Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A REAL Wild Animal Kingdom

Back in May my wife and I went the Wild Animal Kingdom near San Diego. I had never been there before and it was fun. I like to see animals. Looking back now I realized I hadn't blogged about the great idea I had. Robb's blog reminded me of it.

One of the things they pride themselves on in the Wild Animal Kingdom is helping to reintroduce species back into the wild. After hearing about this idea for the umpteenth-jillion time, my wife casually asked me, "I wonder how many of those animals died in the first year back out in the wild?" A great business opportunity struck.

In zoos, the animals are pampered. They get 3 square meals a day, plenty of water, toys to play with, doctors, dentists, and are completely free of the stresses of being eaten alive. Even the predators have it easy. We were rather disappointed when we hiked up the trail to see the tiger at feeding time. They had set out a large meaty bone on a stand, and some birds were picking at it. I imagined them opening the gate and the tiger coming roaring out to devour the bone (maybe taking a bird with it). No such luck, he meandered around and even though there was nothing else resembling tiger food anywhere in his pen he occupied himself with some plant that was no where near the food. Oh yeah, and he certainly looked like he could afford to lose a few pounds.

The Wild Animal Kingdom costs $35 to get in and then they have some tours to get up close to the animals (and feed them) for an additional $75. We didn't do those. The zoom on our camera got up close enough to count their nose hairs. So let me tell them how they could really make some money (if you are a PETA lover, stop reading NOW! Death and carnage follow.)

First, I like the set up, they have large pens that span dozens of acres and usually have multiple animals that would normally be together in them. So this is a good start. I would however expand this by about a factor of 10. There would be one large central pen (on the order of 1000-2000 acres). This would be the prey pen - so gazelles, zebras, elephants, giraffes, etc. Around this pen on slightly higher ground would be the predator pens. Predators usually don't live together so no need to combine them, although if they hunt in packs, then you would need to have a pack - not a single specimen. The key here is there are only chainlink fences (or some other suitable see through barrier) between the predators and prey. The predators have to be able to do reconnosance.

Next, all of the best plants and water source are nearer to the predator pens than the center. There should be enough food for the animals to survive, but not neccessarily enough to get fat. The key here is you want to raise the prey to be cautious while eating and also foster a healthy dose of competition for the food sources. The predators don't get any food.

Now the fun part comes. Predators don't eat everyday, some of them go for weeks between meals. So the real money maker is scheduling the release of the predators into the prey pen for a hunt. The prey pen needs to be big enough that there is a challenge for the predator (but also contained enough that visitors can see - maybe even put an observation tower right in the middle). So the prey is allowed to hunt, kill and eat whatever it likes. The key would be to have a constant supply of prey and keep the predators just hungry enough that they are motivated to catch something. Then you could always have a supply of scavengers in the prey pen that would do the clean up work.

The major environmental advantage is you would have both predator and prey more adapted to the "real" world than a typical zoo provides. It wouldn't be perfect, just better. So when they are released into the wild, they would have a fighting chance. From an economic standpoint, I would be willing to pay $75 or $100 to see a tiger take down a gazelle or a giraffe kick the snot out of a lion while protecting her baby. I might even be willing to pay $200 for that. The park could charge based on what hunt was going on and what time of day (i.e. if the lion hunt is in the afternoon, morning rates would be a base of $35, but after noon, the rate shoots up to $100). No readmittance allowed (that way the people that come in the morning are forced to stay in the park all day and spend money if they want to see the lion get something). The Wild Animal Kingdom could make a fortune!

Now some people will object to this, they don't want to see animals killed. But this is nature. And if the goal of your organization is to reintroduce animals back into the wild, don't you think we should give them the skills so that they have a fighting chance? Sad as it may be, the young, old, and infirm all die in disproportionately higher numbers. That is nature. That is being environmental.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Defacing the Bible - The ULTIMATE sin ... NOT!

OK, I am probably going to catch some flak for this one. I read this news story and laugh. Now before you come to my house and put a stake through my heart, let me explain. I am not laughing that people are defacing a Bible, I am laughing that people are getting upset over it. Now let me go on a bit.

To believers, the Bible is the word of God. To non-believers, the Bible is anything from a collection of ancient Semitic myths to pure poppycock. That sentence could be turned around for just about any religious book. There was uproar about a soldier at Guantanamo flushing a copy of the Koran in front of prisoners (turned out it never happened), so they have the same problem. I saw a news story about a Mormon missionary who was extremely upset when someone was tearing apart a copy of the Book of Mormon in front of him, so they have the same problem. I bet there are some Scientologists who would be upset if they knew that you threw your copy of L. Ron Hubbard's works in the trash. Relax, no one is going to hell for tearing up a book.

