Photo of the day

It’s not every day one of your favorite students ends up in an N&O photo taking a selfie with Marco Rubio.  Photo of the day it is!

Sen. Marco Rubio pose for photos with supporters during a campaign rally Saturday, January 9, 2016 at the N.C. State Fairground's Gov. James E. Holshouser Building.

Sen. Marco Rubio pose for photos with supporters during a campaign rally Saturday, January 9, 2016 at the N.C. State Fairground’s Gov. James E. Holshouser Building. Travis Long


Guns and the personal security dilemma

Really, really good post from Bill Ayers.  Hard to get the gist without extensive excerpting, so, here’s the long excerpt (or just click the link and read the whole thing):

Given all that I’ve written about guns and self-defense, this story (sadly, one of far too many) jumped out at me:

Ohio man fatally shoots teen son he mistook for an intruder

I’ve written before, in more theoretical terms, about the security dilemma, the nature of guns as an offense-dominant technology, and the impact that has on civilian self-defense situations. In short, what we have known for decades as political scientists tells us that relying on guns for self-defense in interpersonal situations is likely to lead to all sorts of tragedies of unnecessary escalation, just as tends to happen internationally…  [all emphases mine]

In order for this story to be true – and we have no reason to believe it is not – a few things must also be true:

– The father had the gun in his hand, with his finger on the trigger, when his son appeared.
– The barrel of the gun would likely have been brought to bear, i.e. pointing forward towards a potential target, prior to his opening the door.
– At the level of muscular response and control, the father almost certainly meant to pull the trigger. Modern guns do not “accidentally” go off on their own; they fire only when the trigger is pulled, an action which takes a small but non-trivial amount of force applied in a particular way.

It seems certain that the muscular response of pulling the trigger on a weapon already brought to bear on a potential target occurred before the father had a chance to ascertain whether the human figure who suddenly appeared before him was his son or a stranger. This, of course, is the crux of the “accident” – that the father, through muscle reflex or miscalculation, fired the weapon before determining the nature of the target. The mistake was in adopting a posture in which the decision to fire would be taken before he had time to determine what the target was…

So this is what an “offense-dominant security dilemma” looks like in real life. A father, fearing for himself and his home, adopts a hair-trigger posture and fires at the first sign of possible danger, without taking the second or two needed to ascertain the nature of the threat. He appears not to have made any attempt to establish verbal contact with the possible intruder, or to warn any potential intruders that he was armed. Doing so could have saved the son’s life and averted tragedy, but would probably have seemed at the time to the father as putting him at unnecessary risk.

This is exactly why, in security dilemmas, there is no “better safe than sorry”. All choices have the potential for disaster. My long-running problem with the most ardent advocates of guns as the “ultimate” in self-defense is that they ignore this reality completely and treat guns as a magic talisman that can ward off all evils.

If you keep a gun for self-defense, by all means train yourself. This has nothing to do with going to a firing range – in this example, the father was apparently quite an effective shot. This means training yourself in scenario thinking under pressure, the mental discipline of being able to maintain control of your options and apply force judiciously – includingnot applying force when it’s not necessary. No CCW course in the land will teach you this, but you absolutely need to learn it anyway. Lives depend on it.

Great stuff.

Quick hits (part I)

And we’re off…

1) The conservative case for solar subsidies (hmmm, given that there’s a good conservative and a good liberal case, we really ought to have solar subsidies).

Of course, conservatives will respond that their core objection remains: Solar functions only because of government subsidies. But there are a couple of issues to consider…

For one thing, not all subsidies are created equal, and the government actually has a good track record in promoting new energy technologies. New developments often face two market gaps that can potentially delay or even kill them: the “technological valley of death,” in which promising advances hit a technical brick wall, and the “commercialization valley of death,” in which an effective technology can’t get to market. Government research labs and subsidies have supported a number of forms of energy — from nuclear energy, to hydraulic fracturing, to photovoltaic solar — through these troughs.

And there’s nothing unique about the government’s support for solar. According to the Congressional Research Service, total government support for the oil and gas sector over the years dwarfs the amount of support for the solar industry.

2) I didn’t watch Nikki Haley’s SOTU response originally, but I quickly learned her teeth were the talk of the internet.  A little googling and I ended up on this take complaining it’s all about sexism.  That’s too bad.  But, no, then I watched.  It’s like she’s talking with her jaw wired shut.  It was truly bizarre.  It would be weird not to comment about it.  Of course sexism is a problem, but damn I hate the damage people to do feminism when they reach the point that virtually any non-policy critique of a female politician is sexism.

3) Greater Chronicle of Higher Education article on The Monkey Cage blog and how it has become so influential.

