contrast, because generally speaking, cops who commit violent crimes get prosecuted for them just like anyone else. You could fill a whole book with instances of cops who've been prosecuted for assault, stalking, domestic violence, all the way up to murder. I just heard of an Atlanta officer who's being tried for murder because of a shooting he was involved in on-duty. And the South Carolina officer who killed Walter Scott--he's been indicted for murder. He goes to trial this October. The officers in Baltimore who were involved in Freddie Gray's death were all charged with crimes and stood trial.

But none of that supports the narrative she's selling, so instead of contrasting criminal acts against criminal acts, she compares legitimate uses of force to criminal acts. She's right--it IS very rare to secure an indictment against a police officer for excessive force, just as it's very rare to secure an indictment against a police officer for bank robbery or blowing up a school or hijacking an airplane, and for the same reason--it's very rare that there's a case that warrants an indictment.

But, but...that would mean law enforcement officers are generally law-abiding people! We can't allow that conclusion! It doesn't support the theme here, which is: All police force against black people is excessive. No police officer ever has any reason to put his or her hands on a black person, and if they do it, it's a crime. And when the police don't get penalized for these "crimes," it's because the system is corrupt, not because the police did nothing wrong. All black people are innocent. And if you don't believe it, it's because you're a racist.

-3:01: "Black-on-black crime isn't a thing."
Oh, really? Despite the fact that blacks are only 13% of the population, they commit slightly over HALF of all murders in America...and most of their victims are black. If it's not a thing, then why was she just saying at the beginning of the video about how concerned about it "the black community" and Cease Fire are?

But most of you who are eating up her words don't even know what the Uniform Crime Report IS, let alone what it says, so she can claim whatever she wants, and you'll believe it so long as it paints all black people as angels and cops as the boogeyman.

-2:34: "But the truth is black people are not more violent or more likely to commit crimes than anyone else."

PANTS ON FIRE!!! In 2012, according to the FBI, 28.12% of all violent offenders were black. At only 13% of the population, that means blacks are committing slightly over TWICE their "share" of violent crimes.

Now, to be clear, this doesn't mean that any particular individual is more likely to be violent. It could well be (and likely is) that a very tiny portion of that population is committing most of those crimes. This woman may be trying to sanctify an entire race of people, but just because I disagree with her doesn't mean I'm trying to demonize an entire race. But the numbers tell us that either violent individuals are more common among blacks; or that they're no more common among blacks than anyone else, but the ones who are violent are drastically more violent than the violent people of other races. We really can't say which from the data available, but it's one or the other.

-2:30: "The reality is, because of the history of institutional racism..."

Here she gives some very good reasons for the higher rate of violence among blacks...the violence she just claimed doesn't exist. "I didn't hit him, officer! And besides, he provoked me."

-2:22: "(Black communities)...are more likely to be targeted by police."

If by "targeted" you mean more patrol units are assigned to the precincts where the most crimes are being reported, yes. Why shouldn't they be? When you report that your house is on fire, you don't expect the fire engines to go instead to an address twelve blocks away where there's no fire, just so you can avoid feeling stigmatized. The cops go where the crime is--and most residents get upset if they don't.

-2:05: "Becoming a police officer is an occupation. It's a choice."

So is religion. By her logic, it's less wrong to oppress Jews than to oppress blacks, because Jews have the option of converting if they want to. So quit yer crybaby whining about the Holocaust, I guess, 'cause people of color have claimed king-of-the-hill status as Supreme Victims. Nobody else is allowed to complain when people RANDOMLY KILL THEM simply for belonging to a group.

Moreover, if police officers were to try to please BLM, it would basically mean not fighting back when someone attacks them anytime the attacker is black. Police, apparently, should just let black criminals shoot them. That sure as heck sounds like they think blue lives don't matter.

-1.43: "...this movement is not saying black lives matter more than anyone else's."

It is most certainly saying, however, that black people's concerns matter more than anyone else's. In the organization's early days, when people of other races, marching in solidarity, would try to include themselves in the cause by carrying signs saying "Black & Brown Lives Matter" or "All Lives Matter" (yes, that was initially a slogan of the organization's sympathizers, not its opponents), BLM leadership shut them down and told them to get their own slogan instead of trying to steal the spotlight from black people. Sympathizers of other races were told that making it a multi-racial, multi-cultural movement would dilute the message.

The message that cops shouldn't hurt people when they're not supposed to...right? How is that message "diluted" by getting a huge cross-section of America on board? See, this isn't about ending wrongdoing by the police. It's about black identity, and making cops afraid to lay a hand on black criminals.

-1:35: "It's totally okay for a movement to focus on issues specific to one marginalized group."

So excessive use of force by the police is happening only to one, specific, marginalized group, eh?

-1:27: "A breast cancer walk isn't unfair to other forms of cancer."