Let's examine what is special about our religious books. If we believe that they contain the word of God, does that mean we should reverence them? No, the paper and leather cover itself is not sacred, even the ink that is used to make the words is not sacred. It is the words, the ideas, the doctrine that is sacred. The Bible you tote around with you did not come from Heaven. It was probably printed by Simon & Shuster or some other such publisher. If you elevate the book itself to holiness and can allow nothing to defile it, are you then not setting it up as an idol? And didn't Jehovah write some words on a couple of stone tablets about those?

So why do people destroy religious books to make a statement? Merely because it will tick some people off and they can get a lot of publicity about it. So the simple way to stop it from happening is to quit getting so ticked off about it. If I remember correctly the Bible has been printed about 7.5 billion times since that first one off of Gutenberg's press. It ain't going anywhere. In fact if we burned all of the Bibles in a power plant, we would be able to produce enough electricity to power the entire nation of North Korea for one year (completely truthful but totally useless fact).

When the NEA was funding artists who put crucifix in a bottle of urine or a scatological version of the Virgin Mary, I was upset. Not because of the treatment of religious symbols, but because some people would attempt to pass this off as art. And others would believe them. And the government would support it. I would have been just as mad if the item in the jar of urine was a screwdriver or the scatological display was of an iguana.

I've long ago realized that people don't care diddly about what you think is holy, so make sure you understand what is holy. If you find some object as being holy, be prepared to have it ridiculed and made a public mockery.

The information age has got to put a quandry on some of these people's minds. Let us assume that you find consider the Bible holy (I mean the actual paper it is printed on). Does that mean if you pull up the Bible on a website it, then your computer is holy? So if you leave the website and then empty your internet cache are you destroying the holy word of God? What if you download a copy to your Palm an then decide later that you need that room for Solitaire instead? Have you committed a sin by writing over the Word?

Let me tell you how I handle it. I had an old copy of a Bible when I was a kid. When I was baptized one of the gifts I recieved was a new set of scriptures. I threw the old Bible away. Didn't even give it a second thought. The scriptures I have now are almost 20 years old. I recently bought a new set but I haven't thrown the old ones away (even though they are pretty trashed. It isn't because I think they are holy. It is because I have 20 years of markings and notes that I don't want to lose, and am too busy right now to transfer them to something else. But one of these days I may just say, to heck with it, part of reading religious books over time should be that your understanding of them grows and so the next 20 years will give me further insights beyond what my old scriptures contain. At that point I will just chunk them.

Would I burn them? If I had a wood burning stove I would. When we lived in a house with one we burned lots of things (including books - my kids are brutal to books). Christmas was a nice warm time in our home, wrapping paper ignites quickly! Besides, throwing it in the trash is sort of a waste. One of the things I believe is that God has given us dominion over the earth and it is up to us to take care of it (that does not mean radical environmentalism though). So burning it would be a way to garner just that last bit of use from the tattered paper. Good imagery too. Incense was burned to invoke the image of prayers ascending to heaven. By burning your well-used Bible, you would be symbolically sending it back from whence it came.

Would I take it too a shooting range? Again, if it has lived out its usefulness, why not? I prefer phone books because they are plentiful and the colored paper is sort of like confetti when hit with birdshot.

By this point some may ask if I am being serious or facetious? Let me be perfectly honest. I am being very serious. I don't worship the Bible or any other object. If you take offense at my view of how people should view religious books, be careful, I may burn one on your driveway just to see your reaction - not very Christian of me, but then again, I ain't perfect.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

How Not to Make an Apology

It seems that if someone is famous (be it in politics or entertainment), a lot of time their ability to apologize is completely lacking. Do they have classes on this, or is it just because the fame has got to them that they lose their mind? In order to provide a public service to them, I thought I would go over some basic rules of to do and what not to do. Following them in order will save you loads of bad press in the end.

Rule #1: Don't do stupid things that you will have to apologize for. If you are a family values politician (Gov. Sanford), don't go and cheat on your wife. If you targeted prostitution as an Attorney General (Gov. Spitzer), don't hook up with a high priced call girl as governor. If you make a pledge to not raise taxes (Pres. Bush the first), don't cave in because the opposition party says they will do something else for you (which they won't). If your famous for being an innocent Disney actress (Hudgens), don't take nudie pics of yourself for any reason (although if your Miss Bailon and just want to look more adult, go for it just don't blame it on someone else). If you say you don't know the facts about a situation (Pres. Obama), don't make the next sentence a rash judgement that you would need the facts for. Do we get the picture yet? Don't Be Stupid!!

Rule #2: Only apologize if you actually mean to apologize. I actually have a lot of respect for Bush the second and Cheney in this regard. Both of them at different times found themselves on open microphones discussing qualities about people in "colorful" terms. You may not like them, you may not like what they said, but when confronted with it they didn't didn't care that apologizing was the chic thing to do. They meant what they said, and no apology was needed. Although I believe Bush did apologize that everyone had to hear it with the open mike, but he did reiterate that he meant what he said.

