Seattle can prohibit carrying a kitchen knife, but swords might be OK

Here’s a superficial article explaining a recent Washington State Supreme Court decision:

Seattle PI, 12/31/15: High court: No constitutional right to carry a knife in Seattle

Upholding a city of Seattle ban, the Washington state Supreme Court has ruled that there is no constitutional right to carry a knife.

Writing for the majority, Justice Charles Wiggins said neither the state constitution nor the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution block the city law against carrying knives. The 5-4 split decision enables local restrictions against knives that likely could not be extended to firearms.

“While almost any common object may be used as a weapon, that does not necessarily mean that possession of otherwise innocuous objects that could be wielded with malice will trigger the constitutional protections afforded to ‘arms,’” Wiggins said in the majority opinion. …

The article is accurate as far as it goes. Wayne Evans was pulled over for speeding in Seattle, admitted to the officer that he had a sheathed paring knife, and was arrested. Seattle bans the carry of all fixed-blade knives, plus all knives with a blade longer than 3½ inches. Evans appealed his conviction on 2nd Amendment grounds, and lost, because paring knives are not “arms”.

But this omits several important points. For the details, you need to read the actual Supreme Court decision:

City of Seattle v. Evans (Majority and Dissent)

Evans lost this appeal because he was unable to prove (to the satisfaction of a majority of the justices) that his paring knife was an “arm” in the 2nd Amendment sense. The majority opinion states:

…We hold that the right to bear arms protects instruments that are designed as weapons traditionally or commonly used by law abiding citizens for the lawful purpose of self-defense. …

The four dissenting justices said, basically, that’s a stupid argument, because obviously all sorts of knives have been traditionally or commonly used for self-defense, so they’re all protected by the 2nd Amendment. Unfortunately, they didn’t persuade a fifth justice to agree with them.

So, basically, Evans lost because his knife was too little.

The majority opinion makes this clear in a footnote:

…many knives banned under the Seattle ordinance may be arms deserving constitutional protection. … In a different case under appropriate facts, the ordinance’s “broad prohibition” on carrying arms for purposes of self-defense may well be constitutionally infirm. … We reserve judgment on this issue for an appropriate case.

Evans’ appeal had another flaw: he failed to argue that the Seattle ordinance was unconstitutionally broad or vague. The majority notes this in another footnote:

…Amicus curiae Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers newly raises the contention that the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague and thus violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Washington Constitution, article I, section 3. But Evans never argued that the ordinance was vague, too broad, or improperly sweeps within its prohibitions innocuous objects like tools. This court “will not address arguments raised only by amicus.”…

So, although the knife ordinance remains on the books for now, the majority has provided a roadmap for challenging its constitutionality on two grounds.

Useful tools for researching whether images and videos are fake

Another viral image or video? Beyond checking Snopes, sometimes you may want to do a little investigation on your own. And this article by Pete Brown will point you at several very useful tools to help:

Six easy ways to tell if that viral story is a hoax

Here are the tools he lists (mostly posted here so I can find them myself!):

Google Images (reverse image search)

TinEye (reverse image search)

Amnesty International’s Youtube DataViewer (displays upload date/time, thumbnails, and convenient reverse image search links)

Jeffrey Friedl’s Exif Viewer (displays metadata stored by digital cameras in image files)

FotoForensics (analyzes JPG and PNG files for evidence of photoshopping)

WolframAlpha (a general-purpose knowledge search, especially useful for questions like “weather in [cityname] at [time] on [date]”, so that you can check if conditions shown in an image or video match reality)

Google Maps (especially the Street View function) and Google Earth (which offers historical imagery)

Germanwings copilot is Muslim? How a rumor spreads

On Tuesday 3/24/15, Germanwings copilot Andreas Lubitz apparently flew his passenger jet into the ground, killing everyone on board.

A few hours later, the anonymous owner of the St Thomas Aquinas Versus NASA blog posted this analysis:

…There is a boundary established by God that men must not pass over and that boundary is 15 cubits above the Mountain tops, or about 29,050 feet. This boundary is the same level that the waters of the deluge reached to cleanse the world of sin in the time of Noah. This 29,050 boundary is also the same level that the tower of Babel reached before God came down and paid a visit – pushing the tower over with his Finger.

This 29,050 ft boundary is the same level that the fire of the final conflagration will reached at the end of days to cleanse all the works of men, both holy and profane.