Well, it is, actually. Breast cancer is big business, what with Pinktober and all, and other cancers that are just as lethal get underfunded trying to compete, but that's off-topic. Instead, let's bring this back to the point I was just making about black concerns mattering more than others. Suppose instead of being a breast cancer walk, it was a "Redheads with Breast Cancer" walk or a breast cancer walk only for women whose first names start with the letters A through L, and there's not another one scheduled for M through Z. Does that strike you as being very just? Or compassionate? Or inclusive? Do justice and compassion and inclusion matter?

See, just as breast cancer affects more than just women with names starting with A through L, police violence--and more precisely, unjustified police violence--affects people of all races, not just black people. But yet, the demand is that people of all races get behind muzzling the police...but only for the benefit of blacks.

-1:15: "Because of the brutalizing and killing of black people at the hands of police..."

Again, pushing the idea that we aren't talking about self-defense against black criminals who fight the police, or about justified use of force to effect an arrest of someone who's resisting, but just illegal attacks of any random, innocent black person. This is a total misrepresentation of the situation. When a lie this big is repeated this often, it behooves us to ask whom has what to gain by having people believe it.

-0:56: "...but when you look proportionately within the populations, black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers."

YES, and that figure correlates very closely with blacks' higher likelihood of committing violent crimes! Blacks are only 13% of the population but account for about 25% of all people shot by the police AND for 28% of violent criminals AND over HALF of all murderers! You can only hide for so long from the fact that most of the people getting shot by police are the same people SHOOTING AT police and others.

This next part was brilliant. I betcha whoever wrote this part has it framed somewhere. This is a resumé builder:
-0:46: (Graphic still says "Black men make up just 6% of the nation's population.") "...but of all the unarmed people shot and killed by police in 2015..."

My, that's mighty specific. Unarmed. Shot by police. Died of their wounds. 2015 and only 2015. That's got to be a fairly tiny sample Where's she going with this?

Keeping in mind, of course, that when she says, "unarmed," that's a dog whistle that's supposed to make you think, "not dangerous, not capable of killing someone with their bare hands, not trying to grab the officer's gun" as well as "a completely unjustified shooting, a murder." When she says, "shot by police," you're supposed to think, "wrongfully shot by police."

-0:42: (Ta-daa! The graphic now says, "Black men make up just 6% of the nation's population. But 40% of police killings in 2015." The 40% is printed extra large, and there was even a sound effect that went along with presenting it.) "...FORTY percent of them were black men."

A good magician can tell you what he's doing even as he's doing it, and you'll still miss it, so let me tell you what you just missed there in case you didn't catch it.

That black men make up 6% of the population is not an Earth-shattering statement all by itself, and by itself, it's not really even relevant to the discussion. But it still gets its own graphic as she reads it word for word. This is to hold your attention on the graphic. While you're holding your attention on the fact that black men are 6% of the population, she rattles off something about unarmed people, something your subconscious interprets as meaning "wrongful shootings by the police."

Then, riiiip! Look what the graphic now says. It doesn't say that black men, that 6% of the population, made up 40% of some relatively tiny number of people. It says that black men, 6% of the population, make up 40% of police killings. All of them. There's nothing up there about "unarmed," and you've probably forgotten about that part by now anyway, right? You're just thinking, "Wow, 40% of all people unjustly killed by police were black!"

According to the Washington Post, in 2015, police fatally shot 965 human beings. 564 of those people were armed with a gun. 281 were armed with some other weapon. (That's a total of 845 armed out of 965 total.) Ninety were unarmed. That doesn't mean non-aggressive, not presenting a threat, necessarily. They could have been sitting on an officer's chest, beating her head into the concrete for all we know. Or it could have been a negligent error on the officer's part, like some innocent bystander catching a stray bullet during a gunfight, or an officer thinking someone was reaching for a weapon. And in a very few cases, that might actually rise to the level of criminal negligence, where a cop will do time because he shot someone who was no threat at all for reasons even the officer himself is unclear about.

40% of 90 is 36. Now that's nothing to sneeze at. That's three a month. We don't know exactly what portion of those were innocent, non-aggressive people, or even aggressive people who maybe could've been handled without deadly force. It wasn't all of them, despite BLM wanting us to think that, but it was probably more than one or two, and those people's lives matter. It is a tragedy that they were killed, and the causes need to be addressed.

But let's also get a little perspective. In a country of 318,900,000 people, about 42 million of whom are black, with close to 800,000 cops working in 17,895 law enforcement agencies, 36 unarmed black men got shot in a whole year, and only a portion of them shouldn't have been.

This is the "genocide." This is what's making people so angry they kill cops two and three and five at a time--any cops, not even ones being aggressive toward black people. This is what a handful of radical feminists are using to manipulate everyone into agreeing with anything they say or risk being discounted as racist. That maybe 30-some people got accidentally killed with a weapon that kills pretty quickly and effortlessly, even by mistake, is what's making the black community afraid to death to encounter a police officer.

