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The core of the matter

June 4, 2020

Police in the US kill far more people than do the police in the other nations with which we would like to be compared. It would be easy to observe that this parallels the greater level of US violence generally. But violence done in our name by those working to enforce our law is a kind that we should particularly want to control. And there has been some research into the kinds of practical steps (Twitter thread) that make a difference. If some branches of the NAACP are calling for steps somewhat different, that is only to be expected at this stage of the game. What we need now are some governors who come forward, publicly pick up the problem, recognize there are potential solutions, and put together an action plan to determine what solutions to propose for their state. Some of which may require legislative action, some of which may not.

When I posted the Colin Kaepernick meme Sunday from the Houston Chronicle, one of my friends objected that I could not prove that race had played a role in the killing of George Floyd. To which my response was essentially: So? There is plenty of data showing blacks are disparately the victims of this violence. That explains why this has been a cause for black activists. Now, I already have seen the response that no one can show that this disparity is a result of racist police or racist police departments or racist police practices. No, I won’t post links to such articles. Nor am I going to dive into that rabbit hole. Let’s assume, arguendo, that the entire disparity is due to the communities blacks more populate and the social context of those communities, both the result of long history.

My response again is: So? Police brutality still is a problem worth addressing. I don’t see the relevance of those objections. Unless someone is working with the assumption that a social problem that has disparate impact on minorities should not be addressed, except that we can prove its immediate cause is overt, ongoing racism. (And if anyone is working with that assumption, I think we have found some relevant, ongoing racism!)

In principle, this issue should not divide police and civilians. All the LEOs I know want policing to be done in a civilized and lawful fashion, avoiding lethal force wherever possible. In practice, most of the solutions proposed involve some process change for law enforcement. And process change is hard. That is not a criticism of police generally. Nor is anything else I said above. It should give us some hope that so many police chiefs and officers on the line around the nation expressed sympathy for this cause and camaraderie with the protesters. Photo shows police and protesters in Santa Cruz taking a knee.

Stronger hurricanes?

June 3, 2020

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season began Monday. Yesterday, we got our third named storm, Cristobal, formerly known as Amanda. Arthur and Bertha were the obnoxious couple who showed up to the party a half hour early.

Because tropical storms feed from warm water, and because the oceans are warming, there long has been the suspicion that hurricanes would become more frequent or more intense or more something as the world warms. But storms are complex beasts, they are difficult to measure, we get only a few a year, and they vary quite a bit from year to year. All of which makes it hard to determine if there is any trend, that isn’t just chance. Forecasts of the season ahead are notoriously unreliable. After Harvey blew over us, three years past, I pointed out that those looking for such trend hadn’t yet found it.

That might be changing. University of Wisconsin and NOAA researchers, taking another look at satellite data, find that hurricanes are getting stronger. (Cite.)

Well, it still could be chance. Or it could be a trend that becomes ever more identifiable over the decades. Right now, it’s just … interesting. It doesn’t much change what those of us in hurricane regions watch and do.

Yesterday, a Pentagon official resigned from the Trump administration. His line was crossed when Trump forcibly commandeered a church for a photo-op. Everyone in the Trump administration needs to ask themselves that question: Where is my line? Just as it is easier to evacuate before a storm arrives, it is easier and better to leave such groups early. And it always seems too early, and that everyone else is staying loyal. Until suddenly, everyone recognizes it is late. Too late.

Update: James Mattis must have read my post above, and decided he wants to take a clear stand against Trump before it is too late to matter.

Bad genes

June 2, 2020

Someone who is homozygous in the APOE4 allele has so much greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s that the consumer genetic testing companies would hide that allele until the individual said, “pretty please.” But why does a gene that encodes for a protein that helps carry cholesterol around have such an impact on dementia? USC researchers are uncovering some of the causal paths. Unsurprisingly, it has to do with circulation. A double E4 allele leads to faster deterioration in brain capillary pericytes, part of the blood-brain barrier. (Cite.)

Homozygeity in that allele also more than doubles the risk that a Covid-19 infection will be severe. (Cite.) While that result is new and less certain, and the causes unknown, my suspicion — assuming the result holds — is that it relates to arterial health.