In order for the element of fire to do the will of God at the end of days – all the works of men must be at or below this 29,050 ft boundary in order to burn up in the fire of the final conflagration. …

The latest air disaster took place today when the aircraft was flying above the 29,050 foot boundary that was established by God – the boundary that man must not pass over…

Couple of things:

  • Either the Germanwings pilot is a Muslims and committed Jihad Suicide by crashing the plane into the Mountain.
  • Or the pilot (non-Muslim) was under the influence of the demons who inhabit the atmosphere above the 29,050 ft boundary.

Too impossible to believe that demons can mess with airplanes? Yea…but the lot of you fools believe in space aliens and such stupid nonsense. …

Personally I don’t find this very persuasive, but that’s just my opinion.

Two days later, the same blogger posted this follow-up: Muslim Convert Co-Pilot Andreas Günter Lubitz Committed Jihad By DELIBERATELY Slamming The Plane Into The Mountain! Murdering All On Board

…It was said that Lubitz had a Muslim girlfriend. It is unclear if she was still dating Lubitz at the time of the crash. It is unclear if he met the woman through his Muslims friends.

One said that Lubitz had broken off the relationship after he pledged to commit Jihad for Allah. …

No source is given for the above statements.

…We do know that Lubitz trained at the Lufthansa Flight Training School in Bremen, Germany.

Bremen is home to the Mosque Masjidu-l-Furqan Mosque… This Mosque was raided by the police in December 2014…

Lubitz did his time in Bremen when the Mosque was under surveillance.

During his training Lubitz took a break – a several month break:

Carsten Spohr, CEO of Germanwings parent company, said in a press conference today that Lubitz “took a break in his training six years ago. Then he did the tests (technical and psychological) again. And he was deemed 100 percent fit to fly.” “I am not able to state the reasons why he took the break for several months

I can because Lubitz converted to Islam during his break. …

That’s it. That’s the complete evidence that Lubitz is Muslim.

And that should have been the end of it — unsubstantiated speculation by a random weird blogger. Except that this latest blog post was picked up by one Michael Mannheimer, who quoted it on his personal blog on Thursday 3/26, originally at this link [dead link]. Although the post has been removed, as of right now it is still available in Google’s cache. Here is an English translation, courtesy of Google:

Copilot Airbus accident aircraft was Islam convert. He controlled the machine deliberately against the Mountain

Germany has now thanks to the converts to Islam Andreas Lubitz his own 9/11

All evidence indicates that the copilot of misfortune machine in its six-month break during his training as pilots in German Wings converted to Islam and subsequently either by the order of “radical”, ie,. devout Muslims received for carrying out this mass murder, or withdrew the order from the book of terror, the Koran, of his own accord. However, as a radical mosque in Bremen is in the center of the investigation, in which the convert was staying often, it can be assumed that he — as then Mohammed Atta in the attack against New York — received his instructions directly from the immediate vicinity of the mosque. Converts are already the most important weapon of Islam. Because of them you can either outwardly or of their resume suggests that it often is particularly violent Muslims to Muslims. Thus Germany has to be specially 9/11, albeit in a reduced form. And so it is clear that Islam is a terrorist organization that are in accordance with §129a of the Criminal Code to prohibit and to follow their supporters. But nothing will happen. One can bet that the apologists (media, politics, “Islamic Studies”) will agree to assign this act a “mentally unstable” man, and you can bet beyond that now, once again prayers like a mantra heruntergespult the mantra of supposedly peaceful Islam will. And worse still, the attacks of the mob left to those who have always warned against Islam, are angrier still be merciless. For now the German ash Islam supporters like never before with their backs to the wall.

Michael Mannheimer, 03/26/2015

***

Targeted the copilot of the German Wings Maker, Islam convert Andreas Günter Lubitz, a nuclear plant?

The wonders US website “St Thomas Aquinas Versus NASA” in her latest article today in view of the fact that all seven nuclear reactors were located within just a minute deviation from the normal route. Fact: The co-pilot steered the plane intentionally in the mountains. Its mission would be were to control the aircraft in one of the seven active nuclear reactors, which were located just minutes away from the normal route. The following Atommeiler he could meet with little effort:

Centrale Nucléaire de Cruas
Coordinates 44°37’59” N 4°45’24” E
Centrale Nucléaire de Tricastin
Coordinates 44°19’47” N 4°43’56” E
Centrale Nucléaire de Saint-Alban
Coordinates 45°24’16” N 4°45’19” E

Mannheimer’s post then quotes the St Thomas Aquinas Versus NASA blogpost “proving” that Lubitz was Muslim.