36 out of 42 million. That's a one-in-1,166,667 chance that you'll be shot to death by police while unarmed. You are LITERALLY MORE LIKELY TO BE STRUCK BY LIGHTNING than to be shot by a cop while you're unarmed. I looked it up.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Bernie Has Not Given Up, and He Won California

I think it should be pointed out that since Tuesday (well, since Monday, actually) there have been a lot of misleading headlines out there giving the impression that Sanders has thrown in the towel and is endorsing Hillary.

He's done nothing of the sort. He and Hillary have said that they'll "work together" to defeat Trump, but neither has conceded to the other. When Reporters tried to ask Bernie questions after his meeting with Obama, Harry Reid waved them away and wouldn't entertain any speculation that Bernie had quit. Later, speaking on his own, Reid told reporters something to the effect of "I don't imagine Bernie would refuse" to help Clinton beat Trump, but nowhere had Bernie made anything like a concession speech.

To the contrary, he's fighting her in the D.C. primary next.

An article was published on a website called JUSTICEGAZETTE.ORG making the case that Bernie Sanders actually won California by a landslide, and election fraud named Hillary as the winner. Many have been skeptical. Who's ever heard of this website? CNN doesn't say anything about fraud in California. None of the big networks do. Instead, they all have pictures of a smiling Bernie next to headlines suggesting he's supporting Hillary now.

OF COURSE this story is going to come from some amateurish little fish wrapper publication! Hillary and the big media outlets are all on the same payroll! That's been deafeningly clear all through this election. I don't know why anyone should now start acting surprised by the fact. There was practically a media blackout on Bernie while he was getting more donors than Hillary. Then they were giving him a token mention followed up with, "Of course, he can never really win," just before he won state after state. For the first time ever, they included superdelegates in the running tally of who was winning, because even in states that Sanders WON (like Washington), most superdelegates refused to support him.

So some little rag written by someone who could stand to take a journalism course or two wrote that journalists who support Bernie are getting shoved to the side while Hillary supporters are given the choice spots. Is this really all that incredible a statement? It correlates perfectly with what we're observing.

Cut through the brand marketing and look at the substance. Forget the "a popular actress said" or the speculations and look at what facts were reported: There are parts of California where you'd be hard pressed to even find a Hillary supporter other than at a Hillary rally, places where TENS OF THOUSANDS of people rallied for Bernie while a few hundred showed up to support Hillary...and yet Hillary won those districts. How?

No, really...how? It's like if you heard tomorrow that San Francisco had elected a Bible-banging homophobe for mayor, or Texas had elected a communist governor, or Baltimore or Oakland had elected a white supremacist, or Las Vegas elected someone who wants to shut down all the casinos and chase out the tourists despite visibly massive, overwhelming support for that person's rival.

More Californians favored Bernie than Hillary. They supported him 2:1 over Hillary in the run-up to the election. This much is documented, regardless of how chintzy you think JUSTICEGAZETTE.ORG might be. And then they show a video--a video that Hillary's party has been showing for years--of a computer programmer who works for a company that writes vote-flipping programs testifying under oath about how easy it is to produce a 51-49 win for any candidate, and why he believed that it appeared that had happened in Ohio in 2004.

That's what's called circumstantial evidence. Contrary to what every detective show and court drama ever produced would have you believe, "circumstantial" doesn't mean "invalid." Circumstantial evidence is evidence. It's not usually as rock solid as some other sorts of evidence, but sometimes, it's the most solid that's possible. For example, let's say you're home babysitting your little nephew, Roger. Roger loves cookies, he loves to climb, and he knows he's not supposed to have any cookies until after dinner. You're watching TV shortly before getting up to make dinner, and you hear a crash from the kitchen. You run in an find Roger sitting on a stack of books on the counter. There's a chair pulled up to the counter, books stacked on the chair. The cabinet where the cookie jar is kept is open, and the cookie jar is smashed to pieces on the floor. You don't have to be a genius to see that Roger climbed up to get the cookies and caused the jar to fall. Do you have video of this happening? Eyewitnesses? Roger's fingerprints or DNA samples from the cookie jar or the cabinet handle? Any evidence that the crime wasn't actually perpetrated by Roger's imaginary friend Herbie, as he claimed (right after he claimed that nothing happened and before he changed his story to say that the Ninja Turtles did it)? You and Roger are the only ones in the house. There are no pets, no vermin, no open windows or strong breezes. You, however, are not an investigative journalist for a billion-dollar broadcast news channel. Now, do you doubt your conclusion that Roger knocked down the cookie jar? Is there any doubt at all? "All you have" is circumstantial evidence.

