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Category: Culture

The best that has been thought and written and why these ideals are difficult to meet.

February 24, 2010 | 29 Comments

Do Stricter Gun Laws Lead to More Crime? Brady Gun Law Scorecard & Murder Rates

The final installment of the Liberal Fascism review will appear tomorrow.

I was inspired to write this after reading a Mike Adams column, in which he pointed to a Don Surber column, in which he pointed to a Guardian story, which pointed to the Fed’s stats.

The Brady Campaign to prevent gun violence has compiled a scorecard for each state, according to how they (the Bradyites) view each state’s gun laws. These statistics are through 2009.

More restrictive states received higher scores. Utah received the best—or worst, depending on your perspective—score (0), and California received the worst (79). The score had several components, such as whether laws were in place to forbid bulk purchases, and whether there were “assault” weapons bans. Complete details are available at their site.

The Guardian, doing the job American papers have forgotten to do, and using the Fed’s data, compiled each state’s total murders, and the number of those that were perpetrated with firearms or by other means. Firearms murders were separated by handguns, shotguns, rifles, and unknown types; the other means included knives, hands and feet, or unknown. These statistics were from 2008.

I then went to the Gallup organization and retrieved the results from two polls: the Democrat minus Republican voting percent intentions (numbers greater than 0 indicated a Democrat advantage, etc.), and the percent population self-identifying as “conservative” (anywhere from 29-49%; other possibilities were “liberal”, “moderate”, and “none of your business”). These were from 2009.

The caveats first! The Fed’s murder and population data is pretty solid, enough so that we can assume measurement error is not especially important. The Brady scorecard is obviously arbitrary. And unidimensional: two different states can have equal scores but they might differ in the composition of its gun laws. Comparing unidimensional scores is always dangerous!

The Gallup polls are not as arbitrary, but they have all the usual flaws of surveys. Stated rates of plus/minus error are in the four-point range, but all experience suggests that it’s far safer to double these.

Worst of all, statistics at state levels ignore the difference between the urban and rural. New York is the starkest example: New York City is night and Upstate is day, yet they are lumped together as one. But, given all these distinct—and very real—possibilities for misinterpretation, here are some pictures.

Here’s a shot of the percent identifying as conservative versus the Brady score. It shows what we’d guess: except for Vermont, where the people have some catching up to do, legislatively speaking. The blue “liberal” dots represent those states that have fewer than the median 39% self-identified conservatives; the red dots have 39% or more. (The picture is similar for Dem-Rep voting intentions.)

Brady Gun Scorecard vs Conservative percentage

The previous picture informed this one, the real meat. (Download PDF.)

Brady Gun Scorecard vs Murder rate

It shows how the Brady State Gun Law Scorecard is related to the handgun murder rate (per 100,000). I specifically excluded shotguns and other types of firearms from this picture. Handguns account for anywhere from 11% to 99% of firearm murders, with a median of 64%. They account for 0% to 78% of all murders, with a median of 39%. (Did you think it would be more?)

In absence of the dot-coloring, the data show two chunks. Those with Brady scores from 0 to about 20, and those with scores greater than 40. The low-Brady-score chunk shows very little relation to the handgun murder rate. That is, the whole range of murder rates are found in the low-Brady score chunk.

But the high-Brady-score chunk shows a rough correlation (I use that word in its plain English sense): higher Brady scores are associated with higher murder rates. Why? The data do not say.

The coloring of “conservative” and “liberal” might be helpful, since this division was so predictive of the Brady score. The blue/liberal dots show the same positive association: in general, the higher the Brady score—that is, the harder it is for citizens to own guns legally—the higher the handgun murder rate.

But the red/conservative dots show no such association. This does not prove a gun law/murder rate association doesn’t exist, though. It’s easy to be fooled in cases when a score has a cutoff, like the Brady score does at 0. Don’t forget: the Brady score’s intention is to measure restriction, not freedom.

There might be a lot of difference between states with a score of 0 and those with a score of 2 (the next lowest), but we can’t see it. What we’d need is an extension to the Brady score which awards “negative points” for states which have even fewer restrictions than are noted by the Brady organization.