Michael Mannheimer (pseudonym — his real name is Karl-Michael Merkle) is also a writer for the German blog Politically Incorrect, which is dedicated to opposing the “Islamisation of Europe”.

Next step in the spread of this rumor (and I have to credit Jay Hathaway for this excellent bit of rumor-research): Speisa, a site specializing in outrageous news of the day — and especially anti-Muslim outrageous news — quoted Michael Mannheimer’s post, crediting him as “a writer for German PI-News”. Which makes him sound a little more impressive than a mere blogger quoting a religious nut. By this point, the original text from St Thomas Aquinas Versus NASA has been completely lost.

Next up: The Gateway Pundit:

GERMAN CO-PILOT WAS MUSLIM CONVERT – STAYED AT Bremen Mosque … A German news website claims Andreas Lubitz was a Muslim convert. …

Speisa is now upgraded to a “German news website”, and The Gateway Pundit has completely flubbed the translation, saying that Lubitz stayed at the mosque in Bremen, when the original story was only that he stayed in Bremen which had a radical mosque.

From here, the mutant story has spread across the Net just like Silly Putty spreads through your little brother’s hair when it gets too warm. (Don’t ask me how I know about this.) And it will be just as hard to remove.

Houston-area man can’t hang flag from his apartment balcony — but why?

This news item has been all over conservative websites and outraged Facebook posts for the past few days:

KHOU.com, 6/18/14: Man says apartment complex called his US flag a ‘threat to Muslim community’

In brief, a new tenant at an apartment complex in Webster TX hung a large American flag from the railing of his balcony. An apartment manager told him to remove it. The management says it’s because it was hung in violation of “property rules and guidelines” that “maintain the aesthetics of our apartment community and provide for the safety of all residents.” But the tenant says:

“What really stunned me is that she said it’s a threat towards the Muslim community.”

Well, this has caused a national outburst of vitriol. I’ll come back to that later.

The apartment complex has posted a public response on its website:

Stars and Stripes Misunderstanding

We understand that the recent events surrounding the display of the United States Flag on the balcony railing has caused a great deal of consternation. We regret that the policies, consistent with the hotel and apartment industry, have created an incorrect perception that we are not supportive of patriotism.

Residents are allowed to display flags inside their balconies. However, tarps, tents, flags, towels or clothing are not permitted on or over the railing of balconies and patios in order to maintain an aesthetically consistent image.

We are committed to providing a safe, comfortable and pleasant living environment to our residents through service, attention to detail and exacting expectations. Our goal is to deliver a positive living experience for all of our residents and regret the misunderstanding.

We apologize for anything that may have been communicated regarding the policy that was offensive to Mr. Tran at The Lodge on El Dorado in Webster, Texas. We admire our resident’s patriotism and proudly display our Country’s flag at the entrance to our community.

A person claiming to be a resident of the complex confirmed this in a comment to the original news article, saying: “There are many flags in the complex. They are simply hung correctly. You can hang it IN your balcony or from a pole. We are just not allowed to have anything hanging from the balcony rails. I’ve been fined before for having a towel on the rail. It’s in the lease.”

The apartment complex also posted this statement on their Facebook page:

We understand that the coverage has caused a great deal of attention and we share your consternation.

Neither the Property Manager nor the community stated or inferred that any flag was a threat to any religious community or nationality.

We proudly display our country’s flag at the entrance of our community. We are committed to providing a safe, comfortable and pleasant living environment for our residents through service, attention to detail and exacting expectations.

Our goal is to deliver a positive living experience for all of our residents. We welcome residents and prospective residents of all religions and nationalities to our community.

So they are specifically denying the inflammatory allegation about a claimed “threat towards the Muslim community.” This comes down to a classic he-said, she-said situation, with no witnesses or independent confirmation of what was really said.

In fact, as far as I can tell, there are no other news reports on this incident, except for the zillions which merely quote this original KHOU story. Which brings us to the question that bothers me the most: What the heck is going on with this news story?

I mean, first of all, the complex does display the flag, and lots of other tenants have patriotic displays. So there’s already something fishy about the anti-flag allegation.

Then there’s the news video itself. By the time the KHOU news crew arrived at the complex, the management already had a prepared statement ready, and they had a police officer in the lobby who escorted the news crew out. Now this is just weird. Who calls the police just because a news crew is coming? And why would the police department even send an officer out?

