How To Grow a City in Honduras

August 29th, 2014

Reason looks at how to grow a city in Honduras:

Flatley’s Law

August 29th, 2014

Over the past 13 years, the cost of sequencing DNA has dropped from $100 million per human genome to only $1,000:

The only thing more extraordinary than the growth rate of the sequencing revolution is that the beneficiary is a single company, Illumina of San Diego, and most of the credit for the rate of change can be laid at the feet of one entrepreneur, Chief Executive Jay Flatley. Thanks largely to Flatley’s leadership, Illumina emerged as the dominant maker of DNA sequencers eight years ago and has maintained 80% market share despite an assault by several well-funded competitors.

Since 2008 Illumina’s sales and profit have both increased 147%, to $1.42 billion and $125 million, respectively, as the stock increased 617% and the company’s market capitalization reached $23 billion.

Myths of European Gun Laws

August 29th, 2014

Gary Mausera and Darrin Weiner debunked two myths about European gun laws in their study “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide: A Review of International Evidence,” Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, vol 30 (2007):

First, that European gun laws are much more restrictive than American; and second, that Europe has less violence than America.

Now it is true that European gun laws are often different from ours. This is largely because they aim to stem political violence, not apolitical gun crime. But they are not generally more restrictive. [...] Moreover European gun laws generally allow far more extensive gun use against crime than American law does.

[...]

In the 1920s a German farmer was tried for shooting starving children who were stealing from his orchard. Now under our law, which is based on what is deemed reasonable, the farmer was clearly guilty. But he was exonerated by the German court because European law follows the thought of Immanuel Kant: There is the Right and there is the Wrong — and never need the Right yield to the Wrong! The farmer is in the Right and the starving children are in the Wrong. So if the only way to stop their thefts is to shoot them, then shoot them he may.

A later German statute overturned this – but in a way that reinforces it. The statute only overrules the case if children are shot. But the farmer may shoot if an adult steals his fruit.

[...]

A rapist attacks a woman but retreats when she draws a gun from her purse. The woman, frightened and outraged, shoots him anyway. Under our law this is called “imperfect self-defense.” It is manslaughter (not murder) if the rapist dies; assault with a deadly weapon if he does not.

But under Austrian, Dutch, French, German and Italian law the result is entirely different. If she shot him from “outrage” (i.e., vigilantism) at his attack the court can just acquit her.

As to buying and owning guns, European laws are generally as permissive as American. It is true that you need a special permit to buy a 9 mm. handgun in many European nations. What ignorant American gun prohibitionists don’t understand is that this is a special control on “military-caliber weapons.” Similar controls ban military caliber rifles without special permission. But there is no restriction on other rifles or on handguns in, for instance, .380, .38 Super, 9mm Ultra and many more powerful handguns e.g., any of the magnums or .40 S&W, .45 auto, .45 Long Colt, .454 Casull, .460 S&W Magnum, 475 Linebaugh, .480, .500 and other powerful handguns.

Unlike residents of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts or California, law abiding responsible Italians can buy any revolver or semi-auto they want. No permit is required nor is there any waiting period. Though the handgun must be registered, buying it involves less fuss and red tape than Americans face even in Texas.

Austrians require permits for semi-automatic pistols but not to buy a revolver. Moreover law abiding responsible adults have a specific legal right to a permit for a semi-automatic pistol for home defense. Permits to carry are much more available to law abiding Austrians than to Americans in New York, Massachusetts or California. For a population of over 37 million, California has about 40,000 carry permits. For its population of around seven million, Austria has over 200,000 carry permits.

In France and Germany permits (easily available to responsible adult householders) are required to possess a handgun of modern design. But if you are satisfied with a cowboy-style gun, France requires no permit at all to buy a newly manufactured revolver of pre-1895 design.

Consistent with its focus on political crime, European law precludes stockpiling guns. You might be able to own multiple guns in different calibers, but not 10 or 20 in the same caliber.

There are no magazine size restrictions on semi-autos.

Nine European nations have fewer than 5,000 guns per 100,000 population. Seven have more than three times as many guns per 100,000 population. The nine nations’ violent crime situation is disappointing, even shockingly contrary to the myth that restricting guns diminishes murder. Their murder rates are three times higher than those of the seven high gun ownership nations!

