Natural Experiment On Gun Availability

If you give the people weapons, is this good or is it bad?
I suppose it all depends upon their aims
Up to now, there’ve been no data, so the arguments we’ve had
All rely on someone’s a priori claims

“But of course we’d be much safer if most everyone was armed!—
Cos the criminals would know they could be shot!”
“No!—more guns would mean more shootings, and more children being harmed!”
But it’s arguments, not evidence, we’ve got.

Now a natural experiment (Missouri” is its name)
Has an answer—and for some, it’s no surprise;
Cos a jump in shooting homicides has policy to blame—
Ease of access means that murder rates will rise.

Via the BBC today, a report (from the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, like yesterday’s post) on a natural experiment on the effects of gun control legislation. Missouri, in 2007, repealed their requirement for licensing and vetting by local law enforcement before purchasing a handgun. So… was this good or bad? My gun-loving friends would predict an immediate drop in crime, now that handguns are easier to purchase, and potential victims are more likely to be armed. The data?

Reporting soon in the Journal of Urban Health, the researchers will say that the repeal resulted in an immediate spike in gun violence and murders.

The study links the abandonment of the background check to an additional 60 or so murders occurring per year in Missouri between 2008 and 2012.

“Coincident exactly with the policy change, there was an immediate upward trajectory to the homicide rates in Missouri,” said Prof Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

“That upward trajectory did not happen with homicides that did not involve guns; it did not occur to any neighbouring state; the national trend was doing the opposite – it was trending downward; and it was not specific to one or two localities – it was, for the most part, state-wide,” he told BBC News.

So… stopping a bad guy with a gun might involve making it harder for that bad guy to get the gun in the first place. According to the data. Which might explain why the NRA worked so hard to keep the data from being compiled and analyzed.

These arguments, these questions–they do have answers. There are data that could be examined. We need not simply argue from first principles.

And my friends who believe that the most important freedoms of all are those protected by the second amendment can start framing their arguments in terms of how many lives this freedom is worth. Freedom isn’t free, after all. We can *expect* a cost in human lives–like in war, some things are worth a cost in blood and lives.

So… 60 extra murders per year in just one state. Freedom isn’t free. But hey, these deaths buy you the ability to buy a handgun without a background check! So you can feel safer! Mind you, the actual data show that this feeling is an illusion, but you have a right to this illusion!

A Heart-Felt Love Ode To Antonin Scalia

It must be depressing, to be a Scalia,
To see your words twisted in so many ways
To see your dissent—Windsor’s warning—adorning
The arguments cited in favor of gays!
Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky—how lucky
The activists were, that you wrote your dissent!
Your snarking in Windsor turned, now, to a how-to;
They probably know that it’s not what you meant!

I guess, in a way, we’re all grateful you’re hateful,
And focus your efforts on showing your wit;
Your sarcasm-laced “neener-neener” demeanor
Proved useful—well, after we translate a bit.
You couldn’t resist, so, self-smitten, you’ve written
A road map to marriage as federal right
So, much as you think we abuse it, we’ll use it,
And thank you, Scalia, for shining your light.

Context here, here, here, here, and here.

Missing From The Picture

The argument was lengthy;
It was fervid; it was strong;
Both participants were certain
That the other one was wrong:

Was the object of contention
A potential, or a child?
Just a maybe, or a baby
With a list of rights compiled?

Is it murder of an innocent
When choosing to abort?
The argument was wholly framed
In questions of this sort

For years, it seems, they stood their ground
And argued with each other…
And not a thought was wasted
On the wishes of the mother.

So, yeah, I saw an article in the National Catholic Register: The War On Religion Is Real And We Are Losing.

These days, we hear so much about “the war on …” this or that, we have learned to drown it out as hyperbolic nonsense promoted by those with an agenda. The war on women is a perfect example.
But I am here to tell you that the war on religion is real and religion is losing–big time.
Being religious is about putting what you believe into every day practice. That is they call it practicing your religion.
But increasingly, the State is imposing barriers to practice of your religion anywhere but in your head or heart. Out here in the real world, religion has no place.