Overall: there’s some indication that more restrictive gun laws (as measured by the Brady score) are associated with higher handgun murder rates. We cannot say, with this data, why this is so.

Stop right there! Any kind of formal statistical analysis of this data would be extremely unwise. Especially one which assumed a linear relationship in the data. Any formal analysis is practically guaranteed to instill more confidence than is warranted. Remember those caveats? There’s no way to incorporate them reasonably into any formal model. We’ll have to settle for vagueness. That’s life.

February 19, 2010 | 17 Comments

The Mount Vernon Statement vs. The Manhattan Statement

Have you read the Mount Vernon Statement?

It is meant to remind one of the Declaration of Independence or the Preamble to the Constitution. It is supposed to be a stirring, rousing call to action. A beacon which prodigal sons can use to find their way home.

A lot of big names signed it. A random cut and paste from the interior of the list: “Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center; Alfred Regnery, publisher of the American Spectator; David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union; David McIntosh, co-founder of the Federalist Society; T. Kenneth Cribb, former domestic policy adviser to President Reagan; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.”

The American Spectator tells us that “Edwin Feulner of the Heritage Foundation read the entire Mount Vernon Statement aloud before inviting the crowd to sign the document as a George Washington impersonator stood guard. ‘We must print out the statement’s text on our journals, our magazines and our blog posts,’ said Fuelner. ‘We must distribute the video of today’s ceremony. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a country to save!'”

To oblige Fuelner, here’s a link to the statement.

While I am in agreement with the sentiments of the Mount Vernon Statement, I cannot help but feel that it was written by a graduate of Political Science with a minor in Communications. Either that, or it has suffered the slings and arrows of Input By Committee.

Who else but a publication relations person would write, “A Constitutional conservatism unites all conservatives through the natural fusion provided by American principles.” Conservatism unites conservatives? Natural fusion!? That had to have been penned by somebody—and whoever you are, I love you, brother—made ill by excessive contact with press releases.

And how about, “A Constitutional conservatism based on first principles provides the framework for a consistent and meaningful policy agenda.” Or, “It supports America’s national interest in advancing freedom
and opposing tyranny in the world and prudently considers what we can and should do to that

Meaningful policy agendas? What we can and should do to that end? Lord help us.

I can’t get excited about these words, yet I am passionate about the ideas behind them (others take it to task for what it ignored). Surely, it must be possible to retell our founding principles without strangled or purple prose. Let’s try.

Whoever wrote the Mt V. statement opted for long and dry. I’ll go for short and wet. Here’s my stab at what we can call the Manhattan Statement.

Draft #1; I stole freely from Jefferson; please suggest modifications, or pass it on (I’ll periodically change the language until it sings; perhaps this will put into separate post).

The Manhattan Statement

A truth once known does not become false due to the passage of time. An agreement is not made null because it has been neglected. A promise once made cannot be broken by arrogance.

We have not forgotten the self-evident truths and unalienable rights upon which this country was founded. No one is above the law. All have the right to life, liberty, and the unfettered pursuit of happiness.

We remember that Government derives its consent from the governed, that when Government turns inward and self-serving, we have the right to alter or abolish it.

We retain the agreement that Congress has the power of legislation, not the Judiciary, whose mandate is to uphold the law; and that the President is sworn to protect the Constitution.

We believe that Government should be limited and that its unchecked growth is a cancer and a path to tyranny.

We know that the rule of law is an unshakable foundation, but that rule by regulation is groundless and breeds corruption.

We know that life is not fair. Yet we trust each person to know his own business within the law.

We believe that no right is more important than freedom.

Most of all, We Remember.

I’d sign that. You?

February 14, 2010 | 16 Comments

Sussex University: Where You Earn A New Kind of Bachelor’s Degree

In a cost-cutting move, the University of Sussex will largely scrap its History programme. European history will start with 1900. “The university said the cuts were part of a plan to save £3 million, and were in response to a lack of student demand. It added that courses in ‘film, music, media and global studies’ would continue to grow.”

