April 15, 2018 in 4,620 words

Gun control

20 good, bad and ugly ideas to reduce gun violence and save lives

Here’s the good news: America, overall, is a much less violent place than it used to be. Our reported violent-crime rate is almost half what it was in 1991. But here’s the bad: Mass shootings haven’t decreased. In fact, they’ve become even deadlier.

In 2010, the World Health Organization found that the United States’ gun-homicide rates were more than 25 times higher than in any other high-income country.

And that was before Las Vegas. And before Parkland, Florida. We’ve witnessed 19 of the 30 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history during the past decade.

It isn’t just about murders. The suicide rate has been skyrocketing as well, reaching a 30-year high in 2016. More than half of those suicides were with firearms.

Today, high school and middle school students have risen up in protests and marches after the Parkland shooting, demanding that something must be done.

But what?

We looked at 20 ideas to reduce gun violence, weighing the results of academic research and the analysis of experts.

Vietnam to Parkland: how America’s protesters are getting younger

The latest wave of US activism has been dominated by an even younger group than usual: high schoolers. But are they headed for disillusionment?

High school students have taken the lead in protesting against gun violence.

Thousands of young people have protested against gun control over the past weeks, sparking, for some, memories of youngsters protesting against the Vietnam war and contributing to the civil rights movement.

The difference is that the 2018 movement is stemming from high schools, rather than colleges.

“It’s really unusual,” said Doug McAdam, the author of Deeply Divided: Racial Politics and Social Movements in America.

“Young people are typically overrepresented among the ranks of activists, but those are almost always university students or young adults.”

In the 1960s, demonstrations and protests swept across college campuses throughout the US. Student activists were at the forefront of the free speech and anti-Vietnam war movements, and many campuses were heavily involved in the civil rights movement.

Thousands of students occupied the Sheraton Palace hotel in Berkeley in 1964, protesting discriminatory hiring practices, while the anti-war protests that saw 100,000 people march on Washington DC in 1967 were fueled by campus unrest – which had already seen students burn draft cards and attack Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) buildings at campuses.

Dana R Fischer, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, said a parallel could be drawn between young people taking action against something that could directly affect them.

A Reagan-era economic trend is making a worrisome comeback


Twin deficits: a flashback from the Reagan years.

Economists are afraid of twins.

The twin deficits, to be exact—a phenomenon wherein both the federal government’s balance and that country’s trade balance nosedive into negative territory. Since appearing in the US in the 1980s, save for a brief cameo in the early 2000s, they haven’t been around much of late.

Now the twins are back. Big time. And some economists say it’s a sign of vulnerability that the US can’t afford to ignore.

The twin deficit hypothesis

The US trade deficit continues to grow, hitting $57.6 billion in February. And thanks to the Trump administration’s massive stimulus, courtesy of a huge new spending bill and last year’s tax cuts, the US government is set to spend way more than the revenue it brings in. The resulting budget deficit is now on track to blow past $1 trillion in just two years, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office report. By 2028, it will balloon to $1.5 trillion.

The “twin deficit hypothesis” holds that a growing budget deficit drives a widening trade deficit: The government’s debt-fueled spending revs up consumption, which increases imports. Twin deficits are sometimes also seen less through a causal lens, and instead as a sign of perilous glitches in a country’s economy.

1968: the year that changed America

The cliche says that if you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t really there. But Hendrik Hertzberg remembers the decade’s most explosive year very well indeed.

Where were you in the 1960s? And what were you? A toddler, a grade schooler, a teenager? A young adult? Were you already old enough to form your own memories? Or were you old enough but in the “if you can remember The Sixties you really weren’t there” category?

Of course, if you’re like most people, you were nowhere. You hadn’t been born yet. You didn’t exist. But wherever and whatever you were or weren’t, it’s a safe bet that you’ve heard about The Sixties – quite enough, maybe. Ad nauseam, maybe.

Or maybe not.

Technically, the sixties began on 1 January 1960 and ended on 31 December 1969. But The Sixties are another story. The Sixties are too protean to be hemmed in by calendrical niceties. The sixties may be just another decade, but The Sixties are something more – a mood, a state of mind, a way of life, a congeries of sounds and images. The Sixties contain multitudes.

There is a continuing theological controversy among sixtiesologists concerning when The Sixties can properly be said to have begun and ended. Tuesday 8 November1960 – the day Senator John F Kennedy was elected president – has a pretty good claim to the beginning. Kennedy’s campaign slogan, which appeared on every campaign poster, had been LEADERSHIP FOR THE 60’s. Out with the dull, conformist, priggish, crewcut, Eisenhowerish Fifties! In with the dashing, exciting, daring, sexy, slightly longer-haired, Kennedyesque Sixties!