Yes… the fact that the Church is not allowed to impose its desires on the rest of society, through Catholic-approved hospital procedures, through dictating what employees can and cannot have in their earned benefits packages, through (yes, even this!) the requirement that public businesses not be allowed to discriminate! What the rest of us recognize as the reeling in of privilege, this article saw as an attack on the God-given rights of the church. It’s a real war… unlike that silly “war” on women. There is no war on women. “War”, after all, implies that both sides are armed.

But today’s verse is not really about the article. It’s about the comments. I know, I know, never read the comments! But I really did find it astonishing, just how much concern there was for the only person involved–the preborn child. The discussion of the fetus, like the pictures on the protester’s placards, is remarkably devoid of any sight of the woman whose body quite literally surrounds the issue.

We are told that “science tells us” that the baby is its own unique person, with rights. Oddly enough, I think science might also tell us that the woman is a person as well, but this is not mentioned. We are told that “proper medical care” of the mother is only proper when the baby’s welfare is given equal weight (in practice, this can mean that if one dies, both must), because both are equally complete human beings. Good thing the church cares so much it is willing to do the deciding for everybody–everybody gets the same freedom when everybody is the Church’s puppet.

I would love, some time, for the debate to be framed around the woman. She is nothing less than invisible. There is a reason for that; there is no defense once the woman is acknowledged. The church has no right to make her decisions.

Related:
Jennifer, Jennifer
Fetal Testimony
God Is Pro-Choice (Just Anti-Woman)

Nonhuman Rights On Trial

An octopus solves puzzles;
A chimpanzee can add
An elephant expresses
When it’s happy or it’s sad

A finch that’s after grub-worms
Uses twigs and thorns as tools
We thought them foolish animals
They showed us we’re the fools

A honeybee has language, and
A cunning corvid plans—
Though different in important ways
From those we know as Man’s

The differences grow smaller, though,
So don’t yet raise a cup;
Today’s report is sobering….
The apes have lawyered up.

From the NYTimes article:

The Nonhuman Rights Project, an advocacy group led by Steven M. Wise, filed writs of habeas corpus in New York last week on behalf of four captive chimpanzees: Tommy, owned by a Gloversville couple; two at Stony Brook University; and one at the Primate Sanctuary in Niagara Falls. The lawsuits were dismissed, but Mr. Wise said he planned to appeal.

I was going to make a snarky comment about how we can surely afford to give animals all the rights and courtesies we give one another, simply because humans are so terrible to each other already… then I remembered the last circus I went to. And the last local “animal park”. And it took all the snark right out of me.

At The Soup Kitchen…

We’re here to feed the hungry,
And the homeless, and the poor;
We want to help the helpless—
That’s what charity is for;
We’re giving aid to folks whose lives
Have gone from bad to worse…
And with every meal we package,
We’ll include a bible verse.

Our priority is helping
So we give you what you need
There are times, we know, a dinner
Is a welcome thing indeed!
So we’ve made a thick and hearty soup
To ladle into bowls…
We’re here to feed your bodies
Oh, and maybe, save your souls

Though we know that you’re in trouble
Still, we’d never try to cheat—
Yes, you’d listen to a sermon
For a decent bite to eat
But our charity is focused
On your hunger, not your heart…
If we serve the Holy Bible,
Then we do it a la carte.

Since we’re focusing on feeding,
You can tell we’re doing good
We won’t force some false conversion
Even though we know we could—
Not religious in the slightest,
Helping families in need…
But for atheists to help us? Why,
That’s nothing short of greed!

They would handicap our mission;
Why, it’s patently absurd!
It’s impossible to feed the poor
And not promote God’s word!
They would compromise our message:
“Only God is Love”—and so…
When they volunteered to help us
We were forced to tell them “No!”

Yeah, you’ve probably heard all about this, from Hemant, or JT, or Ed… so I’m not the first. But the people I want to link are the good folks at The Blaze. I mean, in this story, the people on the side of right are so clearly the atheists–how is your average Blaze reader to respond?

