Unhelpful Pedantry in discourse

Disclaimer: I teach math (and occasionally do math) for a living. I understand the necessity of precise language in certain situations. When it comes to, say, a mathematical theorem, meeting the hypothesis matters!

But when it comes to discussing the issues of the day, being inappropriately pedantic gets in the way.

One big example is the issue of “assault guns” in the hands of civilians. Sometimes, hard core 2’nd Amendment supporters chide liberal gun control advocates for “not knowing what an assault weapon is” or even claiming that “assault weapon” is a meaningless term.

Let’s be clear: though most who have a strong opinion on this issue is NOT a firearms expert, what is meant here is a weapon that

  1. Fires a military grade round at a military grade muzzle velocity
  2. Has a magazine that can hold multiple rounds
  3. Can fire multiple shots very quickly (not automatically) without jamming
  4. Is semiautomatic (self loading, though the trigger has to be pressed for each shot)

And yes, I know; the better known weapons (AR-15, AK-47) are examples of this kind of weapon, but are far from the only kinds out there.

They gun people know these things; one survivalist put it this way: (paraphrasing as I lost track of the book): if you have supplies like food and water, others might try to take them from you. What do you defend yourself with? Using a sporting rifle against well armed intruders is just noisy suicide.
(not my thoughts, but I cannot find the reference)

Well, the rifle that you’d want in such extreme conditions (that you can legally obtain sans a lot of extra hoops to jump through) is what we’d call an “assault rifle.”

People like me do not believe that civilians should have possession of weapons which are military caliber weapons without the automatic setting. These are for killing people effectively (or causing horrific wounds).

Jerry Coyne’s blog has a nice post on this topic.

Note: this issue is one where we have to start from where we are (our country has a LOT of these type of weapons) and we are very divided. I don’t see how a ban could work. And if you think that we have any prayer of repealing the Second Amendment, you are delusional :

Sure..we can’t even get 50 Senate votes…LOL.

I hesitate to point out that it isn’t just the conservatives that are guilty of this.

Think of Critical Race Theory and K-12 education. Technically, CRT is really a law school caliber theory to help lawyers and judges apply the law more fairly. So, no, you aren’t getting CRT in grade school.

But that is NOT what is meant when parents complain about CRT.

As Yascha Mounk writes:

The idea that critical race theory is an academic concept that is taught only at colleges or law schools might be technically accurate, but the reality on the ground is a good deal more complicated. Few middle or high schoolers are poring over academic articles written by Richard Delgado or Kimberlé Crenshaw. But across the nation, many teachers have, over the past years, begun to adopt a pedagogical program that owes its inspiration to ideas that are very fashionable on the academic left, and that go well beyond telling students about America’s copious historical sins.

In some elementary and middle schools, students are now being asked to place themselves on a scale of privilege based on such attributes as their skin color. History lessons in some high schools teach that racism is not just a persistent reality but the defining feature of America. And some school systems have even embraced ideas that spread pernicious prejudices about nonwhite people, as when a presentation to principals of New York City public schools denounced virtues such as “perfectionism” or the “worship of the written word” as elements of “white-supremacy culture.”

And parents ARE concerned and have a right to be. In my own state, a school received attention because it decided to stop “giving 0’s in the gradebook” for work not turned in because they felt that such a standard is unfair to minority students. (Note: the article I linked to has a very misleading headline: there are NOT race based standards; the standard would apply to all students in said school).

I am old enough to remember the segregation/integration wars, and I remember one argument that segregationists used was that integration would lead to an erosion of standards.

I am NOT saying that the liberal wokes are the same as the racists; they are NOT. But some of their policy prescriptions sure reminds me of stuff the racists used to say (disclaimer: I am Latino and I am sensitive to accusations that whatever success I have had was due to my meeting a lower standard).

My point: dismissing the concerns of parents by saying “LOL..your kid isn’t learning CRT” is to miss the point. It hurts dialogue and..on a political level, hurts Democrats.

