Trayvon Martin case

I'm not sure if the jury, the crazy legislation, the prosecution or some combination is responsible for the travesty that is the Trayvon Martin case. If it's just the legislation, I wonder if George Zimmerman is going to be able to rest easy knowing that he now lives in a place where armed men may confront people in the street, armed or unarmed, and guilty of nothing other than walking home from the store, shoot them and then place the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove that it wasn't self defense. If this doesn't in fact make him (and all Floridians) incredibly anxious about their security, that's also pretty clear evidence that this is just as much about racism as it is bad legislation.

x-posted to blogspot.

Trying to stay in practice here ...

I'm getting lazy about posting here and even checking LJ, which is not a great thing because limiting my posting to Twitter and Facebook tends to limit me to writing one sentence comments on G&M stories and the like. A few comments about this and that:

a) Tom Flanagan: This story is really weird. Here's a guy who was famously arguing a year or two ago that Julian Assange should be assassinated. Really, that's what he said. Assange, of course, has famously been leaking information about government wrongdoing and the like. According to TF, that's grounds to have him killed. Now, suddenly, he's arguing that viewing child porn isn't such a bad thing and certainly not something one should be put in jail for. If he were arguing about written erotica or maybe even sketches, I might take the argument seriously, but he doesn't distinguish that and it sounds like he's talking about photographs of children. So, he'll defend the free speech rights (although taking pornographic pics of kids is pretty clearly way outside the area of anything protected by free speech) of child pornographers, but not those who are actually using free speech to address and eradicate injustice.

b) I've been traveling back and forth from DC to NYC each weekend. I thought the grind would wear me down, but, actually, I've come to find it quite tolerable. The bus trip can actually be a good opportunity to read, write, etc. Also, we don't have laptops at work, just remote connections to use when we're at home, so on the bus I can rarely maintain a sufficiently fast connection to do any work, so I usually don't and it becomes a good time to relax.

c) I find myself growing increasingly impatient with people who go on Facebook and ask people to say a prayer for them because they're not feeling well or they have a big quiz in the morning or some such bullshit. I really think this is the most bizarre and offputting sort of theology, although I suppose it's the main reason that many people believe in God, they like to think that they have some kindly gent in the sky who is standing ready to dispense all sorts of goodies should they be able to get enough people to lobby him on their behalf. Really, what kind of God is that? It seems to suggest that he loves popular people the most, after all, they're more likely to be able to summon up the most people to pray on their behalf so by their "get as many people as I can to pray" mentality, that person has a much better shot at healing, or whatever.

Okay, that's enough for one day, don't want to break anything by rushing in again too quickly.

(no subject)

I regularly see people on FB making posts about global warming in an effort to prove that warming is actually occurring, in response to GW critics. This always baffles me. Few objecters to AGW are objecting to the claim that warming is occurring, except the complete nutters, like Drudge, etc.  Most of the ones w/ even half a brain, are objecting to the "A", not the "GW", i.e., scepticism about whether GW is caused by human activity not whether it's occurring.

Unfortunately, the evidence for that isn't quite simple enough to post on FB in one simple post.

(no subject)

I know that there's much consensus that the tragedy in Connecticut demonstrates the need for stricter gun control. But I'd like to know more about why people think this. Are people suggesting a full out ban on weapons? It sounds like the guns this dope used were purchased by his mother. Secondly, it seems he had no criminal record, so how exactly would tighter gun laws have prevented this? Secondly, it's worth recalling that Canada has strict gun control laws, but has also experienced horrific school shootings.

I'm not a fan of the 2nd Amendment but I also don't think it deserves all the blame here or that gun laws will solve the school shooting problem.

Update: I think the answer here is that gun control could likely limit the size of ammunition cartridges and semi-automatic weapons. Likely in this case it would have saved a lot of people. The Second Amendment does deserve blame here insofar as fear of it made people less willing to impose these reasonable restrictions.

Nate Silver's GOP bias

Not only did Nate Silver correctly predict the outcome in all the states but his vote share projection was incredibly accurate. For the swing states, where his model really mattered and where he had the most data, he was off by an average of only .3 per projection. (standard deviation of the difference between projected and actual was .9) But his model did not, contrary to some claims, have a Democratic bias. He underprojected 8 of 11 swing states for Dems - underprojecting .2 on average. He overprojected on 8 of 11 for the GOP, overprojecting by .8 on average. See the spreadsheet at: link.