Rule #3: If you do need to apologize, make it short and to the point. Whatever you do, under no circumstances should you try to explain or justify your stupidity. Say you were stupid, say you are sorry, maybe say that you will be more wise in the future, and then get on with life. Whenever you start to get into explanations (read justifications), your apology begins to seem rather unsincere (see rule #2).
Take Gov. Sanford for instance, in his apology (or shortly thereafter) he stated that his mistress was his soulmate, but he would try to mend the relationship with his wife. HELLLOOOOO! If you are believer in the one and only soulmate crap, then just be the schmuck, divorce your wife and go live happily ever after (just be sure to pay your child support and alimony). Otherwise, shut up already!
To be fair to the other political party, take Pres. Obama for instance. After saying he didn't have all the facts and then saying the Cambridge Police acted stupidly, he has a lame apology where he says that he could have worded it differently. Then he just tones down his words to say that the police officer overreacted by pulling Dr. Gates out of his house (I believe he actually asked him to come outside - for his own safety - not physically pulled him, but what do I know, I wasn't there). Of course he adds that Dr. Gates probably overreacted too. HELLLOOOOO! If you are a 60 year old professor at Harvard and you are still using language like "wif yo mama", then 'probably overreacted' is too kind. Look, I know Dr. Gates is your friend Pres. Obama, but part of being a friend is telling your friend when he is being stupid, not trying to cover for him - and if you still don't have the facts, then quit making more rash judgements. If you really believe the cop overreacted provide some evidence. If he followed standard protocol to a T, then admit you were wrong and go on with life.

Rule #4: Bring flowers (or another acceptable peace offering), and don't make it public. Above all, don't try to make your peace offering a public display. I give Obama kudos for inviting Gates and the officer for a beer, he was wrong to tell everyone that he had. Once again, by making your peace offering public you bring the attention back to yourself and make it look like you're not sincere. If the person accepting the peace offering wishes to make it public, then that is there perogative. You wronged them so give them the choice of whether to display the peace offering or not.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Cash for Clunkers Program - a personal analysis

The government has passed a plan to buy back less fuel efficient vehicles to be replaced by newer more fuel efficient vehicles. I looked into it since I tend to drive older vehicles (currently my car is 17 years old). Information can be found on the government website appropriately named (I wonder if it is a paid position to come up with acronyms for the government?).

In a nutshell, if you have a fuel inefficient car, you can trade it in to be shredded and get up to $4500 off the price of a new car.

So let me explain my situation, my family has two cars. One is about 9 years old and will fit the entire family or 4'x8' sheets of plywood. It is my wife's vehicle and gets about 21 MPG with our driving habits. The second car is my vehicle, it gets about 21 MPG with my driving habits. You could squeeze our entire family in there but I am certain we would be violating seat belt laws and child seat laws. I wouldn't consider either of these cars clunkers, but my car is coming close. Part on a body panel is missing, the paint is fading and peeling, the AC doesn't work, and if I drive it more than 30 minutes in stop and go traffic the transmission shifts to 1st gear and stays there (I had this fixed once, it was a speed sensor gone bad, but since the vast majority of my driving is highway driving, I normally don't have a problem with it and it isn't worth it to pay another $400 for this).

For our vehicles to be eligible for the credit, they have to be less than 25 years old. Check, check on that one. This criteria makes no sense to me. Cars older than 25 years are undoubtedly less fuel efficient than newer vehicles. Some may try to say that they are worth less as well and the government is trying to not give too much away for free. Hold on though, if I read the program correctly, not only do you get the $4500 credit, but you also get the scrap value of your vehicle (which is probably only $50-100 regardless of the year the vehicle was made), since the dealer has to scrap the vehicle, he can't turn around and sell it. Besides the fuel efficiency issue, older vehicles also emitted a whole lot more pollutants than vehicles in the last 20 years. One last point, the number of vehicles over 25 years on the road still is minimal compared to the overall inventory of vehicles, so why not include all of them and get the true "clunkers" off the road.

Next, the vehicle has to have a new combined mileage rating of 18 or lower. Check for my wife's, it comes in at 18 (even though in actual practice she gets more than that). No go for mine, its 23. While I don't expect my car to get the same kind of mileage now as when it was new, even if my car in actual practice was only getting 13 MPG (due to neglect, bad computer, etc.) it still would not qualify. So the older more decrepit vehicle is not eligible, but the other still is. If I have to explain why this makes no sense, then just put all your money in an envelope and mail it to My Reputo 123 Blogspot Rd Fantasyland, AK 99000.

Next, be drivable. Check. This actually makes sense, no use paying money for a non working vehicle with the purpose of increasing the overall fuel efficiency of the fleet. Next, be continuously insured and registered to the same owner for the past year. Check. This is to prevent people from going out and buying a clunker from a junkyard and turning it in. Also, if you wanted to get a new "work" truck for your private property which wasn't registered or insured (since you only operated it on your private property), you wouldn't be able to turn in your old one.

