Thirty-one percent of the gun owners said they had used a firearm to defend themselves or their property

September 20th, 2022

The largest and most comprehensive survey of American gun owners ever conducted, based on a representative sample of about 54,000 adults, 16,708 of whom were gun owners, suggests that Americans use firearms in self-defense about 1.7 million times a year:

The overall adult gun ownership rate estimated by the survey, 32 percent, is consistent with recent research by Gallup and the Pew Research Center. So is the finding that the rate varies across racial and ethnic groups: It was about 25 percent among African Americans, 28 percent among Hispanics, 19 percent among Asians, and 34 percent among whites. Men accounted for about 58 percent of gun owners.

Because of the unusually large sample, the survey was able to produce state-specific estimates that are apt to be more reliable than previous estimates. Gun ownership rates ranged from about 16 percent in Massachusetts and Hawaii to more than 50 percent in Idaho and West Virginia.

The survey results indicate that Americans own some 415 million firearms, including 171 million handguns, 146 million rifles, and 98 million shotguns. About 30 percent of respondents reported that they had ever owned AR-15s or similar rifles, which are classified as “assault weapons” under several state laws and a proposed federal ban. Such legislation also commonly imposes a limit on magazine capacity, typically 10 rounds. Nearly half of the respondents (48 percent) said they had ever owned magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds.

Those results underline the practical challenges that legislators face when they try to eliminate “assault weapons” or “large capacity” magazines. The survey suggests that up to 44 million AR-15-style rifles and up to 542 million magazines with capacities exceeding 10 rounds are already in circulation.

Those are upper-bound estimates, since people who reported that they ever owned such rifles or magazines may have subsequently sold them. But even allowing for some double counting, these numbers suggest how unrealistic it is to suppose that bans will have a significant impact on criminal use of the targeted products. At the same time, widespread ownership of those products by law-abiding Americans makes the bans vulnerable to constitutional challenges.

Two-thirds of the respondents who reported owning AR-15-style rifles said they used them for recreational target shooting, while half mentioned hunting and a third mentioned competitive shooting. Sixty-two percent said they used such rifles for home defense, and 35 percent cited defense outside the home. Yet politicians who want to ban these rifles insist they are good for nothing but mass murder.

[…]

Thirty-one percent of the gun owners said they had used a firearm to defend themselves or their property, often on multiple occasions. As in previous research, the vast majority of such incidents (82 percent) did not involve firing a gun, let alone injuring or killing an attacker. In more than four-fifths of the cases, respondents reported that brandishing or mentioning a firearm was enough to eliminate the threat.

That reality helps explain the wide divergence in estimates of defensive gun uses.

[…]

About half of the defensive gun uses identified by the survey involved more than one assailant. Four-fifths occurred inside the gun owner’s home or on his property, while 9 percent happened in a public place and 3 percent happened at work. The most commonly used firearms were handguns (66 percent), followed by shotguns (21 percent) and rifles (13 percent).

There is nothing revolutionary about Robin Hood

September 19th, 2022

How long has it been since you’ve thought about Robin Hood?, Alexander Palacio asks:

He’s not around as much as he used to be; an odd absence for him and the venerable set of characters and stories that orbit him. Robin and his Merry Men seem underrepresented in modern media. The few big Robin Hood films made recently have flopped. And where is he on television, in video games, in the cultural consciousness? The great outlaw has vanished into the depths of Sherwood, while Nottingham’s forces are at their strongest.

[…]

The disappearance of Robin Hood can be stated simply. In the last few decades, writers keep making one or two mistakes when writing Robin Hood. First, they take a grim, gritty, realistic approach to the tone of the story and characters. Second, they interpret Robin’s outlaw status to make him transgressive in a way that is opposed to the medieval social order itself. These approaches are not compatible with Robin Hood as he exists in his archetypal form. They violate the valid expectations people have for a Robin Hood story.

In fact, they directly contradict two fundamental elements of Robin Hood. First, Robin Hood is a lighthearted hero whose personal reward for his actions is having fun. Second, Robin Hood is a defender of the traditional medieval social order against a transgressive nobility. The first point should be obvious. Robin Hood leads the Merry Men.