Bonus topic

Yes, I’ve frequently been more critical of Democrats than Republicans for the following reason: I’ve voted Democrats for years. The current Republicans are the party of COVID denial..the party of taking deworm medicine for COVID..the party of climate change denial..the party of eroding voting rights. I want nothing to do with modern Republicans; there are no Romney/Bush/Rockerfeller/McCain types that I’d consider voting for (at the national level)

They are the party of this type of insanity:

So, I want Democrats to win, even if I can’t stand some of the social stuff they do. But my goodness, too many Democrats campaign as if they are trying to win over NPR listeners, college professors and Unitarians.

Some thoughts on this topic: Bill Maher asks Democrats to dial back on appealing to our extreme factions:

More along these line…

Race neutrality and policy: why I favor it

One of the reasons I am a Democrat is I believe that government can help make its citizen’s lives for the better; for me that includes things like safety nets for those falling on hard times AND stimulus for the economically disadvantaged.

Of course, one doesn’t get the policy that one favors unless those politicians that favor such policies get elected in large enough numbers to pass said policies, and that means winning votes from enough people.

So, how does one “get the votes?”

Given the make up of the US, the important body is the Senate, which gives 2 Senators for each state. This is important.

Now if one wants to pass some race specific policy, say one that specifically benefits Black people, one has to get enough votes to get it through the Senate. An important fact: 15 states have fewer that 5 percent Black people, and 28 have fewer than 10 percent. That represents 30 and 56 Senators respectively. The “Black vote” (which, of course, isn’t 100 percent monolithic anyway) cannot carry much, in and of itself.

And it appears that race neutral remedies are more popular with the public, on the whole. Via Matt Yglesias:

Joe Biden lost Florida this year even while winning the national popular vote by a large margin. That’s a clear sign that this longtime swing state is settling down with a distinctly reddish hue. At the same time, a referendum to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15/hour secured over 60 percent of the vote — a clear sign that this issue appeals across party lines. Polls from Pew and others routinely show 40 percent or more of self-identified Republicans backing minimum wage increases, along with overwhelming support from Democrats.

And the support isn’t just theoretical. In the 2018 cycle, states as red as Missouri and Arkansas approved minimum wage increases at the ballot box.

At the very same time, California’s Proposition 16 — which would have re-legalized affirmative action in college admissions and state contracting decisions — lost soundly in a much more progressive state where less than 40 percent of the population is non-Hispanic white.

Whatever the specific merits of these ideas, the political lesson seems fairly clear. Raising the minimum wage is more popular than the generic Democratic Party brand, while race-conscious admissions and contracting policies are less so.

He goes on to conjecture that perhaps that lesson is NOT learned on college campuses, where racial justice type programs are better received than programs to help the financially poor students. I talked more about this here.

What got me to thinking about this issue was this recent tweet from a professor:

Of course, it is important for policy experts to know the facts; and it doesn’t hurt if the public knows them as well.

But will saying “group A is much poorer than the rest of us” really drive people NOT from that group to back aid to set group?

My guess is “NO”: in the US, there is evidence that the poor and those with lesser levels of achievement are looked down on..possibly with contempt, disgust and disdain:

So pointing out that a group is not doing well might not be helpful in gaining support target to that specific group.

So, I think it would be wise to “market” such programs and policies in a race/group neutral way…and do so in an aspirational way…in terms of previous successful slogans: “Hand up, NOT hand out” and “Yes, We Can.”

Unfortunately, this goes against the grain of the “woke” wing of the party.

I hasten to point out that I am NOT saying that the logic of some of the wokes is faulty: one can point out that, in addition to segregation being legal and enforced IN MY OWN LIFETIME, one can point out practices like “redlining” and making it hard (if not impossible) for Black veterans to benefit from post WW II GI Bill programs directly impacted the current wealth inequality.

Nevertheless, when trying to win support from the majority (or plurality) that isn’t in that group, one has to take into account human psychology and to hit the right emotional tone. Something race neutral that disproportionally helps Black Americans might be more easy to get passed in Congress and signed into law.

