Sunday, August 31, 2014

Try this experiment with Google

I was thinking about our country after looking at a photo of a scene in Ferguson, Missouri, which was the site of a police shooting and subsequent protests for several weeks (and also some rioting and looting), It seems that Ferguson is pretty peaceful again.

The photograph was of a family walking with bags from the Family Dollar store, a store specializing in inexpensive merchandise.


I really liked this photo. To me, it looks like the family bought themselves some inexpensive goods, maybe including a few treats. These are regular, unpretentious folks. I like that we have diversity in this country--the rich, the middle class, the lower middle class, the working poor, the non-working poor. We have them all, and I'm not at all ashamed of that.

In that train of thought, I decided to find images of "poor people in Sweden." It's a very disappointing search. There are pictures of Swedish aid projects in climates where palm trees thrive. Are there any pictures of poor Swedes? No.

Not even Bloomberg Businessweek could find a picture. Here is their take on the gulf between rich and poor in Sweden:


The "poor" house on the left is a historic example of a house from over a century ago. I did find a few articles: about riots that involved the poor and immigrants, begging, and Roma shacks being demolished. Among native Swedes, poverty is gone, I guess.

I doubt that Sweden is a good exemplar that the US could follow, however. It's a much smaller country, and not the melting pot we are. We are who we are, a very mixed bunch. I'm ok with that.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Too many workers

We've come to a major turning point in history. Our economies, throughout most of the world, can no longer absorb our population increases and provide an increasing number of jobs. While there have been periods of high unemployment before in history, they've been reversed. I don't foresee that happening at all in the future. We are permanently in a situation where we have many more workers than we need, and there's no way for the extra workers to join the regular economy at the full-fledged rate.

Looking just as the US, we have the lowest worker participation rate in 36 years.

Labor Force Participation Rate 1948 - 2013

We have high unemployment among our young people, and that's a worldwide problem. It's certainly possible for jobless people to be productive (cleaning, doing small repairs, gardening, teaching, etc.), but not at the going rate. So this extra labor force can work in the gray economy, work at home or in family businesses, or can volunteer, but they must be supported by others--those who are working at market rate jobs.

Why don't paying jobs exist for these people? Because our economies have become much more automated. It's been a goal in innovation to automate actions instead of having workers perform them. I go to an ATM machine instead of the human bank teller earning a wage. An ATM costs $2k (according to the ads on Google). That's a lot less than a teller's yearly salary. Ordering is automated online, saving the cost of a order entry clerk. Crops are planted and harvested with the help of huge machines, shrinking the number of farmers to 2% of the US population.

Too many workers? Yes, and too many people.

With all this equipment, we just don't need as many workers. So what should we do? There's a logical answer, but most people don't want to admit it: we need fewer workers, thus we need fewer humans. We should be shrinking our birth rates. Our birth rate should be lower than the replacement rate--yes, lower. Not zero growth, but negative growth, meaning contraction of the human population. If we don't do this, we will continue to have too many workers for the rest of foreseeable future, barring global cataclysm.

What are the downsides of fewer children and lower human population? Many people don't like the policy. Their cultures emphasize having children to carry on their legacy and take care of elders. It's hard to counter the cultural norms, but that doesn't mean that the cultural norms are logical or well-adapted to our current situation.

We'll have fewer people paying into Social Security, but we have to face that anyway. The huge baby boom generation is an anomaly that shouldn't become the norm just due to worries about how pensions are going to be paid. Besides, if there aren't enough jobs, those unemployed people aren't contributing anyway.

Suppose we underestimate the number of workers we need, and we create labor shortages due to a labor pool that's too small? That's not a big problem. We can either import workers or we can increase our birth rate to correct the problem. As we've seen, we can increase our population very quickly when we want to.

I'd like every country to decrease their birth rates, and they are. Two decades ago, few countries were reproducing below replacement rate. At that time it was considered a dire situation, but it no longer looks that way. Now many more countries are running below replacement rate. That's a good thing ... especially if we want to avoid more of this.

The lucky one has a metal roof (Bangladesh).

They pray for a rectangular shack instead of a lean-to (Bangladesh).

Apartment blocks don't solve the problems (Cairo).

Update 12/26/14. An article from The American Conservative pointing out that no one (despite political parties' claims) seems to know what to do about these economic problems.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Last outpost of crazy: Barbie impersonators

How many people want to grow and be just like a piece of plastic? I don't think we have garbage liner impersonators, or disposable pen impersonators. We shouldn't have Barbie impersonators either.

Unfortunately we do. A few women (luckily very few) have chosen the vocation of imitating the features of a Barbie, and also imitating the vacuous affect as well.

As for me, I'd like to be the best human I can be, not the most plastic one.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Honesty is less important, Part 2

All politicians lie.

I'm not sure I've written that yet in this blog, but that's been my opinion, backed up by observation, for some time now. I haven't found one nationally-known politician yet who hasn't lied. Even self-declared truth-loving former presidential candidate Ron Paul has lied.

