Photo of the day

I walked into class today to hear students having a vociferous discussion about shark attacks.  Thus, here’s your photo of the day from Telegraph’s Animal Photos of the week gallery:

This is the moment a lucky seal escaped certain death - avoiding a great white shark's jaws by inches. The giant great white burst from the water only for the seal to bounce off the tip of its nose high into the air. On the way down, the hungry shark snapped, missing the airborne mammal by the smallest of margins. The incredible moment was captured by underwater photographer Sergio Riccardo, 51, who photographed the scene near Cape Town, South Africa.

This is the moment a lucky seal escaped certain death – avoiding a great white shark’s jaws by inches. The giant great white burst from the water only for the seal to bounce off the tip of its nose high into the air. On the way down, the hungry shark snapped, missing the airborne mammal by the smallest of margins. The incredible moment was captured by underwater photographer Sergio Riccardo, 51, who photographed the scene near Cape Town, South Africa.Picture: SERGIO RICCARDO/ CATERS NEWS

 

Beards and capitalism

I enjoyed this NYT article about how it’s becoming socially acceptable for even corporate CEO’s to grow beards.  I especially enjoyed reading about the social history of facial hair in the US:

For most of the modern era, beards and mustaches grew only at the margins of society. In the United States, the founding fathers eschewed facial hair. The same cleanshaven look prevailed throughout Europe among the capitalist classes.

In Europe in the 1830s and 1840s, socialists, Chartists and other critics of capitalism began growing beards. As a young man, Friedrich Engels, who would go on to write “The Communist Manifesto” with Karl Marx, organized a “moustache evening” among his friends to taunt cleanshaven bourgeois “philistinism.” Marx himself cultivated a huge beard and thick mustache. A Prussian spy later sent to keep tabs on him reported with a mixture of awe and anxiety: “His hair and beard are quite black. The latter he does not shave.”

Beards were scary to capitalists. But after reactionaries crushed the violent uprisings of 1848 in Continental Europe, the threat of what the Times of London described that year as “foreign bearded propagandists” began receding in the capitalist imagination. In response, beards started to make inroads among the defenders of free enterprise in Britain and the United States. As one historian of the hirsute, Christopher Oldstone-Moore of Wright State University, has concluded, “fearful associations of facial hair dissolved, and respectable men were at liberty to let their beards grow.”

Indeed, beards became an emblem of bourgeois masculinity. Proponents of the new “beard movement” (yes, it was called that) argued that “the bondage of the beard to the dictatorship of an effeminate fashion” had yielded a world of “woman-faced men.”…

But nothing lasts forever. From the 1870s onward, as the workers’ rebellion revived internationally, a new wave of labor radicals sported long, unruly beards. In the popular press, as the conflict between labor and capital turned increasingly violent in the 1880s, facial hair became a shorthand for the forcible resistance to capitalism. Illustrated newspapers covering the Haymarket bombing in 1886 in Chicago showed radicals wearing unkempt, tangled beards.

Of course, college professors– not exactly being part of the capitalist overlords– have always been able to have beards.  My own little personal quirk has been to have a beard for pretty much the Spring semester only for the last dozen or so years.  This year is the first time ever I’ve actually had a beard before late December (I usually start around Christmas) because I couldn’t shave when I had chicken pox so I figured I might as well go with it.

IMG_4660

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/30/opinion/sunday/why-ceos-are-growing-beards.html?_r=0

Ferguson and guns

I really loved this Matt Yglesias post on Ferguson and why American police end up shooting so many people.  One of those posts that I wish I had written myself.  The basic point is that we can essentially consider the high-level of police shootings in America to be a foreseen and necessary of our gun culture and public policies towards guns.  Innocent people shot by police (e.g., Black man with toy gun in Ohio Wal-Mart) and basically a policy externality.  Yglesias:

 A system in which legal police shootings of unarmed civilians are a common occurrence is a system that has some serious flaws.

 

In this case, the drawback is a straightforward consequence of America’s approach to firearms. A well-armed citizenry required an even-better-armed constabulary. Widespread gun ownership creates a systematic climate of fear on the part of the police. The result is a quantity of police shootings that, regardless of the facts of any particular case, is just staggeringly high. Young black men, in particular, are paying the price for America’s gun culture.

Police killings in international context

I’ve seen this chart from the Economist many times since Brown’s death. But I think it’s been misinterpreted.

A well-armed population leads to police shootings of the unarmed in two ways. One is that police officers have to be constantly vigilant about the possibility that they are facing a gun-wielding suspect. Cleveland police officers shot and killed a 12 year-old boy recently, because they not-entirely-unreasonably thought his toy gun was a real gun.

The other, more relevant to the Michael Brown case, is that when civilians are well-armed, police have to be as well. That turns every encounter into a potentially lethal situation. The officer always has to worry that if he doesn’t reach for and use his own gun, the suspect will. In his grand jury testimony, Wilson pointedly claims that at one point Brown put his right hand “under his shirt into his waistband” — i.e., made a motion that could be plausibly construed as reaching for a gun…

Radley Balko’s excellent book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop, offers plenty of examples of overly militarized policing. But American cops don’t carry weapons because they’re bloodthirsty or insane. The basic reason American police departments are so much better-armed than their British counterparts is that Americans civilians are much better armed. There is about one gun per person in the United States, and the police legitimately need to be able to wield more force than the citizens they are policing. In America there are lots of guns, so the cops need lots of guns. Consequently, people get shot.

Freedom isn’t free, and a somewhat higher rate of police-involved killings could simply be the price we pay for strong gun rights. It’s the interaction with race, however, that makes this so problematic.

The cost of American gun ownership isn’t borne evenly across the country. Black people — specifically young black men — are suffering disproportionately from both gun homicide(which, yes, is more common where guns are widespread — it’s true that a large share of crime guns are already illegal, but the legal circulation of large quantities of small weaponsmakes it much easier to obtain one illegally) and police shootings.

To be clear about something, since it seems very important to a lot of people who email and tweet at me, this is not some kind of crazy cosmic coincidence. It is genuinely true that men murder at a higher rate than women, that young people murder at a higher rate than old ones, and that black people murder at a higher rate than white ones. That a pall of suspicion falls on young black men is, in part, a statistical inference.

But this statistical inference gets young black men killed for encounters with the police that would lead to a reprimand or a citation for a white one. And that’s a national scandal. It is a form of wholly unjustified collective punishment inflicted on an African-American community that, just like the white community, consists overwhelmingly of non-murderers.

Yep.  Actually, he never says it in so many words, but the excessive police shootings of black males as a result of widespread gun ownership is pretty much a classic example of an externality.  Alas, a particularly lethal one.  And one more damn good reason that we should have dramatically fewer guns in America.

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