It might not seem fair..and it might not BE fair. But policy is what we need and sometimes “by any means necessary” means communicating and packaging helpful policy in a way that does not alienate the voters that we need to have.

Encore post: religiosity vs homicide rate (by country)

Note: I wrote this for my old blog after the Sandy Hook shootings. And little has changed since then; you still have those saying “we need GOD back in our schools”, as if that would solve anything.

So I decided to crunch some data (this was from 10 years ago, of course) and to the surprise of no one, religiosity positively correlated with homicide rate.

Note: I am NOT suggesting that religiosity leads to the desire to murder; it is likely linked to poverty or possibly a coping mechanism for a violent world.

The encore post follows:

There was a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut today, and 27 people are dead (mostly kids). Of course this is horrible; I can’t imagine the reaction from the other kids, parents, grandparents and other loved ones. My heart goes out to them.

Some perspective: where the death of a kid is sad, and more shocking when it is unexpected and enraging when it is as the result of an intentional, senseless act, death from these events is not the biggest risk that kids have. Here is a bigger one that doesn’t make the headlines (because it doesn’t kill as many at one time):

In 2009, a total of 1,314 children age 14 and younger were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes. Of those 1,314 fatalities, 181 (14%) occurred in alcohol-impaired driving crashes. Out of those 181 deaths, 92 (51%) were occupants of a vehicle with a driver who had a BAC level of .08 or higher, and another 27 children (15%) were pedestrians or pedalcyclists struck by drivers with a BAC of .08 or higher.

In short, drunk driving crackdowns can save more kids than, say, potential measures to prevent such massacres.

And don’t even get me started on wars…

But what about this event? Of course, the debates over gun control open up full throttle. You will see: “we need more gun control” and “guns don’t kill people” and “if only the teachers or others were armed, they could have killed the gunman.” Yeah, sure, to the latter.

And of course, we have the usual: “see, God let it happen because we turned away from God”:

(uh, the less religious countries have much lower rates of violent deaths than we do) I’ll post some data at the end of this post.

But while I have an argument that makes sense to me, I realize that I had little or no data to back up my argument. So I found an article that did pose some data:

So what are the factors that are associated with firearm deaths at the state level?

Poverty is one. The correlation between death by gun and poverty at the state level is .59.

An economy dominated by working class jobs is another. Having a high percentage of working class jobs is closely associated with firearm deaths (.55).

And, not surprisingly, firearm-related deaths are positively correlated with the rates of high school students that carry weapons on school property (.54).

What about politics? It’s hard to quantify political rhetoric, but we can distinguish blue from red states. Taking the voting patterns from the 2008 presidential election, we found a striking pattern: Firearm-related deaths were positively associated with states that voted for McCain (.66) and negatively associated with states that voted for Obama (-.66). Though this association is likely to infuriate many people, the statistics are unmistakable. Partisan affiliations alone cannot explain them; most likely they stem from two broader, underlying factors – the economic and employment makeup of the states and their policies toward guns and gun ownership.

Firearm deaths were far less likely to occur in states with higher levels of college graduates (-.64) and more creative class jobs (-.52).

Gun deaths were also less likely in states with higher levels of economic development (with a correlation of -.32 to economic output) and higher levels of happiness and well-being (-.41).

And for all the terrifying talk about violence-prone immigrants, states with more immigrants have lower levels of gun-related deaths (the correlation between the two being -.34).

Of course, these are STATISTICAL findings (e. g., Connecticut is a blue state); and yes, we have gun deaths in Illinois…a LOT of them, especially in Chicago.

Here is another list of facts about mass shootings: the US is more prone to these than other countries (duh) and the mere presence of more guns doesn’t lead to more gun deaths (Switzerland is an example). Switzerland does require firearms training though.

Data on Religiosity Vs. Homicide rate (reposted from an earlier blogpost about theater shootings)

WASHINGTON — Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said Friday that the shootings that took place in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater hours earlier were a result of “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs” and questioned why nobody else in the theater had a gun to take down the shooter.