I would love to hear a recording of police radio traffic for this incident. My guess (and I admit this is just a guess) is that there had been some sort of shouting match between the tenant and the management, and police had been called in anticipation of more trouble. Okay, or maybe the management just had buddies on the police force. In any case, it’s clear that something had happened before the news crew arrived. And that makes me want to know everything that was said by both sides, before the tenant was allegedly told that he was threatening the Muslim community. Maybe the manager’s words had nothing to do with the tenant’s flag, and everything to do with something the tenant said.

Anyway, this is just speculation. Here’s what we do know. One man is angry about being told to take down his flag. He tells a news crew about the threat-to-Muslims allegation, which the management denies. KHOU runs this as a patriotic outrage story on the evening news. It’s now been 2½ days, and they haven’t run a followup story. Meanwhile, the story is basically copied verbatim by conservative news media, none of whom do any further investigative jouralism. Cue the legions of online commenters who spread the story along with a spew of anti-Muslim bigotry.

The news media and online pundits get lots of hits on their site, the outraged people get to exercise their adrenal glands, and everybody is happy. Well, except for the Muslims, none of whom were even contacted by KHOU to see whether they actually feel threatened by the flag.

Wikipedia vs. the “lunatic charlatans” of Energy Psychology

The Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP) recently launched this petition on Change.org:

Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia: Create and enforce new policies that allow for true scientific discourse about holistic approaches to healing.

…people who are interested in the benefits of Energy Medicine, Energy Psychology, and specific approaches such as the Emotional Freedom Techniques, Thought Field Therapy and the Tapas Acupressure Technique, turn to your pages, trust what they read, and do not pursue getting help from these approaches which research has, in fact, proven to be of great benefit to many. …

…the Wikipedia pages for Energy Psychology, Energy Medicine, acupuncture, and other forms of complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) … are currently skewed to a negative, unscientific view of these approaches despite numerous rigorous studies in recent years demonstrating their effectiveness. These pages are controlled by a few self-appointed “skeptics” who serve as de facto censors for Wikipedia. …

Jimmy Wales posted this rather blunt reply:

No, you have to be kidding me. Every single person who signed this petition needs to go back to check their premises and think harder about what it means to be honest, factual, truthful.

Wikipedia’s policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals – that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately.

What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of “true scientific discourse”. It isn’t.

The counter-response has been, basically, “We did get them published in respectable scientific journals!” So let’s check that out.

ACEP has conveniently provided this page, “EP Research Hierarchy of Evidence”, which lists a large number of articles organized in a hierarchy starting with the least scientifically rigorous:

  • Anecdotal Report
  • Systematic Observational Report
  • Case Study
  • Uncontrolled Outcome Study
  • Randomized Controlled Study with Limited Generalizability
  • Randomized Controlled Study with Potentially Strong Generalizability
  • Theoretical and Review Articles

The last category (Theoretical and Review Articles) is not the “highest” level — it’s just overviews based on other research. What we’re looking for is the second-last bunch (Randomized Controlled Study with Potentially Strong Generalizability), which ACEP describes as:

A formal study using established pre- and post-intervention assessments with multiple clients, including randomization, follow-up, and at least one control/comparison group with means for “blinding” those assessing the outcomes from knowledge of which subjects were in which group. These studies are well designed and administered so that the effects of each treatment condition can be reliably compared, and generalizations to specified populations can be anticipated with reasonable confidence.

In other words, a study which meets the bare minimum of what is considered “real science” in modern times. ACEP lists 24 articles in this category.

Now, how do we determine whether any of these articles were published in “respectable scientific journals”? This is tricky for people who aren’t scientists working in the field. But as laymen, we can get a few clues from the journal titles.

For starters, one of the papers was merely presented at an ACEP conference. That’s a lot different than being published in a respected, peer-reviewed journal.

Another six were published in Energy Psychology, which can hardly be considered an unbiased source. (In fact, two of ACEP’s Board of Directors, including its President-Elect, are also on the Editorial Board of Energy Psychology.)

That leaves 17 papers published in 14 journals. Now what? How does the layman find out whether these are widely-respected journals, or just pretty names that publish anything submitted to them?