[…]

The second point needs a bit more explanation. It’s not the social order itself that Robin Hood opposes, but the burden of men who abuse their high station. Thus, Robin’s allegiances with Friar Tuck, the good man of the Church, and with whichever good king the story uses (often Richard Lionheart). In the symbolic, associative world of writing, Robin’s ties to Church and Crown simply do not bear interpretation as a revolution against the social order itself. It is the abuse or absence of the social order he fights, not its use or presence.

It’s important to note that in these tales, it’s the common people who support the medieval social order and the nobility and their lackeys who distort it.

[…]

These seemingly-trivial new approaches to Robin Hood are critical writing errors. They contradict some of the most foundational elements of a Robin Hood story. When you make your Robin Hood story dour and grim, you obviate the role he has in combating the sorrow that comes from the failure of the nobility to meet its obligations to the people. That’s why Robin always engaged in fun, in contests, in jokes at the expense of the overly earnest. The humour is essential to depict and understand the setting and social dynamics of the story.

When you oppose Robin Hood to the social order itself, you turn him into a mere revolutionary, instead of a defender. Which makes little sense, given his association with the twin bastions of the old order, the Church and the Crown. There is nothing revolutionary about Robin Hood — he is among the most reactionary characters going. But because Chesterton’s point about nobility and novelty is little understood, ideologues perform sleight of hand to reinterpret him as a Marxist class hero. You are left with a story that not only doesn’t make internal sense, but also doesn’t meet expectations for a story about Robin Hood. Nothing about it sings, so the movie flops and nobody reads the book.

Asian-Americans have one-quarter the traffic death rate of Americans as a whole

September 18th, 2022

The Japanese risk of dying in a traffic accident is one-sixth the American risk, David Zipper pointed out before explaining all the ways Japan makes its roadways safer — but I pointed out a more parsimonious explanation: Asian-Americans have one-quarter the traffic death rate of Americans as a whole.

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The results confirmed the integrity of the self-described ancestry of these individuals

September 17th, 2022

Numerous human population genetic studies have come to the identical conclusion, that genetic differentiation is greatest when defined on a continental basis:

The results are the same irrespective of the type of genetic markers employed, be they classical systems [5], restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs) [6], microsatellites [7,8,9,10,11], or single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) [12]. For example, studying 14 indigenous populations from 5 continents with 30 microsatellite loci, Bowcock et al. [7] observed that the 14 populations clustered into the five continental groups, as depicted in Figure 1.

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The African branch included three sub-Saharan populations, CAR pygmies, Zaire pygmies, and the Lisongo; the Caucasian branch included Northern Europeans and Northern Italians; the Pacific Islander branch included Melanesians, New Guineans and Australians; the East Asian branch included Chinese, Japanese and Cambodians; and the Native American branch included Mayans from Mexico and the Surui and Karitiana from the Amazon basin. The identical diagram has since been derived by others, using a similar or greater number of microsatellite markers and individuals [8,9]. More recently, a survey of 3,899 SNPs in 313 genes based on US populations (Caucasians, African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics) once again provided distinct and non-overlapping clustering of the Caucasian, African-American and Asian samples [12]: “The results confirmed the integrity of the self-described ancestry of these individuals”. Hispanics, who represent a recently admixed group between Native American, Caucasian and African, did not form a distinct subgroup, but clustered variously with the other groups. A previous cluster analysis based on a much smaller number of SNPs led to a similar conclusion: “A tree relating 144 individuals from 12 human groups of Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania, inferred from an average of 75 DNA polymorphisms/individual, is remarkable in that most individuals cluster with other members of their regional group” [13]. Effectively, these population genetic studies have recapitulated the classical definition of races based on continental ancestry – namely African, Caucasian (Europe and Middle East), Asian, Pacific Islander (for example, Australian, New Guinean and Melanesian), and Native American.

Notable among the names of heroes of the British race is that of Beowulf

September 16th, 2022

I was recently shocked to realize that I didn’t own a single copy of Beowulf, except for a recent graphic novel adaptation and the short summary provided in Bulfinch’s Mythology. Bulfinch’s introduction is from another era (1867):

Notable among the names of heroes of the British race is that of Beowulf, which appeals to all English-speaking people in a very special way, since he is the one hero in whose story we may see the ideals of our English forefathers before they left their Continental home to cross to the islands of Britain.