It's that same kind of situational evidence that's making it obvious that this election was stolen. If we want to be sure the results were wrong, there'd have to be a hand-counted recount of paper ballots. If we want to be 100% certain that the error was intentional, we'll have to have a programmer look at the source code of the program used to count the votes. But common sense and a simple understanding of math tell you that if, going into the polls, some number of people say they're voting for Hillary and TWICE AS MANY say they're voting for Bernie, and then the election results say Hillary wins...somethin' ain't right.

But as the infomercials say, "Wait! There's more!" Even without hacking the vote count, there's the matter of so many Bernie supporters--easily identified by software used during pre-election canvassing--and ONLY them, being given provisional ballots that were never counted.

This is the 2000 Florida all over again, but without any hanging chads. Just count all the damned ballots. How hard is that to understand? People who were registered voted. Count their votes.
That's not being done, and people are laughing that the mere idea that all the votes should be counted is just some lunatic blogger crying sour grapes.

I'm done with it. If Bernie doesn't get the nomination, I'm voting for Trump. He'll try (and fail) to do such horrible things that the military will remove him, or the UN will step in, or we'll otherwise have some sort of Constitutional crisis requiring a new Constitutional convention. Then we can finally break up this monstrous empire into a more sane collection of appropriately sized nations. The South can finally have their apartheid Baptist theocracy where everyone's required to carry three machine guns, and the Northeast can have their bans on large sodas while staging elementary school performances of the Torch Song Trilogy. We can finally stop lumping together the Great Lakes and prairie states as "the Midwest" (like Cleveland and Detroit have anything at all in common with Kansas and Iowa) and let California do its own thing.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Stronghold Economics



Today I heard a story on the radio about a local foundry shutting down. They interviewed the workers. They were all very unhappy about it, and they all sounded all rather unintelligent, too, meaning they probably have few other options besides doing the work they've always known. Every one of them makes more money than I do. Any one of them would probably be seen as having a better work ethic than I. Probably all of them are financially self-sufficient (at least to the extent that you can say someone who depends on a regular paycheck from someone else is "self-sufficient"). I tried to picture myself in their shoes, working my entire life at a foundry or factory or what have you, and it seemed like hell. It seemed like prison-lite. I could do it for a set period of time, to achieve a particular goal, especially if the payoff were substantial. But I couldn't just resign myself to thinking that my only purpose in life is to make money for someone else's business. Thinking of lying on my death bed saying, "Well, I didn't do much with my life, but at least I taped a whole bunch of boxes shut for Plasticorp!" seems like the saddest thing in the world to me.

But I look at where I am financially, by contrast. I look at the struggles that come of not having a regular job and the challenges I've had building wealth. I worry that I will not be a proper role model for my children, especially for my son, and that they will have a harder time supporting themselves as adults as a result of not seeing me go away for so many hours a day, working on someone else's schedule.

But then I thought about what I do, and how my son spends most of his free time, and I'm not quite so concerned. He likes to play civilization-building computer games. One of his favorites is called Stronghold. Let me explain how Stronghold works.

In Stronghold, you are a medieval lord. You start each phase of the game with nothing but a house, some gold, and some undeveloped land. You're given an objective, anything from something as simple as "grow this number of apples" to "rescue Lady Elspeth from the evil knight in the neighboring kingdom." In some of the more complex challenges, you'll start off with more than just the house, but generally, you have to start from scratch at the beginning of each round.

Starting from scratch means that first, you build a storeroom. The storeroom doesn't produce anything. It's just where you keep your stuff. Any homeless person can tell you how critical this is to accumulating any sort of wealth. After the storeroom, you build a woodcutter's hut, because you can't build anything else in the game until you have some wood (that you keep in your storeroom, which is why you have to build that first). To get wood, you must have a woodcutter cut it, and to get someone to come to your castle and work as a woodcutter, you have to build him a woodcutter's hut.

The next step is to procure some food. The quickest, simplest, cheapest way is to build a hunter's hut. The hunter will kill game to feed himself and the woodcutter, putting any surplus in the...no, not the storeroom. He'll put the surplus in the granary, which you need wood and gold to build. You can also build various sorts of farms and mines to harvest other natural resources, and then build different types of workshops for craftsmen to turn those raw resources into weapons, armor, and other useful and valuable commodities.

Having laid all this infrastructure and stockpiled a mass of weapons and armor in your armory, and having built elaborate fortifications from wood and stone to defend your home and all you've built, you can start raising an army. To support all these workers and soldiers, you need to have enough food and housing to support them all, as well as means of keeping their spirits up and keeping them out of trouble. Only after you've done all this and trained an army of sufficient size can you then take on the tasks of defeating your enemies, rescuing damsels in distress, or what have you. You can still fail at this point. You can suck as a general and totally botch your military operations.  But the point is that even if you are a brilliant strategist and tactician, you still have to start from scratch chopping wood.