A darker view – the view I take – sets the clock of The Sixties ticking three years later. The assassination of President Kennedy was a crack in time. Like Sunday 7 December 1941; and like Tuesday 11 September 2001; Friday 22 November 1963 was “a date that will live in infamy”. And, like them, it was a day that is remembered in vivid detail by those who experienced it.

For the first time, a US president has classified the legal justification for taking publicly acknowledged actions

It’s not uncommon for legal opinions from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to be classified; whenever the President wants to do something nefarious — like authorizing the CIA’s program of torture — he’ll get a memo out of the OLC, and then classify the whole thing: the action and its justification.

But Trump’s memo justifying his decision to bomb Syria is classified, while the bombing, obviously, isn’t.

What’s more, the level of secrecy slapped on the OLC memo explaining how the President could order an act of war when the Constitution explicitly says that Congress alone can authorize this is so secret that even Congress isn’t allowed to see it.

That’s right: the President got a secret memo drafted that explains why he can go to war without Congressional approval, and Congress isn’t allowed to read that memo.

America once fought a war against poverty – now it wages a war on the poor

After the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign declared silence was betrayal, we are coming together to stand up to the public policy violence that is ravaging our society.

The Rev William Barber and the Rev Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign, speak at the National Civil Rights museum on 3 April.

In 2013, Callie Greer’s daughter Venus died in her arms after a battle with breast cancer. If caught early, the five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer is close to 100%. But Venus’s cancer went undiagnosed for months because she couldn’t afford health insurance. She lived in Alabama, a state that refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Venus’s death is not an isolated incident – more than 250,000 people like her die in the United States from poverty and related issues every year.

Access to healthcare is just one of the issues facing the 140 million people who live in poverty in the US today. Over the past two years, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival has carried out a listening tour in dozens of states across this nation. We have met with tens of thousands of people from El Paso, Texas, to South Charleston, West Virginia, to Selma, Alabama, where we met Callie, gathering testimonies from poor people and listening to their demands for a better society.

On Tuesday, we announced a Poor People’s Campaign Moral Agenda, a set of demands that is drawn from this listening tour, as well as an audit of America we conducted with allied organizations, including the Institute for Policy Studies and the Urban Institute, 50 years after the original Poor People’s Campaign.

As grim as the situation was in 1968, the appalling truth is deep inequalities still exist and, in some ways, we are worse off.

Wage growth well short of what was promised from tax reform

The latest Employment Situation report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows weekly employee earnings have grown $75 since tax reform passed, well short of the $4,000 to $9,000 annual increases projected by President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

During the three months following passage of the tax bill, the average American saw a $6.21 increase in average weekly earnings. Assuming 12 weeks of work during the three months following passage of the corporate tax cuts, this equates to a $75 increase.

Assuming a full 52 weeks of work, the $6.21 increase in weekly earnings would result in a $323 annual increase, nowhere near the minimum $4,000 promised and $9,000 potential annual increases projected by President Trump and Speaker Ryan if significant cuts were made to corporate tax rates.

Unless something drastically changes, it seems that Americans are going to have to settle for much less than the $4,000 to $9,000 projected wage increases. An extra $322 a year isn’t going to do much to pay down the $1 trillion in additional debt they are projected to take on as a result of the tax cuts.

5 Ridiculous (But Serious) Ways Humans Are Destroying Earth

Humans are terrible at cleaning up messes. Just look at the average dorm room. Or, y’know, our entire planet. Pollution is a hotly debated issue, and it’s getting hotter by the minute (literally). And the troubles keep coming. We fix one kind of emission, but then we start dumping lead-filled plutonium tampons in a river without a care in the world. Hidden pollutants are being discovered all over the place. And it turns out the next ecological disaster may have started in your bathroom — and no, we’re not referring to what happens in there after chili night.

5. A River In Mumbai Dyed All The Stray Dogs Blue

India, the nation of colors, has many, many dye manufacturers. One of these companies was shut down in 2017 after being suspected of dumping their waste in the Kasadi River. What gave them away? Well, it could’ve been a carefully orchestrated police sting, or maybe people started getting suspicious of the when the Kasadi started turning dogs blue.