It’s a beautiful study in cognitive dissonance. Christians like us can’t be the baddies, so there are two options left, and they are ridden for all they are worth. These are not true Christians, you know, because reasons. Or… they were right to do this, because I wouldn’t want to eat food that an atheist touched, anyway (I did not make that one up). The atheists were only doing it for the publicity, anyway, and for the chance to spread their evil message… unlike the Christians, who were doing it for … all the right reasons, of course.

Hey, ’tis the season.

Finally, A Pick-up Guide That Works!

How to pick up women (with science)“, by Dean Burnett, over at the Guardian.

Since the dawn of humanity, when virile men were knuckle-dragging troglodytes untouched by evolution
They needed to pick up women, and looked to experts for a solution
These pick-up artists (or in some special cases, artistes)
Took pity on the manly beasts
And told them that women would respond to certain subtle cues
That experts use.
For millennia, men have tried to use these artists’ information
With little to no success, but with a fervor brought about by desperation
Imagine, now, their joy at discovering a new set of techniques in which they can put their reliance
That uses science!
So, troglodytes, it’s time for you to abandon useless pick-up schools
And follow these rules!

(having read the url, I was reluctant to click–but since it was sent to me by my pal Kylie, I knew I could trust it. And so can you. Well worth reading. My favorite technique is “the Skinner”, harnessing the tremendous power of operant conditioning)

Respect vs Seduction

So, Ophelia writes of an embarrassingly horrible bit of “advice” from askmen.com, which I really had a hard time believing was not satire–honestly, I kept scrolling to the bottom of the page, expecting then to write a deconstruction, a “can you believe anyone would suggest this?” addendum to the column. It was as if the whole thing was written by the “dear Penthouse” brain trust.

It got me thinking… What would it look like, to promote an actual healthy approach to relationships, instead of a predatory seduction model?

My attempt is not perfect–but it can’t be all things at once. First, feel free to switch around pronouns at will, cos as is it’s very hetero (cos I was responding to the situation pointed out by Ophelia, above). It still reads like sex is the ultimate goal, but I did want it to be sex-positive. Which kind of excludes another group… so, yeah, in three stanzas, I can’t even please me, let alone everybody else.

But y’know? I think I did better in three stanzas than askmen did in 10 pages.

He took her to a movie, and he took her for a drink
He liked what he was seeing, but it isn’t what you think
Insuring she was sober, he invited her to bed
She said she’d rather wait a bit… they watched TV instead.

She liked the way he treated her; she liked the way he looked
She liked his taste in music, and she loved the food he cooked
She wanted to be closer, and she told him her desire
He’d rather take it slowly, so they cuddled by the fire

He loves her sense of humor, and she loves the jokes he tells
She loves the way he holds her, and he loves the way she smells
It’s really not mysterious; it’s really not complex
It’s warmth, respect, and friendship… Oh, and now, it’s tons of sex.

Time To Bring Back Public Whippings! (Or, Maybe, Not)

We’re pampering our prisoners
We’re treating them like guests
Instead of just ignoring them
We honor their requests

Free food, a bed, and exercise,
We cater to their needs
When what they’ve earned is punishment
It’s harshness that succeeds

No coddling them with training,
Cos they’ll never get a job
No need for education,
Cos a slob remains a slob

No TV time, no DVDs,
No books upon the shelves
These thugs want entertainment?
Let them work it out themselves

Let’s lock them in a tiny cell
And throw away the key
Unless it hurts, it really isn’t
Punishment, to me

We’ll show them, in the clearest terms,
What vengeance is about…
I wonder how they’ll thank us
When it’s time to let them out

You’ve probably all heard by now, Ariel Castro was found dead, having apparently hanged himself. As the poster child for horrible and criminal behavior, you’ll have to search a ways before you’ll find anyone mourning his death. Well, aside from those wishing he was still alive so that he could be dying more slowly; those voices are easy to hear.

And even at NPR, where accusations of liberal bias (in reporting and in commenting) are commonplace, the commenters are currently bemoaning the conditions of our prisons, arguing that they need to be harsher, more punishing, so that they do the job they were supposed to do and prevent crime rehabilitate offenders punish evildoers.