So here's a case of another politician lying. Why should anyone look at it? Because it demonstrates a part of of the reason for the lies.

Paul Ryan went on a Sunday morning politics show and answered some questions about a statement in his new book. (Hint: new book = running for president.) He wrote that he knew the GOP's 2013 shutdown stunt was a suicide mission, but he didn't declare it at the time for "party unity."

A couple minutes later, he's asked whether he would support Ted Cruz if he were the GOP presidential nominee, or Rand Paul. At the mention of Rand Paul, Ryan actually laughs. That laugh could mean lots of different things, but it's probably not a sign that Ryan looks forward to that possibility. Yet, a second later, Ryan is affirming that he would support whomever the GOP nominated. And he probably would.

That's part of the problem with politics. You have to support a bunch of jackasses because they're in your party. And that's not totally stupid because the jackasses in your party aren't as bad as the real jackasses in the other party. Except sometimes they might be worse. Paul Ryan may actually think that Ted Cruz would be a nightmare and Rand Paul would do decades worth of damage in one term. But he can't say that.

I'd love for Paul Ryan to be able to say it, but we can't in our party-based system of politics. I wish I could nuke the whole thing except it would be back in a few years. I hate party politics but I don't see an alternative.

They're not heavy, they're my ...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

What safety training do police get?

With the shooting in Ferguson and other frequent shootings by police, I have to wonder what kind of training police are getting. Are they trained to shoot when in doubt? Are they trained to decide quickly to shoot, or to take a bit longer before making that decision? Are they trained to follow a protocol when they expect a threat?

I have a lot of questions, but few answers. Unfortunately, I don't know any cops whom I can ask. And the internet has failed me. I didn't find much information about police training. In the bit of information I did find, there's lot of emphasis on handling of firearms, such as this training list:
... In addition to classroom instruction of deadly force policy and procedure and other topics, most trainers suggest the range work should include:
1.) Clearing stoppages with either hand
2.) Drills that simulate malfunctions 
3.) Emergency tactical reloading with either hand 
4.) Manipulation of safeties and de-cocking levers with either hand
As well as the usual and customary range topics like:
1.) Low-light and judgmental (decision-making) shooting 
2.) Shooting while moving to cover 
3.) One-handed firing  [etc.]
I wonder whether the heavy emphasis on gun handling leads to more gun use than required. When dealing with situations, you're usually going to use tools and approaches that you know, not try out new ones on the fly. So the training of officers is key, or so I would guess. (It's possible that officers are acting not based on their training, but based on their own preference to use firearms. I really don't know.)

In my research, I found one cop who wanted fewer guns and more non-lethal alternatives. This seems sensible to me, but I don't know how much other officers support this. What are the dangers in being equipped with rubber bullets if you might face an assailant armed with a gun? In our country, there are plenty of armed people that the police are likely to encounter, and I don't want the police to be handicapped in those encounters.

Perhaps police rarely need their guns, and they don't need to carry them on a regular basis, but only when going into situations that warrant it. This is another issue that I just don't have information on. Police departments in this country should be studying these questions--I certainly hope they are. If the mindset is that they need their guns at all times, it's no wonder that they're used too often.


Extras. Blog from a cop in the hood. Some research from New York City. Luckily, not that many police are killed on duty. That leaves room for them to be more careful. A horrible story of a police mistake.

Update 8/28/14. Here's a training video about handling an assailant who secretly has a knife. Note how quickly the officer could be stabbed, and also the emphasis on  "two rounds [in the] center of mass."

Update 9/10/14. There have been a lot of shootings of officers lately: Rochester, NY; Merrillville, IN; Topeka, KS; West Ashley, SC; St. Louis County, MO; and Vancouver, WA. This is what a cop potentially faces at every traffic stop. The training to shoot may be correct if there is a high level of danger on a regular basis.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Short: Hooray for fewer teen moms

When I was growing up middle-class, white, and college-bound, I knew to  be terrified of unintended pregnancy. There was no faster way to derail my plans for life, not to mention get either kicked out of the house or permanently locked in the attic.

Somewhere in the last few decades, teenagers lost their fear of pregnancy. This was definitely not a good thing. These days kids aren't usually 1) forced into marriage, or 2) locked away or sent away for the duration, or 3) blackened forever by the shame they bring on themselves and their families. However, life plans are definitely derailed, at least for a while. Shouldn't this be enough to make them very careful? Apparently not.

The good news is that teen pregnancy has dropped dramatically since 2009. This article discusses some of the possible reasons, but nothing is definitive. Maybe it's the use of IUDs (previously not recommended until after the birth of a child). Maybe it's the reality shows like Teen Mom which show the heap of troubles involved with trying to manage a baby, high school, parents, and a barely-committed baby-daddy. Maybe it's the recession, which has been so hard on families that teens actually figure out that they shouldn't make it worse.

