How much drinking?

New Year’s Eve seems a good night for this post.  So, I’m reading a terrific book about drug policy by Mark Kleimann and, not surprisingly, there’s a lot of discussion about lessons from how we regulate (and don’t regulate) alcohol.  One factoid really struck me was the number of non-drinkers.   Guess what percent of Americans has less than 1 drink a month.   Okay.  What if I told you it’s over fifty percent.  Yep.  I was completely surprised by that.  To think my near tea-totaling ways are actually in a majority (at least according to the drinkyr variable in the 2004 GSS).  A full 1/5th of Americans basically don’t drink at all.   Also turns out that alcohol consumption is an almost perfect example of the Pareto principle– 20% of drinkers account for 80% of consumption.  Which, of course, means that all the advertising, as well as the policy-lobbying efforts of the alcohol industry is really focused on just a slim slice of the population.

Here’s a cool chart of alcohol consumption using the handy do-it-yourself GSS site:


Photo of the day

On this last day of the year, I’m going to link to a very handy post a while back from Kottke that links to a whole bunch of best-of-the-year photo sets.  The Wall Street Journal set he links to has lots of good ones.  They are sorted by rating, which is pretty cool.   This is their top-rated photo of the year.  And I love it, so it seems a good way to close out the year:


A solar flare erupted from the sun in this image released by NASA Jan. 23. The biggest solar storm in more than six years was bombarding Earth with radiation, mostly a concern for satellites and astronauts in space.   Delta Reroutes Flights as Solar Storm Hits Earth  NASA

NRA World re-dux

Great column by David Frum (originally pointed out by Mike from Canada in comments) that highlights the problems of NRA-world where we are supposedly safer when we all carry guns.  Frum [emphases mine]:

In the late 1990s, teams of researchers at the Harvard school of public health interviewed dozens of people who had wielded a gun for self-defense. (In many cases, the guns were not fired, but were simply brandished.) The researchers pressed for the fullest description of exactly what happened. They then presented the descriptions to five criminal court judges from three states.

“The judges were told to assume that the respondent had a permit to own and carry the gun and had described the event honestly from his/her own perspective. The judges were then asked to give their best guess whether, based on the respondent’s description of the incident, the respondent’s use of the gun was very likely legal, likely legal, as likely as not legal, unlikely legal, or very unlikely legal.”

Even on those two highly favorable (and not very realistic) assumptions, the judges rated the majority of the self-defensive gun uses as falling into one of the two illegal categories.

The researchers concluded:

“Guns are used to threaten and intimidate far more often than they are used in self-defense. Most self-reported self-defense gun uses may well be illegal and against the interests of society.”

That certainly describes the Keats shooting. With a little Google searching, you can pull up dozens of similar incidents.

Got that.  Some bozo thinking he needs to wield his gun every time he loses his temper is not self defense.  But that’s what we get in NRA-world where everybody is packing heat.  And that doesn’t even address at all the huge increase in suicides that the data are very clear on.  More guns a more violent world and a more deadly world.  Period.

Really Democrats?

Do Democrats have to be so weak and lame.  From the Post tonight:

With a New Year’s Eve deadline hours away, Democrats abandoned their earlier demand to raise tax rates on household income over $250,000 a year, as President Obama vowed during the recent presidential campaign…

They also relented on the politically sensitive issue of the estate tax, promising to stage a vote in the Senate that would guarantee that taxes on inherited estates remain at their current low levels, a key GOP demand.

Still, McConnell (R-Ky.) was holding out to set the income threshold for tax increases even higher, at $550,000, according to people close to the talks in both parties. And he was protesting a Democratic proposal to raise taxes on investment profits for households with income above $250,000.

Why or why do this when you get your way on taxes in 24 hours?  Do Republicans really vote down a tax cut for 98% of Americans?

Pointless drama

As I was explaining the fiscal cliff to David today, I told him that Congress had basically put a gun to its on head in the form of a serious artificial deadline to force itself to create a grand bargain.  I also told him that it could basically just decide to lower the gun– it’s its own damn arm.  Yglesias made the really good point today that it is really pointless now.  The whole point was to force a grand bargain, but there’s no grand bargain negotiations happening now.  It’s all small ball:

Once upon a time, the idea—for better or for worse—was that the threat of the fiscal cliff might inspire congress to reach a “grand bargain” that reduced the budget deficit by several trillion dollars relative to current policy even while providing the economy with much-needed short-term stimulus. But that bargain already fell apart. It’s dead. Instead, the back-and-forth over the weekend is about a “small” deal—a deal that would have some-but-not-all of the Bush tax cuts expire and maybe delay implementation of the budget sequester pending a further agreement or maybe not.