We live in a society where labor is divided up into many, highly specialized roles. In our world, you can train to be that military commander and nothing else. You don't have to work through wood chopping and eel fishing to get there. The thinking is that you'll be a better commander if you focus on nothing else but learning to command troops effectively. This is true. But what happens to that brilliant commander if he upsets his king? If the king casts him out, and (because of this) none of the other kings want to hire him, what does he do? Does he become a miller or a cook? A wine maker or a pole turner?

In my case, I wandered onto the next screen to be the lord of the next level. I started with a house and a storeroom and a little bit of gold to build a woodcutter's hut. I built the hut, but nobody came to work there, so I worked as the woodcutter myself. I chopped wood until I had enough to build a farm, but when that happened, I was out of food and had to sell some of the wood to keep myself fed. So it was back to chopping, to once again acquire enough wood to build the farm. Then I had it, but needed gold to build the farm, so I sold some of the wood and went back to chopping to replenish what I'd sold. Finally, I had enough wood, gold, and food to build the farm. I built the farm, and no sooner had the crop started to ripen than it was attacked by thieves. And wolves. And neighboring armies of inspectors and enforcement officers from the kingdoms of Health, Building, and Zoning. Each time, I'm back to cutting wood to try to accumulate enough to move on to the next phase.

But unlike those guys at the foundry, I keep on, because I have an objective. My game ends when my life ends. Not before, and I don't get another turn after, so I have to keep on 'til I get it right. My objective is to give my kids a head start when they start their game. My goal is for them to already have a storeroom, a woodcutter's hut, a hunter's camp, a farm, and maybe a couple workshops going by the time they're ready to start the game. It's unlikely I'll ever be called on to rescue Lady Elspeth. Maybe that won't happen until my great-great-grandchildren get a turn. But I won't see my kids struggle just to get past the woodcutter's phase, so I'm trying to get that stuff done for them to lay the groundwork for their later success.

When I worked a regular job and dreamed of what I'd rather be doing, I used to wish I could be a pioneer. I wished I could go into an undeveloped land and, working as a generalist--building structures, growing crops, establishing security, building a community--laying all the groundwork for a new civilization to establish itself.

I see now that I got my wish, and I'm happy for it. I may get frustrated that the game is too full of wolves and raiders when I'm still unprepared to fend them off, but I am so incredibly fortunate just to be playing the game. I think my kids will do fine.

Monday, September 14, 2015

How to Lie With Statistics

I recently saw an article from Mother Jones, a publication not known for its impartiality, titled "A Majority of Cop Killers Have Been White." This comes as no surprise. Setting aside for a moment the predominant whiteness of anti-government, "sovereign citizen" militias and their propensity toward cop-killing, the fact is that most people in the United States are white (presently 77.7%), so even if all races killed cops at an equal rate, a majority of the cop-killers would be white. That's how proportionality works--if you have a majority in an overall group, they will also be the majority of all proportionally represented sub-groups. If you have a pitcher of Kool-Aid made of 99.8% water, then any size cup of that Kool-Aid will also be 99.8% water.

Sub-groups aren't always proportional, though. For example, although 77.7% of people in the United States are white, only 69.8% of all persons arrested in the US in 2013 were white. Studying such disparities can lead us to important insights. The problem is that people pushing their pet political agendas often present the disparities as if they were insights in and of themselves. Such presentations rely on shared assumptions and prejudices. For example, an audience that shares the view that non-white Americans are oppressed victims would see this disparity as prima facie evidence that the American criminal justice system is disproportionally hard on non-whites and easy on whites. An audience that is biased in favor of whites and against non-whites, however, would see the disparity as being proof that whites are more law-abiding, while non-whites are more prone to criminality. When such an assertion is presented to a like-minded audience, it tends to slide by unchallenged and serves only to bolster the audience's confidence in their belief that their prejudices are correct. Psychologists call this phenomenon "confirmation bias."

Notice, for example, that when left-leaning journalists and bloggers speak of the number of persons arrested, convicted, incarcerated, or killed by police, they tend to speak in terms of rates rather than percentages. The reason is that in all of these cases, whites make up the majority, but the majorities are less than proportional. For example, while black Americans make up 13.2% of the population, 23.8% of all people arrested in 2013 were black. So if you want to confirm the bias that black people are treated unfairly, you could present this disparity without further data and interpret it (without supporting evidence) as being proof that the preconceived notion is correct. "Of course black people are treated unfairly! Just look at the numbers!" The unquestioned presumption is that the extra 10.6% of black people arrested didn't deserve to be.