In 2017, locals around Mumbai were surprised by the arrival of a pack of sky-blue canines. After confirming these weren’t some designer half-Dalmatian, half-Smurf breed, townsfolk look a little harder at what the dye companies were doing to their local ecosystem. It was discovered that the dogs had blue’d themselves by taking baths in the cool Kasadi. Fearing pollution, the spectral dogs were taken in for inspection, though we couldn’t confirm whether the authorities used dogcatchers or Ghostbusters.

As many as 12 canines were thought to be affected by the wastewater. What had turned their coat blue was simply coloring dye; the dogs seemed otherwise healthy, and the color mostly washed out of their fur. It didn’t take long for authorities to trace the pollution back to one particular local dye manufacturer, which was then promptly shut down. Guess you could say that the tide had turn- *self inflicted gunshot*

L.A. County wants to help build guest houses in backyards — for homeless people

.A. County has a new approach: Paying property owners to put the homeless in backyard houses.

“Not in my backyard” protests helped block homeless housing in Temple City, delayed it in Boyle Heights and, last month, killed Orange County’s plan to relocate homeless people to shelters.

Now, Los Angeles officials want to turn NIMBYism on its head — by paying property owners to put houses for homeless people in their backyards.

In August, the county Board of Supervisors approved a $550,000 pilot program to build a handful of small backyard houses, or upgrade illegally converted garages, for homeowners who agree to host a homeless person or family. Then in February, Bloomberg Philanthropies awarded L.A. a $100,000 Mayor’s Challenge grant to study the feasibility of backyard homeless units within the city limits.

Rents under the county’s pilot program would be covered by low-income vouchers, with tenants contributing 30% of their incomes. The county is also sponsoring a design competition, streamlining permits and providing technical aid and financing options.

While the idea of backyard homeless units might seem far-fetched, officials hope it could be a fast and relatively inexpensive way to house the most stable individuals among the 58,000 homeless people in L.A. County.

Spurred by state legislation in 2016 and 2017 that eased local review rules, the city and county are already experimenting with new financing options and low-cost materials and designs to promote so-called granny flats and in-law units as affordable housing.

All of the World’s Yeast Probably Originated in China

Baker’s yeast, brewer’s yeast, yeast that lives in infected toenails—they all descended from a common ancestor.

When scientists in France set out to sequence 1,000 yeast genomes, they looked at strains from all the places you might expect: beer, bread, wine.

But also: sewage, termite mounds, tree bark, the infected nail of a 4-year-old Australian girl, oil-contaminated asphalt, fermenting acorn meal in North Korea, horse dung, fruit flies, human blood, seawater, a rotting banana. For five years, two geneticists—Gianni Liti, from the Université Côte d’Azur, and Joseph Schacherer, from the Université de Strasbourg—asked for samples of Saccharomyces cerevisiae from nearly everyone they met, whether doctors in French Guiana collecting human feces or Mexican tequila makers.

“It’s easy to get a thousand wine strains,” says Schacherer, “But that’s not how we wanted to proceed.” They wanted little-known wild strains of yeast that live all over the world in a great variety of environments. And they wanted these samples to see if they could confirm their suspicions about the historical origin of yeast. The results of their analysis, published in Nature, suggest that yeast came from, of all places, China.

The most telling clue is that yeast in and around China has the most genetic diversity of anywhere in the world. Liti had already suspected this, having worked with Chinese researchers who collected yeast from remote primeval forests. But the massive sequencing confirmed just how unique yeast in East Asia are: There are more differences between yeast strains from Taiwan and Hainan—both tropical islands off the coast of China—than there are between strains in the United States and Europe, separated by the entire Atlantic Ocean.

William Dalrymple traces the East India Company’s takeover of Hindustan

A painting of the blind emperor Shah Alam II. On his eventual return to Delhi, he was savagely attacked by an Afghan warlord who reportedly cut out his eyes.

In the 1760s, the young, charismatic son of the recently assassinated Mughal emperor, Alamgir II, made a decision that would completely transform India’s fate. Determined to restore his dynasty’s glory, Ali Gauhar, known as Shah Alam II, went to war with the British East India Company (EIC).

But the Battle of Buxar ended in a humiliating defeat and the consequences were more damaging than anyone imagined at the time: Shah Alam was captured by the company’s forces and made to sign an order that replaced Mughal revenue officials with British traders selected by the EIC. From then on, supported by a growing army of tens of thousands of sepoys, the company would be in charge of collecting taxes across the Mughal empire.

It was a decisive turning point that paved the way for the EIC’s sweeping control over the region, eventually giving way to the British Raj.