So, at this point only my wife's vehicle is eligible. We don't have many criteria with which to choose. A) It has to seat the whole family B) It has to have room left over to pack stuff for a vacation. Some desireable qualities are C) It has to seat any other kids we may have (we have talked about how many kids we are going to have and the next family vehicle we buy will be able to seat everyone - and no, we aren't buying a school bus) and D) 4' by 8' sheets of plywood and drywall should be transportable without damage (I like to do lots of projects and don't want to pay extra to have stuff delivered).

Now for the new vehicle that we would buy, we have some criteria to meet. First the vehicle has to get a combined 22 MPG or more. Well, scanning over the list of vehicles that meet criteria A & B above, there are a few choices. If I add in D, the list is down to 3. If I add in C, there are no choices. So going off of the 3 vehicles that I could find that meet my criteria of A, B, and D and the government's criteria of 22 MPG or better we would be getting $3500 (to get the full $4500 we would have to have a vehicle that gets at least 10 MPG more than our present or 28 MPG and none of the ones that meet criteria A & B meet that). In return our new vehicle would probably be getting 4-5 MPG more in actual usage than our present vehicle.

If one's only goal is to increase the fuel efficiency, then this is a no brainer. Buy it. In fact, you would end up buying a new vehicle every year for the rest of your life. For the rest of us, this is about total cost. Right now, my vehicles are paid off. No monthly payments, only maintenance expenses.

If I assume 10,000 miles driven each year (which is high for my wife's vehicle), then (10000/21 - 10000/26)* $2.50 (current price of gas) = $228.94 of savings a year. In order to realize this savings, we would have to spend a minimum of $20,000 - $3500credit = $16,500. That comes out to a return on investment of roughly $230 / $16,500 = 1.4% on a depreciating asset. This also means that if we got a loan for this vehicle, we had better be paying an interest rate of less than 1.4% or we are losing money (and that is with the $3500 credit). Even if I adjust for the increased maintenance costs of our current vehicle, the percentage changes very little (see this post for another more complete analysis of car ownership). If we assume that gas cost $8.00 a gallon, the ROI is 4.4%. Better, but nothing to write home to mom about, especially for a depreciating asset. So we aren't going to go for this deal.

Hypothetically, say for a moment that my car was eligible instead of my wife's. I could by a new compact vehicle with 31 MPG combined, that would be eligible for the $4500 credit, and since I do mostly highway driving I would probably be getting closer to 34 MPG. This would equate to a savings of $455.18 per year at $2.50 gas. I roughly priced out the vehicles at around $15,000-$4500 credit which means my ROI is 4.3%. As I said before, this is better (not great). However, once I combine that with the fact that I would have a car with CD, AC, working transmission, etc. my creature comforts improve and I might be more inclined to do this.

So what have I learned. The government has a program to stimulate the economy (buying new cars), bail out the auto companies (buying new cars), improve fuel efficiency (buying new cars, scrapping old ones). For my family, the program helps me stimulate the economy (deciding to investing money for a better return on paper assets). The other goals aren't achieved. Of course, I would be stimulating the economy anyway with my spending and investments if this program was never passed. So basically all it has done for me is allow me the joy of a 5 minute mathematical exercise. What is it going to do for you?!

Monday, July 20, 2009

When the Wife Forgets Dinner ...

Coming home from work today, my wife was really excited. The good news was she (with the help of our small human units) was able to get the house all clean. Everything picked up, no random train pieces or naked Barbies anywhere.

Then she broke the bad news: "I haven't started dinner yet." OK, that isn't so bad, except we were suppose to have ham and potatoes. The ham could be cooked up in a pinch (or eaten raw - not really, since it was smoked) but the potatoes were a different story. Since we were suppose to take our kids swimming tonight, that meant we didn't have the hour to wait while starch laden land apples slowly baked.

"How about ham and cheese sandwiches?" I said.

"We had those for lunch." the eldest said.

"Well, I'll cook them on the griddle instead of the microwave so that they are different."

"One problem, look what the destructo-baby did to the half-a loaf of bread?"

I sorted through several mangled pieces of Wonder goodness and was able to salvage enough for sandwiches for the kids. I figured that the melted cheese would help hold things together, maybe. That left the adults. My wife conjured up some tortillas and I was thinking we were in business.

Buttered bread began to toast on the griddle. Next problem, there were no cheese slices. Only the remnants of a bad of chedder and one cheese stick. I managed to stretch the shredded cheese out amongst the kids sandwiches. And after melting one of the non-heat resistant spatulas (and adding some petroleum products to the sandwiches - hey, it will put hair on your chest), I had the kids meal done.

Now for the grown-ups. We were much too mature for just a sandwich. We needed a sophisticated meal. The tortillas went down first, buttered on one side. Then I carefully pulled the string cheese stick apart and divided it between the two (sting cheese doesn't melt very well). It looked rather pitiful so I scoured the fridge and found about a quarter full container of cottage cheese.