It was perfectly natural for an American who lived through the Civil War to refer to the British race.

Man walked in fear and solemnity, with Heaven very close above his head, and Hell below his very feet

September 15th, 2022

No English child will ever again experience, as Peter Hitchens did, the joys of Arthur Conan Doyle’s great historical romances The White Company and Sir Nigel, set in the far-off fourteenth century:

The remaining copies of these once-popular works now molder, unopened and slowly softening into pulp, in attic rooms in the houses of the elderly.

Conan Doyle explained something very important about the Middle Ages to his original Edwardian readers:

In those simple times there was a great wonder and mystery in life. Man walked in fear and solemnity, with Heaven very close above his head, and Hell below his very feet. God’s visible hand was everywhere, in the rainbow and the comet, in the thunder and the wind. The Devil, too, raged openly upon the earth; he skulked behind the hedgerows in the gloaming; he laughed loudly in the night-time; he clawed the dying sinner, pounced on the ­unbaptized babe, and twisted the limbs of the epileptic.

George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world does not share this Christian outlook:

As far as I can find out, ­Martin is a lapsed Roman Catholic and has quite banal views about how religion causes wars and God is a “giant invisible guy in the sky.” I do not think he has set out to make an attack on Christianity. I do not think he especially likes it, but I suspect he has discarded it, and so he has written an account of a world in which it simply does not exist. His fantasy greatly disturbs me, because it helps to normalize the indifference to Christianity which is a far greater threat to it than active atheism.

The instinct was to curate a culture

September 8th, 2022

Henrik Karlsson helped Erik Hoel comb through the literature on the upbringings of historical geniuses:

But what has struck me, more than anything else, is the insane quality of the cultures they internalized. The pedagogies their guardians employed differed radically; they had differing temperaments; they mastered different disciplines, but they all had this in common: they spent their days around highly competent people.

Most who grew up to become geniuses, pre-1900, were kept apart from same age peers and raised at home, by tutors or parents. Michel Montaigne’s father employed only servants who were fluent in Latin, curating a classical culture, so Montaigne would learn Latin as his mother tongue. J.S. Mill spent his childhood at his father’s desk, helping his father write a treatise on economics, running over to Jeremy Bentham’s house to borrow books and discuss ideas.

Blaise Pascal, too, was homeschooled by his father. His father choose not to teach him math. (The father, Etienne, had a passion for mathematics that he felt was slightly unhealthy. He feared mathematics would distract Pascal from less intrinsically rewarding pursuits, such as literature, much like modern parents fear TikTok.) Pascal had to teach himself. When it was discovered that Pascal, then a young teenager, had rederived several of Euclid’s proofs, the family relocated to Paris so father and son could participate in the mathematical salons of Mersenne. The instinct was to curate a culture, not to teach, not primarily.

You are always internalizing the culture around you

September 7th, 2022

Chimpanzees, who are born into the habitat their genes expect, get by largely on instinct:

We cannot. We have to rely on what anthropologists call cultural learning.

[…]

If you measure two-and-a-half-year-old children against [same-aged] chimpanzees and orangutans, they are about even in their capacity to handle tools and solve problems on their own. Only when it comes to observing others and repeating their actions is there a noticeable difference.

Two-and-a-half-year-olds can extract knowledge from people just by watching them move about a room. They start to desire what those around them desire. They pick up tacit knowledge. They change their dialect to match their peer groups. And after a handful of years of hanging about with people more skilled than themselves, our babies — these tiny, soft-skulled creatures — can out-compete chimpanzees in all but close combat.

This ability is not something you can turn on and off. You are always internalizing the culture around you. Even when you wish you didn’t. So you better surround yourself with something you want inside — curate a culture.

You can see shadows of the future already being cast

September 4th, 2022

David Hacket Fischer’s Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America makes the point that early America was framed around four dominant folkways;

There are the New England Yankees in the northeast; gentry planters in the lowland South along with their retainers; inhabitants of the upland South, originally from Ulster and the Scottish-English border; and the diverse business-oriented groups in the Mid-Atlantic, from Dutch burghers to Quakers. For both authors, the Yankees and the Southern planters have direct genealogical connections to the Roundhead Whigs and the Royalist Tories. The Borderers and the more mercantile folk of the Mid-Atlantic play a less prominent role in Phillip’s narrative, but eventually amalgamated into the broader Northern and Southern cultural and political alliances.