It’s this moment in history that William Dalrymple focuses on in his upcoming book, The Anarchy, which analyses how a trading firm completely displaced a once-powerful empire. The historian says that while schools continue to teach that the British conquered India, the reality was that it wasn’t the British government at first but a private company.

The Doctored ‘Memoir’ of a Jewish Boy Kidnapped by the Vatican

Edgardo Mortara’s autobiography is roiling Catholic-Jewish relations—based on the false assumption that the text is accurate.

After a century and a half, the story of six-year-old Edgardo Mortara—a Jewish boy who was kidnapped by the Vatican—has once again become the subject of acrimonious debate.

The facts are certainly dramatic enough: In June 1858, on the orders of Pope Pius IX, papal police knocked on the Mortaras’ door in Bologna, Italy, and seized the boy from his family. He had been secretly baptized by a Catholic servant and so, according to Church doctrine, could not remain with his Jewish parents. In a tear-soaked scene, Edgardo was torn from his father’s arms and hustled into a police carriage bound for Rome, where he would be raised in Church institutions. Worldwide protests followed. Thousands of people—from American protesters to the French emperor Napoleon III—demanded the child’s return. Pius IX refused.

The case has reverberated into the 21st century. Pope John Paul II’s decision to beatify Pius IX in 2000 led to angry protests from the descendants of the Mortara family and from Rome’s Jewish community. More recently, Steven Spielberg’s announcement that he plans to make a movie about the event (based on my book, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara) produced a new burst of attention, especially from conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church worried about popular reaction to the retelling of the story. Perhaps most unexpectedly, the Mortara affair has been taken up as a cudgel in the internal Church struggles over Pope Francis’s attempts to reform the Church.

Edgardo Mortara’s own account of these events recently appeared in English for the first time. But if anyone was expecting it to help clarify the controversial event at the heart of the story, they were deeply mistaken. Indeed, a reviewer for the conservative Catholic journal First Things used the text to defend Pius IX’s actions, sparking numerous heated responses, including from an archbishop. What none of them has addressed, however, is that the published memoir itself has been heavily doctored.

I guess the lesson here is: don’t get divorced


At this point, I don’t even know if the baby is mine.

This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for over two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names and certain identifying details may have been changed or omitted to protect her subjects’ anonymity.

Shep, mid-40s

I make $2,500 every two weeks, after taxes, working somewhere in the ballpark of a 60-hour week. $1,700 of that money goes to my first ex-wife for child support. No word yet on how much of it will go to my soon-to-be ex-wife, for more child support. I’m in my mid-forties, I don’t own my home—not for lack of trying—and my bank balance, after I get paid and before I pay the bills, reads -$1,200.

The rapid descent started, I guess, in 2016. My wife and I had been married for a few years. She’d been going to school to become a massage therapist, and I supported her financially through it. It took three years, and it was like pushing an elephant up a hill with a feather, but she finally graduated and established a steady clientele. She was making good money and things started looking up for us.

We talked about it and decided to start trying to have a baby. Of course, a heartbeat later, she was pregnant. The house I had bought—a $272,000 investment on which I still owe $222,000 after almost 10 years of payments (high interest, zero money down, 40-year mortgage)—was starting to fall apart. There were 252 broken tiles on the main floor. There was no way I would bring this little geezer into a world with crawling hazards.

POINT OF REFLECTION: Will these stories about people seeking casual sex continue since Craigslist 86’d the Personals Section?

Perhaps I’ll consider leaving a comment to start a lively discussion among Quartz readers.

Google refuses to fix Waze so it won’t route people on 32%-grade road

LA city councilman: “That’s not good corporate citizenship.“

Downtown Los Angeles from the 110 Freeway in 2017.

In the wake of complaints about Waze and similar smartphone traffic apps routing through the smaller streets of Los Angeles, one city councilman has decided to dig in and figure out what he can do about it.

Paul Krekorian recently contacted Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez after Lopez described earlier this month how some apps (notably, Waze) route Angeleno drivers over Baxter Street, which features a 32-percent grade street that dates back to the 19th century.

Numerous apps’ traffic algorithms seem to not take into account that Baxter’s unusual configuration, according to local residents, may result in more auto accidents.

On Tuesday, Councilman Krekorian filed a formal motion that addresses the city as a whole, not just Baxter:

I THEREFORE MOVE that the Council INSTRUCT the Department of Transportation to report with answers to the following questions:

  1. What City data is made available to makers of mapping apps or software?
  2. What data does the City receive from mapping-app makers?
  3. What benefits, if any, does the City receive from its previously announced partnership with these companies?
  4. What efforts has the City made to engage mapping-app makers to address neighborhood concerns, and what has been the response from that engagement?