"That has cinnamon in it." my wife warned me.

Too late, a couple of heaping spoonfuls, and then topped it off with a slice of ham.

See the magnificent creation! OK, I'll admit, it isn't as cool as one of Brigid's creations but still, it worked. Fifteen minutes after I was home, we were sitting down at the table to eat!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

C&R FFL and Bed & Breakfasts

Suprise, suprise! When I opened the mail after work, there was my new C&R FFL. I was excited and showed my wife. "What's this?"

"It means I'm an arms dealer now." (Yes, I know you actually need an 01 to be an arms dealer, but for those who don't understand the nuances of the gun laws, this should work). What it does mean is that I can get actually military assault weapons (i.e. weapons used by the militaries of the world during assault operations) delivered right to my front door.

So with the new license, I have to find something to break it in with. I am currently thinking of a Tokarov. I like the fact that I can get ammunition for it for less than 10 cents a round. I have also looked as some Makarovs and Nagants. So many choices...

Anyway, back to the conversation with my wife. "So after we retire you are going to be an arms dealer and we will have a bed and breakfast?" Back up a bit, my wife and I like bed and breakfasts. When we went to Disneyland we stayed at one near the ocean. Talking about it from a business standpoint, it is rather intriquing to have a place that you live, and then rent out the rooms for exorbitant rates (which we were willing to pay, and it was worth it). For the one we stayed at, we calculated that if you only had all three suites filled for one week a month, you should easily be able to make the mortgage payment. So with 50% occupancy, you could end up having a nice living expense. Going on vacation is no problem (you don't book anyone for those times).

"Yeah, that could work. We could buy up 50-100 acres, within an hour of a city that might have other touristy stuff. The land would need to have a lake for swimming, boating, and fishing. We would also set up a shooting range. The shooting would cost extra (for ammunition) and we could do everything from shooting vegetables to blowing up some tannerite. Oh yeah, and your typical paper and steel.

I like this idea. Because if no one comes, I still have a place I can enjoy.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"Guns are Bad News for Women?" Huh ... - Part VII

Well, after six parts this is getting long so hopefully I can wrap this up with some fun. To begin I want to address mikeb's assertions directly.

"Guns are bad news for women." Up to this point you may have noticed that I have purposely not actually addressed this point. Basically, there is nothing in this statement that can be refuted. It is a meaningless statement. "Bad news" is not some universal term that we all agree on, so how can one refute something that no clear definition is given. Based on his posts I am guessing that it is because women are killed by guns. OK... Women are killed by heart disease, cars, poison, drowning, falling, fire, etc, etc, etc at a higher rate than they are killed by firearms. Men are too.

Pretend for a moment the 2nd Amendment didn't exist. To advocate limiting an inanimate object, one must weigh the benefits and the risks. The gun control movement has done a fine job of over exaggerating the risks. Rarely if ever are the benefits presented. People do use firearms for self defense. Every day. Every hour and every minute (that would only be 525,000 if one defensive gun use happened every minute). These are crimes that are prevented. PREVENTED! Meaning, the crime doesn't happen, or at least it doesn't succeed in its goals. Target shooting provides relaxation and enjoyment for millions of Americans. Hunting is used by many to put food on their table AND wildlife management. Collector's assemble pieces of history. All of these are benefits to society. The gun control movement never weighs their benefit to the cost of implementing whatever the limitation du jure is.

Frankly, all of those are meaningless. We have the 2nd Amendment, it has not been repealed.

Now for the fun part. I alluded to this before, and I thought that I would do a little Hemenway type experiment. I picked some things that may or may not contribute to gun deaths and did a Hemenway/mikeb style analysis on them. I will post a table (with the 10 highest states and 10 lowest states) for each factor and give a brief synopsis of whether the factor is bad news for women. I did take a look at what all 50 states show and if there is something interesting, then I included it. Here goes:

First up, poverty rate (from the US Census Bureau):

2006 Death Rate of Women (per 100,000)

High Poverty States Low Poverty States
Firearm homicide 1.82 0.83
Other homicide 1.44 1.01
Total 3.26 1.84
Firearm suicides 2.04 0.79
Other suicides 2.60 3.21
Total 5.66 4.00
Firearm accidents 0.12 0.02
Other accidents 33.18 23.92
Total 40.68 23.94

Well, this is showing that poverty is bad news for women. Where there is poverty, more women are killed with firearms (and if you notice from the total numbers, more women are killed overall). It also looks as if people in poverty have significantly more accidents. Since I (and others) have said that poverty is a cause for crime, lets look at the states individually:

The suicide rate is looking somewhat more like there is a trend, however, the homicide rate clearly has a direct correlation to poverty. There are a few outliers, but nothing like the randomness that was seen when comparing gun ownership and firearm homicides.