Mother Jones points out that the majority of cop killers are white, and this is true--in 2013, out of 28 known cop killers, 15 of them were white and 11 were black (race was not reported for the other two offenders). Clearly, the majority were white. Bad! Bad, bad white people! But that also means that only about 53.57% of the cop killers were white, while whites are 77.7% of the population overall. On the other hand, about 39.29% of cop killers were black, while blacks are only 13.2% of the population overall. So whites are underrepresented among cop killers, while three times as many blacks are cop killers as would be proportional.

Given the tiny numbers we're talking about, none of this says anything about the relative characters of these races. The character of millions of white and black Americans is not defined by a couple dozen cop killers. But when someone wants to promote one group as good or bad, they'll enhance or diminish the appearance of the numbers regarding that group by shifting to discussion of either percentage or rate, accordingly. When Mother Jones wants to make white people sound worse than black people (as they do), they'll present numbers that show (gasp!) that the majority group commits the majority of a particular type of heinous crime, while glossing over the fact that members of the group they're trying to lift up are more than three times as likely to commit that same crime. I'd presume Fox News would do the same thing in reverse.

In fact, I've seen this done by the other side often enough. When right-wing publications, which see poverty as symptomatic of laziness rather than victimization, want to represent minorities as being lazier than white people, they'll point to the higher rate of blacks receiving food stamps. When left-wingers want to counter those facts, they simply point out that the vast majority of food stamp recipients are white...which tells us nothing, given that whites are in the majority generally.

But even aside from whether we're talking about percentage or rate, there's the issue of assuming what the data implies, as I alluded to on the food stamp issue. Are a higher rate of blacks than whites receiving food stamps because they're lazier, or more likely to be discriminated against in hiring for better-paying jobs, or because their families weren't allowed to accumulate wealth in generations past, or any number of any reasons? It's not evident from the data. But we'll pretend it is, if it seems like the numbers support our conclusions.

As such, you can use data to lie without even changing the type of figure (percentage vs. rate) used. For example, pro-black groups will speak of the higher rate of blacks arrested and convicted. But feminists will point out that the vast majority of people arrested and convicted are men. Bad, bad men! The problem is, these are often the same people. A lefty feminist can believe that more men being arrested is proof that men are inherently more criminal than women, while simultaneously believing that more black people being arrested is proof that the system is racist. We'll move the goal post without even realizing we're doing it. If we used arrest rates as a benchmark of criminal nature, then we'd have to conclude that both men and blacks are more criminal than women and whites, respectively. If we instead use arrest rates as a benchmark of injustice (again, with the implied assumption that the excessive number of arrestees didn't deserve to be arrested), then we must conclude that the system is rigged against both men and blacks. Neither of those views fit neatly into the political boxes as they've been drawn by the two major political parties, however, so people will change the standards from one group to the next as it suits their purposes.

tldr; Data is not analysis. When you hear "most of" or "the majority" or "at a higher rate," look for the rest of the story and carefully study the underlying causes before jumping to any conclusions. If you're seeing the world through any chosen ideology, the facts are probably not always going to support your point of view.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Little Perspective

When a police officer shoots a suspect, it's often the case that the wounded suspect is then handcuffed and left to lie bleeding on the ground without first aid until the scene is secured and an ambulance arrives. If other officers are on the scene at the time of the shooting, multiple officers may fire on the suspect at once, increasing the number of wounds he's likely to sustain. When someone shoots a police officer, that police officer is typically wearing body armor and has been trained in how to survive a gunfight. The officer is normally in radio contact with other officers and/or dispatch, may have other officers assisting him, and normally has an emergency vehicle with lights and siren at his disposal for self-rescue. All of these factors combined mean that an officer who is shot in the line of duty is far, far more likely to survive than is a suspect who's shot by police. The odds are stacked against the suspect's survival and in favor of the officer's survival. Please keep this in mind as you read the following.

Out of a population of 318,900,000 residents, the police have killed 776 so far this year. That means the police have killed 0.24 people per 100,000. That's about one per 416,667 people. Imagine a city or a county with a population of 416,667, where the police kill one criminal a year. That probably wouldn't seem excessive. Newsworthy, but not prima facie evidence of excessive force.

Of those 776 killed, 582 were armed. Black people were killed at a higher rate than whites and hispanics, with about 0.5 per 100,000 black residents being killed by police. That's one black person killed per 200,000, with about a 3-in-4 chance that he was armed at the time.

According to the FBI, the murder rate for the whole country was 4.7 per 100,000 in 2013, the most recent year for which they have data. That means that Americans who aren't cops are being killed by each other 9.4 times as often as they're being killed by police. If seeing a cop makes you worry about being killed, you should worry nine times as much when you see anybody who's not a cop.

As of yesterday, 83 police officers have died in the line of duty this year. 83 is a much smaller number than 776; however, that's out of a total of around 900,000 officers versus 318,900,000 residents. Cops are being killed this year at a rate of 9.22 per 100,000. That's nearly double the murder rate. In other words, despite how much the odds are stacked in favor of a cop surviving a gunfight, Americans are killing their police officers at almost twice the rate that they're killing anyone else, and about eighteen-and-a-half times as often as cops kill black people.