There are several techniques to rank the importance and influence of scientific journals. I’m going to use the Eigenfactor score, which ranks 12,286 publications. Here are the 14 journals with their Eigenfactor percentile ranking (where 100 indicates the top 1% of journals ranked by importance to the scientific community, and 1 indicates the bottom 1%):

Anesthesia and Analgesia 96
Behaviour Change 16
Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing (2 papers) 29
Fidelity: Journal for the National Council of Psychotherapy (not ranked)
Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal (not ranked)
International Journal of Emergency Mental Health (not ranked)
International Journal of Healing and Caring (not ranked)
ISRN Psychiatry (not ranked)
Journal of Clinical Psychology 78
Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (not ranked)
Journal of Depression Research and Treatment (not ranked)
Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease (3 papers) 82
The Open Sports Sciences Journal (not ranked)
Traumatology (not ranked)

So where do we draw the line here? Nine of the 14 journals don’t even make the Eigenfactor list, and two more rank down in the bottom one-third. Let’s look at the three remaining journals, which are all in the top one-quarter of Eigenfactor rankings. Here are the five papers that appear in these journals:

  • Church, D., Hawk, C, Brooks, A., Toukolehto, O., Wren, M., Dinter, I., Stein, P. (2013). Psychological trauma symptom improvement in veterans using EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques): A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 201(2),153-160.
    • from the abstract: This study examined the effect of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), a brief exposure therapy combining cognitive and somatic elements, on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psychological distress symptoms in veterans receiving mental health services. … The EFT subjects had significantly reduced psychological distress (p < 0.0012) and PTSD symptom levels (p < 0.0001) after the test. In addition, 90% of the EFT group no longer met PTSD clinical criteria, compared with 4% in the [control] group. ...
  • Church, D., Yount, G. & Brooks, A. (2011). The effect of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) on stress biochemistry: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 200(10), 891-896.
    • from the abstract: This study examined the changes in cortisol levels and psychological distress symptoms of 83 nonclinical subjects receiving a single hourlong intervention. … The EFT group showed statistically significant improvements in anxiety (-58.34%, p < 0.05), depression (-49.33%, p < 0.002), the overall severity of symptoms (-50.5%, p < 0.001), and symptom breadth (-41.93%, p < 0.001). The EFT group experienced a significant decrease in cortisol level (-24.39%; SE, 2.62) compared with the [control groups]...
  • Karatzias, T., Power, K., Brown, K., McGoldrick, T., Begum, M., Young, J., Loughran, P., Chouliara, Z., Adams, S. (2011). A controlled comparison of the effectiveness and efficiency of two psychological therapies for posttraumatic stress disorder: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing vs. Emotional Freedom Techniques. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 199, 372-378.
    • from the abstract: The present study reports on the first ever controlled comparison between eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and emotional freedom techniques (EFT) for posttraumatic stress disorder. … Overall, the results indicated that both interventions produced significant therapeutic gains at posttreatment and follow-up in an equal number of sessions. …
  • Kober A., Scheck, T., Greher, M., Lieba, F., Fleischhackl, R., Fleischhackl, S., Randunsky, F., Hoerauf, K. (2002). Pre-hospital analgesia with acupressure in victims of minor trauma: A prospective, randomized, double-blinded trial. Anesthesia and Analgesia, 95(3), 723-727.
    • from the abstract: …we tested the hypothesis that effective pain therapy is possible by paramedics who are trained in acupressure. In a double-blinded trial we included 60 trauma patients. We randomly assigned them into three groups (“true points,” “sham-points,” and “no acupressure”). …we found significantly less pain, anxiety, and heart rate and a greater satisfaction in the “true points” groups (P < 0.01). ...
  • Wells, S., Polglase, K., Andrews, H. B., Carrington, P. & Baker, A. H. (2003). Evaluation of a meridian-based intervention, emotional freedom techniques (EFT), for reducing specific phobias of small animals. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 59(9) 943-966.
    • from the abstract: This study explored whether a meridian-based procedure, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), can reduce specific phobias of small animals under laboratory-controlled conditions. Randomly assigned participants were treated individually for 30 min with EFT (n = 18) or a comparison condition, diaphragmatic breathing (DB) (n = 17). ANOVAS revealed that EFT produced significantly greater improvement than did DB behaviorally and on three self-report measures, but not on pulse rate. …

There. Are we ready to pass judgment on Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia yet?

Well, we have four research papers on Emotional Freedom Techniques and one on acupressure that meet the standard of “real science” published in “respectable scientific journals”. That’s something, but it’s not a lot. All five studies were conducted on rather small groups of patients. This is a common problem with many scientific studies, but to me, it means the results are intriguing but not conclusive. Were the experiments ever successfully replicated by independent researchers? Are there additional studies that might confirm or contradict what was found? I don’t know, and as a layman it’s quite difficult for me to find out.

In addition, even if Emotional Freedom Techniques are a useful treatment for PTSD and phobias, that doesn’t prove that the Energy Psychology theories are correct. The techniques might work for reasons that have nothing to do with “disturbed bio-energetic patterns within the mind-body system” (to use a phrase from ACEP’s website).