That’s all great stuff to talk about, but when you think about it Congress could easily just tell everyone to go home, watch the Redskins game, enjoy their New Year’s Even plans, and revisit this on Wednesday. If there’s not going to be a grand bargain (and there’s not) then it really doesn’t matter whether we go “over the cliff” or not. Congress can pass a tax cut bill on Wedesday using the new baseline just as easily as they can pass a tax hike bill on Monday using the old baseline. Obama can delay implementation of the sequester administratively pending ongoing negotiations.

Continuing to burn the midnight oil at this late hour is just ruining people’s weekends for no good reason.

I’m still of the opinion that we’re just completely wasting time with all of this because Republicans will never vote to raise taxes.  But as of Tuesday, they don’t have to.  They just have to vote for a tax cut for not quite everybody.  Now, in many ways voting on this on Monday instead of Tuesday is a distinction without a difference, but when you are dealing with an anti tax cut theology, it makes all the difference.

Photo of the day

I’d say I’d happily make a good 30 of this 50+ set of Best nature photos of the year from Big Picture my photo of the day, but I’ll limit myself to two.   Fabulous, fabulous set:

An egret waited for its prey at the reclaimed area in Manila Bay known as Freedom Island in Paranaque, Philippines. (Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)

Morning fog rose from vineyards near Escherndorf, Germany. (Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/AFP/GettyImages)

Black turnout

It’s a well-known fact, of course, that not only super strong support among Black voters really helped Obama, but that increased Black turnout also played a critical role in his victories.   Pew recently put out a report that looked at this increase.  How’s this for a factoid– in 2008 turnout among young Blacks was greater than turnout among young whites:

And here’s a pretty amazing chart that shows, on the whole, Black turnout has completely caught white turnout:

Data from 2012 (not in the chart) is similar.  Two observations…

1) So, how much of this is an “Obama effect”?  Just what will Black turnout look like in 2016 is a huge question.  Insofar as voting is very much a habit, many Black voters who have voted in the past two elections– even if just because of Obama– will likely be much inclined to continuing doing so.  Also, the relative drop-off in off-year elections, is also key.

2) This is really impressive.  Education level is a huge predictor of turnout, and given the lower average education levels for Blacks, this means that for any given level of education, Blacks are actually turning out to vote better than whites.

Photo of the day

Very nice NYT gallery of year’s best photos.  Not surprisingly, some pretty great post-Sandy photos:


Iwaan Baan/Getty Images

Photo of the day

From part 2 of In Focus best photos of the year.  The following is certainly among the more bizarre I’ve ever seen:

The Orvillecopter by Dutch artist Bart Jansen (right) flies in central Amsterdam as part of the KunstRAI art festival, on June 3, 2012. Jansen said the Orvillecopter is part of a visual art project which pays tribute to his cat Orville, by making it fly after it was killed by a car. He built the Orvillecopter together with radio control helicopter flyer Arjen Beltman (left) . (Reuters/Cris Toala Olivares)


Why we don’t want an armed society

Really enjoyed this on-line conversation between Jeffrey Goldberg, author of the recent article, “The case for more guns and more gun control” and fellow Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates (TNC).  Not surprisingly, I thought TNC got the better of the exchange.  Goldberg kept on asking whether TNC would want to be armed or not if there was a crazed killer about, but TNC adeptly argued that this is not the question we should be discussing (i.e., it’s just as misleading as always trying to put torture in the ticking time-bomb scenario).  I especially liked this exchange where he put the scenario into the cost-benefit of what it means to carry a gun on  a regular basis:

 It is not enough to have a gun, anymore than it’s enough to have a baby. It’s a responsibility. I would have to orient myself to that fact. I’d have to be trained and I would have to, with some regularity, keep up my shooting skills. I would have to think about the weight I carried on my hip and think about how people might respond to me should they happen to notice. I would have to think about the cops and how I would interact with them, should we come into contact. I’d have to think about my own anger issues and remember that I can never be an position where I have a rage black-out. What I am saying is, if I were gun-owner, I would feel it to be really important that I be a responsible gun-owner, just like, when our kids were born, we both felt the need to be responsible parents. The difference is I like “living” as a parent. I accept the responsibility and rewards of parenting. I don’t really want the responsibilities and rewards of gun-ownership. I guess I’d rather work on my swimming. And I think, given the concentration of guns in a smaller and smaller number of hands, there’s some evidence that society agrees…

[JG] … We’ll get to the other questions later, but this is important: In the situation I just described above, would you rather have a gun, or rather not?