We have all these facts in front of us, and yet the public narrative is that cops are the ones who are violently out of control, and that the biggest thing black people have to worry about is being killed by the police, when there's only a one-in-200,000 chance of that happening, and only one-in-800,000 if they're unarmed. That's a smidge more likely than your chances of being struck by lightning (1-in-960,000). If you listen to left-leaning news commentators, though--or worse, the angry echo chambers that exist in the liberal pockets of the Internet--you'll get the idea that black communities are under siege, where parents have "the talk" with their kids to keep them from being murdered by police, and that even well-meaning police officers of color are unwittingly being driven by their inherent biases to kill black people at the first opportunity that presents itself, like Manchurian Candidates in blue, brainwashed by neo-Nazis to commit a genocide against the black community...at a rate of about ten percent of the normal murder rate.

If, then, people would like to preserve what's left of their credibility, they'd do well to put away their race cards and quit crying "wolf!" every time an aspiring cop killer loses a fight and happens to be black. Is there a problem of excessive use of force by the police in this country? Certainly. One innocent life lost is too many. But when we lose all sense of perspective, when we hysterically elevate this problem to the front and center of social discourse at the expense of greater and more pressing problems like poverty, war, climate change, and growing inequality, we do the entire world an injustice. When people respond to chants of "Black Lives Matter" with "Blue Lives Matter" or retorts about how people should focus on black-on-black violence if they really believe that black lives matter, it's not an attempt to advance racism. It's an attempt to cut through the histrionics, and to order priorities by the actual numbers instead of by how successfully a sensationalist media seeking higher ratings has managed to inflame people's emotions.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why Mass Shootings Aren't a Problem

     Even aside from people who want to get rid of guns entirely, there are a great many people who rightly want to keep guns out of the hands of those who would use them for evil purposes. All too often, though, these people approach mass shootings and other gun crime as problems to be solved rather than a dilemma to be managed. Predictably, all their solutions to these "problems" would create more problems than they solve. When this is pointed out to them, they get frustrated, throw up their hands, and shout, "Well what do you think we should do? Even an imperfect solution is better than doing nothing!"

     That's not a foregone conclusion, however. When a proposed solution causes more harm than it prevents, it's worse than doing nothing, not better. The main reason these ideas fail is, as I mentioned above, that they treat a dilemma as a problem. Let me sketch out the difference. Let's say you don't want peanut butter on your nose, but you have a bit on it. It's not doing you any good. There's no reason to keep the peanut butter there. Removing the peanut butter from your nose will not create a worse situation than keeping it there. Removing it will cause you to have the situation you desire: having a nose with no peanut butter on it. And that's it--no downside.

     A dilemma, on the other hand, is a messy, complicated situation where you have competing, mutually exclusive values to choose among. Managing a dilemma necessarily entails making sacrifices. Say, for example, that you're a recent high school graduate, and you have an opportunity to either major in Architecture at UCLA or major in Electrical Engineering at MIT. There's no way you can have both. A creative person might find ways to mitigate the losses of foregoing one or the other, but there really is no middle path. You have to choose, and reaping the benefits of the option you choose means you also have to live with the consequences of giving up the other opportunity. That's a dilemma. It's not a matter of just wiping a bit of peanut butter off your nose and making the trouble disappear. You have to weigh the options against each other and determine which option is worth sacrificing the other.

     That's why I say mass shootings aren't a problem. They're a dilemma. Some of the reasons why have been so fully sketched out previously on this blog (not to mention by the NRA and other defenders of the Second Amendment) that there's no point going into any depth on them here. There's no way to just wipe the mass shootings off the end of our nose, because there's usually no identifying a mass shooter until the damage is already done, and the damage, in this case, is permanent. Both preventing the shootings and responding in such a way that would reduce the number of innocent casualties to zero would require the implementation of a police state so massive and intrusive that we might as well all lock ourselves in individual cages like battery hens, a situation I think most people would find even less desirable than living with the possibility of mass shootings.

     There's another reason, though, that I've never seen anyone else address, to say that mass shootings aren't a problem. Given the present state of our technology, mass shootings are a feature, not a bug. That sounds like a horrible thing to say until you stop feeling, start thinking, and realize that a would-be mass murderer who's frustrated in his attempt to get his hands on a gun might not necessarily lower his ambitions and reach for a knife or a machete. Instead, he might build a bomb.