Kevin Phillips’s The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, And The Triumph Of Anglo-America observes that the migration of dissenters to North America created a much more cohesive 19th-century Britain:

The existence of North America as a release valve for radical Protestantism stabilised the middle path that the Anglican Church occupied. Meanwhile, the Irish potato famine and the mass migration to the US of Roman Catholic peasants meant that the Protestant proportion of the United Kingdom was far higher in 1900 than in 1800.

[…]

The Englishmen, Scots or Welshmen who migrated to America were not “normal” Britons. Perhaps they sought more freedom of worship outside the established Church or more economic opportunities outside of the class system, or perhaps they were fleeing debt and the hand of the law. The “cowboy” is a cliché, but these cowboys came from somewhere, many even genealogically descended from herders on the Scottish border that engaged in as much theft as productive labor. The inverse of the American cowboy were the English who were left behind: the aristocrats, peasants and gentry who came together to create a British Empire with a much more united cultural identity in the 19th century than it had in the 17th century.

Albion’s Seed and The Cousins’ Wars have as much to do with the present and future as the past, Razib Khan explains:

Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 saw the emergence of a belt of “Red” Republican counties dominated by Borderers, attracted to the aggressive pugilistic style of their candidate. Though Barack Obama was perceived by America and the world as the first black president, he was raised by a mother whose paternal grandfather was named Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham, a nod to her ancestral Yankee lineage. Obama presented a moralistic, even utopian, vision for America in keeping with this ancestry.

In contrast, Trump, the German-Scottish son of New York’s outer boroughs, reflects a persona that is in tension with the dominant Yankee tradition of the North. It is not well remembered, but during the Civil War, New York City was a hotbed of pro-Southern sentiment, and the mayor, Fernando Wood, even proposed the city’s secession from the Union. To the west, much of southern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio were pro-Confederate during the conflict because the local population were “butternuts”, descended from settlers who had moved north in the first half of the 19th century, like Kentucky-born Abraham Lincoln. The Great Emancipator was, though, a direct descendent of Samuel Lincoln of Norfolk, East Anglia, who was to settle in Massachusetts in 1638.

[…]

Once you read Fischer and Phillips’s narrative, the past becomes illuminated. You can see shadows of the future already being cast.

This was a world where the humanities mattered

September 3rd, 2022

In the 1960s, when history and English majors were among the most popular on campus, America was a very different place, T. Greer explains:

This was an America where most kids memorized reams of poetry in school, where one third of the country turned on their television to watch a live broadcast of Richard III, and where listening to speeches on American history was a standard Independence Day activity. The most prominent public intellectuals of this America were people like Lionel Trilling (literary critic), Reinhold Niebuhr (theologian), and Richard Hofstader (historian). This was a world where the humanities mattered. So did humanities professors. They mattered in part, as traditionalists like to point out, because these professors were seen as the custodians of a cultural tradition to which most American intellectuals believed they were the heirs to. But they mattered for a more important reason—the reason intellectuals would care about that birthright in the first place.

Americans once believed, earnestly believed, that by studying the words of Milton and Dante, or by examining the history of republican Rome or 16th century England, one could learn important, even eternal, truths about human nature and human polities. Art, literature, and history were a privileged source of insight into human affairs. In consequence, those well versed in history and the other humanistic disciplines had immense authority in the public eye. The man of vaulting ambition studied the humanities.

Natural gas is a fuel of the future

September 2nd, 2022

Natural gas is a fuel of the future, Austin Vernon explains:

Gas power plants are cheap.

Why are gas plants so cheap? They have less equipment. A gas turbine takes in compressed gas and air, burns it, spits out the exhaust, and turns a generator. Modern turbines are as efficient as coal or nuclear plants and a fraction of the size of hulking steam turbines. They are 3x as efficient as the average geothermal facility.