We collected many examples: Norway has far and away Western Europe’s highest household gun ownership (32% of households), but also its lowest murder rate. Holland has the lowest gun ownership in Western Europe (1.9%), and Sweden lies midway between (15.1). Yet the Dutch murder rate is half again higher than the Norwegian, and the Swedish rate is even higher yet, though only slightly. Greece has over twice the per capita gun ownership of the Czech Republic, yet gun murder is much lower in Greece and the Greek murder rate with all weapons is also lower. Though Spain has over 12 times more gun ownership than Poland, the latter has almost a third more gun murder, and its overall murder rate is almost twice Spain’s. Poor Finland: it has 14 times more of these evil guns than its neighbor Estonia. Yet Estonia’s gun murder and overall murder rates are about seven times higher than Finland’s.

Most Americans Want to Criminalize Pre-Teens Playing Unsupervised

August 28th, 2014

A whopping 83 percent of Americans think there should be a law that prohibits kids 9 and under from playing at the park unsupervised, despite the fact, Lenore Skenazy points out, that most of them no doubt grew up doing just that:

A whopping 68 percent of Americans think there should be a law that prohibits kids 9 and under from playing at the park unsupervised, despite the fact that most of them no doubt grew up doing just that.

What’s more: 43 percent feel the same way about 12-year-olds. They would like to criminalize all pre-teenagers playing outside on their own (and, I guess, arrest their no-good parents).

Some People Don’t Lock Their Doors

August 28th, 2014

As hard as it is to believe, some people don’t lock their doors — even in New York City:

A 2008 survey by State Farm Insurance of 1,000 homes across the country reported that fewer than half of those surveyed always locked their front doors. And while people who habitually lock their doors are incredulous that others do not, those who don’t lock are surprised that anyone would be shocked by it.

[...]

According to the F.B.I.’s most recent annual Uniform Crime Report, of the estimated 2,222,196 burglaries committed nationwide in 2008, 32.2 percent were unlawful entries without force. And a spokesman for the New York City Police Department reported that of the 19,263 burglaries that took place in New York City in 2009, 5,041 did not involve forced entry.

These figures include commercial as well as residential properties, and burglaries without forced entry cannot be flatly equated with those that involve unlocked doors, because they may involve open windows; unauthorized use of a key; or theft by workers, family members or business associates. But unlocked doors are certainly a factor.

Inspector James Murtagh is the commanding officer of the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which includes Park Avenue doorman buildings, brownstones and apartment houses. In his precinct, he estimates that 25 percent of burglaries are a result of an open door or window.

While out-of-towners may cling to the notion of New York as a city of triple locks and metal bars bracing the door — an image common in movies from the 1960s and 1970s — that idea is dramatically out of date. According to the Police Department, there were 210,703 burglaries in the city in 1980, more than 10 times as many as there were last year.

And in some ways, Inspector Murtagh says, the city may be a victim of its own success — people may have become too comfortable.

Gratitude

August 28th, 2014

A “back to school” fair for underprivileged kids seems like the kind of place where you’d see a lot of gratitude expressed. Think again.

(Hat tip to our Slovenian guest.)

Shock Waves Damage Eyes

August 28th, 2014

One of the defining pieces of a modern soldier’s kit is a pair of sunglasses, because those shades offer protection not only against the sun but against ballistic fragments. Fragments aren’t the only danger though. It turns out that shock waves alone can damage eyes:

A new study by the University of Texas San Antonio and U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research has found that blast waves themselves — not just the dirt and debris propelled by the blast — can cause significant and permanent damage to the eyes.

In an experiment that had the scientists blasting away at pig eyes with a high-powered air cannon, researchers learned the shock wave alone can damage portions of the eye, including the sclera — the white part — the retina, the optic nerve and more.

Among the most commonly seen injuries in the blasted porcine eyeballs was retinal detachment.

“Detachment is more common to older adults. But two clinicians on our team, an Army optometrist and ophthalmologist, told us this was something they were seeing in troops and couldn’t explain. That gave us the idea to look for this sort of damage in this study,” said Mathew Reilly, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at UTSA.