Next, percentage of the population that live in urban areas:
2006 Death Rate of Women (per 100,000)

High Urban States Low Urban States
Firearm homicide 0.91 1.69
Other homicide 1.19 1.46
Total 2.10 3.15
Firearm suicides 0.55 2.12
Other suicides 2.88 2.91
Total 3.43 5.03
Firearm accidents 0.02 0.16
Other accidents 20.58 36.38
Total 20.6 36.53

So low urban population states have higher homicide and suicide rates with firearms. I 'd have to go back and check the definition that was used for the numbers but I think the datasource I used includes everything in cities/towns greater than 5000 people. (This would be nice to analyze further based on metro areas, large cities, etc.) What is most interesting from this chart is that low urban areas have vastly more accidental deaths than highly urbanized area (perhaps as a result of medical care not being right around the corner?). The graphs showed random chaos (more so than gun ownership, so I didn't include them).

Next, violent crime rates:
2006 Death Rate of Women (per 100,000)

High Violent Crime States Low Violent Crime States
Firearm homicide 1.78 0.78
Other homicide 1.63 0.85
Total 3.40 1.63
Firearm suicides 2.08 1.54
Other suicides 3.61 4.09
Total 5.68 5.63
Firearm accidents 0.08 0.04
Other accidents 32.09 30.20
Total 32.17 30.23

This is very interesting. I think it should be common sense that high violent crime states would use firearms more than low violent crime states (homicide being a violent crime) although FBI statistics indicate that only 9% of all violent crime has a firearm involved. But it appears in all three categories, violent crime is bad news for women. Maybe we should limit the availability of violent crime. The homicide rate showed a slight indication of a direct correlation between firearm homicides and urbanization (the opposite of what the table shows), but not enough that I would make a definitive statement from it, and therfore didn't include them.

Next depression, I have put this forward (as have numerous social scientists) as the primary factor in suicides so I expect there to be a good correlation.

2006 Death Rate of Women (per 100,000)

High Depress States Low Depress States
Firearm homicide 1.17 1.28
Other homicide 1.21 1.25
Total 2.38 2.54
Firearm suicides 1.85 1.18
Other suicides 4.34 3.08
Total 6.19 4.26
Firearm accidents 0.06 0.04
Other accidents 30.09 24.52
Total 30.16 24.56

Firearm suicides is showing a positive correlation, while homicides is very neutral (of course, I don't know that depression has ever been put forward as a cause of crime). The chart for suicide tells a different story though:

Notice how the values are scattered around just like gun ownership. This indicates on the surface that there is no correlation between depression and suicide. However, studies have shown that 80%+ of people who commit suicide had been depressed. In this dataset, there really isn't that much variation between the lowest depression state 6.74% and the highest depression state 10.14%. For the next few I chose some things at random.

High school graduation rates:

2006 Death Rate of Women (per 100,000)

High HS Grad States Low HS Grad States
Firearm homicide 0.92 1.82
Other homicide 1.04 1.60
Total 1.96 3.42
Firearm suicides 1.11 2.31
Other suicides 3.34 3.32
Total 4.45 5.62
Firearm accidents 0.05 0.10
Other accidents 32.24 33.72
Total 32.29 33.82

Looks like not graduating from high school is bad news for women. About twice as many women are killed by firearms in states with low high school graduation rates. Maybe we should give away more diplomas? Looking at the graphs, there is a weak inverse correlation for high school graduation to firearm homicides. More outliers appear than the poverty graph but not near the chatter of the gun ownership graph.

Next, percent of Catholics per state:
2006 Death Rate of Women (per 100,000)

High Catholic States Low Catholic States
Firearm homicide 1.13 1.21
Other homicide 1.16 1.37
Total 2.29 2.58
Firearm suicides 1.12 1.26
Other suicides 3.41 3.14
Total 4.53 4.40
Firearm accidents 0.02 0.06
Other accidents 26.09 28.26
Total 26.11 28.32

Good, this one did exactly what my impression would have been, nothing. So being Catholic makes no difference to whether a woman will be killed by firearms.

The next is my favorite. In one of my comments I alluded to cheese production, but I couldn't find quick numbers for that so I chose Milk Production per capita instead.
2006 Death Rate of Women (per 100,000)

High Milk States Low Milk States
Firearm homicide 1.06 1.30
Other homicide 1.10 1.22
Total 2.16 2.52
Firearm suicides 0.98 1.04
Other suicides 3.56 2.85
Total 4.54 3.89
Firearm accidents 0.02 0.12
Other accidents 24.99 27.93
Total 25.01 28.06

At first glance it appears that milk production per capita has no bearing on whether you will be killed by a firearm, but as I looked at these numbers I realized that they are some of the lowest values for any of the groupings I have made so I had to check the graphs:

These are interesting. There are indications of channeling occuring for both homicides and suicides. Does milking goes have some sort of weird cosmic effect where a minimun and maximum rate exist? That would be a research project. Maybe I could get stimulus money to fund that.