TNC: The crucial difference is that I don’t accept the premise. In other words, if I have “have a gun” in that situation, other things are then also true of my life. In other words, there is no “me” as I am right now that would have a gun. That “me” would spend a good amount time being responsible for his weapon.It’s not so much a situation that, if I were with you and we were facing down a crazy dude, I wouldn’t want to have a gun. It’s that I’ve already made choices that guarantee that I couldn’t have one. It just isn’t possible, given my life choices. I’d much rather work toward a world where the psychotic shooter is actually a psychotic knifer, or a psychotic clubber [emphasis mine]…
I guess my point is, I have a hard time with a construction of violence that begins and ends in the moment of violent confrontation. My belief is that an intelligent self-defense begins long before that dude with the AR-15 in hand appears. If we’re down to me licking off shots, then we are truly lost. And I say that as a dude with a huge poster of Malcolm X on his wall.
Goldberg certainly makes about the best case I’ve heard for more guns as he’s not at all an NRA gun-nut.  He’s trying to look at things pragmatically– including America’s current legal regime and gun culture– and come to the conclusion that the best solution is not only more gun control, but also more guns.  It’s not entirely unreasonable.  That said, I do think the argument that this is really not the kind of society that we want to live in and really is more compelling.


Newtown matters

I’m pretty sure we’ve never seen this kind of dramatic change this quickly after any of the other previous gun massacres.   Here’s the latest from Gallup:


Wow.  Now, we have no way of knowing just how long-lasting and meaningful this will be, but dramatic shifts like this in public opinion– on issues of any importance whatsoever– are very rare.   I still think the utterly controlled by the NRA Republicans in the House stop any legislation,  but this does suggest there’s a real chance here.  More importantly, maybe Democrats re-learn to stand up to the gun lobby.  The truth is that long gradual decline in support for stricter gun laws is assuredly tied to the Democrats just deciding guns were a losing issue for them and shrinking away.  Hopefully this can change now.

Also worth mentioning, is when you get down to it, just how incoherent public opinion actually is on this issue (like most).  To wit, there’s this chart:


I.e., only about 46% want new gun laws, yet…


Word to the wise– that 92% of the public that wants to close the “gun show loophole” wants a new law.  Same with the 62%.

Republicans do want to raise taxes

But unlike Democrats, they want to raise them on average working stiffs and spare the rich guys.  Ezra:

The big lie of the fiscal cliff is that the argument is between Democrats who want to raise your taxes and Republicans who want to cut your taxes. That’s wrong. Republicans want to raise taxes on more people than the White House does…

So yes, Democrats want to raise some taxes. But so do Republicans. They want to let the payroll tax cut and the various stimulus tax credits (notably the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit) expire. Those are the tax cuts that primarily help poor and middle-class Americans. In fact, 87.8 percent of the payroll tax cut’s benefits go to taxpayers making less than $200,000 and99.9 percent of the stimulus tax credits’ benefits go to taxpayers making less than $200,000.

And those tax cuts help many, many Americans. Pretty much everyone who works benefits from the payroll tax cut. Pretty much everyone who works in a low-wage job benefits from the stimulus credits. Whereas the tax cuts for income over $250,000 help about 4 percent of taxpayers, these cuts and credits help almost every taxpayer. Letting them expire will thus raise taxes on many, many more people than letting the high-income Bush tax cuts expire…

Republicans argue that these policies weren’t really tax cuts, that they were temporary stimulus measures designed to be tax cuts. And it’s true that their primary purpose was stimulus. But the Bush tax cuts were also designed to be temporary and they were sold as stimulus once the 2001 recession began.

What’s amazing is that a party that is so transparently committed to carrying water for the richest Americans at the expense of poor and average-income Americans continues to be so electorally competitive.  It’s almost like Marx was onto something.

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