I remain skeptical — but that doesn’t answer the question of what Wikipedia should do about this. As an encyclopedia, they have (I believe) an obligation to censor themselves. No scientific theory is ever completely proven true, but some have gone a lot farther along the truth road than others, and are more deserving of inclusion.

But inevitably, drawing the line is going to cause fights. Wikipedia has received a lot of criticism in recent years from contributors who are fed up with petty tyrants who “own” particular pages or embark on edit wars with other would-be tyrants. It should be possible to write something like:

Although the theoretical basis of Emotional Freedom Techniques remains unproven, several studies have shown promising results in treating PTSD and phobias.

…with links to the above high-quality journal articles. That would be informative and truthful, without being an endorsement of “lunatic charlatans”.

Million American Jobs Project: Does it really have anything to do with American jobs?

Last August, this video appeared on YouTube:

Million American Jobs Project

By taking a fraction of our spending and buying US-made goods, we’ll create a economic tidal wave. Watch the vid and share it. Boom, you’re helping make jobs.

Well, I watched the video.

“If every one of us shares this video with two people within a day of seeing it, in one month’s time it will have been seen by pretty much every single person in the country.”

Okay, let me just discuss this minor point, and I’ll explain why later.

If one person shares the video with two people on day 1, and they share it with four on day 2, and so on, then on day 30 it will have been seen by 1+2+22+23+24+…+229+230 people.  My calculator says that’s 2,147,483,647 people, which is almost 7 times the population of the US.

Now, anyone who’s ever heard of a pyramid scheme, or has a gram of intelligence, can tell you why there won’t really be 2 billion viewers.  The most obvious problem is that, even if everybody shares like they’re supposed to, within a week or so you’ll have a hard time finding two of your friends who haven’t already seen it.  Add to this the real-world issues of people who will not watch it, people who will not share it, people who don’t use the Internet, etc., and it will NOT be “seen by pretty much every single person in the country.”  (In fact, the video has been up for almost 6 months, and has only 2.8 million views — which is a lot for YouTube, but nowhere near our 314 million population.)

The reason I’m making a fuss about this trivial point is that it exemplifies the simplistic thinking in the video.  The economy is a complex living thing.  You can’t make one small tweak and, voilà, get exactly the result you want.  If it were that simple, we could just set up a centrally-planned economy and stop worrying about everything.

For example, the video says: “And while it might cost just a little bit more, in the long run it’ll cost a whole lot less.”  Okay, prove that.  Because if it costs me just a little bit more to buy American, then that means I will be spending or saving that little bit less.  How, exactly, does that work out in the long run?  What happens to the businesses who lose out on the little bit less I didn’t spend on them?  What happens to my savings, and what will happen after retirement or unemployment when I need just a little bit more welfare money to make up for my little bit less savings?

It doesn’t matter if it’s only 5%, the question is what is the effect?  If my 5% is actually going to make things worse, then I’m not gonna do it.  Just saying that something is obviously good doesn’t prove that it’s genuinely good.

For more about the economics, check these two articles:

  • The “Buy-Local” Canard by Tyler A. Watts. A short article about the problems with “buy local” campaigns.
  • Free Trade by Alan S. Blinder. A longer article about protectionism and the principle of comparative advantage.

Now, on top of that, there’s an ethical point.  Why is the well-being of certain people supposed to be more important to me than the well-being of other people, just because they live inside the same political boundary with me?  I mean, yes, Americans are out of work — but folks in many other countries are literally starving to death for lack of work.  What will be the effect on them if I buy American?

And this brings up another real-world issue.  If people are hungry and unemployed in other countries, this does have an effect on the US.  Social instability anywhere always tends to drag us in.  But a more direct effect is immigration.  I mean, I always hear folks yelling about Mexican immigrants — how come I never hear them organizing a “buy Mexican” campaign to keep that country economically healthy?

Finally, there’s the question of just who the heck is www.millionjobsproject.us?  Well, it’s a project of advertising guy Alex Bogusky, who left his old job with Crispin Porter + Bogusky to set up a new ad agency called Made, which specializes in advertising made-in-USA products, and Made Collection, which sells assorted made-in-USA products online.

I’m not going to question Bogusky’s dedication to his cause, but it does seem to be rather intimately tied up with his business interests.