DoD data shows that ocular injuries account for 13 percent of all battlefield injuries and roughly 80 percent of eye injuries in combat are associated with blasts.

Nostalgia for the Mud

August 27th, 2014

Tom Wolfe explains how nostalgie de la boue brought Radical Chic to the fore in New York Society:

Nostalgie de la boue is a 19th-century French term that means, literally, “nostalgia for the mud.” Within New York Society nostalgie de la boue was a great motif throughout the 1960s, from the moment two socialites, Susan Stein and Christina Paolozzi, discovered the Peppermint Lounge and the twist and two of the era’s first pet primitives, Joey Dee and Killer Joe Piro. Nostalgie de la boue tends to be a favorite motif whenever a great many new faces and a lot of new money enter Society. New arrivals have always had two ways of certifying their superiority over the hated “middle class.” They can take on the trappings of aristocracy, such as grand architecture, servants, parterre boxes and high protocol; and they can indulge in the gauche thrill of taking on certain styles of the lower orders. The two are by no means mutually exclusive; in fact, they are always used in combination. In England during the Regency period, a period much like our own — even to the point of the nation’s disastrous involvement in colonial wars during a period of mounting affluence — nostalgie de la boue was very much the rage. London socialites during the Regency adopted the flamboyant capes and wild driving styles of the coach drivers, the “bruiser” fashions and hair styles of the bare-knuckle prize fighters, the see-through, jutting-nipple fashions of the tavern girls, as well as a reckless new dance, the waltz. Such affectations were meant to convey the arrogant self-confidence of the aristocrat as opposed to the middle-class striver’s obsession with propriety and keeping up appearances. During the 1960s in New York nostalgie de la boue took the form of the vogue of rock music, the twist-frug genre of dances, Pop Art, Camp, the courting of pet primitives such as the Rolling Stones and José Torres, and innumerable dress fashions summed up in the recurrent image of the wealthy young man with his turtleneck jersey meeting his muttonchops at mid-jowl, à la the 1962 Sixth Avenue Automat bohemian, bidding good night to an aging doorman dressed in the mode of an 1870 Austrian army colonel.

Going Home

August 27th, 2014

Let us suppose, Fred Reed suggests, that you, the reader, are an average white cop in, say, Washington, DC:

Just as the public doesn’t like you, you will not much like the public. Cops do not see humanity at its best. The young woman hiking her skirt up at traffic stops. Couples screaming obscenities at each other on domestic-violence calls. “Why don’t you catch real criminals?” The lies. The excuses. The lame attempts at manipulation. The threats (“I know the mayor.”)

As a real cop on real streets, you learn never to smile, to maintain an implied aggressiveness. When riding with a reporter, you will joke and tell stories. With the public, you will learn to be wooden-faced and authoritarian. You can’t lose your dominance or you are useless.

A few months on the streets will take the bloom off your dewy rose of morn.

[Gruesome stories elided.]

As a reporter, I saw all of these things. Not similar things, but exactly these. They are not imaginary. They will change your attitude toward humanity. It won’t make you better company.

And nobody but another cop, or someone in the street trades — police, fire, ambulance–will understand. Your wife won’t, and this won’t improve the marriage. Divorce rates are high among cops.

With time, your views on police brutality will become ambivalent, or not ambivalent. You will see the pretty blonde rape victim, fifteen, about due for her first prom, screaming and screaming and screaming, sobbing and choking, while the med tech tries to get a sedative into her arm. And you will hear the cop next to you, hand clenching hard on his night stick, say in cold fury, “I hope the sonofabitch resists arrest.” Yeah, you may find yourself thinking, yeah. Social theories are nice. The streets are not theoretical.

And you will find that the perps are almost always black. If you are a good liberal, you won’t like this, but after three months on the street you will not have the faintest doubt. If you are a suburban conservative out of Reader’s Digest, you will be surprised at the starkness of the racial delineation.

All cops know this. They know better than to say it. This can be tricky for black cops, especially if former military who believe in law and order.

You will find that there are white cops who knock blacks around, who humiliate them. You will think it wrong, and so will many of your fellows, but you will decide not to turn them in. You have twenty more years on the streets with them. You will discover that black cops exist who also mistreat blacks, and this will confuse you.