The 2011 University of Sussex Course Catalog

Sussex University: Where you get your degree!

The Sociology of Facebook Who should you ‘friend’ and who should you ignore? What is the best way to ‘un-friend’ a person without hurting her or his or its feelings? The dynamics of interpersonal “net” relationships will be explored on a practical basis. Students will spend their time criticising other students’ status updates and personal photos. By the end of the term, the student must demonstrate proficiency in remotely uploading pictures from any cell phone. Pass-fail only.

Post-Colonialism and Britain’s Got Talent Post-colonial theory entails destabilizing Western way of thinking, which had until recently been thought worthy of emulation. We now know that all cultures are equally good, except Western culture, which is uniformly bad, but only because it still contains vestiges of improper modes of thought. We investigate how, since all are necessarily equally talented, Simon Cowell’s cruel rejections are tolerated on National Television. Students will learn that their assessments of “talent” are just as valid as the “experts’.”

Practical Grievance Mongering 201 This introductory course is the same as Practical Grievance Mongering 602 except that graduate students cannot enroll. Students will form discussion circles and complain about what bothers them. The techniques of inflating minor discomforts into full-blown outrages will be stressed. Crafting politically shrill and effective lists of demands is a central focus. Use of new media is encouraged. Participation in a demonstration or march is mandatory and forms part of the final exam.

Football and Man This is an off-campus extension class. Students will meet Saturdays at the Bull & Shite in Market street. What does it mean to be a member of the “Premier” league? The complexities of alcohol consumption and hooliganism are discovered in a popular practicum. Proper settling of disputes of which team is truly best are covered extensively. Course text (optional): Clough: The Autobiography by Brian Clough.

Video Games and Film A good game does not necessarily translate into a good film. Why? Screenings of Pok̩mon 3: The Movie РSpell of the Unown , Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Resident Evil: Extinction and other follow-up films are emphasized in an attempt to understand how sequels deepen our understanding of the gaming experience. Students will act out scenes from Super Mario Bros. to show why it was right for Bob Hoskins to accept his role as the elder Mario Brother.

Truth and Wikipedia We all accept that what people believe is true. Therefore, those who control what people believe are in a unique position to control truth. With the explosive growth of Wikipedia as the reference tool, it is imperative that students learn how to create and edit entries on this popular engine of belief. Students begin by editing the pages of their favorite movies. By the end of the course, students will be facile at changing historical events to what should have happened.

Playlists: the iPod Culture All students must bring an MP3 player to class and be prepared to divulge their playlists. Students will form groups based on the similarity of these playlists. For the final, students must vocally defend their group’s preferences while simultaneously describing why the other groups’ choices are poor. We also learn the theory of why stealing music isn’t proper theft.

TXTing as Literature Dramatic readings of text messages form the core of this class. Cell phones are mandatory and must be fully charged before each class. Before enrolling, students should consider having their parents sign them up for an unlimited texting plan. Prior familiarity with the website Texts From Last Night is beneficial.

Life Experience Students whose activism keeps them from the classroom will be able to apply up to twelve times for course credit for their genuine, life-affirming experiences. Students are required to show proof that they have been having life experiences during the semester. Printouts of Twitter feeds are now acceptable as proof that the student has been engaged in living.

History Students are encouraged to wear T-shirts of their favorite historical characters, like Brittany Spears, that old science guy with the wild hair, and Harry Potter to class. This enlivens discussion and gives students a sense of realism not found at other universities. For those without the proper gear, a crate of Che Guevara (extra large only) red T-shirts has been generously donated by the Socialist Historians Institute of Tomorrow. There is no text for the course. Instead, movies which mention historical subjects will be screened.

Update Monday morning. I don’t know how long it will last, but we made the front page of Sussex University. Under “Blogs about Sussex.” It just links right back here. Must have been the result of a robot. I hope.

February 3, 2010 | 27 Comments

Malthus Was Wrong, But Not Why You Think

It’s hard to think of a historical writer more misunderstood than Thomas Malthus. A week doesn’t go by without somebody dropping his name, but only to show how wrong he was.