Whatever made teens think harder about being careful, I'm grateful for it, and I hope the teens are too.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Oh, the humanity in Ferguson, Missouri

Real life is always more complicated than it seems. Always. Take the first impressions of the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

At first, it seemed that a cop either went nuts or was intent on killing this young black man. Now it seems that there was more to the altercation than a cop shooting a young black man for walking down the middle of the street. There's a lot more to the story.

At first, it seemed like the bullet-ridden young man was "a gentle giant" who was about to go to college. Now it seems like he used his size to intimidate a shopkeeper just minutes before he died. Maybe he behaved in a threatening way to the cop too.

At first, the other young black man seemed like a bewildered soul--his friend killed in front of him. Now he seems like an unreliable witness who leaves out important details. It's hard to know how much he's a victim vs. being a perpetrator. Will this man be able to openly talk about what really happened, or will he hide behind his partial truth?

At first, the police in the town were secretive and aggressive in handling the resulting protests and violence. Then the governor called in black state police commander who could be a fair arbiter. Will the local police learn how to address the community concerns about this terrible incident, or will they remain defensive and self-serving?

At first, the community mourned the inexplicable shooting of an upstanding young man. Then it turns out that the man wasn't so upstanding, but they are angry with the police for making them face that truth. Will they be able to deal with the truth?

Finally (for now), it seems that perhaps the cop had a reason to shoot his weapon. But did he have a reason to keep firing it, more times than the witnesses could count, at a man who had raised his hands in surrender?

There were so many poor choices in this incident:
  • The theft by the young men earlier that day
  • The cop who continued to shoot when the man was surrendering
  • The witness who omitted pertinent facts
  • The looters who took advantage of the protest to smash and steal
  • The local police who increased tension with military-like responses
  • The local police who are so slow in releasing pertinent facts and are lying about their reasons for what they release
Yet there are some promising signs. The state has found a fair arbiter to talk with the community and ease tensions. He can bridge the gap because he's both a police officer and a black man who grew up in a neighborhood not far away. In the community itself, some local folks have stepped up to stop others from looting during a return to looting. They're still angry, but they know that violence isn't the answer.

We need to be able to admit the imperfections, to accept that people have made mistakes, and not to assume the worst about one another. Maybe then we can learn to be better people and be fairer to each other. I have some hope for a silver lining in this terrible storm.


Sources. Video of the robbery. The body left for hours on the street.  The unreliable witness. Two reliable witnesses. Counterproductive police response. The fair arbiter. Stopping the looters.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Don't worry about Ebola in Atlanta

Two American missionaries who were treating the Ebola outbreak in Africa have contracted the disease. One has already been transported back to the US, and the plan is to transport the other also. They will be treated in a special isolation unit at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

How dangerous is it to bring these patients into the US? That's a good question. However, there are some very bad answers to this good question, like these:
"Martial law is what we risk if an epidemic of something like Ebola were to break out here. Far better to prevent its entry to begin with. Not understanding that is moronic."
"This should not and cannot be allowed; that plane should be shot out of the sky; that hospital, burned to the ground; the unelected bureaucrats and plutocrats behind this decision publicly executed as traitors and tyrants; along with and including our President, who could have stopped this and did not due to this personal hatred of the citizens and dedication to the destruction of the United States." --comments here
So, doom predictions from the peanut gallery aside, how worried should we be? Let's think about it.

Ebola hasn't spread worldwide, unlike various forms of flu. Why? Because it doesn't spread as easily as flu. The disease is spreading on the ground in West Africa, but it hasn't gotten into a major city, even with the traveling that people tend to do. Supposedly, people can't pass it on until they're showing symptoms, so you can't pick it up easily or randomly. It doesn't spread via the air. That's very good, and is probably why it hasn't spread throughout the world.

The usual method of infection is from handling the fluids from a person with symptoms, so the visitors and caregivers are the ones who are being infected. Again, it's not random people down the street.

With this limited mode of infection, it won't be hard for a well-prepared hospital to contain the contagion. They will limit the people who have contact. The air from the isolation unit won't be circulated elsewhere. Caregivers will be gowned appropriately and will disinfect appropriately. The staff will be monitored closely, and any sign of illness will be scrutinized, not ignored. Finally, two patients will not overwhelm the resources of the hospital or the special isolation unit.

Am I worried? No. These people are experts in dealing with communicable diseases. This is their expertise, and they practice it a lot. It's the first time they've had an Ebola patient, but hardly the first time they used these procedures. So if you're worried, calm the heck down.

The Ebola patient arrives. No zombies. No martial law.

Extra. Idiot-in-Chief Donald Trump weighed in on the idiot side, of course.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Welcome to my Turkish readers

This is very unusual. In the past month, a surge of readers from Turkey have visited my blog. It's been almost 300 pageviews in the past month. It's extremely gratifying, but why is it happening?

Please, my new Turkish readers, write to me! Tell me why you're reading my blog and what's happening in Turkey. Thank you and a very warm welcome!

Balloon festival in Cappadocia