I suppose that if I had a different upbringing, I’d laugh at such absurd statements. Unfortunately, I grew up among superstitious people who think EXACTLY like that. Whereas I am grateful I no longer have to associate with that crowd, I feel the need to point to, well, statistical evidence. Let’s look at homicide rates by country:
(rates: per 100,000 population; the US rate is 4.8 per 100,000; we rank 27’th:

Our religiosity rate (by the “unimportant” rating) is 34.5 percent, which is 42’nd (less religious is higher in this scale).

What do you notice? That’s right; the less religious countries are also LESS violent.

I decided to run a regression on the religiosity versus homicide rate; here “x” is “percent saying that religion is UNIMPORTANT” and “y” is homicides per 100,000 population.

The regression formula is y = 23.4 – 29.8 x which means that the the higher percentage of the population saying that religion is unimportant, the lower the homicide rate.

The plot is a bit of a mess:

Vertical axis: homicide rates per 100,000 population. Horizontal axis: percentage of population saying that “religion is unimportant” That is about as clear as it gets, though the relation is non-linear (and really shouldn’t be either).

and of course, this is highly non-linear; r^2 = .153.

Then look at the US prison population (FBI statistics):

In **1997**, the Federal Bureau of Prisons released the professed religious adherence rate of those in the U.S. Federal Prison system.

Christians make up about 80% of the American population AND prison population.

However, Atheists make up about 8% of the American population but only 0.2% of the prison population.

Bottom line: atheists are LESS likely to commit crimes than believers, though some of that might be due to factors such as educational level.

In any event, there is zero evidence for the claim that being religious and believing in superstitions makes someone more moral.

Opinion: we will do NOTHING about our gun violence problem.

Oh, I’ve heard it before: “gee, 90 percent of the public including 77 percent of Republicans support background checks.” And yes, polls say that people support background checks…but when it comes to closing the loophole that allows for gun sales if the background check hasn’t been done in 3 days..not so much.

And in 2016, background check measures were on the general election ballots in Nevada and Maine, two states that Hillary Clinton won. Result: about 50-50; narrow win in Nevada and narrow loss in Maine.

As for the assault rifles (a military rifle with the civilian version having the automatic feature disabled ) we see that Iowa has a bill on the governor’s desk…which allows for deer hunting with AR-15s.

Bottom line: there is no real public will to do anything. The conservatives will say stupid things like “arm the teachers” or “battle harden the schools” but, in reality, their attitude is more “hey, in a free country, stuff happens.” Example:

Satirical Accounts: why I like them

I admit that I enjoy certain types of satire accounts.

My favorite is an academic one; one that openly lampoons the absurd aspects of higher education:

She has 121.2 K followers. Her posts are often met with “you MUST be at our university”; her posts are just so on point.

I like Titania McGrath who makes fun of excessive wokeness: (this thread is hilarious)

“She” has 710.8 K followers.

Here is one that lampoons conservatives of a certain type:

Walter has 142 K followers.

And there is a way followers react to his post: we copy his diction and themes …and for the offended liberal that doesn’t get the joke but reacts with umbrage: we call that “being Waltered.”

Then there is 3yearletterman:

Hey plays the part of an ignorant person who peaked in high school and boasts about mundane things (“I have a 4 figure checking account” “so many youth football championship rings that I cannot turn door handles”)

But the best part: he spouts absolutely ridiculous gibberish…and sometimes even a genuine celebrity will play along! (e. g. Jim Palmer, former Oriole pitching great).

But the best part is when some clueless, sanctimonious scold will come in to tell us what a bunch of idiots we are…that is when we pounce with “bet you don’t have a reserved table at Beef O’Brady’s” etc. (these are things that “Coach” routinely brags about)

Sometimes, they eventually get the joke. But it is hilarious when they don’t; it is kind of fun to watch the sanctimonious know-it-alls work themselves into a froth over what should have been obvious to see.

He has 301K followers. And he has been quoted by Newsweek! (who eventually realized their error)

Social and political rants and quips

Yes, COVID is back; yes, that is hospitalizations too. The rates are still much lower than what they once were but they are creeping up again. This time: few care. Yes, I am masking up when indoors around others but I am one of the tiny percentage that still does so.