On elections

A couple of election related pet peeves:

In the context discussion of the amount spent to get a presidential candidate I often hear points noting that the amount spent this year ($6 billion) is no more or even less than some amount that American consumers spend on some sort of non-essential good or service, e.g., candy or whatever, or that it's a relatively small fraction of the GDP. That argument leaves me baffled every time. How in the world is that salient and/or why isn't it used to underscore what a *huge* amount is spent on getting someone elected. Almost as much is spent on getting *one* person elected as the entire country of 300 million+ people spends on candy in a year. That's a huge amount of money! Just to underscore the point, people aren't raising concerns about money spent because they think it's diverting too large a portion of the economy on resources that would be better used elsewhere, they're concerned, typically, that this shows that only people with really good financial connections can get elected and that the fact that only the financially well connected can get elected doesn't bode well for democracy in America.

The whole "if you don't vote you're failing your civic duty" argument doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Why are we so keen to get people to the polls who aren't inspired by their choices, who haven't taken the time to inform themselves. Why is is useful, important or necessary to get them to vote? And this latest slogan, "if you don't vote you're living someone else's future"? It doesn't even make a lick of sense.

On garbage pickup fees and universal health care

I remember having a discussion with a friend once about the prudence of a municipality charging a nominal fee (~$1) for each bag of garbage it picked up. I argued in favour of the policy as I thought it would discourage waste and, I argued, my friend should also support it based on his support for the principles of free market economics. Surely a $1 fee in which actual users are forced to recognize and absorb some of the cost of moving garbage was preferable to one in which the government absorbed all costs and the user of the system was almost completely insulated from actual cost of the service. His argument was that the public's interest in making it maximally easy for people to keep their homes and yards clean and tidy far outstripped such considerations. In other words, the government should absorb all the costs because it was essentially what was a public good.

I've been thinking about that argument recently because the town in which I live recently made it much easier to get rid of all sorts of household waste, yard waste, etc. It used to be the case that getting rid of non-standard garbage required a call to the city and required paying a substantial fee after a household's quota was exceeded. Now the town simply picks up all forms of garbage on every garbage disposal day. I realize that it has actually made us a lot more ambitious about doing yard, basement and shed cleanup. We no longer wait until we have a significant amount of potential waste before underaking a cleanup project and it has indeed resulted in a much tidier yard and shed. (the basement, well ...) So, I'm going to acknowledge that my friend was right. It certainly hasn't increased our consumption or wastefulness, just our cleaning efforts.

An article by Sarah Kliff in today's Washington Post reminds  me that there's a very "free garbage pickup" argument in support of providing affordable (free?) universal health care. Kliff summarizes a study observing that as health insurance costs for workers rise, productivity drops. Unsurprisingly, making it difficult to go to the doctor results in people going to the doctor less, being or becoming less healthy and, as a result, being less productive on the job. For the same reason that it makes good sense from a productivity perspective for employers to give their employees free flu shots, it makes bad sense from a productivity perspective for employers to make it expensive to go to the doctor. Similarly, data indicates that concerns about maintaining health insurance coverage are a huge disincentive to people contemplating kicking off a business start up. (In fact, there's a heavily disproportionate number of people of Medicare age who participate in startups because they don't share the worry about need a health care plan backup.) Or consider how the high costs of funding private health insurance act as a significant disincentive to global companies considering the possibility of starting a business in the US.

Perhaps the health care debate needs to focus on such things to bring the free-marketeers onside for a universal health care system. There's not just an obvious moral argument for doing so, there's an excellent economic reason for doing so. The introduction of a universal health care system may well pay for itself in terms of increased economic productivity, innovation and competitiveness. A single payer system may not in itself be a manifestation of pure free market ideology, but it's well worth it because of all the grease it gives to the turning of the cogs in an effective market economy.

x-posted to blogspot


(no subject)

FWIW, i've been thoroughly enjoying "the Killing" on Netflix, great show, wasn't surprised to learn it's based on a Danish show. All the good murder mysteries are coming out of Scandinavia these days.

Rushing a shooter

Someone on FB posted that we should all resolve to "rush" a shooter if we ever find ourselves in a situation like the one in the Colorado theater. I said that if I found myself in such a situation, I'd worry about my obligations to my family first. I wouldn't put my life at significant risk to save a bunch of strangers in a movie theater if there were otherwise a decent chance I'd get out alive. Of course, were I there with my family, it would be a different story. Also, on a plane would also be different, if there were any reason to think the person was some sort of extremist and I was likely to die anyway, the rational thing to do would be to attack the hijacker. (that's not to claim that it's what I'd do, I might be too scared nonetheless, but it's reasonable and advised in such a situation.)