Next, cars per capita.

2006 Death Rate of Women (per 100,000)

High Car States Low Car States
Firearm homicide 1.27 1.11
Other homicide 1.33 1.40
Total 2.60 2.51
Firearm suicides 1.57 1.18
Other suicides 3.26 2.94
Total 4.83 4.12
Firearm accidents 0.08 0.05
Other accidents 32.79 25.61
Total 32.88 25.66

Well, this shows that cars are bad news for women, not as bad as poverty or high school graduation rates, but bad nonetheless. Of course, owning a car may just be a low grade inverse indicator of poverty.

Next, cubic miles of rainfall per capita.

2006 Death Rate of Women (per 100,000)

High Rain States Low Rain States
Firearm homicide 1.05 0.92
Other homicide 1.24 1.17
Total 2.28 2.08
Firearm suicides 1.70 0.55
Other suicides 3.94 2.94
Total 5.64 3.49
Firearm accidents 0.05 0.02
Other accidents 33.10 20.32
Total 33.15 20.34

While it doesn't seem to matter, it does appear that rain is bad news for women who are going to commit suicide. For some reason it is also especially bad for accidents in general (think cars slipping on roads, people slipping off wet roofs, etc.)

Finally, birthrate.
2006 Death Rate of Women (per 100,000)

High Birth States Low Birth States
Firearm homicide 1.36 1.12
Other homicide 1.26 1.15
Total 2.62 2.27
Firearm suicides 1.58 1.31
Other suicides 3.21 3.54
Total 4.79 4.86
Firearm accidents 0.04 0.05
Other accidents 25.35 30.29
Total 25.39 30.34

Similar to cars there appears to be a slight correlation. Giving birth might be bad news for women. The graphs show no such thing.

Do I believe there is any connection between milk production, cars per capita, Catholics, or rainfall and firearm deaths? No, and you shouldn't either. In fact, what you should realize from this part is that any analysis of two datapoints is nothing but fantasy (even when there actually is a correlation).

Now, while I may not have the credentials of Mr. Hemenway, I would certainly be amenable to some organization paying me for my analysis. So, if there are any organizations that need a shill, I am available for the right amount of money. Until such a time, I'll continue to do things like this because in some sick way I find it fun. If anyone desires to have the spreadsheet of data that was used to create this, email me and I'll send it to you (that way you can check my work and if it is wrong, I'm more than happy to provide a correction). If you have some other question or factoid that you think might make an interesting research project for me, send it too me. I might take it up the next time I have some spare time!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

"Guns are Bad News for Women?" Huh ... - Part VI

OK, if you have stuck through posts 1-5, then fear not, the end is in sight (just not in this post. Here I said I would talk about regional trends. Now since know that the hypothesis breaks down somewhere between 6 and 17 datapoints, I'll make my next dataset somewhere in between, say 10. Remember all of these datasets are coming from the same initial dataset: 2006 firearms deaths of women (homicide, suicide, and accidental) from WISQARS. To make my regions (and I chose the regions before doing the calculations) I selected 5 states(six for 1) that were contiguous (preferably roughly circular in shape, but that is not always possible). Also, I tried to keep the regions of states that I identified previously where possible.

New England - ME, MA, VT, NH, CT, RI
Upper Atlantic - NY, PA, NJ, DE, MD
Middle Atlantic - DC, VA, WV, NC, SC
Gulf Coast - GA, FL, AL, MS, LA
Lower Midwest - OH, IN, KY, TN, MO
Upper Midwest - MN, WI, MI, IA, IL
Southwest - OK, TX, AR, NM, KS
Mountain - AZ, NV, UT, CO, ID
Great Plains - WY, MT, ND, SD, NE
West Coast - WA, OR, CA, HI, AK

You can argue that some of the states don't fit exactly, but if you want to re-run the calculations yourself, feel free and I'll be happy to post them here (I can't do this forever, I still have a day job). I arranged them by order of gun ownership (since that is the way everything else is done) and then looked to see if we have the rising trend that Hemenway's or mikeb hypothesizes or the chaotic mess that I postulate based on the higher datapoint sets.