Coal, nuclear, and geothermal plants utilize more complex thermodynamic cycles. They have a boiler, a steam turbine, a generator, a condenser, a boiler feed water pump, more cooling towers, and a water purification system for boiler feed water. Coal plants contend with solids handling, and nuclear plants have complex reactors.

Combined cycle natural gas power plants use hot exhaust from the turbine to make steam like traditional thermal plants. About 2/3 of plant output comes from the gas turbine and 1/3 from the steam turbine. Total efficiency can be over 60% with less equipment and labor than boiler-style thermal plants.

Cheap Storage

Most natural gas storage is in depleted reservoirs. They fill up in the summer when gas demand is low and empty in the winter when gas demand is high.

Building a depleted reservoir gas storage facility costs about $6 million per billion cubic feet of gas. That equates to $0.02/kWh. A grid storage lithium-ion battery currently costs $250-$300/kWh.

The marginal cost of storing gas is determined by renting space in the storage facility and compressing it into the reservoir, usually ~$0.50/MCF for a season. Spot natural gas prices have been between $1.50 and $6 over the last decade. Efficiency determines the marginal cycle cost for a battery. Most lithium-ion battery systems are 90%+ efficient. Tesla’s Powerwall has a 92.5% round trip efficiency.

Reservoir permeability limits gas injection/discharge rates to emptying once per season. Salt dome storage facilities are an exception that can cycle faster but have higher construction costs. Batteries can cycle within a few hours.

Batteries have an advantage in short-term storage, while natural gas storage is much better for long-duration storage.

Hydrogen

Why not store hydrogen instead of natural gas?

Hydrogen embrittles metal that pipelines and storage facility wells are made of, limiting usage in existing infrastructure.

Methane (the primary molecule in natural gas) has three times the energy per volume as hydrogen. A switch to hydrogen would mean we’d need three times more pipeline, compressor, and gas storage capacity.

Hydrogen is more expensive to store because of poor volumetric energy density, and it needs all new infrastructure. If we see widespread hydrogen storage, it will likely be local and only for industrial and electricity use. Building new interstate pipelines is increasingly difficult. As we’ve seen with electricity transmission, critics do not make an exception for “green” projects. I will remain skeptical.

Better Than Air

Compressed air storage also uses caverns and reservoirs as cheap, long-term storage. Compressed methane is ~80x more energy-dense than compressed air. Facilities need new turbines and grid connections, unlike natural gas.

Ammonia

Ammonia is easy to liquefy, so it has good volumetric energy density. Proponents favor applications like marine fuel and gas turbines.

The downsides are that it is poisonous, burns slow, releases tons of NOx when burned, and is less dense than regular ship fuel. The toxic aspect eliminates its use in residential applications. The combustion characteristics mean turbines need larger combustion chambers and more emissions control than natural gas turbines. And the lower volumetric density means it is vulnerable to drop-in synthetic liquid fuels in maritime applications.

Pumped Hydro and Other Cats and Dogs

Pumped hydro costs a thousand times more per unit of energy than natural gas storage. All the other random pet technologies are expensive, too. Storing energy in hydrocarbons is laughably cheap. Competing technologies tend to be awkward tweeners. They can’t compete against batteries in short-term storage or against gas in longer-duration storage.

Smart bombs payout immediately by requiring a fraction of the ordnance

September 1st, 2022

Austin Vernon discusses the economic logic of smart bombs:

US smart bombs like the GPS-guided JDAM and the laser-guided Paveway cost somewhere between $10,000 and $30,000 to manufacture. They are nearly 100% accurate in hitting a target, while unguided bombs are stuck with single-digit accuracy numbers. Unguided dumb bombs cost $2000-$3000 per bomb. Smart bombs payout immediately by requiring a fraction of the ordnance.

It is worse than that, though. A fighter jet like the US Navy’s F-18 costs over $10,000 an hour to operate, not including tankers. A B-52 bomber costs $70,000 an hour. Attacking targets using dumb bombs requires ten times the sorties at a significant cost premium and exposes planes and pilots to more risk.

[…]

Modern smart bombs fired by aircraft can provide support and screening for fast advancing mechanized columns instead of artillery. In the early Afghanistan conflict in 2001, the US deployed zero artillery because of its weight and logistics challenges. Combat aircraft were able to cover US ground forces against light Taliban forces.