These commenters are wrong. You want the most successful prisons, in terms of low recidivism rates, low operating cost, and successful integration of inmates into society when their sentences are up? Let’s compare the US and Norway.

But of course, those are horrible measures of prisoner effectiveness if the real goal of a prison is to assign moral responsibility and punish wicked people. (Or to make money.) I have asked audiences which hypothetical they would choose, a simple procedure that would make certain a criminal would never commit a crime again, and would instead be a productive member of society, or a procedure that would punish that criminal harshly, with no effect on future behavior. A strong majority go for the punishment. (BTW, a strong case can be made that this is a holdover from religious thinking during the Reformation–the blossoming of the prescientific notion of freely chosen, morally culpable behavior. We can’t prevent it, cos it’s freely chosen, but we can and should punish the morally responsible actor, regardless of whether that punishment decreases crime.)

And with Ariel Castro as the poster child, there will be no one, or very few, arguing that our prisons are already too harsh for society’s good, that an overhaul of the system would be hugely beneficial (especially for non-privileged groups). Differential arrests, convictions, and sentences by race? No time for that, there’s a monster in Cleveland who deserves harsher punishment! We would rather punish after the fact than make our streets safer before. We would rather pay for prisons than schools and scholarships. We would rather blame a handful of criminals after the fact, than our own failure to improve society beforehand.

It’s so much easier.

Everything Old Is New Again (Or, Sex With Robots)

As predictable as clockwork,
Or some finely crafted gears—
We forget about the last one
So the latest one appears

It’s designed to gather eyeballs
Both to titillate and vex—
It’s an article (with pictures)
Probing human-robot sex

Yup… this time, it’s the BBC with “Will we ever want to have sex with robots?“. In 2007, the now-defunct Cognitive Daily asked “Will humans marry robots in 50 years”, which prompted this bit of musing from me. In 2009, the big news was HRP-4C (also mentioned in the Beeb’s current piece), which also got its (her?) own verse here. I may have missed the 2011 version, or perhaps I just reposted the old verses… but now enough time has passed that we are once again being asked if or when people will be having sex with robots.

But something is different this time. In 2007… well, here, something from today’s piece:

In 2007, the British chess player and artificial intelligence (AI) expert David Levy said in his book, Love and Sex with Robots, we would be having sex with robots in five years – and be capable of falling in love with them within 40 years.

His argument is based on improvements in robotic engineering and computer programming – and extrapolating from the income generated by the porn industry each year.

Such robots would be a “terrific service” for mankind, he argued.

Well… a terrific service, in that it finally rids us of the need to treat our sexual partners as human beings. Because that is a huge, pressing problem, and the way to address it is not to teach us how to treat one another properly (really, honestly, is it too much to expect people to find enthusiastic consent sexy?) but to invest in machines that allow us to have absolute control instead.

But… for once, the old faithful story addresses this, just a bit:

“It is time to reconsider the premise that a robot is better than nothing,” says Sherry Turkle, psychologist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Because, if you are trying to solve the problem of care and companionship with a robot, you are not trying to solve it with the people you need to solve it with – friends, family, community.”

There’s a bit more there, but they did the job of writing it, so you can give them the traffic.

The Pronoun Game

The media say
Bradley Manning, today
Has decided he’s making a change
He’s making a stand
With his latest demand
But reactions have been a bit… strange.

Cos as far as I see,
It’s all “Bradley” and “he”
Like the networks are sharing one plan
But it’s Chelsea, you see,
(And the pronoun is “she”)
Who’s stopped living her life as a man

So… on Here and Now, on NPR, the hosts announced Manning’s request, and that they would be referring to her as Chelsea from now on. But the rest of NPR (at least while I was listening) was not on the same page. Most of the news sources that I have seen have struggled a bit, most often landing on “he” and “Bradley”.

This blog, unless I suffer some sharp blow to the head at some point, will speak of her as Chelsea. Comments, too, please. My house, my rules.

Ok, that’s done. The real reason for this post was to point you to Zinnia’s blog (I’m sure most of you are already readers), where Lauren simply rocks.