You will find yourself contributing to bad race relations by enforcing laws you think stupid, pointless and unwise — hassling blacks for drinking a beer on the sidewalk with friends, rolling dice for quarters on the hood of a car, or smoking a joint. Never mind that a black city government made the laws.

Depending on your background when you, the reader, suddenly became a cop, you may or may not have some grasp of how guns work in the city. To begin with (if you think about it at all) you will realize that cops are not very competent with guns. In an entire career most will never fire their weapons on duty. To be good with a pistol requires hours and hours on the range and thousands of rounds. These cost money. Departments have higher priorities. Competent tactical shooting requires much more training. You won’t get it.

As a fresh cop, you will notice that the standard editorial notion, that cops are heavily armed brutes amid a helpless unarmed populations, isn’t quite accurate. When you are on the sidewalks of a bad neighborhood, where you know you are disliked by all and hated by many, you will become aware of your vulnerability. You have to pass close to people. Any of them could blow your head off from behind, stick an ice pick in your back, or brain you with a piece of rebar.

The second thing to know about the police and guns (though it sounds unrelated) is something you will hear often from your new colleagues: “I’m going home tonight.” This does not mean, “I’m going home instead of to the bar with buddies.” It means, “If some dirtball threatens my life, or credibly seems to be doing so, I will blow his sorry ass away before I’ll let my wife have to explain to the kids why Daddy is never coming home again.”

Ah, but how do you know when your life is in danger? Therein lies the rub. In a good department, you will get shoot-no-shoot training. It will surprise you. You stand in front of a very large screen, your weapon holstered. On the screen (for example) appears in video exactly what you would see responding to an armed-robbery call at a small store. A woman, the proprietor’s wife, frantically accosts you. “He robbed us! He has a gun! He went into the alley.” Gun in hand, you run down the alley, scared and breathing hard. A man with a gun turns the corner, gun in shooting position. You fire. You just killed the proprietor who also was chasing the perp with his own gun.

Back on the real street. A 250-pound guy crazy on PCP charges you with the clear intention of doing you harm. How much harm? He could kill you. It isn’t part of your job description to find out. You don’t have time in three seconds to try pepper-spray (which doesn’t work well on PCP heads anyway) or send for a Taser, or shout, “Halt in the name of the law, oh evil emissary of the forces of chaos!”

Bang. Maybe he was just going to give you a hug and a kiss.

It’s an old piece, not written in response to recent events.

From Left to Right

August 27th, 2014

As the Marxist historian Arno Mayer has argued, in 1914 America represented the international left:

By 1919, America was organizing the international right. America had not changed; the spectrum shifted around it.

(That’s traditional conservative William S. Lind citing Marxist historian Arno Mayer.)

Scientist Shamans

August 27th, 2014

Frank Herbert based the Bene Gesserit “witches” of Dune in part on the scientific wizards of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.

Herbert’s judgment on them is implicit in the way he has reversed the roles played by such scientists in Dune.

Asimov’s trilogy is set in a crumbling galactic empire, in which a “psychohistorian” named Han Seldon has analyzed with mathematical precision the forces acting upon masses of people and can predict nearly exactly what will happen hundreds and even thousands of years in the future. Seldon has set up a foundation to act in accordance with the statistical laws of psychohistory and take the necessary steps to bring about a new order from the ruins of the old. In Seldon’s vision, the Foundation will enable the rebuilding of galactic civilization in 1,000 years instead of the 10,000 years of turmoil that would otherwise be required.

The trilogy chronicles the successes of the Foundation and the complete accuracy of the long-dead Seldon’s scientific predictions, until a freak mutant is born. An empathetic superman, called “the Mule” because he is sterile, he was completely unexpected by Seldon, whose science could predict only mass dynamics and not the truly exceptional individual. The Mule shatters the Foundation’s precious new civilization in his own hungry grab for power, and is stopped only by a mysterious “second foundation” established by Seldon to study the science of the mind and to prepare for such unforeseen emergencies as the material science of the first foundation could not handle.