2006 Death Rate of Women (per 100,000)

% Owner Homicide Suicide Accident
New England 19.0 0.60 0.52 0.00
Upper Atlantic 21.9 0.82 0.55 0.02
West Coast 24.4 1.08 0.98 0.02
Upper Midwest 33.7 1.03 0.82 0.02
Gulf Coast 35.9 1.89 2.17 0.12
Mountain 36.4 1.35 2.56 0.06
Southwest 38.7 1.60 1.84 0.04
Lower Midwest 39.2 1.34 1.84 0.06
Middle Atlantic 39.6 1.79 2.21 0.11
Great Plains 49.5 0.47 1.41 0.04

I think I found the sweet spot. The most important datapoint I see here is that the region with the highest gun ownership has the lowest homicide rate and a lower suicide rate and accident rate than all but the 4 lowest gun owning regions. What is so special about the Great Plains states? The first thing that pops into my mind is that there is only one major city in these states, Omaha. I would be willing to bet an entire year's salary that if I did this study further down to the county level (3000 datapoints), you would see one of two things. 1) The chaotic mess would truly look like radio noise, or 2) (which I think is more likely) The data would actually show the opposite is true: More gun ownership are in lower crime counties. Why do I say that, because I have a sneaky suspicion that the vast majority of violent crime (including gun deaths) occur in the cities, whereas the rural counties almost always have a higher percentage ownership of firearms. Unfortunately, this will just have to be a wish since the key piece of information, gun ownership by county, is probably never going to be found out.

One of the problems with using averages of several diverse input points is that you smooth out the highs and lows. This is exactly what has happened here, by choosing a ridiculously low dataset of 2 points (which I expanded to the full 5 it should have been) it appears that there is a correlation between gun ownership and death from guns. However starting at datapoints of 6 the correlation begins to have outliers, until at 51 datapoints, we have something that could be close to randomness. I ran a series of correlation lines in the spreadsheet for the 51 point dataset (I didn't want to bore you by including it here) and the R-squared values came out between 0.01 and 0.3. An R-squared value of 1.0 would indicate perfect predictability (correlation). So, depending on the line you draw, if you guessed what any state was, your likelyhood of choosing correctly or even nearly correctly would be between 1% and 30%. Not too many things less than that, except Vegas odds and the lottery.

Now, let me re-iterate again, I picked the groupings before I ran the numbers. Frankly, I think there are some things wrong with the groupings. DC should be with Maryland (I have stated my reasons before). Alaska and Hawaii shouldn't be with any other group (they are not similar to any regions). Nebraska doesn't really go with the other states, it is more similar to Kansas and Iowa. However, since I had to constrain myself in some way, those were the groups that I came up with. I am fairly certain that if you rearranged the regions using some set of reasonable rules (that doesn't have you gerrymandering), you would come up with the same results.

The last thing to look at with these regions is how "similar" they are (i.e. does it make sense to have them in the same region). For this I took the absolute difference between each state's rate and the average rate and then found out what the average ratio of difference there is. (By multiplying this value by 100 you would have the average percent difference. The goal would be to minimize all values.)
2006 Death Rate Regional Decrement of Women

% Owner Homicide Suicide Accident
New England 19.0 0.55 0.67 0.00
Upper Atlantic 21.9 0.27 0.86 1.15
West Coast 24.4 0.25 0.83 3.37
Upper Midwest 33.7 0.27 0.19 0.85
Gulf Coast 35.9 0.29 0.10 1.03
Mountain 36.4 0.24 0.10 0.87
Southwest 38.7 0.21 0.12 1.10
Lower Midwest 39.2 0.22 0.25 0.47
Middle Atlantic 39.6 0.33 0.29 1.48
Great Plains 49.5 0.53 0.40 2.40

Besides the New England region and the Great Plains region, the regions for homicides are clustered around .2-.3. Even New England and the Great Plains are only at .55 range. I would say this is pretty decent. If I had time (and someone was paying me), I could play around with the regions further to find the minimum. The other idea that this table indicates is that gun ownership does not affect homicides, suicides, and accidents in the same way (i.e. it isn't the cause). If it was the cause, we should expect to see all three numbers for a region fairly close together. So, in my hypothetical study that I was being paid for, I would actually have three different regions for the different death types.

Now I know that this was probably incredibly boring for the vast majority of readers. That is one of the points that I wanted to make. Any kind of statistical analysis is not going to be an easy read for your average college educated individual. If you have never had a statistics course, it is probably meaningless. Books and papers meant for the general public rarely have any kind of indepth statistical analysis. Their point isn't to provide you with all of the information. Their goal is to sell books or magazines and make money. Hemenway's table that mikeb provides is a perfect example of a completely watered down (dare I say doctored?) analysis meant to be spoon fed to the masses. Could you imagine ever making a major decision based on two datapoints?

Hmm, who should I marry? Well Jill has great eyes and knows how to dance, but Julie can play guitar and has a neat truck. Don't you think you should at least meet their parents, talk about life goals, finances, children, religion, etc? What mikeb is asking us to do is decide the issue based on two datapoints.

I have tried to be as honest as possible throughout this, I even published the information that could "discount" the gun case. I didn't fear it. No one should be afraid of facts. I've known for quite a while that guns aren't the cause of anything. Heck, guns don't even cause a range day to be good. They have no more influence than a rock. Today, I taught some young kids how to skip rocks. It was fun, not because of the rocks, but because of me and the kids. The rocks were just the tool that we used.

On to Part VII for the real fun!