In a brief phone interview with Ars, Krekorian said that, while he and his constituents use such apps, he was concerned.

Google’s astounding new search tool will answer any question by reading thousands of books


TED curator Chris Anderson and Ray Kurzweil.

Imagine if you could gather thousands of writers in a circle to discuss one question. What would optimist Thomas L. Friedman say about intervening in Syria, for example? Would chaos theorist Santo Banerjee concur?

Google now has a way to convene that kind of forum—in half a second. Speaking to TED curator Chris Anderson yesterday (April 13), legendary futurist Ray Kurzweil introduced “Talk to Books” a new way to find answers on the internet that should bring pleasure to researchers, bookworms and anyone seeking to expand their thinking on a range of topics.

Type a question into “Talk to Books,” and AI-powered tool will scan every sentence in 100,000 volumes in Google Books and generate a list of likely responses with the pertinent passage bolded.

Talk to Books will tackle any query you have, however trivial, esoteric, or abstract.

Researchers teach AI to think like a dog and find out what they know about the world

They say AI trained on dog behavior could be useful for teaching robots.

An extremely good boy, and not an AI.

What can artificial intelligence learn from dogs? Quite a lot, say researchers from the University of Washington and Allen Institute for AI. They recently trained neural networks to interpret and predict the behavior of canines. Their results, they say, show that animals could provide a new source of training data for AI systems — including those used to control robots.

To train AI to think like a dog, the researchers first needed data. They collected this in the form of videos and motion information captured from a single dog, a Malamute named Kelp. A total of 380 short videos were taken from a GoPro camera mounted to the dog’s head, along with movement data from sensors on its legs and body. Essentially, Kelp was being recorded in the same way Hollywood uses motion capture to record actors playing CGI creations. But instead of Andy Serkis bringing Gollum to life, they were capturing a dog going about its daily life — walking, playing fetch, and going to the park.

A picture of Kelp the Malamute, showing the view from its head-mounted GoPro and the sensor data for its limbs.

With this information in hand, the researchers analyzed Kelp’s behavior using deep learning. This is an AI technique that can be used to sift patterns from data. In this case, that meant matching the motion data of Kelp’s limbs and the visual data from the GoPro with various doggy activities. The resulting neural network trained on this information could predict what a dog would do in certain situations. If it saw someone throwing a ball, for example, it would know that the reaction of a dog would be to turn and chase it.

Speaking to The Verge, the paper’s lead author, Kiana Ehsani, explained that the predictive capacity of their AI system was very accurate, but only in short bursts. In other words, if the video shows a set of stairs, then you can guess the dog is going to climb them. But beyond that, life is simply too varied to predict. “Whether or not the dog will see a toy or an object it wants to chase, who knows,” says Ehsani, a PhD student at the University of Washington.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Robert Reich explains what you can do if Trump fires Special Counsel Robert Mueller or or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as a step toward firing Mueller.

Roy Wood Jr. commemorates three landmark anti-discrimination laws from the civil rights era.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Here’s me commentary on a gymnastics floor routine by Katelyn Ohashi. It’s a bloody ripper! Source video from UCLA can be seen here: https://youtu.be/ViIRMalortg

Max having some fun with another honeycomb ball.


With new carbon farming project, Boulder County could become massive greenhouse gas sponge


Mark Easter from CSU presents the results of a recently completed feasibility study about carbon sequestration.

The education room of the Boulder County Recycling Center filled up quickly for the Research Conservation Advisory Board meeting. People trickled in, shaking the wet spring snow from their jackets.

It was a mixed bag: city officials, scientific researchers, agriculturalists, local residents and environmental activists. This assorted crowd had convened to discuss phase I of Boulder County and the City of Boulder’s joint carbon sequestration pilot project — an initiative that could drive a new era of sustainability along Colorado’s Front Range.

Carbon sequestration, or “carbon farming,” is a process that draws carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it in land-based systems; mitigating emissions and increasing soil fertility at the same time.

Interest in this agricultural practice is blossoming throughout the U.S. and many local farmers, land owners and land managers are already using carbon farming techniques. In places like Marin County, California, large-scale projects are already underway to amplify carbon sequestration among rangelands, farmlands and forests by assembling a consortium of independent agricultural institutions.

Not wanting to be left behind the environmental curve, Boulder County and the City commissioned the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory (NREL) of Colorado State University to conduct a feasibility study. They wanted to assess the potential for a large-scale carbon farming project in Boulder, similar to the Marin Carbon Project.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?