Curiously, people see me masked and tend to give me a wide berth …no ridicule as yet.

Social/Political: I find the discourse to be amusing.

And I think Republicans understand this better than Democrats do: Hence, our inability to communicate effectively with voters.

As bad as Republicans are on policy, they will annihilate us on things like this:

Republican ad: “Democrats think that men have babies. Can you trust them on important issues?” D’s will respond either by screaming “transphobia” or with a power point science lecture about gender dysphoria and how someone can have a vagina and a uterus but have “male” characteristics in other ways.

But..Republicans have Q-anon and other things, right? But there are two huge differences:

  1. The Republican party is more homogeneous; they have the wealthy and the white working class..quickly adding working classes of other ethnic groups.
  2. The Republican crazy is kind of out there (until abortion..ok..that deserves its own post). Democrat “crazy” appears to affect daily life more closely: “Defund the Police => less safety”. “Transwomen ARE the same as genetic women” => your daughter has to compete in sports against genetic males. “Wokeness” => dreary, insulting “Diversity and inclusion training” and 40 pronouns.

What Republicans can get away with is not what we can get away with.

I know people don’t like Bill Maher but:

Blocking and social media

In what is now an unusual move for me: I blocked someone on Facebook. Normally, I just unfollow and put on my restricted list (so they don’t see “friends only” post). Ok, I tend to do that with people that were once active in my life that I now find annoying.

The issue: I was trying to explain to people that, yes, loans carry interest and that if your payment doesn’t cover the interest accrued during the period, the amount owed goes up.

Someone tried to argue that banks get “virtually free” loans from the Fed (true..to cover the reserve requirement, though they get even lower rates from other banks). And of course, administrative costs and risk costs must be covered as well.

But, this was one of those “why can’t you get that” remarks coming from a rather “dull but unaware of it” type person; someone I had no prior relationship with. So, “boom”, went the block. (on Twitter: I mute; I don’t mind their ranting into the Ether; I just don’t want to engage)

Yes, I have a double standard If I have a relationship with the person, especially one that goes back several years, AND if I like said person, I give a lot more leeway.

If that person has special knowledge that I can gain from I might put up with more.

But having dull people think that I am an idiot…I get enough of that at my job from some of the worst students. I am paid for that; I am not paid for social media.

And yes, like the old song; sometimes the one you love doesn’t love you back (as friends). Yes, there are a few that I like better than like me..I can deal with that. And yes, I give them more leeway too.

And, much to no one’s surprise, most I have blocked tend to be left wing. It is easy to see why (that is who I tend to associate with)

Are liberals interested in winning elections or winning in policy?

A few things struck me. One was the protests outside of SCOTUS justices homes. If you read the opinion article I linked to, you’ll find a common theme: their expecting ruling is so awful they deserve this.

There have been marches, other protests and slogans such as “My Body, My Choice.” Such slogans really do not convince..even if I agree with them.

This is a bit of a digression but here goes: the anti-choice people see abortion as the murder of a baby. To them, it is the same (so they say) as if you took a 1 month newborn and just killed it. And this is why “oh, so you don’t care about the baby after it is born” responses fail to convince. One can believe that murdering a 1 month old baby is murder but still believe that it is up to the PARENTS to care for that baby; that is not inconsistent.

Dakwins argues that the counter would be to challenge the assumption that a fetus is the same as a kid; of course it isn’t. After all, in a fire, would you prioritize saving a new born or some frozen embryos? Easy choice.

But that was a digression…

And the other main point is that many liberals really don’t care about how “the other side sees it.”

And that leads to the second:

To this I say “Me too.” No, there is no danger of me moving to the Republicans..at least so long as they remain a loony anti-democracy xenophobic cult.

But..read the responses to the above tweet. Smith is accused of being a conservative, not sufficiently caring about problems that affect him, etc.

This response I got might be telling:

Note: I was NOT the person who was put off by “pussy hats”; Smith was. I saw the hats as …”eye roll” material but merely shrugged…”that event was not for me” though I did think that stunt opened them up to even more ridicule and made them the butt of jokes..