Oh, and by the way, that website puts 5 cookies on your computer, one of which lasts 6 months and stores an ID number and the referring site that sent you there, and another of which lasts 2 years and stores a similar ID number.  I’m just guessing, but I assume that companies who pay for the info will be told whether your specific cookie corresponds with a click on the “Pledge” button. This could be of value to companies who sell made-in-USA products, and possibly also to political organizations, some news media, etc.

Granted, that’s the way the Internet works nowadays, and it’s no different than what a zillion other Internet businesses are doing to track us. But yeah, if you want to click a button on a website run by an advertising agency, you shouldn’t be surprised at the results.

Indian nation trying to ban legal marijuana on non-reservation lands in Washington? Not exactly…

The Associated Press is running this somewhat overexcited article:

SeattlePI.com, 1/13/14: Yakama Nation fighting marijuana in 10 counties

The Yakama Nation is moving to ban marijuana in all 10 counties of its ancestral lands, covering one-fifth of the state’s land mass. …

…under the Yakama Treaty of 1855 with the federal government, the tribe was allowed to maintain fishing, hunting and food-gathering rights on more than 12 million acres of its historic lands that were ceded to the United States. Now they want to use those rights to include a ban on marijuana on all ceded lands. …

One minor problem with the article: it’s wrong. The Yakamas are not currently proposing to ban marijuana use or possession anywhere except on their own reservation. (Which is still a bad decision, in my opinion.)

What they are doing is filing official objections to over 600 license applications for marijuana-related businesses. These businesses would all be located in a large area of central Washington that was ceded by the Yakamas to the United States in an 1855 treaty.

Here is a much better article that explains the situation:

Yakima Herald-Republic, 1/12/14: Yakamas want to ban pot on 12 million acres of ceded land

The central issue is “ceded land“. In 1855, the Yakama confederated tribes were pressured into signing a treaty under which they ceded most of their ancestral territory to the government, and agreed to relocate to a much smaller reservation. The Yakamas retained only limited rights on the ceded land:

…the right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed places, in common with the citizens of the Territory, and of erecting temporary buildings for curing them: together with the privilege of hunting, gathering roots and berries, and pasturing their horses and cattle upon open and unclaimed land. …

Now, this doesn’t sound much like it includes the right to overrule state law. Nevertheless, that is what the Yakama leaders are claiming. From the Yakima Herald-Republic article:

…The tribe’s options include suing the state in federal court if no compromise can be reached, Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman Harry Smiskin said.

“We’re merely exercising what the treaty allows us to do, and that is prevent marijuana grows (and sales) on those lands,” Smiskin said. …

“To my knowledge, this would be the first time” the tribe has sought to prevent the implementation of a state law on all ceded land, said George Colby, an attorney for the Yakama Nation.

“The tribe’s stance is if you don’t fight, you don’t get to win,” Colby said. …

I don’t think the Yakama Nation leaders are acting in the best interests of their own members here, but it’s even more aggravating that they want to impose their nanny-state attitudes on their neighbors.

Arctic ice cap grows 29% in a year… if you only look at 2012 and 2013

The Daily Mail published this widely-circulated image (based on NASA data) last September:

Climate-change scientists are often accused of “cherry-picking” their data, but the Daily Mail takes this to a new low. Here’s the arctic sea ice extent for every August from 1978-2013, courtesy of the National Snow & Ice Data Center:

The Daily Mail’s selected images represent the last two data points on this graph.

 

Are US gun owners and gun control opponents more racist?

A few weeks ago, the usual suspects in the media were going berserk over a new study that correlates pro-gun attitudes with anti-black racism in the US.  I’ve been digging through the details.

Here’s the study itself (long article):
Racism, Gun Ownership and Gun Control: Biased Attitudes in US Whites May Influence Policy Decisions

Here’s a shorter plain-English news article describing the study (and recommended by the study’s lead author):
Study Links White Racism With Opposition to Gun Control

In brief, the authors mined some data from a large survey taken in 2008-2009, and they claim to have found a correlation between racial resentment of whites against blacks, and the likelihood of whites to own guns or be anti-gun-control.  Only data provided by US whites were used in this study.

To determine the level of “symbolic racism” (racial resentment that falls short of outright anti-black bigotry), they used these four questions:

Do you agree strongly, agree somewhat, neither agree nor disagree, disagree somewhat, or disagree strongly with this statement?

  • Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors. [Agreement = racist]
  • Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class. [Disagreement = racist]
  • Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve. [Disagreement = racist]
  • It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites. [Agreement = racist]

For a measure of overt racism, they used this question:

  • How well does the word “violent” describe most blacks? [“Extremely well” or “very well” = racist]

They also used data from an “Implicit Attitudes Test” — I’ll let the authors describe this one:

…the race IAT was administered online, requiring participants to rapidly associate pictures of white and black faces with positively- and negatively-valenced words. Participants were asked to press the key “P” for white faces and for positive words and “Q” for any other stimulus. Alternatively, they were asked to press “P” for black faces or positive words and “Q” for other stimuli. … This score is coded so that positive scores indicate an unconscious preference for whites over blacks.

Regarding guns, survey participants were asked whether they were gun owners and whether a gun was present in the home.  They were also asked their opinions on whether gun possession in the home or licenced concealed-carry should be legal.

There were also various statistical tests and adjustments based on assorted other questions (conservatism, political party, gender, geographical location, income, etc.).  I didn’t attempt to understand all these details.

The results:

After adjusting for all explanatory variables in the model, symbolic racism was significantly related to having a gun in the home. Specifically, for each 1 point increase in symbolic racism [on a 5-point scale], there was a 50% greater odds of having a gun in the home, and there was a 28% increase in the odds of supporting permits to carry concealed handguns. … Higher IAT [Implicit Attitudes Test] scores were not related to gun ownership and gun control in full models. Higher scores on black violent stereotyping were not related to any of the gun-related outcomes…

So…

No correlation with black violent stereotyping.  (Although you could argue that nobody answered this question honestly.)

No correlation with “unconscious preference” for whites over blacks.

Positive correlation with so-called “symbolic racism”.  I’d say there’s some room for disagreement about whether these four questions are measuring only racist attitudes.  Conservatives and libertarians might be inclined to see in these questions some assumptions about the proper role of government in creating socioeconomic equality, and answer accordingly.  Coincidentally, conservatives and libertarians don’t much like gun control.  Duh.

As for the authors, they are blatantly anti-gun and make no effort to hide it.  They refer to pro-gun attitudes as “paradoxical” and not “logical”, and they say that “gun control policies may need to be implemented independent of public opinion.”

Although the authors are careful to note that “the correlational nature of the study clearly prohibits causal inferences”, in the very next paragraph they state that “anti-black prejudice leads people to oppose [gun control] implementation”, which sounds exactly like an assertion of causation to me.

My opinion: the only important conclusion here is that there is no correlation between overt racism (“black violent stereotyping”) and pro-gun attitudes.  The rest of the study tells us nothing.

Selective reporting: “1 in 4 U.S. Young Muslims OK With Homicide Bombings Against Civilians”

This is an old story from 2007, but it’s being passed around the Internet again to remind us who we’re supposed to be scared of.

Fox News, 23-May-2007: Poll: 1 in 4 U.S. Young Muslims OK With Homicide Bombings Against Civilians

One out of four young U.S. Muslims believe homicide bombings against civilians are OK to “defend Islam,” according to a new poll. …

The study found that among the nation’s younger Muslims, 26 percent say homicide bombings can at least rarely be justified “in order to defend Islam from its enemies.”…

The survey results can be read here (Pew Research, PDF file).  The survey does in fact state that, for US Muslims aged 18-29, 15% say suicide bombing of civilian targets may “often” or “sometimes” be justified, 11% say it is “rarely” justified, and 69% say it is “never” justified.

For US Muslims as a whole, the numbers are 8%, 5%, and 78%.

But the survey doesn’t compare different religions.  Here’s some data from a 2010 Gallup survey:

% who believe that it is “never” justified for “an individual person or a small group of persons to target and kill civilians”:

Muslims 89%
Protestants & Catholics 71%
Jews 75%
Mormons 79%
No religion/Atheist/Agnostic 76%

So what does this tell us?  Obviously, US Protestants and Catholics are 2.6 times as scary as US Muslims!

Really (in my opinion), both polls are worthless.  How many people were willing to answer truthfully?  I mean, especially with the NSA, FBI, etc monitoring everything (and this was certainly suspected in 2010 when the Gallup poll was conducted, even if Snowden’s leaks hadn’t proved it yet).  The Gallup link (down at the bottom) discusses their methodology, and I am highly dubious — certainly they selected for Muslims who had already shown willingness to answer poll questions, who might therefore be less terroristic than the “average” Muslim.

In any case, the biggest flaw with the Fox News article is that it ignores the lack of poll data on non-Muslims.  It just leaves us to assume, without evidence, that non-Muslims couldn’t possibly be as violent as that.  In addition, it selects the scariest-looking demographic (young Muslim men), and adds up the numbers for often + sometimes + rarely justified, to generate the biggest possible scary number.