     It's really a simple matter of utility, in the sense that economists and game theorists understand that word. Bombs kill a lot more people in one whack than guns do, so why have all these mass shooters chosen to use guns rather than bombs? The simple answer is that people are lazy. Some terrorists no doubt have built bombs, huge ones. But a lot of killers simply aren't that dedicated. They want easy, quick gratification. If they can fill out some papers and pay a few hundred dollars at a store, or steal a gun from someone else who has done so, or pay a private individual for a previously-owned gun that might well be stolen, that's a much easier method for obtaining a weapon for mass murder than trying to buy or build a bomb. Even most criminals wouldn't know where to buy a bomb, not even a small one like a hand grenade, and most wouldn't know how to build more than a small pipe bomb.

     If you make it impossible to buy a gun or to steal one, then someone who wants a gun will have to make it. While building a bomb takes a great deal more skill than buying a gun does, it takes a great deal less skill than building a mass-murder-capable gun. All other issues aside, if we look only at the question of utility, I'm okay with laws that restrict the ownership of full-auto weapons and removable, high-capacity magazines, because if someone really wants those things and is willing to break the law to have them, it still requires far less skill to convert a semi-auto gun to full-auto or to build functional magazines out of scrap metal and springs in one's garage than it does to build a large, effective, safe-to-operate, concealable bomb. As such, outlawing full-auto guns and high-cap magazines doesn't put aspiring mass murderers in the position of shrugging and saying, "Eh, for all that trouble, I might as well just mix up a pallet load of TATP."

     That alone, I feel, is reason enough to not try to eliminate the possibility of mass shootings. As long as they are possible, and easier to pull off than a bombing, I think we steer lazy killers away from using bombs.

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     The question we should be asking then is not, "How do we eliminate the possibility of mass shootings?" but rather, "How do we mitigate the existence of mass shootings?" That is, how do we:
1. ...remove the motive for wanting to commit an act of mass murder?
2. ...minimize the opportunities for committing mass murder?
3. ...minimize the damage that can be done by a mass murderer?

     Question #1 has very little to do with guns. It's more about psychology and social problems than it is about technology. It's also the biggest, most tangled dilemma in the list. We'd have to change nothing less than our culture, our economic system, our politics, our methods of raising children, and our own personalities. Aside from that--aside from producing kinder, gentler people who don't want to hurt each other--the only obvious answer I see is to make succeeding at mass murder so unlikely that people are discouraged from trying. It's like why so few robberies are bank robberies. Both the likelihood of failing and the consequences of failing make banks an unattractive target. If we can't make people be nice, at least we can aim for making them think there's no point trying to kill a lot of people.

     Question #2 is largely an issue of security and sort of overlaps with question #1, because a person will be discouraged from wanting to try killing a lot of people if they can't think of any time or place they could succeed in doing so. This is the rationale behind eliminating gun-free zones and arming teachers. The thinking is that if a would-be school shooter knows that he'll likely be intercepted and killed by another armed person the moment he draws his weapon, he's far less likely to bother attempting a school shooting. But we can do even better than that. How would a killer manage to murder dozens of school children at one time if, for example, all children were homeschooled?

     That's what I mean by minimizing opportunities. I'm not suggesting that all children should be homeschooled. I simply mean that if we didn't keep all the kids in one place, it's tough to conceive of a way to go to one place to kill them all. In the same way, how do you pull off a bank robbery if everybody has their money stuffed under their mattresses?

     If schools were built as a campus of small, one-room schoolhouses rather than a single, large building, and all those little buildings went into lockdown the moment a single shot was fired, it would be impossible for a killer to get access to more than one class full of targets. Keep classes small and increase the number of buildings, and you minimize the damage even further. It's also possible to control movement like this within a single building; it's how prisons operate. This is the kind of thinking we need to be engaging in rather than thinking we can control the behavior of deranged individuals by passing laws. School lockdown procedures developed after the Columbine shooting already operate on the same basic principle.

     Question #3 also overlaps with question #2; if a killer can't get at his victims, he can't do them much harm. In addition to that, though, we can also make responses to mass shootings faster and more effective. I'm not a fan of arming all teachers, because I've known too many teachers who didn't seem emotionally stable enough to be trusted with a gun. But I don't see a problem with schools having their teachers, or some portion of their teachers, trained to act as an on-site emergency response team. Just as some employees learn to operate fire extinguishers and AEDs without the expectation that they be fully certified firefighters, I think it's reasonable that we could put some teachers and other school staff members through police use-of-force training and active-shooter response tactics. Then, rather than having a killer walking around unimpeded for five minutes until the police show up, he'd be facing an auxiliary SWAT team within maybe 45 seconds.

Even if that team is armed only with ballistic shields and Tasers (so nobody breaks into the school's armory and gets their hands on a deadly weapon), they would still be able to engage and possibly subdue the shooter to stop him from killing any more children. There's no reason to confine this strategy to schools, either. Businesses, churches, any place people gather together and present an attractive target to terrorists, there could be a team of carefully screened volunteers who are trained to stop an attacker or at least contain him until police arrive.

It beats trying to stop suicide bombers.