I am amazed there are nations using virus genome studies to help with contact tracing and develop an accurate picture of the disease’s spread:

Scientists in New Zealand have so far sequenced 25% of country’s 1,154 reported cases. They’re aiming for more than 70% to get the most complete picture practically possible, says Joep de Ligt, lead bioinformatician at New Zealand’s Institute of Environmental Science and Research near Wellington, which is sequencing the country’s cases.

It’s like living in the future. Though as one science fiction wag put it, the future is unevenly distributed. Painting is Pissarro’s Picking Peas.

The Troll Party

June 1, 2020

Rush Limbaugh made a telling defense of Trump falsely labeling Joe Scarborough a murderer:

[T]he thing here is when you get to Trump and his conspiracy theories, he does it in a really clever way. And this is where people don’t get the subtlety of Trump because they don’t think he has the ability to be subtle. Trump never says that he believes these conspiracy theories that he touts. He’s simply passing them on. … do you think Trump cares whether Scarborough murdered anybody or not? No, of course he doesn’t care. So why is he tweeting it? .. Trump is just throwing gasoline on a fire here, and he’s having fun watching the flames.

Well, only a professional troll might consider that a subtle act rather than a vicious one. Limbaugh defends it on the grounds of what Scarborough has said about Trump. As if that justifies something so dishonest and corrosive in response. As if Trump doesn’t purposely push bullshit all the time. Sometimes directly, sometimes in the sly fashion Limbaugh confesses above. He does that to target his enemies, to distract the media, to generate conflict, to align their followers, and to fog debate. He does it without the least care about the truth, even when it involves a false accusation of murder. He does that without any concern about who is hurt.

Bernard Goldberg hopes that ordinary decency will cause Americans to turn away from a president who spins lies around the recently deceased. Does he not remember the many times that was done before, not by Trump, but by the movement he rides? Hillary Clinton purposely withheld military response during the attack on Benghazi. Seth Richards was murdered because he, not Russia, pilfered the DNC emails. The Sandy Hook shooting was staged. All conspiracy theories wrapped around innocent victims violently killed. Trump didn’t create a populist movement held together by ugly bogosity. Limbaugh and Hannity and their ilk did that. Trump just realized he was fit to become its leader.

Trolls are not nice. No one who casually and routinely tells such lies, including lies about the dead, adding to a family’s grief, gets the usual presumption of good will when they then turn to other topics or purpose. That is why neither King Troll nor his acolytes get normal reception when they make what otherwise might be viewed as pleas for civility, appeals to unity, shows of sympathy, or calls for resolve, were they to come from someone normal. Anything they say that expresses a concern for integrity is just laughable. Bullshitters and conmen are not normal. Nothing they say can be trusted. Anything might be part of their game.

A curious thing at the CDC

May 29, 2020

The CDC has published some Covid-19 models that are causing some well-deserved second takes. The range of scenarios doesn’t even span what has been seen among the states to date. And there is something called the “best estimate” that has no good explanation of what that means or how it was calculated. And those of my friends and family who are least adept at understanding anything mathematical are now running with that in all sorts of unjustified direction. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of those small events that seems almost normal — CDC publishes range of disease models — that then turns into a larger story.

Music affinity

May 28, 2020

Most people enjoy music. That is why music appreciation is much more common than music competence. Quite unlike with mathematics, as I wrote Monday. But some people enjoy music in the “take it or leave it” fashion that they enjoy watching a juggler or eating roasted chestnuts. While others have a much greater response, and walk around listening to music much of the day. If you’re puzzled that researchers study that difference in response, keep in mind how much of the social and economic world revolves around pursuit of pleasure.

Wondering moss and bumblebee technique

May 27, 2020

Balls of moss travel in flocks on glaciers. Photo right.

And bumblebees erotically nibble plants to encourage quicker blooming. (Cite.) No, of course it’s not the same if you don’t use your own mouth. “Researchers attempted to recreate these bee-bite patterns using metal forceps and a razor, but even then, the damage inflicted by bees boosted flower production more effectively than the scientists could.”