4) Dahlia Lithwick on the Supreme Court and public sector unions.

5) Just one small bit of Trump’s inanity (and seemingly endless macho bs posturing), but I do get a kick out of him arguing that football players should cause themselves brain injuries for our entertainment:

What used to be considered a great tackle, a violent head-on [tackle], a violent — if that was done by Dick Butkus, they’d say he’s the greatest player. If that were done by Lawrence Taylor — itwas done by Lawrence Taylor and Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke, right? Ray Nitschke — you used to see these tackles and it was incredible to watch, right?

“Now they tackle. ‘Oh, head-on-head collision, 15 yards.’ The whole game is all screwed up. You say, ‘Wow, what a tackle.’ Bing. Flag. Football has become soft. Football has become soft. Now, I’ll be criticized for that. They’ll say, ‘Oh, isn’t that terrible.’ But football has become soft like our country has become soft. [Applause] It’s true. It’s true.

6) What can you learn about the history of liberalism in America from the recent problems of The New Republic?  So much in the capable hands of political scientist Jonathan Ladd.  This is really, really good.

7) I truly do recognize that college teaching evaluations are seriously flawed.  That said, I do get a kick out of seeing that my friends/colleagues who most zealously share the stories on the matter are those who might be somewhat suspect in the teaching department.  I’m guessing they are pretty sure the bias is against them.  One thing is for sure is the bias based on gender is, sadly, quite potent.  The authors of the latest research say there’s no way to correct for this?  Really?  How about just comparing faculty to each other within gender?  Not perfect, but that would go along way.

8) Oh, and how’s this, at least in the discipline of Economics, when men and women publish together, men get pretty much all the credit.  I really want to know how well this holds up across disciplines.  I particularly wonder how it may impact the work of Laurel and me, especially as our work is so focused on gender.

9) Shankar Vedantam on hierarchical versus egalitarian ideologies, inequality, and drunkenness.

10) Is this how multi-cellular life on earth got it’s start?  Maybe.  Cool stuff.

11) The Upshot with the case for why the Powerball winners should take the annuity.

12) James Downey on how the supposed mainstream GOP completely enables the fringe:

The difference is that now, between Cruz, Trump and Ben Carson, the “everything is awful” portion of the GOP is a clear majority, not limited to the fringe.

Frankly, though, Haley and company shouldn’t be surprised. Though her speech may not have been as hyperbolic, it still subtly fed the fears that sustain that “Make America Great Again” anger. There is “chaotic unrest in many of our cities,” she said.  America faces “the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11th, and this president appears either unwilling or unable to deal with it.” Democrats are “demonizing” American success. In short, Haley said, “we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory.”

If all of these things are true, and if as Haley said, the GOP must admit that it has “played a role in how and why our government is broken,” why should the conservative base trust the Republican establishment? Why shouldn’t they be fearful of where the United States is going? Isn’t anyone not standing firm against such “threats” endangering America?

13) Obviously our current drug policy is a disaster, but Drum on how the problems with opiates strongly suggests we exercise appropriate caution in thinking about how to decriminalize or legalize drugs.

14) A week late, but a really good piece to help understand what’s going on with Saudi Arabia and Iran.

15) Of course cops get held accountable for their misbehavior.  At least when that misbehavior is to properly apply the law and refuse to arrest somebody their superior tells them to.

16) Really enjoyed this Atlantic piece arguing that, not, consciousness really is not that mysterious:

The consciousness we describe is non-physical, confusing, irreducible, and unexplainable, because that packet of information in the brain is incoherent. It’s a quick sketch.

What’s it a sketch of? The brain processes information. It focuses its processing resources on this or that chunk of data. That’s the complex, mechanistic act of a massive computer. The brain also describes this act to itself. That description, shaped by millions of years of evolution, weird and quirky and stripped of details, depicts a “me” and a state of subjective consciousness.

This is why we can’t explain how the brain produces consciousness. It’s like explaining how white light gets purified of all colors. The answer is, it doesn’t. Let me be as clear as possible: Consciousness doesn’t happen. It’s a mistaken construct. The computer concludes that it has qualia because that serves as a useful, if simplified, self-model. What we can do as scientists is to explain how the brain constructs information, how it models the world in quirky ways, how it models itself, and how it uses those models to good advantage.

17) The ancient Romans really tried to make an effort with public hygiene.  Alas, their total misunderstanding of what actually caused disease meant that their efforts (public toilets, baths, etc.) did not make them any healthier .

18) Nate Silver on three theories of Trump’s rise.

19) Michael Cooper on how the Democratic party in the South has changed.

20) And finishing off with a longer Politico piece making the case for the importance of Obama’s domestic policy legacy.

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