Herbert questioned the assumptions about science that he saw at work in Asimov’s trilogy. In a recent essay, he wrote:

History… is manipulated for larger ends and for the greater good as determined by a scientific aristocracy. It is assumed, then, that the scientist-shamans know best which course humankind should take…. While surprises may appear in these stories (e.g., the Mule mutant), it is assumed that no surprise will be too great or too unexpected to overcome the firm grasp of science upon human destiny. This is essentially the assumption that science can produce a surprise-free future for humankind.

Dune is clearly a commentary on the Foundation trilogy. Herbert has taken a look at the same imaginative situation that provoked Asimov’s classic — the decay of a galactic empire — and restated it in a way that draws on different assumptions and suggests radically different conclusions. The twist he has introduced into Dune is that the Mule, not the Foundation, is his hero.

The Bene Gesserit are clearly parallel to the “scientist-shamans” of the Foundation. Their science of prediction and control is biological rather than statistical, but their intentions are similar to those of Asimov’s psychohistorians. In a crumbling empire, they seek to grasp the reins of change. The Sisterhood sees the need for genetic redistribution — which ultimately motivates the jihad — and has tried to control that redistribution by means of their breeding program. The Kwisatz Haderach, the capstone of their plan, is not its only goal. Their overall intention is to manage the future of the race. Paul, like the Mule, is the unexpected betrayal of their planned future.

The irony is that Paul is not a freak but an inevitable product of the Bene Gesserit’s own schemes. Although he has come a generation early in the plan due to Jessica’s willfulness in bearing a son instead of a daughter, the real surprise is not his early birth but the paradox of the Sisterhood’s achievement: the planned instrument of perfect control, the Kwisatz Haderach, was designed to see further than his creators, He could not help but know the emptiness of their dreams. The universe cannot be managed; the vitality of the human race lies in its random generation of new possibilities. The only real surety is that surprises will occur. In contrast to the Foundation trilogy’s exaltation of rationality’s march to predicted victory, Dune proclaims the power and primacy of the unconscious and the unexpected in human affairs. Paul’s wild ride on the jihad, not the careful Bene Gesserit gene manipulation, provides the answer to the Empire’s needs.

Even though Dune so clearly undercuts the assumptions about science applauded in the Foundation trilogy, such antirationalism was the culmination of a long struggle. Early on, Herbert saw that the same assumptions pervaded much of science fiction, including his own. In order to embody his visions of the future, he needed to untangle himself from their hold.

World War I Book Recommendations

August 26th, 2014

Lexington Green offers his World War I book recommendations, starting with Storm of Steel, which I’ve been meaning to read for years now. He also recommends Rommel’s Infantry Attacks, which I really enjoyed.

So many books to read…

But he was unarmed!

August 26th, 2014

Chris Hernandez offers a dose of reality for Ferguson, starting with a hard look at the cry, “But he was unarmed!”:

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard the term “unarmed teenager”. Yes, Brown was an unarmed 18 year old. He was also 6’4″ and 292 pounds. Anyone who thinks an unarmed, 6’4″, 292 pound man can’t be a threat has never been punched in the face. Unarmed people can be extremely dangerous.

In 2012 an unarmed 17 year old beat an El Paso police officer to death. The officer was 29 years old, a former Marine and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

An off-duty police officer in New York City was beaten almost to death by an unarmed man last November.

In July, an unarmed 21 year old “felt like killing someone” and beat a 56 year old random victim to death at a train station in San Antonio.

In 2012, an unarmed 24 year old man beat a man to death for raping his daughter.

Those chanting “but he was unarmed” are pathetically ignorant of the reality of violence. Unarmed people hurt or kill others on a regular basis. No, that doesn’t mean every unarmed person needs to be shot; it does, however, mean an aggressive, unarmed person can be a threat to your life. The bigger and stronger that person is, the bigger the threat.

Read the whole thing for the point of view of a cop who doesn’t claim to know what happened.

TwistRate

August 26th, 2014

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter have decided that they simply cannot allow firearm projects to sully their mission, so now TwistRate aims to fill the gap:

TwistRate is Americans coming together online to build the innovations, dreams and causes of America’s veterans, service members, law enforcement, outdoor enthusiasts, fishing and hunting communities. We bring your ideas to life, giving you the tools to take your great ideas to others in your community so they can benefit from your ingenuity. TwistRate brings communities together to fund their own, build their own and make their own – all on their own.