In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, armor columns brought much less artillery than in 1991. Aircraft took over the strategic mission, leaving counter-battery fire and all-weather close fire support to artillery forces.

[…]

Smart weapons also have standoff capability. An unpowered JDAM bomb can glide over 25 km.

[…]

Drones are a continuation of the precision-guided munition paradigm. Smart bombs can make a plane 20x more effective. Drones are force multipliers across the board. The Army and Air Force have been drone leaders but need to continue to invest in drones across the spectrum. They need large, expensive drones that can operate far from bases and inexpensive micro-drones that can disrupt enemy formations or intercept enemy micro-drones. Modern warfare is an o-ring industry because enemies exploit gaps relentlessly.

Each Starship launch has the same payload as three B-52s

August 31st, 2022

Recent talk about hypersonic missiles got me wondering whether SpaceX’s reusable rockets would lend themselves to this role. Austin Vernon suggests that SpaceX’s Starship is America’s Secret Weapon:

B-52s flying from Barksdale AFB to complete a mission in East Asia incur a marginal cost of $50/kg to deliver bombs. Starship’s cost is cheaper and can put weapons on target in less than thirty minutes. Each Starship launch has the same payload as three B-52s.

[…]

The supply line would be a natural gas pipeline and a rail line providing fuel and projectiles to a domestic launchpad instead of ships crossing oceans.

I hadn’t considered this though:

Orbital weapons still need intelligence to tell them where to go. Starship’s sister system, StarLink, provides an answer. StarLink is a constellation of thousands of small Low Earth Orbit satellites that gives customers low latency broadband internet. It uses sophisticated phased-array radios that allow ground terminals to track satellites traveling thousands of miles per hour.

As Casey Handmer points out, StarLink can use its radios to do high fidelity synthetic aperture radar (SAR). SAR is already one of the primary ways militaries find enemy ships, and researchers have used it to track planes. It could also see ground vehicles.

While the US already has satellites capable of doing this, they are expensive and limited in number. Individual StarLink satellites cost a few hundred thousand apiece to build and launch on Starship. One of the first things China would do in war is shoot down our military satellites with anti-satellite missiles. That is a problem with bespoke satellites but not with Starlink. Anti-Satellite missiles cost tens of millions of dollars. Each Starship launch could drop off hundred of StarLink satellites. The Chinese would have to expend incredible resources to keep StarLink offline.

A satellite constellation provides other bonuses. Our GPS satellites are both hard to replace and sensitive to jamming. StarLink can provide GPS coordinates (with a few meters less accuracy), and its phased array radios make it difficult to jam.

The upshot is StarLink gives the US survivable sensing, communication, and navigation capabilities.

The military can’t afford iPhone-level software

August 30th, 2022

As consumers, we are spoiled by how easy our phones are to use, Austin Vernon notes, and critics expect the military to have software as capable as our phones:

If you examine the numbers, it quickly becomes apparent that the military can’t afford iPhone-level software. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook had combined operating expenses of over $600 billion in 2021. The military’s total budget is around $750 billion.

The mass of all the physical products these companies sell is probably less than one Ford-class aircraft carrier, and the number of SKUs is relatively limited. And remember, a defining feature of the software business is that marginal cost is near zero. It costs about the same to design high-quality software for 100 F-35s as for 200 million copies of the plane.

Grids have excess capacity 95% of the time

August 29th, 2022

There are many ways Texas’s grid could have avoided disaster during winter storm Uri:

Being synchronized to one of the other wide-area grids in the US is one way. Another is not to have ~50% of its households rely on electric heat.

Cold weather causes demand to spike while also hampering supply. ERCOT is not the only grid to have suffered significant supply outages during cold weather. But other grids like PJM in 2014 were bailed out by imports and lower shares of customers using electric heating.

Customers using electric heat don’t pay the costs of their impact on the grid when they only pay a fixed price per kilowatt-hour. Electric resistance heaters and air source heat pumps see power usage spike dramatically during the coldest events. The overall kilowatt-hour usage only sees a slight increase on the monthly bill, but the peak power might be two or three times higher than the norm.