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Some facts about gun crime

February 20, 2018

Mass shootings, especially at schools, are the most newsworthy of gun crimes. Yet represent a minuscule slice of gun violence. Of the 11,008 gun homicides in 2014, only 14 were victims of mass shootings. The reaction to mass shootings is the quintessential example of how news distorts our thinking about issues. The weapons made so visible by those horrible acts are not the most dangerous. As that previous link shows, pistols are used to kill far more people than rifles of any kind.

Gun crime, like most other violent crime, has declined considerably over the past four decades. We do not well understand the reasons for that. One likely cause is a reduction in lead exposure. There likely are social reasons as well. If you are a Republican reading this, you may remember Trump campaigning on the notion that we were suffering a crime wave. He lied about that, as with just about everything else.

Does that mean gun control is useless? No. It just means you have to do careful statistics to see its effect. Seemingly, a lot of gun nuts would rather post silly memes about Honduras and Switzerland. I’ve seen that meme all over my Facebook feed.

Nor does the 2nd amendment make gun control impossible in the US. The Heller and McDonald rulings left plenty of room for national and state laws.

Tomorrow: A different kind of gun control proposal.

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Russian infowars

February 19, 2018

Russia is more concerned with Europe than the US, and practices its infowars there, also. Finnland may be more resistant than some of its neighbors.

The Washington Post has an article on what US intelligence agencies informed Trump about how Russia helped him win, and how that has affected his subsequent behavior. Putin wants Americans to know they shouldn’t worry their heads about such matters.

Konstantin Kozlovsky, a hacker under trial in Russia for stealing from Russian bank accounts, claimed in testimony that he was hired by the FSB to hack the DNC. That could be fabrication, of course.

Cool night, bad photo

February 15, 2018

This spring has offered some foggy sails. Alas, it is hard to take nice shots that feature fog. Doubly so at dusk. Then, there is the usual difficulty when you are crew and have to sneak in the shot between whatever boat handling tasks are required. Last night’s race was quite picturesque. I wish I had gotten a better photo. There were just four of us for the short, light-air race to marker #1 and back. Two old, married guys. And two young guys without dates on Valentine’s day.

The lies that bind them

February 14, 2018

I suspect when historians look back at our period, many will find Trump secondary to the movement he rode to power. That is speculative. He could still start a war, actual or trade, whose disastrous effects make him the larger story.

The key ingredients for his rise were in place before Trump entered politics, and will shape American politics after he is gone. Chief among these was the rise of the conspiratorial right. It is not just that Trump supporters are those who most consume and spread conspiracy theories, as Oxford researchers found. It is that conspiracy theories are central to their political practice. They define what the enemy does, create the movement’s leaders, rationalize tactics. Most of all, giving credence to the movement’s deceits, whether or not they are truly believed, defines who is and isn’t on board. Pizzagate didn’t have to be believable. It fits the desired narrative. It doesn’t matter that the notion that FBI agents chatted about Obama watching over the Clinton email investigation was immediately debunked. It fits the desired narrative, so gets propagated by Republican politicians without pause. The divergence between the conspiratorial right and other conservatives has become so large that the latter are now calling for a boycott of the GOP.

Trump had the two prerequisites to install himself as leader of the conspiratorial right. He is a conman for whom lying is second nature. And he recognized that the conpiratorial right was panging for a leader who fed their fantasies. Something that former mainstream candidates refused to do. And were hated for it.

Trump swims in the waters of constant deceit with ease. He will lie casually about an aides’s security clearance, knowing it will cost him nothing when his own FBI exposes that lie. He will lie about the FBI’s internal culture, telling his followers who the enemy is. He will accuse everyone else of being a liar, tripping the outside world over its concern with facticity where he has none, a trick now copied by strongmen around the world.

Those techniques explain his large appeal to fundamentalists. Their information ecosystem works in the same fashion. Confronting a fundamentalist with facts or pointing out the mistakes by their favorite authors does no good, because they are ever ready to excuse and overlook “the details” in the service of their religion. Trump didn’t grab their loyalty through his religiosity. He earned it by fitting into their belief ecosystem.

We are now seeing the reign of a political cult. If there is one piece of comfort, it is that Trump is more the conman who stepped into the cult from the outside to be their leader, than a prophet who shaped it. Admittedly a fine distinction.

Say what you want

February 13, 2018

In the Netherlands, that is part of the culture.

In Poland, it now is forbidden to talk about Polish collaboration with the Nazis.

Dense wood and fog

February 12, 2018

KinderspelRoundingFiveMaterial scientists have a history of making wonderful new materials from wood. We live in houses made from plywood, concretized wood, oriented-strand board, and treated lumber. So, it’s interesting to read about the densified wood being made at the University of Maryland, College Park. (Cite.)

That said, I am underimpressed by the 8% expansion from humidity change. That is quite large. The process is cumbersome. Other techniques do much the same. And a key question for every new material is: how does it deteriorate? The problem with steel, especially on salty coasts, is that rust never sleeps. Ordinary wood suffers rot and termites. This new densified stuff? Don’t know, don’t know. So it is interesting academic research, but I don’t expect dense wood bridges in the near future.

Of course, I’m a skeptic. Not just about new materials. Did Hillary Clinton do something illegal with her email server? Everyone seems to have a legal opinion on that. Me? I have some technical opinions about what was done, and recognize much of what is written about it as nonsense. I don’t pretend to know the law, nor the prosecutorial standards. My best information there is what the FBI said its process determined.

Did Trump or his as-yet unindicted underlings commit illegalities with the Russians? I don’t know that, either. I am unqualified to be on Robert Mueller’s team. More, I don’t know what facts they have uncovered, nor with regard to what laws. So I await their further results, skeptical of most every guess I read about it in the news, both those predicting much of consequence, and those predicting it will produce nothing. What I have written on Trump does not turn on legal opinion. Even if Trump did commit a crime, Mueller might not be able to indict him. That opinion comes from someone who has been counsel in related field, so perhaps holds more water than most reports. I do like that Mueller is keeping his cards as close as he can. But don’t pretend that I can scry them better than anyone else.

Photo shows a plastic boat carefully navigating a steel waymark in the first frost-bite regatta, Saturday. Alas, I was called out of town, so missed that race. A mate took the photo above of the other J-105. Sailing in fog makes you more aware of what you don’t know, moment by moment.

Future so bright

February 9, 2018

The FDA has approved clinical trials of intermittent rapamycin for the purpose of anti-aging. I suspect, fifty years hence, people will look back at that as one of the first examples of a revolution in medical treatment.

Driverless cars may be the next advance in commuting. But it is an open question whether they will solve congestion. There are strong arguments that they won’t. The fact that they make congestion less a burden for their passengers, who can happily be playing and working away as their vehicles carry them to and fro, actually weighs against the elimination of congestion. One solution to a problem is just to make it so it doesn’t bother people so much.