TwistRate and you make the American Dream a reality by connecting the dreamers with the dollars.

My first thought is, TwistRate? You couldn’t think of a better firearms metaphor for getting something going?

Warring States

August 26th, 2014

In War in Human Civilization, Azar Gat describes the early modern military revolution:

Armies greatly expanded and became more permanent; they were increasingly paid for, administered, and commanded by central state authorities that grew progressively more powerful; similar processes affected navies, with which the Europeans gained mastery over the Seas.

A world held together by feudal ties transitioned to one dominated by institutionalized, absolutist monarchies whose powers expanded with the scope of war — and, as T. Greer explains, this wasn’t just an early modern European phenomenon:

Small armies organized around noblemen on horseback are replaced by gigantic armies of massed infantry led by professional generals. Reasons of state supplant chivalry in determining the course of battle; court ministers work closely with kings to establish the bureaucratic machinery needed to wage such wars and determine the national interest. Complex strategies and protracted siege warfare become the new norm. All of this describes what was happening in Early Modern Europe — but also what happened in pre-modern China!

The parallels between the Chinese Warring States Era and its pre-modern European equivalent do not end here. The Chinese Warring States Era gave birth to the Chinese strategic corpus. Many historians of Western strategic thought begin with the strategic theorists — such as Niccolo Machiavelli and Cardinal Richelieu — of the “European Warring States” Era. Unlike the strategic thinkers of Western antiquity, these men did not plant their theories in broader historical narratives, but devoted entire treatise to strategic themes. They drew on the histories of the classical era, but their approach was more similar to that of the ancient Chinese thinkers than the Greek philosophers and historians which they esteemed so highly.

What accounts for these similarities? What follows is not a comprehensive review, but a few tentative explanations that I personally find convincing:

A Scattered System of Warring States: War has been a constant in Chinese history; in many ways China has always been a warring state. Less common is its division into warring states. Both premodern Europe and ancient China were host to vicious polities divided in a desperate bid for survival. There was no world spanning empire; all roads did not lead to Rome. (Or Luoyang, for that matter). There was no universal center of learning or prestige that all intellectuals passed through before their voices could be heard, nor was there a single governing authority with power to clamp down on thinking it disapproved of. The decentralized political system of both eras allowed intellectual movements to flower without serious interruption. The competitive nature of this system piled fuel on the fire, for dueling states that refused innovation — be it scientific or strategic — faced annihilation.

The Rise of the State: Modern political scientists often date the creation of the modern-nation state to premodern Europe. However, almost all of these developments (the exception being institutionalized banking and finance) are closely paralleled in the Warring States transition. These institutions did more than increase the number of men that could be thrown into battle; they changed why wars were fought and what wars were fought for. The strategic logic of war between states was fundamentally different than that between feudal lords. Ideas like “national interest” or “reasons of state” made no sense in a society where there was no real distinction between international relations and interpersonal relationships. Treatises explaining how to use military power to attain national goals have no purpose when there is no nation.

Absolute Monarchy: The rise of absolute monarchs had various effects on European and Chinese societies, many germane to the creation of strategic theory. Alexis de Tocqueville remarked that “French kings have shown themselves to be the most energetic and consistent of levelers. When they have been ambitious and strong they have striven to raise the people to the same level as the nobles.” A similar statement could be made about the kings of the Chinese warring states. As kings in both eras extended their control over their realms, they systematically replaced warrior nobles with professional soldiers and ministers. In both eras these men produced treatises on statecraft and soldiery and in both eras men of their rank were the primary consumers of such. The rise of the monarch affected strategic discourse in another subtle way. In the classical city-states of Greece and Italy, matters of state were discussed in the forum or the agora before public audience; feudal systems and tribal confederacies, in contrast, placed emphasis on formal oaths and war-meetings. In both of these cases decisions were made publicly. Those who wished to influence policy (or as was often the case, justify it) did so by way of oratory. Not so in the world of the absolute monarch. Decisions made by kings and emperors were usually made in private. There was little need to justify these decisions in a grand public setting. Those who wished to influence policy did so through personal conversation, correspondence, or official petition. The strategists of both systems were not orators or debaters. They were writers. This partly explains why we have their writings today.