Take this Stephen Malanga City Journal article, “Our Vanishing Ultimate Resource: Plummeting birthrates threaten prosperity worldwide. Can America buck the trend?

Malanga writes that the “media continue to warn us about impending environmental catastrophe and mass starvation caused by an exploding human population. These Malthusian alarms persist even though the last 200 years have proved Malthus completely wrong.”

Malthusian alarms! Well, I don’t blame Malanga, because you cannot find our good Reverend named in any context other than as a failed forecaster in the same vein as Paul “Population Bomb” Ehrlich. Everybody thinks that Malthus predicted doom by overpopulation.

Not so.

Malthus’s theory was a steady state one. He said that a species will breed up to the point at which no more of it can be fed. He made the logically undeniable point that no more of a species can exist than can be supported by the available food supply. The population will increase and stay at those levels and cannotbecause there is no food to—go beyond that point. The doom of which you constantly hear is impossible. Stay here until you understand this. This applies to man, too.

What Malthus said was that a species was always at its limit—barring disasters, wars, famines, booms (exceptionally good harvests), “unnatural practices” (by which he meant abortion and homosexuality), and so on. Charles Darwin saw the brilliance of Malthus’s theory and married it to his idea of evolution: that species are always competing for food provided the mechanism to drive evolution. Those that were better at finding food, survived.

But Malthus was wrong about our species, and exactly in the opposite direction you commonly hear. Man has not bred up to the point that he can be supported by the available food supply. Man does not follow the strict theory of evolution.

NOTE: this does not imply that that theory is wrong overall; merely that it is incomplete with respect to our species; e.g., strict Darwinan “selfish genes” theory does not sufficiently explain abortion, altruism, and adoption, to name just the As.

In fact, mankind has turned out to be quite a slacker, survival-of-the-fittest-wise. As things get better, we breed not more, but less. Take a look at this picture, which shows the estimated World population since 1950.

World Population

Looks like nowhere to go but up, right? If so, this is yet another example of how to cheat with statistics. Take a look at the same numbers, but shown as the velocity, or rate of change of population.

World Population Velocity

That hatchet-notch around 1960 was caused by yet another attempt to create a socialist paradise in China (it’ll work next time, right?). Centrally-planned famine wiped out a good chunk of humanity.

However, Malthus would be at a loss—as we are—to explain the drop-off starting around 1990. True, part of it is due to good old communist stick-to-itiveness: China is vigorously aborting a fairly large fraction of its pre-women, and some pre-men, in its “one-child” policy (they misread Malthus, too).

But weirder is the trend in the West, where the beer is always cold, grocery stores overflow, over 500 channels are on demand, and there is plenty of room to grow. In short: life is good. But people are not celebrating their success in the way they would have in the days before electricity.

Following strict utilitarian principles, some of us are willingly giving up the passing on of our genes. We are not competing for our survival.

Don’t believe it? Then look at Japan. Is there are more technologically advanced civilization? Low crime, more than enough food, and talk about healthy? These people regularly pop out past the century mark. Surely, they must be beavering away producing the next generation. Here are the numbers:

Japan Population

The dip is obvious, even in the raw numbers. And remember: demographic forecasts are almost always right, at least at the decadel level. It’s easy to count people, and breeding new humans takes about a year. Makes it easy to guess what will happen in the short term.

But you don’t have to accept the prediction. Just look at the velocity.

Japan Population Velocity

A line that straight downhill is spooky: it cries out for a cause. It is such a steep slope that it appears there was a national decision, after some initial indecision before the 1970s, to stop having babies.

Can a civilization exhaust itself? Turn so inward and self-indulgent? Is there some hidden virus or amoeba acting to suppress the desire to breed? Maybe an adequate diet—in exact opposition to theory—causes that suppression.

It isn’t just Japan. It’s Italy, Sweden, Germany, Austria, and on and on. Even the “developing” countries show signs of the same disease: the better they get (materially) the less they breed. So far, the US is holding its own and still getting to business. Nobody knows why.

Malanga says it’s because we lack an overly strong government. But if he’s right, and since our government has only grown stronger, then the US will be on the same downward path soon.