But Twitter threads can be hard to follow, so I don’t blame her for that. The part I am interested in is the “we. don’t. fucking. want. you.”

That is telling.

There was a time when I saw things like the massive BLM protests which disregarded COVID protocols (and yeah, outdoors later proved to be ok) and were *sometimes* accompanied by riots, looting and violence, and I seriously believe that they contributed to the dismal showing by Democrats in the 2020 elections. The “defund the police” movement was especially bad. The country rejected Trump but didn’t want Democrats either.

And further still…well, with abortion, the “pro-choice caucus” is passing out approved language sheets

I really wonder if they actually tested said language changes on voters. This sure reminds me of the sorts of decisions “activist” faculty make..and I know most don’t test first.

So…I’ve wondered “why do these “activists” care so little about persuasion?” Yes, the hard core right wingers cannot be changed, but there are some far less committed people who observe the exchanges…and often we do NOT have a good look.

Then it struck me:

many liberals really aren’t about winning political battles or even winning policy changes. They are more about being an affinity group and getting praise from those in their own bubble.

So, the more outraged you are, the louder you scream, the more outlandish antics you engage in…the more credibility you have with your peers.

And if you lose at the ballot box, why it was because of the rest of the country of Homer Simpson’s are too crude, too immoral, too bigoted and not “intellectual” enough to appreciate you and “your side”.

I swear..they appear to see losing as a badge of honor and purity.

How this affects me I’ll tell you this: I am starting to think about candidates to succeed Cheri Bustos in the IL-17 district; right now, the race is rated as a toss-up. I won’t look at positions too closely; I’ll see “political skill and the ability to win the general” as the most important thing, by far.

Oh noes! She is MAD…

Oh great…someone thinks say “I’m MAD” is going to get them what they think is just. Yes, both sides do it.

And no, I don’t value the opinion of a rolling coal imbecile or of some ranting red faced MAGA…and they don’t care if a bunch of feminists are angry (when aren’t they?)

And that is the kind of thing that has let me to mostly check out of politics; I have no desire to march with a bunch of society’s rejects..possibly harming the message.

I will participate in this though.

Yeah, Democrats can be embarrassing at times, and Republican counter attacks are very effective:

If you didn’t get the last jab: you have trans activists crying that “Men can get pregnant too..that is, biological females who identify as males.”

We are so screwed.

COVID and Roe

COVID: I have not spoken about this for some time. Clearly cases are going up again and yes, hospitalizations, while still low, are trending up.

I am starting to see an uptick in mask use (indoors) and I’ll stick with mine for a good long while. Second booster: depending on what happens, I’ll try to delay that until fall, when I’ll be back in the classroom and (maybe) going to football games (the maybe is that I don’t know the future status of my back)

Roe a leaked document, confirmed to be authentic, says that the SCOTUS is likely to either overturn it or at least weaken it a great deal.

And OF COURSE you knew the reaction:
MEN: STFU. WE are ANGRY. And there will be gatherings, marches, protests angry speeches and …it won’t matter. (and of course, the usual “what about meeee…” coming from the “men get abortions too…” crowd. (transmen with the biology of genetic women)

Of course, things are rarely that simple: men are 50-42 in favor of “pro life” and women are 52-43 in favor of “pro choice”; the difference is not as great as some might think.

No, I am not going to protest or march: those things do NOTHING. What I will do is participate in get out the vote activities …because what we need most is a law from Congress, and to get that, we need our people in Congress to begin with. THAT might do some good.

Sigh..this will be difficult. All too many times, Democrats give exactly the wrong message. They think “these laws hurt people in demographic X” is somehow going to persuade people on the fence.

Reality: “the poor” are ..just not popular. No one wants to be poor and the idea that many of us are just an unfortunate incident away from being like them is too unpalatable to contemplate. Hence, the poor are instead resented.

So championing them will never pay off at the ballot box.

Democrats …just have no idea on how to market…none at all. We are awful at it.